Towards the regeneration of British sociology of education

20/09/2011 1 comment

By David Mellor, University of Bristol

Introduction

‘Sociology is a discipline that has to be “achieved”, or continually re-invented, in new circumstances’ (Holmwood 2010:649)

During the winter of 2010 students across many British cites took to the streets in protest against policies that would see the abolition of grants for young people in further education and a sharp rise in tuition fees for those entering higher education. The occupation of government and university buildings, police kettling tactics, and intensive media coverage followed. As a sociologist of education and convenor of the BSA Education study group, I wanted to taste the revolutionary esprit de corps of this apparent new social movement first hand. Armed with my camera and a press-ganged colleague I set out to attend a protest that was being staged in my home city of Cardiff, ready to soak up the revolutionary atmosphere. But what we found was a lackluster and shambolic affair, with only a handful of students from the university and a local sixth form college in attendance. There was a reluctance to make much noise in a public space that quelled any chanting to a murmur (a situation not aided by the erratic loud hailer brought along by the organizers). I spoke with one of the police officers standing nearby – the ratio of protesters to police was roughly 3 to 1 (like me they perhaps expected something different to what they found) – and he just hoped it would all be over soon so that they could get out of the cold. I found a discarded placard propped backwards against a fence and, turning it round, found a picture of Karl Marx. ‘Marx was right’ it said and I took a photo. One of the organizers appeared at my shoulder, ‘are you from the press?’ he asked, ‘only this wasn’t supposed to be here’.

For a moment I considered telling him that I was a sociologist and that I thought, on the whole, Marx probably was right (at least, in some ways). But I just said, ‘no’, perhaps because I was contemplating the fact that I couldn’t pass as a student anymore. Vanity aside, I walked away from the protest wondering what this eliding of theory meant. Marx had, rather literally, been turned away from the rally, and with him a powerful critical perspective on unfolding events was silenced. This un-name-ability of Marx – and critical theory in general – has been almost entirely eclipsed by an emphasis on individualized greed of the hyper-rich bankers. So what can sociology offer to this generation? Is it an audience that is willing to listen? And more specifically, can British sociology of education – traditionally committed to social justice – respond effectively to these changing times? Here, I consider these questions and think about how we can begin to answer them. Unlike many other ‘state of the art’ reports I write from the position of someone early in their career, and as someone who wants to have a hand in constructing a positive, non-declinist, yet cautious future imaginary for sociology of education.

A very condensed history

Over the past 60 years many sociological concepts and approaches have been exported into the practical and policy fields of education. In this sense, sociologists of education were ‘right’, in that they produced knowledge that reflected certain kinds of empirical reality and which could be ‘put to work’ in attempts to bring about positive changes to people’s experiences of education systems. Indeed, this emphasis on matters of social justice has always been central. From the 1950s through the 1970s, as Hugh Lauder and colleagues argue, ‘if British sociology of education had a dominant organising intellectual principle, it was to demonstrate the reproduction of inequality through education’ (2009:573). Lauder et al (2009) trace the history of British sociology of education from the 1950s to the present day, explaining how the main audience for research changed during the 1970s from policy makers to teachers (also see Shain and Ozga 2001 for another detailed history). They argue that close links to teachers and their education was a key factor in drawing sociology of education away from ‘mainstream’ sociology (a situation that is still apparent today). This close relationship, while guaranteeing ‘impact’ with a community of practitioners (a ‘public’ in our current terminology), was exposed as a weakness when sociology was eventually removed from teacher training programmes – as part of the shift from education to training – meaning sociologists of education effectively lost the majority of their audience.

A strong ‘cultural turn’ from theories of socialization to more fluid accounts of identity coupled with a shift towards new policy studies during the 1990s and 2000s meant that while the principle of social justice remained, there was no core audience for sociology of education research. Lauder et al (2009:580) argue that the radical character of the ‘domain assumptions’ of sociology of education rendered the discipline unpalatable and problematic for policy makers and teachers alike. The broader, more applied, interdisciplinary and pedagogically focused discipline of Education Studies grew to fulfill the needs of practice and policy, which were oriented towards problem solving rather than critical approaches – something characteristic of the shift toward ‘evidence-based-practice’ governance (James 2010; Shain and Ozga 2001). So while in the past sociology of education has successfully exported a range of concepts to fields of professional practice, its current ability to enter into or maintain dialogues with these practitioners and decision makers has been seriously compromised.

