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Annual Methods Lab Lectures

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Derek Sayer: Surreal Sociology (2015)

The chance meeting of an umbrella and a sewing machine on a statistical table: some thoughts on surrealism and sociology

Professor Derek Sayer (Department of History, Lancaster University)

In the spirit of Paul Feyerabend's Against Method, and against the background of the apparatus of disciplinary regulation that was REF 2014 (Rank Hypocrisies: The Insult of the REF, 2014), I ask: What might an undisciplined sociology look like? A lifetime's engagement with social theory (Marx's Method, 1978; The Violence of Abstraction, 1986; Capitalism and Modernity, 1990) and historical exploration (The Great Arch, 1985; The Coasts of Bohemia, 1998; Prague, Capital of the Twentieth Century, 2013) suggests to an aging sociologist who is increasingly disrespectful of the orders of the academy that an important part of the answer lies in surrealism.

Jean Mohr: Edward is still with us (2014)

Jean Mohr reflects on Edward Said in Palestine & After the Last Sky 


In this public conversation, Jean Mohr reflected on his collaboration with Edward Said on After the Last Sky, as well as on his wider oeuvre of work.

After the Last Sky came about after Jean Mohr was commissioned by the UN, to take photos of some of the key sites in which Palestinians lived their lives. Because the UN allowed only minimal text (the names of places) to accompany the photographs, Said and Mohr decided to work together on an 'interplay', as Said put it, of Said's personal account of Palestinian suffering and exile and Mohr's photographs – 'an unconventional, hybrid, and fragmentary [form] of expression' - which they called After the Last Sky(1986).

The Space and Gaze exhibition at Goldsmiths (September 2013 - July 2014) brings Mohr's images and Said's text from this seminal book together for the first time. Working against the grain of speeded up short durations in gallery spaces and the cultural sector more widely, we have chosen to live and converse with the images and texts for the longer duration of an academic year. Against the grain of the corporatization of the academy, the exhibition claims the space for an alternative writing on the walls of the university.

This is Jean Mohr's second exhibition at Goldsmiths. His first, which was held in the 1970s, was titled Two portraits and a Story, and consisted of photographs of peasants in Haute Savoie, France. He is well-known for his many collaborations with John Berger, which include A Fortunate Man (1967), Art & Revolution (1969), A Seventh Man (1975), Another Way of Telling (1995) and John by Jean: fifty years of friendship (2014).More than 80 exhibitions have been dedicated to his photographic work worldwide. He has worked for numerous international organisations (UNHCR, ILO, JDC) and was ICRC delegate for the Middle East 1949-1950. In 1978, he was awarded the prize for the photographer who had contributed the most to the cause of human rights. Speaking of his position as a photographer he has stated: 'If I see a child drowning I can't take a picture of the scene. I can lend a hand or grab a stick to remove the child.' He has an interest in theatre and his large body of work also includes plasticine photography, usually in colour, as a reflection of formal experimentations in the art field.



Jean Mohr's lecture is available as a podcast. There is also an interview with Jean Mohr at Goldsmiths in Al-Akbar.

Veena Das: Inconsistency & Vagueness (2013)

Methodological Challenges of Urban Poverty & Democratic Politics

Veena Das has a longstanding interest in the life of words, method, violence & social suffering. For the Annual Methods Lab lecture, she addressed a number of key questions. What are the methodological implications that follow the theoretical concepts we use to think of vagueness and inconsistency?

What are inconsistent responses to urban poverty and democratic politics? Dealing with the problem of multiple temporalities, scholars from different disciplines have been intrigued by the problem of inconsistent responses given by respondents in the course of both survey research and interviews. Does this mean individuals have multiple selves or do they inhabit multiple temporalities?

Veena Das (Krieger-Eisenhower Professor, Johns Hopkins University, USA) has written on moments of rupture & recovery by working intensively on questions of violence, social suffering & subjectivity. She has researched the intricate relations between biography, autobiography & ethnography to frame her. Das has an enduring interest in the institutional processes through which violence & suffering are produced as well in what it is to produce testimony to these events & to oneself. For instance, if societies hide from themselves the pain which is inflicted upon individuals as prices of belonging, then how do social sciences learn to receive this knowledge? Her current research is on urban poverty and democratic politics in Delhi.

