Social Science blog

9 posts from April 2013

30 April 2013

Researching the exhibition

Dr Peter Johnston is a freelance researcher, copywriter and editor, who recently worked on researching and writing labels and other text to accompany our Propaganda: Power and Persuasion exhibition. You can follow him on Twitter @PeteAJohnston. Here, Peter describes his experience, and explains the background to one of our exhibits.

When I began conducting research on the British Library’s forthcoming exhibition, Propaganda: Power and Persuasion, I was a little daunted by the task. I’m no stranger to research, far from it - but here was a massive project, more than 200 objects that needed to be researched and explored in quite a short space of time, with the results written up and presented to an audience that will number in the tens of thousands.

The obvious question was where to start? Propaganda is not a new concept, and if you visit the exhibition you’ll see that, while it has not always been known by that name, propaganda stretches back as far as Ancient Greece and Rome – and probably further. So in order to tackle this massive project I started in the most logical place: the beginning.

Using Explore, the British Library’s catalogue, meant that I had access to thousands of books and articles on the subjectfrom which to extract knowledge. The ability to handle original documents and study the original productions was truly remarkable. The problem of where to start soon became one of how I could possibly fit in all of the fantastic information. Apart from the fascinating objects displayed in the exhibition, I was able to find out about aspects of propaganda that I never knew existed and some of the stories that surrounded them.

One of the most striking examples of this was the propaganda employed by the American colonists in the War of Independence. The colonists who wished for revolution were very conscious of the importance of public opinion and propaganda in promoting and attracting popular support for their cause. Boston was the Revolution’s propaganda nerve centre, the hub from which the majority of propaganda emanated.

Initially, propaganda was orchestrated by figures such as Samuel Adams through the Boston Gazette, and his depiction of the Boston Tea Party was a propagandist triumph. Adams later headed the Boston-based Committee of Correspondence, which became the chief agent of persuasion and propaganda used by American politicians seeking initially to further the cause of ‘no taxation without representation’, and targeted both British and Canadian public opinion. In time, the propaganda came to foster calls for independence.

American revolutionary propaganda was diverse, incorporating words and images. Entertainment was politicised to further the cause and Liberty Songs and plays depicting recent events were common. Other propaganda included poems, paintings, and printed caricatures. Pamphlets by authors such as Richard Price and Thomas Paine (copies of which are in the British Library) sold hundreds of thousands of copies, and General George Washington had Paine’s writings read to his troops to motivate them and raise morale before the successful Battle of Trenton, at a time when morale amongst the Continental Army was perilously low. When reading them now you can see why, as they include quotes such as this:

‘These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country... Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly.’

(Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, 1776)

The British counter-attacked on the propaganda front with their own pamphlets and leaflets, but the Americans certainly won the propaganda war. They even went international, and Benjamin Franklin was despatched as an Ambassador to France in order to enlist French support and worked closely with French publishers so as to gain support amongst the wider populace. This work resulted in direct French military involvement later in the war. Similarly, John Adams also went to Amsterdam to continue and support the work Franklin was doing in Paris.

SMALL Massachusetts Calendar 1772 p p 2517 n (3)

Public Domain Mark  The Massachusetts Calendar, 1772

This is one aspect of a diverse and detailed history behind just one exhibit that features in the exhibition, a Paul Revere engraving of the events in Boston of 5 March, 1770.

What was truly amazing is that, despite the evolution of propaganda mediums with the growth of mass media, the central methodologies and motivations remain the same. Propaganda remains a tool for spreading messages and influencing opinion, a vital exercise in the spreading and consolidation of power that was recognised by Alexander the Great as much as it is in the 21st century.

Useful information

'Propaganda: Power and Persuasion' launches on 17 May 2013. For more information see the 'What's On' pages. To join in the converstation on Twitter use #BLPropaganda

26 April 2013

What is the future of the voluntary sector? TSRC National Conference

Bridget Lockyer, a PhD student at the University of York, reviews the TSRC conference which was held at the British Library in April 2013.

