Social Science blog

8 posts from March 2013

26 March 2013

‘Addictive Personality’: Myth or Reality?

This guest post from Stephanie Minchin highlights some of the discussions on ‘Addictive Personality’ as presented at the British Library’s ‘Myths and Realities’ public debate on 18th March, 2013; with  Prof. Phil Withington, Prof. David Nutt and Prof. Gerada Reith, reflecting upon what drives addiction.

As part of the ‘Myths and Realities’ series of public debates the British Library was host to Professor Gerda Reith, University of Glasgow, Professor David Nutt, Imperial College London and Professor Phil Withington, University of Sheffield who discussed and challenged the myths and assumptions attached to the concept of addiction. The event was chaired by Claire Fox from the Institute of Ideas who questioned the notion of an addictive personality with the term that society may be a nation of ‘addiction addicts’.

Prof. Phil Withington introduced the debate with ‘Addiction – an early modern perspective’. The language of addiction from the 16th and 17th century was described in the depiction of a cloth worker in 1628 as being “overtaken with drink”. The point was raised that the way we consume and think about intoxicants is reflected in the understanding of ourselves and where we come from. Therefore, it seems to some extent that today’s perception of addiction reflects the same as the early modern roots. Prof. Withington accounted for a historical perspective of intoxication and capitalism, such that substance use grew into a big business as an important feature of international trade in the industrial revolution; organized import and export allowed for the transfer of intoxicants (tea, coffee, chocolate, opium) as durable and profitable substances. The language from the renaissance period to today has also increased in the number of words used to describe the meaning addiction. Samuel Johnson’s (1740) reflection “he addicted himself to vice” still holds meaning today.

'Opium fleet descending the Ganges on the way to Calcutta'. Image taken from The Graphic. Originally published/produced in London, June 24, 1882. © The British Library Board

Following from Professor Withington’s portrayal of the language of addiction, Professor Nutt began with the translation of the Latin verb ‘addictio’ meaning ‘to enslave’. Professor Nutt firmly contended that he has never met an addict who wanted to be an addict, and used Amy Winehouse as an example of a great loss in a person who struggled to escape the pattern of addiction. From a biological and neurological perspective Prof. Nutt highlighted pleasure seeking behaviours as a natural evolutionary mechanism for the survival of the species. However, in an addiction, it is the compulsion, pressure and drive to change the brain with a substance that creates a loss of control. The brain circuits of addiction were detailed as self-control, pleasure, salience/attention, learning and memory and individual differences that all happen differentially in people.

With the example of tobacco and alcohol the audience was encouraged to reminisce on their very first taste of a cigarette/alcohol, unanimously agreeing that it evoked an instant dislike. So what is it that leaves us wanting more? The biology is all about how fast and how much of the substance gets to the brain. The faster the substance gets into the brain, the higher the addiction. In withdrawal, the quicker the substance is secreted from the liver, the higher the addiction. Prof. Nutt concluded his presentation from a political perspective to challenge the associated stigma and blame of societal problems with substance use; in order for Government to provide interventions and rational treatments for addiction, we need to de-stigmatise those suffering and understand that addiction is “not a lifestyle choice”.

Professor Gerada Reith encouraged the audience to think beyond the individual to consider the sociological complexities and ambiguities behind addiction. Prof. Reith’s presentation titled ‘If addiction did not exist, it would be necessary to create it’ portrayed the reality of addiction as being a combination of environmental, political, cultural and historical contexts. In a laboratory experiment titled ‘Rat Park’ it was found that the group of rats in a small cage became addicted to morphine, whereas the rats in the ‘social housing’ cages (with light, space, toys and other rats for company) did not. This experimental finding highlights the differential behaviour patterns associated with contrasting living circumstances. Therefore, Prof. Reith highlighted that geographical areas with certain populations and social groups may experience poorer housing and health, poverty, high rates of unemployment, short life expectancy and a low level of education, which in turn can lead to a vulnerability to addiction.

