Sunday, 16 October 2016

Resisting gentrification
By Phil Hubbard - 

This blog offers some reflections on the recent SRO 'Rapid Response'  in volume 21 issue 3.

Writing in 2008, Loic Wacquant argued the literature on urban gentrification was becoming increasingly redundant because of its fixation with the lifestyles of the middle class gentrifier rather than any serous attention being given to the working class and the displaced. As he put it, ‘any rigorous study of gentrification should hold together the trajectories of the lower-class old timers and of the higher-class newcomers battling over the fate of the revamped district, since this class nexus forms the very heart of the phenomena’. Others have noted this tendency, but precious few subsequently have paid much attention to the lives of the displaced, or offered a working-class perspective on gentrification. The question is why? One answer is the methodological: careful qualitative consideration of working-class people and how gentrification affects them is lacking because of the difficulty of tracking the lives of the working classes and the displaced. But Wacquant argues this is less important than what he depicts as an ‘almost ideological’ eviction of critical perspectives around gentrification and a ‘class blindness’ that mirrors the objectification of the working class over recent decades.

In my forthcoming book The Battle for The High Street, I likewise argue policies for the regeneration of British High Streets have been accepted almost without question, to the extent few appear to be making the equation between the gentrification they are promoting and the displacement of the poorer in society. It’s this that I comment on in my Sociological Research Online paper, which is one of nine in a rapid response section of the journal on the theme of assessing the impacts of, and resisting, gentrification. While gentrification is a fairly hoary academic concept, and something that has been evident in the major cities of the urban West for many decades, this call was issued in response to the current ubiquity of gentrification as a process that has now effectively displaced the working class from central London in a manner that now demands urgent attention. Witness not just the ‘hipsterfication’ of inner city districts like Hackney, Shoreditch and Brixton, and the ironic consumption of landscapes of poverty and austerity commented on by Eleanor Wilkinson in her paper, but also the redevelopment of inner city council estate housing by cash strapped local authorities who are thrall to the property conglomerates who see little profit in constructing social housing. As Mara Ferreri and Luna Glucksberg argue in their piece, between 2005 and 2032 over 70 council estates have been or will be affected by 'regeneration' schemes, many of which require wholesale estate demolition and redevelopment as mixed-tenure, with more than 820,500 m2 of land changing ownership from public to private, affecting over 150,000 Londoners, between tenants, leaseholders and freeholders.

What is particularly disheartening for those critical scholars determined to challenge such accelerating processes of gentrification is that these processes have be represented as not just inevitable but morally defensible: the gentrifier is seen to have earned their ‘right to the city’, and those that they marginalize or displace are regarded as having lost this right. It has taken the E15 mothers campaign, and the attendant publicity they have gained, to even question this, and for at least some to come to the conclusion that working class communities might have the right to remain in the neighbourhoods and communities that they have constructed over many decades. But there is perhaps not enough said about the way the city has been taken from the working classes, and, as Waquant suggests, perhaps too much emphasis placed on the aesthetic and cultural ‘improvements’ associated with the arrival of artistic, hip middle class gentrifiers who have taken over inner London, and transformed landscapes of ‘austerity’ with spaces of spectacular, artful consumption.

This erasure of critical perspectives isn’t simply limited to London, being repeated in other national contexts. Even in the US, where gentrification has been most debated, critics sometimes appear somewhat ambivalent about urban upscaling. For example, Sharon Zukin – perhaps the most influential interpreter of changing patterns of culture and capital in the contemporary city – adopts an almost celebratory tone in some of her descriptions of the gentrification of East Village, New York, arguing that ‘far from destroying a community by commercial gentrification, East Ninth Street suggests that a retail concentration of designer stores may be a territory of innovation in the urban economy, producing both a marketable and a sociable neighbourhood node’; elsewhere she argues that Orchard Street, also on the Lower East Side, has been ‘successfully revitalized by new investment, restaurants and retail stores’, shaking off its ‘ghetto image’ with no attendant ‘crisis in moral ownership.’ Here, there’s little said about class conflicts, with the obvious onset of re-gentrification scripted as regenerative rather than necessarily driving a wedge between the poorer and the more affluent.

What seems to be happening here is a collective amnesia about why we study gentrification: that is, to expose the processes which result in the displacement of working class populations from the spaces where they live and work. A book still little known beyond those working in queer activism, but highly pertinent in this context is Sarah Schulman’s (2012) The Gentrification of the Mind: witness to a lost imagination. This is a slim but powerful book in which she makes connections between the consequences of AIDS, the literal gentrification of the city and a ‘diminished consciousness’ about how political and social change occurs. Her argument, though backed up by anecdote rather than empirical data, is powerfully persuasive, and relates to what she sees as the erasure of a ‘queer urban ecology’ due to the combined effects of deaths from HIV, in the first instance, and, secondly, the gentrification of New York. Here, she hypothesizes the injection of new middle class money into previously mixed neighbourhoods – many of which were decimated by HIV – created spaces more homogeneous in class terms than their predecessors. The eviction of the less affluent, she argued, reduced urbanity: white middle class suburban cultural values came to reign where previously diverse ones had mingled and clashed. Yet, over time, she argues these gentrified neighbourhoods became normalized as made by the middle classes, with incomers forgetting these neighbourhoods had even existed before they ‘created’ them. As she sees it, the failure of the gentrifiers – many of them gay white men – to acknowledge the previous lower class inhabitants of the area, including people of colour who had been active in the struggle against AIDS, is testament to ‘the loss of a generation’s ideas’. As Shulmann states, gentrified happiness requires the gentrification of the mind, and the forgetting of what has been suffered – and achieved – by previous generations. The physical landscape has then adapted to the consumer demand for familiarity, and adopted a bland homogeneity that, in her words, “hides the apparatus of domination from the dominant themselves”. This argument, though specific to a particular queer struggle, has considerable resonance for thinking about the wider struggles surrounding gentrification, and our inability as academics to organise effective forms of resistance to this phenomena. While not all academics are middle class, there is a sense in which we are all seduced by new emergent landscapes of middle class consumption and gentrified living.

