Disabled Sport in Sheffield: What I’ve learnt and what needs to be done now

In the several months I have had to let graduating sink in, I have also been able to reflect on all the hard work that went into that 16,477 word dissertation, that at times felt like a never-ending battle, but also the knowledge and information gained from the experience. Disability and sport, I have to be honest, were not what I was intending to explore when coming to university – race and ethnicity were more my area of interest. However, during a year two seminar, in an attempt to come to an agreement about a group project, disability and sport came together in my head, and an idea for a great research project developed.

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The impact of welfare reform on the social services workforce in Scotland

Between April 2013 and 2017, welfare reforms will create major and far reaching changes to the benefits system. As the individual components of the UK Welfare Reform Act (2012) are slowly introduced, local government authorities, care and support providers and voluntary sector organisations are bracing themselves for an unprecedented demand on their services.

Reports from a number of concerned groups and agencies have anticipated a major shift in how care and support is delivered. The impacts of these reforms, according to a Citizens Advice Scotland report, are likely to be felt amongst the following groups: families on low incomes, the unemployed, and the disabled (Dryburgh and Lancashire, 2011). It is also expected that the impacts will be felt the most in areas where deprivation is the greatest, according to a report published by Sheffield Hallam University (Beatty and Fothergill, 2013). Continue reading

The future of sociology

The future of sociology: extinction, stagnation or evolution?
By Richard Jenkins

One, very likely, first response to this paper’s title might be: ‘Why even bother to ask that question?’ Such a response would be completely understandable, but wrong. There are several reasons why it is appropriate to speculate, in a critical frame of mind, about the future of sociology. In the first place, that we should not take for granted the continuing existence of anything is a sensible ontological precaution. As humans, and despite everything that we know to the contrary, we tend to live our lives as if the world that is presently around us is a more-or-less permanent state of affairs; but nothing is actually permanent. This is the shared lesson of all the academic disciplines: everything changes. Nothing persists in an unchanged state indefinitely. Continue reading

Innovation in democracy and politics

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Last week I attended the inaugural event of the The Bernard Crick Centre for political understanding (you can watch a recording here). The debate was primarily focused on engagement in UK democracy. The event was interesting and a credit to those who ran it, but to my mind the proceedings were quite representative of how we go about ‘doing democracy’ in the UK: expert-led debate, well-trodden arguments about institutional failings, rehashed generalisations about disaffected youth and very few alternatives being provided. Continue reading

Towards Civic Capitalism: The Social Quality of Participatory Democracy

The Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute (SPERI) recently launched an initiative for developing a new capitalism to replace the failed Anglo-American neo-liberal model, which the Coalition Government clings to despite the model’s fiscal and moral bankruptcy. This new civic capitalism would emphasise people as citizens within a democratic polity, seeking sustainable and socially just economic growth, rather than the unsustainable consumerism of selfish individualism, socially destructive levels of inequality, and increasing precarity for the majority of people created by the neo-liberal model of capitalism. Continue reading

Reflections on the Social Policy Association conference, 2013

As a first time attendee at the SPA conference I was interested to hear from prominent social policy academics on the current crisis of welfare and the decline in public support for social security. For the most part, I was impressed by the commitment to rigorous, empirical research that expressed a desire to influence public debates. This was especially true in the session I attended that addressed the issue of stigma and shame under austerity. I was also interested to hear Joanne Warner’s excellent presentation on the issue of class in relation to parenting under austerity – a presentation that had been adapted from a paper in ‘Health, Risk and Society’. My concern, however, as with most conferences I’ve attended, lies with the impact of our internal debates on the wider discourses pertaining to welfare and social security in the UK.

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Participatory Budgeting and Possibilities for Deepening Democracy

For the uninitiated participatory budgeting (or PB) is a two-and-a-half decade old innovation of direct citizen involvement in decision-making over the allocation of public finances. In simple terms, PB refers to ordinary citizens, instead of public officials, deciding on public spending at local and regional levels (Lerner, 2011). But there are many different variations of PB which range from merely consultative to genuinely participatory, empowering and inclusive (see Sintomer et al., 2008 for descriptions of various models).  PB can also be more or less democratic, and not all PB processes contain a democratic component (which suggests that attention to the content and practice of what is often called ‘PB’ is paramount).