The concept of environmental influences was further supported by the notion that the social climates within cultural contexts attach meanings and values to social activity. In the case of substance use, Howard Becker’s (1953) book titled ‘Becoming a marihuana user' detailed how jazz musicians of the 1950s attached meaningful social activity to smoking marihuana, whilst it was condemned by other social groups, conveying the juxtaposition of cultural core beliefs  ‘cool’ vs. ‘deviant’. Further social tensions were described in the historical use of opium which created racial tensions between societal classes; consumption was very different in function for the degeneracy vs. middle-class. In agreement with Prof. Nutt’s political stance, Prof. Reith contended that the association of crime and unemployment with drugs has blamed individuals for universal social problems. Today, drugs are the “ideological fig leaf to place over unsightly urban ills” (Jimmie Reeves and Richard Campbell 1994). The term addiction now has a cultural specificity and popularity in its label. Addiction as a term and meaning is normalised; addiction is a discourse in its widest sense.


6a00d8341c464853ef017d4144513b970c 'The Gremlins will get you if you don't watch out!' US Office for Emergency Management. War Production Board. (01/1942 - 11/03/1945). This file was provided to Wikimedia Commons by the US National Archives and Records Administration. 

The discussion was then opened to the audience for questions, comments and thoughts on the topic. The first question asked do we lack individual responsibility for our own pleasure-seeking behaviours, and to what extent does the economic determinism of social deprivation account for substance abuse? The answer was a medley of biological vulnerability and lack of social opportunity with Prof. Nutt clarifying “Never does one drug addict everyone”. Questions continued to scale the continuum of biological vs. sociological factors, inquiring about addictions influenced by life events; peer pressure; endorphin pleasure factors; pharmaceutical companies; prohibition issues. At the moment society has an absolutist view against addiction. Can we really drink and use substances without losing control? Definitions and cultural power lie in the hands of medical professionals who influence how we understand addiction and the changing meanings of substance abuse. Regardless of what ‘type’ of addict one may be defined, be it compulsive or impulsive, the younger you are when you start the more likely you are to be an addict. The youth is the real target; the future needs to address addiction at community level.

In conclusion, the audience were left with provocative final thoughts: Prof. Reith highlighted the individual brain as a starting point within a cultural environment predisposing addiction. Alternatively Prof. Nutt posed the question ‘Why in our brain do we have the propensity to become addicted to substances?’ His answer? ‘It is all about LOVE. Substances are hijacking the pathways of love.’ For the reality of addiction we are now contemplating a new myth: are substances a surrogate for love?

Combining the understanding of historical, biological and socio-cultural perspectives will help find further answers in what is an undeniable reality of today’s modern society: addiction. The new myth: drugs or love?

Stephanie Minchin is a practitioner in NHS mental health services for ‘City and Hackney Centre for Mental Health in' the East London Foundation Trust’ and is a Masters student in Clinical Research at City University, London. 

25 March 2013

20 March 2013

Propaganda and obedience: Noam Chomsky in conversation at the British Library 19 March 2013

Ian Cooke, Lead Curator in International Studies and Politics at the British Library, outlines some of the key messages delivered by Noam Chomsky (in conversation with Jonathan Freedland), at the British Library on 19 March 2013.

Yesterday evening, the British Library was host to Noam Chomsky in conversation with Jonathan Freedland. The packed event covered subjects from the role of Biblical prophets to a “mafia model” of international relations. Professor Chomsky was here to help us launch a series of events that will accompany our Propaganda: Power and Persuasion exhibition, which opens on 17 May 2013.

The topic was propaganda, but Professor Chomsky provided a strong support of the value of information and the use of evidence that is open to all. Professor Chomsky, with his co-author Edward Herman, wrote Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, a book which still influences discussion of mass media 25 years after it was first published in 1988. The book proposes a ‘propaganda model’ for news reporting in the United States, which predicts a strong bias towards state and elite interests. This is achieved through structural factors, described as filters, such as: corporate ownership of media and the reliance on advertising revenue; a reliance on state and elite sources of information as “authoritative”; and the ability of state agencies to create ‘flak’. So, propaganda can be seen as a structural process by which values, sources and evidence are selected according to elite and state interests.