As we wander around spaces like Soho, which Erin Sanders-McDonagh, Magali Peyrefitte and Matt Ryalls argue is now seen as edgy, but not seedy, with its mixture of chic restaurants, designer stores, and creative businesses, we are also fooled into thinking this represents true urbanity because it appears so bohemian, not bourgeois, and seems to signal cultural acceptance, diversity and opportunity. But this diversity is only available to those who can afford it, and gentrified areas like Soho are far from accessible or open to all. The middle class, particularly its creative factions, imagine their access to food, art and culture in Soho is due to their personal worth and hard work, yet their wealth is partly a function of their ability to define taste in favour of forms of cultural capital they are able to transform into economic capital. The gentrified neighbourhood of Soho sets the standard for acceptability, normalizing the tastes and proclivities of the middle-class consumer in the process and embedding it within a particular imagination of swinging, creative London. Schulman argues gentrification is the removal of the truly dynamic mix that defines urbanity, the privileging of a particular set of class dispositions and the disavowal of others. Despite initially appearing bohemian and edgy, Soho shuns real social diversity and mix in favour of an upmarket form of consumption that feigns cosmopolitanism, looks good, and feels safe, but is palpably not for all. But somehow this exclusionary logic has been forgotten. A gentrification of the mind has occurred. We still go to somewhere like Soho to experience urbanity, the juxtapositions of grit and glitter that have defined the urban condition, and taught us the importance of encountering difference. But it’s apparent that, despite nods to the contrary, Soho, like many other inner London neighbourhoods, how boasts an ersazt urbanity not rooted in any particular time or place.

But if the future of our central city is not as a gentrified bubble serving only the affluent, then what is it to be? Here, my own observations on the role of High Streets in promoting vernacular creativity, conviviality, and senses of belonging suggest that representations of incivility and abandonment should not be allowed to dominate in descriptions of working class areas. Following Suzanne Hall’s study of Peckham High Street and other ‘ordinary spaces’, I conclude it’s vital that we value working class districts as, in Hall’s words, these are ‘shared local spaces shaped by habitual associations rather than outright compatibilities’, with the ‘aggregation of small spaces and diverse groups’ often creating deeply rooted ‘local’ cultures and senses of belonging.

But quite how we might defend working class communities in the face of post-political discourses that elides questions of rights in favour of a rhetoric which equates gentrification with regeneration and, as Hamil Pearsall and Isabelle Anguelovski argue, environmental improvement, remains open to debate. The purpose of this rapid response section is to raise such questions, and to explore how diverse processes of gentrification require different forms of resistance, such as the ‘lobbying campaigns against revenge evictions, anti-eviction action, welfare cuts, housing corruption’ described by Kirsteen Paton and Vickie Cooper, or the squatting activism detailed by Sandra Annunziata and Loretta Lees in the context of Southern Europe. But perhaps they also require us all, as critical scholars, to be a bit more discerning in our own consumption and lifestyle habits, perhaps looking for more ethical alternatives to the Air B&B accommodation that is one of the prime battlegrounds of gentrification (as Agustín Cócola Gant argues in the context of Barcelona) or refusing to frequent the hipster businesses that are overwhelming some of the neighbourhoods where ethnic and class diversity previously reigned.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Gender, Intimacy, Equality

By Charlotte Faircloth and Katherine Twamley

This blog accompanies the special section we edited on gender, intimacy and equality. Here, we give some background to the workshop which led to the special section, explore some of the key themes which emerged, and describe the kinds of conversations and reflections which the workshop provoked (and which we hope the special section continues…).

The topics of gender, equality and intimacy were selected as the basis for a workshop based on our own interest, and from our observation that recent scholarship has begun to unpack their intersections, particularly in the context of personal life (Jamieson 1998, Smart 2007, Gabb 2008). One conclusion of this work has been that, while some theorists predicted a straightforward correlation between greater ‘equality’ between men and women, and enhanced intimacy in personal relationships (see, for example Giddens 1992, Beck and Beck-Gernsheim 1995), this has not necessarily been the case. Instead, empirically grounded work has revealed the three concepts of gender, intimacy and equality to be ‘uncomfortable bedfellows’. An important trend in this work, then, has been to explore the clash between ‘ideal’ relationships promoted by policy, expert and self-help literature, on the one hand, and the pragmatics of family life, on the other (Gillies 2009, Jensen and Tyler 2013)

In April 2014, we – the editors of this new special section of SRO – convened an event at the IOE in London entitled ‘Gender, Equality and Intimacy: (Un)comfortable bedfellows?’ This workshop was set up to explore further how such connections between equality and intimacy are experienced by men, women and families. At the workshop we aimed to create a dialogue between junior and senior researchers, with presenters pre-submitting papers on new and emerging empirical research, whilst respondents reflected on the papers’ theoretical contributions to the field.

Drawing on very different empirical examples, the authors in this resulting special section explore how discourses of appropriate sexual intimacy shape the personal lives of men and women, and focus on two themes in particular:

Representing sexuality

The first three papers examine representations of sexuality in sex advice literature and ‘communities’, and the ways that these exert influence on individuals’ experiences of intimacy in particularly gendered ways. Introducing these papers, Professor Ros Gill noted that the pieces are very ‘brave, difficult and challenging pieces of research’, which all, in different ways, reject the optimistic treatise of the transformation of intimacy school. They all also look at notions of mediation and story-telling in intimate narratives, which intersect with gendered power relationships in important ways.

