But you may ask, how do ideas come? How is the imagination spurred to put all the images and facts together, to make images relevant and lend meaning to facts? All I can do is talk about the general conditions and a few simple techniques which seemed to increase my chances to come out with something - C. Wright Mills ‘The Sociological Imagination’
Goldsmiths Sociology is committed to developing inventive ways of doing sociology. This new initiative aims at constructing a laboratory for the practice of our sociological imaginations.
The aim is to make social research responsive to social life, to bring it alive. As C. Wright Mills alludes above ideas are often elusive and they don't announce their arrival in advance. This initiative hopes to build a laboratory to stimulate creative debate as well as to institute examples of the ways in which the practice of sociology is changing, what social research should look like today, and how sociology can best respond to the demands of users of social research.
About the Methods Lab
The danger that every researcher faces is that the process of analysis and investigation can inadvertently execute that which is vibrant in his or her object. Here the sociologist becomes like a coroner who presides over social life as if it is a lifeless corpse fit only for an autopsy. We are arguing for a vital sociology that both connects to the social world, yet at the same time aspires to forms of sociological representation that are in themselves alive. This is the challenge of putting images and facts together, a compound of imagination and craft that will contribute to the development of social theory while opening out to an engagement with society at large.
The Lab is intended to provide a space for us to question and develop our own methods of sociological reasoning, to be open to the possibilities of practising a sociological imagination in a world in which the fundamental coordinates of social life are held to be undergoing change. It is linked to the department’s MA in Visual Sociology and MA in Social Research, as well the Masterclass in Feminist Methods.
Goldsmiths Sociology has a long history of expertise in developing research methods and teaching social research. Professor David Silverman developed rigorous postgraduate training in qualitative social research during the 1980s and 1990s and published extensively in these fields. This work was developed further by Professor Clive Seale who established the MA programme in Social Research which built up training in quantitative research alongside qualitative research. This MA course is recognised by the Economic and Social Research Council for the research training of future generations of social researchers. In 2013, a new MA in Visual Sociology was launched, which developed still further these departmental interests. In 2016 we started to experiment with different modes of knowledge, including curating, which has become a central strand of our work. Thus we introduced the Masterclass in Feminist Methods.
In the Department, we have a team of sociologists who are innovators in social research. Expertise includes: exhibitions, demonstrations, ethnography, visual sociology, biography, performance, site-specific interventions, walks and tours, network analysis, the use of new media as research tools? Goldsmiths Sociology benefits from the general liberal arts nature of the College. There are strong interdisciplinary connections with fine art, media and communications, social anthropology, design, music and cultural studies. Partly as a result of this researchers are working in interdisciplinary ways and at the same time developing distinctive sociological methods.
The possibility of methodological innovation results from the department's participation in the College's unique intellectual culture. Examples of this creative fusion can be found in the work on exhibitions, visual sociology, walks, architectural installations and in particular the uses of film, photography and new media. There are also developments in social research that operate within a democracy of the senses and which look at cultures of sound and the embodied realm of social experience.
Exhibitions + Walls of the Academy
The Methods Lab has been both producing exhibition installations on the campus and off-site, in other galleries and museums. But also off-site in historically consecrated institutions, such as cathedrals and Westminster.
As the walls of the academy become corporatized and subject to controls of branded, we claw on to the intellectual input of scholarship by exhibiting in different modes on the walls of the academy. The Methods Lab has exhibited several exhibitions in the long Kingsway Corridor of the Richard Hoggart Building. The corridor is a passageway to the coming and going of academic life. Working against the grain of the short time frame of gallery exhibitions we install each exhibition for at least two academic terms. Students and staff live with the exhibition across the academic year. Happenstance encounters occur as students wait in the corridor for lectures to begin a week in and week out. Staff and students start to teach with the exhibition as it becomes a part of the architecture of academic life. There is no need to strategise with pre-planned fixed learning objectives. The duration of the exhibition also goes against the grain of the academic conference format for exhibitions. As an add-on, they are forced into awkward zones. With very little respect for the duration, there has even been a turn towards pop-up exhibitions at international conferences. So you undertake all the labour just to, and only then if you are the lucky chosen one, to exhibit your piece for one day. The limited forms for what counts as an installation more often than not only extends to poster exhibits pinned on to freestanding cloth-backed boards.
Thus far the on-campus exhibitions have included:
13 Dead, Nothing Said (2017) presented a body of photographs taken by Vron Ware documenting the Black People’s Day of Action on 2 March 1981. The images bear witness to a historic moment of community organising and resistance in post-war Britain.
Migrating Dreams and Nightmares (2016-17), which took John Berger and Jean Mohr’s classic text ‘A Seventh Man’ as resource material. The artist Antoinette Brown re-materialised the text and images of Mohr and Berger by re-working them in chalk and drawings, wire and letters, mirrors and periscopes. In an off-site interlinked installation at the Stuart Hall library, Alia Syed has developed a new film.
Space and Gaze: Conversations with Edward Said and Jean Mohr in Palestine (2013-14) A whole raft of colleagues have supported us with the exhibitions, for example, Annie Pfingst (Research Fellow) and Althea Greenan (Women’s Art Library).
London Feminist Film Festival. Methods Lab is very pleased to support this annual independent festival celebrating feminist films past and present from international women directors.
We have a full programme of events, talks and workshops. An Annual Methods Lab Lecture is often a campus highlight. We are supportive of students who want to organise activities in the Methods Lab. Postgraduate students have always contributed to the duration of our exhibitions. They often become tour guides to the installations.
MA in Visual Sociology
This cutting-edge MA programme draws on interdisciplinary practices to develop new ways of exploring, understanding, analysing and intervening in the social world. Visual, sensory and other experimental methods are key to the approaches studied and put to work on the programme.