Category: diary entry

multiple spaces

walkabout, foot tunnel, corridor, picnic area, food stalls, round table, police station, prison cell, library, lecture room, meeting space, council room, café, restaurant, workshop space, more corridor (exhibition), heating plant room… here are some images that go along



collapsing boundaries


Kat, we met David today – it was productive and we will try to finalise the call for papers by next week. Prior to meeting him we spoke and drew out some ideas.
We were thinking about how, as sociologists, we take sociology out and apply it to ‘real-life’ situations/objects and conversely how we might apply ‘real-life’ everyday situations to thinking/doing sociology.

Perhaps there is no need for this division.

It would be interesting to get papers that collapse and transform this boundary (between sociology and publics) in different ways.

So we have a beginning theme of: how do methods/strategies of dissemination relate to what you are researching? For example, how can Christian develop an informal method to research the informality of the city.

David gave us some ideas of speakers, after we suggested what our aims for the conference might be. These included ‘creating a dialogue between Phd researchers’, ‘ bringing together speakers who might not otherwise meet’, ‘engaging with the current and future climate of the politics of higher education’….

So we have plenty to do in the next weeks.

Clovis, Christian and I will come up with a list of potential speakers (important to note WHY we have suggested them), but in the meantime we agreed that we should all write a paragraph as a blog entry on what engaging tactics means to us. What/who should an engaging tactics sociology conference speak about/to? Lets all do this by the end of the week or asap!

Have a look at this also: unfolding academia. Previous Grad school Symposium – see links on the right for the specific activities/workshops they ran…. what do you think of these? Are they what or how you see the engaging tactics conference turning out?


Some other bits:


Brian, New Cross, April 19th 2011

Cumberland input

The final weekend in June a group of PhD students from the department discussed the content, form and objectives of the student conference. Threads rolled out and which are now waiting to be taken on include…

  • ‘pop-sociology’ (complex but accessible)
  • ‘exciting sociology’
  • embracing fiction and fantasy
  • the ‘art’ of sociology
  • ethics of engagement
  • self-reflexivity (first make sure you know your aims from which to engage with the aims of others)
  • boundary crossing (listening to the other is at heart of any engagement)
  • trust and respect
  • movement (mediation, play, network): way-finding and navigation
  • Do-it-yourself politics

Comments and further thoughts are welcome…

Thinking engaging tactics 2

Now it is my turn: engaging tactics? What do I get out of this topic – or what could I put into it?

First of all, why engaging? Engaging, because (a) Sociology finds itself rendered irrelevant and wants to come out of its crisis by critically (oh, how critical we are) moving forward, or (b) because I/we as researchers have a political, cultural or what ever agenda and this agenda happens to have to do something with ‘the people out there’?

I guess, in my case – and in a very personal way – it is both. The current situation of the critical social sciences in the UK landscape of higher education calls for the same question I am asking me on a personal level every day, too: Why Sociology? My research interest is the city; my theoretical lens is pretty fragmented and thus draws in light from  angles such as spatial theory, urban planing, architecture, geography and anthropology. And now I am doing my PhD and somehow I thought (and still think) that Sociology might help me to bring it all together? So in order to make this happen, I need Sociology to be able to engage with all the bits and pieces of my research setting: with city life as well as with city form. With the social as well as with the material ground in which this social is taking action… With the walker and with the dusty street he/she is walking on.

And once Sociology does open up a path into my/our understanding of the city, than I have to engage even more with ‘what is out there’ because I do have a political agenda, too. I am interested in how people live urban form not only for interest’s sake alone but because I would like to participate in finding alternative ways of ‘making’ city (starting at alternative ways of ‘seeing’ and ‘thinking’ city). So I want the outputs of my research to engage with (insurgent) residents, policy makers and planners, too – all of them people who, almost by definition, either do not have or do not want to take the time to read a 400 page PhD manuscript.

