Archive for category Alumni

New Honorary Degrees


Two former Essex people were awarded Honorary Degrees at this year’s Graduation Ceremonies


Paul Thompson is a world pioneering oral historian and was a founder appointment in the sociology department in September 1964. He has been associated with the department for the past fifty years!

Paul Thompson gaining an Honorary Degree at Essex in July 2015

Paul Thompson gaining an Honorary Degree at Essex in July 2015


Andrew Mack was an early Sociology/ Government student at Essex. He helped revolutionise the field of peace research, making important contributions to the work of the United Nations and working at leading universities around the world.

He is currently Director of the Human Security Report Project at Simon Fraser University in Canada and a faculty member of the university’s new School for International Studies. Prior to this he directed the Human Security Centre at the University of British Columbia. Before this, Professor Mack was a Visiting Professor at the Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research at Harvard University.

Professor Andrew Mack is an Essex alumnus who helped revolutionise the field of peace research, making important contributions to the work of the United Nations and working at leading universities around the world.School for International Studies. Prior to this he directed the Human Security Centre at the University of British Columbia. Before this, Professor Mack was a Visiting Professor at the Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research at Harvard University.

Andrew Mack gaining his Honorary Degree at Essex in July 2015

Andrew Mack gaining his Honorary Degree at Essex in July 2015


Hear what they have to say on the University/ Department Facebook  Page

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Sociology Department’s 50th Anniversary Conference: 24th June, 2015 PROGRAMME

Sociology Department’s 50th Anniversary Conference:
24th June, 2015 Programme



Ivor Crewe Auditorium

9.15-9.50 Registration and Refreshments

9.50-10.00 Conference Introduction (Nigel South)


10.00-12.30 Past Excitements New Dialogues

A panel of distinguished members of the Department reflect on what was thought to be most exciting about Sociology in the past (both as a discipline and in the way[s] in which it was practiced at Essex) – and how all this has been reflected in their own ideas and research – as well as in ‘new dialogues and directions’ today (Ted Benton; Joan Busfield; Diane Elson; Ken Plummer; John Scott; and Paul Thompson)



Chair: Lydia Morris

-Paul Thomson ‘Discovering life stories from first fumbles to our own Pioneers of Social Research’ (30 min)

-Joan Busfield ‘Continuities and Changes in British Sociology’. (15 min)

-Ted Benton ‘Beyond nature/society dualisms (15 min)

Questions (15 min)

11.15-11.30 Break



Chair: Michael Roper

-Ken Plummer ‘Dialogues of Hope for a Better World’ (15 min)

-John Scott ‘Stratification and Social Theory: Retrospect and Prospect’ (15 min)

-Diane Elson ‘Challenges to Women’s Rights in a Time of ‘Austerity”? (15 min)

Questions (15 min)


12.30-14.00 Lunch break


14.00-16.000    Future Challenges New Directions

In three parallel, thematic sessions, colleagues who have joined the Department in more recent years will reflect on the interesting/challenging issues facing Sociology in the 21st century

Room 5S.3.8   Challenging Questions in Social Theory

Chair: Sean Nixon

-Michael Halewood, “Rethinking the Social” (20 min)

-Linsey McGoey, “Theorizing Excess” (20 min)

-Sandya Hewamanne, “Affect, Human Genome, and Dogs and Monkeys” (20 min)

PhD Discussant: Ms Stephanie Nitsche 5 mins

15 minutes question time

Following the session please re-convene at the Ivor Crewe Auditorium

Room 5S.4.9 Civic Challenges, Community Studies and Public Sociology

Chair: Jackie Turton

-Michael Bailey, “Whither Community Studies? Return to Ecclesfield” (20 min)

-Neli Demireva and Isabel Crowhurst, “The Impact of Sociological Research on Social Policy” (20 min)

-Robin West, “Environment: Moral Selves and Civic Responsibilities” (20 min)

PhD Discussant: Ms Sarah Day 5 mins

15 minutes question time

Following the session please re-convene at the Ivor Crewe Auditorium

Room 5N.4.6 New Terrains

Chair: Andrew Canessa

-James Allen-Robertson, ‘Gameplay Capitalism and the Hacker Ethic’. (20 min)

-Darren Thiel, “Countering Austerity and the Logic of Welfare Reform” (20 min)

-Pete Fussey, “Topologies of Urban Security and Surveillance in the Post-Snowden Era” (20 min)

PhD Discussant: Ms Roxana Baltaru 5 mins

15 minutes question time

Following the session please re-convene at the Ivor Crewe Auditorium


16.00-17.00 Ivor Crewe Auditorium


Closing Comments (Sean Nixon)

and Drinks.