Professor Chomsky described the origins of propaganda as we recognise it today in World War I, in particular the recognition of the success of British propaganda aimed at American intellectuals, in order to sway US political opinion in favour of war. Intellectuals generally came in for criticism, both for uncritically supporting elite interests, and for developing propaganda techniques to help sell elite interests more widely. In democracies, this deference to state and elite power comes not from coercion, but from obedience.


Franklin Roosevelt’s message to young people (illustrated with Hitler mask and skull) O.W.I. (Office of War Information, United States) USF. 4, 1942 © Crown copyright

Chomsky argued that, in such a system, the real challenges to state propaganda came from dissidents, making use of the evidence that is freely available but under-reported. But dissidents need popular support to avoid marginalisation, and the interests of the general public are often under-represented in policy decisions. Looking at the United States today, he used the example of public opinion-polling, the results of which are made available. The stratification of opinion survey results makes it possible to see whose interests are reflected in policy decisions. Chomsky argued that, for the majority of Americans, the most important issue right now is employment. Only wealthier individuals prioritise deficit reduction over jobs. It’s an argument that resonates with policy debates in the UK – and seems particularly significant today as the Public and Commercial Services union have organised a strike to protest about austerity policies and job cuts in the public sector.

Propaganda: Power and Persuasion opens at the British Library on 17 May 2013.

15 March 2013

Evidence in Social Welfare Policy and Practice Conference, 7 Dec 2012

This blog highlights a conference that was held to celebrate the launch of Social Welfare at the British Library a new free online service offering a single point of access to our vast print and digital collections on social welfare and social policy.

Developed in partnership with the Social Care Institute for Excellence  and the School of Social Work, Allied and Public Health, University of Staffordshire , Social Welfare at the BL showcases and provides a single point of access to our social policy and welfare content, collections and services for researchers, policy makers and managers in government and in the voluntary, independent and statutory services sectors.

The Conference

The Conference was opened by Roly Keating, CEO, British Library followed by a brief presentation on the Social Welfare Portal by Jude England, Head of Social Sciences.

The first presentation by Dr Jo Moriarty, Social Care Workforce Research Unit, King’s College focused on the need for good evidence in social care, some of the challenges in disseminating evidence in the sector, and the need to think beyond academic users to the general public and frontline care staff. The presentation drew in part on her NIHR School for Social Care Research funded project, Social Care Practice with Carers.

The presentation by Prof. Pete Alcock, Director, Third Sector Research Centre, University of Birmingham, focused on the Centre’s work in disseminating research on the development, role and organisation of the sector. It showcased the Third Sector Knowledge Portal, a free resource bringing together reports from third sector organisations, academic research, and government studies in one easy to use collection. Through its unique thesaurus, the KP helps voluntary organisations, government departments, academics and others to access evidence on a broad range of topics related to the sector, including commissioning, service delivery, impact measurement, social and community enterprise, volunteers and volunteering, and fundraising. The presentation concluded with some preliminary results from a KP user survey.

The keynote presentation by Prof. Jon Glasby, Director, Health Services Management Centre, University of Birmingham looked at the role of evidence in health policymaking, how policy is implemented, and how knowledge spreads. Using at case study from his own career, Prof Glasby explored what constitutes valid research evidence. He concluded by calling for a move from evidence- to knowledge-based practice, arguing that: 1) there is no such thing as a hierarchy of evidence - the ‘best’ method for researching any given topic is that which will answer the research question most effectively; and 2) the lived experience of service users/carers and the practice wisdom of practitioners can be just as valid a way of understanding the world as formal research

Dr Georgina Brewis, John Adams Fellow, Institute of Education, University of London, and founder, Campaign for Voluntary Sector Archives, with Gareth Millward, Phd student at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, opened the afternoon session with a presentation on the value of charity archives as evidence for research, policy and practice. They argued that use of archival evidence would prevent reinvention of the wheel, by showing which policies and interventions had been tried in the past and whether or not they worked.