In 2013, the voluntary sector is in a state of flux and disruption. After a period of expansion and mainstreaming under New Labour, a change in the political and economic climate has led to scaling back of financial support and a different ideological approach to the voluntary sector and the provision of welfare in general. This has led to questions about the role of the voluntary sector in the UK and how organisations can adjust to this new environment.

The TSRC was established in 2008 with the aim to enhance knowledge of the sector through independent and critical research. A collaborative project between the University of Birmingham and the University of Southampton, it received five years of funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Office for Civil Society (previously the Office of the Third Sector) and the Barrow Cadbury Trust. As this current funding is set to end, the event at the British Library on 19th April was a chance for practitioners, researchers and policy makers to discuss the key issues facing the sector and contribute to the TSRC’s Futures Dialogue.

The conference was also an occasion to reflect on the vast amount of current third sector research and the resources available to those within and those researching the sector. TSRC director, Pete Alcock, informed us that the TSRC has produced almost 100 working papers on the current state and future of the voluntary sector. We were also reminded about the TSRC’s Knowledge Portal, an online and searchable library which collates academic papers, reports by voluntary organisations and government policy documents. This is a really useful tool for those seeking third sector evidence. Head of Social Sciences at The British Library, Jude England, discussed the Social Welfare Portal, launched in December 2012 as a single point of access to its print and digital collections of research and information on social welfare policy development, implementation and evaluation. Fiona Armstrong from the ESRC reiterated their continuing commitment to third sector research, via the Big Data Investment and the Centre and Large Grants capital funding initiative.

The day was organised into five themed workshops: People, Organisations, Resources, Independence and Impact. I had chosen ‘Workshop A: People’ which focused on the voluntary sector workforce, volunteering, skills and training, chaired by Stephen McKay (TSRC) with Keith Mogford (Skills-Third Sector) speaking. Keith discussed some of the challenges facing the voluntary sector workforce, including underemployment (as full-time, permanent roles are scarce); constrained training budgets; organisations playing it safe in recruitment decisions (chosing experience over enthusiasm); lack of long-term strategic planning and increased job insecurity. He also summarised the preliminary findings of the Marsh Review, a review commissioned by Nick Hurd, minister for civil society, which, through holding a series of conversations with key figures in the third sector, set out to recommend ways in which the sector can maintain and improve its skills. The recommendations Keith outlined were: increased digital fluency; better use and sharing of data; higher standard of governance; greater enterprise and innovation; more effective collaboration, the building of effective entry routes to and through the sector (for graduates and school-leavers) and better leadership development and management. The workshop group were very interested in these findings and the review’s recommendations and there was a general sense of despair about the false economy of short termism within the sector.

The discussion moved on to talk about young people, internships, apprenticeships and volunteering and the moral dilemmas inherent in providing and managing unpaid work. I was particularly interested in a discussion about the career routes into and through the sector as this was very relevant for my own research. The group considered how the voluntary sector could accentuate the strengths of work in the sector to attract graduates and school leavers. The distinctiveness of a career in the sector was examined, e.g. the horizontal rather than vertical career progression; the ‘portfolio’ or ‘rucksack’ career format and the fluidity and movement within the sector. Although the group devised two different questions to ask in the following ‘question time’ panel session, the question that stuck in my head was the age-old ‘what makes the voluntary sector different?’. To be specific, does/should the voluntary sector have a special commitment to provide jobs and a greater sense of responsibility (compared to other sectors) in the treatment of its workforce? I was left pondering these questions as we moved into the final sessions.

During the next session chaired by Sara Llewellin from Barrow Cadbury Trust, panel members Debra Allcock Tyler, Jonathon Breckon, Caroline Slocock, Karl Wilding and Pete Alcock were asked the workshops’ questions. The questions and answers focused on what the core values of the sector should be, the value of collaboration and partnership working, how to maintain voluntary sector assertiveness and its relationships with other sectors and organisations. This was a friendly and lively discussion, which gave a great overview of the current debates taking place within the voluntary sector.