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The 50th Anniversary Conference of the Department of Sociology

IMG_4943University Towers

The 50th Anniversary Conference of the Department of Sociology

Wednesday 24th June, 2015

Ivor Crewe Hall, 9.30 start.


The Essex Sociology Department has helped to shape sociological thought and practice across Britain and around the world. In our 50th year, a panel of distinguished former and current members offer their own critical reflection on this contribution.

In the morning, we discuss its legacies and the new dialogues it continues to foster (Ted Benton, Joan Busfield, Diane Elson, Ken Plummer, John Scott and Paul Thompson).

In the afternoon, there will be three thematic sessions (social theory, civic challenges and new terrains) that will explore some of the Department’s contemporary research challenges and collaborations. These include: theorizing excess, moral selfhood, hacker ethics, countering austerity and urban security (Michael Halewood, Linsey McGoey, Sandya Hewamanne, Michael Bailey, Neli Demireva, Isabel Crowhurst, Robin West, James Allen- Robertson, Darren Thiel, Pete Fussey).


For further details and to reserve your place please contact Agnes Skamballis on


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Jennifer Bullen MA 2006, Ph D 2010


Eamonn Carrabine writes:

I would like to say a few words as Jen’s death touched many of us…she was a familiar figure around the department, having begun to study here in 2005 taking the MA in Sociological Research and then going on to complete her PhD in 2010…She also worked as a GTA in the department, and was much liked by her fellow teachers and students. In addition to this, she also worked closely with Jackie Turton as a researcher interviewing inmates at Bullwood Hall prison about their life stories. These interviews were filmed and then edited to be used in training for prison staff. She also worked with Dick Hobbs as a researcher on one of his projects looking at the Champions League. This breadth of experience is unusual for a PhD student, but I think gives a sense of how much faith we had in her abilities. I have many memories of Jen, but I want to share two.

The first is when I first met her. This was just after she had been awarded the ESRC funding to come and study here. The project was meant to be on I think, a social history of female football fans, but it was clear she was not really interested in that topic and instead she wanted to change focus and concentrate on the then new phenomenon of WAGs. Footballers Wives and Girlfriends. So from the beginning I knew she was someone who had a very strong view about what they wanted to do in their research, and who was determined to achieve all that she set out to do. And for me that quickly became one of her defining features, a very determined mind set mixed with a quiet enthusiasm for whatever task was at hand.

The second memory is when I was at home one early evening, several years later, and Radio 5 was on in the background as I was making the dinner. I heard one of the presenters saying they were now going to go live to the British Sociological Association conference, where they were going to interview someone who was researching WAGs. The interviewer was Pete Allen, and for those of you who know the station, know he can be difficult,  and I knew he was going to be highly sceptical of academics doing research on this kind of thing. But, I have to say I was absolutely blown away by how well Jen handled the interview, giving measured, thoughtful and calm answers to what were pretty hostile questions. It was a very impressive and assured performance, giving listeners some much needed sociological insight into how the media themselves represent WAGs.

It was one of those moments when I felt that Jen was the kind of student that the Department should feel very proud to have given an intellectual home to for over five years…and I think for much of that time she was very happy here, making some very close friends along the way and I think this tree will be one way in which her memory will live on in Essex.

Eamonn Carrabine


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Rhiannon Morgan (1974-2014) M.A, Ph.D.


It is with great sadness that we heard of the death of Rhiannon Morgan, aged 40, on 26th October 2014. Rhiannon came to Essex in 1999 to study the MA in Human Rights and then moved to Sociology to pursue her PhD on the global indigenous movement, which she completed in 2004. During her time in the department Rhiannon was not only a dedicated and outstanding scholar. She was also a very active, sociable member of the PhD community, and an enthusiast for the staff-student football matches that thrived at this time. On completing her PhD, Rhiannon went on to a post-doctoral fellowship at Cambridge, and then took up post at Oxford Brookes University in 2007 where she became Senior Lecturer in Political Sociology. In addition to her work on indigenous peoples, Rhiannon was interested in the rights of refugees and carried out research with Iraqi refugees living in Jordan. Her publications included: Human Rights: Social Science Perspectives which she co-edited with Bryan Turner (Routledge, 2008); and her monograph, Transforming Law and Institution: Indigenous Peoples, the United Nations and Human Rights (Ashgate 2011). Rhiannon was supported and loved by a close family through her illness, which she faced with dignity, bravery, humour and concern for the pain of others. She leaves a husband, parents, siblings and two daughters, aged 4 years and 5 years.