The first paper, from van Hooff, for example, explores married women’s experiences of sex as these relate to idealised images of the couple relationship; the paper problematizes what van Hooff calls (after Jackson) ‘everyday, mundane, conventional sexual lives’ (Jackson 2008: 34). This paper explores the considerable gaps between aspiration and experience for many of her participants, a theme picked up by Woodiwiss, who looks at women’s responses to what she calls a narrative of ‘compulsory sexuality’ in self-help literature.  Both these papers focus on the ways in which cultural narratives around appropriate (hetero)sexuality impact on understanding of self and intimate relationships. These narratives around gender appropriate sexuality form the subject of the third article by O’Neill, who looks in particular at the commercialisation of intimacy through a study of men in the ‘seduction community’ in London. This is both a chilling and fascinating case-study into an increasingly ‘mediated’ intimacy. O’Neill argues that the seduction community can be seen as ‘of a neoliberal sensibility or rationality to the domain of personal and intimate life’ (p8). The implications of O’Neill’s analysis, in terms of gender equality, are bleak: the men view women as objects to attain - women who are ‘consumed’ and paraded as markers of status.

All three papers show how discourses of ‘normal’ sexual behaviour are governing the lives of men and women. ‘Good housekeeping has now been replaced by “good sex-making”’ (Hawkes 1996:121) as Van Hooff comments (p9).

Discussing the papers, Dr Meg John Barker noted that as someone who tries to both write, and criticise ‘self-help’ literature, these papers were particularly useful in thinking about the way in which we treat both ourselves (and others) as objects. Barker also commented on the relationship between emotional and sexual intimacy, noting that in all papers, these different kinds of intimacy were conceptually separated, while in ‘real life’ they tend to be conflated.

Sexuality and parenting

The second three papers look at sexuality and intimacy in the context of parenting.

Commenting on this, Dr Esther Dermott noted that the reason parenting raises questions of gender equality is because it’s the organisation of parenting tasks and responsibilities which seems to be the stumbling block, time and again, for gender equality. Whilst transformations have happened in the realm of paid work, this has not been matched in the domestic sphere. Similarly, the suggestion that the transformation of fatherhood is the answer to this problem does not seem to be the case – instead, research shows that ‘intimate’ fatherhood might mean ‘new-ness’ without necessarily transforming gender relations. Rather than continuing with this line of analysis, however, she noted that the papers here take the focus off fatherhood, and refreshingly look at gender equality in parenting through different lenses.

For example, Layne’s paper uses the case study of a ‘single mother by choice’ showing the uncomfortable relationship between parenting culture and the couple relationship as traditionally defined. Layne’s research participant, Carmen, happily avoids the compromises involved in a marriage. She wonders whether marital intimacy is laden with negotiation around household labour and intimate exchanges. Like Van Hoof’s participants who are in relationships, she expects men to want to have sex more often than women and is reticent to enter into a relationship where having sex, even when not wanting to, may be ‘part of the deal’. Carmen’s intensive approach to parenting, whether in part caused by lack of a romantic partner, also prohibits making more intimate adult connections.

Faircloth, by contrast, explores how couples manage transitions around intimacy as they become parents, looking in particular at the tensions between an ‘intensive’ parenting culture and a strong emphasis within the couple on the importance of sex and intimacy. By taking into account the policy context shaping parents’ lives, especially their division of care, Faircloth explores the role of the state in shaping the intimate lives of parents. Morris pursues the same themes but through work with single mothers, showcasing the competing accountabilities single mothers feel they must accommodate in order to avoid charges of deviance. Gender inequality pushed them out of relationships, but also left them vulnerable once out of them, economically, socially and emotionally.

What becomes apparent cross both sets of papers, are the ways in which men and women are increasingly treating their intimate lives as projects of improvement and individual endeavor, which Professor Gill referred to as the ‘toxic individualization of intimacy’.

Brought together, the six articles from the special section unpack the ways that enduring gendered discourses, whether ‘mediated’ through policy, social discourse or self-help literature, shape intimate life, and the ways in which individuals attempt to make sense of these in their narratives and intimate practices. Far from being a straightforward correlation between greater gender equality and intimacy, a look at shifting sexual practices across a range of settings shows that this relationship appears to be more fraught than ever.


Thursday, 24 September 2015

Measuring Paternal Involvement in Childcare and Housework

Helen Norman and Mark Elliot, University of Manchester

How to measure the involvement of fathers in childcare is a matter of wide debate (e.g. Dermott 2008, 2003; Williams 2008; Mikelson 2008; Sanderson and Sanders-Thompson 2002; Cabrera et al 2000; McBride and Mills 1993; Lamb 1986). This is in contrast to the concept of maternal involvement, which is universalised and taken for granted (Miller 2010; 2011).

Paternal involvement is challenging to define and measure in quantitative research because it is a subjective and manifests itself in varied ways (e.g. see Dermott 2008; Pleck 2010; Palkovitz 1997). Yet a precise measurement of the term would prove useful for creating a benchmark for further research and conceptual elaboration as well as a reliable means for assessing the factors associated with being an ‘involved father’. Simplifying a complex term into a quantitative measure allows us to capture and summarise a diverse set of practices that reaches out to all types of fathers. This is particularly useful for exploring paternal involvement across a large cohort of fathers in order to help inform UK policy debates on both fathers' and mothers' work-family reconciliation, which has been a key concern for all UK Governments since the 1990’s.

In our paper, published in Sociological Research Online, we derive two measures of paternal involvement using household data from the UK's Millennium Cohort Study. These measures are based on two dimensions of paternal involvement coined by Michael Lamb in 1986: ‘engagement’ and ‘responsibility’. Engagement represents the one-to-one interaction time with the child such as feeding the child, helping the child with their homework and playing. Responsibility is defined as knowing in detail what childcare needed and ensuring it is provided by anticipating, planning and arranging provision. For example, knowing when the child needs to go to the doctor, making the appointment and ensuring the child gets to it is responsibility – going with the child to the doctors and talking to them about it is engagement.  Another way in which a father might evidence responsibility is through maintaining a clean and safe standard of living for the child i.e. housework. This also relieves the other parent (i.e. the mother) of these tasks so that she can concentrate on other activities such as looking after the child.

