Ending where I began #undisciplining

I’m writing this post from the same cat cafe where I began live blogging on Sunday afternoon. It feels like this was more than a few days ago, probably inevitably given how exhausting this week has been. Most of this was self-inflicted. The conference was preceded by one of the busiest months of my life and I didn’t prepare as much as I could have. But I also didn’t realise how much more complex it would be to organise an event of this kind in an unfamiliar venue. Novel session formats and the absence of the familiar scaffolding of the university converged to produce all manner of contingencies. It was inevitable I would feel stretched because I was co-ordinating the digital plan for the conference, leading the live blogging project with Pat, convening a slightly unusual session and ensuring the fluctuating AV requirements of the sessions were met.

It was also the first event I’ve organised since beginning an experiment with giving up drinking a couple of months ago. It became clear to me in the last few days how alcohol can displace stress, providing a hedonistic end point to an enjoyable day and facilitating detachment in the evening. I was much more present with myself than I would otherwise have been, as has been the case for the last two months. But when chronic organisational stress combines with recurrent social awkwardness, self-presence isn’t always a welcome thing. It was nonetheless an important learning experience, with this live blog inviting me to reflect in an extended way on how I experience conferences and what value I (fail to?) find in them. Ironically enough this included the realisation that I’m much less comfortable sharing myself through digital platforms than I had once been. This is particularly the case for Twitter, increasingly something I feel uncomfortable with as much as I still recognise it can be indescribably useful in professional settings. The experience of publicly reflecting during a time of immense stress has left me rethinking how I use social media, as well as how this can leave me being used by social media. The live blogging project has been immensely interesting on a number of different levels.

Though it might sound negative, it nonetheless feels congruent with the spirit of the conference. I have thought a lot in the last few days about a lot of different things. Our approach to social media was to encourage reflection, treating this as part of the fabric of the conference which participants had to exercise responsibility over rather than being a singular activity we issued rules for. The prospect of institutionalised meta-reflection was what animated this live blogging project. Furthermore reflection is a precondition for doing things differently in the way we aspired to with this conference. Therefore while I’m taking my own reflections offline for now, it seems important we leave this live blog open for some time. If you’ve been part of the project then please continue to upload your reflections. If you’ve not been part of it but would like to contribute something then please get in touch with me. Once Pat and I do a debrief, we’ll get in touch with everyone who participated and plan next steps. Meanwhile back to the cats!

Reflections on Live Blogging

By Catherine Price

I’m glad I took part in the live blogging project as it has been worthwhile to see how it affects the conference experience. I’ve found it quite tiring as there is so much to think about! A blog needs structure and a narrative to it, so you have to think and reflect on what you are going to say. But what do you talk about? What will be interesting for the audience? This is something else to think about and consider.

I also found myself considering the logistics. Where do I sit so as not to disturb anyone? Do I make notes first and then blog? Or do I just blog? I found myself feeling quite uncomfortable when I was asking myself these questions. I felt exposed and self-conscious. What will people think of me? Will they think I’m not interested and paying attention to what is going on in the room? Actually, I’m paying attention and probably more so than I would do normally. It really takes a lot of concentration.

Time is another important factor. How do you fit blogging in? I managed to write short posts but found I didn’t have time to write anything longer.

Out of curiosity, I tried my own experiment yesterday. I’ve been reflecting on the blogging experience over the last few days and I wanted to see if I felt any different with live tweeting. I live tweeted during the Sociology of Stigma session and I found it so much easier. I wasn’t asking myself so many questions. I presume this is because live blogging and live tweeting have very different roles to play in the conference setting. I was using live tweeting for reporting statements people were making. I didn’t need to concentrate as much with live tweeting as for the live blogging.

It’s been an interesting experience and I’m pleased I’ve had the opportunity to participate. However, I think I’ve got unanswered questions about how live blogging makes me feel and I need to reflect on these further.

Beyond the conference

by Michael Toze

Final day of Undisciplining today, and it’s been good. I didn’t book onto the conference dinner last night, so walked back to where I’m staying in Gateshead, thinking through papers in my head.

This is the first specifically ‘sociological’ conference I’ve been to. I’ve done health conferences and LGBT conferences and trans conferences, and in those spaces I’ve tended to see myself firmly in the sociological camp. At a sociological conference, I do feel a bit conscious of being somewhat on the fringes of sociology, so it’s nice to be at an event that’s dedicated to recognising and including those edges.

