Monthly Archives: March 2015

Interview with sociologist Dr Matthias Varul


This week SPA Undergraduate News interviews Dr Matthias Varul, a sociologist in the department specializing in cultural sociology and social theory. In this interview we asked Matthias about his research interests and his views on students’ experiences.

On his background

That was unexpected! I’m a sociologist first of all. I studied sociology with Islamic studies and philosophy as by-subjects. I did a study in industrial sociology, organizational sociology, Taylorism, post-Fordism, expropriation of subjectivities – basically how enterprises try to get hold of employees’ subjectivities and identities as a resource. For my PhD, I’ve written a study on health consumerism that promotes various hypotheses, the central being that of health consumerism as a translation of money into morality.  I came here in 2004 and have since then done various things on studying consumerism society, ethical consumption and engaging more broadly in cultural sociology and in social theory. I’m very much interested in capitalism, its moral implications and its moral underpinnings.

On his current research interests

I’ve developed an interest in the role of religion and capitalist development especially on the interrelation between Islam and capitalism with particular attention to Turkey, the late 90s, what they call the “Anatolian Tigers” and the interrelations between economic development and a specific Turkish variety of Islam, sort of a neo-Sufi Islam. All this in relation to the emergence of an Islamic consumer culture, which is interesting because of its political and cultural implications.

On his book project

I am working on a book project “Ghosts and Spirits of Capitalism: Past, Present and Future or yet to come” in which I try to weave all the above into a narrative from into capitalism, through capitalism and out of capitalism; so I’ve got some ideas of how consumerism is suggestive of a socialist future. I’ve written a socialist defence of consumer culture which doubles as a consumerist critique of capitalism. So I’m trying to break the link between consumerism and capitalism.

On inspiration for his book

I haven’t got a book contract yet but I have been contacted by a representative of a publisher who has read my blog and suggested “don’t you want to write a book proposal?” I looked at my miscellaneous writings and the underlying theoretical claims and I thought “actually, there is a story in there.” For example, there is a story in the role of accumulation of ideology. Just like there was an original accumulation of productive resources at the beginning of capitalism there also was an original accumulation of ideologies, disciplines, theologies which sort of made it possible for capitalism to emerge in a specific historical situation. Then there’s the idea that these religious bases of capitalism are destroyed by the capitalist process itself. There are new quasi-religious and moral ideas emerging out of everyday capitalist practices. They reproduce mentalities and ideas of the past that then haunt capitalism: that’s this idea of the ghosts and the machine.

On consumerism

Consumer societies are commodity societies and that means that everything is exchangeable to everything else, or translatable. So you can basically translate your t-shirt into my jacket if you know what the prices are and you think about what it says about how much you’re worth, how much I’m worth. It says something about your position in society, and it also communicates back to you how much valued you are in society, so it’s also a question of recognition.

It is also about collective and individual identity, which is bound together in the logic of fashion. So what you do is, you reproduce an existing style as your own. You can’t just copy. So if you were to get into say, to quote one more prominent style on campus, you can’t just be a Jack Wills person by looking at another Jack Wills person and recreate that item by item. They would basically say that you’re fake.

On student life and its ties to consumerism

You are still in a formative life stage, your identity as a student is less fixed because more of your life is left.  You have more chances to change and you are less compelled to justify your past life. You are still more, kind of, “your future”. And also you’ve got a cut from your past, you move into a different context, you have an opportunity to reinvent yourself without having to explain to your mates all the time. University is a space where you can experiment. That’s how a university should be which is why it’s very important to have available space at this stage where you can try out ideas, try out futures where you can dream and that is also reflected in the way you dress which is also an aspect of consumerism. That being embedded in a consumer culture plays into each other because you style yourself aesthetically as that person that you want to become. From the other side, as most people of my age will tell you, it’s very likely that not all of your dreams will come true. But you can still represent some of those dreams, too, by stylistic references.

On seeing the diversity of students every year

There are sort of regularities, but especially with what I am doing, when doing the Imaging Social Worlds class, there we’ve got very small groups where you have more direct interaction. It’s a constant reminder of individuality. If you step back, there are certain student fashions and styles, they might look very uniform in some ways. But then you realise that they all have got their own aspirations, dreams, insecurities and hopes.

For more information on Matthias’ work, visit his blog at

Jason Chang


Interview: Ashley Kilgallon, Exeter graduate, on her new life at Leeds

This week SPA Undergrad News interviews Ashley Kilgallon, a recent Exeter graduate who secured a place and funding for a master’s and PhD course at the University of Leeds. 

Tell us about yourself and your connection to Exeter

I graduated from Exeter in 2014 with a degree in Sociology and Anthropology. Alongside this, I was the SSLC representative for Sociology from my first year and was also the Academic & Careers Representative for the Sociology & Anthropology Society during my final year.

Where are you now and how did you get there?

I’m currently working towards my Master’s at the University of Leeds in Security and Justice. This Master’s is part of my ESRC 1+3 scholarship, a pathway master’s with the ultimate goal of completing my PhD.

I always knew I wanted to go onto further study after completing my undergraduate degree and someone recommended that I visit, which lists a large amount of the scholarships and programmes available in the UK. This website was an amazing resource to find and I’d recommend any student looking for further study opportunities or research jobs to look on this website.