Jane Hindley


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The 100th Blog entry: Annemarie Naylor M.B.E and ‘Common Futures’


Annemarie Naylor was a sociology student at Essex in the mid late 1990’s, gaining a distinction for her sociology degree. She went on for a while to study for a PhD, and became the manager and designer  of the sociology department’s first web site. After leaving Essex, she went on to community activism.

She writes about her work:

I am a Director of Common Futures, a modest new venture working with the public, private and third sectors to explore and kick at the boundaries of the community ownership landscape.

The ownership and management of land and buildings by communities for public benefit is nowadays a feature of neighbourhoods the length and breadth of the UK.

There is no shortage of ambition – with communities engaged and hard at work in socially conscious attempts to take control of an altogether bewildering range of assets. Likewise, the social enterprise sector and interest in social and impact investment is growing apace. However, technological advancements are transforming the operating context at break-neck speed. Increasingly, people expect super-fast broadband and 24/7 access to public services.

Government is investing to upgrade our digital infrastructure. It is implementing a digital-by-default approach to public service transformation. And, it is investing significant public funds in open and big data alongside cutting-edge technological innovation. But, there are potentially very serious ramifications for deprived communities – whether we’re talking about accessibility, affordability or confidence, knowledge and skills. Equally, there are concerns about the preparedness of the third sector and communities, more broadly, for the revolution that is already well underway. Nonetheless, there are also significant opportunities and considerable scope for socially conscious types to identify with the principles of openness and mutuality that underpin so much that is good about our ‘brave new world’. In fact, we can all get involved in developing our digital communities.

A handful of communities have made a start already – becoming ‘civic engineers’ and establishing themselves as community broadband pioneers. Elsewhere, the creative industries are flourishing, and a local manufacturing revolution borne of the hacker and maker movements is increasingly discernible, with social enterprises beginning to come to the fore. Still others have spotted the potential to begin developing digital services and internet enterprises to deliver social impact and improve their income generation prospects.

We’re here to advise the public sector as well as to help communities with all of that. If you’d like to know more, please take a look at our website and get in touch.


In January 2014, it was announced in the Queen’s Honour List that she had been awarded an MBE for her work.

Congratulations Annemarie!


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Damian WHITE (1995-2000): 101 on the roll call.




Damian WHITE (PhD 1995-2000). Taught Sociology at East London and Goldsmiths after Essex. Then headed off to the USA.

5 years at James Madison University in Virginia. Now in New England, Associate Professor of Sociology and Head of the Department of HIstory, Philosophy and Social Science at the Rhode Island School of Design.

He is the 101 entry on the ROLL CALL. Thanks Damian!

The next entry will be the 100th entry on the Blog will it come from  you?



A Note:

Damian White is a sociologist and political theorist with interests in urban and environmental sociology, historical sociology, political sociology, urban political ecology, critical theory, science and technology studies, the sociology of the future and the sociology of design and architecture. He has a BA (First Class) in Political Science and American Studies from the University of Keele, an M.Sc in Political Sociology and Political Theory from Birkbeck College, University of London and a Ph.D in Sociology from the University of Essex. He is the winner of the Edna Schaffer Humanist Award (2008) and the John.R.Frazier Award (2012) for excellence in teaching.

Damian has published three books to date: Bookchin – A Critical Appraisal (Pluto Press, UK/University of Michigan Press USA 2008), Technonatures: Environments, Technologies, Spaces and Places in the Twenty-First Century (Wilfred Laurier Press, 2009) and Autonomy, Solidarity, Possibility: The Colin Ward Reader (AK Press, 2011).

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Brian Belton (MA Sociology 1987-8)

Brian Belton



I had been studying for my Masters degree at Essex for just a few weeks and was struggling with the idea of liberty. I concluded, straightforwardly, that liberty is, for the most part, associated with being able to ‘do’ something. It implies action. Anthony Burgess depicted Alex, in his book ‘A Clockwork Orange’, as someone who constantly ‘did’ (mostly bad) things and having his liberty taken away effectively stopped him doing these things.   To some extent, we see liberty as access, and rapid access, to doing stuff. As a society we expect our food to be fast, the light to come on when we flick a switch, the train to be on time – we do not expect to be kept waiting….at the bust stop, at the traffic lights or at the supermarket check out   We complain about the wait at the doctor’s surgery or the airport. It seems the biggest infringement on or everyday liberty is to be ‘kept waiting’.

However, this ‘intolerance’ doesn’t seem to be an innate human characteristic. In some non-western traditions it is not always present. For example, some Native American groups learned to take pleasure in waiting and keeping still as this was necessary when stalking game. Even within our own society people seem prepared or even enjoy waiting; watch practically any group of people fishing for instance.

