I have been a member of the BSA since 1992, when I joined my first Sociology Department, and since then it has never occurred to me that I would not be. So, clearly, I start from a certain disposition. Yet in my first year as President I have had both reason and opportunity to think more directly about why the BSA matters for Sociology and sociologists. And here’s what last year told me.
- There is a generation of young sociologists in our schools with an appetite for the subject that needs only a little support from us to bring it to full force. Against all the dire predictions following the rationalisation of GCSE and A Level programmes, the number of students enrolling for A level sociology continues to rise. Is it 4th wave feminism, populism, Brexit, Grenfell, Grime? I don’t know. But we have an opportunity to turn this into a resurgence of University applications and a renewal of our discipline from the bottom up.Since the beginning of her BSA Presidency in 2015 Lynn Jamieson has held very popular annual events on feminism for A’ Level students in London and in February last year, the BSA ran its’ first Youth Assembly in Newcastle, organized with a range of schools from the Teesside area. BSA members from local Universities ran workshops and plenaries on growing up as a girl in the North-East, the sociology of urban music and young people’s experience of crime and the criminal justice system (thanks to Sarah Winkler-Reid, Charlie Back, Rob McDonald, Sheila Quaid and Will Coyles). And we announced the winners of our feminism essay competition for A Level students – great pieces by Aaisha Haque (St Anthony’s Academy, Sunderland) and Estelle Stubbs (Sunderland College). With over 150 students plus their teachers (doing the most amazing job promoting Sociology in schools) in one room – the buzz was really something to be part of. The BSA can mobilise this and could do it again, if other members are interested. And there are other ways that we can and should think about the next generation and the future of our discipline.The publication of racist content in the Hodder A level Sociology textbook in November drew attention to the A Level curriculum. The BSA contacted AQA immediately to confirm that the book had been withdrawn. The BSA will be working with AQA to understand how this happened and to ensure that nothing like it happens again. Beyond this there are wider questions about curriculum content, which in some cases is clearly due for an update (at least). In February 2019, the BSA Teaching Sociology Group – including the major exam boards and sociology teachers from secondary schools – met to discuss and plan new ways forward. Watch this space.
- In February 2018, and on into March, British higher education saw the biggest and longest period of industrial action for many years. Sociologists played a significant part in the strike. At Southampton, the ‘sociology picket’ was a daily feature and we were buoyed by our own special disciplinary claim to the ‘dinosaur of solidarity’ (aka Prof Catherine Pope, medical sociologist) who embodied the too little reported power of humour to organize and sustain collective action even through rain, snow and some serious financial hardships. I was struck by the early career sociologists who turned out all day every day – despite being at the bottom of the pay scale – committed to the principles of decent work, challenging neoliberal agendas and promoting the value of intellectual endeavour.By drawing together a collection of personal reflections from sociologists of work and economic life, the BSA Work Employment and Economic Life study group demonstrated the power of a sociological conceptual vocabulary to represent the issues at stake. More widely, the BSA public statement supporting members affected by the strike attracted heartfelt appreciation from members and was the talk of the daily rally at Southampton, attracting new respect for our discipline across the University, and shaped the response from other professional associations. I know very well that there are limits on the BSA, as a charity, in what can be said about industrial disputes. Here we saw a well-timed and well-judged intervention, that really made a difference to members.
- April 2018 was my first BSA conference as President. It was my honour to present the annual prizes for Lifetime Achievement, to John Solomos, and best first book in Sociology (the Philip Abrams Memorial prize), to Lucy Mayblin. Preparing my short speech for each was a humbling experience. The commitment of each prize winner to their work as sociologists, to doing things that matter, really made me think about what we strive for as sociologists and why the work of the BSA in promoting our discipline – sometimes against the odds – is so very important. As too is recognising the highest achievements in doing this. Rewards, ritual and professional recognition matter. The BSA is very good at this.
- Fast forward to November, and the BSA held its first event inside Whitehall bringing together 25 eminent Digital Sociologists with policy officials in the auspicious surroundings of the Churchill Room (where the end of WW2 was declared). By organizing this as an Association event we aimed to show the range and power of sociological analysis for understanding and intervening in the digital world. We were certainly pushing at an open door. Two of the policy officials who spoke at the event had done Sociology degrees. There was no difficulty in starting the sociological discussion and already academic colleagues at the event have been asked to work more closely on key issues e.g. widening consultation beyond industry for the new Government digital strategy and improving approaches to digital literacy beyond teaching ICT and standard ‘online safety’. Again, we see the power of Sociology in action. It was my privilege as President to be able to organize this event – not something that would have been done without the backing of the BSA Digital Sociology Study Group, the BSA Events Team and the BSA Chief Executive, Judith Mudd.
These are my personal highlights. I hope that 2018 held others for you. The BSA makes a difference. How it does that is up to us! Get involved!!