Monday, 21 December 2015

A visit from Dr Yaroslav Nikiforov

In December the Sociology group hosted a visit from a Russian scholar, Dr Yaroslav Nikiforov, from Saratov State University. He is a social theorist who researches social change in Russian society.

Yaroslav Nikiforov's paper on Russian sociology
Yaroslav used his time at Keele to become more familiar with British sociology and he observed some of our undergraduate teaching. At the end of his visit Yaroslav presented a paper which introduced us to the history of Russian sociology and explored some of the key issues facing contemporary Russian society. In the discussion that followed we compared Russian and British sociology and talked about the common challenges facing our discipline today.  

Friday, 20 November 2015

Liverpool Sociology Study Trip

Earlier this month Dr Andy Zieleniec and Dr Ala Sirriyeh led a study trip to Liverpool with undergraduate students from two sociology modules, City, Culture, Society and Moving People: Migration, Emotion, Identity.

Highlights of the trip included Albert Dock, Liverpool One, Museum of Liverpool, Merseyside Maritime Museum, International Slavery Museum, and Chinatown.  There were lots of opportunities for students to reflect on ideas connected to their current studies: regeneration, gentrification, urban culture, mobility, identity, and belonging

What our students said about the trip:

“It was really interesting finding out about the history of the city – the slavery museum was especially interesting as it’s an area of history we didn’t do at school.”

“The slavery museum was very enlightening – overall it was an awesome day.”

“Really enjoyed going around the museum and seeing the culture of Liverpool. Enjoyed being in a city. The city was really pretty.” 

“I enjoyed the freedom we got to discover the city ourselves. The information we were given was really helpful, it made us make the most out of our day. It was really enjoyable.”

“I had a really fun day exploring a new city. Embracing new sights and smells, seeing museums and shopping! Very good day and would love to visit again.”

"Slavery museum very interesting – learnt a lot. The day was good value for money. Thank You.”

"Liverpool’s museums offered a great insight into the city’s heritage, its culture and industrial foundations.”

Sunday, 8 November 2015

From ‘Dreamer’ to ‘Undocuqueer’: ‘acts of citizenship’ in the undocumented immigrant youth movement in the USA'

By Dr Ala Sirriyeh

‘I’m in America because disco died. It took until 1989 for disco to finally die in the Philippines. My dad’s job was installing and maintaining the sounds systems for all the discos in Manilla. He said I can’t like support us. We’re going to try to move and we’re going to find work’. (Stephanie Suarez in Lost and Found: Story of a DREAM Act Student)

Lost and Found tells the story of a young woman called Stephanie Suarez, who is one of the 11 million undocumented migrants living in the USA (863,000 are under the age of 16 and 1,815,000 are aged 16-24) (Migration Policy Institute 2015). Undocumented migrants are people who are not US citizens or legal permanent residents and who lack the documentation authorising them to be present in the USA. It is not a crime to be undocumented in the USA and deportation is a civil rather than criminal penalty (Golash-Boza 2012). People can become undocumented for a number of reasons. While many undocumented young people entered into the USA as children with their parents through irregular routes, others initially arrived in the USA on temporary visas and became undocumented when these visas expired. Due to the 1982 Plyer vs Doe Supreme Court ruling (Zatz and Rodriguez 2015) undocumented children are eligible to attend elementary and high school in the USA despite their undocumented status. This means that undocumented young people who arrive in the USA as children have been educated in a U.S. education curriculum alongside ‘citizen’ peers (Gleeson and Gonzales 2012). However, (prior to 2012) on graduation from high school the pathways for undocumented young people diverged from their U.S. citizen peers as they were ineligible for a social security number and other forms of ID. This meant that they could not work legally or apply for driving licences or the other forms of ID and documentation that are often needed in order to go about daily life in the USA. They were also ineligible for most student financial aid and loans and in many states were not recognised for in-state tuition fees even if they had grown up in that state. Finally, as undocumented people they were still deportable despite having lived for much of their life in the USA. The undocumented youth-led civil rights movement emerged in the early 2000s to draw attention to these exclusions and to campaign for a pathway to legalisation and citizenship for undocumented young people.

This summer I was fortunate enough to receive a Santander Research Scholarship which enabled me to travel to Los Angeles to find out about the undocumented youth movement in the USA which has strong roots in Los Angeles where there is a long history of migrant rights activism. I spent two weeks in September in Los Angeles meeting with activists from organisations aligned to the movement and staff from organisations working with undocumented young people. In this post I will outline the emergence of the undocumented youth movement and the evolution of their campaign organisation and messaging leading up to and beyond 2012 when President Obama introduced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Programme (DACA). In what are generally hostile times for immigrants, the undocumented youth movement stands out as having made some headway in successfully campaigning for some more progressive policies for undocumented young people in a context of wider immigration restrictions. I will conclude with some observations about how the movement and its achievements might be evaluated through the lens of citizenship

The Undocumented Immigrant Youth Movement in the USA

The undocumented immigrant youth movement emerged on to the political scene in the early 2000s. In tracing the movement’s history, Nicholls (2013: 47) states that, ‘Before 2001, ‘DREAMers’ did not exist as a political group’. The movement has commonly been referred to as the ‘Dream movement’ or the ‘Dreamers’ because it began as a campaign to pass the Dream Act and the campaign linked the dreams of these young people’s with the ‘American Dream’. The Dreamer narrative told the story of young people who were in the USA through no fault of their own and brought by their parents. They had grown up in the USA and were culturally assimilated with little memory or connection to their countries of origin. They were the brightest and best who excelled in education and simply wanted the chance to pursue the American Dream.  This narrative while proving to be successful in winning support among politicians and the media, has been critiqued for its exclusionary tone which humanises these young people through reinforcing the stigmatisation of other migrants who do not fit this narrative.