Our inability as individuals and as a society to linger can be understood as a lack of freedom; we ‘just can’t wait’.   Those we work with as part of our practice often seem to demand immediate gratification or satisfaction. We talk about ‘offering opportunities’ or ‘fulfilling needs’ but this has to be done quickly, otherwise we lose attention. Our clients are taken as being likely to make off to locations that are not so tardy in serving up stimulation.

Logic would tell us that waiting is inherent in dialogical situations. I have to wait for you (or you have to wait for me) to finish speaking or even thinking before ‘I put my oar in’ if the dialogue is to be sustained over anything other than a minimal period. It’s perhaps surprising the number of times this does not happen in conversations wherein we are much more concerned about what we have to say than waiting for someone else to say what they want or need to say. We, as a society, appear to have a fear of waiting; we think of it as dead time. Generally it is thought of it as dead time. Waiting, for perhaps most of us, suggests inactivity. But waiting is not an inactive or dead process. At its best it encompasses expectancy and excitement, like waiting for Christmas or a first kiss.




I heard a swooping sound and saw a blur of dull cinnamon just before a set strong pinions whacked my head. I was under attack by a pair of great skewers. These birds have a 1.5 metre (five foot) wingspan and can have very nasty manners. As it dive bombs it utters its war cry; ‘Scare, scare, scare’. In more tender moments it may squat on its nest and sing ‘Woh, woh woh’, there is no sound in the entire avian kingdom more unlovely than the skewer’s affectionate ‘Wohers’ to its mate.

I am a celebrant of remote and outrageous places. I first experienced intimate contact with skewers on Foula Island in the Shetlands in 1987 not long after I had started my studies for a Masters degree at Essex. You probably haven’t heard of this place, few have. It’s the most remote inhabited Island in the United Kingdom. You won’t find it on some maps; it wasn’t on the official Shetland Islands tourist map 20 years ago.

In 1998 I wanted to go back to Foula because I was curious to see what had befallen the Island over the intervening years. But I had another reason; I have a perhaps irrational passion for islands that have fallen off the map.

I flew from Heathrow to Edinburgh, Edinburgh to Wick and Wick to Sunburgh. I took an epic £25 taxi ride from Sunburgh to Tingwall Airport, arriving just in the nick of time to catch my flight to Foula. I entered the waiting room of Tingwall Airport. It would appear to be a rather unassuming place; no bar to which you can retreat and have a pint whilst waiting for your flight, no computer monitors to indicate the status of that flight – it looks a bit like a doctor’s surgery, complete with the scales where the patient is weighed. There was a bit of luggage on the scales at that moment.

The waiting room, I confessed to myself, was austere though it had an unrushed, unhurried, pre-modern quality that I found somewhat appealing. It was the sort of place that seemed designed for waiting. Endlessly waiting; there was nothing there that would seem to indicate that travel was possible.

There was bad news for me; the flight for that day had been cancelled. 1 supposed that I could expect that sort of thing in that part of the world. I decided to spend the evening in the nearby town of Lerwick and try again the next day.

I had been walking around Lerwick, the capital of the Shetlands. I eventually found myself in the Thule bar. It seemed an appropriately named watering hole in which to take a pint. Foula, my destination, is reputed to be the ultimate Thule of legend; the last place in the world, before you fall off the edge and into the gapping mouths of sea monsters.

I looked around and there seemed to be about 35 people quaffing pints around me, just the same number of people who at the time lived on Foula. I’m drawn to places like that, maybe because I was born in the middle of a great big city; London. It is hard to get anymore ‘central’ than London. It is at the centre of a very recent Empire – the biggest the world has ever seen. It is a financial, communications and military centre. It is the link between Europe and America, the 2.5 billion people of the Commonwealth and the rest of the world.

Even as a child, I seemed to want to escape the middle. I would go to the far parameters of our back-yard and sit there and dream of remote places.

As I sipped my own pint and listened to the pop music on the duke box, I felt even more urgently to be on Foula…soon.

I arrived back at the airport the next morning. The flight for Foula was reputed to leave in ten minutes or so, but it didn’t look hopeful. There was this thick fog, like a dropped curtain on a play that was over. There was a bit of drizzle, a bit of mizzle, sort of archetypal North Atlantic weather.

Well, let me describe the airport itself.   Rather different to Heathrow or Gatwick. No concessions, no places to change money. Was there place to get something to eat, or buy a newspaper? Nope!   I look around me and all I see is a mixture of moor, fog, grassland, and occasional, worm-like, sinewy roads winding through it all like tributaries running down to a lack.

There’s an airstrip, with puddles of rain. Prospects don’t look very good.

