stories of essex sociology
I am Student Support Officer in the Department of Sociology at the University of Essex, committed to all matters student oriented. This site is dedicated to telling the story of the Sociology department at Essex as it approaches its 50th anniversary in 2014. The site will be launched in October 2014 as a birthday gift to the department.
Posted in Alumni on September 10, 2014
I had a truly memorable time in the Sociology department at Essex though it wasn’t an easy ride. Entering as an adult through an ACCESS to Higher Education scheme with a failed school history behind me I was initially scared and overwhelmed by the perceived grandness of ‘ Academia’. A place where others belonged, not me.
The reading and course contents were exacting and challenging: at times mentally, physically and emotionally draining; at times energizing even exciting. The lectures were usually engaging and sometimes inspiring. Most seminars were stimulating, thought- provoking and sometimes fun.
The sense I gained from many of the department’s lecturers was that they cared how well their students did. That they wanted them to gain an understanding of the world as seen through the critical eye of sociology and to take this understanding into the world and make it a better place.
How fortunate I was to have studied Sociology at Essex when I did: at a time when human currency was as valuable as the monetary, market- driven kind; when academic rigour was imposed by approachable and caring academics who were themselves not yet consumed by the crippling demands of ratings and publications.
At the core of all this lay the departmental coffee room. It was a lifeline for us students and the departmental secretaries were truly the bees’ knees. What Brenda didn’t know wasn’t worth knowing, what she and Mary couldn’t fix wasn’t fixable. We students knew that the Brenda, Mary, Diane and Sue cohort was a precious resource: we suspected that they could have run the country better than any government before or since. It was also recognized that all work and no play make Sociologists a dull group. So play we did. The department was reputed to have the best parties and gatherings. And it did.
It was indeed a very special time. Over time Essex became my own. I belonged.
I was hooked. I began an MA. More agony. More challenges. More fun.
In 1994 Ken Plummer, who was then HOD, set up the post of Student Services Support Officer and the Resource Room. I had just completed my MA and made the seamless transition from student to staff . Helped by a myriad of very special students who dedicated their valuable time to running the show, the Resource Room grew to become an integral part of the department and student life.: a testament to a departmental ethos which understood the holistic principle of student growth & development.
My thanks go to the wonderful people who made my time at Essex so special and managed- despite my deeply rooted mistrust of ‘Theory’ – to convert me into the sociological way of viewing the world and its multiple realities. And now there’s no turning back.
Today I own and manage an Azienda Agrituristica in the hills of Umbria, Italy. Which amounts to being an unpaid administrator, cleaner, gardener, pool girl, receptionist, hostess and driver. The countryside is stunning, the place is beautiful, the food is great and the stress levels are low.
I remain curious and very interested in people and their individual and collective behaviours, in social structures, cultural diversity, inequality and education. Hence my role as Trustee (governor) at St Stephens International school in Rome where I currently hold the post of vice Chair of the Education Committee.
I was saddened to read about the death of David Lockwood on this website. I still remember his seminars. He would sit us down on low armchairs in his office, and glare down at us from his desk chair. “I know what he wrote” he would snap “now tell me what *you* think”.
Having the courage and skills to say what I think has held me in good stead over the years. After Essex I spent a year earning money to finance an economics course at Kent, and then did a Ph.D at Warwick under Simon Clarke (see Roll Call) which, at the height of Thatcherism, was rude about economics. This was followed by succession of lectureships throughout the country, and a number of publications all of which were critical of economics. I guess I learnt to say what I think. I now work as an associate lecturer for the Open University.
I still carry the scars of Essex, both literally (I got a bit tired and emotional after my second year results and cracked my head open), and figuratively – Essex took a precocious school leaver, and gave him a direction for his life. I remember the endless discussions in the Union and Top bars, endless hours in the library, the parties in B/R 12 (I sort of remember them), the union meetings and constant protests, combs-and-prunes in the union shop (stock ordering was a bit hit and miss), an amazing film society, tea from the coffee shop you could stand a spoon in. Most of all, I remember a sense that what we learned mattered.
Essex gave me something else also. One winter just after the millennium many of my family and extended family were ill, some terminally. I was looking out for four households by myself, and feeling depressed. I decided to skip sending Christmas cards that year, a chore I never liked. One of my Essex friends – Gill Leighton – phoned to see if I was okay, which I wasn’t and neither was she. We kept in touch, often several phoning several times a week. We met up a couple of years later, and it was just like old times.
Reader, I married that woman. We have been together about 12 years now, and are now grandparents.
Essex gave me a career, a calling and a wife. And I got given a grant to go there and have the time of my life. Those really were the days.