It’s been useful. There’s definitely some more sociological perspectives I can take away and apply to a half-written paper I was originally thinking was going to be a fairly technical critique of healthcare structures. There’s also the germs of a new paper about health activism and neoliberal values. We also had a really good discussion in the session I was involved in running yesterday, and that’s also given me some food for thought, both regarding research but also regarding activism. So for me, that’s what I’ll be taking forward from the conference.


By Janna Klostermann (@jannaKlos)

It’s been a pleasure to participate in a conference at such an incredible venue. I love a good contemporary art mag!

Lubaina Himid’s ground floor exhibit ‘Our kisses are Petals’ speaks to our conversations on the second floor of the BALTIC  Centre for Contemporary Art.

After a couple days of working out how we can make and learn from sociological contributions in art, academe and activism, it was nice to walk through Himid’s exhibit – taking it in, reading the fine print and adjusting the pulleys (after the go-ahead from the gallery worker).


Going live?

So, it turns out that I find live blogging difficult. Good to know.

This realisation has surprised me.

I’m accustomed to synchronously reporting from events via Twitter using both images and words. I volunteer to perform this role on a very regular basis. I’d even dare to say I enjoy it.

I’ve posted hundreds of tweets since arriving at #Undisciplining on Monday. Most of these have been posted synchronously (i.e. at the same time the activity is occurring), but not all. For example, my tweeting about ‘Make your own Sociological Board Game’ on Tuesday and the ‘Feminist Walk of the City’ on Wednesday took place after the events had ended. I valued taking my time when alone in the hotel to review and carefully edit my pictures and to reflect on my handwritten notes. I took more time to craft and present my reporting and reflections on these sessions via Twitter.

I suppose the reason for tweeting asynchronously on these occasions was partly pragmatic. I was co-facilitating the board games workshop with Alke, which meant prioritising interaction with participants. And during the Feminist Walk of the City I was completely engaged in the flows of movement and conversation as well as thinking and listening. I also was lacking pockets, which meant juggling map, notebook, camera and ‘companion book’ from hand to hand. Not being still made it harder for me to tweet there and then.

I guess I filled up my time at #Undisciplining with multiple conversations both in person and via Twitter. It has been a very sociable experience. But I left myself no space or time for deeper (perhaps slower) thinking and reflection, which I felt I needed to construct a blog post.

Perhaps I’ll write a blog post on the train home. Will that still count as ‘live’? Or will I be the first person to write a ‘dead’ blog post?





(how) does the sociological speak to/with/from the earth?

How, why, when and where might the sociological speak to or with the earth, the biological or the ‘environment’? This is the question that’s enlivened me through this last morning of the conference.

Questions around the uses and abuses of science were sparked off at the Fireside Chat this morning, discussing the work of Ros Edwards, Val Gillies and Nicola Horsley. The authors spoke so evocatively of the ‘new speak’ of good parenting and the uses and abuses of the ‘biosocial’ in legitimating neoliberal parenting ideologies: Training for “good” parenting “skills” of making eye contact, stimulating synapses and developing learning strategies will produce good little bundles of social capital, fit and productive contributors to the nation and economy. Bringing to light the role of “biosocial” discourse in disciplining, demonizing and individualising parents – and mothers in particular – is vital. But does the sociological have a role beyond defending the social?

I didn’t raise my hand fast enough to ask the question I had rehearsed on paper: Given the racist, neoliberal and misogynistic uses of biology – do we (who think sociologically) have a responsibility not to ‘leave biology to the biologists’ – to paraphrase Elizabeth Wilson?

To me, this morning’s speakers – including Jenny Reardon – invite us not to dismiss the biosocial, the quantitative, geology, biology and environmental sciences outright – but to critically engage and redefine.

What might biology, neuroscience or environmental sciences do and look like if they drew on the critical, feminist matters of care of de la Bellacasa or the scientia of Sylvia Wynter? What would the sociological look like if it spoke to and with radically redefined science?

These are questions that I’ll carry from the conference back into my work – teaching, defending and perhaps re-defining ‘the social and cultural’ within a School of Applied Sciences.

A Fireside Chat: Defending the Social

‘This is a mind-blowing panel’ (opening comment in the Q&A)

It’s rare, but when you go to a conference and come away feeling that you are being challenged to push against the boundaries of what we are (not) allowed to talk about in our disciplinary silos, then that is good.

This is what happened just now to those of us listening to the authors of a paper that won a prize for outstanding scholarship in 2016, and their respondents (Marie-Andrée Jacob (far left of the photo) replaced one of the panelists but I don’t know which one – apologies for missing that info – I blame the live blogging!).