An official suddenly appeared; “Right that’s it folks for this morning! In this kind of fog anyway, so that makes the decision that much easier. So I’m afraid it’s going to be this afternoon”.

I asked him what the forecast for the afternoon was, and if a word like ‘forecast’ had any meaning in that part of the world. “The forecast is for things to improve” he said. “The indications are that it should be getting better during the day”. I asked if this forecast was made by the same person who had yesterday forecast that it would be quite good that morning. The man laughed “Eh, Yes”. I commented that it was possible he had got it wrong again.

I tend in my daily life to be a complete, total, driven perfectionist. It makes me an uncomfortable person to have to live with. It makes me uncomfortable to myself at times. How does this relate to travel?   Do I tend to want to take perfect trips, to perfect destinations, and sit on perfect sands and have a perfect drink, with a perfect person, under a perfect palm tree? Not at all! Travel absolves me from having to be perfect. It frees me from this terrible burden that was bestowed upon me by well meaning parents.

Others make decisions and I can live with their imperfections in ways that I cannot live with my own. I don’t go to places that others consider perfect. I go to places that are likely to test the perfectionist urge of almost anyone. Places where things tend to go wrong as a matter of course, but when other people make mistakes I don’t find that intolerable; its life and I accept it and even rather like it.

Part of the joy of going to a place like Foula is not getting there. I don’t mean actually not getting there, but the difficulty in getting there. Nowadays, when a piece of corporate plastic can get you to the wilds of New Guinea, the depths of the Amazon (and I’m not talking the on-line book store) or the heart of the Arctic in almost less time than it takes me to finish this sentence (a sentence still going on by the way) going to Foula by air or sea is something that is going to be an imperfect event. The weather will definitely be a factor, it will remind you that however refined modern humanity’s mechanisms of transport are, however sophisticated our technology, that nature itself will have the final word.

I went out for a walk and on my return the waiting room appeared to have filled up a bit. I sit next to a woman, a fellow traveller. I ask her what she thinks about our chances of getting to Foula. She replies that she saw our chances of getting there that day to be pretty thin, she sees it as how life is in those islands. If you don’t get where you want to go today, you might make it tomorrow. She can see no reason to get upset about it; you have to see things that way because that is how it is. You just ‘sit on and hope’. She hopes that the pilot will look out of the window and think, ‘things don’t look too bad – we’ll go’. She said that it’s not like being in a town, champing at the bit for the bus to come, complaining that it was ‘late again’. For her, her island existence is a different world.

I commented that it suggested eternity – a kind of endless timelessness, the fact that nothing might happen. I said that it was almost Zen like, as if going to Foula and not going to Foula was almost the same thing; that the imagination and anticipation of being there, in the absence of actually going, has to constitute the trip.

She replies that when there were only boats, before you could fly to Foula that the Island could be cut off for weeks at a time. They just used to ‘sit on’ till the boat came. And it came eventually – like the plane would. I tell her that if I don’t see her on Foula I will definitely see her there, in the waiting room, later in the day. ‘Yes’ she replies. ‘And again tomorrow morning’, I quip. ‘And maybe tomorrow afternoon’ she retorts. ‘But they don’t work Sunday though…unless necessary’. She makes this last point in a rather disturbing matter of fact way. ‘Well’ I went on, ‘there’s next Monday then. As they don’t work Sunday we can talk about what we did on Sunday, apart from waiting in the waiting room’. ‘True’ she giggled.

While waiting for the pilot’s next report I wandered over to West Voe and back again. There I was, yet again at the Tingwall airport, on the Shetland mainland, waiting in the fog, the mist, the mizzle, the occasional rain, for the plane to take off and go to Foula.

I see the pilot and stroll over to talk to him:

“What’s the prognosis now about travel to Foula” I inquire.

“Well, I regret to say that perhaps I’ve been suckered, looking at down weather. It seemed things were getting a bit better. Looking into the weather now things are certainly worse than before.

“Maybe you’d like to go to the North-East where things appear to be clearer – somewhere other than Foula? I don’t know; I’m still hoping that things will lift. In this part of the world, until you actually see the clearance, you can’t be sure.

“Unfortunately, it’s just frustrating for you and me that we can’t, actually, get airborne at the moment”.

I ask him how he decides when the weather was good enough to fly in. He tells me he rings round the islands and speaks to the locals. They give him an idea of what the weather is like. It isn’t quite people going out looking at their washing, but it’s almost like that as far as the outer islands are concerned. But what folk say is fairly accurate. He says that his decisions are often based on “Unofficial observations.”   I’m not comforted.