The campaign for the Dream Act (which would provide a pathway to legalisation and citizenship for these undocumented young people following completion of higher education or service in the US military) began in the wider context of a campaign for comprehensive immigration reform. It had been a long time since the last comprehensive federal immigration law, the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), which had provided an amnesty for some undocumented migrants (UCLA Centre for Labor Research and Education 2008). Over the next decade the Dream Act bill was introduced several times initially as a stand along bill then as part of a Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act in the mid-2000s and later as a stand-alone bill in 2010 (Nicholls 2013).

The undocumented youth movement has a strong base in California, and Los Angeles in particular. The state’s AB 540 legislation meant that undocumented students who had attended school in California were able to register to pay in-state tuition fees, as opposed to the considerably higher out of state tuition fees faced by undocumented students living in many other states in the USA. These young people began organising in campus based groups which eventually become part of a coalition called California Dream Network. Gonzales (2008) documents how many of these young people participated in the famous 2006 migrant rights May Day demonstrations, putting student concerns on the migrant rights agenda.

The campaign for the Dream Act was led at a national level by a network of activists and immigrant rights associations organised into the United We Dream coalition and by state level coalitions such California Dream Network. These coalitions helped to organise and train groups of young activists. Initially leading migrant rights activist organisations played a significant role in representing the needs of undocumented young people to politicians and the media and in training and advising young activists (Nicholls 2013). However, from 2010 the youth movement became more autonomous and young activists took a leading role in guiding the direction and tactics of the movement. At this point undocumented young activists began to push for the Dream Act as a stand-alone bill which they thought had more chance of success if it was not tied into a wider immigration reform bill that had proved difficult to pass. They also began to engage in more radical and visible protest acts including the occupation of Senate offices in Washington, hunger strikes, mock graduations and ‘coming out’ events where they told their stories in public and declared themselves ‘undocumented and unafraid’ (Swertz 2015). However, although garnering significant support from many in Congress and the Senate, in December 2010 the Dream Act bill yet again failed to be passed due to Republican fillibustering. Young people continued to protest and stage actions including a wave of civil disobedience across the country in 2011 at Department for Homeland Security and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offices. In Los Angeles four young activists were arrested after occupying the ICE office in downtown Los Angeles (Nicholls 2012). In 2012 (facing an upcoming election and needing the support of Latino voters) President Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). DACA gives certain eligible young people the right to apply for a two-year renewable temporary leave to remain. To be eligible for DACA young people have to be under the age of 31; have arrived in the USA before the age of 16; have no felonies, serious misdemeanours or multiple misdemeanours; and be attending or have successfully graduated from high school.

La Placita church - a key site in immigrants rights activism in Los Angeles

By March 2014 533,197 young people had been approved for DACA. A recent study evaluating DACA (Teranishi et al. 2015) found that DACA has been ‘beneficial to some undocumented students relative to their financial stability and well-being, access to resources and opportunities, and participating more fully in college and society’. However, some students still face barriers to accessing higher education in states where they are required to pay out of state tuition. DACA also does not eliminate uncertainties and insecurities about the future as it is a temporary legal status which must be renewed every two years, offers no pathway to citizenship and, as an executive order rather than legislation, can be revoked by any future U.S president. Meanwhile, the strict eligibility requirements for applying for DACA mean that, as found in a recent study from the Dream Resource Centre (UCLA) called Police in My Head, many young people experience anxiety and practice self-surveillance. Eighty three per cent of young people in the survey for this study reported self-monitoring. Finally, if they are not at risk of losing DACA status or being deported, many young people are in mixed status families and fear the deportation of family and friends. Teranishi et al (2015) found that 55.9% of undocumented young people in their study knew someone who had been deported including a parent (5.7%) or a sibling (3.2%). Since DACA there has been a continuing focus at state level on improving access to education. However, both at state and national level the undocumented youth movement is now campaigning on issues beyond the previous focus on a pathway to formal citizenship. In particular there have been actions against the in the detention and deportation of immigrants in the USA. In recognition of the exclusionary discourse of the exceptional all American young ‘Dreamer’, there has also been some critical reflection within the movement about intersectionality and the silencing and marginalisation of voices that did not meet the strict and very controlled Dreamer messaging criteria. This has seen the rise recently, for example, of the ‘Undocuqueer’ stream of the movement. While expansion beyond the narrow focus on higher education and a discourse of ‘innocence’ has led to greater attention to the criminalisation and oppressive policing of young people of colour in the USA and has led to dialogue with activists in the Black Lives Matter movement and in alliances such as Freedom Side.