In the light of these developments, Lauder and his co-authors suggest that the future for the discipline is to be ‘a disruptive but necessary voice in democratic debate’ (Lauder et al 2009:580). This is a position that I am broadly in sympathy with, but it also raises some concerns that require careful consideration. For example, what might this actually entail in practice? And might this be a path that could prove dangerous to the discipline in the current context of British universities? And finally, what might the role of the BSA be in any future approach? 

The problem with/for my generation

For some time I have thought that sociology of education is suffering from a crisis of identity. Because of its distance from ‘mainstream’ sociology, areas of focus that were once the ground for sociology of education have been colonized by burgeoning sub-disciplines within the parent field. These include – but are not limited to – childhood studies, sociology of youth, and life course research. These three areas in particular have developed research foci that would once have been within the domain of sociology of education. To provide one brief example: the sociology of childhood ‘discovered’ children’s agency during the 1980s and 1990s in what was coined the ‘new social studies of childhood’. Yet sociologists of education were writing on this topic some years before, though they are seldom recognized or cited in the childhood studies literature. This is not to say that I am against disciplinary change or that the research done in these sub-disciplines is not of great value. Much of it certainly is. However, the popularity of the ‘cultural turn’ in disciplinary focus and the proliferation of relativist epistemologies (Lauder et al 2009) have, I would argue, fundamentally influenced new academics entering the field. Many early career sociologists, myself included, struggle with their own sense of identity, as they suffer intellectual headaches from the hangover from the crisis of representation (without the benefit of at least having enjoyed the night on the tiles).

Roger Dale has said that British sociology of education is strongly generational. In labour force terms this means that many sociologists who take education as their primary focus are approaching retirement. Yet sociological research in educational settings and about educational processes remains widely represented in some respects: for example, the British Journal of Sociology of Education publishes six issues a year, and paper submissions to the Education stream of the BSA annual conferences in 2010 and 2011 were among the largest for both events. This does not mean, however, that there is a strong unifying objective at the core of the discipline. Indeed, the amorphous principle of social justice in its current form is a sociology of ‘weak effects’ that takes the problems of the field it studies and makes them its own, as opposed to framing the relations between education and different social fields (Moore 1996:158). It is important to note that while the practitioner audience has melted away for various reasons (compare, for example, Moore 1996 and James 2010), the intentions of researchers remain similar: to highlight inequalities reproduced by/through education and – crucially – to suggest education can (at least in part) be adjusted to work progressively to the objectives of social justice. This is based on the notion that researchers are engaged in a form of social struggle that is aligned with their teacher- and student-participants. This is a noble idea but it perhaps exists more in the imaginations of researchers than reality. With a few exceptions, British sociologists are not particularly successful at engaged social-political action.

Therefore, I want to argue that the retention or rehabilitation of certain theoretical tools, coupled with an urgent reformulation of our notions of the locus for social struggles, may provide the best way of thinking forward for the sociology of education, and that the BSA can play a key role in this. But before sketching out what this might look like, it is vital that we take into account the current climate of universities in the UK.

Sensibility and context

Sociology of education is not alone in suffering from disciplinary uncertainties. As John Holmwood (2010) has recently argued this is actually a problem for the academic discipline of sociology more generally. Sociology, Holmwood says, ‘is a discipline that has to be “achieved”, or continually re-invented, in new circumstances’ (2010:649). He argues that this is in large part because the core of the disciple is more a sensibility than a set of defining laws, such as is the case in economics for example. With criticality at its heart, sociology is susceptible to failing the tests of (apparent) commonsense practicability that academic disciplines are becoming increasingly subject to under neoliberalism and managerialism. Holmwood is surely correct when he argues that any attempt to renew sociology and its sub-disciplinary areas must take this context into account.

