BSA Postgraduate Forum Conference 2014
‘The BBC’s Great British Class Survey and ‘public sociology’’
This paper will reflect on the issues raised by public interest in, and criticism of, the GBCS for debates about ‘public sociology’. It reflects on the potential of using new sources of digital data, of working with media organisations, and on what the public engagement with the project entails for the analysis of class, and for the role of sociology itself. I argue that the project itself is testimony to the power of ‘emerging cultural capital’, the development of new forms of distinction tied up with irony and parody of ‘classification projects’. I argue that this is symptomatic of the provenance of a fluid and pervasive politics of classification.
‘Sociological Theory for a Global Age’
In this presentation, I (briefly) address the disciplinary formation of sociology and its relationship to understandings of the global. I examine the historical narratives at the heart of sociological conceptions of the contemporary world order and argue for the necessity of their revision and, therefore, of the revision of sociology itself. Specifically, I argue that a postcolonial approach, with its critique of Eurocentrism and its central concern with colonial histories, provides more adequate resources for making sense of our contemporary global world.
‘Comedy as an Aesthetic Experience’
Humour is a pivotal lubricant in social interaction, acting as an immediate marker of one’s ability to communicate with others. However, whereas shared humour is a foundational ingredient of friendship and trust, its absence often indicates an unbridgeable social divide. Drawing on the first ever exploration of British comedy taste, this paper aims to explore how sense of humour acts as a key marker of contemporary cultural difference. Challenging recent claims that the British upper-middle classes have ceased to use taste as a means of expressing cultural superiority, the paper will argue that comedy taste acts as a powerful tool for the culturally privileged to exert their cultural capital and pathologise those from working class backgrounds.
‘The Challenge of ‘Doing’ Social Theory’
This paper provides an overview of key issues arising from the challenge of “doing” social theory. More specifically, it argues that the following dimensions are particularly important when engaging – systematically and critically – with recent developments in social theory: (1) contexts, contributions, and criticisms; (2) the “classical/contemporary” distinction; (3) the “primary/secondary” distinction; (d) the “theory/praxis” distinction; (4) various “epistemic” distinctions; (5) problematic sociological “-isms”; (6) “reflexivity”.
‘Intersectional Instigation & Insistence’
Here I hope to think through the possibilities of ‘intersectional insistence’, asking what sociological research could look like if we all instigated intersectional approaches: if she (Black feminist scholar) ‘does’ intersectionality, do we not have to? Often cast as too difficult to measure, practice and include, rendered as a list to work through and tick off, and criticized as too blunt and unsophisticated, I argue that intersectional instigations do (perhaps necessarily) ‘fail’. But, by insisting, we are returned to ‘fail’ again, and perhaps to ‘fail better’. I explore some of these questions through my work on working-class lesbians; lesbian and gay parenting; and queer identifying religious youth. My insistence – and inhabitation – is a rather queer one; I ask you to consider your own.
This short position paper will ask: “What is social class?”. It aims to challenge some ‘common-sense’ sociological assumptions about what class is, and about class formations and class struggle today. Returning to classic Marxist feminist scholarship, such as the work of Angela Davis and Silvia Federici, this paper will open up for debate the question of whether we can or should theorise class apart from other social classifications such as gender, dis/ability, racialization.
‘Neoliberalism, Inequality and the Financial Crisis’
The recent financial crisis appeared to offer an opportunity for the Left to question the structural inequalities that lie at the heart of contemporary market capitalism. But rather than crisis leading to progressive social change the reverse turned out to be the case: the state bailed out the market and in the process protected the interests of big capital. The crisis, in retrospect, did little more than open the way for increasingly aggressive forms of neoliberal governance that work to ‘roll-back’ the powers of the state and ‘roll-out’ new programmes of marketization. Under the sign of crisis anything became possible – for the political Right, if not the Left. In the face of these events, this paper argues that it is a mistake for sociology to be concerned simply with the description of different types of inequality (although this is important). Rather, it should address the structural and political causes of these inequalities, and to do this, it must be engaged with the big ‘upstream’ issues of our times. This presentation will illustrate this argument through reference to one main example, quantitative easing, which has been the main economic and political response to the recent crisis (and arguably has accentuated existing material inequalities) but has received little, if any, sociological attention.