Acts of Citizenship

The Dream Act bills that formed the focus of the ‘Dreamer’ movement in the first decade sought a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrant young people. How successful has the undocumented youth movement been in achieving this goal? If we look at this question through the lens of formal legal citizenship then it could be said that the movement failed because the Dream Act was not passed. Although DACA has improved the opportunities available for many eligible ‘DACAmented’ young people, this is a temporary status and does not provide a pathway to citizenship. Meanwhile, the conditionalities in the terms of DACA, including the focus on productive citizenship combined with the temporary but potentially renewable status mean that young people remain under pressure to be well-behaved guests; recipients of hospitality and compassion, held in a humanitarian rather than political subject relationship with the state.

However, if we address the question of citizenship through attention to the process of political action taken by these young people rather than simply limiting analysis to the formal state of legislation on citizenship, a more optimistic picture can be presented. Isin’s (2008) ‘acts of citizenship’ theory examines how citizenship is mediated between lived experiences and formal entitlements by focusing on moments when, regardless of status, people constitute themselves as citizens. This enables us to consider how subjects, like undocumented young people ‘become claimants of rights and responsibilities, under surprising conditions’ (Isin 2008:17). Insights about citizenship can be gained from observing moments when non-citizens (Nyers 2008) or those on the edges of citizenship assert themselves politically to claim rights. This critical citizenship lens is helpful for understanding the achievements of these young activists as it enables us to recognise the ways in which they have asserted themselves as political subjects rather than passive victims. An ‘acts of citizenship’ approach enables us to see and recognise how these young people, although not citizens, have been able to enact themselves as political subjects and make claims on the state. However, have their actions pushed and challenged the boundaries of citizenship any further or do they still fit within the citizenship claims-making approach seen in amnesty campaigns for migrants previously in the USA and elsewhere which is limited to requesting the extension of rights of inclusion to more people without really confronting the exclusionary foundations of citizenship itself?  Initially it appears that the movement did simply speak to an exclusionary and neoliberal form of citizenship. In a sense the Dreamer is the perfect immigrant because they were not an immigrant at all, but rather an all American young person in all but name and the epitome of the deserving and productive citizen or ‘would be’ citizen. However, developments in the undocumented youth movement in recent years point to an interesting turn and a more challenging engagement with the concept of citizenship. Rygiel (2011) has used the term ‘bordering solidarities’ to refer to the ways in which restrictive immigration policies have also provided a context for solidarity and community building between migrants and citizen allies in the fight for migrant rights in a number of settings across the world. I would argue that a form of ‘bordering solidarities’ can be seen in the new engagement with intersectionality in the undocumented youth movement and the dialogue being established between undocumented young activists and citizen activists (e.g. LGBTQ and Black Lives Matter) from communities in the USA who continue to face oppression and marginalisation despite holding full legal citizenship. Solidarity here differs from some descriptions of migrant/citizen solidarity based on an alliance between the dichotomous figures of the supposed privileged citizen and marginalised migrant. In a recent interview for Movements, Kim Rygiel (2015) comments on the importance of unpacking the unearned privileges of citizenship. However, citizens are not homogeneous and despite legal inclusion not all citizens experience such privileges. As Rygiel observes during this interview, citizenship has been as much about a history of exclusion as it is a story of inclusion. Many ‘citizens’ have been prevented from completing this journey to full and equal inclusion and indeed increasingly face the stripping back and loss of rights. The undocumented youth movement has moved beyond a focus on a pathway to full citizenship and a number of activists have turned their attention to the limitations of such citizenship in achieving equality. Activists I spoke with talked about the criminalisation of young people of colour and the limits of what can be attained through acquiring formal citizenship. They questioned whether formal legal citizenship can be seen as the sole or even primary barrier preventing people from full inclusion in citizenship. This leads to questions about the very nature of contemporary citizenship under racial neoliberalism (Goldberg 2008). Solidarity and claims of migrant belonging in migrant and citizen alliances have often been based on showing how migrants are productive and contributing members of the community, with the potential to perform, or already performing, model citizenship qualities. While laudable in many ways, they still focus on the ‘deserving’ and productive citizen while neglecting to address the responsibilities and failures of the state which limit opportunities for both migrants and marginalised ‘citizens’ who may struggle or are actively prevented from fitting this model of citizenship.

Finally, in exploring undocumented young activists’ engagements with citizen activists I was also interested in the chronological narrative of struggle told in the undocumented youth movement, with their movement as the latest iteration in a long history of civil rights movements and protest movements in the USA including, for example, the Civil Rights movement, the Black Panthers, Chicano movement and the gay rights movement which had both U.S. territorial and transnational connections. It made me wonder about what is lost when we dismiss nation-state based citizenship due to its exclusionary qualities. How might such a story of nation-state citizenship re-imagined to an extent through a history the nation-state told through a story of exclusion and as a history of struggle attuned to ties migrants may have to the ‘nation’ through colonial histories and anti-colonial struggles?

Olvera Street - the oldest street in Los Angeles 

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Welcome Week 2015 - Being Sociological Workshop

As part of the Welcome Week activities the Sociology programme held a workshop for our new cohort of first year sociologists which was titled ‘Being Sociological’. This workshop was in the style of a 'treasure hunt' and was essentially aimed at getting students involved in the practice of ‘being sociological’. The project introduced them to thinking about what sociology is and also about how you ‘do’ sociology by conducting a mini sociological study of Keele and the surrounding region.

