An interview with the newest member of the SPA team, Christopher Thorpe

Christopher Thorpe is the latest addition to Exeter University’s Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology department, taking over from Anthony King, who left in December. Thorpe graduated from the University of Aberdeen in 2008 with a PhD in Sociology, having already secured a lecturing role at the Robert Gordon University in 2007. In this interview, we ask him about what led him to the subject, his philosophical thoughts and his life prior to and since academia.

Could you tell us a little about your life prior to academia, and how you became interested in Sociology?

When I left school I had no idea what I wanted to do in terms of subject choice for further study. I  wasn’t particularly interested in going to university, so I didn’t. I wanted to travel and work abroad, in Italy specifically, so that’s what I did. I worked on a campsite, learned Italian fluently and subsequently returned to Lake Garda and Verona every year during the summers whilst I did my undergraduate degree in sociology. In terms of what attracted me to sociology, this is a vexed question! I tend to think such a question is a bit misleading because it implies I made a conscious decision to do sociology, which of course, I did at one level. What I didn’t do, or rather, what I cannot lay claim to, are the very many aspects of myself that meant sociology struck me as the only game in town. I went to private school and grew up in a boarding house but my father went to the LSE and was a local Labour candidate for a while (it’s a long story!). Sociological ways of thinking enabled me to understand the social conditions out of which my own selfhood developed, a sense of selfhood that I always felt slightly at odds with at one level. Therein, I believe, lays part of the truth behind what was to become something akin to a very intense relationship!

 

For those who aren’t familiar with it, what kind of research did you undertake during your time at Aberdeen?

During my time at Aberdeen, and at the Robert Gordon University before that, I began to develop my research interests. One strand of my work, which I hope to reengage with very soon, builds on the subject of my PhD thesis and is concerned with inter-cultural dynamics and processes between Italy and Britain. In particular, I am interested in the ways culture generally, but Italian culture specifically, is understood, shaped and consumed by different social class-groups in the U.K. Part of this involves looking at the ways in which aspects of Italian culture that seem quite banal for native Italians are re-appropriated into the lifestyles of dominant social groups as markers of class-based taste and distinction. In terms of my interest in (Italian) culture, my next project, which I have discussed with Jeffrey Alexander, whom I was fortunate enough to meet, will involve using my PhD thesis as the basis for writing a structural hermeneutics of international cultural interchange between Italy and Britain. On a completely different note, I am presently in the latter stages of writing a social theory textbook aimed at social work students and professionals entitled: Social Theory for Social Work: Ideas and Applications. Part of my teaching remit involved teaching Masters level social work postgraduates. They loved the insights that social theory gave them, but the issue of how to incorporate them into their thinking and practice was not clear to them, and the book aims to address this.

 

Do you identify with any schools of Sociology in particular?

I suppose I do, yes, but always in a context wherein I am aware that this says as much about me as it does about the merits of the ideas of that school. An act of identification always implies a relationship and relationships are more likely to take hold and develop in certain contexts and not others. In fact, the issue of the context in which an elective affinity springs up between a given thinker and a particular set of ideas is one which interests me a great deal and is something I have written about.

 

Do you have a favourite academic book/paper/piece of research etc.?

As a piece of writing I was massively impressed with Simon Charlesworth’s ‘A Phenomenology of Working-Class Experience’. I think, really it should have been entitled ‘Phenomenology of Unemployment’, but there you go. I think his use of language, once you take the time to master it, is brilliant. I know certain writing styles are accused as being overly obfuscatory, but to write about the things he does, and so well, I believe requires going beyond everyday ways of thinking and writing. I am okay with that. I wish I could write like that.

 

Do you think there are any sociologists/anthropologists/philosophers whose importance and work is underestimated?

I can think of a few who are vastly overrated – that would have been an easier question! Not that I think his work is necessarily underestimated, but I don’t believe students are exposed enough to the work of Simmel. I think too, that the work of Norbert Elias is a considerable achievement, although like Simmel, his work is regarded as something a little off the beaten track. Elias obviously owes a large debt to Simmel, which he seems very little concerned to have acknowledged, ironically! I think sociology in the present day would have been quite different had the work of these two thinkers been embraced more by the discipline.

 

Is there a major issue – whether philosophical or political – on which you’ve changed your mind?

This will sound incredibly soppy, but I am a bit of an old romantic at heart. I think my views on the issue of love have changed. One can, and many have, tried to philosophize and think about love sociologically and anthropologically, but I have never read anything that I feel really does the subject justice. Bourdieu’s analysis of love, for example, ends in a kind of self-affirming narcissism. Luhmann focusses on the different forms love has taken at different times and what is understood to constitute love, but really, as it is experienced and in terms of its power as a motivating force in human life, it remains a very powerful and largely analytically resistant topic. I read quite recently a relatively unknown book called ‘Love and Limerence’, which I thought was brilliant (I wouldn’t say I loved it), but ironically the author ended by concluding that her study had not really provided her with any real insights into what love is or why it is capable of exerting such strong feelings – and not necessarily positive ones – over people.