The website advertised a PhD funded opportunity that looked absolutely perfect for me: a partnership PhD between the University of Leeds & the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), exploring Liaison Based Public Order Policing and Processes Governing the Reduction of Conflict During Crowd Events. Thus, the project involved me exploring crowd events such as a football match, a protest or an event like Nottinghill Carnival and observing what different methods defuse conflict with a specific focus on Police Liaison Teams – a new tactical option which involved officers being deployed into crowds and communicating with people, specifically focused on a less confrontation method to defusing any potential violence.

After seeing the project advertised I got in touch with Cliff Stott, the lead for the project and now my advisor! We shared a few emails and then had a phone conversation, following this there was an application process, where Dana and Hannah from the department kindly provided me with a reference. I was then invited to the interview process and subsequently offered the position. I was totally over the moon!

What’s your new course like?

My master’s programme, which is a 12 month course, is very different to my undergraduate degree and I’m noticing how differently it’s making me think, which is great and it’s also introducing me to a whole new body of academia which is so beneficial. Alongside doing some politics/international relation type modules I also take a few modules in policing (both within Britain and internationally) therefore I’m able to keep my core interests central to my master’s alongside learning new things.

My PhD will begin officially in September and lasts for three years. In September I’ll be located predominately in London where I can visit New Scotland Yard on a more regular basis and shadow officers there, understand the planning process behind different crowd events and also attend regular crowd events in London.

What’s your favourite thing about the work you do now?

My absolute favourite thing about the work I’m doing is how varied it is! I get bored very easily and knew this challenge would keep me interested and focused. There are obviously still the dreaded deadline weeks where you spend an ungodly amount of time in the library, but this is contrasted to days where I spend researching. A few weeks ago, alongside my advisor and another student of his, I spent Saturday observing the policing of Leeds vs. Millwall and on Sunday we travelled to Bradford to observe the policing of Bradford vs. Sunderland. This week just gone, I spent Wednesday in Peckham shadowing officers and seeing what a night shift consists of. In a few weeks time I’m travelling to Ireland to spend a few days with the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) to observe the policing of St Patrick’s Day. Alongside this, I also find policing a very interesting world and have a lot of respect for the work officers do, therefore interacting with them regularly leads to a lot of very interesting conversations. I literally learn something new everyday and it’s amazing!

What’s the biggest challenge for you at the moment?

I think my biggest challenge at the moment is trying to learn the best way of conducting ethnographic research. As this is my master’s year, it allows me a lot of freedom to spend time fumbling around in the dark trying to work out where my skills lie and how I can utilize them. Spending research time with my advisor is extremely helpful because I can observe how Cliff operates in different environments and try to learn from him. But research is such a personal experience; you have to be honest with yourself about where your skill base lies and where you aren’t as strong. As any lecturer will tell you, research methods classes only teach you so much, you have to actually ‘do’ to learn this skill properly and I anticipate constantly learning different methodological skills during the entirety of these four years.

What are your plans for the future?

Since my very first year at Exeter my ultimate career goal was to be a leading policing academic. I haven’t changed my mind yet – but maybe ask me again in four years!

Look out for Ashley’s tips on taking your degree further coming soon to the blog!

– Gemma Joyce

Exeter Anthropology staff convene the 2015 ASA conference 


This Easter, Exeter will play host to the Association of Social Anthropologists’ (ASA) annual conference.

Founded in 1946, the ASA is an international organisation formed to promote social anthropology both academically and professionally. The  association aimed to give social anthropology  a stronger foothold in British universities and academic discourse in general. Since then, it has expanded massively. It now holds annual meetings, conferences and lectures; it publishes monographs based on conference papers; it provides and reviews ethical guidelines for social anthropological research; and is also the main professional association involved in maintaining and negotiating the funding status of social anthropology.

Last year’s decennial conference in Edinburgh drew over 650 delegates, making it one of the biggest events in the national social sciences calendar. This year’s conference promises to be no different – over 300 social anthropologists and social scientists are said to be attending. It therefore represents a big challenge for those involved from the department, but also a huge potential benefit in raising the profile of the anthropology department and its research locally and internationally.

This year’s conference is convened by Andrea Butcher, Ann Kelly, Hannah Rumble, Katharine Tyler, Samantha Hurn and Tom Rice. Its theme is ‘Symbiotic anthropologies: theoretical commensalities and methodological mutualisms’. In short, what the conference seeks to explore is the shifting borders and boundaries of contemporary anthropological thought and research, and how anthropologists might move forward based on this discourse. From the conference page:

What does it mean to do anthropology today? What can – or should – anthropologists do and with whom?

[…]We are interested in exploring, discussing and debating: what constitutes contemporary anthropological knowledge, theories and practices? What are the methodological muddles and potentials of working with those defined as disciplinary or institutional ‘others’? Given that the methods and ideas of anthropology have been both borrowed from and appropriated by ‘other’ disciplines who and what constitute anthropology’s outside? 

[…] What does it mean for an anthropologist to be an anti-racist, postcolonial, feminist, Marxist, environmentalist, post-humanist, human and more-than-human rights campaigner in the contemporary world[?]

They plan to explore these questions through a variety of lectures, plenaries, debates, panels and laboratories, the findings of which will later be published in a dedicated monograph. The conference will be held from the 13th – 16th April. If you’re currently an undergraduate student interested in pursuing postgraduate research, or if you’d just like to attend on a casual basis, you can register to attend hereRates for students are £100 for the three days. The conference promises to be lively, engaging and a huge boost to the already stellar reputation of Exeter’s anthropological research.