Gender, Youth, Community, Methodology and More:

A Symposium Celebrating the Life and Work of Pearl Jephcott

College Court Conference Centre

University of Leicester

July 9th 2015

Pearl Jephcott (1900-1980), in a research career spanning some forty years, made an outstanding contribution to British social science research. Her key works, including Girls Growing Up (1942), Rising Twenty (1948), Some Young People (1954), Married Women Working (1962), A Troubled Area: Notes on Notting Hill (1964), Time of One’s Own (1967) and Homes in High Flats (1971), alongside other reports and articles, paved the way for many of the subsequent developments that were to come in the sociology of gender, women’s’ studies, urban sociology, leisure studies and the sociology of youth. Moreover her work is fascinating as it is very detailed, extensive, methodologically sophisticated and is replete with originality, innovation and sociological imagination. Yet despite this Jephcott’s work has become neglected and relegated to second hand booksellers and ‘studies from the past’. Her legacy deserves more attention and should be more widely celebrated. This free one-day symposium attempts to do just that.

Bringing together researcher from a range of fields, this one-day symposium offers academics and postgraduate students the opportunity to learn more about recent research that revisits and builds upon the work of this social research pioneer. The day represents a unique chance for a dialogue around Pearl’s legacy and to hear how subsequent researchers have extended the rich vein of research she began in the 1940s. Pearl’s legacy cuts across disciplines and research paradigms: across social sciences and humanities, historical and contemporary data, primary and secondary sources, quantitative and qualitative approaches and, as such, we envisage this event will appeal to a wide audience.

This is a free conference with lunch included but pre-registration is required as places are limited.

9:30                Registration and Coffee

9.50                Introduction and Welcome.

10.00              Pearl Jephcott: Biographical Starting Points,

John Goodwin and Henrietta O’Connor, (University of Leicester)

10:30             Pearl Jephcott and Feminist Collaborative Research Practice

Lynn Abrams (University of Glasgow)

11:00              TEA BREAK

11:30              Pearl Jephcott, Married Women Working and the Sociology of Women in post-war Britain

Helen McCarthy (Queen Mary University of London)

12:00              (Re)Imagining Pearl Jephcott’s ‘Time of One’s Own’: Methodological challenges and theoretical insights from a comparative study of youth leisure and social change

Susan Batchelor and Lisa Whittaker, University of Glasgow

Alistair Fraser, University of Hong Kong (in absentia)

12.30              Revisiting ‘Homes in High Flats’: Its inception and Jephcott’s methodology in practice

Barry Hazley and Valerie Wright (University of Glasgow)

1pm – 2pm    LUNCH

14:00              The Early Years

Tony Jeffs (Durham University)

14.15              Jephcott, Bermondsey and the Anthropologists in 1958

Jon Lawrence (University of Cambridge)

14.30             From Nottingham to Notting Hill: Explorations of Delinquency

John Goodwin and Henrietta O’Connor, (University of Leicester)

15:00                         TEA BREAK

15.30             Round Table Discussion: What Next for Pearl Jephcott?


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 :