Once again I’d been unable to fly to Foula. For some reason, this gave me a powerful thirst. I went back to Lerwick to enjoy a few more pints. The lounge of the pub made a lively scene. A veritable cross section of Shetlanders; young and old – people long in the tooth, people with no teeth. The fog of cigarette smoke lingered in the air; it was every bit as thick as the fog that shrouded Tingwall and presumably Foula. Such were bars of that sort in the days before the ‘no-smoking’ legislation kicked-in. But the traditional Shetland music seemed to dispel this fog and I saw clear blue sky and I felt certain that I would be airborne soon.

While I was waiting to find out if there was going to be a flight I thought about how I tend to be a relentlessly backward person. At that time I didn’t own a microwave or a mobile phone. Unlike most men I meet, I’m not interested in how cars work, sound systems or the intricacies of computers. This seems to link with my passion for remote islands.


images-3Eleven years previously I had been dropped off on Mingulay, a hilly rock of an Island in the Outer Hebrides, by an old Lobster fisherman named Hector.

Mingulay had been wholly devoid of people since 1908. So we went there and Hector said that he would pick me up at six o’clock. I had a Cadbury’s chocolate bar, and some fags (this was during a relatively short period when I had taken up smoking after years of abstinence) and I spent the day drifting around. It’s a very high Island. It has very high sea cliffs, about 700 feet.

At six o’clock I returned to a small prow of a rock and I waited for Hector. Six o’clock, seven o’clock, eight o’clock, nine o’clock; no Hector.

I started to worry a little and at the same time I convinced myself that he had said six o’clock the following morning. So I spent the night there. Six a.m. I sort of jerked awake – 7 a.m., 8 a.m., 9 a.m.; No Hector.

I was alone on this island, about two by three miles.   I wandered about for the rest of the day, but never went terribly far from the place where I had been dropped off, because I was convinced that Hector’s boat would appear at any moment. Meanwhile, I was developing rather severe hunger.

The afternoon progressed and at 6 p.m. I went to the rock where I had been dropped off. Thinking well, maybe, in fact, he had meant 6 p.m the following day; 6pm, 7pm, 8pm – still no Hector. By now I felt as if my body was starting to feed off its own inner organs. I was very worried that I had been marooned on this island. It goes back to your childhood. You’re left somewhere by your parents, or you get detached from them. You don’t know if they’ll ever come back. It’s that fear that the world has just left you and you’ll never be found again – this is the fear of waiting. That’s what I was feeling.

I was still casting glances at the place where I expected the boat to be, but I wasn’t hanging out there. Mingulay has been completely taken over by birds. I was now panicky and constantly fearful of having been abandoned in this remote place, for the rest of my life; that I didn’t think might be very long at that point.

Days went by until, early in the morning, I suddenly heard and I believe I also smelled, a primitive diesel engine approaching Mingulay.

It wasn’t Hector in the boat however, it was his nephew. Hector had gone back to West Barra (a bigger Island not far off with the massive population of around 700); he’d had a stroke. He had been removed to the hospital on South Uist and he had been more or less in a coma for days. When he awoke he said, “I’ve left a man on Mingulay!”

The Rocky Isle’

I got my Taxi to Tingwall airport. When I tell the driver I’m headed for Foula he tells me that it’s a place he’d never been, even, though he has spent his entire life in the Shetlands. He calls it ‘The Rocky Isle’. I ask him if he thought the plane would fly. He says ‘keep your fingers crossed’.

The pilot spoke to someone called Ken on the phone. I heard the pilot say ‘It’s gone out again then. Okay. That makes the decision that much easier. It’s got a little bit better than when I spoke to you a little bit earlier, but it’s still not a lot of good here. So, we’ll call it off for this morning then. If you can keep an eye on things and let us know when things get better. Thanks, bye-bye’.

He turned to me and said, ‘I’m afraid that’s it.’

It had been relatively easy for me to visit Foula in 1987. I just climbed aboard the plane and off I went. This time travelling there proved completely impossible. The Island seemed to have cut itself off from me, or the world, or both me and the world. Of course, I was disappointed not to have returned to Foula, but perhaps it is just presumptuous of me to think I can merely hop over to Britain’s most isolated inhabited island whenever I choose to do so. But I’m consoled by the thought that one of the purposes of travel is to avoid your destination at all costs. Once you’re there, you’re there and you’ll never be permitted that long baited breath of anticipation again.   And in not getting to Foula I’d seen some perfectly splendid fog, some perfectly splendid cloud cover too. And felt the wind against my skin so often that I dare say that I’d become friends with it. Perhaps I’ll try again next year.   I’ll have to wait and see.

Waiting softly

To wait, softly, gently, like the woman I met in the airport at Tingwall, is a manifestation of liberty. She was free from the torture of waiting; she had found something in it; an acceptance of what was liberation in an embracing of what was offered by the wait.