Her publications are extensive, they include:

  • Life & Words: violence & the descent into the ordinary (2006)
  • Violence and Subjectivity (2000, co-edited). 
  • Structure and Cognition: Aspects of Hindu Caste and Ritual (1997)
  • Critical Events: An Anthropological Perspective on Contemporary India (1995)
  • Mirrors of Violence: Communities, Riots and Survivors in South Asia (1990, Ed)
  • The Word and the World: Fantasy Symbol and Record (1986, Ed.)

Ken Plummer: On Narrative (2012)

Human beings are narrating animals and the societies they create are homes for their stories. We create, appreciate and live stories all our lives; and we need stories in order to live. Although stories and narrative are often neglected in the orthodoxies of social analysis, they are usually critical to every stage of the human social research process.

In the broadest terms, we study the stories that people tell; we connect these stories to the wider stories of the world, and we ultimately represent them as our ‘social science stories’ – in theses, articles & books (and sometimes more startlingly in films, photos, media, conferences, exhibitions). Narrative and storytelling also crucially places a critical role in shaping personal lives, political change, and ethical choices. In this presentation, I will ponder a number of story images that enable us to think more clearly about the role of stories in our research and lives drawing from my own researches and experiences as both a gay man and a transplant person.

Ken Plummer taught at the University of Essex from 1975-2006 and ran the introductory first-year sociology course for 18 years. He has written some ten books and over 100 articles on gay life, human rights, symbolic interactionism, life stories, intimacies, global inequalities, critical humanism, queer theory, studies of sexualities, masculinity, and the body. Most recently he has been writing about the experiences of transplant surgery – which saved his life in 2007.

His manifesto of critical humanism can be found in Documents of Life: An Invitation to a Critical Humanism (2001, 2nd ed). He was the founder and editor of the journal Sexualities. His most recent books are Intimate Citizenship (2003) and Sociology: The Basics (2010), and he has just published the 5th edition of his textbook with John Macionis (Sociology: A Global Introduction). He is now an Emeritus Professor.

Paul Connerton: The Birth of Histories from the Spirit of Mourning (2011)

Maximising Impact through Research Methods: a View from Early British Sociology (2010)

Presented by Prof. John Scott (University of Plymouth), Discussant: Prof. Les Back (Goldsmiths)

John Scott's new book is Social Theory: Central Issues in Sociology, an overview of historical and contemporary debates. His previous books include: 

  • Power (2001)
  • Social Network Analysis (Second Edition, 2000)
  • Corporate Business and Capitalist Classes (1997)
  • Stratification and Power (1996)
  • Sociological Theory (1995)
  • Poverty and Wealth (1994)
  • Who Rules Britain? (1991)
  • A Matter of Record: Documentary Sources in Social Research (1990)
  • Corporations, Classes and Capitalism (1985)

This discussion is available as a podcast or you can watch a video of the discussion.

The Oral History Interview & its Literary Representations (2009)

Presented by Alessandro Portelli (University of Rome)

Books include:

  • The Order Has Been Carried Out: History, Memory, and Meaning of a Nazi Massacre in Rome (2007)
  • Battle of Valle Giulia: Oral History and the Art of Dialogue (1997)
  • The Text and the Voice (1994)
  • The Death of Luigi Trastulli and Other Stories: Form and Meaning in Oral History (1990)

Listen again to the lecture by Alessandro Portelli.

Howard S. Becker: Telling About Society (2007)

The first Annual Methods Lab Lecture, organised by the Methods Lab, Department of Sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London.

The Department of Sociology at Goldsmiths is pleased to welcome Howard S Becker to discuss his latest publication, Telling About Society (University of Chicago Press). This is the third book in Howard’s bestselling series of writing guides for social scientists; it explores the ways knowledge about society can be shared and interpreted through different forms of storytelling. Fiction, films, photographs, maps, and even mathematical models can be powerful tools in sharing knowledge—and yet many of these models remain outside the boundaries of conventional social science.

Eight cases studies, including Walker Evans’ photographs, George Bernard Shaw’s plays, the novels of Jane Austen and Italo Calvino, and the theories of Erving Goffman, provide convincing support for Becker’s argument: that every way of telling about society is perfect—for some purpose. The trick is, as Becker notes, to discover what purpose is served by doing it this way rather than that. With Becker’s trademark humour and eminently practical advice, Telling About Society is an ideal guide for social scientists in all fields and for anyone interested in communicating knowledge in unconventional ways.

Howard Becker lives and works in San Francisco. He is the author of many books, including Outsiders, Writing for Social Scientists and Tricks of the Trade, the latter two published by the University of Chicago Press.