The final plenary was given by David Walker, an ESRC council member. He expressed some criticism of the current government’s approach to empirical evidence, describing today as the best and worst of times to be a researcher of public policy. I agreed with him to a large extent but was unsure of the suggestion that those who research the voluntary sector could themselves be ‘moral heroes’, mindful of Debra Allcock Tyler’s comment in the previous session that ‘the voluntary sector does not have the monopoly on good intentions or worthy actions’.

It can often be quite difficult and frustrating to bring together different stakeholders who have diverse experiences and perspectives, but it is always worth doing. Overall, the conference provided an excellent networking opportunity and generated some stimulating discussion on the current condition of the voluntary sector and what its future role might be.

Bridget Lockyer is in the second year of an AHRC funded PhD at the Centre for Women’s Studies, University of York. She is researching women’s experiences of volunteering and working in the community and voluntary sector since the 1970s.

This blog post was originally published on Bridget’s blog: and has been posted here with her permission. All views expressed are her own. Bridget has also blogged for the Guardian.

23 April 2013

The Idea of Work

The forthcoming Myths and Realities event at the British Library (to be held on 29 April) will explore whether we ‘work to live or live to work'? Many of us are working longer hours than ever before, and the age of retirement is increasing, while at the same time there is increasing job satisfaction reported many areas. The event will consider whether work is a means to an end or if it is the end itself. In this post, Toby Austin Locke explores the idea of work in our society.

We all have those mornings when we wake up and breathe a deep sigh at the prospect of dragging ourselves from bed, to return to our office or place of work to start all over again. Even those of us who are lucky enough to work in jobs we enjoy, in which I thankfully include myself, every so often face a sinking feeling at the sound of the six o’clock alarm. Our dreams of youth, of being an artist, musician or robot, seem distant absurdities, the follies of youthful imagination.

We all have these moments of despair at the reality of work, at realising we have become something other than the object of our dreams, but as far as I know there is only one case of someone having woken up to find themselves transformed to a giant bug…Ok, maybe not a real case, I do know that Kakfa’s Metamorphosis (2009) isn’t a true story. But regardless of whether it is factual or literary, the point remains the same


Public Domain Mark

Franz Kafka, 1906 

The transformation of Gregor in the Metamorphosis is often considered to mirror Kafka’s life. As his diaries and correspondence (1982) show us, he was torn between a deep dissatisfaction with his job and an immense guilt resulting from his desire to write. His family, and particularly his father, did not consider authorship a worthy way to spend his life – he should work, work hard, and earn good money to support himself and his family. His writings demonstrate the clear anguish these conflicting interests caused within him.

This guilt that arose within Kafka was explored by avant-garde French theorist Georges Bataille in one of his later works, Literature and Evil (1985). In the only existing television interview with Bataille he discusses how Kafka is exemplary in showing how literature is on the side of ‘evil’, of how “writing is the opposite of working” (1958). This seems like an odd statement, and not particularly logical - Bataille is known for his off the wall propositions, next to statements such as “the sexual act is in time what the tiger is in space” (1988), the claim that writing is ‘evil’ looks like common sense.

A little contextualisation helps to uncover what is meant by this statement. Bataille comes from a line of philosophy that, following from Nietzsche, considers ‘evil’ as an entirely relative component of socially constructed values and moral codes. ‘Good and evil’ do not hold the same absolute qualities in this way of thinking, as they do in, say, the Christian way of considering morality. ‘Good and evil’ are produced by society’s moral standards and expectations.

