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

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: Community Research for Participation (2012)

At a time when social scientists have to demonstrate more than ever the value and applicability of their work, community research is an increasingly attractive alternative to traditional methodologies. Central to this burgeoning methodology is the recognition that the traditional objects of social research possess skills and expertise that can make invaluable contributions to projects, generating contextualised knowledge alongside, rather than about, local communities.

Community research provides an answer to persistent entreaties for academics to climb down from the Ivory Tower and get their hands dirty, such as Clair Shaw’s recent account of ‘flipped academics’  in The Guardian. Similarly, the interest in Bent Flyvbjerg’s Real Social Science: Applied Phronesis (reviewed here by Flora Cornish) is testament to the popularity of the turn to practice that community research embodies. Despite this, there is a paucity of texts dealing with the theoretical and practical issues involved with conducting research with communities. As such Lisa Goodson and Jenny Phillimore from the Institute for Applied Social Studies at the University of Birmingham have compiled a rich and timely methodological text by drawing on a number of disciplinary backgrounds and national contexts. Continue reading

Prisons, Ivory Towers and Social Research

‘You have been told to go grubbing in the library, thereby accumulating a mass of notes and liberal coating of grime… This is called ‘getting your hands dirty in real research’… But one more thing is needful: first hand observation. Go and sit in the lounges of the luxuryhotels and on the doorsteps of flophouses; sit on the Gold Coast settees and the slum shakedowns; sit in Orchestra Hall and in the Star and Garter burlesk [sic]. In short … go get the seat of your pants dirty in real research’ (Robert Park,  Unpublished).

Academics, and in particular social scientists, are often charged with being detached from the ‘real’ world. Many social scientists are not. Yet having studied at three universities, I have bumped into a few who most definitely are. Somewhat ironically, on paper, I am against the idea of this detachment. To an extent though, I too might be guilty of this. I have studied prisons in quite some detail over the last four years. However, until very recently I had never been to a prison. This article intends to share with you part of my experience, and to share with you my confirmation that ‘ivory tower academia’ alone will not suffice in understanding the social world. Continue reading

If the Shoe Fits: Project film

This short film, produced by Sheffield Vision introduces the ‘If the Shoe Fits’ research project being conducted here in the department. The project is finding out how shoes contribute to people’s identities and the ways in which footwear enables them to move between move between identities, both on a daily basis throughout the life course. Shoes are currently high profile in advertising and they also play important roles in popular culture, as well as folklore and fairy tales. It is striking how often shoes are attributed with the capacity to change us, both men and women. Continue reading