Diana Leat, Board Member, Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, considered the value of preserving and giving access to foundation archives. These organisations are in many senses different form other voluntary organisations in that they do not have to raise funds and therefore have the freedom to fund what could be considered niche causes. Their archives help to record the historical and political context of particular periods and add to the overall sense of the role of the third/voluntary sector within society across time. Foundation archives can reveal why certain projects were funded and others not, how the development and growth of small, newly formed organisations can be supported in non-financial ways and help tell the story of how issues first 'bubbled to the surface' in the public consciousness

The conference concluded with a lively panel discussion on use and abuse of evidence, chaired by Amanda Edwards, Deputy Chief Executive, Social Care Institute for Excellence with Dr Helen Kara, independent author, researcher and consultant, and Pete Simcock, Senior Lecturer, Staffordshire University School of Social Work, Allied and Public Health Birmingham. The panel and audience debated how evidence is used to inform social welfare policy and practice. The session was interactive and tackled questions such as: different interpretations of the same evidence, the barriers to use and dissemination of evidence, and whether there are sometimes good reasons not to use evidence. The audience were asked to vote on the questions before and after the discussion, to see if views had changed.


Please visit the event web page to listen to a podcast of the conference proceedings.

12 March 2013

Sisterhood & After: the Women’s Liberation Oral History Project

Dr. Polly Russell, Lead Curator for Human Geography and Anthropology, writes about her experience of being immersed in a collaborative, feminist, oral history project. She reflects on the difficult process of selecting interviewees and describes the the vibrancy and depth of the resulting interviews.

On Friday 8th March, International Women’s Day, the British Library held an event with 150 guests to celebrate the launch of a new oral history archive and website. This marked the end of a three year research project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, called ‘Sisterhood & After: the Women’s Liberation Oral History Project.’ This project has collected oral histories with Women’s Liberation campaigners to create an archive that captures women’s fights for equal rights and liberation in the UK from 1968-1990 through a series of in-depth interviews with 60 feminist activists and intellectuals.

Speakers for the launch event included two of the project’s interviewees, Sally Alexander, feminist activist and historian, and Susie Orbach, co-founder of the Women’s Therapy Centre and author of Fat is a Feminist Issue. Sally spoke beautifully of the value of the archive for future historians – she noted how oral history takes seriously emotion, subjectivity and memory as important analytical categories for the historian and researcher. Susie, a veteran campaigner, talked of how the archive would inform new generations of activists and she also reflected, as a psychotherapist, on the process of being interviewed for an oral history

SMALL Equal Pay for Equal Work badge - Image courtesy of The Women's Library

Equal Pay for Equal Work Badge. Image courtesy of the Women's Library.

For the last three years much of my work as a curator at the British Library in the Social Science team has been dominated by this project. Working with Dr Margaretta Jolly and Research Associate Dr Rachel Cohen at the University of Sussex, we have attempted to create a permanent record of the voices and stories of women who were part of the WLM. This has been a wonderful but challenging task. On a practical level we have struggled with the problem of trying to represent a movement involving thousands of women with just 60 oral history interviews. Working closely with an Advisory Board we wrangled over a long-list of more than 400 names and whittled this down, through debate and discussion, to 60.

We wanted to make sure that we captured the accounts of women from across Britain and from a range of different backgrounds, as well as those women whose contribution to the intellectual project of feminism is well known. Interviewees included, for instance, Una Kroll, one-time surgeon and campaigner for women’s rights to be priests; Betty Cook, founder member of Barnsley Miners’ Wives Action Group; Karen McMinn, Co-Ordinator for Women’s Aid Northern Ireland and; Rowena Arshad, member of the first black women’s group in Scotland and Equal Opportunities Commissioner for Scotland 2001-2007. We have worked hard to try and counter simplistic representations of ‘feminists’ and the little that is known about the women who chose the term for themselves during this period. These oral histories, available in full via the British Library or in edited clips on the website, last, on average, seven hours each and are fully transcribed and summarised. Taken individually they are deep biographies accounting for the circumstances and consequences of an individual’s activism. Taken as a whole they bring to life a period of exceptional political vibrancy in which ideas about work, relationships, family and children, the political process, the state, sexuality, culture and identity were freshly explored through the lenses of feminism and social justice.

