Sociology

Marcel Stoetzle

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.

in Beginning classical social theory
Marcel Stoetzle

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.

in Beginning classical social theory
Marcel Stoetzle

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 Beginning classical social theory
Observational sketching as method
Sue Heath and Lynne Chapman

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.

in Mundane Methods
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Managing multiple embodiments in the life drawing class
Rebecca Collins

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 Mundane Methods
Capturing ordinary human–animal encounters
Becky Tipper

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’.

in Mundane Methods
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Material methods for exploring food and cooking
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 anew.

in Mundane Methods
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Mundane methods and the extra-ordinary everyday
Sarah Marie Hall and Helen Holmes

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.

in Mundane Methods
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Unfolding oral history methods
Alison Slater

Martin Ball (2005) uses the textile metaphors of pleats and folds to explain the writing of history, where historians choose which points to bring together, what to conceal and what to reveal. This chapter applies these ideas to stories of clothes told from the perspective of memory. It uses oral testimonies from women who lived in the North West of England during the Second World War to unpack – or unfold – what their clothing memories say about their lives at that time. Listening to how these narratives are told, what is said and what is left unspoken demonstrates how our clothing practices are interwoven into our everyday lives, our sense of self and our sense of belonging to a wider groups of people, both at the time when garments were worn and at the time they are remembered. The chapter also provides practical advice for other researchers through its analysis.

in Mundane Methods
Object interviews as a means of studying everyday life
Helen Holmes

Since the material turn researchers have been exploring new ways to engage with the objects and materials of everyday life. Such methods aim to overcome subject–object binaries, placing the very substance of materials at the core of their inquiry (Gregson and Crewe, 1998). This chapter takes one such approach – object interviews – to explore how objects and materials structure our everyday lives and relationships. This method involves not only unearthing the significance of objects to their owners, but also, importantly, investigating the biography of the object itself. Drawing on the work of Humphries and Smith (2014) such an approach reveals an object’s materiality, biography and practice. It explores how an object’s material qualities – its fibres, textures, patterns and forms (Miller, 2005) – influence the relationship we have with it. Objects form part of networks with other objects, they have past and future lives, they enable and afford certain practices and activities, and they often play a central role in the relationships we have with others. They are a crucial component in everyday life. This chapter offers empirical examples of object interviews, alongside tips on how to use this method both as a form of inquiry and a focus of study.

in Mundane Methods