Social Worlds in 100 Objects

See the world through fresh eyes with Social Worlds in 100 objects. Looking at everyday items, University of Leicester Social Scientists bring you their thought-provoking perspectives in this series of short articles.
John Goodwin contributed an article to this initiative The cotton bobbin: symbolic of a lost heritage?

Second Hand Books – Jephcott

For anyone interested  in marginalia the secondhand/used book market has to be an untapped source of material. The joy of buying used books is often more than just being able to get hold of an obscure text, a now deleted classic or whatever, its about the annotations, markings and notes that others add to the text that make those books interesting. For our research on Pearl Jephcott we, like others, have had to scour the secondhand book sellers to obtain copies of her works and we now have a fairly complete set of her books. Remarkably these books are quite ‘clean’ in terms of marginalia  – with two surprising exceptions. The version of the book A Troubled Area we have appears to be the version Pearl herself donated to the University of Glasgow library in 1964. We can tell this given her signature, date plus the GUL book plate on the inside cover. We also – quite by chance – purchased a copy of Girls Growing Up that Jephcott had autographed in 1942. A form of fateful(?) marginalia we are more than pleased to have.

Inside the front cover of  A Troubled Area.


Revisiting Norbert Elias’s Sociology of Community

We have a longstanding interest in Elias’s sociology of community. Here are a couple of links to papers that we have contribution to/written on this subject. The first is Angela Perulli’s Italian translation of Towards a Theory of Communities (1974) that contains some introductory notes on the original essay by John Goodwin. The second is paper by Henrietta O’Connor and John Goodwin exploring the ‘community restudies’ they are involved in.

Verso una teoria delle comunità (2013)

Revisiting Norbert Elias’s Sociology of Community: Learning from the Leicester Re-Studies (2012) – O’Connor and Goodwin
Abstract: Since 2001 we have been engaged in a re-study of three linked Leicester projects: The Employment of Married Women in a Leicester Factory (1959–1962), The Adjustment of Young Workers to Work Situations and Adult Roles (1962–1964) and The Established and the Outsiders (1965). The three projects contain a number of striking overlaps, not least Elias’s formulation of communities as figurations through which communal behavioural standards are established, learned and maintained. Whether in the different Zones of Winston Parva, or in the large hosiery factories of Leicester, people learned the self-control of drives and affects ‘according to the pattern and extent of socially given drive and affect regulation’ of that time and that community. In this paper we outline the background to the three re-studies and link them to Elias’s work on community and the broader canon of community studies. We then consider methodological lessons learnt from our re-studies – in particular, the practical process of re-studies, the definitional problems of what constitutes a re-study, and the value of visual images and walking the field. We conclude by reflecting upon the analytical promise of community re-studies.

Re-Read ‘Education and the Working Class’ (and other Classics)

C Wright Mills suggested that to avoid the ‘academic pose’ sociologists needed to get rid of the ‘academic prose’. Mills was an ardent advocate of clarity in writing and warned against the obfuscation of both grand theory and abstract empiricism. Mills sought criticism for his work with a view to making his writing as accessible and as incisive as it could possibly be. Yet despite his advice we appear, as a discipline, to have not heeded the warnings with all of us (me included) writing in a way that is often self-serving or in a ‘style’ than can only service the needs of other ‘fellow travelers’. I was prompted to think more about the advice offered by Mills after picking and reading up a copy of Jackson and Marsden’s Education and the Working Class from 1961 (reprinted in 1966). This is a book I had only glanced at previously. However,  a recent trip to the University of Huddersfield, and a brief discussion with colleagues there about it having been set in Huddersfield, promoted me to return to the book and a much closer reading of what Jackson and Marsden had to say. This book ‘is about working-class children turning into middle-class citizens. It’s a tangled picture, and the voices weave their own pattern of delight, snobbery, frustration and love‘ (Jackson and Marsden 1966: 15). It is a compelling book worthy of a great deal more attention. However, only a few pages in Mills came to mind not only because of what Jackson and Marsden were writing but how they wrote it. They wrote in a way that not only conveyed the rich tapestry of their respondent’s lives – the ‘delights, snobberies, frustrations and loves’ as they said – but do so in a way that is accessible and engaging whilst revealing a complex set of relationships. The analysis is accessible and rigorous. This richly detailed combination of narrative and analysis is a form of writing that can only come from a deep immersion into a subject undergirded by a clear passion for the subject matter. Returning to the Millsean critique of academic prose, and the accessibility of this book, prompted my own lament ‘I wish I could write book like this’. Moreover, a questioning as to why we as sociologists don’t write more books like this. There some who do this  –  William Helmreich’s (2013) The New York Nobody Knows: Walking 600 Miles in the City or  Alice Goffman’s (2014) On The Run: Fugitive Life in an American City being notable exceptions – but in the main the promise of post war sociology and the vein of richly detailed studies that emerged have been substituted for more turgid, drier, less passionate accounts of social life. Or as Jason Hughes suggested in a discussion of these issues ‘writing becomes divested of all its colour’. We are often left with drab, colourless technical accounts. Why is this ? There are many possible reasons such as the dominance of short form writing demanded by journals, the increased pressure of publishers to go for textbooks at the expense of monographs but we are the poorer for it.
The clarity of writing is not the only link to Mills. Jackson and Marsden make a clear link to the Millsean links between history and biography. They write ‘in this survey we are deliberately mapping to a stretch of life, an initiatory experience, through which we have lived ourselves. And with this survey we took our bearing’ (Jackson and Marsden 1966: 16). In other words they were casting their own lens on public issues and private troubles as Mills suggests ‘Writing, if you are at it long enough, is of course a set of habits and of sensibilities that shape almost all your experience. Writing is, among other things, always a way of trying to understand yourself. You understand your own feelings and your own ideas by writing them out.’ (Mills to Tovarich, 1959 in Mills and Mills 2000: 280).
We have much to learn from ‘classic’  books from the past – not least how to write good sociology. If we disregard these classic texts we compound the effects of ignoring Mills’ advice and consign so much good sociology to the dustbin simply because it is not from the last five years or, worse still ‘fashionable’.