If interviewee selection has been one focus of our energies, another has been trying to tell the story of the WLM on a website aimed at ‘A’ level and university students. Arguments about feminism, gender and the WLM are contested, subtle and complex but by necessity our website had to be accessible, engaging and informative to a non-specialist audience. In the end we have let our interviewee's voices lead the site with more than 120 oral history extracts and short documentary films used to prompt analysis, discussion and debate.

SMALL If this lady was a car photograph © Jill Posener

If this lady was a car... Image courtesy of © Jill Posener

For me, ‘Sisterhood & After’ is about creating permanent record of the voices and stories of women who were part of the WLM and to provide an account of the movement in all its complexity, contradictions and colour. But I also hope it will create a space of encounters where everyone can be inspired to identify with the political project of feminism and with the experience and challenge of activism in general. The launch event on Friday was not the end of something but the start – we hope that over time the oral history collection will grow in size and scope.

Useful links

There is a long list of useful links on the Sisterhood and After Learning website at the British Library.

08 March 2013

'Generation Y not?' A view from a 'Y' member

In this blog post, Abiola Olanipekun, a British Library Intern, offers a personal reflection on an article about the management of members of 'Generation Y' at work (by Katie Best and Francis Braithwaite). The original article is available through the Management and Business Studies Portal and is linked to below.

As a member of the so called 'Generation Y', I have grown up with digital appliances all around me. Generation Y are the first generation to have had regular computer use at school, but the last to play outside in a way that the 'Generation X' kids did (the generation before us, generally considered to be those born from the early 60s to late 70s). Without it being a massive deal to us, we grew up with progressive technology, from the early game consoles, Microsoft packages, VHS to DVD, MP3s…you name it; we were the guinea pigs for it and consumers of it.

Then, in recent years, the digital world upped an ante or two. MySpace was given to us, Facebook was everywhere, and Twitter exploded on us. Well, as they say, the rest is history…at least until a new gadget or excitable craze comes out.

Well, before I completely lose my audience, I came across an interesting article that was one of the written pieces waiting to be uploaded to the Management and Business Studies Portal at the British Library. I read through it and had a semi-deep think about it, and here a some of my honest opinions about the way Generation Y are construed and described, and about the advice on managing this group that is offered…

From what Katie Braithwaite and Francis Braithwaite describe, Generation Y is not exactly loved by all, particularly not by some of their Baby Boomer and Generation X colleagues and managers. They suggest that the multi-generational workplace brings new issues also into play and that there are considerable downsides and consequences to badly managing Generation Y, and to losing sight of the benefits that their interests can have to the workplace. Their interests should be acknowledged, or better still, engaged with.

Social-media-54536_640 (2)

Social media Public Domain Mark

The article also highlights the differences in the social networks of Generation Y and Generation X which are connected to the elephant in the room, otherwise known as: social media. Best and Braithwaite also discuss how the modern workplace can (and perhaps should) facilitate Generation Y’s adeptness with social media.

Well, here are my humble thoughts about Generation Y at work. As a member of Generation Y, I think it is safe to say that one management style will not fit all. Different people within a generation will produce different outputs and work in different ways. Without suggesting that Best and Braithwaite are over-generalising, I do feel managers (on a whole) can be given credit for accepting and working with the differences between them and different members of Generation Y. A growing number of organisations do recognise that Generation Y’s social media use is invaluable and they are making steps to accommodate this. However, as social media is still evolving and progressing at such a rate, who knows how Generation Y and their managers will end up in working with this change.

Feel free to disagree with me, or better yet, read the article and consider the issues yourself. This has been my brief take on this intriguing article and, for now, I will continue to read through the many articles I work with to see whether another thought-provoking piece about Generation Y will pop up!

Abiola Olanipekun is an Intern in the Social Sciences department, working with the Business collections and the Management and Business Studies Portal. All views expressed are her own. You can follow Abiola on Twitter @Ola_Ola1


(2011) Best, Katie. & Braithwaite. Francis. Generation Y Not? Chartered Management Institute.

