Social Science blog

6 posts from October 2013

29 October 2013

Visual Urbanism: Perceptions of the Material Landscape

Holly Gilbert, Social Sciences, writes:

This one-day event, held on Monday 7 October, was the second time we have collaborated with colleagues from the International Association of Visual Urbanists and Goldsmiths, University of London to create a space for discussion about the use of visual methods in researching the urban environment. The event was part of the annual Urban Photo Fest and was fully booked. It was a really stimulating and thought-provoking day.

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Above: Professor Caroline Knowles. Photograph © Felipe Palma and reproduced here with kind permission.

We were taken from flip flop factories in China to the Olympic Park in Stratford via Brighton as photographed by its traffic wardens, the sewer systems of London and the view from the top of the unfinished shard. We looked at the ephemeral objects found in city streets, we followed the journey that a couple took across Switzerland in 1935, we encountered water as an intervention in the spaces of Berlin and we listened to the sounds of the landscape and literature of East London.

The presentations and discussions considered different ways of using visual methods to do urban research, questions about the ethics of selecting what makes it into the frame, the effective force of images and the mischievous, playful nature of visual research. Ian Cooke, Curator of Politics and the Propaganda exhibition at the British Library, introduced us to some of the photographic and moving image collections held here at the Library.

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Above: One of the panels in discussion. Photograph © Felipe Palma and reproduced here with kind permission.

A series of films was screened during the day, many of which can be viewed online via the links below, which gave art practitioners and researchers from across the social sciences the opportunity to share their work in a different format. The films explored cities across the world including Lima, Gateshead, Dubai, Berlin and various parts of London.

Keynote Speaker

Professor Caroline Knowles,Goldsmiths, University of London

Plastic City: Insights from the Flip-Flop Trail


Anthony Palmer, Goldsmiths, University of London

Landmark - staging the urban landscape in London’s East End

David Killeen, Independent Artist

To You I Follow

Paul Halliday, Goldsmiths, University of London

The Appearance of Things

Bradley L Garrett, University of Oxford

Encountering the city through urban interventions

Diego Ferrari, Kingston University and Central Saint Martins

Photography as mapping space

Micheál O’Connell, University of Sussex

Contra-Invention: the photography of Britain’s Traffic Wardens

Maria Papadomanolaki, London College of Communication, University of the Arts London

Tracing Paths: exploring landscape and listening from and beyond the books

Panel Chairs

David Kendall, Goldsmiths, University of London

Toby Austin Locke, The British Library

Rachel Jones, Goldsmiths, University of London

Film Screenings

Urban Habitat II (2013) – Video: Lluís A. Oliver; Photos: Diego Ferrari; Music: Junior Jero

Cold Angel (2013) – Bradley L. Garrett

Sounds of Wapping, London River Thames (2013) – Tine Blom and Portia Winters

Missing You (2013) - Micheál O’Connell/Mocksim

Lugares que fui and Wilder's Car (2012) –  Rebecca Locke

Big Bus Tour (2008) –   David Kendall, Marina Loeb, Keyvan Gharaee Nezhad

Wild The Need to Leave the Cage of Love (2009) – Annalisa Sonzogni

Dépaysement 4, 1 & 2 (2013) – Melanie Clifford

A Microcosm City: subtitled (2013) – Maria Papadomanolaki

Landscape of Disappearances: Reflections 1(2013) – Rachel Sarah Jones

Ayquina (2012) – Felipe Palma

25 October 2013

In Conversation with the Women’s Liberation Movement

Bridget Lockyer, a PhD student at the University of York, reviews ‘In Conversation with the Women’s Liberation Movement’ which was held at the British Library in October 2013

‘In Conversation with the Women’s Liberation Movement: Intergenerational Histories of Second Wave Feminism’ took place on Saturday 12th October at the British Library. I first heard about this event when I was approached by Signy Gutnick Allen and Sarah Crook from the History of Feminism Network, who, along with British Library and the Raphael Samuel History Centre, were organising the day-long event.  My work on the Women’s Liberation Movement (WLM) in Bradford and my current research into women’s paid and unpaid work had prompted them to ask whether I would like be an ‘interviewer’ on one of the themed panel sessions. Of course I said yes, this is an event I would have attended anyway, so I was really pleased to be directly involved. I was also intrigued by the conversation format and how the intergenerational discussions would transpire.

