Monthly Archives: June 2015

Sociology Desert Island Books


Too many books to prep yourself before university? Want to read something that wouldn’t overwhelm you with technical language? Then check out this Dessert Island books recommendation by our Sociology Editor, Jason, for his take on the most engaging books to read before university!

Erving Goffman, Presentation of the Self

Goffman uses the art of performance to illustrate how it is a representation of our everyday interactions. This fascinating account talks about how your interaction with another allows you to obtain information about the other person and the social encounter itself. Goffman’s work is also one of the few to focus on the Sociology of Emotions, especially that of embarrassment. This book is an engaging account that makes you reflect on how you act in social encounters and how one might reconsider certain taken-for-granted aspects of emotions in a sociological sense.

Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto

Where do we begin with Marx? This book is perhaps the best summary of his sociological and political ideas. The book is illustrative not only in a theoretical sense, but you get the sense of his passion in what he stood up for, making it a high energy reading any time of the day. The book gives a brief account of the future he foresaw under capitalism. While there are some errors in the future he foresaw, the book makes you reconsider the notion of communism contrary to mainstream ideas on the subject. Theoretically robust, Marx’s most famous work was written more than a hundred years ago and will most certainly remain a classic for years to come.

George Ritzer, The McDonaldization of Society

Why am I waiting so long in the queue? Why are they playing a particular genre of music in the restaurant? Why are the chairs of this restaurant so uncomfortable? Ritzer’s book provides a breath-taking insight into the workings of bureaucracies and how institutions have utilized the “McDonald’s model” to streamline their operations. It also offers an insight into how our lives have been segmented and structured almost into a bureaucracy in itself and engages you to eye-opening accounts of how and why we consume goods.

Peter Berger, Invitation to Sociology

Berger invites prospective Sociology students to discover the subject in a humourous and witty way. How will you introduce the subject itself at a dinner party? Why do you want to study Sociology? Which subject area would Sociology students be best friends with? Berger invites the reader to read sociology in a playful way and illuminates your thoughts on how sociology is connected to the wider field of the social sciences and our everyday lives.

Charles Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination

The Sociological Imagination is the most fundamental skill any sociologist can have. It is the foundation, execution and stimulus to the work we do. This book will offer you the insight to arguably the most valuable skill you will obtain in Sociology. It writes not only of its theoretical dimension, but its practical applicability in how you can make a difference to your everyday life, how you will reconsider social life and be able to assess critically the world around us.

Jason Chang

5 important tips for SPA graduates

Graduation isn’t all about goodbyes – there are plenty of ways to stay connected to the University! Check out these tips to find out how you can continue to benefit from services offered at Exeter:

1. You have access to My Career Zone for 3 more years!

This means you’ll be able to access their resources and search for internships and jobs even while you’re not in Exeter. All of the details on careers services you can access once you graduate are available here.

2. Exeter alumni continue to get special access to library resources!

While you might not miss spending hours puzzling over what floor the Communist Manifesto is on or getting annoyed at someone for eating crisps in the silent study rooms the library can continue to offer you learning opportunities after you graduate. Exeter alumni have free access to online resources like JSTOR and becoming a member means you can still take out books from the library and use inter-library loans!

3. Join the Exeter Alumni groups on social media

Don’t forget to join the Exeter alumni group on LinkedIn – it’s a great way to stay connected and there could be potential for a career boost if you’re lucky! There’s also a Facebook and Twitter page to stay up to date with.

4. Make the most of Graduation Week

Sadly this could be the last time you and all of your course friends are all together. Since most SPA graduations will take place early on in the week you’ll have plenty of time to party and take photos – enjoy!

5. Be proud!

Congratulations, you’ve done it! You’re now joining an enormous and diverse group of incredible Exeter alumni. Just don’t forget where it all began and remember that there are all kinds of opportunities the University can offer its graduates after they leave.


Gemma Joyce

Anthropology Speaks: Dr Andrea Butcher

Could you tell us about your research in climate change, sustainability and conservation?

I’m interested in the different ways that development and climate are defined beyond the normative. Development is a bastion of contemporary global governance, and climate change is one of the biggest global challenges of our times. However, how people conceptualise development and climate differs cross-culturally, and this has implications for how projects and management strategies behave. It is therefore essential that we understand these diverse conceptualisations and behaviours, that we take into account the choices that ‘beneficiaries’ make, and are thus better able to develop workable solutions.

Take my own field research. Ladakh, North-West India, is a former Buddhist Kingdom. The majority of the population follow Tibetan Buddhism, although only marginally so (Ladakh has a sizeable Muslim population as well). A narrative has been constructed of the region as the quintessential sustainable society due to the Buddhist followers’ beliefs and practices, and for which it receives much financial aid and technical expertise. However, normative understandings of sustainability don’t take into account the wider cosmology, and ceremonial role of Tibetan Buddhist governance in mediating this cosmology. What intrigued me was how the successes of social life are managed with the participation of enlightened rulers, transcendental protector deities, sacred technology, and supernatural beings inhabiting the landscape. Development now forms part of this social life.

