Category Archives: Sociology

6 things to do in Exeter when you’re done for the year

The end of exams can be a confusing time. Is it really over? What to do?! Now you’ve come to the end of a busy year treat yourself by enjoying Exeter at its sunny finest.

1. Check out all the restaurants and cafés you’ve been meaning to all year

After spending the last three weeks in the library it can come as a surprise to remember that life exists outside of the campus bubble. Forget the meal deals and the curly fries and head to the city centre to check out what culinary delights are on offer.

2. Go crazy at the Quay

If the sun is out take your friends down to the Quay to chill by the river. If you’ve got cash to splash hire out a canoe and drift down to the Double Locks for a pint – just try not to fall in.

3. Shop shop shop! 

Exams don’t leave much time to update your wardrobe for the summer and many students, through some Student Finance miracle, tend to receive more money for this term. If you’ve got lots left over then make the most out of Exeter’s brilliant range of shops.

4. Make the most of the library

Once you’ve taken all those horribly heavy revision books back don’t forget that the library isn’t just about academic reading. Make the most of having thousands of books at your fingertips and discover something new to read now you don’t have to trawl through your compulsory reading. The library also has an extensive DVD selection, so you can host a movie night free of charge!

5. Visit all of Exeter’s landmarks

You’ve probably seen the Cathedral but have you ventured up Parliament Street, the narrowest street in England? Or visited the famous underground passages? There’s plenty to see and do that may have escaped you so far – why not have a look?

6. Go exploring!

There are plenty of places to visit in the South West that don’t take long on the train. Exmouth beach, the Donkey Sanctuary and Totnes Castle aren’t far away and can make a great day trip for your and your friends.


Gemma Joyce

SPA blog among shortlisted entries for CSSIS Student Engagement Awards!

The Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology Undergraduate News blog has been shortlisted for the Student Led Project of the Year prize in the College of Social Sciences and International Studies Student Engagement Awards.

Over 50 projects have been nominated for the various awards on offer which include SSLC of the Year, Outstanding Commitment to Representation, Legacy Award, Inspiring Rep, Outstanding Undergraduate Chair and Outstanding Postgraduate Chair.

The winners of the CSSIS Student Engagement Awards will be announced at the Awards Ceremony on Monday 1st of June. The event will begin at 5 o’clock and include a project showcase where leaders of the blog project will be available to discuss its progress.

The full shortlist is available here.


Gemma Joyce

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

Dissy selfies galore: Final years celebrate handing in their dissertations

This fateful week saw third years across the University hand in their dissertations. Here are a collection of celebration pictures from finalists in the department:


Danielle Bull and Caroline Horn


Abbie Farmer and Charlotte Pignatelli


Ellee Dowell


Issy Hoole, Jessica Parker and Gemma Joyce


Victoria May


Charlotte Pignatelli

Did we miss your dissertation hand-in pic? Tweet us your post-dissy snaps at @UoESPAnews!


Gemma Joyce

Discovering Sociology and Anthropology at Exeter

Amory BuildingAlthough one of the smaller disciplines within the department, Anthropology nonetheless has a large number of students who are proud and excited about their programmes at Exeter. Often taken in conjunction with other related courses such as Sociology and Philosophy, Anthropology is also a fascinating discipline in its own right. We caught up with two students in the latter stages of their courses to see how they’ve found it so far.

Owen, 2nd year BA Sociology and Anthropology

My first two years of studying anthropology totally removed the blinkers forged throughout my life as I discovered an incredible variety of world-views. It made me question and put into perspective my own culture, which up until then seemed to be a universal truth. It only now seems to be one of the myriad ways of living and going on about one’s life. It is as if you had been taught all your life to put in milk before the tea and then someone showed you that you could also put it after. Not only can you put the milk after but at any moment and in any fashion! The way people bring up their children, the customs and habits, the symbols vary dramatically from one culture to another. All these ways of being are just as valid as one another although in some lectures I have been tempted to judge certain practices. Criticizing one culture for its practices is tempting as we touch upon ethical issues such as FGM. Obviously the picture is far more complex. If anything, anthropology has taught me to be far more critical of what I see in everyday life and how I’ve been socialised into a certain world-view.

Jess, 3rd year BA Sociology and Anthropology:

Anthropology at Exeter offers a diverse range of modules that have grounded my understanding of the discipline through the study of classical texts, but that have also opened up exciting new fields ranging from childhood to medicine and even terrorism studies. Taught alongside Sociology, the dual nature of the department (particularly following the BA stream) provides the opportunity for a more inter-disciplinary approach to studying which I believe is unique to Exeter and makes the course fresh and exciting with the wider range of module choices available each term. This alongside our own personal ethnography and artefact projects has allowed me to engage practically with the course and work not simply as a student but as an anthropologist out ‘in the field’. In particular I have enjoyed the small, close knit and supportive nature of the department with students collaborating across year groups on projects and seminar discussions.