Students were asked to get into groups and complete two out of these three tasks:

1) A report on the local area using library resources
2) A photographic research task
3) An ethnographic observation task

In the photographic task students were asked to take photographs around Keele campus on the following sociological themes:  nature/culture, branding, discipline and food. Students completing the ethnographic observations were asked to observe one of the following sociological themes on campus: power relationships, gender or communication. They were asked to draw a poster reflecting on their observations.

Posters from the observations and photographs were emailed to us and the class selected the winning entry which was a photograph on the theme of Nature/Culture taken by Jenny, Lucy, Elise and Leanne.

Here is a small selection of some of the other images taken on the day.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

The Spectre of Sociology

Mark Featherstone

In recent weeks I watched the refugee crisis unfold across Europe and discussed possible responses with a number of academic colleagues. These discussions tended to revolve around two positions. First, what we might call the utopian response, which explains that Europe cannot stand by and watch Syrian refugees drown in the Mediterranean or suffocate in trucks on their way to what they hope will be a new life in Western Europe. Second, we encounter political realism, where Europe simply cannot afford the new arrivals, who will break the fragile infrastructure of societies already labouring under the weight of severe austerity and destroyed public services. Caught between these two alternative positions, which both express their necessity and suggest that there is no other way, it seems hard to find a resolution or way forward that could satisfy both perspectives. On the one hand, saying that Europe could take so many hundred thousand refugees seems insufficient. The images of Aylan Kurdi, whose body was washed up on a beach in Turkey, and Yousef Rajab, a two year Syrian boy living with terrible injuries after a missile strike on his home in the town of Douma, mean that anything less than unlimited responsibility seems unbearable. On the other hand, the political realists would argue that Europe is already over-populated, and that taking even a small number of refugees effectively opens ‘the floodgates’. Given that our global future is likely to be defined by the figure of the refugee taking flight from environmental catastrophe, in this view there is no alternative, but closed borders. Since we cannot save everybody, we must be realistic, understand our limitations, and save ourselves before we try to transform the lives of others at a distance. In other words, we can open camps, provide some aid and so on, but must ultimately keep these other people at arm’s length. In this respect, I would suggest the realist position ultimately presupposes a kind of apocalyptic vision of the future – the future of humanity may well be worse than the present and see a large percentage of the world’s population perish in seemingly endless wars and increasingly catastrophic environmental events. We can try to respond to this situation where possible, but ultimately we need to accept our likely catastrophic future.

In the middle of these debates, at the end of August I travelled to central Europe, the Czech Republic, and Prague for the European Sociological Association annual conference in order to present a paper, The Spectre of Sociology, where I could explain where I believe sociology must stand in relation to this key issue – how should we respond to the misery of other people? When I arrived in Prague, central Europe, and particularly the road from Hungary through Austria to Germany, had become the centre of the debate around how best to respond to the refugee crisis. While the Germans welcomed the refugees, the Hungarians began construction of a security fence across its southern border with Serbia in order to prevent the arrival of even more people. Although I had started to formulate my conference paper before the refugee crisis, because I had been asked to speak to the issue of the role of sociology today, in the end my talk became a more or less direct response to the events taking place across Europe. But why the spectre of sociology? What is the spectre of sociology?

Basically, my argument is that since World War II, when the United Nations was formed in order to respond to global problems such as the current refugee crisis, processes of globalisation, and centrally the globalisation of capitalism, have led to the emergence of a world view concerned with individualism largely hostile to notions of social responsibility, which are, of course, what sociology is all about. In order to flesh out my argument in this context, consider notions of Americanisation, which explain how American social and political thought, and more broadly American culture, have been globalised through mass media channels that brought the rugged individual into our living space. Related to this idea, we might refer to the so-called neoliberalisation of the UK in the late 1970s under Margaret Thatcher, who famously said that society does not exist, and successive Conservative governments concerned to create an individualised, aspirational, entrepreneurial nation. On the other hand, and sticking with the case of the UK, we could reflect on the failure of the Labour Party and the rise of New Labour shorn of its commitment to public ownership. Further afield, we might refer to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Deng’s transformation of China into an authoritarian, capitalist, superpower. While the American political thinker Frances Fukuyama sought to capture all of this through his idea of the end of history – which basically meant that the liberal, democratic, capitalist ideas of America and the west had won the Cold War ideological struggle against the collectivist, communist, thought of the Soviets, Chinese, and leftists more generally – the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, who coincidentally also spoke in Prague, wrote about the emergence of the individualised society and explored the consequences of this new form of capitalist globalisation without alternatives.