There is a general consensus that over the last 20 years the world has been dramatically shaped by neoliberal globalization (Torres 2009). Some sociological approaches to these ‘new circumstances’ have become more nuanced and ‘mature’ in their theorizing, giving us the ability to go beyond earlier diagnoses that emphasized singular issues (see Dale 2009 for example). The resectoralisation of education, the dominance of commercial rationales and market logics, relationships between the multi-scalar levels of governance, globalization and the continuing role of states; these are just a few examples that require a well tooled and rigorously conceptualized response from sociologists of education. The double bind, of course, is that this is the context we aim to analyze AND the context we must survive within. In other words, is this a choice between being martyrs to a critical principle, or selling out to the audit culture? I think not; but avoiding this dilemma will depend on the tactical and imaginative reinvention of the discipline as a collective process. In what follows, I sketch out what I believe will need to be some of the key aspects to be considered in a movement towards this collective disciplinary reinvention. This is obviously not meant to be exhaustive or prescriptive; rather, the aim is to start a much-needed conversation [1].

Thinking forward, cautiously, tactically

To begin, it seems important that the discipline is both the sociology of education and for education. As Moore (1996:158) rightly argues, a sociology of education systemically situates the field of education in relation to other fields and studies the mediation between them, while generating problems through ‘the external criteria of critical social theory’. A strong emphasis on this would help re-connect sociology of education with mainstream sociology and allow it to take an appropriately central role in the development of theory and methodology. Education offers a rich resource for the development of sociological frameworks that theorize and investigate relations between different levels of analysis (Shain and Ozga 2001) – sociologists of education should be among the prime exporters of tools to the parent discipline. A sociology for education, in the first instance, must be one that is de-coupled from capitalist or neoliberal demands for ‘fit-for-purpose’ or ‘entrepreneurial’ workers. It should also be weary of overstating – or perhaps uncritically valorizing – the capacity of education to adjust or compensate for social inequalities. There is much evidence that education in itself does very little in this respect. Instead, a sociology for education requires a reformulated version of activism in order to reanimate its own radicalism and the notion of the radical, transformative role for education in society (cf. Moore 1996). In my opinion it must react to – but not fetishize – globalizing neoliberal processes, utilizing the best sociological critiques in open dialogue with a range of publics, while stressing that structural inequalities beyond education are at the root of social inequalities (see Robertson 2009).

It is within this context that concepts of social justice need to be overhauled and recontextualised. This is not so much a case of developing new tools, but of reframing existing notions within the changed circumstances of the contemporary world. As Nancy Fraser (2009:5) argues, struggles for recognition, redistribution and representation are all important; however, these can produce potentially conflicting claims and conflicting ontologies, meaning that the very ‘mapping of political space is an object of struggle’ itself. There is a ‘radical heterogeneity of justice discourse’ (Fraser 2009:2) that exists across different sites of contestation, so any understanding of justice politics will need to extend beyond the traditional framing of the nation state. However, nation states remain the primary regulators of education policy, so the state must be retained as a key scalar locus for governance (Calhoun 2007)[2].

Given this background we should aim to fracture, but then reconstitute the emancipatory principle of education, outlining it in a vocabulary attuned to precisely how solidarity, citizenship and rights might be/are organized in global neoliberal hegemony. This is an optimism that I share with Carlos Alberto Torres (e.g. 2009; also see Dale 2009); that there remain spaces for activism and possibilities for social transformation within the processes of schooling. The aim should be to open up and seek out spaces opened by others for thinking ‘otherwise’. We can then work productively with the tension between localized specificities and trans-spatial commonalities, using critical theory in order to make the case for these specificities as being homologous in relation to global structures. This can provide the basis for the construction of a normative framework for political action – a democratic and emancipatory project that recognizes a spectrum of social problems existing across structural levels, with local examples positioned within a global framework without the sacrifice of their specific constitution.

