Researcher drinks deep at the well of knowledge

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The Independent Online
A UNIVERSITY lecturer has been awarded a pounds 16,000 grant to go out at weekends and drink. However, Dr Bob Hollands, who teaches social policy at Newcastle University, prefers to look on the exercise as a study in 'youth cultures and use of urban centre space'.

The particular 'urban centre space' Dr Hollands has in mind is the Bigg Market in Newcastle, a notorious street full of pubs and theme bars (all fitted with bouncers as standard), curry houses and a Greek restaurant called Zorba's.

On Friday and Saturday nights it is the social equivalent of the D-Day landings, with thousands of young Tynesiders - a lot bearing a remarkable resemblance to Gazza without the hair extensions - massing in the street, drinking and occasionally beating one another up.

Explaining how the money from the Economic and Social Research Council will be used, Dr Hollands said yesterday: 'I'd like to make some sense of drinking patterns, group dynamics, where people go and who they go with, what sort of social problems arise and what rules of behaviour exist.'

Over the course of the next academic year, Dr Hollands will interview about 60 Bigg Market regulars.

'I hope to follow a small number into the field - a perfectly legitimate academic exercise called participant observation - to see if what they tell me in interview gels with reality.

'I'd also like to see if there is any more violence in areas like this where there is a high density of people drinking over a short period of time.'

He hopes the research will help the city council to understand the sort of leisure facilities it should be providing for young people, and enable the police to monitor the area more effectively.

But John Shipley, leader of the Liberal Democrats on Newcastle City Council, described the study as absurd and frivolous.

'I would do it myself for the price of a pint. Anybody with a modicum of common sense knows what the Bigg Market is all about. It doesn't need a costly research programme to tell us the obvious.'

Dr Hollands, who will continue with his day job at the university, was anxious to emphasise that the grant would be spent on paying a part-time research assistant who will accompany him on trips to the Market and on transcribing taped interviews. 'I should point out that any beer money will come out of my own pocket.'

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