Of all the memories, I think I should mention Brenda Corti, and the support she gave to everyone. The other thing I remember is that the people in the department didn’t take themselves too seriously, and did know how to party.
Wherever you go in the world there are connections to Essex. Essex changed my life. I gained not just a perspective but a way of life. It gave me the confidence to stand alone when I needed to. I have been lucky enough to work in social science since I left despite various politicians, and I was able to influence students; my sixth-form students used to call this “Leightonism”. I also learnt how to really write, although I took it for granted until others pointed it out.
I made life-long friends at Essex, across the University through the mature students society. Oh, and I also met my life-long friend and husband Jon Mulberg.
A Day in the Life:
* Buy cup of tea in Square 4 café. Slip into back of Howard Newby’s lecture, bit late.
* After lecture up to Common Room with other mature students and many of the lecturers.
* Dash to Library floor 3 to grab recommended readings from lecture. High correlation between speed and grades. Then enjoy camaraderie of other students all there also.
* Long lunch in Hex with students and staff (salad and yoghurt not chips. Really.)
* Back to library for an hour before pickup children. Witness occasional book theft (throwing them out the window). If summer then children already here, playing with chess set in square 2.
* Also in summer go on walk round lakes, or nature walks with Ted Benton.
* Return later in evening to socialise in Bar. Only sometimes. Honest.
* If end of year party in Towers. I leave at 10 pm. Honest.
* Later as postgrad there’s Judith Okely’s weekly methods seminar, with students from all over.
Imaginations: fifty years of Essex Sociology
edited by Ken Plummer
An exciting new publication to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Sociology Department at the University of Essex
The Sociology Department at the University of Essex is a leading international sociology department. Through fifty contributions from past and present, the students and lecturers in the department tell the story of its history, its ideas and its community. It provides an unusual insight into the workings of a British university department as well as the shape of modern British sociology.
You will treasure this book, not only if you worked or studied at Essex, but also if you care deeply about sociology and its future. For those who experienced Essex, it will touch on special memories. But it will also show how much more was going on there than you ever realised at the time. This multidimensional book portrays the amazingly sustained creativity of sociology over a whole range of different directions. That’s why it is much more than history: it also demonstrates the potential of sociology for the future. Paul Thompson An invaluable record of an extraordinary intellectual and educational institution, chronicling the heady years of its genesis and fruition. The volume teems with memories, anecdotes and reflections on this history from a proud assembly of those at the heart of its achievements. Rob Stones
Imaginations: fifty years of Essex Sociology
will be published by Wivenbooks in September 2014.
Copies can be ordered from The Wivenhoe Bookshop, The University Bookshop or direct from Ken Plummer at email@example.com. It will also (eventually) be available on Amazon.
Publication price: £25 ISBN: 9780957085046; 208pp, 50 contributors.
The book will be officially published and launched at the Essex 50th anniversary weekend scheduled for 12-14th September at the University.
The launch will take place at the Sociology Gathering and lunch between 12.30 and 2.30 in The Tony Rich Centre
You can find more details of this on: https://www.essex.ac.uk/fifty/
I first came to Essex in 2004 to pursue a MA in Sociology of Development and ended completing my PhD in Sociology in 2010. I chose to pursue my postgraduate studies at Essex’s Department of Sociology due to its past and present, its commitment to social change and equal opportunities for all and the excellence of its work.
Life in Essex, and Colchester in particular, confronted me in many ways with preconceived ideas of development and was often a challenging experience. Intercultural exchange was a significant gain of this period, as well as affections that will endure for life. In professional terms, Essex marked me deeply. Writing and research skills, ethnography, econometrics, political economy, development, were all tools I gained and that prepared me to perform in diverse platforms, including the academia, international organizations and politics.
In 2009, I joined the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean and since 2012, I have worked as a social policy specialist for UNICEF El Salvador. Writing background documents for policy-making might seem distant from traditional sociological practice. However, I see sociology as immanent in these tasks imprinting a perspective to approach social reality, an eager interest for seeking explanations, not conforming to facts in the surface.
I think of the future of sociology from a land where this is uncertain. After enduring 12 years of civil war in the recent past, today it has become a post-conflict society and a low middle-income country. Yet, 5800 children and adolescents were killed by gang activity in El Salvador between 2008 and 2012. 50% of children and adolescents live in monetary poverty. Most of them will only occasionally relate to the state, mostly through public education that they will likely abandon at the age of 14 or by receiving a cash transfer that will partly alleviate their more acute needs. In such a context, citizenship and any form of social cohesion finds several obstacle to develop, becoming a matter of policy attention.
For periods, sociology was banned in the country. Today, while researchers are scarce, society has few observers and remains rather blind to understand how social ties have deteriorated to such a point. The national and international academia says little in probably one of the most interesting countries to do sociology in the world.