Through this, the aim would certainly not be a project of individualized conscientization isolated from the world, but a project of transformation achieved through praxis with the world – with history – itself (Torres 2009). Of course, given the lack of previous success we cannot assume this will prove otherwise. Nor can we assume how people (publics) will receive our interventions, or presume that they will simply recognize and resist hegemony or the shape that such resistance might take. This is why dialogue is a better word than impact, as it more truly represents the multi-vocality of the debates we might wish to engage with. On this basis we will be better attuned to the kinds of rights claims that are made by different groups in the name of social justice. Consequently, British sociology of education needs to pay attention to the changing nature of citizenship, rights and justice in the light of developments in cosmopolitan and transnational law, and their varying impact within the borders of nation states (see Nash 2009). To say that the transnationalism of neoliberalism interweaves with forms of cosmopolitan law is not to promote cosmopolitanism in itself, as this is a deeply problematic theory (see Harvey 2009). However, it is possible to see how a form of cosmopolitan approach, informed and enriched by subaltern theories that are not Northern- or Western-centric, can substantially help capture the tensions and possibilities for counter-hegemonic movements (Santos and Rodriguez-Garavito 2005), and illustrate that globalization is a contestable process with education at its core.

The final suggestion might be contentious with some readers, and it breaks somewhat from the radicalism discussed above; but it is critical, given the labour market realities we face, particularly early career sociologists. I want to suggest that sociologists of education conduct a good amount of ‘normal social science’: that is to say, rigorous and good quality empirical work that utilizes the best quantitative and qualitative methods but that does not seek novelty and/or newness (in the ways both the PhD and, more perniciously, the REF seem to suggest must constantly be at the forefront of our work) nor overstretch itself in the aims of radicalism (which, as noted above, is a principle that needs overhauling). This would involve tactically recapturing the idea of conducting fieldwork with the broad scientific aim of understanding the social processes of education, while gathering good quality data through strong methodologies. Such data will need to be open to a double translation: in one direction towards policy/practice usability, and in the other towards sociological analysis and theory building. We simply cannot ever imagine having a hand in steering these languages into conjoined dialects without becoming active in the process at the ground level. Does this imply some level of realpolitik? Perhaps.

Yet I am not suggesting we pretend to do apolitical ‘value free science’ here; rather the very matter of our survival means being able to produce data that can be made to speak in different registers, as uncomfortable as that might sometimes be. Quite simply, if we do not attempt to regain some of this ground that has been populated by other ‘importer’ social science disciplines (Holmwood 2010), we risk being drowned in a wave of ‘interdisciplinarity’ (something, I would say, of a neoliberalized project itself).

The BSA has a key role to play in promoting, fostering, and facilitating the collectivity of this effort and in keeping the disciplinary shape of sociology. Having a voice in a democratic debate depends not so much on efficiency (a rather Habermasian ideal) as legitimacy, the terms for which are captured in forms of governance beyond our reach. Of course, legitimacy itself should never be the goal; it is a discourse of governmentality that results in self-perpetuating cycles of auditing. But in extremely bare terms this is also the source of the funding that will permit our continued existence. Therefore, we must tread carefully, because although the idea of being a disruptive voice (Lauder et al 2009) is attractive – particularly to a radical sensibility – we must carefully negotiate the spaces for voice and ensure we are not silenced permanently [3]. With reference to Holmwood’s (2010) argument, this is probably our most pressing conundrum and there are no easy answers.

I’ve only been able to hint at a possible approach here, but it seems to me that our collectivity and our connections to similarly motivated public groups are key. Individual careers might end in defeat – who among us has the charisma or the material resources to change the world singlehandedly? (Or desire such responsibility!) But it is our professional ethical responsibility to forthcoming generations of scholars to ensure that the discipline survives and is robust in confronting the world of the future, and can be achieved in the realities yet to come.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Roger Dale, Susan Robertson and Andrew Bartlett for their comments and suggestions on the arguments presented in this essay – all arguments remain, of course, those of the author.

Notes

[1] A robust theory of knowledge, learning and pedagogy is also required, but there is not space to discuss that here.

[2] This should not result in the ‘methodological nationalism’ visible, for example, in certain kinds of new policy studies that emerged during the 1990s, which took the national framing (and problematics) of many policies as their own – another sociology of ‘weak effects’ (Moore 1996).