Other useful links

Researchers of Tomorrow: the research behaviour of Generation Y doctoral students

Generation X: The slackers who changed the world

06 March 2013

CMI Management Articles of the Year competition launched

The CMI Management Articles of the Year competition has just been launched. Read on to find out more...

The British Library works in partnership with CMI on the Management Book of the Year award which were held at the Library at the end of January. Every year there is also a competition for Management Articles of the Year and the call for this years competition has just been launched.

The competition showcases the best research articles written for a practitioner audience. Working in collaboration with the British Academy of Management and the Association of Business Schools, this innovative initiative is sponsored by John Wiley and Sons Ltd.

The winners will be recognised at an Awards Evening at the British Library in January 2014, published by the CMI in a special collation of winning articles and featured in Professional Manager magazine (readership 138,000). Academics affiliated to a university in the UK are invited to enter and the deadline for submissions is 17 May 2013.

To find out more about how you can enter go to or email

If you are a researcher in Management and Business studies you might be interested in our portal which provides free research reports, summaries and briefing papers.

01 March 2013

The British Library VoiceBank: An Introduction

Jonnie Robinson and Holly Gilbert write about the British Library's VoiceBank - a collection of 15,000 recordings made by the public during the Evolving English exhibition. It includes voices from around the world with wonderful examples of everyday speech, accent and dialect. Read more below...

The Herculean task of cataloguing the British Library VoiceBank is now underway. The VoiceBank is a collection of sound recordings made by visitors to the Evolving English exhibition which took place at the British Library between November 2010 and April 2011. The exhibition looked at the history and diversity of the English language in all its forms so it was a good place to collect some new information about contemporary variation in spoken English. For this purpose, tucked just inside the entrance were three specially constructed booths containing a telephone and a set of instructions. On lifting the phone receiver, contributors heard prompts that asked them to provide anonymised information about themselves including gender, year of birth, whether they spoke any languages at home other than English and where they thought their accent was from. They were then give the option of talking about a word or phrase that they found interesting or amusing or of reading the popular children’s story ‘Mr Tickle’, or both. Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Sociolinguistics and Education at the British Library and curator of the Evolving English exhibition, describes the reasons for using the Mr Tickle text in a previous blog post and on Radio 4’s Today programme. Around 15,000 people contributed to this incredible collection and we are now in the process of uncovering the exciting diversity and rich research potential of the recordings. You may even have made a recording yourself.

After listening to a mere 1,920 of the VoiceBank recordings, the variety in terms of age and geography is already astounding. The oldest participants were born in 1928 and include a German refugee who explains how her family used the word ‘emigranto’ to describe the mixture of languages used at first by immigrants which combined German syntax with English words such as in the term ‘geboiltes egg’ as well as a man from Tyneside who uses the word ‘dunch’ to mean ‘collision’. The youngest contributor is a boy from Chicago born in 2003 who simply says ‘bagel’. The contributors have accents that come from across the world including of course a huge number of locations in the UK and Ireland, as well as many other European countries from Portugal and the Channel Islands to Serbia and Estonia. There are voices from African countries including South Africa, Zimbabwe and Nigeria and contributions from Russia, Australia and New Zealand as well as many parts of Asia and the Middle East including India, Japan, Israel and Iran. South America is represented by voices from Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela and there are contributions from several US states, Canada and the Caribbean. So far no voice from Antarctica but you never know, according to Wikipedia the first child was born in the South Pole in 1913.

We’ll be writing more about some of the fascinating words and phrases discussed by the participants in the coming weeks. The first batch of 1,731 VoiceBank recordings has now been uploaded to the Sound and Moving Image catalogue and is available in the British Library Reading Rooms. Right now I’m researching the word ‘shuntler’, used by one contributor’s mum in Chesterfield, Derbyshire in the north of England but thought to be a made-up word by his dad. A Sheffield dialect dictionary published in 1891 may contain just the information I need…