German sociologist Max Weber famously described the Protestant work ethic as part of “the spirit of capitalism” (2011). The notion of working hard, of bringing your best to a job whatever that job may be, of being useful, productive, and noble in your labour was considered by Weber as central to capitalist societies’ moral codes. And you can certainly see his point, Government employment policy, as a browse of the employment section of the British Library’s Social Welfare Portal will show, has long been oriented around ensuring people contribute their labour to society, ensuring people are useful and productive. This notion is ever more salient in contemporary government rhetoric, and one could barely ask for a better example than the opening line of George Osborne’s latest budget speech, where he declared “this is a budget for people who aspire to work hard and get on” (2013).

This helps us understand what Bataille means by his statement; what he is saying is that literature goes against this productive work ethic and as this work ethic is generally considered virtuous and ‘good’, the unproductive act of writing literature, the non-useful expenditure of time that it entails, is ‘evil’. Literature is an unproductive use of time and energy.

The anthropologist Marshall Sahlins once considered hunter-gather societies as The Original Affluent Society (2004). He outlined how it was precisely because these societies did not have the drive to work, to produce, because it was considered virtuous, that they were more affluent. These social groups do not work because of a moral code that considers work ‘good’, that insists that the use of time must be focused on productivity and utility, they work for their needs and as a result spend much of their time engaged in seemingly unproductive activity, they are affluent in their leisure time and the time they spend with their social groups and families.

Public Domain Mark

Situationist International

All this throws up various questions. Why do we work such long hours? Why do we spend so much of our lives in our places of work? Why do we feel the need to always be productive, to always be useful? Do we simply adhere to a socially constituted moral expectation when we work? Or is it something else? Is it that many of us quite simply enjoy working? There are certainly days when one can be forgiven for sympathising with the cries of the radical group Situationist International to “abolish work” (1981). Sometimes, we have to ask ourselves - is work really a means to an end, or, in our societies, is it the end in itself?

Myths and Realities

The event 'Work to live, or live to work?' will be held on the evening of Monday 29 April at the British Library. For further details and booking see our 'What's On' pages.

References and useful links

Bataille, Georges (1958) Interview with Pierre Dumayet,

Batille, Georges (1985) Literature and Evil, London: Boyars, X.950/46419

Batille, Georges (1988) The Accursed Share: an essay on general economy, Vol. 1: consumption, New York: Zone Books, YC.1988.b.10164 

Kafka, Franz (1982) The Diaries of Franz Kafka 1910-23, Max Brod (eds), Harmondsworth: Penguin, X.958/15070 

Kafka, Franz (2009) Metamorphosis, London: Arcturus, YK.2011.a.28425 

Knabb, Ken (eds) (1981) Situationist International Anthrology, Berkeley California: Bureau of Public Secrets, 83/26856

Osborne, George (2013) Budget speech: full text, New Statesman,

Sahlins, Marshall (2004) ‘The Original Affluent Society’ in Stone Age Economics, Chicago: Aldine-Atherton, YC.2005.a.1789

Weber, Max (2011) The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, New York: Oxford University Press, YC.2011.a.16275 

Toby Austin Locke is currently working for the British Library Social Sciences team on the Social Welfare Portal and is due to start working towards his doctorate in October 2013 at Goldsmiths College, University of London. You can contact him on twitter @tobyalocke or read more of his blog-posts at


19 April 2013

The 1980s Archived

In this post Sarah Evans outlines materials and resources available at the British Library that can be used to research social, political and cultural aspects of Britain in the 1980s

The events of the last two weeks have fuelled discussion about British society, politics and culture during the 1980s. Serendipitously, I was today browsing through the British Library Sounds website and came across this new oral history collection entitled ‘Observing the 1980s’  which features interviews with those involved in key events such as the Falklands War, the uprisings in Brixton and the Miners’ Strike, as well as on social issues such as unemployment and HIV. It brings together different voices from those who lived through the 1980s and is part of a project led by the University of Sussex, in collaboration with the British Library and the Mass Observation Archive.

