Department of Sociology

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Visual, creative and participatory methods in social science research

  • Tuesday 27 Feb. 2018

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NVivo 11 Introductory Training Workshop

  • Wednesday 28 Feb. 2018

  • Thursday 01 Mar. 2018

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NVivo 11 Introductory Training Workshop

  • Wednesday 16 May. 2018

  • Thursday 17 May. 2018

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The Department of Sociology Blog

  • by Pete Barbrook-Johnson

    Last month, Carillion, one of the largest companies in the UK which regularly entered into contracts with government to deliver public infrastructure and services, went into liquidation. Since then, public-private partnerships (PPP), and their pantomime villain superstars – private finance initiatives (PFI) – have received an unprecedented level of criticism. The Guardian Opinion section – and my love-hate relationship with it – has gone into overdrive!

    Concerns around private companies delivering under par public services, following perverse incentives, whilst also making high profits, have long been aired. Many on the political left have always been suspicious of the inclusion of private companies in public life like this. This view is now emboldened, where once it was ignored under PFI’s boom during the Blair-Brown years. Many see Carillion’s collapse as a watershed moment to be used to curb significantly, if not entirely halt, the use of these types of PPP. However, the ability of any government, left-leaning or otherwise, to actually kill-off PPP remains to be seen. The legal tussle would be huge, and the capacity of government to take ‘in-house’ the delivery of huge swaths of public infrastructure and services is questioned by many.

    The reasons behind PFI’s and PPP’s continued use despite often higher costs, sometimes poor delivery, and some high-profile examples of failure, are an open secret. They do cost more, but crucially they are ‘off-balance sheet’ which makes them appealing to government at the best of times, let alone in the era of austerity. This might be changing – the Office for National Statistics has recently changed accounting rules, potentially forcing the government to include these types of arrangements on-balance sheet. These dry technical distinctions can be extremely important!

    So, the picture is not a rosy one for PPP, but I would like to argue that they can, and should, be so much more than this. Rather than just government contracting in companies to delivery services or build big stuff, they should be genuine multi-partner collaborations, built on trust and sharing of expertise, between the public, private, and third sectors. In this mode, PPP are a fundamentally different proposition. They become part of a different narrative; part of the decentralisation of political power; part of devolution; part of a movement towards empowered cities and communities; part of the closer working of public, private, and third sectors to address the biggest challenges our society and economy face. They can become part of our efforts to make the economy and society redistributive and regenerative by design, and so fit for these challenges.


    I believe we should take advantage of this public ‘crisis’ in PPP, not to consign them to the neoliberal history books, but to reimagine and improve them, as part of a brave new (excuse the buzzword bingo) post-capitalist, open-data, decentralised, and low-hierarchy future. We should stop using bilateral partnerships based solely on contracts in which both parties seek to wring every last drop of value from the other, and replace them with multi-partner collaborations built on trust, mutual goals, and the exchange of expertise, skills, and resources.

    This won’t be easy, or happen overnight, but one area in which we are seeing these types of partnerships emerge and thrive is in the food-energy-water-environment ‘Nexus’ domains. Take for example the Manchester City of Trees initiative, or the Northern Forest project, both delivering vital green infrastructure. Or the ambitious plans being explored by the South Lincolnshire Water Partnership, for multi-sector managed water resources. Or the recently formed Food Sector Council, a partnership aiming to boost productivity and make the food industry more resilient, sustainable and competitive. Or take the consortiums of public, private, and third sector organisations, led by local authorities, who partner to deliver ambitious new renewable heat networks. These types of partnerships are breaking new ground on the path towards sustainable development in the twenty-first century UK. They are also central to the delivery and success of the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy and 25-year Environment Plan. These types of government strategies and plans mean Theresa May repeatedly finds herself signing-off forewords which explicitly or implicitly emphasise the need for these types of partnerships – who’d have thought!

    However, for these PPP to really thrive and for their reimagining to be complete, we will need greater learning from past failures and successes. We will need to grasp a clearer picture of the broad range of types and forms of PPP, and the various domains in which they can be used most successfully. We will need a stronger understanding of their dynamics beyond financial and commercial arrangements, and the contracts that underpin them. We will need new and better tools to assess proposed PPP plans, and regularly evaluate and refine ongoing PPP.

    Lots of things we need it seems – and so to the rescue my new RCUK Innovation Fellowship hosted by CECAN! I will be trying to address exactly these needs and challenges. To build critical understanding of the breadth of PPP, to build frameworks and tools to assess and evaluate PPP, and – most importantly – to LEARN from their successes and failures.

