Category Archives: Culture

Tech companies should employ more social scientists: here’s why.




I don’t want to stereotype computer scientists. I still cringe when I remember clumsily insulting a room of (mainly) computer scientists at a conference by showing the wallet inspector scene from The Simpsons. There are, however, some computer scientist communities who give all computer scientists a bad name. Witness, for example, the infamous kick-starter project to give a food substitute called Soylent to poor people (which for non-sci-fi fans took its name from the dystopian film called Soylent Green within which people are recycled into the eponymous food substitute and fed to the masses). Less crass, but arguably just as clueless is Google’s inability to recognise its Google Glasses are not cool and that some people would be upset if Google Glass wearers were, like mobile CCTV units, recording our movements and quirks. Equally, researches at Facebook seemingly lacked the necessary empathy to predict the notorious manipulation of user’s emotions experiment would cause widespread disquiet. (more…)

Crisp Culture: a national obsession.

[Source: By Gerolsteiner91 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons]


In the UK, this week marks the end of British Summer Time. The clocks go back an hour, its dark by teatime, and the sky turns a uniquely depressingly shade of gunboat grey until March. Yes, The Long Dark Winter Of The Soul starts here. For millions of Britons, keeping Seasonal Affective Disorder at bay will mean spending many hours in that great British sanctuary: THE PUB. There will be beer, there will be football, there will be whingeing and moaning, and there will definitely be crisps. Lots and lots of crisps*.

Crisps might not be the most sociological of topics for me to discuss here on Sociology Lens, but they are certainly a valid cultural signifier. Until I started working alongside many foreign students in the UK, I never really questioned how ubiquitous these potato snacks really are, and how strange our national obsession can seem to newcomers. You know something is deeply embedded in one’s culture when you never think to question it.   (more…)

Are We All Expert Impostors?

Image credit: PhD Comics

In a previous post (which can be found here), I mentioned the ‘impostor phenomenon’ and how I and many people I know who work in academia have experienced it in some form or another during their career. The ‘imposter syndrome’ (identified by Clance & Imes, 1978, pp. 1-2), the feeling that leads the self-declared impostors to believe that they are not intelligent and that anyone who thinks otherwise has simply been fooled, is usually accompanied by a fear that one day some significant person (a colleague, boss, parent, or partner) will catch them out and realize that they are a fraud. It is incredibly common among academics and is even more common among those who are not in the ‘elite’ category normally associated with academia, i.e. white, wealthy men.  Thus, impostor phenomenon is particularly prevalent among women, ethnic minorities and/or any under represented populations (see e.g. Peteet, Brown, Lige & Lanaway, 2014).

As impostor phenomenon has entered mainstream discourses surrounding academic success (and failure), numerous books and articles (such as Clance, 1985, this Forbes article, or this advice for new students at MIT) attempt to offer ways to understand and deal with this newly acquired insecurity; the fear of failing because you feel like an impostor. Oftentimes, it is said that feeling like an impostor is something that we need to overcome, and that ‘faking it’ is an important part of doing so (for example, Amy Cuddy’s TED talk, 2012). This is almost certainly the case for people in academia who are undermining themselves unjustly, particularly women and first generation graduate students who tend to face significant internal barriers to success (see e.g. Gardner, 2013).  I would argue, though, that in some instances (particularly in my own experience) feeling like an impostor can be a legitimate emotion, because that is exactly what we are.


A Makeover for Cosmopolitan?

Source: Cosmopolitan Magazine, November 2014

Source: Cosmopolitan Magazine, November 2014


Every day I drive a half hour from my home to my office at the university and a half an hour from the university back home.  Like many of my peers, I pass time during my commutes listening to National Public Radio.  I know it is a bit of a cliché, the doctoral student in the sociology department listening to NPR every morning, but I really do feel as if my 60 minutes of NPR each day keep me on top of current issues in local and global politics, business, science and technology, and global health.  NPR is part of my routine and for the most part it is pretty predicable.

However, last week I was caught off guard by a segment in the special series “The Changing Lives of Women.”  I had heard a couple of other stories in the series.  There was a very interesting interview with the Navy’s first four-star admiral, Michelle Howard.  There was also a piece on female programmer who were pioneers of the computer revolution.  On October 14, 2014, the NPR series focused on Joanna Coles, the editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine.