The event was inspired by Sisterhood and After: The Women’s Liberation Oral History Project and I really liked this idea of extending this fantastic project, which I had followed closely, beyond the confines of its website and archive into an interactive discussion about the WLM and its legacy. The day would be a series of themed ‘conversations’ with two junior academics/activists interviewing two ‘senior’ academics/activists who had been involved in the WLM. Each panel would also include a question and answer session, giving space for the audience to contribute and join in the conversation.

The event proved to be very popular, selling out twice (having been moved from a smaller space into the British Library’s conference auditorium). The unusual format was nerve-wracking, particularly for the junior interviewers, despite being armed with our pre-prepared questions. There was a lot to fit in, a range of different topics to cover and I think both the speakers and the audience were unsure of what to expect.

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Above: Badge from last National Women's Liberation conference, 1978. Unidentified maker. Available via the Women's Library at LSE.

The first session on ‘Women’s History’ was perhaps the most interesting for me as a historian. Sally Alexander and Catherine Hall were interviewed by Lucy Delap and Rachel Cohen. They discussed the close relationship between the WLM and history, the WLM partly emerging out of a need to examine women’s own histories and the histories of other women. Yet I was quite surprised to hear that they were completely confident that they themselves, as part of the WLM, were actively making history. I particularly liked the anecdote about Sheila Rowbotham imploring a women’s group to write dates on their pamphlets and minutes, sparing a thought for future archivists. They also discussed the WLM’s influence on historical methodologies and the importance of positioning yourself within your own research.

In the second session, entitled ‘Reproductive Choices’, April Gallwey and Freya Johnson Ross interviewed Denise Riley and Jocelyn Wolfe. The word ‘choice’ was discussed at length, with particular focus on who had the choice to do what when it came to reproduction, and the change in the terminology from ‘rights’ to ‘choice’. Jocelyn discussed how, as a black woman, the concept of reproductive choice was different, as black women’s bodies were (and are) controlled in different ways. The panel also discussed motherhood and childlessness, and the class implications behind the terms ‘yummy mummy’ and ‘pram-face’, again bringing to the fore questions about language and context.

After lunch, there was the ‘Race’ panel in which Gail Lewis and Amrit Wilson were interviewed by Nydia Swaby and Terese Johnson. Gail Lewis commented how differently her work was received and adopted in the United States compared to Britain. Both Gail and Amrit felt that British feminism has not fully engaged with race and race politics, particularly within academia. Amrit Wilson discussed feminist campaigns around immigration, and I was particularly interested in the anti-deportation campaigns of the 1970s and their links to the WLM. A question from the audience asked how white women should engage with race within their work and activism. The panel’s response was simple: educate yourself, read the texts and do not shy away from it.

The ‘Sexualities’ panel was the most difficult and tense panel. Both Sue O’Sullivan and Beatrix Campbell, answering questions asked by Amy Tooth Murphy and Charlie Jeffries, gave personal accounts of their transition from having only sex relationships with men to having sexual relationships with women. They considered how sexuality and gender was perceived during the WLM, discussing bisexuality, political lesbianism and trans women. During the panel session and the Q and A the followed, there were quite a lot of angry interjections. There seemed to be some misunderstanding of what Bea and Sue had said, a confusion between which views were their own, and which views were the ones prevalent at the time. It was in this session that the location of the event seemed to jar slightly with its purpose, and a smaller, more intimate space would perhaps have been more appropriate.

The fifth session was the ‘Work and Class’ panel, where Kate Hardy and I interviewed Lynne Segal and Cynthia Cockburn. Our questions focused on how the WLM tackled issues of women’s work, what had been learnt and the challenges women face today in the current political and economic climate. We also discussed the how we could and should put class politics and socialist politics back into feminist debate and activism.  