Yet, I never imagined the importance of sociological thinking until I came to this country. With few tools to examine society, there are few hints to start improving things from the deep. Such a change goes beyond institutional or policy transformations; it requires citizenry wanting to live or act together, convinced that this is still worthy. Digging into people’s motivations, drives, collective frustrations, fears and dreams might provide a starting point to build a new future.
Do I think there is a future for sociology in 50 years? I certainly do, as long as we decide that social forms of organization are still necessary. Bear in mind that this is not granted. Do I think it is relevant? More than ever, as I have witnessed its capacity to lead change in people’s everyday lives. What do I expect from sociological practice in the future? I envisage an academia interacting with other actors beyond its physical and symbolic walls; I see sociologists submerged in different arenas, hunger for understanding, conducting organized practices to uncover factors explaining social facts, empowered by their research’s impacts, humble before the immensity of the never ending task.
This is an entry from the book: Imaginations- 50 Years of Essex Sociology.
Posted in Alumni on August 28, 2014
Since I completed my undergraduate degree in 2002 and embarked (straight) on a postgraduate route into Sociology at Essex, I able been able to experiment –and see experimented- different ways of using Sociology: from the most academic and purely theoretical effort of reflecting on an author’s concept or theory; to various ways of mixing empirical sociology and sociological theory to approach the widest array of social issues. The department of Sociology at Essex taught us postgraduate students how diverse Sociology might be, and what an extraordinary container the discipline is. I recall that one of the most popular comments of those postgraduate years was to stress how different our research topics and approaches were –without this preventing us to engage with discussions on each other ideas, maybe during one of those breaks when you feel stuck with your work. That was fun, and also held a therapeutic stand.
After I left Essex I started to work for an Italian university, and then for another university in the UK and then for an European institution, and then for an Italian University again, carrying on myself a similar weight of those I have been studying for a while now: early career workers and their attempts to make their own route in conditions of uncertainty, unpredictability and risk. And during this journey I have seen that sociological work might appear as loosing its specificities- especially in Italy, where the discipline is less institutionalised than in the UK, and the so called civil society confuses sociologists with journalists (because they also do interviews!) or psychologists, and the like.
But equally significantly, I have also experienced times at which I was called to help to make sense of things that were happening, and that raised the attention of those involved, who themselves resolved they needed the help of professionals who could handle the richness of what we would call ‘emerging findings’ which were left ‘out of the boxes’ in terms of previous conceptualisations and therefore needed new explanations. They called for new directions to be pointed out.
So in a way this is the role of Sociology which I envisage for the future: a way of navigating social inconsistencies and apparent dilemmas, a way of ‘imagining’, to recall C.W. Mills, which puts fragmented pieces together. Most importantly, this promises to convey the sense of troubles of people who are left at risk of marginalisation, disconnection, disengagement, but who nonetheless deserve respect for their aspirations, orientations and needs.
The global crisis which hit us in recent years has suggested those of us who were born in relative prosperity that material and social achievements are slippery, and that new challenges are always around the corner. Global transformations have put things in a way that we may not know personally our neighbour but we may establish solidarity bonds with members of an online community, for instance. And that rather than being freaked out by this we should reconstruct meanings, respect individuals efforts, and call for humanistic interactions. My hope for the development of the discipline in the future 50 years, is for a Sociology which succeeds in revealing human potential, interconnections, and space for action, concurrently being able to make pressure to institutions and governments to recognise, address and reduce inequalities and help establish a better society overall. More than the breath of the discipline, the possibilities for impact on institutional domains are there to call sociologists to action.
Posted in Uncategorized on August 20, 2014
I first arrived at Essex in 2007 to for an undergraduate degree in history and sociology. The degree inspired me to think about why the world works the way it does and how we can work to make it better. This ignited my passion for gender theory and women’s right.
After successfully completing my masters in history, I left Essex in 2011 in pursuit of the “real world”. Eighteen months later, the novelty of the real world had worn off as I realised that my work neither interest me nor gave me the intellectual stimulation I had so enjoyed whilst studying. So, with my determination to make the world a better place once again instilled in my mind, I polished off my PhD application and headed back to Essex.
Returning to the Sociology department has been everything I hoped it would be, and more. The debate; the conundrums which I am attempting to solve through my research; the encouragement from both staff and my fellow students is wonderful; as is feeling like I, once again, have a purpose in life.
My future exploration of sociology is quite simple: to analyse how women are understood and represented within our society, and try to improve, change, develop and broaden those understandings. For me, the limited concept of “woman”, which all of us who have been assigned that gender live within, is too narrow and confining. For all women to demonstrate their abilities, reach their potential, be equal to men and be treated like individuals, we need to change the image of “woman” and irradiate the limits which that image confines us to.