During my time here the successful Sociology and Anthropology Society have organised a range of fantastic careers talks aimed specifically at the interests of students within the department. These areas have so far included the charity sector, the police force and journalism. They have proved particularly useful in third year as a source of networking. Termly socials and end of term balls have increased the sociable nature of the degree too. Student led subject mentoring, module choice guidance, friendly, approachable and down to earth lecturers and a brilliant administrator have really contributed to my overall enjoyment of the course alongside everything else the wider University has to offer.

Interview with Julia Paci


This week, SPA Undergraduate News caught up with Ms Julia Paci, Employability and Outreach Manager for the College of Social Sciences and International Studies.

Hi Julia! Good to meet you. Could you first give us a lowdown of your role in the university?

I’m the Employability and Outreach Manager for the College of Social Sciences and International studies. What that means is that I look after the interests of the College’s departments when it comes to delivering the activities we need to provide the best opportunities we can to students to help support their career development and employability skills. This varies a lot from supporting work placement modules and helping develop placement opportunities to bringing in alumni and employers from sectors that are not otherwise represented at careers fairs to create information events and networking sessions.

What are some of the most common questions students ask you when they deliberate on career and employability issues?

There seems to be a sense of “information overload” and actually I find myself constantly sending students links to websites and pointing out where information can be found. Typically, this is on internship opportunities but also on where to look to get advice on writing a CV and cover letter. It’s all fairly basic stuff.  What I have tried to do with my ELE page, My Brilliant Career, is to bring together those most requested links and I carry out research and post up useful websites there. It’s quite a long page but it’s got a lot of good stuff on it!

What do you make of the current job market for SPA undergrads?

This is a really interesting question. The job market is the same for SPA students as anyone else. However, I think students, especially in Sociology and Anthropology, need to be more aware of what they have to offer the employer. A few years ago we ran an event on Management Consultancy specifically for SPA students. It was a real challenge getting students to go but the feedback afterwards was amazing. It helped that the employer was willing to work with us and pitch the event in the right way. The overwhelming response was that this was a careers path which was perfect for a sociologist but that without having gone and tested it out, the students would have never known. It goes to show that it’s good to be open-minded!

Over the years, how has the job market changed in terms of recruitment? What are employers looking out for right now?

One of the biggest changes and pressures for students now is the fact that employers see a good 2:1 degree “as a given” and it’s what else that is on your CV that interests them more. This presents a challenge to the students who get a lower degree classification and also to those struggling to make themselves “stand out” from the crowd. My advice to those who are having a wobbly time right now is not to bury your head in the sand and to try and get any job, especially office-based work with manageable, regular hours that you can comfortably fit in with your studies. Most employers feel much more confident about employing someone with experience and a basic understanding of “office etiquette” (reliability, punctuality, good teamwork skills) than someone who hasn’t got that experience. It doesn’t matter where you get the experience – there are some great SCP internships that are offered at the university. This is exactly the sort of thing that employers are looking for on your CV and will make up for any other gaps.

What do you think are the biggest job market challenges facing SPA undergrads now? What’s your advice to them in overcoming these challenges?

I suppose the biggest challenge in the job market is about the perception of these degrees. There is to some extent a natural progression from say sociology in to social work and charity work, but it’s not a clearly vocational degree. In some respects, this is great because the range of careers you can do with any of these subjects. I am constantly amazed at the variety of different professions students with Philosophy degrees go in to. There are no hard and fast rules! However, there are challenges and learning how you can demonstrate to an employer just how career-orientated your degree is, can make all the difference. I would recommend all students at some point in their degree take time to reflect on the career skills you get from your degree. Helpfully, SPA produced a handbook for this which is on the SPA ELE page and more general information is on My Brilliant Career. It will really help when answering application form questions or at interview.

What are the common career pathways that SPA undergrads take upon graduation?

There isn’t a common career pathway! Having said that, I see a lot of SPA students who want to go on to postgraduate study and I think that some students find a vocation during their three-year degree which then involves some kind of re-training. An obvious example is teaching which is popular, but also social work, nursing or law conversions. Other popular career choices are marketing and public-relations. These are careers where you almost always have to start at the bottom and work up. You have to have realistic expectations and set yourselves clear goals of what you want to achieve and by when. We recently piloted an event called “Careers that make society work” which brought together people working in jobs which help others such as charity work, or in areas such as probation and child protection. These areas are also popular with SPA students and I hope to make this event a regular feature of our career events programme for SPA students to attend.

What are the distinguishing qualities that SPA undergrads bring to the workforce?