‘Going in: Ethnography as the blunt political tool’
There is a standard and a normal practice when presenting research at academic conferences. We often start with an introduction, how the research has been funded, the key concepts, and themes, our findings, and usually some theoretical overview. Over the years I have presented and explained my research in St Ann’s a council estate in Nottingham in similar ways ie: research within itself, discussing and explaining my research findings, analysing the relevant theoretical standpoint and literature. Whilst offering the audience opportunities to ask questions about the research, the neighbourhood, and the people who have been involved. In this presentation I should like to discuss the wider concepts of ethnographic research as a political tool, a way we as researchers can use our expertise, our methodology, and our in-depth knowledge as both concepts for learning, but also concepts for social change. I will discuss the recent media furore around the Channel 4 programme ‘Benefits Street’ set in Birmingham and examine ‘their’ understanding of working class life but within the context of my own research in a similar neighbourhood in Nottingham. The media coverage ‘Benefits Street’ received was phenomenal as was the discussions which came out of the Channel 4 programme, seemingly offering us a real opportunity for the UK to have serious debates about the stigmatisation of the British Working Class. However what I will argue is that sadly this seemed to be a wasted opportunity if it was an opportunity at all, with the media, political and public debates focusing upon the same moral arguments we have known before, and without a clear sociological voice. Lastly I will ask and explore whether we as researchers, and academics should or do have a duty to challenge these negative representations of what many of us consider our research sites.
‘The Prison as Stage and Actor: Against reading punishment through the body in pain’
Dvora Yanow writes: ‘Built spaces are at once storytellers and part of the story being told’ (1998, p. 215). In this paper I apply her perspective to spaces of punishment, exploring the implications of seeing the prison as both stage and actor. The paper begins by arguing that a pervasive reading of the prison, one which connects a range of diverse literatures from ethnographies to statistical reports, is in terms of the (raced, massed, classed and gendered) body in pain. That is, we generally treat prison as a stage for human actors. It is a setting of confinement and a system of ordering the meaning of which arises from the experiences of the human beings who have been processed through it. Prison reduces to imprisonment, institutions to institutionalization. I think this perspective is understandable but also dangerous. It directs attention away from the container onto the contained, thus training critique and reform on the needs (and behaviour) of the inmate. The two main aims of this paper will be first to assemble the prison as an actor from its component parts – its prisoners, buildings, managers, offices, visitors, grounds, numbers and imagination (evoking the raising of the Leviathan in the recent film of this name, 2012; Latour 2007) – and second, through this re-conceptualization to expose otherwise invisible connections between prison and other forms of punishment (in the community, through civil processes).
Robert Gibb, The University of Glasgow
‘Asylum Interviews, Transcription Practices and Institutional Authority in French Refugee Status Determination Procedures’
This short presentation uses material from the observation of transcription practices in French asylum interviews in order to raise some methodological and political questions about transcription, authority and language with respect to interviews in sociological research.
”Disability’ a sociological phenomenon still ignored by sociologists.’
This presentation will discuss the politicisation of disability by disabled people and their organisations during he last century. It will be argued that disablement is an increasingly complex economic, political and cultural phenomenon that impacts upon all societies both rich and poor and yet continues to be side-lined within mainstream sociology.
‘Spot the contradictions: disability, welfare and neo-liberal politics’
Modern UK governments have signed up to the social model of disability in their social and public policy. The Coalition government has also embarked upon the most radical reform of welfare benefits policy in modern memory. How do these two developments relate to each other; to sociological understandings of ‘independence’ and to sociological interpretations of the welfare state? These are the questions this contribution will seek to address.
‘Swept under the carpet; the sociological shame attached to learning disability’
The statistics around the life chances and opportunities for learning disabled people in the UK are stark. For example, in 2010/11 only 6.6% of learning disabled people were reported to be in some form of paid employment, 25-40% experience mental health conditions, and people with learning disabilities have a shorter life expectancy and increased risk of early death compared to the general population. Whilst sociologists have enthusiastically grasped other social inequalities and pored over, in micro detail, why these inequalities exist and how they can be reduced, learning disability has been largely ignored. Here I encourage (and challenge) the audience to dig deep into their sociological roots and think why this might be.