What are these consequences? Centrally, the global, individualised, society results in the failure of our sociological imagination. Since we think about ourselves in individual terms we forget that we live in a world made up of other people. We forget that we were born into this world of others and fail to see that our future is dependent on our relationships with others. Of course, we recognise our reliance on those closest to us, but even then, Bauman suggests, processes of individualisation have eroded our sense of ourselves as social beings bound to others. Under these conditions, the distant other is nowhere – they are absolutely strange and in no sense connected to me. My argument here is that the other person, and more especially the distant other, becomes a kind of spectre. They are present, and I know they are there, but I do not recognise my relationship to them, because, of course, I am an individual and I stand alone. I can choose to relate, but in the individualistic world view there is no necessity to be with others. Of course, processes of globalisation mean that this view is entirely unsustainable. Beyond the truth that humans have always been absolutely social beings, since we are born into human made worlds, live in societies sustained by others, and generate futures through our relationships with other people, globalisation means that the world is absolutely inter-connected and we cannot escape our relationship to not only those close by, but also distant others who are implicated in our lives by complex social, political, economic, and cultural networks that span the globe.

Given this situation, what I sought to argue in my paper is that the spectre of the other person who must live and die in misery haunts me by virtue of a necessary relationship that I seek to deny on the basis of my ideological individualism. While my ideological position in a world of individuals suggests that I have no responsibility for their fate, their suffering imposes a kind of infinite responsibility upon me that I cannot escape, despite my ideological resistance to this truth. This is, of course, an argument we find across the works of key thinkers, such as Levinas, Derrida, and Bauman himself, who seeks to develop a post-modern ethics in his book of the same name that would insist that we respond to a situation such as the refugee crisis and refuse the idea that it is possible to turn our backs on other people in need. Bauman’s theory, which develops Levinas’ ethics, is basically that we cannot but respond to the misery of the other when we come face to face with their pain. But the problem of the current situation remains - we must insist upon this ethical responsibility in the face of ideological individualism that makes the other a spectre and as a result transforms the very idea of a social relation, which it is, remember, impossible to see or touch, into a kind of ghostly un-connection.

Yet I think that this is precisely what we must achieve. We must insist upon social responsibility – and thus accept our infinite responsibility for other people in a case such as the current refugee crisis – because there is no alternative but to recognise our interdependent connection to other people. How can we achieve this in a historical period which is resistant to this truth, makes other people spectral, and transforms the idea of the social relation itself into a spectral un-connection? Here, I refer to the work of the famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, and particularly his theory of telepathy. Given his status as a psychoanalyst Freud was never able to fully develop a theory of social relations, or account for what it is that connects people, because he was essentially concerned with individual psychological processes. However, when he did seek to explain the strange relation between people, which he was required to try to do because psychoanalysis is ultimately reliant on communication between analyst and analysand, he referred to the mysterious process of transference and more controversially the occult idea of telepathy. In other words, Freud imagined that people may be telepathic in order to try to account for the invisible connection between people which means that they are always more than individuals.

While Freud abandoned this occult idea in the name of making sure psychoanalysis maintained some level of scientific respectability, in my paper I sought to argue that sociology has met a similar fate to the psychoanalysis of telepathy in the individualised society. However, unlike psychoanalysis, which was able to throw out the notion of telepathic communication in order to save its commitment to scientific individualism (the analysis of what it is possible to observe), the problem of sociology in the individualised society is that there is no way for sociology to reject its ideas of sociability, social interdependence, and social responsibility because these form the very core of what sociology is about. Even though these ideas remain largely unintelligible in the global individualised society that wants to deny the truth of the social relation, my view is that sociology must embrace its ghosts – the ghosts of other people, the ghosts of the social relations that link our fates, and its own ghostly status in a knowledge economy that cannot fully recognise its truth – and become what I call spectro-sociology.

Moreover, my argument was not simply about the status of sociology itself, but rather concerned the contribution it can make to society and politics today. Where the realist, or individualised, position leaves no room for real alternatives, because it cannot easily think beyond what already is - in fact, for this very reason it tends to imagine apocalyptic futures, which is no future worthy of the name - the future spectro-sociology imagines is by definition utopian because it is different from what we have now, simply by virtue of the fact that it insists upon the need for collective action on the basis that we have no other choice. Why is there no choice? Why is this necessary? Our fates are entwined, we are interdependent, we must save each other.

Finally, we confront the realist’s objections. How can we possibly accommodate the refugee when we are labouring under the weight of austerity and so on? These people’s problems are not our problems. They need to put their own houses in order. The answers to these questions cannot be provided by rational debate, but must be felt deeply in the ethical responsibility we feel when we look into the face of the other – take the example of the toddler, Yousef Rajab – and that we must never deny because to deny these feelings is to deny our humanity. Of course, the hyper-realist response, which takes the form of a kind of phobic reaction when the other comes too close, is the racist one that is ultimately founded on a kind of desperate fear of others – the racist essentially says that ‘I am not like this other person and I cannot possibly tolerate their presence’. However, this is the road to dehumanisation and disaster: the dehumanisation of the other person, who becomes rubbish we refuse to bother about, and the dehumanisation of the self because when I have no concern for the other, I have lost my basic connection to the principle of civilization which allows me to live peacefully with others. Unfortunately for the realist, this is a catastrophic strategy. Unlike Hollywood film, and the paranoid fantasy of the individual who refuses other people, there is no sole survivor in the real world.

This is precisely why sociology is important today, and what sociology can do very practically in the classroom, in published works, in blogs, and other forms of communication – sociology must oppose this kind of phobic rejection of other people in name of the necessity of the social relation. Empathy, sympathy, and compassion are what make us human and we cannot abandon this to the darkness of a kind of Hobbesian future characterised by the war of all against all. Quite apart from the fact that nobody can stand by and watch a toddler suffer, or see a young child wash up on a beach, and reasonably maintain the realistic position, the realist position is itself, ultimately entirely unrealistic – we, humanity, will not survive a Hobbesian war of all against all.

