Prepping For Health Autonomy in the Face of Catastrophe
Fears over catastrophic future events have prompted emergency preparedness activity at different scales, from the international (e.g. WHO) to the individual (e.g. preppers). Preppers anticipate future scenarios that might lead to the interruption of major services and resulting social chaos. They prepare by stockpiling food, water, medicine and fuel; by securing their homes or external places to shelter; and by developing survival, self-defence and traditional craft and food production skills. Not simply focused on the maintenance of life after total social or environmental collapse, in the UK prepping encompasses shorter and more individually experienced periods of enforced self-sufficiency, such as through job loss and an accompanying lack of welfare support.
The research is seeking to understand the significance of the individual responsibility preppers take to surviving and maintaining health and wellbeing in possible crisis situations, and how this act of taking responsibility affects their identity and day-to-day life. We will be looking at the skills and techniques people develop as they enhance their prepping; how equipment and material goods are used and adapted in different forms of kit and stockpiles; the differences between how men and women and people with and without families approach and organise their prepping; how prepping changes physical confidence and brings enjoyment, and how it influences preppers’ relationships with their bodies, home, family and environment.
This research project aims to provide a detailed overview of the prepping community in the UK, particularly attending to practices and debates where the maintenance of health in 'grid-down' scenarios is of central concern.
The research has received ethical approval from Birkbeck's Research Ethics Committee.
All participants will be offered full anonymity and will not be identifiable.
If you are interested in finding out more or you are willing to be involved in this project, please email us directly through the adjacent link.
- What is the provisional title of the project?
'Prepping For Health Autonomy in the Face of Catastrophe: Examining the imagined and material spaces of survivalism in the UK'
- What will the research involve? What is the methodology?
There are four key overlapping phases.
Firstly, we will be conducting background research, reading up on existing material about prepping published by academics, journalists, as well as blogs and resources shared online by preppers.
Secondly, we will be making contact with the moderators of online prepping forums. After gaining permission, we then hope to post a link to a survey on these forums, which people on these sites can choose to respond to or not. The survey is 'opt-in' only. There is no need to 'opt-out' of this research.
Thirdly, following the survey, we will be conducting interviews with people who prep or who identify as preppers. Interviews will either be through Skype (with or without video), through Facetime, face-to-face in a preferred meeting place, by email, or through another interface as determined by the participant. The aim of the interview will be to learn more about the participant's experiences of prepping, how they came to prepping, what they prep for and how. This is to build a deeper understanding of general trends in the prepping community in the UK. It is not to collect information on individuals.
The fourth phase involves attending prepping workshops, training events and meet-ups. Prior to these events, we will contact the organisers to make sure they are happy for us to conduct research during the events. Once permission has been gained, we will take part in the events as any normal attendee would. We will therefore be conducting participant observation of the events - taking part to learn what it is like to experience the event, and to observe what happens for research purposes.
- Will you be using my online comments and posts in the research?
We are reading online posts and comments shared in public prepping forums to learn more about general prepping trends; what is or isn't important, and how issues are discussed. We will not covertly join closed forums. We will request permission from the moderators before joining closed forums, letting them know we are researchers. We will also let people know we are researchers, if we post in closed or open forums.
- What is the ethical review process you have gone through to carry out this research?
This research has received ethical approval through Birkbeck, University of London Research Ethics Committee's ethical review process. This has involved scrutiny of each element of our research methodology from online research, to interviews, to participant observation and informal interviews.
In submitting our research proposal to this ethics board, we have consulted with the documents presented and approved by the Association of Internet Researchers. We are following their guidelines published on how and when to acquire informed consent, how to protect the confidentiality and privacy of participants, and how to ensure that no identifying details can be traced through the presentation of our data, which might lead to any harm (physical or psychological) to the participants involved. We are also following the guidelines presented by the moderators of each online forum where we are conducting the research. We aim to make our research as transparent as possible and have created this blog to ensure that the details of our project, who we are, our aims, research questions and funding partnerships is accessible to all participants, throughout the research.