As well as this collection, there are many others which offer insight into politics and life during the 1980s. Indeed, the recently launched website ‘Sisterhood and After’ includes extracts with women who were involved in the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp. For example, the below extract from Rebecca Johnson about the idea of ‘Embrace the Base’:

‘I don’t know who came up with the idea to call Embrace the Base but what came out of that idea of the action was, we were going to bring women to Greenham in their thousands.  We were going to do it on the anniversary of the NATO decision to put Cruise and Pershing into Europe and that was December 12th 1979, so we were going to do this on December 12th 1982 and that was a Sunday.  And having got loads of women to come to the camp we were going to invite as many as possible to stay and help us close the base so it was Embrace the Base on Sunday, Close the Base on Monday.  And this action began to kind of form in our minds as a way to bring women to see what’s going on, to see the sheer immensity of this nuclear base expansion ‘cos it had been a nuclear base for quite a while.’

Embracing_the_base, (1)

Embracing the base, Greenham Common December 1982, near to Greenham, West Berkshire, Great Britain. At noon on December 12th 1982, 30,000 women held hands around the 6 mile perimeter fence of the former USAF base, in protest against the UK government's decision to site American cruise missiles here. The installation went ahead but so did the protest - for 19 years women maintained their presence at the Greenham Common peace camp. This image was taken from the Geograph project collection. See this photograph's page on the Geograph website for the photographer's contact details. The copyright on this image is owned by ceridwen and is licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.  6a00d8341c464853ef017ee9c1502c970d-800wi

Alongside the oral history collections which document personal experience, the British Library sound collections include other kinds of recordings which will no doubt be of value to researchers in many different disciplines. For instance, the collections include recordings of speeches of the major political parties during the 1980s. Indeed, I have just found Margaret Thatcher’s speeches at the 1984 Conservative Party Conference in Brighton and the 1989 Conservative Party Conference in Blackpool.

Researchers of pop culture during the 1980s will be interested in the music recordings and pop videos which are held at the British Library. From The Specials singing Ghost Town to Kylie Minogue talking the audience through her favourite songs on BBC Radio One, the sound collections offer the opportunity to remember the events which fuelled musical responses or to be catapulted back to one’s younger self (I also just found ‘Smash Hits’ magazine in the main catalogue!).

Nearly three years ago my colleague Dr. Phil Hatfield and I organised, with a number of external partners, an event which brought together witnesses from the uprisings (sometimes called ‘riots’) of the early 1980s, alongside those who have subsequently undertaken research on what happened. The chair was Professor Gail Lewis and the speakers were Linda Bellos OBE, Wally Brown CBE, Kunle Olulode, Prof. Louis Kushnick OBE, Dr Anandi Ramamurthy and Sean Creighton. The podcast for this event is available on the British Library Website.

The recent political, cultural and public discussion about the impact and legacy of social change during the 1980s has certainly shown the need for researchers to be able to access a variety of materials relating to recent history. For those who remember the 1980s and for those who want to find out more, the British Library’s diverse collections are a good place to start.

17 April 2013

Legal Biography: A national socio-legal training day - 15th May 2013

In this post Jon Sims, Curator for Law and Socio-Legal Studies, explains Legal Biographies and outlines a forthcoming event: Legal Biography: a national socio-legal training day on 15th May 2013. This is the second national socio-legal training day to be organised jointly by the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, the British Library and the Socio-Legal Studies Association.

As varied cultural currents narrate the 1970s and 1980s through the political life of Baroness Thatcher (called to the Bar, Lincoln’s Inn, in 1954), it occurs to me that a recorded interview with Baron Joffe (called to the South African Bar in 1962, just one year before the Rivonia Trial) is among the British Library’s oral history collections (law and the legal system).  

Legal Biographies “are a rich and important source of information about the legal system, the evolution of case law and statute and legal cultures more generally”. “Yet … they have been much neglected in the study of law” states the website of the London School of Economics Legal Biography Project

Further steps to remedy this neglect will be made next month, on the 15th May 2013, at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies. The “Legal Biography: a national socio-legal training day”, organised jointly by the Institute, the Socio-Legal Studies Association, and the British Library, will focus on methodological considerations and problems involved in doing archival research for legal biographies. The day aims to draw attention to archives that newcomers to the field may not be aware of and to consider the practical problems involved in analysing sources.