Waiting is a window in time out of which one can take the opportunity to look over the world. We can be trapped in time, in our waiting for the lights to change or the next TV programme to come on, or in my case waiting for the I-player to ‘unfreeze’. Or we can be in the world, the reality that exists outside of our manufactured time.

To wait with someone is to be active. Maybe I am most with someone when I wait with them. We share our expectancy, the adventure of the future, from the comfort of the present. In our waiting we look out to the very horizon of consciousness and we are joined in that relief from the unforgiving moment; those who ‘just cannot wait’ are sublimely ‘unfree’.

It may be true that all is lost to those that wait, but ‘fools rush in where angels dare to tread’; the ‘all’ that the angel looses may well be acquired by the fool, but the fool will never know that what they have gained may have meant the loss of just a little bit of their soul.

‘Patience is a virtue’; ‘everything comes to those who wait.’ Everything worthwhile maybe? While I waited on Mingulay I was most acutely aware of being alive and wanting to stay alive. My wait then helps me see the folly of worry about money or cleaning my car.   You see, waiting can be a gateway to freedom. Without waiting life is linked up with meaningless ‘doing’; trudging from one thing to another – never actually stopping – perhaps that’s why so many of us have trouble sleeping, or staying asleep for too long.


The place without the chance to wait is a desert of a world, with no seas, no islands, just the blandness of immediacy. We are never hungry, never thirsty, we are constantly sated. Irritations are scratched before they itch; there is no play and no foreplay. We know not what it is to be teased or tantalised, our mouth never waters. Desire is replaced by having and thus we are deprived of the satisfaction that is only had through, after, as a consequence of the act of waiting.

We, as a society are locked in prisons of ‘having’. The guards are those who seek to ‘meet our needs’. The social worker, the health worker, who can make the judgement to act maybe needs also to exercise the judgement to stand-off from time to time; not wait forever, but at least until the other person finishes what they have to say or what they want or need to do.

I often wonder if we can and do ‘help’ too much. In the last seconds of the 1969 film ‘They Shoot Horses Don’t They’ there’s an exchange between one of the main characters and a police officer:

Policeman:   Why’d you do it, kid?

Robert: Because she asked me to.

Policeman:   Obliging bastard…


Sometimes, I feel a bit like what that policeman called Robert and that waiting is the means to dialogue.


Burgess, A. (1962) A Clockwork Orange, London: Heinemann

Further reading:

McCoy, H. (1940 They Shoot Horses Don’t They, London: Wells, Gardner, Darton & Co Ltd

Film of the book (DVD) 2008, Fremantle Home Entertainment; Dir Sydney Pollack


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Here are some of the unsolicited REVIEWS since the publication of IMAGINATIONS:

Thank you for giving us this precious gift. Leonore Davidoff … Absolutely blown away by the book! A really wonderful achievement. The photographs are especially wonderful! Sean Nixon… It is a fitting celebration of a departmental jewel in the Essex crown. Anthony Forster…What a splendid achievement! I have only so far had the opportunity to read here and there, but enough to know how rewarding it is going to be to work through it. Alasdair MacIntyre… It looks great and will be a lasting memory of the department. Sue Aylott …Will be a landmark book in the history of the University. David Lane … It is truly a major compilation. Peter Abell… It is BRILLIANT. It is so well produced and the pics are wonderful. Miriam Glucksmann… I think the book is splendid! It’s Wonderfully designed and full of fascinating reflections on a department I am proud to have been a member of. David Rose… Congratulations once again for the book. It is a reflection of your passion for sociology and sociology at Essex but also a contribution to wider sociological discussions! Carlos Gigoux… Congratulations on producing an excellent volume that brings back very many and all sorts of memories as well as posing many questions – especially where are they now? Adrian Sinfield…The book is splendid. Anthony Woodiwiss … Even though I had high expectations of the book, it really is a triumph, a fantastic thing… and I have barely dipped into it. It really is a thing of beauty. Rowena Macaulay…The book looks great. It is a pretty comprehensive view of ‘the department’, and is really impressive because it’s so unique. Colin Samson … I’ve been thinking about the Essex Sociology 50 Years book, and marveling that you’ve managed to put it together. I’m so pleased it exists, and I’m sure there are so many other people who feel exactly the same. Rob Stones

Copies are best ordered through

The Wivenhoe Bookshop by phone 01026 824050; by e mail; or web site:

Directly from Ken Plummer through

Or Waterstones, the Essex University Bookshop by phone: 01206 864773  or email: essexuni@waterstones. com

Publication price: £25.00

With post and packing in UK £30.00  Overseas will have to add extra.