    Right, I’m off to get on with it, you can read more about the fellowship at


    Please note: Blog entries reflect the personal views of contributors and are not moderated or edited before publication. However, we may make subsequent amendments to correct errors or inaccuracies.

  • By Ranjana Das and Paul Hodkinson

    The last week has seen the launch of an important new policy document by the Fatherhood Institute that highlights the importance of counting different sorts of fathers in household data, including those living apart from mothers. While the full findings of the report are available to the public, and these findings have been analysed by many others, we wished to use this moment as a springboard to thinking about why the growing recent emphasis on fathers and fatherhood matters, and connect this to some new work of our own on new fathers’ mental health and wellbeing.

    From implied dad to empirical dad

    This impetus to make fathers ‘count’ is evidenced differentially, but simultaneously, by (1) a host of policy documents, (2) rich sociological research on fathering and gender, fathering identities, fatherhood and masculinity, and fatherhood and parental leave policies, (3) and through the growing visibility of father’s voices on social media including the blogosphere. We suggest that this multi-level visibility – from discourse through research to policy – has begun to make the ‘implied’ and ‘assumed’ father become a real, lived, empirical agent, producing and being produced by societal structures. Amongst other things, this has highlighted the extent to which fathers’ care contributions, working conditions, parental pay, mental health and wellbeing are critical not simply for their own sakes, but also for the wellbeing of children, mothers and families, and in particular for broader gender equality in a society which continues to place massive amounts of responsibility on mothers to bear the burden of primary care. As one of us has written previously (as part of ongoing work with Rachel Brooks), countless roadblocks to this still exist, and much needs to change. But more optimistically, this movement we are witnessing right now, from implied/assumed dad to real/empirical dad offers extensive opportunities for social science, social policy, and indeed, for mothers, families and children.

    Is dad okay?

    This makes it timely, we think, to ask now, if dad is okay, when life changes with the arrival of a baby, considering the long history of evidence that men struggle to communicate and find support for mental health. Crucially, this should be approached as complementary to, rather than taking away from, the critical importance of maternal postnatal mental health – for we see the two as linked and mutually shaping. In the face of austerity related cuts severely impacting face-to-face provisions for mothers postnatally, rightful pressure is being exerted on the government to make better provisions for mothers, and as one of us argues, this could also include digital provisions. Although evidence establishes that men suffer from postnatal mental illnesses too, public opinion is divided on whether the terminology of “postnatal” mental health difficulties can be justifiably used for both mothers and fathers. We suggest that terminology here may be less of an issue, than the fact that we need to find a way to research and find more support for parents facing life with a new baby. This means arguing for more support for a range of issues, often dissimilar in nature, from hormone-driven postnatal mental illnesses (applying to birth-giving mothers), through isolation-driven postnatal emotional difficulties for instance (applying to mothers, but potentially to both parents), to gendered, societal impetuses on mothers to mother perfectly (applying particularly to mothers, but potentially to parents in general).

    New research on fathers, mental health and digital tech

    Our new work, just taking off, brings together our respective interests in, and past fieldwork with, fathers as primary and equal carers (Hodkinson, with Rachel Brooks), and perinatal maternal wellbeing and the internet (Das), as we are setting out, this year, to speak to dads who have experienced mental health difficulties after the arrival of a new baby. We aim to pay equal attention to fathers who have diagnosed and undiagnosed forms of mental health difficulties, focusing particularly on the ways in which they communicate (or not) about these, and find support (or not). But as sociologists of (amongst other things) media and communication, we are keen to focus also on fathers who increasingly speak out on social media, fathers who lurk but cannot quite engage, and those who keep things to themselves. Equally, we plan to look at lay discourse, on and offline, and on policy documents, around paternal mental health. If men struggle to communicate about mental health, if support for men is even sketchier than those for women (as researchers in Bournemouth are seeking to investigate), and if fathers’ wellbeing is directly relevant to mums, kids and families, then, we suggest, through this new work, that the time is right to ask – “is Dad okay?”.


    Please note: Blog entries reflect the personal views of contributors and are not moderated or edited before publication. However, we may make subsequent amendments to correct errors or inaccuracies.


    What can prosperity possibly mean in a world of environmental and social limits? This question lies at the heart of CUSP’s five year research programme on sustainable prosperity. We wanted to know how ordinary people in different contexts might answer this question, so we set out to ask them. We used a very simple device: a small postcard with the words “Prosperity is…” inscribed on it. We took these postcards to various meetings and events and asked people to ‘complete the sentence’.