The final speaker was Susuana Antubam, Women’s Officer of the University of London’s Union. She was there partly to represent younger feminist activism. Susuana spoke about some of the prevailing attitudes towards women and feminism on our university campuses but also discussed the multiple campaigns she was involved with, ensuring that the event ended it on positive, hopeful note.

Not everything about this event worked, but that is to be expected with an unfamiliar format. Some people wanted more contributions from the junior feminists and for the dialogue to be less one-way. I found the conflict that arose frustrating and know that others too felt disappointed by the lack of unity. Yet the great thing about feminism in its broadest sense is that it is not afraid to constantly challenge itself and to keep challenging the assumptions made by those within in it, to ensure, as Susuana said, that no woman is left behind. In many ways it was good that the event was not a self-congratulatory ‘pat on the back’ for those in the WLM. Yet we have got to understand the context in which their mistakes were made in and appreciate that they were negotiating unchartered territory and forging new paths. I think this event highlighted some of the differences, intergenerational or otherwise, between feminists, and the potential for miscommunication between them. We’ve got to hope that these differences won’t mean feminism presses the self-destruct button. After all, the common ground is that we were all there, prepared to listen, eager to take part and willing to continue the conversation.

Bridget Lockyer is in the third year of an AHRC funded PhD at the Centre for Women’s Studies, University of York. Her research interests include women’s experiences of paid and unpaid work in the UK voluntary sector; voluntary sector culture and change since the 1970s; feminist activism and its links to voluntary/community work and oral history methods.

This post was originally published on Bridget’s blog:

16 October 2013

Doctoral open days in social sciences

If you are in the first year of a PhD in the social sciences, why not come along to one of our doctoral open days on 2 and 13 December 2013?

These days are a chance for new PhD students to discover the British Library’s unique research materials. You will learn about our Social Sciences collections, find out how to access them, and will have the opportunity to meet our expert staff and other researchers in your field.

The collections at the British Library which are relevant to social science research range from national government documents, material from international organisations, legal documents and texts, sound recordings and oral histories, trade literature and market research, datasets and digital resources, newspapers, magazines and other news media...amongst other things.

The King's Library at the British Library. Photo by Daniel2005.

These days are the perfect opportunity to find out what the British Library holds that could support and enhance your research. The days include sessions by social science curators and members of the reference team to help you find and use the collections. In previous years the days have been a great way to demystify our collections and to welcome new researchers into the British Library. To make the most of your day, you may wish to get a free Reader Pass before the event.

The events are solely for first year PhD students who are new to the Library. Lunch and refreshments will be provided and there is a small charge of £5. Find out more and book here.

There is some introductory information and case studies about our social science collections (aimed at postgraduate and academic researchers) on the ESRC website here. These pages provide some great examples of how social scientists have used our collections and descibe the sort of content you can expect to find here.

We hope to see you in December!

10 October 2013

Part 3 of the 'iPod generation': all doom and gloom?

Abiola Olanipekun recently finished her internship at the British Library. In this blog post, number three in a series about the ‘iPod generation’, she reflects on the last two reports by Refrom in their own series which were published in 2007 and 2008. The full reports by Reform can be found on the Management and Business Studies Portal.

As my cherished audience, you all be aware by now that I am writing a blog post series which examines reports about the ‘iPod Generation’. These reports are currently available on the Management & Business portal and should you need to view the last blog post that I wrote then please click here.

This blog post focus on the final two reports: ‘Class of 2007: Inaction sinks the IPOD generation’ and ‘Money’s too tight to mention: will the IPOD generation ever trust financial services?’ which were published in 2007 and 2008 respectively. They are the final reports on the iPod generation published by Reform as part of their series which focusses on 18-34 year olds in the UK – a generation who according to Reform are Insecure, Pressurised, Over-taxed and Debt-ridden.

The reports examine the UK cohort in the context of the global debates about generational differences and increasing economic insecurity, as set out in the previous reports on the classes of 2005 and 2006. There is significant focus on the issue of an ageing population and the impact of the ‘baby boomer’ generation now reaching retirement age. Reform outline how organisations such as the OECD bring together issues of global economic insecurity and the need for structural reform around pensions and healthcare (e.g. in their Economic Outlook reports), to highlight the considerable concern around the different burdens and financial situations for different generational groups.