This is what I sought to explain in my paper – sociologists must listen to ghosts and seek to teach their students to listen to ghosts and always think beyond themselves and beyond their individual circumstances because this is what the sociological imagination is about. This is where we will find a better future – in the space beyond the individual who cannot see further than the end of his own nose. Finally, repeating the late Derrida’s idea that the future belongs to ghosts, I referred to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in order to explain that sociology is now probably less about facts and more about values and centrally ethics. Like the ghosts who haunt Scrooge, remind him of his relationship to other people, and lead him to change his ways, I think spectro-sociology is really an ethical, utopian, discipline. This is why I think that there is only one real answer to the refugee crisis and it is an answer that involves ethical responsibility towards other people and recognition that this must entail a wholesale rethink of the irresponsible individualism that has supported late capitalist society since the late 1970s.

Since I presented this work in Prague, which is, in Derek Sayer’s classic work on the city, the kind of Gothic capital of the 20th century (what better place to talk about haunting), I have thought about how what I have sought to call spectro-sociology might function in the context of the classroom and developed three basic questions relating to the three sociological spectres – the Dickensian spectres of society past, present, and future.

First, the Spectre of Society Present: On the basis that hopelessness is not an option, we must conclude that the world is not necessarily, and simply, the way that it is – in other words, inequality, injustice, and misery are not simply given. If this is the case, how is it that the world is the way that it is? Keep in mind, the word ‘world’ can be replaced here by other locations or other forms of injustice and so on. Of course, the spectral dimension here resides in the basic recognition that there is something more, something beyond, the present in its apparent necessity.

Second, the Spectre of Society Past: How has the past produced the present? How did what we discussed above emerge from a historical process that could have led to alternative outcomes? On the basis of the above ghosts, the spectral dimension here emerges from a recognition of the contingency of the present in the ghosts of the past – the alternative pathways that closed down in the emergence of the present that looks necessary.

Third, the Spectre of Society Future: How could things be otherwise in the future? Given that the present is unnecessary, and that the past was a contingent process haunted by spectres of other presents, what could happen in the future? What are the spectres of the future that haunt the present and how can we conjure them into being?
In my view the above represents what it means to think sociologically, and what it means to think with ghosts, the ghosts of the great writers who have contributed to sociology understood in its broadest sense, and the ghosts of other people who are always beyond us, demand our attention, and command our responsibility. In the contemporary moment, a moment marked by narrowly defined individualism, this is the meaning of spectro-sociology, the occult discipline of utopian thinkers, that is always reaching out towards the other who is barely there.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Sociology Workshop for Keele Refugee Week

Keele Refugee Week
8th-14th June 2015

Social Networks and Belonging
Sociology Workshop
Wednesday, 10th June 2015
2.00 – 5.30pm
Chancellor’s Building: CBA1.078/9

Refugee Week is a UK-wide programme of arts, cultural and education events and activities that celebrates the contribution of refugees to the UK and promotes better understanding of why people seek sanctuary’ (Refugee Week nd). It involves thousands of people, institutions, organizations, and individuals throughout the country. Last year Keele joined Refugee Week for the first time by hosting a weeklong photographic exhibition, an opening event with a musical performance and a poetry open mic night. Placing our university on the map alongside numerous institutions and cultural hubs across the country and building on previous success, this year Keele Refugee Week will be hosting an even richer programme of events.

As part of the national and Keele Refugee Week celebrations, this year Sociology will be hosting a half-day workshop to highlight research on the theme of social networks and belonging among refugees and asylum seekers in the UK. Presentations will examine the politics and performances of asylum within different domestic contexts, and attempt to unpack some of the complex relationships that form between ‘host’ and ‘guest’ and within migrant networks.

This free event aims to bring together academics, students, refugees and asylum seekers and those working with refugees and asylum seekers, and to encourage lively debate about the challenges and opportunities facing refugees in the UK.

2.00: Welcome and introduction
Dr Siobhan Holohan, Keele University

2.15: Presentations
Dr Jonathan Darling, Manchester University
Dispersal and Disruption:
The Challenges of Isolation within the Asylum Accommodation Model

Natalie Soleiman, PhD Candidate, Keele University
 Seeking Refuge in the UK:
An Iranian Story of Asylum and Living in the ‘In-betweens’

3.30: Break for refreshments

3.45: Presentations
Dr Simon Goodman, Coventry University
The Role of Social Networks for Asylum Seekers in the Midlands

Dr Ala Sirriyeh, Keele University
 ‘This is in a way my birthplace’:
Young Refugee Women, Social Relationships and Networks

5.00: Exhibition
Discussion and art exhibition by women from the ‘Women Together’ project based in Huddersfield
(Refreshments will be available)

Admission is free; however, please confirm your attendance with Siobhan Holohan ( or Ala Sirriyeh ( by Monday, 1st June for catering purposes.
Find us on the first floor of Chancellor’s Building ‘A’ block: download campus map.