Whilst I was doing fieldwork, Ladakh experienced a series of cloudbursts and flash flooding that devastated much of the region, which is where climate change came in. Hearing how people accounted for the disaster, its causes, and the strategies to prevent future disasters helped me understand how there is more than one conceptualisation of weather and nature going on here. There are other things to consider beyond the scientific explanations, for example karmic explanations and the participation of supernatural local guardians. All three contribute to and direct responses and adaptation to a changing climate.

What sort of development programmes have been taking place in India? How have they changed social and religious practices for Tibetan Buddhists?

It’s probably best to think about how development and religion encounter and transform each other. Becoming part of the Indian Union and the world’s largest liberal democracy radically changed the local economy. For example, prior to economic liberalisation, the Buddhist households were legally required to offer patronage to the monasteries to which they were attached. In return, households would receive land to work, and ritual services from the monks. It was definitely not the idyllic system portrayed in popular positive representations of Tibetan Buddhism. However, to describe it as feudal in the European sense doesn’t do justice to the nuances. The legal requirement to support monasteries no longer exists; nevertheless a good deal of household wealth is diverted to the monasteries to sponsor religious rites aimed at protecting the wealth and wellbeing of their households, and to generate the merit required for peace and happiness in the domain. In some cases, the successes and failures of development are dependent on how far the development ‘beneficiaries’ can exploit its fruits for ceremonial purposes. Modern education, opportunities to travel, the influence of a more rationalised and modern Buddhist practice, and normative ideologies of development and sustainability have transformed the way people ‘do’ religion, but the need to generate the merit required for a peaceful, stable domain remains. It’s when development and ceremony meet each other that things get interesting.

To give you an indication of actual development initiatives, national development programmes implemented in Ladakh are delivered through Hill Development Councils. These include rural development programmes, health and education programmes, five-year micro-level planning and NREGA, or the National Rural Employment Generation Act. There is also a network of NGOs that assist the Hill Development Councils. They also have smaller-scale projects that they deliver independently. Due to the region’s proximity to the disputed borders with Pakistan and China, there is a sizable military presence, and both the Hill Development Council and the army deliver transport and communication programmes in the region.

What impact do you think climate change will have on traditional religious communities in the future?

This is a tricky — perhaps impossible — question to answer. There are so many variables that are transforming the way people do religion that you can’t really consider climate change on its own. If one considers how changing climates will impact upon societies with strong material and vital ties to the land, then I’d say these societies are likely to experience increased levels of anxiety and disturbance as the ecosystems services that they rely on to feel protected come under threat. If they can successfully transfer some of these systems elsewhere, then we will notice some interesting new social and cosmological assemblages!

What five books would you recommend to undergraduates interested in your area, and why?

I’ll start with two that focus on the Himalaya:

Himalayan Dialogue by Stan Royal Mumford (1987, the University of Wisconsin Press) is a really good one for introducing people to the various social and ritual dynamics of Himalayan societies. He concentrates on a Nepali valley, and the dialogue between one village governed by the presence of a lama and Buddhist temples, and one governed by an older shamanic priesthood. The ethnography is extremely rich, and his use of three temporal cultural layers in which to situate various levels of discourse and experience is really useful.

Mapping Shangrila, edited by Emily Yey and Chris Coggins (2014, University of Washington Press) is an excellent reader. Its four sections examine how Zhongdian prefecture (renamed Shangrila in 2001) in Eastern Tibet’s Kham region (China’s Yunnan Province) is brought into contemporary being through state projects, tourism, and nature conservation. It is a useful anthology for thinking through some of the new social assemblages and religious transformation that I observed in my own research. Mountain deities are a ubiquitous presence throughout, and one begins to understand how they emerge as contemporary political actors.

Do Glaciers Listen by Julie Cruikshank (2005, University of British Columbia Press) is another really nice ethnography. Set in Alaska, Cruikshank is concerned with how colonial histories, scientific categories, travel accounts, and native concepts construct the contemporary ‘identity’ of Alaska’s glaciers. It is an excellent introduction into the idea of sentient ecology. She also demonstrates the dynamism of social narrative, and you can read about possible qualitative methodologies that a potential student of this kind of research may find useful.

Anna Tsing’s Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection (2005, Princeton University Press) is a great read for those interested the diverse impacts of modern institutions and governance systems in non-western settings. As with Mapping ShangrilaFriction examines the diverse situations and interactions that illustrate the capitalist encounter in the Indonesian rainforest. Tsing’s aim is to highlight the messy and unpredictable positives as well as the negatives that are produced within this encounter: imperfect and unstable but opportunities for creative engagement nonetheless. Tsing manages to convey complex ideas in a straight-forward manner that students will find accessible. She also provides ‘a portfolio of methods’ with which to study global connections that potential ethnographers will find useful.

And finally….