[3] The question ‘who should be the audience for sociology of education today?’ remains a key stumbling block for any project that seeks to rejuvenate the sub-discipline. Where I agree with Lauder et al (2009) is that its prospects for the future lay in transgression and disruption within ‘democratic debate’. But I don’t believe that the best starting point is to look for a new ‘education’ audience; rather, I think that this needs to be undertaken as a project within the discipline of sociology more broadly – as part of what Brewer (2011) has suggested as a remodeled ‘public social science’.

References

BREWER, J. (2011) ‘The New Public Social Sciences 2, <http://sociologyandthecuts.wordpress.com/2011/03/25/the-new-public-social-sciences-2-by-john-brewer/&gt;

CALHOUN, C. (2007) Nations Matter: Culture, History, and the Cosmopolitan Dream, London and New York, Routledge

DALE, R. (2009) ‘Renewing or rupturing the sociology of education?’ British Journal of Sociology of Education, 30(3): 379–387

FRASER, N. (2009) Scales of Justice: Reimagining political space in a globalizing world, New York, Colombia University Press

HARVEY, D. (2009) Cosmopolitanism and the Geographies of Freedom, New York, Columbia University Press

HOLMWOOD, J. (2010) ‘Sociology’s misfortune: disciplines, interdisciplinarity and the impact of audit culture’, British Journal of Sociology, 61(4): 639-658

JAMES, D. (2010) ‘Theory and educational research: toward critical social explanation’, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 31(2): 243–248

LAUDER, H., Brown, P. and Halsey, A. H. (2009) ‘Sociology of education: a critical history and prospects for the future’, Oxford Review of Education, 35 (5): 569–585

MOORE, R. (1996) ‘Back to the Future: the problem of change and the possibilities of advance in the sociology of education’, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 17(2): 145-161

NASH, K. (2009) ‘Between citizenship and human rights’, Sociology, 43(6): 1067-1083

ROBERTSON, S. L. (2009) ‘Globalization, Education Governance, and Citizenship Regimes’, in W. Ayers, T. Quinn and D. Stovall (Eds.) Handbook of Social Justice in Education, London and New York, Routledge

SANTOS, B. de Sousa, and Rodriguez-Garavito, C. A. (2005) Law and Globalization from Below: Towards a Cosmopolitan Legality, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press

SHAIN, F and Ozga, J. (2001) ‘Identity Crisis? Problems and Issues in the Sociology of Education’, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 22(1): 109-120

TORRES, C. A. (2009) Education and Neoliberal Globalization, New York and Abingdon, Routledge

Working with learners in the digital age – workshop

Teacher Educators working with diverse groups of learners in the digital age

Date: 17 October 2011

Venue: University of Wolverhampton

Fee: Free to attend (but spaces are limited).

This event will draw upon cross phase examples (Primary, Secondary and Post Compulsory ITE). Practitioners and researchers from the field will offer thought provoking contexts for the workshop which is intended to be an opportunity for networking and discussion.

Confirmed speakers so far:

Moira SavageSenior Lecturer in Primary Initial Teacher Training at University of Worcester, Institute of Education e-learning Co-ordinator

Kathy WrightDiscipline Lead for Education at the Higher Education Academy

Graham Lowe, Senior Lecturer in Primary Science Education, Birmingham City University

Julie Hughes, Head of Department and the PCE Partnership at the University of Wolverhampton, HEA National Teaching Fellow

Allen Crawford-Thomas eLearning Advisor, West Midlands Regional Support Centre JISC

This event is for both the novice as well as the more experienced practitioner.

Registration is now open and spaces are limited. To register for free please visit http://escalate.ac.uk/8420

BSA Education Stream – Call for Papers – Annual Conference 2012

CALL FOR PAPERS – EDUCATION STREAM – BSA ANNUAL CONFERENCE 2012 

** DEADLINE FOR ABSTRACTS  7TH OCTOBER **

The Education stream has recently been one of, if not the, largest at conference in terms of the numbers of abstracts submitted and sessions running. In 2011 we accepted enough abstracts for a stream event in every session of conference, and had parallel streams on two of the three days. Both delegate attendance and quality of the sessions were impressively high throughout.