Therefore I need several, and complementary ways to engage with ‘the urban’ during and as an extension of my research. So I come to the second question inherent in our conference title: why tactics?

De Certeau (1988: xix) distinguishes between tactics and strategies: while the later, the strategy, operates out of a clearly cut institutional or otherwise defined place (and thus sustaining this place against ‘the other’), the former, the tactic, is a way of operating that does not rely on a stable ‘proper’ with its inherent power relations, visibility and spatial differentiation. It is a flexible mode of operating, one that navigates through (social) space in stead of fixing it in concrete categories (see Vigh, 2009). The notion of tactics allows to think both research and dissemination as a way of constantly engaging back and forth, sideways and up and down with the social (in my case with the socio-spatial urban as well as with urban political and planning practice).

Thinking about Engaging tactics in our project.

Engaging Tactic, my companion.

What does Engagement Tactics mean to me in my research? While I have not thought about yet giving my results back (dissemination tactics!) I think about engaging tactics with other people during my research all the time.

One engagement tactic and the one I try to pursue, although it is not always easy is to imagine I enter into a relationship with the people I interview, no matter how long (re-interview, family visits, even friendships) or short lived (an interview or even a brief conversation) this relationship will be. This helps me to stay focused on which goals are important to pursue and which to abandon. What do I mean by that? I’d like to provide an example: In my first interviews, I interviewed a Gulag survivor, who spent 16 years in the Gulag. After the interview the family ( 4 generations lived together) invited me to stay for dinner. On the way back, in the car, I was thinking what if I were not invited, what if there were no family surrounding the old women? How would I have felt? Not at all the same. I knew she was in ‘good hands’, she was loved and respected. What if I came to an old women, living by herself? I would interview her because I ‘needed the interview’ and leave her on her own again? How would I feel about my research then? In fact the old women did ask me to come back to visit her, so far I haven’t been able to go, but how would I feel if I knew she was alone? These are all important questions that make you think about the people one comes into contact with through a frame of caring for them. So, to imagine this: would I not have interviewed her in this scenario I imagined as difficult? I don’t know. She was not at all a vulnerable old women. And how are researchers supposed to get information if they don’t interview because they have reservations and ethical dilemmas? Again, I believe to think about encounters with people through a framework of relationship here helps. I don’t know exactly what will come my way and I don’t set rules for my behavior prior to them but I try to act in a way that is best for everybody. I try to care for the people I meet and interview. But this care is of course limited and it is a realization that one has to make too. Different situations, require different strategies and decisions. To think about oneself as in a relationship, one will always be willing to learn anew.

It is of course one possible engagement tactic and there might be multiple tactics of how to engage in a single project. Engagement tactics are something I think about before the interview, during it , afterward in the analysis process. It is a constant companion.

Sociology and communication

by Miranda:

I think it is difficult to talk about sociology and communication, because any conversation automatically precludes some amount of information. My take on sociology is that as a discipline the point is to try, as much as possible, not to preclude information. In almost all the social sciences there is an attempt to bracket some elements of information or study. Politics attempts to look at pretty direct exercise of power and this is usually done on an assumption of rational actor calculations, by independent individuals or actors aware of their choices (implicitly that they have choices) and that this can be demonstrated in policy decisions, party ascription, involvement levels etc. Economics deals with (mostly) quantitative assessments of material distribution, history is about what has come before, geography is about spaces, etc. Sociology, in my opinion and experience, more than any other, is about trying to assess those brackets, why are they made, what do they highlight, what do they hide, and, most importantly, what about the things that fall between. Sociology is a place of questions more than a space for answers. Part of why I find it difficult to make a ‘statement’ for communication is because I’m never really sure where we stand, what we stand for, and who and how and why. I think the point, as much as possible, is to keep moving, looking at things in different and innovative ways. I had a teacher tell me that ‘culture’ is all the things we use, the ways we use them, and the way we think about both, in short its ‘everything all the time’. I think sociology is the same. It asks over and over those fundamental questions: who are we? Who do we think we are? What are we doing here? Are we really doing that? Are we succeeding in what we are attempting or intending to do? Why or why not? Who is this ‘we’? Why this ‘we and not that ‘we’? Why are these people part of our ‘we’? What is the implication for those people who are not? And for us that we have excluded them? The questions go on and on and on. I think sociology is a group of people dedicated to asking questions, and every time we ‘answer’ a particular question, we ask another.