We will be gaining informed consent prior to interviews and survey participation, when we will share a link to this website so that the aims and outputs of the research are clear. Throughout the process of conducting participant observation online and offline, we will always seek permission from individual people and groups of people before any research-related questions are asked. We will explain the research and its aims and share a link to this website. They are always free to refuse these informal interviews. See below on informed consent.
Creating and updating this blog, alongside answering questions and using consent forms, will enable us to ensure that participant informed consent is acquired and sustained throughout the project. All the forms we use will be available online and we will ensure that we can be reached by participants throughout the research, to answer questions and to ensure data can be retracted.
- Who is funding the research?
The research is funded by the Wellcome Trust ISSF grant and by Birkbeck University. The grant will end 04/2019. Both researchers are employed by the School of Sciences, History and Philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London. The School is responsible for administering and overseeing the grant and funding. The Wellcome Trust is a non-profit, politically and financially independent biomedical research charity.
- Who is carrying out the research and what other research have you been involved in? Can any of this be accessed online?
Please follow the link above to the 'about us' page to learn more about who the researchers are. This link will take you to a page which contains information about the researchers, where you can find further links to our personal professional profiles. Details of our previous research and links to this research can be found on our professional profiles. Please also free to contact us at any point for more information, using the 'contact' tab at the top of this page.
- What will this research be used for?
The research will be used to build academic knowledge of why and how people prep in the UK. The research is not being conducted on behalf of any third party interest, or for the public or private sector. It is purely for academic learning. We hope that it will contribute to a more accurate and nuanced understanding of prepping in the UK. We also imagine that the findings will provide insight relevant to broader academic interest in preparedness and risk; ranging from health-behaviour changes for people at risk of obesity related diseases, to encouraging better fire safety and first-aid skills in private homes. The research may be published and presented through academic journals and conferences, in book chapters or a monograph. Open access copies or details of how to access these will be made available through this website.
- What information are you looking for?
At this stage, this is hard to answer in full. The nature of social science research is that you go in with an open mind, and learn what the participants want to share with you. However, a good indication is that we are considering what it means to be 'resourceful' in situations outside of contemporary systems of support and provision. This is prompting us to look for information about what situations preppers are preparing for, how they have come to prepping and what things are of most value or concern to them whilst prepping. We will also consider the practical things people do to prep.
These questions will be explored through the open questions asked in semi-structured interviews. It is up to each participant what they discuss in regard to prepping, and what each question asked makes them think of or want to share with the interviewer. That is why it is hard to know exactly what we are looking for, because the research can go in so many different directions. The researcher will, however, try to keep the participant on the topic of prepping, and will not be looking for unrelated information. If participants offer or are willing, we may conduct interviews in people's homes, to see how they prep. However, this will only be with their consent and we will not share any personal information or identifying details if this occurs.
- Is the research being initiated to collect personal data or private information about individuals in the prepping community?
No. We are not collecting any identifying details, personal data or private information about specific individuals. We are conducting the research in order to build an understanding of the prepping community as a whole. We are looking for general trends and opinions, perspectives and experiences, rather than a picture of specific individuals. We are not setting out to speak to specific people before we start and instead are using a 'snowballing' method, which is deliberately random.
Conducting this research will involve meeting with and interviewing people. However, the personal details of the people we meet and interview will be kept confidential. The thoughts and opinions shared with us will be presented using pseudonyms, in order to give greater insight into the prepping community as a whole. Quotes taken from online blogs or YouTube videos will be changed to protect people's identities - although the meaning will not be altered. Quotes taken from interviews will be used, but these will not be accompanied by identifying details. Anything shared with us is done so with strict adherence to the right to confidentiality of the participant(s).
- Is the research being conducted to collect information about specific prepping practices, such as the storing up of particular medicines, weapons, forms of technology, objects, tools or other items?
No. We are not setting out in this research project to collect information about specific things being stored or collected, nor where they are stored, by whom, or how much is stored. We are interested in general trends only. We are interested in how people prep to take care of their future health and wellbeing, but not to investigate the use of particular medicines or first-aid supplies. We are instead looking across the broad range of techniques people use to prep for individual responsibility for future health, and how health is seen to have a bearing on different possible future scenarios.
- Are you using set questions in interviews? Will these be available to participants before, during and/or after the research?