Sorabji, Cornelia, bachelor of civil law in 1892, called to the bar 1923, diaries covering 1919 – 23  are held at The British Library e.g. File reference: Mss Eur F165/81. Photograph of Bust at Lincolns in by James Frankling CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons  6a00d8341c464853ef017ee9c1502c970d-800wi

Given recent initiatives in research methods training and the roles of social-sciences and history in the evolution of disciplinary paradigms in academic legal research, growing interest in legal biography is perhaps unsurprising. Interest in biography and life course research is clearly evident from the British Sociological Association’s conference programmes and Auto/Biography Study Group for example. 

Names such as Maine, Maitland, Milsom and Holdsworth are prominent in the story of history’s role in British legal scholarship. However the work of Hurst and Horrowitz (what is it about Ms and Hs!) demonstrate, as Ibbetson points out on page 875 of The Oxford Handbook of Legal Studies (OUP 2003), a shift in US legal history which, at least superficially, suggests the utility of biographical methods. This was the shift of focus away from legal doctrine and towards “institutional frameworks”, “legal practitioners and administrators”.  Biography has also recently been described as the “new history” of the moment. 

Examples of North American academic interest in legal biography can be seen for example through the Women’s Legal History – biography project at Stanford, the Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History - Oral History Programme.

UK socio-legal enquiry has embraced investigation of the professions and institutions of law, looks beyond the roles of legal elites to administrators (court clerks, street level enforcers, and bureaucratic decision makers), and also searches beyond the monologue of the appeal judgments for the lives of the litigants. The litigants story has also emerged, for example through critical evaluation of the narrative of standard institutional histories, asking for example, what happened to the eponymous Miss Bebb of the landmark case, [1914] 1 Ch 286, concerning the opening of the legal profession to women.

However, while legal studies embraces, at times, the need to look beyond legal rules and doctrines, legal biography, as this LSE Project reminds us, also aids our understanding of the “evolution of case law and statute”.

The Legal Biographies training day on the 15th May is the second national socio-legal training day to be organised jointly by the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS), the British Library and the Socio-Legal Studies Association (SLSA).  If you are interested to find out more about methods and resources in legal biography then why not register and come along to IALS (Russell Square, London) to learn from the experiences of legal academics, archivists and librarian’s working in the field. 

Confirmed speakers include: Rosemary Auchmuty, (Reading University) talking about researching the life stories behind Bebb v The Law Society - a case concerning women’s admission to the legal profession, Lesley Dingle (Squire Law Library ) talking about the Eminent Scholars Archive, Guy Holborn (Librarian at Lincoln’s Inn, adviser to the LSE Legal Biographies Project and author of Sources of biographical information on past lawyers) on biographical method and the Inns of Court, Les Moran (Birkbeck) and Linda Mulcahy (LSE Legal Biographies Project) on using image in legal biography, Giles Mandelbrote (Lambeth Palace Librarian and Archivist) on Ecclesiastical court records at Lambeth Palace Library,  Jon Sims (British Library) on exploiting the library’s collections for legal biography, Mara Malagodi (LSE) on archival investigations and researching the neglected constitutional legacy of Sir Ivor Jennings in Asia,  Susannah Rayner (SOAS) and Antonia Moon (British Library) on archival resources at the School of Oriental and African History and India Office Archives, , Elizabeth Dawson (IALS Archivist) on using archival resources at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies.

Online Registration and Further Details: for further details and online registration for Legal Biography: A national socio-legal training day (15 May 2013, 10:00 - 17:00) please see the Events Calendar on the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies website. The cost for the day’s event, including lunch and refreshments is £30 (Student rate), £60 (SLSA members), and £70 (full price). 


