I first came to Essex in 1996, as a shy 18 year old in my gap year, with the intention of filling in time before starting a Psychology degree. As my Dad (John Scott) was teaching in the department, I started hanging out in the Resource Room, with Helen Hannick and the team of student volunteers. We helped students with study skills, proof reading essays, and general support and advice. Later on, Rowena Macaulay arrived to replace Helen, and did an equally great job of building up the Resource Room and creating a student community. I had such a fantastic time there and made such wonderful friends (including fellow Essex Sociology alumni Chrissie Rogers, Paul Howell, Lynne Pettinger and Agnes Skamballis) that I decided I wanted to stay and become a sociologist instead! The department was a lovely place to be, with so many interesting people and warm, friendly staff – I felt instantly at home there. I’ll always remember the day I was coming home on the train and met Tony Woodiwiss, then Head of Department, who answered my tentative question of whether he thought there was a chance I could stay on with a wry smile and the words, “I should think that would be quite likely.”
So I studied at Essex as an undergraduate from 1996-1999 (BA Sociology) and then as a postgraduate from 1999-2000 (MA Sociology). Never looked back on that lost career as a psychologist, which I’m sure I would have sucked at. I loved every minute of my time at Essex and learned so much – I really think it was the perfect place to study Sociology, as everyone was so interested and passionate about both research and teaching. After that, I moved to Cardiff to do my PhD (2000-2003) on ‘the sociology of shyness’, which then became my trademark topic. Then in 2004, after a period of research bits and pieces and increasingly desperate job-hunting, I somehow landed both an ESRC postdoctoral fellowship and a follow-on lectureship at Sussex University, where I have been ever since.
My research interests are in self-identity, interaction and everyday life, and Sussex has allowed me to indulge my love of Symbolic Interactionist theory and Goffman’s dramaturgy in my research and teaching. I’ve carried on the shyness research through my book, Shyness and Society (Palgrave, 2007) and various articles about shyness as interactional deviance, as well as subsequent projects about lecturers’ experiences of performance anxiety, and the effects of new technologies/digital media upon shyness in contemporary art galleries. My second book, called Making Sense of Everyday Life (Polity, 2009) was about the rituals, routines and norms that shape mundane social activities, such as sleeping, eating and shopping. The other strand of my research is in the field of health and illness, where I have worked on projects about risk assessment in both cancer genetics and the contested mental health condition ‘Dangerous and Antisocial Personality Disorder’, as well as a critique of the medicalisation of shyness as Social Phobia/Social Anxiety Disorder. Reading Goffman’s famous study, Asylums, I became fascinated by the social worlds of total institutions (places where people spend 24 hours a day) and my third book, Total Institutions and Reinvented Identities (Palgrave 2011) was about how these had changed since Goffman’s time to be more about voluntary self-reinvention. More recently, I’ve done some random quirky projects about swimming pool behaviour and etiquette, and stage fright in performing artists. I am soon to begin a Leverhulme-funded study of asexual identities and practices of intimacy, with Matt Dawson (also ex-Essex) at the University of Glasgow. Finally, sticking with my Goffman/SI-obsession, the next book that I am working on is called Negotiating Identities, which has been a lot of fun to research and hopefully won’t be too painful to write. At least, I couldn’t have asked for a better foundation than having studied Sociology at Essex!
My links: I can be contacted at Sussex here: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/profiles/171734