Time out

I’m at the point where I’m conferenced out. It’s been a pretty busy few days.

By habit I’m a person who needs time to myself. I usually spend a couple of hours, most days, writing. And as often as I can, I find time for apparently mindless activity that allows mind wandering, the kind of generative daydreaming that de Certeau describes so brilliantly. When I don’t have these spacetimes, I reach a point where I can’t do any more.

Right now I need some time and space to think about the idea of Undisciplining and what it represents.

UNdisciplining seems to mean challenging familiar sociological concepts. Engaging with other disciplines interested in similar topics and ideas. Trying out new methods. Experimenting with different platforms and media for communicating the work. Blurring the boundaries between social action and research. And being more inclusive of researchers at all stages of their careers.

There’s a desire, a kind of conference affect, a yearn to be experimental, innovative, activist.

But I’m wondering how far this goes, how far it can go. As someone yesterday pointed out there are serious institutional pressures to do and be disciplinary – teaching, jobs, audits and so on.

Undisciplining feels this morning rather like a melting ice cream. There is still a pretty solid and hard core of academic sociology at its heart, with a lot of fluidity at the edges.

Is that OK? Enough already? I don’t know. And who am I to say anyway? And can I say this any more clearly at this point? Probably not.

I need time and space to think more about it.

Photo by Evan Kirby on Unsplash

Too too

Pat Thomson

Too busy to live blog

Too busy tweeting to live blog

Too parched to live blog

Too busy trying to work out what’s going on to live blog

Too keen to have a conversation with someone I haven’t yet talked with to live blog

To much lunch to digest to live blog

Too tired to live blog

Too hard to think of something else to say to live blog

Too close to drinks to live blog

Photo by Alain D Photo on Unsplash

Conference as Home

Post by Pat Thomson

I was speaking with one of my colleagues over dinner last night. We both work in education, a field where there are a number of cognate disciplines. Sociology is just one of them.

We both see ourselves as “doing” sociology in education. We are in fact in a conversation about whether we are sociologists, or people who think sociologically, revisiting the opening session on Wednesday.

Both of us have experienced the conference as being with “family”. Here, conversations about class, race and gender are the norm. The terms colonialism and imperialism are said without being defined – we all “know” what they mean. Here we don’t hesitate before making a comment, we don’t consider our lexicon or how to phrase a view to avoid a counter-productive response.

Our dinner time chat suggests that maybe we need to come to sociological conferences in order to have our disciplinary sense of “being” affirmed. There’s a sense of comfort in this conference, we are fish in water so to speak, being here. Even if we don’t know a lot of people, in disciplinary terms, we know everyone.

And we begin to plot an event back at work….

Care and the conference

Michaela Benson
It’s 5.30am on my third morning in Newcastle. I went to bed just after 11pm and found myself awake on and off throughout the night. A light sleeper ordinarily, this is not unusual even if it is not ideal in the context of a conference, exacerbated by sleeping in a strange place with strange sounds. I made myself doze for as long as I could, once the idea of being awake was firmly in my head, I knew I could doze no longer. Unfortunately, my difficulties in sleeping are one of the things that makes conferences overwhelming for me, and where my care for myself can fall down very quickly given the attractions of staying up late chatting with friends and colleagues (and the drinking that often accompanies this).

In the run up to the conference, I started to think about what care for myself might look like for this week. It started before the conference. A massage and pedicure on Saturday afternoon were one of the ways that I prepared myself for the conference—this may be too much detail but since I forgot to bring my sandals with me … my toenails are an almost-neon shade of pink. I packed my bag to include my running kit. I prepared a conference care kit for myself including a set of things that could help me with my sleep hygiene on the one hand, and a selection of everyday things that I might need over the course of the day—hand sanitizer, tissues, painkillers, effervescing vitamins, blister plasters. Preparing this kit made me calmer; I wanted to foreclose that situation I have found myself in so many times before of desperately-seeking-the-everyday-something-that-because-you-are-away-from-home-you-don’t-have. Trips to the chemist or the supermarket that just add to the inevitable stress of the conference.

Day One saw me up at this time and out running by the river. Emma Jackson, who co-edits the journal with me had made a point of telling me to bring my running kit with me to Newcastle. My trainers were the first thing to go into my suitcase. I know that running helps me to control my stress and that navigating the space of the conference might also require the time to gather our thoughts and decompress. Several of my other friends and colleagues here in Newcastle were also in contact in the weeks leading up to conference asking what they could do to support me at the conference, knowing that this is the first big conference I have ever been involved in leading. And even though I was talking the sociological and life with colleagues until 10.30pm, last night, the lights were out by 11pm. Care is there not only in what we do for ourselves as individuals, but is caught up in wider social relationships; it is what we do for one another and it is no small thing.