If you have the stamina, try Politics of Nature, by Bruno Latour (2004, Harvard University Press). I confess that I am currently making my way through this book. Here Latour elaborates on some of his older contemplations of the separate and purified realms of nature (what can be explained using scientific mechanisms) and politics (what is available for public discussion and debate). In this book, Latour assembles a new political order that allows for collectives: ‘a community incorporating humans and non-human’ that brings them into communication. Latour’s argument is complex, quite dense, and not without fault. What he does manage, however, is to create a space where it is possible to imagine bringing the supernatural into the political sphere as actors ── crucial for my work.

Finally, what advice would you give to anthropology undergraduate students looking to enter postgrad?

I don’t need to tell you that academia is going through a profound transformation right now, and that the potential postgrad is likely to be feeling pretty anxious about the uncertainties, higher costs and shrinking funds. The thing to do in this situation is to adopt Anna Tsing’s conceptualisation of ‘friction’ and the movements and actions it produces. Funding is increasingly coming from public engagement and impact ventures. Academics are expected to team with interdisciplinary or non-academic partners, and this is creating new ways of doing research that are highly rewarding. If you have an idea you want to research then think about potential collaborations. Think synergies. What type of organisation will benefit from your research? How can you sell it to them? Look at the research council websites to see what partnership schemes are on offer. The good news for potential anthropologists is that project managers are increasingly looking for researchers with qualitative skills to help them better interpret quantitative data or unexpected project outcomes. It does require a good deal of energy, hard work, and dedication (more than ever), but the experience that you get from collaborating will be well worth it.

Gallery – Philosophy students enjoy Hay-on-Wye Festivals

Last week nine students from the Philosophy Society travelled to the quaint town of Hay-on-Wye to attend the Hay Books Festival and the HowTheLightGetsIn Philosophy Festival where they camped by the riverside and attended a variety of intellectual talks and live music performances.

While the weather wasn’t great it didn’t dampen the students’ spirits and they described HowTheLightGetsIn as ‘carnival-like’ and ‘fun’, hosting performances and talks from Frank Turner, Alex Salmond and David Mitchell.

Dan Mason, current president of the Philosophy Society thoroughly enjoyed the trip: “We experienced the buzz of exotic foods, surprisingly entertaining fireworks and an overly enthusiastic, and we reckoned drunk, fortune teller. All in all it was a great experience and a lovely end to what has been for me an amazing year. As president I certainly hope to do it again next year, with continued Guild support.”

Outgoing president Holly Day was equally impressed: “This Philosophy Society trip to Hay-on-Wye has been a fantastic experience – not only have the various talks we’ve attended been intellectually stimulating and provoked heated debate, but it has been a great opportunity to get to know the other members of the society better. It has been a great end to the year for the Philosophy Society, as the range of talks attended by our members is incredible.”

Here are some photos taken by students who attended (Click for higher resolution!)


Interview: SPA Subject Chair Theo Stone

Photo credit: Edwin Yeung

Theo Stone is Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology Subject Chair. We chat to him about his plans for the coming year.

Introduce yourself!

I’m 18 and slowly completing my first year of Philosophy. Among my various extra-curricular activities, I currently serve as one of the Online Features Editor for Exeposé and I can also play a few instruments to a questionable level of quality, which I currently do in the Symphony and the Concert Band.

Could you tell us a bit about your role as Subject Chair and what it entails?

My role as Subject Chair means that I oversee the departmental Student Staff Liaison Committee in order to ensure that the academic representatives are able to successfully do their jobs. This means that I am required to chair the meetings that are held by the aforementioned SSLC, assist on any movements on any relevant issues, and oversee campaigns that have been instigated by the committee.

What do you enjoy about your role?

The main area of enjoyment arises from the fact that it means that I can help to make a difference within the confines of the SPA department, as well as the fact that I can play a part in ensuring that the department maintains its exceptionally high standards.

What are your main aims for this year as Subject Chair?

One of my primary aims is to get rid of some of the ‘Committee Apathy’ that seems to permeate large swathes of the student population. Part of my plan to combat this involves bringing the SPA SSLC onto Social Media. We now have a Twitter feed, and there’s a Facebook page/group in the works. Alongside this, I’d like to ensure that we see a greater turnout with the National Student Survey, seeing as how turnout numbers within this particular department haven’t exactly been favourable in recent years when compared to numbers in other departments.

Another aim is to ensure that the SPA SSLC is able to reach its full potential over the next academic year. This year we’ve seen Politics lead the charge in a number of areas. Pavel Kondov and his team have done an amazing job for this year and they’ve had a phenomenal amount of success with registration for the General Election, the Bulgarian Elections, and the ‘Basics of British Politics’ project. It’d be great to see SPA reaching the same giddy heights next year. If an opportunity arises for us to make a difference, I’m going to go ahead and grab it by the horns and not let go.

How do you balance your role alongside your academic work and other activities?

More tea than I’m willing to admit.

You can follow the SPA SSLC on Twitter here!


Gemma Joyce