This final chapter looks at a short, but densely argued article by Theodor W. Adorno that was first published in 1965 as a handbook entry titled ‘Society’. Adorno agrees with Durkheim that society is a bit like a thing – ‘thing-like’ – but emphasises that it is also very different from actual things as it cannot be experienced immediately: society is essentially ‘mediation’, namely a specific form of relationships between people, between people and things, and between people treating each other as things. Not only ‘society’, though, but also individuals are mediated – structured, ruled, determined – by institutions and cannot exist otherwise. Institutions, in turn, cannot exist without that which they mediate – us. We made this world, and therefore we can re-make it, too. The problem is that we made it in such a way that it has become quasi-independent, namely thing-like, and this in particular makes it so difficult for us to change it. A tricky situation…
The ‘Excursus on The Stranger’ is one of the most influential sections of Georg Simmel’s Sociology (1908) and is examined in this chapter. Simmel describes with ‘the stranger’ a person who has come from elsewhere but stays, and is thereby close and remote at the same time, detached and attached: the stranger belongs and has a function but could probably leave any moment if s/he chose to.
This chapter examines sections from Emile Durkheim’s The Rules of Sociological Method (1895). Durkheim argues here that it is the purpose of science to disturb established ideas. One such idea is that things (in society as elsewhere) exist for the purpose of fulfilling the function that they happen to be fulfilling. Against this he hammers home the need to distinguish between the cause of something and the function it has assumed (or has been subsumed to). Most of all, Durkheim’s insistence that society is not something that merely happens in our minds but that it actually is something thing-ly, out there, for real, acknowledges the fact of alienation that also others like Marx reflect on.
Auguste Comte was the main promoter of the concepts of ‘sociology’ and ‘positivism’. This chapter examines his early programmatic text ‘Plan of the Scientific Work Necessary for the Reorganization of Society’ (1822-24) that sets out what the new science of sociology was to be all about: the safeguarding of the changes brought about by the French Revolution, but also the safeguarding of (modern, still precarious) society from the perceived danger of more revolutions to come.
Although society maintains that ‘woman is always woman’, it also complains that ‘woman is losing her ways’. Apparently not every female human being is a woman – the latter requires possession of a mysterious something called ‘femininity’. In The Second Sex (1949), one of the emblematic texts of the feminist tradition, Simone de Beauvoir argues that ‘civilization as a whole’ produces ‘woman’. To be this or that means to have become, though, and thus not necessarily to remain, this or that. One must actively become what society has set out in advance, and thereby one may also change it (sometimes more, sometimes less).
In recent years there has been a growing (but still somewhat modest) interest
in the methodological affordance of observational sketching, a method
historically associated within the social sciences with anthropological
fieldwork. This chapter outlines some of the ways in which observational
sketching might be used in broader research contexts, based on an
experimental collaboration between ‘urban sketcher’ Lynne Chapman and
members of the Morgan Centre for Research into Everyday Lives. The chapter
outlines some of the approaches adopted and includes some simple exercises
designed to encourage reluctant sketchers to overcome their anxieties about
putting pencil to paper. In addition to its potential usefulness as a tool
for generating research data, the chapter also highlights the value of
sketching as a tool for thinking and feeling.
Managing multiple embodiments in the life drawing class
There has been growing interest in the role of sketching, drawing and other
forms of artistic and/or creative practice as a research method within (and
beyond) the social sciences. Such practices are often seen as particularly
useful at engendering the slow contemplation and critical reflexivity
demanded in order to immerse oneself in the field of inquiry and, in turn,
to enable embodied learning to inform understanding. In this chapter I
consider how auto-ethnography, as a state of ‘reflexive-thinking-being’,
employed here within a space of artistic activity (life drawing classes),
has enabled me to explore geographies of bodies, nudity, sexuality and
intimacy by moving – physically, conceptually and recursively. As a life
drawing practitioner of more than ten years, a life model of over six years
and a critical feminist cultural geographer of nine years, these are my
everyday identities. I relate how I manage opportunities and risks in an
open-ended research project situated in a life drawing class. I focus on the
shifting roles and positionalities I embody in this project, rather than the
related but also separate drawings and interviews that form part of it.
In British suburban life, people encounter all kinds of creatures.
Relationships with household pets provide an obvious example, but many other
non-human animals populate the suburban neighbourhood – from garden birds to
geese in the park, from infestations of house-mice to visiting hedgehogs. My
research explores these mundane engagements, in which humans reflect on what
it means to know, kill or care for other animals, and where we might witness
the everyday interface between the species. Here, I draw on my qualitative
research into these ordinary, often overlooked, human–animal encounters to
offer insights for an ‘ethnography of the mundane’. I suggest that attending
to the mundane calls for a deeply reflexive ethnographic practice which
incorporates the researcher’s own everyday life. I explore the value of a
‘sidelong’ kind of participant observation, and an alertness to asides,
jokes and the unsaid. And I suggest that this kind of ethnography involves
not only mastering the ‘art of listening’ (Back, 2007), but also developing
an ‘art of eavesdropping’.
Sarah Marie Hall, Laura Pottinger, Megan Blake, Susanna Mills, Christian Reynolds, and Wendy Wrieden
Food is the stuff of the everyday. Whether looking at its origins, cultural
relations, environmental impacts or economic implications, social
researchers have long been fascinated with food. With this chapter we centre
food and food-making practices, specifically food preparation and cooking,
exploring methods that allow for investigation of the effects of food as
object. Advancing current methodological approaches to foodstuffs, such as
the biography of things or 'follow the thing', we look at the transformation
of food; from ingredient, to par-cooked, to creation. With methods of
talking, doing and observing, in the guise of cook-alongs and
food-for-thought discussions, the material transformations of food are seen
Researching the everyday is more important and significant now than ever
before: beyond a fad or cultural currency, understanding the mundane is key
to critical and conceptual social science. But what is the everyday and how
do we research it? These questions have long perplexed social and cultural
theorists. While no firm consensus has ever been reached, what scholars do
agree on is that there is no 'one' everyday – that everyday lives are
multiple, messy and full of methodological possibilities. This introductory
chapter invites readers to comprehend everyday life as an exciting and
expanding field incorporating a wide range of interdisciplinary scholars. By
exploring the minutiae of daily experiences and ways of making sense of the
world we inhabit, the chapter also highlights the cultural, ethical, social
and political significance of mundane methods.