We are conducting semi-structured interviews. There will be some set questions. However, these will only be introductory questions to start the conversation and to introduce the researcher and the participant to each other, and to guide the interview and ensure it stays on topic. These set questions can be obtained before, during or after the interview. Simply ask the researcher either by contacting us directly, or during the interview.
-Will you be using a questionnaire? If so, where will this be available to participants?
We will be using a questionnaire/ survey online. This will be available to view on this site, under 'Take Part'. We will also seek permission from the moderators of blogs, forums or discussion boards where we hope to post the survey, before uploading a link to the survey onto their sites.
- Do you have a consent form? If so, who signs this, when and why?
Yes. We will be using a consent form to ensure that we gain informed consent. Informed consent involves ensuring the participant understands what research is being done, by whom, how, what the aims are, how their data will and will not be used, how it will be stored and how the findings will be shared.
The questionnaire incorporates a confidentiality statement and consent form at the start.
We will gain informed consent before the survey and before each formal, semi-structured interview. This form will be signed by the participant when the research has been explained to them, and they understand the aims of the research, how their data will be used, stored, deleted and the steps we will take to ensure their confidentiality is maintained, and their rights to withdraw their data at any point.
We will gain informed consent from forum moderators before introducing our research and promoting the questionnaire in online forums. We will use a consent statement before asking any research-related question in online forums.
We will also be using consent forms at training and skills development events at which we are conducting fieldwork.
We will use consent forms to gain participant permission to use photography, sound and video recording, before using any recording equipment.
Every aspect of this research is 'opt-in' only. We will not be including people in this research unless we have gained informed consent. Information that is publicly available may be used but words will be changed and personal details will not be connected. It will also be taken to support general trends observed across the research as a whole. We will not collect comments or posts from private, closed groups overseen by a moderator. We are taking general observations from these discussion groups. We will never enter these groups without letting the moderator know and we will never post on them with a false name, or without explaining that we are researchers.
- Can I withdraw my consent once it has been given? What would this involve and how would you respond?
Absolutely. Your information is your own. If you wish to withdraw your participation, follow the links above to contact us directly. We will delete your survey or interview answers from our research. However, once the research is published, this will not be possible. Please be aware that any information published will not be connected to you. We will use participant numbers and pseudonyms to conceal your identity. We will not publish identifying details, such as where you live. If you do wish to withdraw your consent, please contact us by 30/04/2019
- What if I write something on this blog or to you, but I don't want it to be a part of the research.
Writing on this blog constitutes an initial 'opting in' to the research. If you subsequently want to retract something, write to us to let us know using the contacts page. But remember that no identifying details are being recorded as part of this research and anything you contribute is anonymous.
- We are aware that many people don't take prepping seriously and there is a whole lot of ridicule of preppers in popular culture. Will the data you collect be used to embarrass preppers?
No. We want to see things through the point of view of UK preppers and to understand the community and prepping individuals in their own terms. We also want to try to see the world from a prepper's perspective - we are working hard to see prepping from the inside out, not the outside in. We are taking prepping seriously as meaningful human action in a rapidly changing political and economic moment in time. We hope to be intermediaries between preppers and non-preppers, enabling the academic audiences we write for to see prepping the way that people who prep do, and to help fellow academics to understand prepping better as an important social practice.
- Will the data you collect be shared with any third parties? Or used to market products to preppers?
Not by choice. We are not conducting this research or collecting this information on behalf of any governmental institutions, private or public companies or any third parties. It is purely for academic research. We are not selling this information to private companies, to be used to market products to preppers. Nor are we collecting information for government use. However, the information we collect will be available through academic outlets, and some information will be available on this site. As with any information available online, including existing prepping blogs and sites, we can not guarantee that marketing companies, or researchers working for the for-profit or public sector, will not find this information and use it. For example, marketing companies increasingly use social research to better market the products of the companies they represent, to prospective consumers. It is entirely possible that any information shared online might be used in this way. We hope that anyone conducting research online uses the information they find responsibly and ethically.
Will you be using photography, voice recordings or film to collect your data?
We will only record people's voices or images, or use photography or video in people's homes, after we have gained informed and signed consent.
Funder: The Wellcome Trust, through Birkbeck ISSF fund