For more information about National Refugee Week go to:

For information about Keele Refugee Week activities go to:

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Walking studies seminar - registration open

Here are some more details about our forthcoming workshop:

'Walking' Studies Today*
Network Seminar and Taster
Claus Moser Building CM0.012
Tuesday May 26, 2015
9.45 – 16.30
The last 10 years or so have seen a growing interest in walking in urban and cultural geography (Middleton 2009, 2010, 2011), literary and cultural studies (Solnit 2000; Macfarlane 2013), oral history (High 2013) and visual and performing arts (Mock 2009, Smith 2014, 2015). Some of the canonical theories on walking - ubiquitous in urban studies - tend to represent this as a liberating and/or subversive act (Debord 1959, Certeau 1980). More recent interventions have problematised walking as a means of knowing the city (Thrift 2008) or as necessarily emancipatory (Urry 2007). It remains the case that walking is seen as ‘the most “egalitarian” of mobility systems’ (Urry 2007, 88); given its broad availability to able-bodied people. It is also a sustainable practice (Education and Inspection Act 2006), with perceived health-promoting properties. Walking has been, and continues to be, a prompt to creative and performative work (Self 2007, Sinclair e.g. 2003, 2004, Macfarlane 2013, Cade 2013-). This workshop will offer a sample of some of the work currently being done in walking studies. It will close with a discussion of possible future areas to explore in the field.
*Here, we use the term ‘walking’ to refer to a range of practices which may or may not be bipedal.

Papers and contributions from: Jennie Middleton (Oxon), Matt Parker (independent sound artist), Sue Porter (Bristol), Phil Smith (Plymouth), Rosana Cade (independent performance artist), Ben Anderson (Keele), Rajmil Fischman (Keele)

All are welcome to attend. However, places are limited, so please register your interest with Ceri Morgan ( or Andy Zieleniec ( before Friday May 15, 2015.

We acknowledge the support of Keele University Humanities and Social Sciences Faculty Strategy Fund

Friday, 1 May 2015

Forthcoming workshop on Walking

Dr Andy Zieleniec (Sociology) and Dr Ceri Morgan (Humanities) have been awarded through the Research Strategy Fund for a multidisciplinary networking workshop on 'Walking' to be held on the 26th May 2015 in the Claus Moser Building.

This networking project builds on previous and current research on imaginary and material geographies of the urban, rural and suburban (Zieleniec 2007; Morgan 2012), public parks (Zieleniec 2013), and geopoetics (Morgan 2008). 

It seeks to bring together a number of academics and practitioners from diverse backgrounds to discuss current trends and future developments in walking as a critical and creative practice.

The aim of the networking event is to pursue future research opportunities, grant applications and publication possibilities.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Keele students visit Pendleton Correctional Facility

By Dr Guy Woolnough, Criminology Teaching Fellow  

In April 2015, twelve Criminology students, accompanied by Dr Guy Woolnough, visited Ball State University, Indiana. The visit was hosted by Professor Mike Brown of the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, Ball State University.

 Pendleton Correctional Facility, Indiana (1)

This is cross-posted from

We would like to thank the staff and inmates of Pendleton Correctional Facility for their generous welcome, for their interest and consideration, and for helping us to understand the challenging problems addressed by the criminal justice system.

The visit to an Indiana prison was a highlight of our visit to Ball State University, organised by Professor Mike Brown of the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology. There was a sense of awful excitement in our party for we seemed to be like tourists visiting an exclusive attraction, but we could not be unaware of its serious nature, for we were required to leave everything but photo id outside the prison. Admission entailed rigorous searching and checking before we were allowed to pass through a series of steel gates which clunked with an ominous finality behind us. We were to discover from our visit how humanity can survive in the extremest of conditions, and we were able to explore the profound differences in penal cultures and philosophies across the Atlantic.
Pendleton Correctional Facility (2) is a high security prison, housing serious male offenders serving lengthy or whole-life terms. We were struck by the preponderance of middle aged and elderly inmates who one supposes will only leave Pendleton upon their death. They have been convicted of murder, rape, child abuse, robbery etc. The facility was built in the 1920s, and the most well known inmate was perhaps John Dillinger, who entered the facility as a petty robber and left nine years later in 1933 as a murdering bank-robber.

Despite the desperate men inside, and despite the appalling crimes they have committed, one is immediately struck by the ordered calm, almost serenity of the prison. On a beautiful day, the spacious central yard with its wide lawns, the warm-coloured brick of the classically proportioned architecture might have reminded one of a prestigious university, were it not for the razor wire, barred windows and eight sinister watch towers. Bentham’s panopticon was envisioned here with a modern twist and all-but invisible CCTV.

Our guide was a member of staff, not a uniformed officer, who showed us many parts of the prison. We were able to sample food in the dining hall, see cell blocks which Dillinger might have recognised, look into dormitories and examine the infirmary, all of which met our grim expectations. In almost every part we saw inmates who were politely deferential and compliant to our guide’s requests. Yes, they were requests and not orders, but one felt that inmates had internalised the necessity for immediate compliance. Only one man was seen leering at the young women in our party. This grinning prisoner revealed his heavily tattooed torso but his comments were inaudible through the heavy double glazing of the infirmary windows.