In order to derive our two measures, we use variables from the MCS that measure the fathers' accounts of their childcare practices when children are very young and the mothers' reports on fathers' contributions to housework. This use of a combination of mothers' and fathers' reports for different variables is primarily driven by the structure of the MCS questionnaire design but doing this also allows us to gain a balanced perspective of fathers' involvement. We use three different factor analytic techniques to derive our measures or ‘factors’. Factor analysis works by reducing a large number of variables to a smaller number of factors that can be used in subsequent analyses. Our factor analyses confirmed the existence of ‘engagement’ and ‘responsibility’ factors in the data.

We then explored the relationship between socio-demographic, attitudinal and employment variables, and paternal engagement and responsibility. Our results show that fathers are more likely to be engaged and responsible when they work shorter hours or have a partner who works longer hours. Interestingly, mothers' employment hours had a higher correlation with paternal engagement and responsibility than fathers' own employment hours. Fathers were also more engaged when they had a higher level of education and more egalitarian gender role attitudes. Our analysis also reveals variations in paternal involvement according to the father's ethnicity. For example, Black/Black British fathers are most likely to show most evidence of responsibility (through housework), and are also most likely to be engaged in childcare. Engagement and responsibility is lowest for fathers with a Pakistani and Bangladeshi background. The variations in paternal involvement according to ethnicity may be related to cultural differences as shown by Hauari and Hollingsworth (2009) for example, but further research is needed to explore this.

Our results suggest a modest shift in gender relations whereby it is no longer the fathers' but the mothers' employment that primarily shapes how involved a father is with his children. In two-parent households, fathers' labour market roles have historically been given precedence as the 'primary' earner in the couple (also see Warin et al. 1999) so this role is expected to dictate the amount of time available to spend with children. However, our results suggest this is no longer the case with the mother’s employment being even more important than the father’s in shaping how involved he is in childcare and housework.

In future, it would be interesting to explore the association between paternal involvement and paternity and parental leave, as well as different forms of flexible working, for a more recent cohort of fathers in order to assess the impact and success of these different levels of Government support.


Dermott., E. (2008): Intimate Fatherhood: A sociological analysis. Oxon, Routledge.

Dermott, E. (2003): The Intimate Father': Defining paternal involvement. Sociological Research Online, Volume 8, Issue 4.

Hauari H. and Hollingworth, K. (2009). Understanding Fathering: Masculinity, diversity and change. London, Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Lamb, M. (198). The Father's Role: Applied Perspectives. New York, John Wiley & Sons.

Pleck, J. (2010): Paternal involvement: Revised conceptualization and theoretical linkages with child outcomes in M. E. Lamb (Ed.), The role of the father in child development, 5th ed, New York: Wiley.

Palkovitz, R. (1997): Reconstructing involvement: Expanding conceptualizations of men's caring in contemporary families, in Hawkins, A.J., Dollahite, D.C. (eds):'Generative fathering: Beyond deficit perspectives.'Thousand Oaks CA, Sage.

Warin J., Y. Solomon, Lewis, & Langford (1999). Fathers, Work and Family Life. Findings. London, Joseph Rowntree Foundation.


Tuesday, 1 September 2015

The Matter of Race

By Nasar Meer, Anoop Nayak and Raksha Pande

Ideas of race seem as salient today as they have ever been, even when we are not directly talking about issues of race. In our new themed section on The Matter of Race, and with contributions from Les Back, Paul Bagguley, Daniel Burdsey, Sarah Burton, Bridget Byrne, Yasmin Hussein and Maggie Tate, we show that because of the slippery fashion in which ideas of race have shifted, transmuted and pluralised, race continues to matter even if it is presented as non-race concern.  What we describe might be understood as a trend in new directions in racial formation.  As Paul Gilroy (2004: 111) accepted over a decade ago, ‘it is impossible to deny that we are living through a profound transformation in the way the idea of ‘race’ is understood and acted upon’. We can see this if we reflect for moment on how debates about the European Union and sovereignty proceed with a firm view of the ‘migrant’ in mind, or how debates about ‘British values’ quickly become entrenched in ethnic hierarchies, or indeed how race is more broadly translated into a mode of ‘resentment as 'a political idea'’ (Ware, 2008). Each of these moves a little beyond Atlantocentric (black-white) notions of race, something that is further illustrated in issue of Islamophobia, antisemitism and anti-Roma discourse.

In our themed section the papers by Daniel Burdsey, and Paul Bagguley and Yasmin Hussein respectively, take up this focus to span issues of representation and sport, and the ways in which ethnicities encounter crisis, diversity and re-composition in post-imperial settings. Burdsey focuses on a case study of England cricketer Moeen Ali in order to explore how race, religion and citizenship are configured in the sporting arena and made sense of in the wider popular press and national media. The implications are that we might ‘think differently about the relationship between sport, politics and the sporting hero, and to reconsider conventional analyses of agency, activism and the use of sport as a platform from which to “speak” in the public sphere’ (Burdsey, themed section).  Bagguley and Hussein meanwhile present an analysis of how people present and negotiate their ethnicity reflexively in relation to nation, citizenship and processes of racialization. Using qualitative interview study (N=140) on how different ethnic groups in West Yorkshire were affected the 7/7 London bombings, they show how these different forms of reflexivity – meta-reflexivity, autonomous reflexivity, communicative reflexivity and fractured reflexivity – become operable amongst different ethnic groups. ‘The re-composition of ethnicised identity claims, and increased reflexivity of identity that this is demanding of people’, they maintain, ‘is seen to be rooted in the political and identity crises generated by Britain’s role in and response to the war on terror’. In their analysis these differentiated expressions are rooted in the specific politics and histories of migration and racialization in relation to dominant discourses of whiteness and the state.

In her contribution meanwhile, Bridget Byrne shows how campaigns around citizenship rights in Britain rely on the production of whiteness in a way that has profound implications for ideas of citizens and non-citizens in Britain, whilst also highlighting the need for a complex range of vocabularies to enable the analysis of different exclusions, not least through intersectional registers.  These different exclusions are, in her account, ‘clustered around these imaginations are notions of integration, language and love which rely on shared and interwoven assumptions about race, gender and religion as well as class and sexuality’ (Byrne, themed section).