But I am mindful that just because I am in these relationships where care emerges organically—because I have ‘my people’ at the conference—doesn’t mean that for others that this is a space of care. I hope that all the careful thinking and planning that has gone into the conference, particularly its ambitions to do things differently, translates into care at the conference. That it is not left only to the individual to develop their own care practices to navigate the conference.

Making a sociological board game

Pat Thomson is writing and publishing this post in real time. The post will report first and then reflect. 

Alke and Katy share an interest in creative academic practice. Their workshop is on the use of a board game concept to visualise stages in a research project – or another academic practice. A board game can be used in three ways: (1) to design a research process, (2) monitor that process and (3) communicate results at the end. The goal of the workshop is to come up with a prototype game. The academic practice being developed in the workshop is the use of visualisation.

IMG_1286.JPGParticipants have brought with them a list of ten to twenty things involved in a research project. It is important to use an actual project, Alke says, rather than invent one, as this way you include the range of items that ma

Stage One. These ‘process’ points have to be turned into a flow-chart. People have to think about the order of their points, as well as consider the overall number that they have. Points are transferred to numbered post-its.

An example is pinned on the wall for people to look at – see left. It is a chart about an essay writing process. The steps are in purple.

One participant notes that some things don’t actually end – in both action research and ethnography for example, the research process is iterative and understanding grows over time. While these can be put on post-its they may have to be repeated.

Stage Two. The next stage involves game mechanics. People have to think about their favourite board game and note elements. Examples include:

  • random events e.g. landing on an unlucky square where they might get go to gaol cards or land on a ladder you fall down. Random events can be built in.
  • progression rules – you can’t move on a stage until you’ve completed the previous one. This might involve collecting, trading, accumulating points or money.

DgDrRmGW0AAqVOCPeople have to think about benefits and obstacles – random events, penalties, rewards, shortcuts. They are asked to put these ideas onto coloured post-its that are different from their process steps.. They can also use chance cards, if these fit with their game format; cards used to deliver random events. (Take a life crisis now. Your ethics committee asks for more information. There is some cathartic conversation going on.)

Stage Three: The “Visualise Impact” stage. Participants must now think about how their game is to be laid out. They are asked to think about what visuals might be used. Alke gives people permission to draw badly, but they are also urged to commit by using a big black marker. People have to think about the content or the process of their project – or both. The idea of a visual metaphor is offered – Alke used the metaphor of an iceberg for her essay writing game, and also the notion of a circus, drafting and redrafting.

DgDy76BW0AEqi3X.jpgPeople are directed to the posters around the room, actual examples of what other people have produced. Alke suggests that people think about the ways in which shape and colour might enhance their game.

The mechanics of the game are also discussed as they are being visualised. How do cards work? Where and how is chance to be built in?

And then – people are offered a fresh and large piece of card to use as the base for the game prototype, as well as the option of various coloured pens, cards, dice, counters and play money. “Put it all together” is the instruction.

And while the workshop has been going on, Alke has been documenting the various steps people are taking as a board game. Meta-game-boarding!

The workshop ends with volunteers presenting their game to the group. Applause. Applause.


(1) Live blogging. As I was writing this post in real time, I noticed that it is quite hard to reflect and record at the same time. It’s an issue that ethnographers are pretty familiar with. However the ethnographic research challenge is to stop too much reflection going on and obstructing the recording process. Here, the issue is about doing some reflection, and not simply record. The tension between the two writing/thinking processes goes to the question of liveness.

(2) Board game as a multi-use “tool”.  I am musing about whether it is more interesting to make a board game than to play it. Are both of these equally instructive?

(3) I am also thinking about the pleasures of making and how very rarely in academic conferences there are opportunities for people to use their imaginations and just “make stuff”.

the person/al and the structural?

posted by Pat Thomson

I’ve been musing – overnight sadly – about the apparent binary between the personal and the structural. As a feminist, any separation of the person, the body, affect, the haptic,  from the larger social, immediately arouses suspicion. I know of course of problem of individualising experience, of failing to recognise the ways in which the personal/the person is also social, political, economic and cultural. But I’m equally concerned when the focus falls primarily on the macro, on framings and (re)productions. The person/al is political and all that.

