Friday, 12 February 2010

Sociology BITES: What is sociology for…?

Sociology BITES: What is sociology for…?
[NB programme is provisional and subject to change]

Keele University, School of Sociology and Criminology are delighted to offer this FREE post-16 conference between 10-3 on March 17th 2010.

The event is sponsored by the Economic and Social Research Council and is part of the Festival of Social Science which runs between 12th-19th March. The Festival is a national series of events intended to engage the public in the exploration of the social sciences. Our post-16 conference will introduce students to real-world research conducted by Keele’s national and international experts. A mix of different curriculum-relevant sessions will be offered using a range of delivery styles and supporting resources. Sessions will also be supported by experienced Associate Teachers in Sociology.

We appreciate this is short notice for many of you but this is a new opportunity for Keele, which we hope to repeat next year (with more notice!), and external funding was only notified recently. We do hope you will be able to come. Please note however, places will be limited and allocated on a ‘first come first served’ basis. For registration details, please see below.


10-11: Welcome and introduction – Sociology BITES: what is sociology FOR…?

Dr Rebecca Leach and Dr Yvonne Hill
Orientation, outline of the day, sign-up for afternoon workhops

11-12: ‘Meet the Sociologists: Question Time’

An interactive session in which a panel of experts will answer your questions on topical matters with a sociological spin, researching sociology in the real world, studying sociology and what they think sociology is FOR…

12-1: Lunch
Students will be escorted on campus by CRB-cleared mentors
Tutors will attend a free Networking lunch with members of the School of Sociology and Criminology

1-2: Sociology Nibbles…

Workshop options will include the following (programme subject to revision). Students will sign up for one of these in the morning sessions

• The Sheep are Shopping till we all Pop? Dr Rebecca Leach

Baaaa. Branding. It means you’re part of the flock, doesn’t it? This session is a hands-on exploration of the power of the brand. From its role in reflecting group identity and culture, to the power to destroy the planet, sociology NEEDS to understand consumer culture urgently…

• Negotiating the edge: voluntary risk-taking and the risk society Dr James Hardie-Bick

Risk has now become a pervasive feature of everyday life and people are
continuously attacked by feelings of anxiety and uncertainty about the risks
they are exposed to in their everyday lives. Evidence of increasing
uncertainty can be found by observing a number of debates in relation to
food, health, crime, children and the environment. According to the
sociologist Ulrich Beck, even terrorism should only be considered the latest
risk in the evolution of the global risk society. But to what extent are
people increasingly worried about risks? If we are living in a risk society,
why do some individuals actively seek out high-risk activities such as
skydiving, base jumping and rock climbing that could result in serious
injury and even death? The overall aim of the session is to introduce you to
recent sociological research on voluntary risk-taking and to consider some
of the main attractions of engaging in these high-risk activities.

• Imagining Perfect Worlds: Why we Need Utopias? Dr Mark Featherstone

Imagine there is no money? Imagine everybody has the same amount of property? Imagine there is no family, no marriage, and no idea of monogamy? Imagine that personal relationships are defined by sexual freedom? What would life be like? Would these ideas make a perfect world, a utopia? Or a nightmare society, a dystopia?

In this session we think about the major utopias in history and the central ideas that make them seem like perfect worlds. In the original utopia, Plato’s Republic, society is defined by economic and sexual equality. There was no private property and no family in Plato’s Republic, because in his view privacy was socially divisive. Unfortunately, the problem with the Republic was that there was no personal freedom, because Plato thought that the majority of people were incapable of thinking for themselves and the society had to be run by philosophers. In other utopias, such as the perfect world designed by the economist Milton Friedman, individual freedom is all that matters and social controls need to be kept to a minimum in order that people can flourish. Although we will focus on various different utopias and different ideas, what these two examples show is that one person’s utopia is another person’s dystopia or worst possible world and vice versa. What we will seek to do in this session is think about:
(a) the meaning of utopia and dystopia,
(b) why we need these ideas in society,
(c) the key utopias and central utopian ideas,
(d) what ideas and principles we would make central to our own utopian society.

• How many parents? Stepfamilies and family order Prof Graham Allan

Families are changing in all sorts of ways. One of the big changes has been the growth of different types of stepfamily. In this session we will explore some of the dynamics of stepfamilies and explore in particular the patterning of step-father / step-mother / step-child relationships.

• Crime, Deviance and the Media - the strange case of serial killers Dr Tony Kearon

This workshop will look at the mis-match between representations of serial killers in the media and real serial murder, and explore how the application of sociological imagination could help to explain this puzzle...

• Constructing the Mobile Phone Dr Dana Rosenfeld

Mobile phones: useful social networking tool? Electronic tag managed by your parents? Or evil brain-frying conspiracy? Social problems are socially constructed and in this workshop, you will do just that. A hands-on approach to understanding social constructionism and ‘everyday’ methods of understanding the social, you will use real-life examples to explore the world around you.

• Witchcraft and the Supernatural in the modern world: Dr Jane Parish

From vampires, zombies and werewolves, we appear fascinated with the
supernatural. And yet in the modern world, we are disdainful of what we regard as irrational primitive belief, elevating science and technology to a higher more sophisticated type of knowledge, and prioritising formal religions. So what does our obsession with films such as Twilight and Wolfman tell us? What light can these movies and others throw on contemporary society and the way in which we think about ourselves?

• The Death Penalty – sociological and criminological perspectives Dr Evi Girling
Details to follow

• What makes a racist? Dr Bill Dixon
Details to follow

2-3 Keynote lecture: Prof Richard Sparks (provisional), University of Edinburgh

What is the role of Social Science (sociology, criminology?) in public life?

Author of: Television and the Drama of Crime; Prisons and the Problem of Order; Crime and Social Change in Middle England

Details to follow

3pm Close


The conference is free but students will need to provide their own drinks/snacks/lunch. A number of outlets are available on campus to buy refreshments. Tutors are invited to a lunch hosted by the School of Sociology and Criminology.

Tutors are expected to remain with their students at all times, except when our CRB-cleared mentors escort them around campus at lunchtime.


Please email the following details to
before 5th March 2010

We will then notify you to confirm if you have places by 10th March

Name of tutor:

Position in College/School (eg. Head of Social Sciences):



College & full address:

Number of students requiring places:

Additional staff attending (names and emails please):

Will you require parking facilities? (please list number of cars/minibuses/coaches you will be bringing):

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