These sets of argument may however encounter the charge that we are witnessing a ‘growing culture of racial equivalence’ (Song, 2014: 109).  In this view ‘the concept of racism has suffered from conceptual inflation, resulting in the declining utility of this important concept’ (ibid. 108).  While the recognition of racism’s plural character (and its many possible incarnations) is not unequivocally welcomed, it remains necessary if we are to capture the changing status of race concept over a longue durée, and grasp ‘what race does and what is done in the name of race’ (Murji and Solomos, 2-15: 276). 

The challenge for the discipline of Sociology is that race presents a paradox that sociologists constantly grapple with. Many tend to portray the term under erasure by presenting it in inverted commas so as to indicate that we are referring to a socially constructed category, based upon a problem­atic idea, instead of something that is self-evidently real in the world.  Even those who do not repeat this practice agree with the thrust of the argument. Perhaps the simplest way to frame this is to say that sociolo­gists tend to be interested in the dynamic and relational properties of race as both a his­torical idea and social category.  Yet is this insufficient?

Virdee (2012: 1144), for example, reminds us that sociol­ogy did not stand outside a racialised modernity that ‘endowed some Europeans with privilege along with the power to occupy the centre of world history, and shape it accord­ing to its own image’.  The objective of this complaint is not to devalue British sociology. On the contrary. it is to make the argument for sociology, for ‘self scrutiny rather than sheer defensiveness’ (McLennan, 2006: 97), to encourage ‘without guarantees’ (Hall, 1986) inquiry on the ways in which race and sociology are already deeply implicated.  Sociologies of race therefore require ‘being atten­tive to the specificities of the current situation but also historical linkages through time’ (Back, personal correspondence with authors). This means going beyond surface level reconstructions, and challenging sociologists to reflect on how their discipline is organ­ised across sociology departments, ‘just as sociologists have criticized other disciplines on these matters’ (Murji, 2007: 853). As Claire Alexander (2011) has put it:

I think that sociology has at best failed to engage these discourses and positions and at worse been complicit with them – within the academy, discussions of ‘race’ have largely fallen from the agenda, and there is very little work that deals with issues of racism explicitly.

Such an activity would include a ‘critique of sociology’s reformism and its neglect of the historical conditions in which sociological ideas about race and racism developed’ (Murji, 2007: 853). Each of these concerns has implications for the kinds of research and teaching programs sociology departments are currently promoting (and indeed ignor­ing).  In our themed section the interventions here from Sarah Burton, and Les Back and Maggie Tate respectively, are instructive. For Burton, a focus on the figure of the ‘white theory boy’, or ‘dead white man’ and his relationship to knowledge production, serves as a means to probe the pedagogy of social theory teaching in the UK.  In one classical social theory module, for example, she observes that of the 43 authors listed as ‘essential’ reading, 37 were white men and 6 were white women, and that ‘no authors of colour appeared on the ‘essential’ reading lists in this course’ (Burton, themed section). The trend in her account is generalizable and falls not only along lines of inclusion and exclusion into the ‘canon’, but in terms of thematic range, in as far as minority sociologists are restricted to what are deemed minority topics, rather than the story of sociology more broadly.  This inevitably reflects how the ‘privileging of white, male, Western, and middle-class identities are ingrained into the very fabric of sociology’s ontological foundations’ (ibid).  The task of rediscovering alternative histories in social theory is therefore ripe and persuasively developed in Back and Tate’s contribution, and which challenges us to consider what an account of race and the intellectual heralds for the wider sociological tradition.  They point in their paper to two overlapping issues. One maintains that the white sociological mainstream has historically ignored the contribution of black sociologists, and the other that the discussion of racism is demoted to a specialist sub-field.  Black sociologists by contrast, they argue, have long been attentive to a white sociology that has set the prevailing agenda. Through a detailed exposition of the writings of W.E.B Du Bois and Stuart Hall in particular, and their respective dialogues with figures like Max Weber and C Wright Mills, Back and Tate make an argument for reconstructing sociology at the levels both of analysis and of form – each of which changes the ways in which sociology can talk about racism. ‘What is at stake’, they maintain, ‘is the possibility of sociological reconstruction that produces an alternative understanding of what sociology can include, starting with augmented modes of telling and writing that attract a broader and more inclusive audience’ (Back and Tate, themed section).  Our themed section on the Matter of Race therefore brings together a set of original argument authored by scholars who try to explore some of the present and future oriented ways in which race matters, and help us to plot out new directions in racial formation.


Alexander C (2011) Sociology’s Jurisdiction: Sociology’s Identities and Futures for the Discipline. British Sociological Association address, 7 April

Gilroy, P. (2004) Between Camps. London: Routledge.

Hall S (1986) The problem of ideology – Marxism without guarantees. Journal of Communication Inquiry 10(2): 28–44.

McLennan G (2006) Sociological Cultural Studies. London: Palgrave.

Murji, K. and Solomos, J. (2o15) Theories of Race and Ethnicity: Contemporary Debates and Perspectives. Cambridge: CUP.

Murji, K. (2007) ‘Sociological engagements: institutional racism and beyond’, Sociology, 41(5), 843-55.

Song, M. (2014) ‘Challenging a culture of racial equivalence’, British Journal of Sociology, 65 (1), 107-125

Virdee S (2012) Forward to the past: Race, the colour scale and Michael Banton. Ethnic and Racial Studies 35(7): 1143–50.