We anticipate the sociology of education having a very high profile again next year; our stream plenary will be on Education and Social Mobility in an Age of Austerity and we are planning to have a social event sponsored by the British Journal of Sociology of Education.

Education Study Group co-convenors David Mellor and Richard Waller would like you to participate next year and encourage you to submit abstracts for the 2012 conference on any phase or aspect of Education that you might currently be working on.

Offers of individual papers and workshops are welcome, whether in the traditional format or something more ‘experimental’. Symposia around particular themes or specific projects would be very welcome too. Please contact the stream convenors if you would like to discuss any ideas.

For details on how to submit your abstract, see:

http://www.britsoc.co.uk/events/conference/abs.htm.

The deadline for submission of abstracts is 7th October 2011.

For further information:

Dr Richard Waller, UWE Bristol [richard.waller@uwe.ac.uk], or

Dr David Mellor, University of Bristol [david.mellor@bristol.ac.uk]

Alternatively, visit the conference website: www.britsoc.co.uk/events/conference.html

BJSE Special Issue on Education and Social Mobility: Call for papers

CALL FOR PAPERS for BRITISH JOURNAL OF SOCIOLOGY OF EDUCATION

Education and Social Mobility

Deadline for Submissions: 1st September 2012

This Special Issue brings together cutting-edge articles on education and social mobility. It will be published in 2013. It will examine how our theoretical and empirical understanding of the relationship between origins and destinations has changed since the 1970s and 1980s. The transformation of education, work and the labour market in both developed and emerging economies are having profound consequences for our understanding of the (re)production of life-chances.

Therefore, to what extent are existing theories of education and social mobility fit for purpose in a rapidly changing world? What does the latest empirical evidence reveal about international patterns of mobility? Moreover, given that social mobility is firmly back on the political agenda as the cornerstone of creating a fairer society, we would also welcome articles that explore the politics of education, justice and social mobility. These papers might focus on race, class, gender, and/or other dimensions of identity, or on the intersection of these dimensions.

Contributions are welcomed on a range of themes. The list below is not meant to be exhaustive and we encourage contributors to be creative in their interpretation of topics which fit with the general theme of education and social mobility.

 Education and social mobility in an age of austerity;  The politics of an education-based meritocracy;  Markets, fairness and educational/occupational mobility;  Globalisation, education and the labour market;  Education, class and occupational mobility;  Gender, education and occupational mobility;  Ethnicity, education and the competition for a livelihood;  Comparative studies in education and social mobility;  Theorising positional competition in education, employment and the labour market;  (Re)theorizing social mobility and educational exclusion/inclusion;  Education and social mobility in an increasingly globalised world;  Social identities, education and labour market outcomes;  Education, social mobility and marriage;  Families, education and social mobility;  Higher education and future life-chances.SUBMISSION PROCEDURES

The Special Issue will be edited by Phil Brown (University of Cardiff), Diane Reay (Cambridge University) and Carol Vincent (University of London Institute of Education) as members of the British Journal of Sociology of Education Executive Editorial Board.

The Editors welcome contributions engaged with sociological studies of education from doctoral or early career to established academics. We urge readers to refer to existing debates on social mobility already published in the journal and to ensure that their article makes an original and theoretically informed contribution to the field.

SUBMISSION DETAILS

Deadline for submissions: Abstracts: 1st January 2012 Please send to Helen Oliver, Journal Administrator (h.j.oliver@sheffield.ac.uk) Full Papers: 1st September 2012 submitted direct to the journal Word Limits: 8,000 words (maximum) including bibliography

Queries: Phil Brown (brownp1@cardiff.ac.uk), Diane Reay (dr311@cam.ac.uk), and Carol Vincent (c.vincent@ioe.ac.uk)

No papers will be considered after the closing deadline of 1st September 2012. Full submission instructions are available on the BJSE website, on the ‘Instructions for Authors’ page. Please read these in full well before submitting your manuscript. All manuscripts will be subject to the normal double-anonymous refereeing process, but potential authors are welcome to discuss their ideas in advance with the Editors.