This is an entry from the book: Imaginations- 50 Years of Essex Sociology.
I came from Japan to the Department of Sociology at Essex University in 1997 to do MA in Sociology of Culture. After one year interval (during which I took another master in Social Anthropology in London), I came back because I didn’t find a better place than Essex to be a postgraduate student. I finished my PhD under the supervision of Colin and Ted in 2004 (my research topic was the cultural aspects of whales and whaling), but stayed one more year as a teaching assistant and course tutor. I enjoyed my days at Essex so much — full of readings, lively discussions and delightful gatherings in and outside the Department.
I went back to Japan for job hunting in 2005. After engaging in some research projects on a part-time basis, I was employed as a lecturer by Kobe International University in 2007. The following year, I have moved to Gunma University, where I currently teach such subjects as mass communication theories, contemporary culture, journalism and ENGLISH (I’m not joking) in the Faculty of Social and Information Studies. I also work on some research topics on environmentalism, focusing on human-animal relations.
Japanese universities have been idyllic places for both students and staff in the past, but things have changed dramatically after the British-style certification system was introduced in the early 2000s. Accountability and competition are now the buzzwords. In the name of efficiency, university executives have pursued the concentration of power and they now keep a firm grip on management, especially personnel and educational matters, which were traditionally controlled by the faculty staff in a democratic way. Many of the staff members are stressed out because of overwork and pressure, although universities are still relatively in a better situation than other workplaces.
There is no denying that dehumanization of society is progress in some respects, and there seems to be little hope that we can turn back the situation in the near future. Nonetheless, there are also some positive changes in the world, at least when it comes to the abolition of institutionalized discrimination. It is clear that discrimination against minority groups is not tolerated in contemporary society. Racism and sexism are, for example, outlawed in many parts of the world. If human history is a struggle to expand our moral horizons, we have undoubtedly made a great progress in so far as humans are concerned. I think the next target we should focus on is the alleviation of our exploitation of animals. Speciesism, i.e. arbitrary discrimination on the basis of species, is arguably the last forms of discrimination. In the early 2000s when I was studying human-animal relations, my topic seemed to be taken less seriously than other topics such as gender, ethnicity, globalization and cultural identity by my sociology friends. But things have gradually been changing. We are now creating a society where animals are admitted to have some moral standing, and the study of human-animal relations is accepted as a serious sociological inquiry. Animal are important to us, because, all things considered, the controversy surrounding animals is about what we are and how we define our society.
This is an entry from the book: Imaginations- 50 Years of Essex Sociology.
Essex 50th ‘HOMECOMING WEEKEND’
University of Essex
Homecoming is “a celebration event with a street festival vibe and we’ll be staging a huge range of activities and
events to showcase our strengths and keep you and your family entertained!”.
The weekend event launches a yearlong series of activities that celebrate the University of Essex.
Here are some of the things that may interest you if you visit on the Saturday:
Sociology Departmental Lunch, where the book Imaginations: 50 years of Essex* sociology will be officially launched. 12.30 -2.30 Tony Rich Centre
Bite-sized lectures from all departments, including from sociology:
11.30 Pam Cox on Shopgirls: Making at TV history
14.30 Paul Thompson on the early history of the university
15.30 Nigel South on ‘Consuming the planet’
All will be in LTB7. Re-live past memories!
Mustard – a film charting student activism in 1968
Architectural tours of campus/student rooms from the decades
Art Exchange open Exhibition
Exhibition in the Hex – Something Fierce**
plus: Sports activities; Things for children: Adventure trail (for 6 – 11 year olds) Brain science activities Comedy Club 4 Kids (6 years +) Entertainment; Music, late night
*Imaginations: fifty years of Essex Sociology is a major new book about the department. The Sociology Department at the University of Essex is a leading international sociology department. Through fifty contributions from past and present, the students and lecturers in the department tell the story of its history, its ideas and its community. It provides an unusual insight into the workings of a British university department as well as the shape of modern British sociology.
**Something Fierce is a major new exhibition which examines the history of the foundation of the University of Essex and 50 years of student life. The exhibition celebrates the bold, ‘brutalist’ sixties architecture of the Colchester Campus; the unique academic vision and the vibrant community of scholars and students they created. The Hexagon – one of the iconic buildings built at the birth of the University – hosts the displays and has been especially refurbished in time for our 50th anniversary. It includes
- Designs, artist’s impressions and scale models of the original plan
- films, audio and photos spanning the decades
- memories from staff and students
- a new virtual model of today’s Colchester Campus
- reconstructions of student rooms from the past
Booking is free and you can find more details of this on: https://www.essex.ac.uk/fifty/