Ware, V. (2008) ‘Towards a Sociology of Resentment: A Debate on Class and Whiteness’, Sociological Research Online, 13 (5), <> doi:10.5153/sro.1802



Friday, 17 July 2015

Talking the Talk and Fitting In: Troubling the Practices of Speaking 'What You Are Worth' in Higher Education in the UK

By Michelle Addison and Victoria, G. Mountford, Newcastle University

This blog is based on a more in-depth article in Sociological Research Online, published in May 2015. We are both interested in how ways of talking, and accent, have taken on symbolic meaning in higher education (HE). We wrote this piece together because we are becoming increasingly concerned that in a climate of uncertainty in HE we are seeing that the importance of demonstrating one's impact, value and worth comes down to more than just productivity, qualifications and experience. It’s becoming more about who you are as a person – the ‘personality package’ (Brown et al., 2003). Yet distinctions operate to ascribe (classed) value and some people occupy a privileged position where their body and their voice are read as valued whereas others are not so lucky and cannot adapt or escape how they are seen and heard by others, regardless of other work or achievements. We base our discussions upon data from two qualitative research studies with employees (Addison) and undergraduate students (Mountford) in a traditional Higher Education Institution (HEI) in the north of England (Mountford’s also included students from a nearby post-1992 HEI), which are contextualised within this climate of marketization of HE in the UK. Whilst market logic and discourse pervade the field of HE, situating meritocracy and hard work as the key driver for success, our data tell a slightly different story of persistently reactivated cultural classed codes forming distinctions of worth and value within these educational spaces.

How we talk says a lot about us and what kind of person we wish to be. Talking matters, but why do we think that talking about talking matters here, why now? Talking the talk is a valuable currency, our accents and specifically the way we talk, the words we choose and how we say them (for example, local phrases, swearing and slang), are resurfacing as conductors of value in HE and beyond. The way we talk is part of our person, our self and our own personal histories and circumstances; our bodies are vehicles from which classed value judgments are constantly read and reactivated in everyday exchanges and interactions. Knowing how to speak ‘worth’ in HE is important, tricky to get right, and can help or hinder the person in terms of getting ahead, depending on whether they know how to play the game. Particular ways of talking then, affect feelings of 'fitting in' or 'standing out' which can provoke strong emotions including shame or defiance to the affective judgements of ‘deficiency’ assigned to our voices (Loveday, 2015; Reay et al 2009; Abraham and Ingram 2013; Taylor 2012). In our article (2015) we focus our attention on practices of fitting in and belonging, and how this relates to ways of 'talking the talk'. What we do know is that talking a certain way shapes belonging in HE, and talking the right or wrong talk is connected to social judgements about class. Many people working and studying in higher education are classed because of the way they talk, and this can often be painful for some, while conferring advantage on others.

I still feel like these people are clever[er] than us, probably more wealthy – and I don't know…why I think that…when I'm listening to them other people speak it just […] so easy to understand and I think I imagine them trying to understand me…now I'm so concerned about you know, fully pronunciating […] – you know what I mean, you're like kind of trying harder but because you're trying so hard you get really nervous and you kind of clam up and everything.
(Craig, 23, Working-class student, Mountford’s study)

It's not changing what you know, erm, if you speak with a so called 'Queen's English' that's how all the people who are professional or who are higher up life, that's how they speak, it's almost like that's what you should be like, but it's not really is it?
(Simon, Surveyor, 31, lower middle class, Addison’s study)

I'm like trying to so hard to speak, you know, quite poshly - and I've not got a really strong accent anyway but like I find myself like trying really hard but most of the time they can tell I'm from like Manchester (laughs)[…] but they just assume that you're more […] I suppose, common in a way and that you're not as well educated and you're poorer
(Faye, 18, middle-class, student, Mountford’s study)

Alan, he is still here, he has a very, very, very broad [northern] accent and they used to laugh at him! Behind his back, which is worse of course, he was very able and very good at what he did […] it is interesting there is this assumption that if you have this posh accent then you should be a lawyer, or a judge, and it comes with it that you are clever.
(Linsey, Temporary Lecturer, 51, unsure of class position, Addison’s study)

Accents and ways of talking are part of embodied class identities; whilst some ways of talking, for instance, via accent, carry connotations of intelligence, other regionalised accents are positioned as lacking value, as well as other cultural meanings (Lawler 1999). A classificatory system operates to organise and codify language, accent, and ways of talking according to class. Whilst the ‘Geordie’ (north east English) accent was associated with the locale of the research sites and no doubt therefore part of a broader notion of ‘fitting in’ to the locale, this prominent accent within the walls of HE had an alternative effect of ‘standing out’ within the classed space of the university. In certain social spaces and around certain people, talking a certain way can take on, or lose, value.

The game that is being played in HE is about knowing how and when to 'talk the talk': that is knowing when to put on ‘poshness’, or dial down dialect (if that option is available of course!). The ‘Geordie’ will always be a Geordie as they say, with all of the historically working-class idioms and cultural connotations that are attached to this accent: so being able to play the game and get ahead by sounding ‘posh’ is just not an option for either of us authors, or many of our participants that we spoke to. Knowing how talk and accent are codified and laden with value is a vital resource in getting ahead of the pack in times of increased competition; recent reports on employers using a ‘poshness test’ (see Weaver, 2015; Ashley et al., 2015) reinforces these data and the claims we make. Mobilizing whatever capital is available in order to secure one's social position is not a new concept (Skeggs 1997, Adkins 1995; McDowell 1997) but what we highlight is that, perhaps more than ever, talking matters. This is a particularly interesting social and political time to be using accent and ways of talking to get ahead to present a particular kind of classed image. As Watson (2010) discusses too, the impetus to cement a strong and valuable image via elite status in these austere times, and beat the competition, is affecting everyone who works and studies in an educational establishment, from academics and students to cleaners (see also Chapelo 2010; Addison 2012; Taylor 2012).


Abraham, J. and Ingram, N. (2013) 'The Chameleon Habitus: Exploring Local Students' Negotiations of Multiple Fields' in Sociological Research Online, 18(4) 21

Addison , M. (2013) 'Knowing you way within and across classed spaces: The (Re)making and (Un)doing of identities of value within Higher Education in the UK' in TAYLOR, Y (ed.) Educational Diversity: The Subject of Difference and Different Subjects' Houndsmill, Basingstoke, Hampshire Palgrave Macmillan. p. 236-256
Ashley, L.; Duberley, J.; Sommerlad, H. & Scolarious, D. (2015) A qualitative evaluation of non-educational barriers to the elite professios’. London: Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission

Brown, P.; Hesketh, P. and Williams, S. (2002) 'Employability in a Knowledge Driven Economy' in Journal of Education and Work 16 (2): 107-126.