This Special Issue will be published in September 2013

For information for authors about the journal see: http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals/bjse

International Sociology of Education Conference

INTERNATIONAL SOCIOLOGY OF EDUCATION CONFERENCE 

4th to 6th November 2011, London

SPEAKERS INCLUDE:

Dr Azreem Badroodien (South Africa)

Dr John Beck (UK)

Professor Xavier Bonal (Spain)

Dr. Naomi Hodgson (UK)

Dr. Kate Hoskins (UK)

Professor Jack Keating (Australia)

Dr. Terri Kim (UK)

Dr. Antonia Kupfer (USA)

Dr. Elizabeth Rata (New Zealand)

Dr. Julia Resnik (Israel)

Dr. Philippe Vitale  (France)

Professor Michael Young (UK)

Conference venue:  The Royal Foundation of St Katharine, 2 Butcher Row, London, E14 8DS.

For further information contact Professor Suzy Harris, s.harris@roehampton.ac.uk

Conference booking details can be obtained from Mrs Helen Oliver, School of Education, University of Sheffield 388 Glossop Road, SHEFFIELD S10 2JA, UK [h.j.oliver@sheffield.ac.uk]

Early booking is essential if you wish to attend the conference

Higher Education in the Liquid Modern Era: Swirling Down the Drain?

BSA Regional Postgraduate Day School Event 2011

Higher Education in the Liquid Modern Era: Swirling Down the Drain?

The Bauman Institute, University of Leeds Friday 9 September, 2011

Book now: http://www.britsoc.co.uk/events/postgrad.htm

The metaphor of liquidity is used in Zygmunt Bauman’s work to represent the loss of security felt as more the ‘solid’ institutions and ‘traditional’ patterns of social relations of modernity break down/dissolve in the contemporary world. A striking example of this can be found to exist in the situation facing contemporary participants – students, teachers and researchers – in higher education (HE), especially those working in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. The ‘traditional’ pursuits of academia are being increasingly undermined by changes which are aimed at subordinating free enquiry to the shifting demands of the marketplace. The proposed changes to HE funding outlined by the current UK coalition government seem likely to further exacerbate the tendency towards instrumentalism in HE, while simultaneously destabilizing employment in both the knowledge and the culture industries in the UK for many years to come. In light of these recent proposals, and the likely assault on non-STEM subjects that will ensue, we feel that it would be productive to consider as postgraduate students the likely landscape which we are about to enter. We aim to do this by drawing on Bauman, who has written and recently lectured on the role of sociologists and higher education in contemporary society (‘Education in Liquid Modernity’, 2005; Sociology – Whence and Whither?: Speech from the Bauman Institute Launch Conference, 2010), as well as others, in order to produce a written statement in defence of social science. Whilst this will be a collaborative effort, with input predominantly from sociology postgraduates, we envisage inviting a small number of postgraduates and academics from other disciplines to contribute their ideas and efforts. Through this, we suggest that a more comprehensive understanding of the common problems facing those across the social sciences, at different stages in their academic lives, can help us to produce a justification of sociology’s continuing value and importance beyond narrow, mechanistic definitions of ‘impact’. The aim of the event is to provide a space for postgraduate social scientists to engage in critical reflection on the proposed changes to higher education funding in the UK and their implications for our so-called ‘knowledge’ society, particularly through drawing on the insights provided in the work of Zygmunt Bauman on the insecurities and uncertainties of life in liquid modern times. The event will consist of a mix of papers from postgraduate students, three keynote speakers, panel discussion, and collaborative workshop sessions. Postgraduate students will receive first preference for places.

Registration fees: BSA Members: Free Non-members: £25

Welcoming the new academic year…

Hello to everyone,

As we say goodbye to the summer and welcome the arrival of a new academic year, regular socofed posts will be with you once again. Please get in touch with us if you have any events, news or publications that you’d like to share, or if you have an article that you’d like us to post here.

Kind regards

David and Richard

Categories: Editorial