I can answer this question with two examples but there will be many more. Firstly, SPA students bring to the workplace a number of skills, especially the all-important people skills and an understanding of human nature and what makes people behave in certain ways. This is incredibly valuable in any workforce. Employers are always looking for a balance of new recruits to work together and will identify those who demonstrate these qualities as potential employees. With the new BSc degree in Sociology and Criminology there are additional distinguishing qualities which students can offer with their data analysis skills. Students with these strong credentials bring to the workforce qualities and skills which are much in demand by employers, and on top of that they bring an enquiring mind that can be nurtured and developed by the employer.

And finally, what’s the most satisfying takeaway you get from your job?

I get job satisfaction when an event goes well and I like to think that I organise high quality events with a range of interesting speakers. I like the freedom I have to try different things. Most recently, I have been developing more skills session with employers but with different twists to them, making them more interactive and less reliant on passive listening. I also get an enormous amount of personal satisfaction when I see students that I have helped do well. Sometimes it doesn’t always happen straight away but I keep up to date with their progress on LinkedIn. I get some lovely thank you emails too, which I keep and look at if I am having a stressful day – they always cheer me up!I get job satisfaction when an event goes well and I like to think that I organise high quality events with a range of interesting speakers. I like the freedom I have to try different things. Most recently, I have been developing more skills session with employers but with different twists to them, making them more interactive and less reliant on passive listening. I also get an enormous amount of personal satisfaction when I see students that I have helped do well. Sometimes it doesn’t always happen straight away but I keep up to date with their progress on LinkedIn. I get some lovely thank you emails too, which I keep and look at if I am having a stressful day – they always cheer me up!

Interested to discover more career opportunities the department provides? Then head on down to the Facebook page that Julia runs:

Jason Chang

7 tips for taking your degree further

Recently we interviewed Ashley Kilgallon, recent Exeter graduate, on her move from Exeter to Leeds for further study. This week she gives her tips on how to take your degree further.

  1. Get experience outside of academics. Summers are the best time to get internship experience and during my first two summers at Exeter I interned at the Violence Reduction Unit in Glasgow, which was an incredible experience. In addition to this, I interned for 6 months at Ames Police Department whilst I studied abroad in America. When I applied for my scholarship for my Masters in Security and Justice at Leeds, I was so worried that because I wasn’t on track for a First my chances would be harmed. However, I was told that my internship experience would enhance my application. Naturally, university is so expensive and I appreciate that many people might work over summer to try and earn some money – if this is a necessity try and seek a job that is to some extent in your field of interest. If financially feasible also look for unpaid internships – both of mine were unpaid but the experience I gained was invaluable and has massively aided me.
  2. The advice my parents always gave me was to find what it is in life you love and build a career from there.  Don’t live a life “living for the weekend” – love everything you do! This is the same for your degree. Find your niche and build a career out of it. Policing and crime prevention was always my main interest therefore I knew where I wanted to focus my efforts when searching for a job/scholarships. Social science is such a huge discipline and at undergrad you cover so much, it is vital to figure out what it is you’re interested in. And if you can’t work out what you enjoy, try a variety of internships or voluntary positions to at least work out what it is you don’t enjoy and eliminate career paths from there!
  3. If you can seek a scholarship with the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), they’re honestly the best! I’ve never experienced an organisation, which is more dedicated to your success. I’ve met so many other passionate students with a variety of research interests. The ESRC regularly put on workshops and conferences throughout your funded period with them. These focus on developing you as a student; enhancing your research ability; improving your writing; teaching you how to get published; networking with other researchers and so much more! The scholarships are competitive, but completely and utterly worth the hard work.
  4. Learn to network! I totally appreciate that not everyone is confident and speaking to unknown people can be daunting, but it’s such a vital skill. Alongside this, don’t shy away from using family and friend contacts. This can really help in getting the ball rolling with internships and opportunities. But remember, the family/friend contact can only do the introductions, you have to follow through with the hard work!
  5. Some female only advice (sorry men)! Naturally this is dependent on what type of work you’re going into, but ensure you lift each other up and don’t see each other as unnecessary competition. For those of you seeking work in a female dominated area – lucky you! For those of you who aren’t – it’s also great, but be prepared, it can be lonely! I recently met a female PhD student at a conference and we joked about how great it was that at least there was never a queue for the loos! Men are fabulous and working alongside them is great, but sometimes you can feel isolated. Seek out female colleagues and build each other up.
  6. Play hard, work harder. University is the best place to have fun and this is certainly something you should do whilst there. Never again will you be able to embarrass yourself so spectacularly at Top Top TP with minimal consequences. But you need to balance this with hard work. Something that continually motivates me is the idea that you can always do better therefore, always aim to move up and don’t become stagnant.
  7. Lastly, don’t panic if you haven’t got everything figured out by graduation. We’re all still so young – try different things out and if you fail, who cares! Just get up and start again. The only important thing is you don’t get put off by failure!

Gemma Joyce

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