Chapelo, C . (2010) 'What defines 'successful' university brands?' in International Journal of Public Sector Management', 23(2)

Lawler, S . (1999) 'Getting Out and Getting Away': Women's Narratives of Class Mobility' in Feminist Review 63(3): p.3-24

Loveday, V. (2015) ‘Embodying Deficiency Through ‘Affective Practice’: Shame, Relationality, and the Lived Experience of Social Class and Gender in Higher Education’ Sociology 49 (3): 1-16

Reay, D; Crozier, G. and Clayton, J. (2009) '"Strangers in Paradise" - Working-class Students in Elite Universities' in Sociology, 43(6): p. 1103-1121.

Taylor, Y . (2012) Fitting into Place? Class and Gender Geographies and Temporalities. Surrey: Ashgate

Skeggs, B. (1997) Formations of Class and Gender: Becoming Respectable. London: Sage.

Watson, C. (2010) 'Accountability, transparency, redundancy: academic identities in an era of 'excellence'' in British Educational Research Journal, First.Weaver, M. (2015) 'Poshness tests' block working-class applicants at top companies.’ The Guardian. Monday 15th June 2015. [Last accessed 14th July 2015]

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Connectivity in later life: the declining age divide in mobile cell phone ownership

By Chris Gilleard, Ian Jones & Paul Higgs

The divide between working and post-working life has long been thought considerable – both in terms of income and social exclusion.  Old people - retired people - have been seen as excluded from public life, their horizons confined to the social relations of family and neighbours.  We have argued that later life is changing; that it is richer and more varied than in the past and no longer restricted to the confines of kin and near neighbours.  One obvious source of change is the decline in later life poverty, whether measured in terms of income or consumption.  Another is in the rise in home ownership. Another is in changing community and social relationships, which is the arena of change that we chose to focus upon in this study.  We live increasingly in what Castells has called a ‘network society’ that   connects people well beyond the limits of their neighbourhood.  A variety of technologies from mobile phones to laptops enable people of all ages to keep in touch with spatially distant kin, help old friends maintain their friendships and create the conditions for new friendships to form. Furthermore, all this is rendered possible despite any restrictions in physical mobility. 
While some writers have argued that age differences in cultural familiarity with Information and Communication Technology has created new forms of exclusion – a digital divide between the pre- and post-Internet generations – we thought that because the new ICT is as much ‘home based’ as ‘work based’, such divisions are unlikely to be strong or sustainable.  In this study rather than focusing upon the Internet as a source of community and communication, we chose to examine trends in mobile cell phone ownership among older people.  We drew upon the individual data files from the General Household Surveys of 2000 and 2006 and its successor, the General Lifestyle Survey of 2009, all of which record information about ownership of various household goods, including mobile phones.  The existence of information about other aspects of the respondents (such as educational background, gender, household composition and income, and health) as well as age enabled us to explore both age/cohort differences in mobile phone ownership and differences within age cohorts – such as those associated with educational background, gender or the presence of young people in the household. 

As anticipated, we found rising levels of mobile phone ownership during this period. These were greater among people over fifty than among those under fifty.  Further, levels of mobile phone ownership rose more steeply among people in their seventies than people in their fifties. Generally those older people in less favourable social circumstances (renters not home owners, those with low income not high incomes, those who left school before 16 not those who continued their education, etc.) showed a consistently faster growth in phone ownership.  By 2009, the large divide in ‘connectivity’ that we observed in 2000, between older and younger people and between more and less advantaged older people had shrunk.  Within less than a decade, the capability that mobile phone technology offers people to keep in touch is no longer the source of division and exclusion it once was.  While it would be remiss to ignore the fact that we excluded the oldest old (people in their eighties and nineties) from our study, the critical point remains that ‘old age divides’ are shrinking as fast as they appear in our network society.

Read the full Sociological Research Online article here.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Who runs the countryside?

By Sam Hillyard, Durham University.

‘Why would you want to study here?’  This was the observation made by one resident of the village on which this blog and related paper are based.  From their point of view, not a lot happened there and, admittedly, it was a quiet, sleepy kind of village, tucked away in a fairly remote county in the East of England. This paper attempts to outline why it was important to look at and how the research unlocked the complexity of that social setting, describing its methods and some of its research strategies.

