It started … and ended … with a strike. And in between a global pandemic. It really has been an extraordinary four years! Those cold and snowy picket-line days in March 2018 were among the most energetic and determined I can recall in more than 30 years as a union member, as the fight for pensions galvanised UCU colleagues and allies, campaigning for secure and fair futures. Secure and fair futures for individuals, of course, but also for Higher Education. Clearly the challenges are connected, which is why – four years later – sociologists find themselves on strike again, fighting for a fairer workplace and proper recognition of our work. As someone in the later years of my working life, it is not my pension, pay or recognition that matters most. But for the next generations – who will carry Sociology and will carry our universities – it is hard to imagine how the current conditions are (or should be) sustainable. Throughout, the BSA has supported members taking action, precisely because it is the future for sociologists and for sociology that is at stake. The challenge is clear, not only during industrial action but as we have seen sociology under threat in various countries around the world – from wholesale closures by right-wing governments in Brazil and Hungary, to local ‘restructurings’ from the University of East London to the University of Western Australia. Whilst the former are direct political attacks on sociological analyses of power and inequality, the later are presented (on the surface at least) as facts about student demand and the need for ‘more’ vocational skills driven by labour market need.
Perhaps it takes a sociologist to see through such claims. Not least, we experience persistent dissonance between the growth of Sociology as an A’Level and Undergraduate choice and the refrain that ‘no-one will want to’ … pay £3k fees to do Sociology, or £10k, or take Sociology in the new global economy. And yet they keep coming! Both – I suggest – because Sociology offers the concepts and tools to explore these dominant discourses, to think and act critically in the world, and because this expertise is, in fact, valuable in the labour market (as the data for sociology graduates’ careers over the long term increasingly shows) and in wider society. This has been especially visible during the covid pandemic, as sociological research on health inequalities, risk, information flows, homeworking, loneliness and community (for example) has shaped public policy in very direct ways and also – more generally – generated insightful reflections on the construction of everyday spaces, embodiment and social dis/order (for example).
The BSA has represented sociology and sociologists for over 70 years. It is the public voice of our profession and – for many – provides a collective identity and umbrella for sociological activities (notably the Study Groups and Conference). Listening to colleagues at a recent BSA Forum, I was struck by comments that many of us have ‘grown up with’ the BSA and come back to it time and time again as a constant in what is – no doubt – a very challenging environment for members (both within and beyond the Academy). Of course, we wouldn’t be sociologists if we didn’t ask questions about the BSA, if we didn’t think critically about changes for the future! And long may that last!! But never forget that the BSA is a membership association, run by elected Trustees and supported by a highly dedicated team of staff in the Durham office.
It is ours to nurture, shape and drive.
It has been my privilege to serve as President of the BSA for the past four years. It is, to be frank, sometimes a lonely role, separate from the day-to-day running and strategic development of the Association and yet deeply invested in its’ aims and its future. The platform that this affords is to look outwards, to defend our discipline and proactively mobilise sociology to make a difference in the world. I am hugely delighted that this platform now passes to Professor Gurminder K Bhambra who – I have no doubt at all – will be an outstanding President. Gurminder – I am in your corner and I wish you all the very best your coming term as President!