Convenor: Dr Mark Carrigan (Sociological
Review Foundation)
Panel members: Professor Ros Edwards
(University of Southampton), Professor Val
Gillies (University of Westminster) and Dr
Nicola Horsley (Royal Netherlands Academy of
Arts and Sciences)

The paper in question, which I haven’t read but clearly now need to, seems to have dealt a hefty blow to the way science is abused to socially engineer social policy. Specifically, to how the UK government has managed to spin a narrative on how to teleologically raise children from the very early years so that they turn out ‘good’.

The big questions the panalists tried to address were:

  • What are the risks of undisciplining? In this case, using Biology and Neuroscience (nature) to influence and replace the Social (nurture).
  • Can doing Sociology be detrimental to the Sociological? In this case, does informing social policy by drawing on science harm social relations by quantifying them and measuring them (for example, telling parents how many times they need to make eye contanct with their hildren to ensure they do not become dysfunctional).
  • Can nature change nurture?
  • In the politics of parenting, what causes life chances to be reduced?

The problem was framed more or less in these terms:

early years intervention assumes the root of social problems lie in childhood development. The logic is that you can head off social dysfunction by targeting certain individuals for interventions. Nobody resists this trope. It is not about helping families but about surveillance with muscular punitive interventions. The neuroscience is used in family courts to remove children from their parents.

How do we retain a notion of the social in all of this?


Other comments included:

The social is a real battleground, the right has always denied the social existed, now there is an attempt to colonise the social.

We (as a society/government policy) have moved over to seeing the social as the interpersonal rather than more collective understandings of the social. This eclipses other kinds of social.

This is what is good about the conference: it foregrounds more collective understandings of the social.

One of the respondents then took the darker political implications of this and claimed it led to the social bioengineering of eugenics:

When you read something it becomes imbricated in other things you are reading as you try to align it.

Deleuzian fascism, neo-reactionsim, Nick Land is responsible for this (University of Warwick). Biological exegesis are foregrounded. That is where the money has gone. The Dark Enlightenment: documents that draw upon books like the ‘Bell Curve’ … eugenics – we draw dark conclusions. The shift that explains Trump is a biosocio one, it is a form of accelerated eugenics.

We are not attending to the forms of deleuzian fascism that we see in the world. How is biological discourse being used in a contemporary neofascist philosophy?

And, on the topic of the sociological dimension that interests me, specifically, I was struck, once again, by the way Marie-Andrée Jacob (one of the Editors of the Sociological Review) manages to vividly bring to life the performative and centrally powerful role that the writing plays in the shaping of knowledge (she did this in her opening discussion panel on Tuesday, too):

The paper is a beautifully written and stern warning. It’s a hell of a ride. It has fast rhythms, great paper.

The paper is an invitation to look at the backstage of these powerful coalitions.

The language of the paper … it is effective how you use the language, you don’t spare us, you make it hard, it’s not gentle, it is an orgy of Newspeak … the paper is full of Newspeak, it is the hope that nurture can change nature

It reminded me that ‘innocence can have a cruel smile’ (Milan Kundera)


The Camerawoman

Since this whole fireside chat was being diligently filmed, I invite anybody who is interested in these issues to watch it (and put right the trivialisations and misunderstandings that arise from my ignorance, and the speed of taking notes and blogging in (almost) real time).





by Jill Jameson (Echoeedge)

Reflecting again on the #Undisciplining conference and @TheSocReview Manifesto highlighted by @drkatyvigurs and others, a friendly vitality, passion for critical rigour in challenging social injustices across the boundaries of ‘the sociological’, stand out from this remarkably innovative event organised by The Sociological Review.

From @BeaHorn254’s #Undisciplining cat who can’t be controlled :-), to Michaela Benson’s thoughtful Care and the Conference and Pat Thomson’s warm note on Conference as Home, a Sociological ‘family’, easily sharing exchanges, #Undisciplining has impressed as a dynamic, edgy, creatively inclusive gathering.

‘Demonstrably alive’, in effect, despite understandably flagging energies at times, from the amazing Feminist Walks, the History and Sociology Walk, Sociological Games and creatively tweeted images, to the scholarly Keynote lectures and serendipitous experimental shared live conversational blogging.