One of the main challenges for sociology is to open-up to analysis what seems normal – even dull.  Hence key thinkers like Erving Goffman apply incongruous metaphors, such as Shakespeare’s metaphor – the world is a stage – to society (Goffman 1959).  This asks how can we see our society afresh if we see it as a set of performances?  Another strategy is to understand that, as one of my undergraduate sociology tutors observed, the only constant is change.  Everywhere is subject to some kind of change – the people, the place and what society is becoming – so we can also explore that.  So, for example, one TV critic observed about a series that is was ‘set in super-yesterday times’ and that hence had all of the privations of life in Tudor England:
People said it was slow, but to be fair it was set before cars, so the main bloke had to go everywhere on foot […] it must have been knackering.
[…] if you think about it, they only lived in olden times, so it wasn’t like they missed out on much, like they didn’t even have chips back then, or Wi-Fi, or Mark Ronson or Broadchurch […] I mean there was nothing to do back then, they were so desperate for stuff to do that for entertainment they had to watch people sweep stuff up or poked cobwebs or read books.  It was [a] total shithouse.’ 
There is a danger, too, that because something seems normalised or has been that way for a long time it may hide inequalities.  Social scientists, like Goffman, are also very keen to examine how power operates (even at local levels) and with what consequences.  In rural areas, attention has been paid to inequalities relating to social class alongside the ‘rural penalty.’  That is, the opportunities or options urban dwellers take for granted aren’t there – the modern-day equivalent to Tudor absences (no mobile signal, no broadband and no shops open at reasonable hours).  It is also important, though, to try and understand how such inequalities manifest themselves at the local level.   
An ethnographic approach was used here.  This includes looking firsthand at what people do, rather than relying upon what they say they do (Atkinson 2015).  The style of enthrophy adopted by the research was inclusive, that is, was primarily qualitative but also included quantitative data.  The core principle is that it seeks to understand the lived experiences and perspectives of the social group/ world under study.  Starting with the school (was it at the heart of the village?), much bigger patterns of change began to emerge.  For example, who was locally important – the local squirearchy – had changed from long-term residents (villagers born and raised there) to relative newcomers.  The challenge was to try and understand why.  Helping to get an insight into these changes, some ideas from Goffman and also from a contemporary thinker on social space (Nigel Thrift), an explanation emerged.
Key village changes
In previous research, with Carl Bagley (School of Education, Durham University) we explained a number of themes, including what had changed inside the schools, from very long-serving members (28 years in one case) to a rapid turn-over of staff and what implications this had for how the school was seen by the village.  We also saw the impact of economic change – the other case study village was a former coal-mining village in Co. Durham, UK – influenced how the school featured as a force of continuity.  We also were curious about and explored how the school could be a centrifugal force for creating a sense of belonging in a village – or inversely a means of exclusion.  The theme of exclusion and how social clashes and some forms of deviancy are handled in rural areas, too, was a theme explored elsewhere. 

One of the greatest strengths of doing ethnography is its capacity to yield unexpected or unanticipated results.  By looking at the recent social history, a change in guard seemed to have taken place.  That is, who occupied the ‘front stage’ roles of village life.  Why had this so markedly happened?  In this new article in SRO, I present findings from the ethnography and use it to comment upon what rural areas are now becoming – is it a performance or does the sticky issue of space’s influence upon us (even as a penalty) hold fast?

In first coming to the village, where I lived for just shy of a month on three occasions with my partner John and our two dogs, the layout immediately seemed strange.  There were two main streets, in parallel to one another and I could see what had been the heart of the village had closed up (blacksmith and baker shutting), but a new store had opened towards the A-road.  I did a lot of walking in and around the village – dogs can be useful fieldwork ‘tools’ – and from the housing stock could see its layers of expansion.  Census data and the old Norfolk county trade directories confirmed that the village had really grown – and mostly since the Second World War. 
What was left in the ‘old’ village was its school and also a very fine church.  Looking through their records – inside and out of the church – several names cropped up again and again.  Many English villages also have Parish Councils and I compared and contrasted who sat on what and when (i.e. the School Governors became the Friends of the School and former and present Parish Counsellors).  I got to know who were key people in the village currently, speaking to the current head, former heads, local business owners and newcomers and established residents alike.  They were identifiable by the overlap between who villagers themselves recommended that I speak to and the way in which certain individual names cropped up repeatedly.

Payne (1996) observed that, in his view, community studies always seemed to find the people they researched were nice and got along with one another.  Here it became very clear that the village did not ‘gel’ and there was some historic rancour.  The exploratory, open-ended character of ethnography allowed me to explore this further.
Looking at the records and speaking with residents and attending and interacting in events across the village (spending time in school, at the shop, going to meetings and talks and, obviously, walking the dogs) I identified two generic sides.  These were the established residents – those literally with relatives in the graveyard – and the people who had not lived there for so long.  Looking into this further, it seemed there were two types of incomer – a ‘professional’ class and those who – quite literally – did not want to be there.  That is, they were in housing association accommodation over-spilled from the nearest market town.

This challenged a lot of the existing comments about rural life that suggest people moved there to colonise or to sediment into a new lifestyle; that class lines were purely about whether you worked on the land or owned it and that gentrification was all about the people who lived there.  I worked out that important people didn’t always have the live there to have an impact upon what happened.  For example, the former Lord of the Manor had never been resident, but had influenced what the village became by relinquishing key land around the village pre-WW2.  Also, given that there were fewer residential business owners (i.e. blacksmith and baker has gone), those that remained were all the more important.  So the head was important, but had not been resident since the 1970s – when the tied accommodation (aptly named School House) was sold.  Furthermore, the second home ownership in the oldest (and prettiest) part of the village meant people who weren’t there had influence – driving up property values and living a lifestyle that was disconnected from the village and its future.  This created parallels with my own, transitory relationship with the village – I was only there for a few weeks, but looking at the guidebooks in one of the converted barns I stayed in, nothing inside or of the village was showcased or advertised.


So what to conclude from these changes?

First, the performance of the countryside includes co-location (being there) and also co-presence (people backstage, with a different, indirect connection).  That is, what we imagine those spaces to be informs what they become because we act according to our imagined view.  As Chicago sociologist W.I. Thomas phrased it, if you think someone’s great, then he [sic] is.  

What was curious here was that change – and change was inevitable to some degree – had really shifted the size of the village.  Once everyone could no longer know everyone else, a certain sociability had been lost.  It was present individually (after Payne, I did actually like everyone I met during fieldwork, with one exception) but a collective synergy or goodwill had been lost.  Rather than end on a negative note, which would be easy because this village continued to experience economic pressures and poverty, I could too see how the balance of power had changed into the hands of people who were likely to weave new threads of connection.  These included the incomers and the non-residents and – intriguingly – for the most part they were women.  I hope this piece of – admittedly small – research shows that the global can be viewed through the local and the capacity of ethnography’s exploratory spirit to engage with such themes (with or without the help of your dogs!)
Further reading and references

Atkinson, P. (2015) For ethnography.  London: Sage.
Goffman, E. (1959) The presentation of self in everyday life.  Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Weekly Wipe (2015) ‘Philomena Cunk and Barry Shitpeas on Wolf Hall’ Series 3, Episode 1. [accessed 19 March, 2015]

Read the full Sociological Research Online article here.