We were able to speak to prisoners. In most cases it was a civil ‘Hi’ and a nod, but a couple of exchanges were more lengthy. In the infirmary, two inmates were on watch outside locked cells recording, every five minutes, the risk status of the men inside. These observers were trusted prisoners, and one was very willing to talk. A man now aged 50, he had served 26 years, intimating that his offences had been gang-related. He spoke of how he had turned his life around in those years, and was now looking forward to release: his case was up for review in September but he could trust in the Lord and knew that he could face the further eight years of his term with equanimity if that is what God willed.

In the law library we met Pearl (3), who explained that the books and computers enabled inmates to research their cases. Pearl was eloquent and had gained law degrees during her incarceration but complained that she was now unable to go further with her education. The State of Indiana had changed the rules in recent years so that the only educational courses available to inmates were now vocational: plumbing, carpentry, electrician etc. Pearl was clearly angry at this decision, and at the State’s refusal to accept her gender preference, but she remained perfectly calm and civil. Our guide promised to explain when we left the library, which he did: the State had faced angry protests from voters, that it was wrong that the law-abiding sons and daughters of taxpayers faced increasingly onerous college fees whereas convicted felons could enrol at the tax-payers’ expense. So the Legislature voted to terminate college education for prisoners.

One Keele student voiced the opinion of many: surely the injustice is that college education is too expensive for most tax-payers, not that a small number of prisoners have got it for free? This question encapsulated the gulf between British and American cultures, a gulf which became clearer to us as we interacted with professionals from the American criminal justice system. We were privileged in our programme at Ball State to hear from senior prosecutors, judges, probation officers and parole officers, all of whom (quite properly) sought to protect the public, but believed that this was best achieved by moral retribution, including long sentences and stringent conditions.

Offenders in America are expected to work long and hard for their redemption, they are not guided towards rehabilitation as they might be in the UK. I concluded that a programme like the English Integrated Offender Management Scheme would be unthinkable in America, whereas social justice is fundamental for most Britons and for Keele students. They expect prison to attempt to rehabilitate, they expect opportunity to be available to all. The great majority of the American criminal justice professionals whom we met expected prison to be retributive and deterrent; it was to be punitive. American culture expects people to work for their goals; the rewards of hard work and success are accessible to all. Justice is seen as functional, it rewards the strivers but for those whose efforts are misdirected the doors are closed. For prisoners, this is literal as well as metaphorical.

The prison was pervaded by a aura of calm routine and discipline, with inmates moving in an orderly way, interacting with us and the guards in the American manner with mutual respect and informality. We were surprised to learn that the ratio of officers to inmates is approximately three to one hundred. However the fragility of appearances was brought home to us by a moment of drama when an officer showed us a shank he had just discovered. A simple stabbing blade fabricated in the workshop, it had been discarded by an inmate when he saw a random metal-detector screening. The officer was confident that the culprit would be identified and sanctioned. The rules and the security were intense, but humanity found a way of asserting itself even in this regime. For many, remaining human meant challenging the rules, by fabricating a shank, or by working in the law library to exploit any chinks in the legal armour that had locked them in. Others asserted their humanity through religion or by creating vividly powerful murals of the world outside.

Checking the history of Pendleton Correctional Facility shows how penetrable is the veneer of control. One is reminded that the weakest link in prison security is the staff who work there, some of whom have smuggled contraband into the prison. The posters encourage those who are sexually exploited to come forward: abusers have included staff at the prison. (4) 
There have been regular problems in the prison, including murders, assaults and suicides, the most serious of which was a riot in 1985 that broke out after an inmate was brutally beaten by guards. Our guide deplored such behaviour by prison officers and observed to us that his own relaxed manner was possible because he respected the prisoners, did not use his power or authority in an arbitrary fashion. It is clear that even in a situation of most extreme control, humans never lose all agency, they always retain the power to act, even if only minimally, and that even a high security prison can only function with the cooperation of the inmates. Failure to cooperate is always an option for prisoners, though the cost of that decision can take the form of beatings or further sanctions, or even the risk of death.

I am sure that tax paying citizens would benefit from visiting the prisons they fund. They could see the high cost of Pendleton’s intense security, but I doubt that this is money well spent. They could also sense the deep impact upon the human souls within its walls, on both the inmates and on those who work at Pendleton. I wonder how many of the inmates are so dangerous that we need to be protected from them for ever? I wonder how many inmates would not have drifted into serious offending if they had better education and opportunities when they were younger? My students and I found the visit to Pendleton Correctional Facility overwhelming. The clunk of heavy doors behind us, the moving sight of prisoners waiting for visits from loved ones, the civility of the staff and inmates made a deep impression. How would we cope if we or our family members faced an eternity inside? How does humanity survive?

1. Pendleton Correctional Facility, Indiana Department of Corrections, 2015. ; Accessed 18 Apr 2015
2. Pendleton is for level 3 and 4 security prisoners. the highest level is 5, ‘super-max’. William, J.E., Pendleton Correctional Facility, Wikipedia,;accessed18Apr 2015.
3. Pearl presented as female, but our guard used a male name in addressing this prisoner. I have followed Pearl’s gender preference in writing this paragraph.

4.  Prison Legal News, 18 Apr 2015,; accessed 18 Apr 2015