If you have read my previous blog posts, you will know that I have found these reports to resonate with my own experiences and also to not be entirely positive about the future for my generation! Nonetheless, the most recent of the reports was published 5 years ago and I have tried to bear this in mind when reading them. When in a positive mood I tell myself that perhaps current policy and ideology may resolve (or already have resolved) some of the issues highlighted…different solutions may have been proposed. I start to think that we should avoid being consumed by the sombre message and take it all with a precautionary pinch of salt. Yet, the almost universal view among people I know seems to be that the generation of young people are trapped in financial doom and gloom.

The full reports are available on the Management and Business Studies portal at the British Library. If you have read my previous posts, and are interested in young people in the UK and their prospects, you might want to read them and build your own view.

Overall, I am trying to maintain the hope that the economy may change for the better, policies may be directed differently and the outlook for my generation may begin to look better than these reports have predicted. The reports are definitely helpful in understanding the economic situation of the 18-34 generation during the period 2005 – 2008, but they have to be read within the current context and with a critical eye.

04 October 2013

Listen up!

Over 350 conversations between friends and family members from people across the UK have been made available this week on the British Library Sounds website. These conversations were recorded as part of the Listening Project, a partnership between the British Library and the BBC, and cover all kinds of topics relating to family relationships, friendship, personal memories, triumphs, tragedies and intimate and everyday life. They offer a unique insight into the lives of people across the country and will be preserved for future generations at the Library. Importantly, they can be listened to by anyone via the website.

Holly Gilbert, who works on the project at the British Library has written a more detailed blog post about the collection here. She describes how the conversations detail narratives of different people's lives which range from 'coming out' stories, to experiences of war, to life in unusual careers such as that of a polar explorer.

A full press release about the project can be found here on our press and policy pages.

02 October 2013

The realities behind the social ‘myths’

The final event in our long-running and successful series of social science debates ‘Myths and Realities’ (in partnership with the Academy of Social Sciences) takes place on the evening of 15th October. It will be a bit of a celebration of the series (with a drink included in the ticket price) as well as a chance to address the broad question of why we (members of the general public as well as our politicians!) often believe the various social ‘myths’, rhetoric and narratives that we do, despite evidence to the contrary which is often available for public access.

For example, government figures suggest that benefit fraud costs the nation around £1.6 billion last year whilst tax fraud costs around £14 billion. So why then is the cost of benefit fraud to the nation seen as far higher in the public imagination? This is just one example of the kind of gap between widely held views about society and the evidence about social and economic reality that this series has explored. Other examples include the social reality of immigration, addiction, work-life ‘balance’, crime and punishment, educational standards (not as good as my day!) and health and food (is the modern diet really as bad as all that?) and social class (are we really all middle-class now?). We’ve had some great speakers from the academic realm and from policy and practice across the series, and many of our podcasts are on the British Library’s website as well as on SoundCloud.

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Our final event will build and draw on the questions and points raised across the series to examine the role of the press in producing and maintaining some of these social ‘myths’. We will look at how we, as members of the public, access evidence about the society we live in (and whether we are interested in doing so?), the responsibility and role of our politicians in revealing social ‘truths’  and what social scientists could be doing to bring about greater clarity for all.

The event will be chaired by Professor Dame Janet Finch who was awarded her CBE for services to Social Science in 1999, she is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the Morgan Centre at the University of Manchester and was Vice Chancellor of Keele University.

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Above: Professor Dame Janet Finch. By Mholland [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Our speakers will be:

Professor Ivor Gaber, Professor of Journalism at City University. As well as having worked as a senior editor for major news organisations such as the BBC and Channel Four, he has published widely on political communications and has also worked as a media consultant for various organisations and governments.

Professor John Holmwood, Professor of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Nottingham. He is the President of the British Sociological Association and co-founder of the Campaign for the Public University. His current research addresses issues of pragmatism and public sociology.

Please join us for an evening of discussion and debate, as well as a glass of wine to celebrate the end of the series! Tickets are available via the British Library events pages and box office.

p.s. In 2014 we will be launching a new series of social science events for the public. Watch this space...