News coverage of protests and the activists which engage in them forms into patterns; media tends to highlight the extreme, irrational, angry, and violent segments of collective action (Corrigall-Brown and Wilkes 2012; Winter and Klaehn 2005). We can turn to the recent example of the Black Lives Matter movement shown shouting down presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

Why does the nature of news media depictions of activists’ emotional expressions matter? Evoking the wrong emotion in the public can alienate potential supporters. In the United States emotion and rationality are still often treated as dichotomous and mutually exclusive perspectives (Goodwin, Jasper, and Polletta 2001). Being classified as overly emotional or having the improper emotional response can undermine activist attempts to be considered legitimate in the eyes of the public.



Doubtless I am not alone among the contributors to Sociology Lens in having been exposed, during my first year as an undergraduate, to an array of foundational thinkers in sociology (and anthropology) who present human history as a movement away from ‘traditional’, ‘face–to–face’ or ‘kinship–based’ societies, towards those in which interaction and identity is less relational, and more individualized. Such theorizing is not only limited to the classical sociologists who wrote in the 1900s, like Ferdinand Tönnies and Émile Durkheim; it resurfaces again in the sociology of the 1990s. In the writings of Anthony Giddens, “the self” is seen less as a product of interactions and relations with others, and more as a matter of individual “self–fashioning.” Or, as Giddens (now Baron Giddens) wrote in 1991, “in the context of a post–traditional order, the self becomes a reflexive project” (p. 32).

And yet, this literature on individualization and self–fashioning as the signature mode of existence in ‘modernity’, associated not only with Giddens but also with Ulrich Beck and Zygmunt Bauman, becomes increasingly difficult to square with the ongoing proliferation of apparently ‘social’ measures and projects: from ‘social enterprise’ or ‘social business’ and ‘social return on investment’, to the even more ubiquitous social media platforms and social marketing initiatives. In the UK, the National Centre for Social Marketing describes social marketing as an approach that uses behavioural economics (see Roger Tyers’ post for Sociology Lens here) to change behaviour for the benefit of “society as a whole.” Similarly, the UK’s national body for social enterprise describes such enterprises as businesses that “trade to tackle social problems…when they profit, society profits.” And the New Economics Foundation’s vision of social return on investment tools are described as alternatives to conventional cost–benefit analysis, which “does not consider anything beyond simple costs and price.” Social return on investment tools thus incorporate “social factors” when accounting for the value generated by an investment. more...

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Last week I went to a workshop in London about nudging, titled “Silver Bullets Need A Careful Aim. Dilemmas in applying behavioural insights”. It was very interesting, and my gratitude goes out to the organisers who put together a really interesting day focused on the ethics and effectiveness of ‘Nudge’, which, seven years after Thaler and Sunstein’s book of the same name was published, still seems to be capturing the imagination of academics, marketers and policy-makers.

(If you have no idea what ‘Nudge’ means, check my previous post here) more...



Last summer, I was sent a message from a complete stranger through OkCupid, asking if I would like to meet him for a no-strings attached snog*. The message went like this:

You know when you’re sitting on the tube, on a bus, or even at your desk at work and someone walks past and you think: god damn, I wish I could just snog them right now. I mean, it happens on the screen all the time doesn’t it? People are always just randomly snogging strangers in the street and then walking off.
And I got to thinking, that looks like fun. But I don’t think I’m brave enough to actually ask anyone for a snog in the street in real life. And probably asking ruins it, anyway – in the adverts they just *know* that a snog’s about to happen, don’t they?
So I was wondering: would you like to meet me for a no strings attached snog? The way I see it, a day with a snog in it is almost always better than a day without. And snogs are good wholesome fun – no mess in your head or your bed.
We could choose a bridge in London and each walk from the opposite side to meet in the middle at an arranged time. Then we’d smile at each other, say hello, check that there’s some physical attraction (you sort of instantly know, don’t you? If there’s nothing, we can just turn around) and then have a snog.
Then just walk away again, like in a diet coke ad or something – have some fun and make a fantasy a reality? Don’t tell me you’ve never thought about kissing a perfect stranger…


Being a sociologist, and obsessively interested in relationships and sexuality, (and, partly, a hot-blooded woman) I couldn’t resist the opportunity to be part of snoggy a social experiment. Already it raised questions in my head about the nature of online dating, romance, and gender norms. Would it be perpetuating romantic ideals to do something ‘just like a Diet Coke advert‘? Was saying ‘yes’ to him asking for a kiss an act of consent? It felt like it might just be replicating typical gender norms (man asks woman for a kiss, how very Jane Austen…) Or maybe it could be empowering and agentic to admit that I we want to kiss a perfect stranger. more...


