Category Archives: Culture

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…)

The romantic and the mundane: Finding your soulmate via Social Practice Theory


Do you believe that ‘The One’, your ‘soul-mate’, your ‘life-partner’ exists? Have you already found them? Hollywood movies, glossy magazines, and agony aunts repeatedly reassure us that, firstly, somewhere out there is Mr/Miss Right, and secondly, we just need the good fortune to find them – some auspicious occasion when true love will make its presence known. I was compelled to dwell on this when I read Julie Birchill’s recent article on the matter in the Spectator. I don’t want to debate whether or not there is one predestined mate out there for each of us (for the record I’m pretty sure there isn’t), but Birchill’s piece did make me dwell on how we meet partners in particular, and how we meet and make friends generally. In reality, this is often more about the social practices we engage in, rather than personality traits or, good fortune, which bring people together. As with a lot of sociology and psychology, it replaces the romantic with the mundane.


“Who Are you Calling Entitled?” : The Problem with Lazy Millennials


In a recent Sociology Compass article, Dr Elisabeth Kelan draws attention to common uses of the concept of ‘Generations’ and points out that despite being a useful and commonly used concept for Psychology, it has not been widely drawn upon in the Sociological literature. This is surprising, as she notes, because it is so often used in more mainstream writing, media and culture, particularly to describe the characteristics of certain demographics of people. In reference to Dr Kelan’s work, the concept of generation can provide insight into how organizations can best treat their employees, by using their generation as a lens to understand their motivations, preferences and behaviors. Knowing what generation someone is in can be extremely helpful for our understandings of how people behave in certain ways.


Don’t Quote Me On This!

Here is a photo I took of an elderly woman in Jandiayacu. She is one of very few people (possible only five remaining) who speak and have a deep knowledge of the Sapara Language. The knowledge of Sapara people is not written down; it is an oral tradition that has been recognised by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.


I am not going to cite, quote or reference anyone in this post, and I wonder if that will change the opinion of those who read it. Does citing someone else make what I write more valid, more accurate or more valuable? Citation and referencing are an important part of academic writing; it is a painstaking, laborious and often frustrating process that is, unfortunately, unavoidable. Of course, I understand why it is necessary. When communicating ideas or concepts it is useful to use citations to provide signposts to our readers should they want to know about something in more depth or detail. It is also important when we are talking about ‘facts’, particularly historic occurrences, statistics or things people have (supposedly) said. But there is another side to this practice that is more of a burden on the writer than it ought to be. (more…)

Holding Up the Women Who Hold Up Half the Sky




Recently, Netflix added the widely acclaimed documentary Half the Sky to its online streaming library.  The film, inspired by journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn book of the same name, follows six American celebrities as they travel throughout Asia and Africa addressing some of the health care, educational, and economic issues that oppress women and girls across the globe. Throughout the film, the viewer clearly sees the impact women and girls of the developing world have on both Kristof and the celebrity activists who join him in Sierra Leone, Cambodia, Vietnam, Somaliland, India, and Kenya.

What is even more striking is the difference between the lives of the women featured in film and the actresses visiting from the West.  At one point Kristof and actress Olivia Wilde are interviewing a former sex worker living in Kenya who is struggling to come up with the money needed to pay for her son’s tuition.  When Kristof asks her what she will do if she cannot raise the money needed the woman simply relies that she will not eat.  The conversation moves forward to other issues in the woman’s life and the viewer never finds out if the woman was able to pay her son’s tuition.


Speaking Globe-ish

An ESL Classroom. Somewhere. By Tallersperlallengua (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

I recently took a break from my PhD to work as an ESL teacher in a summer school in Northern England. As well as making a welcome change from my studies to a very different working and living environment for a month, it also made me reflect on language and the linguistic hegemony which English continues to enjoy around the world. On the one hand, I’m slightly uncomfortable with the way which English has become the dominant world language, allowing people like me access to certain jobs just because of where we were born and the language we were born with. On the other, I am often struck by how one ‘global’ language brings people together. In academia, where English is the default language, we see this all the time. At my summer school, it was a pleasant (and rather cute) sight to hear Russian, Kuwaiti, Chinese and Spanish teenagers all using English to chat to each other, play games, and build friendships.


Going Out of My Mind in Jandiayacu


The Airstrip in Jandiayacu

This is a photo I took in July, 2014, during my fieldwork in Jandiayacu. Jandiayacu is a Sapara community in the Amazonian region of Ecuador. It is accessible only by plane or a difficult journey on foot and by canoe, which takes several days.  (click for full size image)


So often we talk about being rational, making decisions based on established facts and existing knowledge, as if it is, and should be, the aim of all people at all times. Ways of being or knowing that sit outside of accepted knowledge can open a person up to being dismissed, discredited or ridiculed, particularly in the academic world. Anybody who knows me knows that I am a somewhat methodical and ‘rational’ person (most of the time). I love questions and puzzles and finding answers, and I struggle with things being disorganised, chaotic or inefficient. This is probably why I have found beginning my research with the Sapara nation, an Indigenous people here in Ecuador, so difficult. (more…)