Our 'help for researchers' pages contain more information about The British Library's Socio-Legal Studies Collections

Jon Sims, Curator for Law and Socio-Legal Studies, can be followed on twitter @SSCRLaw


12 April 2013

What's Wrong with Bankers?

Professor Julian Birkinshaw of London Business School looks at corporate culture in banks and whether it has contributed to the financial crisis and controversies over bankers’ behaviour. The British Library has many different resources to support research in this area, listed below. These include other articles and resources contributed by Professor Birkinshaw.

Barclays (BCS), in the wake of its £290 million ($360 million) fine for manipulating the Libor rate, recently announced it was commissioning a top lawyer, Anthony Salz, to review the bank’s corporate culture.

Let me spare Mr. Salz the trouble and tell him what he’s going to find. He will discover that Barclays has an aggressive, performance-oriented culture where people are under a lot of pressure to deliver the numbers. There is a short-term focus, an intolerance of mistakes, a cover-your-backside mentality, and a lack of collaboration. People work long hours, and the work-life balance is poor.

The problem here is not Barclays—it’s the entire investment banking industry. This is just a description of the every-man-for-himself culture that pervades Wall Street and the City of London.

The underlying problem, of course, is money. If you pay big individual bonuses, you get results. You also get a toxic corporate culture.

We have known for years that individual performance pay works only under a very limited set of conditions—essentially when one person’s attempt to maximize his bonus is completely unlinked to what anyone else does: door-to-door selling, for example. In all other situations, it creates unwanted side effects.

Group-based bonuses, on the other hand, can be highly effective for rewarding teamwork. U.K. retailer John Lewis (JLH) gives the same bonus to every single employee, typically 15 percent to 20 percent of their base salary. The day the bonus is announced is a day of celebration—because they are all happy for each other. At Barclays and other banks, bonuses are allocated individually, the amounts of money are huge (often many multiples of base salary), and the process is political and secretive. Everyone assumes they are getting less than the next person. Bonus season, rather than being a time to celebrate, is the most miserable and depressing part of the year.

So what can the banks do? Reduce the variable rate of pay, increase base salaries, put in place broad-based, long-term incentives, and use these levers to shift all the softer elements of culture toward collaboration, long-term thinking, and a tolerance of well-intentioned failure.

These are obvious and proven solutions, but of course, getting there from here is the challenge. Barclays itself just proposed a scheme for withholding bonuses until retirement—but unless the other banks put similar practices in place, it will just end up handicapping Barclays in the war for talent.

It would be nice to think the banks will voluntarily reform their incentive systems and cultures, but I cannot see it happening without regulatory pressure. Fasten your seat belts.


For more resources on banks, business ethics or the financial crisis from the British Library, see:

About the author

Julian Birkinshaw is Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship and Senior Fellow of the Advanced Institute of Management Research at London Business School. This post originally appeared on the Bloomberg Businessweek Management Blog. The views expressed are those of the author.

10 April 2013

New University of Sheffield/British Library funded PhD scholarship announced

Applications are invited for a PhD scholarship on the project “Freedom, oppression and resistance: Evolving stories in South African political ephemera and propaganda, 1948-2004”. Informed by a critical geopolitics approach, the project provides for a longitudinal analysis of the changing expressions of power, resistance and participation within the British Library’s holdings of political ephemera. Supported by the University of Sheffield and British Library, this project draws together South African state and civil-society produced narratives of nationalism, citizenship and participation during the Apartheid (1948-1994) and early post-Apartheid (1994-2004) periods. Focussing upon the political ideals and ideologies expressed through political ephemera, this project will address the evolving nature of political participation within contested public spheres in South Africa. In particular, attention is focused upon the ways in which Apartheid and resistance influenced and were manifest in everyday political life and thought. Overall, the project will contribute to understandings of the changing nature and role of (un)civil society in South Africa as located within shifting landscapes of invited and invented spaces of public participation.