Through it all, is a lightness of touch, an integrity of serious intent and playfulness.  This energy is much needed, given multiple stressors of precarity, injustice and inequality in academic labour, the grinding structural pressures of overwork, intrusive marketisation, metrics and managerialism, never mind daily horrors on the news ….

For those who could not be at #Undisciplining, the curated materials, blogs, tweets and references enable reflection & follow-up reading of The Sociological Review. I’m looking forward to (hopefully!) seeing recordings of all the Keynote speeches, notably by Dr Ayona Datta, Prof Satnam Virdee’s annual @TheSocReview lecture at #Undisciplining, and to reading Tyler and Slater’s The Sociology of Stigma monograph.

The need for quiet reflection comes through as the conference draws to a close: my huge thanks to all the organisers, notably Pat, Mark, Michaela, Bev, Jenny and all my fellow bloggers, for this fantastic experience, enabling me to be part of such an imaginative live blogging experiment. Still wishing I could have been there! Maybe next year …. 🙂


Undisciplining like a moth to a flame

By Janna Klostermann (@jannaKlos)

Yesterday I undisciplined like a moth to a flame.

In my ‘How to recover from care’ session, I performed a couple works in progress and invited a collaborative exploration of care and personal storytelling.

Let’s just say, it was a workout.

My guiding questions for the session were: How can we use stories to reimagine care on a different metaphorical basis? How can personal or creative storytelling contribute to sociological projects?

Right now, the day after, my answer to both questions is something like … ‘proceed with caution’ or ‘brace yourselves’.

I opened the workshop with a personal story about care as a relationship and about turning toward the disruption that disability makes. I also presented feminist theories of care and feminist insights on how storytelling can be a radical way of generating knowledge.

I loved participants’ enthusiasm for ‘fem’ writing and for stories that write you. I also loved seeing sociologists whip up their hands when I tracked their creative and caring outputs, for example, by asking who had cared for family and friends, who had worked at a social care organization, who had supported someone at the beginning or end of their life, who had helped out with a hangover, who had changed a diaper.

It was fun,           at first,             but hard to keep up the undisciplining momentum.

Midway through the session I shared a poetic work-in-progress to narrate ordinary caring encounters or micro-aggressions. The piece was an attempt to experiment with telling personal stories in the tradition of contemporary American lyric essayists and prose poets. (Yeah, ambitious, I know).

Shortly after reading it, analytical feedback on the financialization of care, on value production and on mothering subjectivities rolled in from the two sociologists I most admire at the conference.

I found myself …

basking in their presence and intellectual insights …

blurting references to my larger doctoral project, to my RAship on care and ageing and to my engagement with feminist theories of care (to show I wasn’t just a poet?) …

scrambling to digest, imbibe and jot down any and all one-liners that could support my future work …

scrapping my plan to have participants narrate their own ordinary encounters and create a collective memoir …

wishing I had presented a conference paper rather than a work of art …

half-scrambling, half-leaning into it, over-thinking it, rolling with it …

undisciplining like a moth to a flame.

Looking back now, I feel grateful for such a lively discussion and for sharing space with so many rad thinkers and carers. I also see how dizzying it can be to undiscipline from the edges.

Outside/In Place

by Kate Carruthers Thomas

Happy accidents of conference programming yesterday took me outside the conference venue, further into the city and the North East region, both physically in terms of the Feminist Walk and intellectually/visually in terms of the Tyneside Specificities session.  This second day was in striking contrast to the first which I spent entirely in the conference venue, engaged in the processes and practices of conferencing and the developing sociality of Undisciplining.  Fresh air and physical exercise were welcome antidotes to that interior intensity.

The Feminist Walk offered opportunities not only for my Fitbit step count however, but more importantly, to engage with the city’s feminist history through visible landmarks, testimonies and voices – participants each carried a book from the Women Artists of the North East Library and were encouraged to read aloud from it.   Back within the walls of the BALTIC, the Tyneside Specificities then provided interdisciplinary perspectives on and wider insights into, the city/region: on Newcastle urban planning and consultation and the maps of the unbuilt; on Gateshead women experiencing the ‘slow violence’ of austerity (just beyond the BALTIC); on the curious case of the ‘splintered’ Englishness of the North East and on the managed disposal of social housing in Hordern, Co. Durham, where the blank-eyed, empty homes are part of a contraflow of capital and people between the North and South East of England.

Each of the above, in different ways, drew on ideas of place and people, on the everyday, to deeply consider lives ‘in place’.  Each enriched my own experience of being in  place, in this city, at this time.  Live blogging has, for sure, enriched that experience further.