Good writing is crucial to sociology. For sociology to thrive as a discipline we sociologists have to be able to communicate our research effectively to a range of audiences. There are many great writing guides out there (Write for Research is especially good: This list of tips reflects my experience of writing a sociology PhD. It’s by no means an exhaustive or authoritative list and some readers may disagree with some of its items: nevertheless it reflects three years focussing on trying to improve my own writing. As student advice month draws to a close, I think this list therefore may be useful to some student sociologists. more...

The PhD Thesis. The most labour-intensive doorstop imaginable.

It seems rather presumptuous of me to give advice on blogging. I am hardly a power-blogging Pulitzer-prize winning writer and journalist. No-one describes me as a ‘commentator’, my posts don’t go viral, my number of twitter followers is not quite up there with Stephen Fry, by a factor of about er… forty five thousand. But that’s not why I do this, and that’s not why I’ve been blogging for Sociology Lens for well over a year now.  There’s a lot to be said about blogging and how it can both complement and supplement the ‘day-job’ of being a PhD student. more...

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A couple of weeks ago, in my Social Issues in Qualitative Methodology course, I was assigned to give a presentation on the “technologies of interviewing.” At first, I was told by older cohort members that I was lucky because I had the easiest topic: “Just do the history of the recorder.” As I googled the topic, thinking that it would then be some cool history and development I found that my predecessors had just done a timeline of photos of how the recorder has changed over time. How boring! Who would want to sit through a 20 minute lecture, slide after slide, talking about the recorder, especially when we’re supposed to be talking about the social issues involved in qualitative methods?

My advice to you, graduate students, today is to avoid this typical pitfall in your methods classes (as both student and instructor): revamp your lessons so they can be of some actual use! Below I offer an example of how I revamped this “simple and easy topic” to something that students can actually use and learn from.




When ‘A’ claims they invented ‘X’ as a sociologist of technology my default position is often to respond with scepticism: as I did when I saw this picture above. I understand why Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Vint Cerf would claim they invented the World Wide Web and the Internet respectively. The status of inventor gives each of them a public plinth from which they can discuss how they think digital technology should be mobilised for the benefit of society. Examining their claims to fame is not an attempt to debunk these men’s status: it’s an exercise to show that technology never emerges in isolation. The sociology of technology tells us the invention and development of the Web and the Internet, like all technology, has to be understood within a broader social context that involves networks of people and technology as well as cultural values. I can’t do this statement justice here. By applying this logic to these t-shirts in the picture above I can, however, begin to show the value of the sociology of technology. more...

Is cash on the way out? In my own daily routines, I find myself using coins and notes less and less, to the point when I am often stuck for a pound coin to use the lockers at the swimming pool, or I audibly ‘tut’ when shopkeepers tell me there’s a charge for using my card. I just don’t carry cash very often. In fact, I don’t even physically use my debit card very often. I’ve got so used to using my phone or computer to buy stuff that I’ve learnt my 16-digit card number off by heart – a ‘skill’ which is either impressive or just a bit worrying.

Maybe this is a sign that I’m moving up the social hierarchy. After all, using less cash is associated with higher socio-economic status according to the Payment Council, so perhaps I’m moving up the foodchain. Or, as I’ve often feared, I’m not that special at all. This is a change which is affecting most people as we move into a world of contactless payments and methods of moving money around which might shake up those much-beloved institutions: The Banks. more...

Satellite Earth Image

It can be pretty difficult, sometimes, to justify your commitment to ‘ethnographic’ methods. Partly, perhaps, because most people don’t quite know what being ethnographic means. But also because ‘being ethnographic’ is often devalued by the very people with whom British social scientists are increasingly encouraged to engage as part of the ‘Impact’ agenda. I do not think I am alone among doctoral students in having struggled to explain to the ‘technical’ and policy experts I encountered during my research quite what ethnography is, and why anyone would bother with it – or listen to someone who had. Soundbites from Bronislaw Malinowski (whose Argonauts of the Western Pacific and Coral Gardens and their Magic constitute the ultimate methodological reference point for many anthropologists)[1] such as ‘ethnography is about researching from “the native’s point of view” and attending to the “imponderabilia of everyday life”’ are (in addition to sounding uncomfortably dated) unlikely to convince someone who is not already on board. Ethnography quite simply produces ‘data’ (or, more appropriately, ‘narratives’) that are not formalized enough for the tastes of many who occupy powerful positions in business, development and government (but see this for an alternative view). Unless, of course, you accept, with Edward Said (and more recently David Price) that ethnography – and the ‘area expertise’ derived from its practice – is implicated in both earlier colonial, and contemporary American, military expansion. So what (if any) kind of relationship might there be between the type of knowledge produced by ethnography, and the wider power structures in which a researcher operates?