Exhibit A: the Whites of the Eyes

Soc lens White

Under what conditions might it be ethical to refuse to meet or return someone’s gaze? Is it ever acceptable for a social scientist or journalist to write ‘with their eyes shut’? The notion that visual receptiveness can be a spur to urgent ethical response is captured in that familiar category of humanitarian action, ‘bearing witness’ (so much so, in fact, that we often forget about the work that must be done in order for witnesses to be created). At the same time, it is almost a sociological commonplace that to look is to do violence. From Michel Foucault’s ‘medical gaze’ – implying a mute body patiently set before the sovereign eye of a physician – we derive John Urry’s ‘tourist gaze’, and Raewyn Connell’s ‘imperial gaze’. The last is found wherever classical sociologists sought to generate what Connell calls a ‘synoptic view of human affairs from a great height,’ inserting vulgar classifications of social types into a hierarchy of peoples and nations that had an undeniable elective affinity with colonial projects.


“Women are bitches”, and other obvious tales from the Sociological front line


Words excite me. I can’t help it, words are all I have really: they are my bread and butter and what keeps the wolves from the door, and what gets me up in the morning. And a lot of the time that means that I have a propensity to use long words when short words would definitely do. (See, I did it there with propensity. ‘Tendency’ would have worked, ‘habit’ would have done, too. It’s a sickness really.)

Every so often being a Sociologist, academic and chronic over-thinker pays off, and this is one of those cases: those days when you read an academic paper and come across a theory or idea or unnecessarily long word that makes you realise something you had no idea that you knew all along. It’s the Holy Grail for PhD students really, because it gives you a way of structuring all of the over-thinking and over-analysis you do on a daily basis into a nice easy to understand concept. So please forgive me for getting excited about words, but this week I have a new favourite ‘long-word-way-of-saying-something’. The phrase is ‘Negative Intra-gender relations’ and it is basically an academic way of saying ‘bitching’.  (more…)

Learning to Fail or Failing to Learn    

Here is a picture of me and a Sapara boy taken on my camera by a girl in Jandiayacu, the Sapara community where I began my research.

Here is a picture of me and a Sapara boy taken on my camera by a girl in Jandiayacu, the Sapara community where I began my research.

Nobody really talks about how or why his or her research failed, or what you are supposed to do when you can see that the fieldwork you are in the middle of might be doomed. Those who decide to leave their research uncompleted rarely write up their experiences, and so the lessons that can be learnt about what not to do during your research, and how to avoid a similar outcome, are forever lost in the private notebooks of the ‘failed’ researcher (Wolcott, 2005, p. 214). I am sure I can’t be the first person to be six months into their fieldwork and be seriously doubting the entire process and already wondering if it is salvageable. So I have decided to write a post about why I think my research is going wrong. (more…)

Mass Exodus


Source: Maximizing Progress

Source: Maximizing Progress

Sociologists are frequently interested in how communities are imagined, built, developed, and restructured.  Studies of how communities are destroyed, abolished, or evicted are typically associated with scholarship on genocide, war, natural disaster, or gentrification.  These studies often equate the termination of a community with trauma, personal loss, and inequality.  In some cases, communities dissolve in less dramatic ways.  In some cases, as the needs of a population change, people and the communities they created travel from one space to another.  Recent news regarding the redevelopment of downtown Caracas in Venezuela sets the stage for an unusual case of a decomposing community.

In the 1990s, construction on the Centro Financiero Confinanzas began as hopeful Venezuelans envisioned the creation of an economic mega-center similar to Wall Street in the United States.  The skyscraper, which became known as the Tower of David after developer David Brillembourg, was a 221,000 square meter complex made up of five buildings and a 47-floor glass tower (Caldieron 2013: 139).  Expectations were high.  However, in 1993 Brillembourg died and the following year the Venezuelan market collapsed.  Construction on the Tower of David came to a halt.


Cosmo’s 28 Not-So-Sexy Tips for “Lady-Lovers”

**Please note that this post has illustrations of sexual acts.**

Recently, and for the first time ever, Cosmopolitan Magazine published a list of sex tips and positions for “lesbians, bisexuals, pansexuals, queers- all lady-loving ladies in the crowd.” At first, as a member of the LGBTQQIAA community, I was shocked and excited at the seemingly legitimate public recognition of my sexual practices by the “sex gurus” themselves over at Cosmo. At a closer glance however, this list is a comical illustration that is not titillating to say the least, but ultimately is quite exclusionary in the understanding of lesbian sex. Needless to say, the lesbian sex Cosmo describes is not my sex, let alone a realistic portrait of most “lady-loving” relationships.


The Necessity of Disorder in a Soft City: De Certeau vs Foucault (Part I)

This is a two-part guest post by Bea Moyes, who is an independent researcher based in East London. Having completed a Masters in Research at the London Consortium, Bea is working on ongoing research into the history of East London since the 1970s. Her work has often considered histories and narratives of urban space, particularly through the act of walking the city, and with dynamic and creative interactions which are generated in public spaces. She tweets @BeaMoyes



For better or worse, [the city] invites you to remake it, to consolidate it into a shape you can live in. (more…)