ISBN: 9780957085046; 208pp, 50 contributors.

It can also be ordered though Amazon but they will, as we know, effectively take all the money!

And here is A CONTENTS GUIDE to the book

CONTENTS: Introduction: Ken Plummer 1. Contexts – Creating Essex Sociology-A Timeline of Memorable Moments Peter Townsend’s Founding Vision – Transforming Visions for a Twenty First Century. 2. Formations The Early History: Joan Busfield: Remembering Early Days – Adrian Sinfield: The Challenge of Social Policy – Geoffrey Hawthorn; A New Lecturer’s View – Christel Lane: A Student’s View: Undergraduate Study During The University’s Early Years: 1968–1972 – David Bouchier: From Student to Staff: David Bouchier (1968–1986)- Making Troubles – David Lane:1968 – Michael Mann: Troubles of 1974- Judith Okely: The 1989 Czech ‘Velvet Revolution’ As Experienced At Essex 3. Wisdoms Imagining Social Justice: Creating Better Social Worlds For All Introduction.- Michael Harloe: On Peter Townsend’s Poverty – Stan Cohen: Remembering Harold Wolpe – Lydia Morris: Human Rights – Michael Bailey: Public Activism Research Imaginations: Creating Multiple Methods For Sociology Introduction: Unlimited Research – Peter Abell: Whatever Happened to Mathematical Sociology? – David Rose: The Origins of The Institute for Economic and Social Research ISER – Heather Laurie: ISER: So What Happened Next?- Louise Corti: The Creation of Qualidata Mark Harvey: Centre for Economic and Social Innovation Comparative Imaginations: Building An International Sociology Introduction. Alison Scott: On the School of Comparative Studies -Ayse Güveli: The Gains and Changes of Migration- Interdisciplinary Imaginations: Broadening The Scope of Sociology Alasdair MacIntyre: Philosophy in the Sociological Conversation 1960−1970 – Michael Roper: Social and Gender History Ken Plummer: Making the Person Matter – Karl Figlio: The Creation of the Centre for Pychoanalytic Studies – Eamonn Carrabine: Imagining Crime – Sean Nixon: The Moment of Cultural Studies – Michael Halewood: Theory in the Department – Colin Samson: Sociology, Neoliberalism and the Struggle to Keep the Interdisciplinary Spirit Alive 4. Communities Remembering Communities John Scott: Coming Home – Rob Stones: The 1990s in the Essex Sociology Department: A Personal Point of View- Mary McIntosh says goodbye Miriam Glucksmann: Remembering the 1990s – Building The Educational Community: The Great Sociological Conversation Rowena Macaulay: Twenty Years of Departmental Support: The Student Resource Centre – The Office Community Mary Girling & Paul Thompson: Reflections of a Departmental Secretary – The Global Community From South Africa: From Hong Kong: From India – The Web Site Community The Long Community Nigel South 5. Futures Looking Ahead Voices: Professors Voices: Former students- Refelctions: Telling stories of Essex Sociology- Epilogue And Reprise: The Last Refuge – Suggestions for Further Reading – Index Focus Boxes: The heads of department -The Vice-Chancellors -The expansion and transformations of Essex- Profile of an early student – The professors – Social class and David Lockwood – Seeking gender justice – feminism in sociology – A red-green revolution? – Moments of oral history at Essex: From Gay Liberation to “Sexualities” and Intimate Citizenship- Focus on Essex’s Legacy: Some Fifty or so research areas and their books – Evaluating the quality of research – Some of the most cited books in the department – Focus On Public Lecture Series: The Fuller Lectures – Focus on Dennis Marsden – Honorary degrees – Consolidating the canon: The textbook tradition at Essex – Student numbers at Essex – Focus on the Rise of Teaching Assistants – Focus on the Essex newsletters and journals: The reading and writing community – Managing the department: The Secretaries – Paul Thompson remembers Brenda Corti- More stories of Essex Sociology- Focus on Essex’s Legacy: Some Fifty or so books published by graduates and researchers – Focus on Essex’s Legacy: Some Fifty or so graduates and researchers who became ‘Essex’ Professors – Sociology in the Media: Pam Cox- Handing our stories on.

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The Launching of Imaginations: Fifty Years of Essex Sociology Wivenhoe September 5th

Over the past couple of weeks the book has been launched at the

Wivenhoe Sneak Preview

The Staff Reunion Lunch at the Dedham Boat House

and the Homecoming Weekend 50th Anniversary

Here are a few images of the Wivenhoe Launch



IMWivlaunch2 IMWivlaunch1 IMwivlaunch3 IMwivlaunch7 IMwivlaunch6



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