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- Honorary Degrees – Professor Derrick Swartz (1989-1995): Oration, 2008
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- Honorary Degrees: Response by Derrick Swartz 2008 (1989-1995, MA PhD)
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Posts Tagged social anthropology
I joined the University of Essex in 1998 to study for a multidisciplinary Masters in the Theory and Practice of Human Rights. When it came to the end of year dissertation, my appointed supervisor was Jane Hindley from the Department of Sociology. Our meetings together were the first sustained exposure I had to a ‘sociological imagination’. It was an introduction to a way of thinking that has stayed with me ever since. In moving on to doctoral study in the same department, I sought to combine sociological method with my newly acquired knowledge of human rights. At the time there was very little academic literature available in this area on which to draw. The dearth of sociological engagement with human rights at the time was reflected by a regular slot for my work in the ‘Open Stream’ at the annual British Sociological Association (BSA) conference. After a few years of presenting to an audience of between one and three people in these Open Streams, a few colleagues and I, including Michele Lamb from Essex Sociology, decided to convene a new BSA study group on the ‘sociology of rights’. From these humble beginnings in the world of frustrated PhD studies, the study group membership quickly swelled and once doctoral studies were behind us we began editing journal Special Issues and books in the sub-field and now have a designated stream in the BSA annual conference. Our group has done much to further the engagement of sociological research with the broad field of human rights study, but despite the breadth of our collections’ coverage there are still many important areas that lack the consistent coverage afforded by other disciplines. Indeed, the topics of minority rights, indigenous peoples’ rights, genocide studies, anti-colonialism, activist human rights scholarship and climate change and human rights are particular areas in need of more consistent sociological engagement.
I would hope that in the future sociology can mirror anthropology and have a debate about activist scholarship and the role of sociologists in both research on human rights and research for human rights. I also hope that sociology openly engages with the implications of climate science and makes telling contributions to discussions about the ‘limits to growth’ and the ‘de-growth’ movement, the threat to our environmental human rights and the rights of local communities in the face of the growth of ‘extreme energy’ processes such as ‘fracking’ for shale gas, and Alberta’s Tar Sands in Canada. The latter two topics have occupied me for the last few years, but while so far I have worked primarily with anthropologists and scientists I always draw on the ‘sociological imagination’ I developed at the University of Essex’s Department of Sociology.
This is an entry from the book: Imaginations- 50 Years of Essex Sociology.
When I arrived at Essex from Durham University where I had been lecturer, I soon noticed very different students. In the former, many came from elite Public Schools, although I am delighted one of the most talented was first generation university from a Manchester working class family. He is now professor and former Dean at Durham. But he was the exception. In Essex I did not encounter many students from private schools. One who attended my Social Anthropology Course, I knew immediately was from the North East. He was a true Geordie and shockingly, not likely ever to have been at Durham university. Indeed, so disconnected were the Southerners at Durham that when a postgraduate, born and brought up in Newcastle, was heard talking at a student party, several congratulated him for his ‘perfect imitation’ of the local accent.
The student in Essex was doing a joint sociology/government degree and told me years later he knew John Bercow there. This person is now Speaker in the House of Commons. Andy Dawson , by contrast got to know me well. He was gripped by social anthropology. I supervised his dissertation where he gathered the older university porters and cleaners for a recorded discussion about ageing. Typically he had got to know them. There was no class distance here. He obtained a distinction for the outcome.
Well into my time at Essex, I obtained several ESRC grants on Ageing both in France and Essex. There were at the time competitive ESRC phd awards ‘linked’ to an existing staff research grant. This was the year of the miners’ strike. Despite negative support from the then senior staff, I put in an application for Andy, at his suggestion, to do research on Ageing, retired miners. Just before we finalized the application, I asked if he had any connections with miners. His reply “EEH flower, 11 of me uncles were miners!” It was an added bonus to elaborate his knowledge of the North East locality as research site. I believe that some about 6 colleagues applied with different proposals. I was the only successful one.
I had been thrilled by Andy’s parents’ excitement at his graduation. He was the first in his extended family. The joy was even more ecstatic when he obtained his phd. He had various research jobs then a lectureship at Hull university. In the mid 1990s, he persuaded me to move there from Edinburgh. Eventually, Dr Andy Dawson was to become Professor of anthropology at Melbourne university, Australia.
Recently I emailed him to ask for details of an extraordinary encounter which he had mentioned in the late 1990s when we were both at Hull. One of our phd students had become involved in studying conflict in former Yugoslavia. Andy followed him to the field sites, many of terrible violence.
Dr Andy Dawson in Bosnia asked if he could make contact with key peacekeeper officials. Initially skeptical, he found door after door opening. Entering the main office, he approached the manin charge who casually looked up and said ‘Hello Andy. I did your course on the Anthropology of Europe at Hull’. He argued that this was the only thing which helped make sense of the context. He has become a leading light in ‘The Organisation of the High Representative’ led for most of its existence by Paddy Ashdowne, the EU’s body in Europe. This senior official’s main degree was in S. E. Asia Studies at Hull, with the one course from our sociology/ anthropology department.
Andy emailed me: ‘ When I was there, Bosnia was full of young lawyers and political scientists whose core belief was that, since Bosnians has got themselves into this mess, they were the last people that one should listen to in devising resolutions. They believed that peace-building was all simply about the rigid implementation of international law. In contrast, Jonathan (Robinson) was very much an anthropologist, learning the language, getting out into the field and listening to people. The feeling was that through this he was able to broker some really significant agreements between local Serbs and returning Muslims. I have no doubt that this explains his rise.”
All this is inspirational. As a committed anthropologist I delighted that Paul Thompson, then HOD, and others on the appointments committee which included David Lockwood and Peter Townsend, offered me the lectureship. It was only a year later, that I was to discover that a female sociologist, initiated an unsuccessful petition against my appointment. Apparently for her, anthropology was reduced to racial/racist profiling. A couple of years into my appointment, she asked me why it was that so many students enrolled for my course. It was incomprehensible. The example of Andy Dawson proves the point. I still note other ex students who have progressed in wonderful ways after graduating. It is always a joy to recognize them and see their trajectory.
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( who retired in 2006)
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