If I was to think about a conference in the terms of communicating sociology, I would try to express the processes that go on in terms of individuals and the impacts on society. In terms of individuals its about the process that we go through, learning how to ask questions, how to try to answer them, how to try to give evidence that our answers are more compelling than other interpretations and how to internalise and sustain that uncertainty. We choose areas that we think are important to ask and answer questions about, because we are personally interested, because we think that area matters, because the people involved need our attention. We try to pose good questions, and use appropriate methods for those areas and questions and solutions. Because it is important to note that in asking those questions, finding those answers, formulating the narrative and the process in this way and not that we are making decisions about the future as well as the present. According to the International Social Science Council we are drawing maps but that those maps are also blueprints. Sometimes we intend them to be, sometimes we don’t think about that. We can see in so many areas, usually intangible, the results of the work that we have done and are doing. It is easy to see the ways physical technology change the course of things. It is harder to trace the subtle shifts in thinking that add up to massive normative change, or intellectual formulation that proliferate through society pervasively. Often this is because sociology, the things that really rock our foundations are a few steps removed from the policy choices that address the price of milk or NHS funding. Part of the reason I chose sociology as a post-grad was because of the number of things I read that turned spotlights on intangible questions that had been floating around in my head without any good explanation. I think it may be similar for many of you. That first time you read about habitus, or governmentality, or semiotics. The ways it illuminated things you couldn’t put a name to, or the worlds it opened up for you to explore. I enjoyed the other things I studied and learned, but the excitement of finding a whole new way to think about something is beyond that practice and is the root of what is special about what we do. If there was anything I would want to communicate, especially to people who haven’t had those lightbulb moments, is the possibility that sociology has for transformation, individually and collectively; the value in learning to question, and how. That every time one asks a question there is hope for something different (and maybe something better). I would try to communicate the unique process that sociology has and maybe some examples of what that process can achieve. I would be interested in a conference that tries to bridge gaps, between bracketed disciplines, between the ivory tower and policy makers, between academics and lay-people. I think communication offers transformative possibilities as much as sociology does, and marrying the two could be extremely useful/ interesting. Part of the difficulty with both is that asking questions can be a difficult place to start from. Brackets allow a space of assumptions, a premise from which to begin. For sociologists it is a choice (which usually then must be defended). A conversation can be had from many places and pieces of it can be put together many ways. As a group I think we would need to decide where we want to begin from, what we hope to accomplish, or just how we could see it happening. In refining our own opinions and discussing amongst ourselves the ways that we can put things together, the questions we are interesting in asking and answering, the people who we are interested in to provide their own answers and the people who we wish could hear those answers we can begin to see the shape of the thing we are trying to do.

I’m not trying to advocate in any particular way… The point I’m trying to make is that sociology in theory and practice is so expansive, that to ‘do’ anything with ‘it’, in my opinion, it needs to be tied to something; rooted if you will. That could be in so many ways: who do we want to come speak? Who do we want to come listen? Is the speaking and listening the point (process)? Or do we want a report or publication to come out of the experience (conclusion)? Is it an activity to explore the decisions people are already making? Or to explore decisions that could be made? Is it about a specific topic, issue or area? Is it about bringing new groups together? Or an opportunity for a community to (re)connect? There are so many pieces, and so many ways to put them together…

In writing this, I think that for me, the place of communication and sociology is questions not answers. I don’t know if this makes sense, or is helpful in any way, but there we are.