Posts Tagged symbolic interactionism

Kaoru Aoyama, PhD 2001-2005

Kaoru Aoyama, PhD 2001-2005I have been working at the Graduate School of Intercultural Studies, Kobe University, Japan, since October 2010. This is my first permanent academic job after temporary positions at Tohoku and Kyoto Universities. Now, I have been promoted to professor this April, feeling very old… So, yes, in this climate, I should be really happy about my work situation. But, as you all know very well, it’s hectic and getting worse.

As an Essex sociologist, I sometimes look at STATISTICS and compare them with my own personal experiences: among many notorious figures in Japan (and I have no intention of mentioning any sexist/ultra-right-wing remarks by st*p*d politicians at all here) are the long working hours. There is a warning that beyond 60 hours a week, the rate of karo-shi, or death by work-related exhaustion/stress, increases considerably (surprise, surprise!); and among my colleagues we say, ‘60 hours? We should have died 1.5 times by now’. Yes, I am exaggerating; academics do not work so much during summer and so we don’t exceed the karo-shi line on average, except that summer ‘holidays’ are the only time we can work as researchers.

At the moment, I am very much looking forward to the end of my service as chairperson of the International Exchange Committee this autumn – anyone fancy a teaching, research or student exchange with a Japanese university?

Despite feeling overworked, I’m not giving up this job quite yet, though, because I have a mortgage for the first time in my life, too, and I still think this is the best paid job in which I can follow my research interest. I am still working on global sex work issues, very much built on my Ph.D. project. The difference now is that I do not focus only on migrant workers but also Japanese workers and increasingly leaning towards participatory action research. After coming back from Essex, I keep finding myself in situations which people in academia need to engage in in order to make certain issues, otherwise swept away as personal troubles, social.  But it’s nice, seriously, to find a good use for what I enjoyed so much in the process of learning:

– Ken’s artistic lectures and creative talks, Rob’s crafted lectures and pinpoint supervisions, Paul’s interview methodology, Lucinda’s book launch, Colin’s ‘way of life that does not exist’, Pam’s hands-on ‘how to finish in three years’ class, Yasmin and Maggie O’Neil’s tough viva, departmental seminars, brown bag seminars, our little individually organised seminars and chats in the student offices, teas here and there, expensive but fine campus accommodation, the lake in rain, the smell in the library, Ph.D. conferences at Aldeburgh, mulled wine in the common room, the TESCO junction towards Wivenhoe village, the foot path, estuary, the house on Chaney Road, pints at the Rose and Crown and the list, with deep-felt thanks, never ends.

Besides, I do find the Essex brand of sociology is an excellent tool to keep reminding us that people ‘out there’ are much more knowledgeable than anyone in academia, never mind in national politics, about the issues they should have been at the centre of. It has also equipped us with theories and methodologies that distinguish sociologists from others’ ways of being useful; the awareness is with us that we need to question the theory/practice divide particularly in handling the West/East divide. The pain is that at the moment this type of sociology looks like it is losing funding and so on around the world. Let’s wait and see if our connection to the real will pay off in the end.

To be fair, life in Kobe is not bad overall. It’s a nice city with a working port, beach, mountain, hotspas, lively centre and history of modernising Asia. We will have trouble visiting all the good-looking eating-out places in a lifetime – anyone fancy Japanese dinner around here? I’m from Tokyo originally but I don’t want to go back to live there anymore. Being away from Tokyo overcrowding it’s also good that you don’t have to queue too long to see films and exhibitions (when you have time to visit them at all).

Here, I live with my partner who I met at Essex as my housemates-cum-course-mates’ friend. After struggling with a too-long-distance relationship, we decided to get a civil partnership and live together in Japan. The partnership is not recognised here but we are openly and civilisedly demanding university, municipal, sometimes state offices to give us equal welfare and legal treatment. Of course we fail every time because this is a sovereign state ruled by its own law. But never mind, this can be another participatory action research on migration, gender, sexuality, intimacy, citizenship and nationality combined anyway. Moreover, we are expecting a baby in a week’s time! Ask me about the adventure of bringing up a child in a queer family in Japan next time.

, , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment

Susie Scott, BA Sociology 1999, MA Sociology 2000

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:

, , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Daniel Nehring, BA 2002, MA 2003, PhD 2008

Image of Daniel Nehring on the Great Wall of China, 2011

I began my studies in Germany and Mexico and came to Essex in 2000 to finish my BA. I enjoyed my studies at Essex, made many friends, and in the end decided to stay for my MA and PhD as well. My PhD research looked at transformations of intimate life among young middle-class people in Mexico City. It was inspired by a class on gender issues in Latin America I had taken with Diane Elson when I was an undergraduate. This goes to show, I think, that inspirational teaching can have a major and lasting intellectual impact. It’s this kind of experiences at Essex that really made a difference for me.

After leaving the university in 2008, I held a number of appointments in the UK, the USA, and the Caribbean before recently settling down in a permanent position as Research Fellow at the National University of Córdoba in Argentina. My current research, on the whole, examines transformations of personal life under conditions of neoliberal globalisation and rapid social change. In addition to my persistent interest in Latin America, I have recently also started research in China. At the moment, I involved in two research projects. One is a comparative study on therapeutic culture and neoliberal discourse in five societies. A respective monograph is due to be published by Palgrave next year. In addition, I have begun a project on transnational dating and marriage among young professionals in urban China, together with colleagues at Beijing Normal University and Middlesex University. Apart from these two projects, I have almost completed work on an edited volume on transformations of intimate life in contemporary Mexico (Ashgate, 2013) and an introductory textbook for undergraduates in sociology (Pearson, 2013).

At the moment, I spend my time mainly in the Americas and in China. I am still in touch with former colleagues at Essex, though, and I remain interested in developments in British academia. One of my ways of staying involved is a blog at SAGE’s Social Science Space (below). Here, I write regularly about issues of interest to postgraduate students and early-career sociologists.

My Links:

Blog at SAGE Social Science Space:

, , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment