Author Archives: jkc207

Dissertation Tips

Are you heading into your 3rd year and would like to know about writing a dissertation? Or are you just interested to know what it feels like throughout the year long experience of formulating your own work?

Then check out the following tips and highlights of my year-long journey writing my personal research piece!

#1 – Start early!

Don’t leave the preparation or formulation of ideas till the start of the semester. Your final year is quite a step up from the year before, and having a head start with a clear idea of what you want to do will help you relieve some of those weight.

#2 – Get the administration out of the way!

You will want to focus on content, research and the actual writing itself, not on completing administrative papers or logistics. If you already have a clear idea of what you would like to do, head to your relevant staff members to get ethical, funding or logistical approval. This way, everything is in place to give you a piece of mind to conduct your piece of research.

#3 – Research, research, research

Whether you are heading into the field for research or doing a literary review, the time you have from the summer months to November are crucial to get your results in place. I completed all my research and had all my results in place by July, such was my over-enthusiastic drive to make sure my dissertation wouldn’t take up too much time during term time.

#4 – Meet your professors

Knock on their doors, send them emails… make sure you meet up with professors who aren’t your dissertation supervisor. They are crucial in getting an encompassing view on your research and provide useful insights to things you might have never thought of.

#5 – Quadruple check with your friends and family

They might not have expertise in your field, but what I’ve learnt most is that friends who might not study the same subject or who have a different life experience to yours can point out mistakes you might never notice. Imagine them as lawyers reading your dissertation – they scrutinise and give you insights to the way your grammar and vocabulary is structured and what makes this brilliant is that your piece of writing is not only academically sound, but it can also be understood by the public.

All the best to the next batch of dissertation writers!

Jason Chang


Sun, burgers, good laughter, goodie bags and plenty of familiar and new faces – these were all part of the end of year Student Engagement and Academic Representation BBQ held at the RAM garden on campus. The event was organised by George Flower and Anna Hamilton from the College of Social Sciences and International Studies with the aim of rewarding students from the college for their dedication to the improvement of the student experience.


Plenty of awards recognizing the achievements of various projects and individuals were handed out. Within the department of Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology (SPA), members of the Sociology and Anthropology society were commended on their contributions to the department, alongside Global Exe, the youth project started by editor of this blog, Jason Chang.


The BBQ provided an opportunity for SPA to interact with other attendees from CSSIS. Attendees from the politics department who had set up the “Diplomatic Hub” conversed with attendees from Global Exe and exchanged various ideas between each other to improve and make progress to their own individual projects.


The melting pot of ideas and conversations did not simply stop at the projects and initiatives that students had set up. With the wealth of expertise in attendance, students from law to philosophy conversed about ideas for their future and also the sharing of good practice in their coursework. Among the many themes of discussion at the table included the study of linguistics, military law and even the sociology of name tags!

If you would like to join the table for such interesting conversations and would like to represent your cohort in a leadership position, places are still available to nominate yourself to be a representative for the Sociology, Philosophy or Anthropology SSLC positions! If you would like to find out more information or nominate yourself, email today!

Jason Chang

Join the Buddy Scheme!

Keen to provide a friendly, peer-to-peer support for incoming freshers for the next academic year? Then the Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology department wants you! The SPA Buddy Scheme is a Peer Mentoring programme run by students, for students.

Starting out at university can be a big change, and the Buddy Scheme aims to provide pastoral support for first year students to help them feel more settled in the university. Keen to support and empower mentees to find solutions to problems, signposting them to appropriate services and building a supportive relationship to get them off their mark? Then the Buddy Scheme is just for you!

Jess Wiemer, one of our editors and current Buddy Scheme mentor, rates the scheme highly –

“The Buddy Scheme was a great opportunity to help first year students feel more comfortable at university. I found the scheme to be a more intimate way for them to get to know the university and the town from a student perspective, as opposed to speaking to lecturers or the university administration. Not only was it exciting to help students, but I made new friends along the way. I really enjoyed the experience.”

What will you take away from it? As a former mentor myself, I found that you will develop your verbal and listening skills, alongside understanding how to maintain boundaries while being fully supportive in understanding the experience of working with the needs of students in a higher education institute.

Interested? Applications should be submitted by 25th May at the following link:

Questions? Contact for your queries!


Interview with lecturer in Criminology, Katharine Boyd

Belfast Katharine Boyd

This week we catch up with Katharine Boyd, lecturer in Criminology in our department.

Hi Katharine, I hope you are well! Thank you for doing this interview. Could you give us a brief introduction about yourself?

Katharine: Hi Jason! I’m doing well, thank you. I’m a criminologist here at Exeter. My research focuses on terrorism, or political and religiously motivated violence, as well as evidence-based policing and alcohol related violence.  I moved here from NYC a year and a half ago and I suppose I can’t help but mention that I row, since I’m training 8 times a week!

What got you interested in researching policy and literature regarding terrorism and violence?

Katharine: It may sound cliché, but I became inspired to research terrorism following 9/11.  After this tragedy people suggested numerous strategies for how to respond, some more reasonable than others, and after doing some digging I realized there’s not a lot of research done on terrorism and evaluating counterterrorism policies.  I feel it’s important that policy decisions are informed by research and we do not make important, consequential decisions based solely on emotional or ideological rhetoric.  So, I guess, I am still quite idealistic hoping to someday contribute to a safer and more peaceful world by producing relevant research and by teaching students about this complex and important topic so they are informed citizens.

Congratulations on receiving funding of £249,974 from the Police Knowledge Fund HEFCE and College of Policing Grant. Could you let us know what sort of research will you be pursuing with this?

Katharine: Thanks!  This is a very exciting opportunity for me and my colleagues – Brian Rappert and Hannah Farrimond, also in SPA, and Mark Pearson and Iain Lang in the med school –to work with the Devon & Cornwall Police and the OPCC.  The ExPERT project has numerous components related to evidence-based policing.  The project aims to develop and sustain capacity amongst police officers and staff for evidence-based practice, to do research that is relevant to the realities of policing and accelerates evidence-based approaches, and to improve knowledge transfer between the police and academia.  The ExPERT Project includes four components to meet these needs. The first are workshops to teach police officers and staff how to identify, critically appraise, and utilize research evidence.  The second component is a series of Project Generation Forums (PGFs) where the police, academics, and community stakeholders meet for the co-production of research projects.  PGFs are used to identify specific topics of concern and develop concrete empirical research projects.  The third component to the ExPERT Project is the use of knowledge brokers to bridge the gap between research and practice communities by exchanging knowledge and information held within these different groups.  Short, goal-oriented secondments for police and university staff will enable us to identify areas where research can improve policing and embed evidence into practice.  The last component is to conduct systematic reviews that summarize research evidence on topics by identifying, assessing, and synthesizing the existing evidence.  Systematic reviews produce evidence that is more robust than a single study and provide valuable information for evidence-based policy making.

How has the international outlook on counterterrorist policies by governments shifted over the years since the 9/11 attacks? 

Katharine: Well, I think there is greater international attention to what counterterrorism policies are being used worldwide.  Social media is a platform where information is shared and it may be more difficult for governments to conduct themselves without public oversight.  People are more aware of, and interested in considering, the unintended effects of counterterrorism measures, and therefore may be more critical of certain policies.  At the same time, people who feel threatened, especially just after an incident, may understandably feel motivated by retribution and endorse short-sited policies.   I like to think that governments will be prudent and consider international opinions when making big policy decisions, though there is no guarantee this would necessarily affects outcomes.  It all depends on who holds powerful positions.  This brings up the importance of elections.

How do you see counterterrorism policy changing in the future?

Katharine: I think polices to prevent terrorism will continue to be advocated for and developed.  Studies show that not all counterterrorism measures produce the intended effect, and similar policies may not produce the same effect on different types of groups.  More research in this area is critical. Governments have been funding research on terrorism and counterterrorism policies, but whether accurate and relevant information is utilized in policy-making is an on-going question.

One of your research interests happens to be alcohol related violence. Is this solely down to alcohol causing the violence or a socially produced violence as a result of its consumption?

Katharine: I’ve only recently started studying alcohol-related violence since I’ve moved to the UK and started working on the #RU2drunk initiative.  In England and Wales, over half of the violent encounters between adults are alcohol related.  Obviously most people who consume alcohol are not involved in violence, so I wouldn’t say it causes violence directly.  People have described a ‘binge and brawl’ culture in the UK that suggests a relationship between drinking and violence that is influenced by the context and environment.

Could you take us through what goes on in someone’s mind when drinking alcohol? What goes through this person’s mind when consuming it? Why is there this heighten aggressiveness towards not only violence, but a heightened motivation to attempt acts that one would normally not do?

Katharine: I think these questions may be better answered by a psychologist or neurologist!  From what is known about alcohol as a substance, it affects neurotransmitters and therefore brain chemistry, which influences people’s perceptions and behaviour.  Rather than simply attributing aggressive behaviour to alcohol alone, however, I think it’s important to note the social and environmental factors that influence the relationship between alcohol and aggressiveness.  Social psychology and criminology show how people –  including you! – behave differently in different contexts.  I’m sure you can think of a time, especially when you were an adolescent, when you did something that you feel was very ‘out-of-character’.  Did you explain or justify your behaviour in relation to a substance and/or circumstantial and social factors?  Well I think it’s necessary to consider the interpersonal setting when assessing the relationship between alcohol and aggression.

Finally, having been in the university for over a year now, how would you reflect on your experiences so far?

Katharine:  I’ve really enjoyed it!  Both the city and the Uni.  I admit when I was moving here from New York City I was concerned Exeter would feel ‘too small’ for me, but Exeter has many of the conveniences of a city that I like and it is truly a beautiful place.  I love the rolling hills, the historic buildings, and the quayside.  I’m glad I started rowing here so I get to spend hours on the river!  As for the university, I really can’t speak highly enough of the colleagues in my department and in Q-step.  I am so fortunate to work and develop research ideas with such great people.  And, of course, I really enjoy the students here as well!  I’ve enjoyed getting to know students who have taken a few of my modules and students – like you – who I just see around campus all the time! Overall I’m really glad I came to Exeter and it’s been a great year and a half!

Interview with Jen Smith


This week, we interview Jen Smith, a Masters student pursuing her studies in Philosophy.

Hello Jen, fantastic to meet you. Could you give us a little introduction about yourself?

Hi I’m Jen! I’m 22 and studying an MA by research in Philosophy.

You mentioned you originally did your undergraduate in Australia before having your final term in the University of Exeter. What was it like for you coming over?

Coming over was both incredibly exciting and terrifying.  For me, it was my first time living out of home and while I was fortunate enough to travel with a girl from my home university, I really didn’t know anyone.  However, this soon changed!  I lived at the Printworks with other international students, began working casually at the University and started going to events held by the Sociology and Anthropology society.  I still consider some of my closest friends those who I met on exchange.

Academically, the exchange experience was invaluable.  I got the chance to study a range of different subjects that weren’t available to me back home and also learnt a variety of new ways to approach my studies.

Personally, coming over and living in the UK gave me a great sense of independence and confidence.  I had such a positive experience living and studying in Exeter that it definitely led to me choosing to do my masters here as well.

What would you say are the main differences between the higher education systems of Australia and the UK?

Generally speaking, I think Australian universities are a lot more relaxed.  Not only are wearing shoes to class optional but universities are more accessible and very flexible in terms of degree structure.  For example, I studied a Bachelor of Arts which allowed me to graduate with a double major in Sociology and History and minor in Philosophy.  This was hugely important to me, as I was able to use the flexibility of an Arts degree to select subjects uniquely tailored to my own research interests and gain an interdisciplinary perspective on a variety of different social issues.

While Australian students work hard, perhaps one of the biggest differences for me was British students’ attitudes towards studying – a lot more seems to be expected of you here in terms of the amount of reading you are required to do per module and the constant emphasis on graduating with a 2:1 or above.

Could you tell us more about your experience so far with your MA in Philosophy? 

So far, my experience has been great and I am fortunate enough to have an excellent supervisor.  However, it has also been very demanding.  Due to the fact that my masters is solely research based, I have no classes or general structure to my week so it requires a lot of self-discipline and motivation!

Could you tell us more about your dissertation topic?

I am particularly interested in exploring how normative practices in Western societies shape individual moral perceptions concerning the permissibility of sexual violence towards women.  While there is a strong social and legal consensus that rape is morally wrong, there has been little philosophical research that has sought to articulate the nature of its wrongfulness.  While it seems both obvious and intuitive that rape is morally abhorrent and harmful to both individuals and society, current statistics on rape and sexual violence reveal an inherent contradiction between the grave manner in which rape is perceived culturally and the sheer prevalence with which it occurs.

How do graduate studies compare to undergraduate studies?

So far I have only handed in the first chapter of my thesis, so I don’t feel as though I can make any big comparisons yet! However, so far I think the biggest differences have been learning how to study completely independently and also adapt to working at a higher academic standard.

What are your plans upon graduation? 

I am hoping to secure a PhD position in the next few months and then pursue a career in academia.

Finally, what’s your favourite read in Philosophy?

My favourite read in Philosophy would have to be Foucault’s Discipline and Punish.

Interview with Isabelle Rogerson

Isabelle Photo

This week, we meet up with Isabelle Rogerson, a flexible-combined honours student with a focus on English and Philosophy to find out the contrast between the two subjects and her take on studying Philosophy.

Hello Isabelle, fantastic to meet you. Could you give us a little introduction about yourself?

I’m a third year student at Exeter doing English with Philosophy. I’ve always picked a broad range of modules because I hesitated between English and Philosophy and Philosophy and Science before coming to university. When I got here, in 1st year I only did English and Philosophy modules but last year I took a module in Anthropology and really enjoyed that. Last year I also did a module in Ecology. And this year I’ve taken two modules in Anthropology – Anthropology of Africa and Human-Animal Interactions.

Given that you study both English and Philosophy, what do you think the main differences are in terms of content and methods of learning?

They are very different. With English, you’ve only got 30 credit modules whereas with Philosophy you have 15 credit modules. In English most of the time you have core modules and if you are doing straight English then you will have a few more core modules too. In Philosophy there are modules for second and third years, so you get a mix of people which is good but it means you have to be quite tactical in terms of the modules you choose. I did a module last year called Symbolic Logic which was really good, I really enjoyed it but it’s not for everyone because it’s quite mathematical based. Whereas in English, there are modules specifically for second and third years.

For the actual approach that they take in Philosophy, it is very analytical and all about constructing an argument for an essay. I think for Philosophy they really value original thought. The subjects are similar in the fact that they are literary subjects where you want to read a lot of scholarship and draw from that scholarship in order to construct your own argument where you insert yourself into the debate, discuss the scholars and comment upon the text. Obviously in English it is more text based. In a section of your essay it will be closed reading which you won’t necessarily have in Philosophy. Personally I find Philosophy more challenging but also more rewarding.

In what sense is it rewarding?

You’re not limiting yourself to one book. Not that English essays make you feel constricted because you have to read a vast array of literature. Philosophy essays encourage you to come up with a fresh perspective so you can be very original. I usually feel like I have a better sense of the scholarship around the subject when I finish the Philosophy essay than the English one. But it might just be my preference for Philosophy.

Do you find yourself studying and looking at English and Philosophy differently after studying both subjects together?

I only studied Philosophy before in France, because I lived there till I was 18 and did the French scientific baccalaureate with an American option before going to university in England. Philosophy in France was very different. It was more of a case of “learn what all of these philosophers have said and repeat these to your teachers”. The first thing they tell you when you arrive in university is, “we do not want you to repeat what someone else has just taught you. We want you to think for yourselves”. What they really dislike especially in first year is people trying to make sweeping statements that sound very philosophical. In England, they want very precise arguments that logically follow each other and therefore you’ve got to be very rigorous in your reasoning. That’s the very opposite of French philosophy which is using very broad brush strokes and being quite florid with your language. It was a big change in Philosophy.

In English I have done it with an American teacher and we had spent 6 months in depth on books which is a lot longer than I would spend on a book here where you do maximum a book a week. If you’re doing an essay you’ll look at a book for maybe 2-3 weeks maximum. I felt like I had less time to go as deep and with lectures and seminars, you have to come up with your own interpretation rather than having a teacher to guide you in interpreting the book. I think overall for both subjects it’s about original and independent thought.

What are your favourite topics in Philosophy?

I like Philosophy of Science probably because I’m like a scientist who decided to do literary studies and have been constantly thinking why ever since. I really like the Philosophy of Logic as well. Symbolic logic was my favourite module. Philosophy of Science is really good in a lot of other sciences subjects. A lot of what I did in a module on Ecology, I also covered in Philosophy of Science but from a different perspective which was really interesting.

Logic is great because it can apply to anything and any subject where you have to construct an argument. If you take Law, Politics, anything where you have to construct a rigorous argument that is valid or if you want to deconstruct someone else’s argument I find it really useful. I find myself using it in an Anthropology essay. I used it in an argument in English. It applies to everything.

How will you advise fellow and prospective undergraduates whilst studying for a double degree in terms of the management of workload and difference in content?

Flexible combined honours is absolutely great! It’s great to have an interdisciplinary education. Make sure that your modules are evenly weighted in both terms. Unbalanced module distribution in your academic year means that you will work less well because you have too much to do and end up not performing as well in addition to feeling very stressed.

It’s good to choose subjects where there is a bit of an overlap or at least something in common where you can relate two subjects together. In Philosophy I chose mostly Philosophy of Science modules, and then I did Ecology and Anthropology where I managed to find common areas in all of those subjects and that’s what helped me the most in writing my essays. For instance, in Anthropology I wrote an essay on Darwin. In my Philosophy of Science module I chose a question on race because I studied Darwin. They’ll see that you’ve already got quite an in-depth knowledge which is different to others on the course which will give you a distinct advantage. It’s also interesting for you because you can delve into a very narrow field and you might find that you want to specialize in that field. For instance now I’m doing my dissertation about race and this year the modules that I have chosen in Anthropology I’ve been able to pick out the aspects that interest me. It’s being able to see the links between the modules and subjects you’re studying that are going to be most rewarding and beneficial for your degree.

You mentioned that you studied and grew up in France. What’s it like coming back to the UK and do you find that the methods of learning are different between the two countries?

Very different. The French baccalaureate was very intense. I did 10 subjects. You start at 8 and finish at 6 most days. You would have just probably one hour for lunch. Also, four hours exams. It is very different to A-Levels. In some ways it’s great because it gave me an amazing work ethic because I was having to push myself so hard. It meant that I was much better in sustaining my concentration because I was having to do four hours exams. Obviously being bilingual is a huge advantage. The fact that you do such a broad array of subjects is really useful. Even though I was doing a scientific baccalaureate Philosophy was still obligatory.

But in France the relationship between the teacher and student is very different to how it is in the universities here. It’s very much “the teacher is in control, the teacher tells you what to do and you copy what your teacher says. Learn it off by hard, repeat it to them and if you do that you’ll get a good grade.” Original thought is less valued apart from the American section in literature and history. It is a very different relationship and it’s a different way of learning. It’s much more of learning what they tell you to learn. Whereas when you come to the university, what they want you to do is to come out with your own ideas, bring your own perspective to independent research. It is a much more informal relationship with your tutors, your lecturers and you can meet up with them. I feel like when you meet up with your tutors, even though they are a senior lecturer or professor, they still make an effort to treat you as an equal and you feel like you can have a really interesting intellectual discussion with them without them being just the “teacher”. They value your ideas just as much. That’s one of my favourite things about university in England. That’s why I wanted to come here.

As a final year student, what are the challenges you anticipate as you complete the final stretch of your undergraduate degree?

Dissertation, it’s one of the big ones. I think it will be really rewarding. I once had to do a big project in France that was with one other person. It was one of the hardest things because it was completely independent research but it was also one of the most rewarding. At the end, it’s like writing a book. It’s something you’ve put together which is entirely your own ideas which is something you can be proud of and say “I did that myself”.

Another would be to either find a career or a masters. It’s going to be hard. If there are second years reading this I will say, get an internship while you can, do something useful because it will help you later on.

Do you have any advice for our fellow undergraduates in the study of Philosophy?

Choose modules that you enjoy. Try everything in first year so that you can have a good idea of what you want to do. In Philosophy, go to lectures and keep up with the readings but what worked for me was that in your essays, choose one subject to focus on and go really narrow and in-depth rather than trying to do every single reading. You wouldn’t have time and you wouldn’t be able to use half of every reading. The more knowledge you can have is obviously a good thing but given that you are restricted in the amount of time that you have, it’s better to focus your research and your studies on one area.

To cap it off, who’s your favourite philosopher?

I like Wittgenstein. I find the Philosophy of Language really interesting. It’s quite similar to logic which is why I like it. Having studied in France and being bilingual you have a much broader perspective in language and language is something we talk about when studying English.

Jason Chang


Seasons Greetings from your New Editors!

Welcome to Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology (SPA) Undergraduate News! It’s almost Christmas and we thought we’d introduce you to this year’s editors of the blog – Jason Chang, Jess Wiemer and Samuel Fawcett.

Given that Christmas is around the corner, we thought we’d add in a bit of a festive cheer with some festive questions to the editors!



Jason Chang

Third Year Sociology major continuing with SPA Undergraduate News this year. Jason runs Global Exe, a youth project on campus dealing with conflict resolution and cultural integration through interactive theatre. He is a massive fan of cafés and people watching, and you can often find him holding a baguette down the high street. He is also a keen hiker who recently completed several of the tallest mountains in the Swiss Alps. Check out his personal blog here:

Festive Question – What’s your favourite Christmas song?

A: Last Christmas by Wham! I know the lyrics sound awfully depressing, but I have quite an odd taste in music, often first liking the tunes before researching the lyrics. And this song has a great tune – if only the lyrics were as joyous!

Festive Question – What’s your favourite Christmas decoration for the home?

A: Probably some snowflakes with fairy lights in the background. I’m quite a fan of winter and snow and this creates quite a unique ambiance in the house.

Festive Question – What are you hoping for from Santa’s bag of presents this year?

A: A bag full of hiking equipment! Crampons, walking sticks, ropes etc. I eventually hope to do alpine climbing more regularly in the future, so the basic equipment for survival will be much welcomed!


Jess Wiemer

Jess Wiemer

Second Year BSc Anthropology major and a new addition to the SPA Undergraduate News team. Jess is the Deputy Subject Chair of Anthropology in the SSLC in which she is currently undergoing an employability Change Agents project and is a student mentor within the SPA Buddy Scheme. Originally from Canada, but now living in Belgium when she’s not over-caffeinating herself at the University of Exeter. She loves to travel and is planning to fly to Laos this summer to help at an elephant conservation and children’s school. As a lover of fine art, history, theatre and writing, you’ll often find her sipping wine at the Bike Shed or strolling through the RAMM.

Festive Question – What is your favourite Christmas tradition?

A: My family and I used to visit a Christmas tree farm in Canada every year. We’d hop onto the wagon’s hay bales and be driven out to that year’s plot, trudge through the snow to pick out our tree, and saw it down. Then we’d head back with soggy boots to be welcomed by an open fire and free hot chocolate and cookies. I miss the scent of pine needles.

Festive Question – What is your favourite winter sport?

A: Ice skating. I grew up near the Rideau Canal, which is the longest skating rink in the world and home to the best homemade maple taffy. I think I learned to skate before I could run.

Festive Question – What is your favourite Christmas film?

A: How the Grinch Stole Christmas – the original 1966 cartoon directed by Chuck Jones. I think I’ve watched it every year since birth.


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Samuel Fawcett

Second Year BA Sociology student and new to the SPA Undergraduate News team. Sam is one of the two Social Secretaries for the Sociology and Anthropology Society. He also studies French through the Foreign Language Centre and does an evening class in Italian. Aside from Sociology, Sam likes literature and poetry, and is a long-suffering member of the Labour Party, having worked as a Press Officer in Taunton Deane during the 2015 election. When not at university, Sam will either be found at home in Somerset, or attempting to drunkenly convey the virtues of Émile Durkheim in a local pub.

Festive Question – What is your favourite Christmas tradition?

A: Christingle. I haven’t been for ages due to the slight issue of not believing in God, but when I was younger my family and I always went to the local church on Christmas Eve and everyone would sing carols etc and then we’d get an orange with loads of sweets stuck into it on little skewers. Admittedly my sister and I went more for the sweets than anything else, but the communal feel was lovely and gave a real festive feel to the occasion.

Festive Question – What’s your favourite Christmas song?

A: ‘I Believe In Father Christmas’ by Greg Lake. It’s a very deceptive song, as it has a lovely melody and chord progression which all sounds very festive, but actually it’s a massive downer. ‘They said there’ll be snow at Christmas, they said there’ll be peace on Earth. But instead it just kept on raining: a veil of tears for the virgin birth’. Merry Christmas.

Festive Question – Quality Street or Roses?

A: Roses. Every time it’s Roses. Them or maybe the big tins of Heroes that tower over you every time you walk in to any British supermarket at Christmas.

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

Interview with Kelly Tucker

Kelly Photo

This week we catch up with Kelly Tucker, 3rd Year Sociology SSLC (Student Staff Liaison Committee) Representative to get her take on what it feels like being representing her cohort.

Hello Kelly, great to meet you. Could you give us a little introduction about yourself?

Kelly: Hi, great to meet you too! Well I have just completed my second year at Exeter studying BA Sociology and will be going into my third from September, which I am looking forward to. I am originally from London and I love reading, participating in sports, and spending time with friends and family in my spare time.

Great! Could you tell us more about what the SSLC does?

Kelly: The purpose of the SSLC is for students to voice their opinions, concerns, and ideas to senior members of staff in the department. We are a point of contact for fellow students to approach us with anything that they would like to be voiced to the department or anything that they would like changed. This could be for clearer feedback, different methods of assessment, or anything else that could be thought of to improve the course for the next incoming students! We meet regularly and this gives the staff an opportunity to ask us how things are going, and for us to propose suggestions and ask questions.

What made you want to run for the position as 3rd Year Sociology Rep?

Kelly: I am really passionate about my course. I want to make an academic career out of it so I really wanted to get involved as much as I could. I felt this would be a great experience and a chance for me to share the opinions that myself, friends and classmates have. I also felt this would provide a good networking opportunity, a chance to meet other students in the department as well as develop stronger relationships with members of staff of whom I may not have been taught by.

What are the key areas that you are looking to improve within the sociology course?

Kelly: Well I think the course is great, so this is a tough question, of course there is always room for improvement, so I will just be looking out for things that I feel could be strengthened. Quite a lot of people that I have spoken to have stressed concerns surrounding modules that are marked 100% on one essay, this was raised at our latest SSLC meeting and staff are now considering revising that. During the exam period many felt that one hour for one question was not quite long enough and therefore felt quite pressured, so that is perhaps an area for the SSLC to look into. I also feel getting students to be more involved in tutorials is an area that could be improved, and letting students feel more comfortable in approaching lecturers during office hours as these are underused and lecturers really do want us to make the most of it, there is so much more you can get from a face to face conversation than a two sentence email!

What are the challenges that you anticipate facing this year in your work as an SSLC rep? How would you resolve them?

Kelly: I suppose differentiating opinions may arise, so these will need to be approached by taking everyone’s point of view into consideration until reaching agreement. Encouraging people to get on board and support your ideas can also be a challenge, so I would just try and resolve this by making sure that my case is feasible and realistic!

In what ways do you think the needs of a student change as they progress through their degree?

Kelly: I think we begin to develop our interests. We begin to understand more about what we are specifically interested in researching and exploring. I think often it is assumed that as students progress through their degree they become more independent and need less support from staff, but I actually don’t think this is the case. Second and third years still need the support but in different ways, this is when students should be encouraged to take it upon themselves to approach staff members that are working in the fields they are interested in. I recently approached a lecturer who specialises in the area of research that I want to write my dissertation on. I found her so helpful and got a lot of encouragement and resources to look at over summer.

And, finally, what advice would you give students in balancing their time between university work and play?

Kelly: I would say write out your deadlines at the start of term! I always do this, and it is rewarding when you get to cross them off as you go along. Don’t leave things until the last minute. Plan! Plan fun things too like a trip to the cinema or a night out with friends. Always take a look at the essay and sample exam questions at the start of your module and make a note of the one that interests you so you can look out for things relevant during lecturers. Set aside a few hours a day for study, and give yourself the evenings off to unwind! Remember you only get to go to university once and it goes so quickly so be sure to do your best but also enjoy the learning experience too, don’t let the stress and pressure take over, you’re here because you want to be! I can’t believe I am going to be in third year already.

Find out more about the SSLC here:

Jason Chang

Interview with Tia DeNora

Tia Photo

This week, SPA Undergraduate News catches up with music sociologist, Professor Tia DeNora.

Hi Tia, I hope you are well! Let’s start this interview then. Could you give us a brief introduction about yourself?

Tia: I’m from New Jersey, not far from NYC. My parents come from farming stock. One side is old American, from out on the far side of Long Island. They arrived back in the 17th century so they’re very old WASPs. The other side came from Apulia in Italy around 1900 and eventually ran a market farm on the Passaic River near Paterson, NJ. Those are two very different cultures (though both sides of the family were highly interested in food and cookery!). It was only in retrospect that I realized how the ways we managed those family contrasts fuelled my interest in things sociological. That said, I didn’t discover Sociology as a subject until halfway through my first degree. As a teenager, my main interests were musical. I had aspirations to be a concert flutist but when I got to University (studying music) I rapidly realised (a) I was never going to be good enough to get a job in an orchestra but, happily, (b) that Sociology was the most fascinating subject I’d ever encountered! For a while I thought I wanted to work in journalism. I interned with a CBS affiliate TV station (in the Editorials department) and wrote for my university student newspaper. I still remember my first assignment, a report on controversial and expensive carpet installation in a notoriously noisy, ‘party’ dorm. The title went something like, ‘Committee Sweeps Noise Issue Under Rug’. In the last year of my degree, my dissertation supervisor pointed me to the work of Theodor W Adorno and I realized music sociology was for me. I did a PhD (on Beethoven and the construction of genius) at the University of California, San Diego and then moved to Cardiff and my first academic job, a University of Wales Fellowship (two years to do my own academic thing – such a luxury!). I moved to Exeter in 1992. I love working here!

What sort of research do you conduct? What are the main areas you focus on?

Tia: I’m interested in how culture works and what it does to and for us in our lives. More specifically I like to pursue what I have called the ‘in action’ perspective, or a focus on culture in real time, situated activity. For me this always means grounded theory and concepts and perspectives that are ‘ecologically valid’ (in other words, concepts that match up with people’s real-life experiences and accounts). Most of my work has been in the area of music sociology, however I’ve also conducted research on the history of technology (the so-called ‘mucus’ method of contraception as a case study in knowledge-based controversy) and, ever since my grad school days, I’ve had an interest in micro-studies of communication, especially prosodic features of talk, things like voice tone, pitch and rhythm. Over the years I’ve done ethnographic work (Music in Everyday Life) and historical work (Beethoven and the Construction of Genius). Finally, I’m interested in how people, of all walks of life and ages, are ‘experts’ and expert craft-workers in their everyday lives even if and when this expertise is either discounted or unseen.

You’ve also published extensively. Could you give us a lowdown on your recent publications?

Books can be like buses, nothing happens for a while then you get three all together. Music Asylums: Wellbeing Through Music in Everyday Life (Ashgate, 2013) is the first book in a three-book project addressed to music, health and wellbeing. That project is collaborative – I’ve been working with Dr Gary Ansdell, an internationally renowned specialist in, and founding father of, Community Music Therapy. Music Asylums is sole-authored by me, and there’s a second book, How Music Helps (Ashgate, 2014)written by Gary. I’ll tell you about the third book in a minute.

So Music Asylums is about how action, experience and wellbeing take shape in social-ecological settings. These settings work with us or against us, depending on who we are, where we are, and what we are trying to do. They consist of arrangements of people, things, symbols, settings and patterns that we inherit, resist, enjoy and, to different degrees, together, individually, collaboratively and in conflict, create. Part of any ecology is aesthetic and part of aesthetics and aesthetic media is music. How we find and build up musical niches that support agency and wellbeing is one of the most important things that music sociology can examine. That means a focus on how arranging things material and symbolic is politics by other means. Those arrangements can make us well and they can make us ill. Someday, I hope our understanding of health and illness will make the social and cultural conditions of wellness/illness more explicit and in ways that contribute to what we might think about as cultural medicine. We’re not there yet but there’s been a lot of progress in the field of health humanities!

A second book, and one that isn’t part of the triptych, is Making Sense of Reality: Culture and Perception in Everyday Life (Sage 2014). It examines the cultural bases of perception and how the recognition of reality takes shape in the here and now. I wrote that book in part to help me prepare for a new module, Culture and Perception, which I taught for the first time this year (thanks to a simply brilliant group of students by the way!).

The third, and most recent book, which is currently in press, is Musical Pathways in Recovery: Community Music Therapy & mental wellbeing (Ashgate 2016). That’s a co-authored book and the middle ‘panel’ of the book ‘triptych’ project I mentioned earlier. Gary and I have been involved with this study for ten years. The book offers an ethnographic account of music making and mental health in and around a psychiatric medical setting – a mental health unit and a community day centre for training and social activities, SMART. The book’s aim was to learn and display service users’ engagement with music and also their lay expertise on the topic of how to use music for wellbeing. Needless to say I learned a lot from this work, both from the service users, and from Gary (and his colleagues in music therapy, most notably Sarah Wilson). Watching Gary and Sarah interact musically with SMART members, and taking part in that interaction myself, was awe-inspiring. The point of both the book and the project is: stop thinking about what ‘professionals’ can do ‘for’ clients musically speaking, and look instead at what emerges when people come together musically in mutually supportive ways. The results can be empowering –for everyone involved. In writing up the story we took inspiration from something once said by the great doctor/poet William Carlos Williams (1883-1963). Williams was talking about how, as a doctor, he’d hone in on the ‘particulars’ of a case, and only then try to ‘figure things out’ or, and I think this is a direct quote, ‘get the right picture’. So Gary and I tried to ‘show’ rather than ‘tell’ about mental health and music and to do that we wrote in a way that packed into the ‘picture’ as much complexity as a scholarly book format can allow (so we’ve used some novel methods, pictorial and musical data, and a lot of thick description). I guess the appropriate musical metaphor here would be polyphony or multiple strands, textures, voices, interwoven and mutually supporting. Our aim was to try to ‘figure it out’, as Williams put it, while collaborating with SMART service users every step of the way. The book, perhaps unsurprisingly, is long – over 120,000 words.

What do you think inspires you to write on the topics you publish? Is this with reflection to a changing of times, your current interests etc.?

Tia: For me inspiration always comes from things that have to do with people’s opportunities – to be, to do, to feel – and how those opportunities are made, constrained and distributed. That’s sociology, or at least how I understand my discipline. A focus on the arts is part of this, and the part that’s perhaps most interesting of all because it’s about how non-verbal, pre-cognitive and aesthetic media ‘get into’ who and what we are. As I age (and as I’ve had more experience of caring for loved ones who are living with challenging health conditions or who have died) I think my focus is increasingly drawn to questions about dis/ability, and wellbeing even in extremis. The other really significant influence is my colleagues. Our research culture here at Exeter is amazingly interdisciplinary, as you know, and for me it’s the mix of anthropology’s focus on practice, philosophical perspectives on embodied mind, first-class sociological theory, and our stellar STS group. All this offers the perfect laboratory for cultural sociology. We’ve made some amazing new appointments at all levels and then there are colleagues that I’ve worked with, argued with, and learned from, in some cases for twenty years! I’m also inspired by the students I work with – at UG and PGR level. And finally there is the group that’s very close to my heart, SocArts…..

You also head the SocArts Research Group in the university. Could you tell us more about the work your team does?

I’m sure I’m in no way biased when I say that SocArts is simply the best research group in music and arts sociology in the world. There are now 20 members. That includes staff members Dana Wilson Kovacs, David Inglis and Tom Rice. It also includes currently 5 postgraduate researchers and 11 academics who got their PhDs in SocArts over the last 10 years. SocArts PhD graduates work in universities, a major European Business School, even the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (just shows you what you can do with a PhD in arts sociology!). Then there is the wider SocArts family – academic visitors from Canada, the USA, Japan and Europe – who’ve spent time with us here in Exeter and who come back to see us now and then. SocArts researchers are interested in the culture-agency interaction, new ontologies (so things like emergence, complexity, temporality, materiality and craft), tacit and non-propositional knowledge, consciousness, and embodiment. Empirically, work in the group has examined how the arts and aesthetic practices more generally mediate, transform and transcend seemingly ‘given’ physical, social and psychological realities. Check out the webpages at:

The current work in SocArts addresses health and wellbeing; aesthetic media as technologies of identity, self and memory; aesthetic and sensory representations of knowledge; and the arts in relation to social cohesion, community resilience, conflict, and reconciliation. And it deals with ‘real world’ problems and ‘applied’ topics such as dementia, mental health, eating disorders, conflict transformation, and identity politics. Researchers in SocArts speak, at last count, 10 languages between them. Their work has won prizes and been shortlisted for honors by the American Sociological Association, the Royal Society for Health Promotion, the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, the Leverhulme Trust and Exeter’s own Impact Awards. We also love to eat and drink together, a lot, and sometimes have been known to walk in the countryside. When we can, we travel together to conferences and meetings, and we’ve hosted a lot of symposia here at Exeter.

You have quite a focus on music in the work you do. Could you tell us how music plays a part in the everyday life of an undergraduate?

Ha ha! I reckon you could tell me a thing or two about that. I learn new facts each week from the undergraduates I work with! As a kind of ice-breaker, one of the things we talk about in Ethnomusicology is students’ ‘Desert Island Discs’ – which eight tracks would you choose to take to a desert island and why? I got interested in the format after doing a small research project on the public presentation of the private self for a British Academy conference a couple of years ago. Public musical affiliation and display is a wonderful topic for sociologists because it reveals so much about self-identity, key occasions, events and loved ones and also aspirations and – perhaps most importantly – the presentation of self.

In addition, there have been some superb projects in my Ethnomusicology module on this topic, also dissertations and a few project reports in Knowing the Social World. Students at Exeter use music for emotion management, motivation, remembering, socialising, studying and showing off to others. Did you know that music is integral to preparing for Exeter’s Women’s Rugby Team events? Or that the musical features of Exeter clubs vary according to time of evening and type of space within a club? Or that students’ notions of motherhood and mothering are worked out through the music of Kirsty MacColl? Those are just some of the topics that SPA undergraduate students have researched this year. Others have considered how song writing is linked to recovery from trauma, how people respond to the ‘music’ of the bells of Exeter Cathedral, spiritual healing in local religious venues, music in Exeter’s retail outlets and its influence on shopping behaviour and experience, and Exeter’s Big Band in terms of how its sound inflects space and ambience.

More generally, I think students here at Exeter make use of music as a medium for working on and working out problems, deal with illness, manage home sickness. I know students use music to get into the right mood for an evening out, to exercise, and to consolidate and maintain family ties (including mourning and remembering loved ones who have died). Really, now that I think about it, there ought to be a blog by students for students on this topic sponsored by the student health service! In fact, it might be a thought if, along with info on what to take to university in year one, we were to recommended that students prepare a few play lists before setting off to university year one for tough times, one for home-sickness, etc.

Over the years, how have you viewed music in terms of its changing patterns of consumption?

Well obviously digitisation has had a major effect on how people consume music. You can carry music with you anywhere today and cocoon yourself in it, reclaim and remediate public space, and carry a vast repertoire of tracks around with you. One of the interesting things we learned, however, when we did a study of how young people use their ipods was that they’re less likely to listen in exclusively ‘private’ and personalised ways and more likely to share music with their ear buddies and on speaker phone. More recently the rise of streaming and online radio has changed the scene yet again. And at the same time we’re seeing the resurgence of vinyl with the counter-trend toward analogue and the re-embracing of ‘real’ things and with that more live music making. I guess that behind all of these trends what interests me is the social structure of music production, distribution and consumption – how much can people affect and change the music they are making, hearing, sharing in real time and how collective or individualised is that experience? From there, as always, it’s a question for me of how musicking – in whatever form it takes – comes to be linked to things that happen later but which, one way or another, refer back to musical experience and musical engagement. It’s not just how people consume or what they consume but how that process is linked to what I like to call ‘para-musical’ processes, that is things that partake of musicking but are also something else.

Another topic here is how musical performances spaces are changing. I’m currently putting the finishing touches on a large project application to look at music in hospital settings. What’s really interesting there is how hospital spaces afford new ways of presenting music, new musical styles and genres and new ways of thinking about the spaces in which music occurs. The hospital I’m working with has recently revamped their A&E and the sound space there is designed by Brian Eno! I think we’re only beginning to see how music can contribute to and sometimes even transform the ways we understand spaces, and the things we do, the roles we need to play, within those spaces. One of the undergraduates this year is looking at how guitarists perform differently when they place inside guitar shops as opposed to in other locations. It’s the interaction between music, musician, recipient and location that matters here. I think we’ll be seeing a lot more focus on the places where music is performed over the next decade and perhaps with a few surprises. Watch that space!

And finally, taking into account the shifting patterns in which music shape our lives, how would you advise our undergraduates to use music in improving their overall university experience and well-being?

A: Listen to Mozart and Vivaldi for an hour before every exam (Only joking! As if it were so simple!) There are lots of studies out there that suggest music can improve concentration. Some of those studies will tell you that there are only certain styles and genres and even composers that can make you smart (note they’re usually classical/’serious’ music composers, heavy metal is rarely cited as good for your cognitive faculties!) What I would say, more seriously, is that the evidence is growing everyday that music can promote wellbeing, that it helps to make and keep connections with people, to forge relationships and styles of relationships, and that it can be used to manage and alter mood, energy levels and attitudes. Check out this recent article by my collaborator at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, Daisy Fancourt:

Psycho-socially, if you’re feeling really down, sometimes listening to music that makes you feel even sadder can be cathartic. If you’re working through problems and difficulties music can be a ‘constant companion’. If you need distraction, music can give it. And active music making is – so the research tells us – one of the best things you can do for mental health and wellbeing. Music is pre-verbal communication. We’re all musical even if we cannot hold a tune we can enjoy music. And who says you need to sing in tune anyway? That’s where the politics comes in – who says what counts as good music? In my view, ‘good music’ is music that does ‘good’ and does us good. One of the most ‘beautiful’ performances I’ve ever witnessed happened impromptu in a hospital ward when the SMART Singers were asked to perform Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. Music making happens outside judgemental settings (auditions, Britain’s Got Talent, etc).  ‘Go get involved in a music club or create a new one. It will help on so many levels!

For more information about Professor Tia DeNora, check out her staff profile here:

Jason Chang