The studentship is supervised by Dr Daniel Hammett and Professor Charles Pattie (University of Sheffield) and Ian Cooke (British Library). The scholarship pays: UK/EU tuition fees (Overseas students can apply but will need to cover the difference in fees), a stipend at standard RCUK rate (£13,726 in 2013-14) and a research support grant of £500 per year. Awards are tenable for a maximum of three years, subject to satisfactory progression, with the project scholarship starting September 2013. For further details see:

Applications and enquiries are welcome from interested applicants with a first class or upper second class first degree in a relevant subject area and who hold or expect to complete a Masters level degree before September 2013. Deadline for applications: 5pm 31 May 2013.

Enquiries and applications should be directed to Dr Daniel Hammett – [email protected]

08 April 2013

'…the irreducible things that happened': sociology in the archives

Sarah Evans recounts an especially absorbing session at the British Sociological Association's annual conference which examined archival research in sociological inquiry.

Last week I managed to spend some time at the annual conference of the British Sociological Association. There was one session in particular that inspired me in relation to my work at the British Library. A session on 'Archival Research in Sociological Inquires and Beyond' brought together four academics who have undertaken feminist, archival research in different ways: Liz Stanley, Maria Tamboukou, Andrea Salter and Niamh Moore.

Liz Stanley has written about archival research in the social sciences as an emerging field, and as someone who works with social science researchers in the archive, I'm aware that there are still relatively few sociologists who work closely with archival materials. It was great to hear the issues given voice and discussed by real advocates of archival research.

One member of the audience asked a question about how the sociologist in the archive is different to a historian; must the starting point be a different one? How does the methodology differ? What are the different epistemologies and practices that take place within the different disciplines, and how do these come into being through engagement with the archive and the resulting interpretations? I began to wonder whether the pressures and limitations of the REF exercise might go someway to explain the relative dearth of sociologists within the archive - could there be concern about mis/recognition in relation to 'units of assessment'? Or are the main issues in training and awareness?

Liz Stanley and Andrea Salter gave presentations on the different methodological and theoretical issues which arose during the process of undertaking archival research, specifically in relation to their research on Olive Schreiner's letters which has produced the Olive Schreiner Letters Online. Andrea Salter spoke about how the production of a digital 'archive of an archive' requires the practice of a particular kind of sensitivity which draws repeated connections between past and present. Their work made me think about the relationship between the researchers who use Olive Schreiner Letters Online and the researchers (including Liz and Andrea) who have used the original letters in the archive. If I had thought of it at the time I would have asked about the conversations which have taken place between these different users; no doubt these conversations are productive.

I very much enjoyed hearing about Feminist Webs, a participatory feminist project which has created an archive and produced an online resource for those involved in youth and community work with young women. Niamh Moore described the process of creating and building the archive and the process of change which occurs in the imagination when one works in the archive. Some of what she and the other speakers said connected to my own experience of using archival material in which reality can be suspended at certain moments (with the deep imaginative absorption one might experience in reading a great novel), whilst at other moments the social world is enhanced through occasions of real clarity. These very different kinds of thought seem to fuel one another. Maria Tamboukou's paper spoke beautifully about these moments and of how working in the archive generates particular imaginative connections through time and space in her paper on 'archival rhythms'.

What struck me across all of the presentations was the way in which archival research requires a sensitivity to multiple audiences and stakeholders (dead or alive) - from the people who produced the material, to those whose lives have been documented and represented, to the future researchers who may use the 'archive of an archive' which is necessarily produced as we sort and organise archival materials in the process of our research. This session really inspired me to seek out more ways to work closely with sociologists in the archive.


25 April 2013: I received a lovely email from Liz Stanley following this post which alerted me to an article which she, Andrea Salter and Helen Dampier have published in Cultural Sociology and which examines and answers many of the questions raised here. The link to the online copy is here and the print version will be out in early summer.