This idle wonder about structure and person/al wormed into my mind yesterday when I attended a workshop, run by Ruth Pearce, about action and research. Ruth’s workshop was designed to engage people in a conversation about when and how we might take action in our research – action that responded to an event or critical incident, action which changed the relationship between researcher and participants. What obligations do we have, Ruth asked, to our participants if we are part of the same community? If we are attempting to work in socially just ways with communities that are oppressed? And what obligations do we have to take action to look after ourselves if we are working with/in a project where the processes or relationships might endanger us, physically, emotionally? These questions erode the notion of a detached researcher, a notion which is variously seen as important to research practice and to the quality of the knowledge that is generated.

Since then, I’ve started to notice where and how the person/al and structural appear in conference conversations and presentations. The person can’t be ignored if we are talking about the injuries of class, gender and race and the practices in higher education that casualise employment and impose draconian performance expectations. And I’m musing on how much person-ning is about un-disciplining, undercutting, unlearning what it is that we might take for granted in the practices of sociological research. And then of course, how much this is simply another way to centre the human, as opposed to the non-human and the relationships and actions betwixt and between us…

live from breakfast

 (Monday morning. Breakfast room. Mostly empty tables and the sound of mildly offensive bland music in the background. )

So what’s the live in live methods? What is this live-ness? And what might be method-ical about being live?

This is a question.  I’ve spent a bit of the night contemplating it. (Why do hotels always have such hot covers? They really do keep me awake.) I’m now seated with my fruit and yoghurt thinking that I really must get this post done before I have to make the move to the conference venue, the Baltic. ( Don’t spill the coffee on the key board Pat.)

I don’t think live method is actually what I’ve just done. It’s not a blow by blow account of events in the way, say, that a football match might be reported, or my breakfast. Although, I contradict myself, there might be elements of this kind of this-is-what’s-going-on-now account – or even a kind of stream of consciousness, in live method. But if this was the case, it would be because the writer had made a decision to convey something important through writing in this way. A here-and-now account isn’t required for live – it’s only this if the writer decides it’s the way they want to make text. Live might be someone reflecting on their experience of the conference, and using a kind of presentism to convey something of the affect.

But not necessarily.

To me, live method is a way of working with immediate experience to record and analyse. So, rather than live method being the equivalent of journalism – or more appropriately for a bunch of academics – ethnographic field notes, it’s likely to be in the form of reflective memos written very close to the time that events happened – and are still happening.

Live is reflective. Analytic. I imagine that our conference live blog posts will go from something particular to more distantiated and processed responses. The posts will be, if you like, sociological in their intent and practice. Even if they are presentist, they will have a more generalised aim. While our collective blog posts might address a range of topics – from exploring ideas and reporting interesting conversations to (re)presenting a carefully selected something from the proceedings – these will open up insights. They will refer to and contribute to the bigger conversation. They will be speculative. Understandings will emerge and coalesce. I hope to be surprised by the range of topics and genres that are actually discussed by our co-researchers.

We are interested in how to make live-ness happen. Daily publication on a blog offers a very particular opportunity for participants’ reflections to feed back into events, here the conference proceedings, adding layers of reflexivity. Live-ness is about the capacity to make analysis and conversation at the time, in the time. It will be interesting to see whether this reflexive time-ly offer (what we in education call an affordance) is taken up, and if so, how.

And we also have live – and hive. We are working with a collective of volunteer bloggers. There won’t be a one-best view of the conference. There will be multiple perspectives, experiences and texts. We hope that this whole will amount to more than the various, separate accounts. But will it? We just don’t know yet.

Using blogging as live method , as we are doing it, is an experiment. In the spirit of the conference we have set up a project and a kind of “alongside laboratory”. While on the one hand, we can explore the ways in which an academic conference functions as an arena for knowledge production – and in the “undisciplining” conference case, knowledge deconstruction and disruption – on the other hand, we also have a platform we can use to  examine the ways in which we think about the processes and the investigation per se. In other words, we can use social media to explore “the conference” as a particular and a more general academic phenomenon, while also thinking about the possibilities of live method, and social media as live method, at the same time.

Or, as Mark puts it, it’s a lot of meta-geekery. (Bloggeration, I’ve let my coffee go cold. Must get more coffee. Puts pear in bag for later, hoping it won’t squash. )