PB began in the reawakened democracy of late 1980s Brazil following military dictatorship and has since spread across the globe, under the influence of both radical activists and the World Bank. Usually implemented at the municipal or local authority level, in Brazil PB grew to allow citizens to influence up to one fifth of the core municipal budgets in some cities, with redistributive, empowering and social justice aims. This has been a shining light in progressive politics, celebrated in the World Social Forum, and an example of radical participatory democracy having a positive social and economic impact on a vastly unequal society in which democracy was eradicated and the living conditions of the poorest were worsened by the junta. Elsewhere, aside from democratic processes in Kerala, India for example, PB has rarely matched these heights of participatory democracy, and in the UK experience, the process has often seemed tokenistic, concerned with minor discretionary funds in a narrow voting process. Continue reading

Clarks Originals and cross-cultural appropriation

“Everybody haffi ask weh mi get mi Clarks”: Clarks Originals and cross-cultural appropriation.

Paper delivered at The World at Your Feet Footwear Conference. University of Northampton, 20th-21st March 2013.

Last month I presented a paper at the ‘World at Your Feet’ international footwear conference organised by Northampton University in conjunction with the Northampton Footwear Museum. The paper was the product of a collaboration with one of my participants at Clarks headquarters in Street – Tim Crumplin the archivist at the Alfred Gillett Trust (aka Clarks archive). Taking Arjun Appadurai’s biographical model the paper traces the biography of the well known classic Originals designs such as the Desert Boot and the Wallabee. Continue reading

Book Review: The Literature Review (2012)

As part of Sage’s extensive Study Skills Series, the second edition of Diana Ridley’s text aims to provide a comprehensive guide to the literature review process for university students of all levels. Books of this nature face a significant threat from the proliferation of blogs (and accompanying twitter communities) designed to aid all stages of the research process, particularly at doctoral level. For a long time I have resisted the temptation to read step by step guides, doubtful that they could contain any value above that which can be gleaned from reading good published research in my own field. However having been recently drawn into reading numerous academic blogs, now seems an appropriate time to find out how the published alternative compares.

There can be little doubt that Ridley is well placed to provide advice as her own PhD concerned the the role of the literature review process in postgraduate research. The book contains eleven well delineated chapters that are extensively summarised in the contents page, allowing for easy reference to specific topics. Mapping out your literature review is usually one of the first tasks in any research project and as Ridley attests, it is rarely finished until the project itself is completed. The first steps of a literature review are unquestionably a daunting prospect for any student and of central concern to many is developing a critical voice. Chapter 8 furnishes students with a slew of techniques to develop a critical mindset, in a straightforward and logical manner. ‘Foregrounding your voice’ is an essential skill for fledgling academics and Ridley demonstrates how this can be achieved via manipulation of citation patterns, strategic organisation of the text and employing personal pronouns – a stylistic choice which undergoes a considered discussion. Ridley argues that despite the use of the first person historically being considered sacrilege, the practice is becoming increasingly fashionable within the social sciences. Continue reading

Book Review: Prisons, Punishment and the Pursuit of Security (2012)

In a Cabinet reshuffle in August of 2012, Prime Minister David Cameron removed Ken Clarke as Justice Secretary. Clarke had proposed to reform penal policy by strengthening community sentencing and reducing prison numbers. Cameron abandoned those plans replacing Clarke with Chris Grayling, a notoriously conservative Minster who publicly promised to make the prison environment in the UK harsher. In Prisons, Punishment and the Pursuit of SecurityDeborah Drake provides one way to understand why this view remains so persistent, despite the lack of any evidence that severe approaches to crime control make society safer.

Based on more than 300 interviews and interactions in five men’s maximum-security prisons in England between 2005 and 2009, Drake suggests the purpose of prison is essentially political – designed to showcase severe sanctions as a means provide the public with a false sense of security. Drake approves of Nils Christie’s call that those who work close to penal systems should work to puncture myths, problematize simplistic assumptions, and expose the ideologies that underpin our expectations about human security (p. 11-12). In this book, Drake argues that prisons tend to obscure underlying social problems, justify repressive practices, and rely upon simplistic assumptions about the role of punishment. Continue reading