Goffman, A. (2014) On The Run: Fugitive Life in an American City. Chicago: Univeristy of Chicago Press.
Helmreich, W.B. (2013) The New York Nobody Knows: Walking 600 Miles in the City. Princeton: Princeton Univeristy Press.
Jackson, B. and Marsden, D. (1966) Education and the Working Class. Hamrondsworth: Penguin.
Mills, K. and Mills, P. (2000) C. Wright Mills: Letters and Autobiographical Writings. LA: University of California Press

Norbert Elias: Questions to Ponder


This postcard was developed for the conference ‘From the Past to the Present and towards Possible Futures: the collected Works of Norbert Elias‘ a conference, organized by Jason Hughes and John Goodwin, to celebrate the complete publication of Elias’s works. To help structure the conference the streams were arranged around key books – such as The Established and The Outsiders – but we also used this postcard as a prompt to generate discussion and to encourage further engagement with Elias’s work. For anyone engaging with Elias – from experienced Eliasian scholars to those reading Elias for the first time – these questions are useful starting points. The retreat of the sociologists, the debate between partisan and public sociology as well as the linkage between sociology, history and psychology are crucial debates that need further consideration by all.  For a report on the conference itself then please read Issue 41 of the Figurations newsletter that can be found here :

A Gun, a widow and thinking in ‘the field’!


by Sarah Hadfield

Twitter Signature logo@Sarah_h5

photo-3 This blog post is inspired by some reflexivity of some field research I conducted for another research project early on in my research career. This research was on a topic aligned with ‘The making of the precariat’, but the research methods are superficially different. My research is qualitative; ‘The making of the precariat’ is quantitative, making use of 1980s historical questionnaire data. From my own qualitative data collection experiences, I have found that ethical issues and the realities of field research in both projects have similarities although conducted in different times for different purposes.

As presented in the literature, the process of data collection, ethical issues and what is needed for preparation is not too far removed from the reality. However, for myself, what was, was the reality of the anxieties that came after the interviews had ended. This is because seemingly simple questions can…

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Pearl Jephcott: The Legacy of a Forgotten Sociological Research Pioneer

Our paper on the legacy of Pearl Jephcott is available online first:

While the lives and works of many sociologists have now been well documented, numerous sociologists at the ‘coal face’ of social research remain ignored. Consequently, beyond the contributions of those more ‘well-known’ scholars, considerably more needs to be done to examine the history of our discipline and reassess the significant contributions made by ‘other’ researchers so that we may reappraise what can be learnt from these ‘pioneer scholars’. In this article we focus on Pearl Jephcott (1900–1980), who in a research career spanning 40 years, but now largely forgotten, was at the forefront of methodological innovation in the 1960s. We offer an introduction to her work, focusing on questions such as why were her methods innovative and why is she now ignored within sociology?


Archival Research

In our research we have found archives to be an essential source of data and material. Indeed, for our restudy of Elias’s Young Worker Project and for our on going work on Pearl Jephcott, archival research has been central to all we have done. Archives, although used by some social scientists, could be used to greater effect – especially in times of reduced research funding where making best use of data and material that already exists seems to be the order of the day. Our Jephcott research featured, in the University of Glasgow’s contribution to the UK Explore Your Archive awareness campaign. 

“Our discovery of the illustrations from the Time of One’s Own project, hidden amongst other papers, was one of those truly eureka moments that is only possible when working in archives. As crisp and as clear as the day they were created, the images of young people at work and leisure revealed Pearl Jepchott’s rich legacy of immaculately detailed social science research. The life and work of this once forgotten social researcher, a true pioneer and innovator, at once became available for all to explore and celebrate” – John Goodwin

Find out more at:

ArchI’ve Explored