    What we found was fascinating. In this short blog we present some of the ideas which emerged from the 152 responses we’ve analysed so far. The project itself is ongoing, and we would love to receive more responses. But our initial findings can be summarised in terms of seven key themes:

    Prosperity is… about security

    There is clearly an element of prosperity that is about security – for oneself, for one’s family, for the community. Living well entails being free from worries or threats to a secure existence, now and in the future: “not needing to worry about food, housing, crime or violence ..”, “knowing they will be there in the future”. Respondents mentioned access to basic needs such as  “healthcare, food” and “clean water” as well as those things which enhance life such as “access to parks and commons” and even “nature, arts”.

    Prosperity is…  accepting the moment

    This need for security doesn’t immediately translate into a desire for more. In fact, there was a significant attention to concepts like sufficiency, enough, moderation and fulfilment: “’Lagom’ In Swedish: just enough for comfort and enjoyment”. Prosperity is to be experienced in the here and now, in order to provide a sense of peace and “calm in a frenetic world”. It is concerned with “having the time to stop and stare” and is perhaps something we are innately able to access: “prosperity is a disposition of the heart,” wrote one of our respondents.

    Prosperity is… being on a journey

    A related response sees prosperity as a “philosophical journey, not a place”, variously undertaken through thriving, striving, flourishing, which requires some proactive engagement “to be an agent for change, to live not exist, to thrive not subsist”.  For some, this journey has no particular end state but is an end in itself. For others “betterment…improvement” was the end game. Crucially though, the journey is “not about money or stuff. Nor does it mean setting individual goals to the detriment of others, “living well without harming others”. Rather it is about working “towards an economy based on sustainable value creation as nature intended”.

    Prosperity is…  about freedom and voice

    Along the way, it is clear that freedom matters. Having the freedom to choose the kind of life we want to live was frequently mentioned, as was having the capacity and power to act on those dreams “to be effective”. Somewhat problematically, it is clear that, for some, this freedom of choice should be unbounded.  Prosperity is about being able to “live as you choose”, perhaps failing to acknowledge the impact such freedom may have on finite planetary resources.  Utopian ideals emerged, as though constraints on assets did not exist, with aspirations for an “abundance of resources”, even allowing for the possibility of having  “more than you need”.

    Prosperity is…. social

    But not all of these aspirations are individualistic. Relationships and social connections lie at the heart of prosperity.  There is a spectrum of ‘sociality’ starting with children and close family members, through communities, and neighbourhoods to an acknowledgement of our place within a global society. Having significant relationships is seen as essential: “Prosperity is… having family and friends to share it with”. Some also reflected on how an individual’s prosperity is intrinsically linked to that of the rest of society, so that each person has a responsibility to ensure everyone else has a reasonable chance of achieving prosperity, “knowing that everybody is important” and that “we share in a collective narrative, we know our part, and each one of us knows that we means me

    Prosperity is… fair

    This sense of prosperity extended to a desire for it to be “a communal experience, shared widely without exclusions”. Several responses spoke of prosperity in terms of:   “happiness for everyone”, “equality for all” and “a communal experience, shared widely without exclusions”. Here too, there were suggestions that equality and equal access should have no limits, regardless of the implications, “abundance enough for all”. But this shared prosperity must above all be fair.

    Prosperity is… imbued with meaning

    Finally, some of our respondents alluded to the significance of meaning in achieving prosperity, often as part of a good or happy life, “lead a good and meaningful life”, “living a life of meaning”, imbued with integrity and meaning”. It was not always clear how ‘a meaningful life’ should be defined or what that might constitute.  But the idea that prosperity consists in living a meaningful life is clearly worthy of more exploration.

    Almost certainly these seven findings don’t exhaust the many meanings that people attribute to prosperity. Nor are they entirely unproblematical. In a finite world, the idea of unbounded freedoms may ultimately be inimical to a lasting prosperity. But these responses already tell us massively interesting things about prosperity.  Perhaps the most striking finding of all was that prosperity is not simply about being rich or having material possessions. On the contrary, as one of our respondents suggested, prosperity is in part about “being grateful for the things you have” and “not always aspiring to have more!

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Sara Arber wins BSA Distinguished Service to British Sociology award

This year's BSA Distinguished Service to British Sociology award has been given to Professor Sara Arber.

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Showcasing Sociology Week- Thursday 23rd March 2017

‘Towards a UK history of intersex'
 Dr David  Griffiths
Thursday 23rd March 18.00-19.00, Room 21AC 03.

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Showcasing Sociology- Wednesday 22nd March 2017

Apart of our Showcasing Sociology week, we have two great speakers presenting this Wednesday.


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