 

Finally, can you name a favourite novel, album and TV series?

My favourite novel is tough, not least because one’s tastes change with the passing of time. That said, I am rather fond of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. The story is a very simple one and yet it operates on so many levels. It’s a psychological thriller of the highest order. My favourite album is Michael Jackson’s Thriller. I cannot sit still listening to it. My favourite TV series is ITV’s adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes stories featuring the superlative, Jeremy Brett. Cumberbatch is good but when I watch Brett at no point do I ever feel that he is acting. I like that.

Christopher Thorpe is the latest addition to Exeter's SPA department

Christopher Thorpe is the latest addition to Exeter’s SPA department

Interview with Jen Smith

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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.

Why Study Sociology? Because it’s more relevant than ever.

One of the most frequent questions I get asked as a Sociology student is, ‘why study a Social Science?’ Shouldn’t I be studying something like a hard science, economics or business management if I want to get a “serious job”? Why should employers be interested in a social science degree? I must say, I find these assertions a little disingenuous. Quite aside from the benefits which come with any degree – research and analytical skills, an increased ability to work independently etc – I believe that Sociology is one of the most applicable degrees available.

Boiled down to its simplest elements, the word Sociology means the study of society, which makes it a discipline grounded in an ever-changing social world and one which is always relevant. The close relationship the subject has to everyday life and current affairs makes it an exciting one to study, prompting its students to look at the world around them anew. As well as this, this relationship makes the discipline a very important one, with those working within it tackling such problems as the refugee crisis, urban deprivation and crime.

While society has always been subject to upheaval and unrest, I do believe that we are currently experiencing a particularly tumultuous period, the gravity of which people are only just beginning to understand. It would seem that the consensuses established after 1945 are being undermined at an alarming rate. Since the financial crash, we have seen an unprecedented rise in nationalistic, anti-egalitarian movements which no one could have really predicted. From UKIP’s rise in the UK, to the Front National’s in France and the PVV in the Netherlands, nationalist, anti-immigration, anti-EU parties are surging. Even in Germany, the anti-Islamic PEGIDA movement has rapidly grown in popularity – particularly after the attacks in Cologne. In no small part, the growth of these sentiments has been fuelled by the refugee crisis putting pressure on European border policy, and the expansion of ISIS and renewed threat of Islamist terrorism.It is clear that the very foundations of European co-operation and liberal democracy are seriously threatened for the first time in the postwar era.

A protest against the ‘”Islamisation” of Europe, by the German far-right street movement ‘PEGIDA’. (Photo Jan Meyer/AP)

Coupled with this are seemingly ever-increasing divisions between social groups. Only last week, the so-called pick-up artist and anti-feminist ‘Roosh V’, a more grotesque example of the growing ‘Men’s Rights Activist’ movement, had to cancel a series of meetings of his ‘neo-masculinist’ movement. This was largely because of threats he had received as a result of his stance on legalising marital rape. Thankfully, such extreme views are rare, but it cannot be denied that the climate of debate in general has become more toxic – especially with the advent of social media. Debates between left and right have become increasingly polarised, with personal insults, censorship and threats now commonplace – a state of affairs which should worry anybody who values democracy and debate.

All this being set against an increasingly insecure job market, a hacking back of the state and revolutions in digital technology makes the future very uncertain, even rather dangerous. We have made the mistake of assuming that ‘progress’ is something easily defined and linear, and we forget that society is able to fall back into darker times far easier than progress to brighter ones. If our present is marked by anything, it is uncertainty, and it is the job of sociologists and anthropologists to try to both understand and explain what is happening. In my opinion, we are experiencing a backlash against rapid social change which has left an increasing amount of people ontologically insecure and in need of something to stake their colours to.

For my part, studying Sociology has led me to the thought of Émile Durkheim, and I believe his belief in social solidarity and collectivism in preference to the individual has great pertinence for our age. However, I realise there are plenty who would disagree with me, and it is this that makes Sociology a stimulating subject to study. In 2015, Exeter was ranked as one of the top 10 Universities in the UK for Sociology by both The Complete University Guide and the Guardian newspaper. Coupled with the broadness of the course and specialisms of the academic staff, studying Sociology at Exeter can equip you with the skills and knowledge needed to help combat some of the most pressing issues of our time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Social Science Events

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Events and conferences are valuable ways to learn more about current research and debates. They can provide an opportunity to network and provide some wonderful new ideas for PhD research. Many conferences are open to students and are not restricted to doctorate-level academics, but some may be restricted which should be looked out for. Below are some examples of upcoming social science conferences in 2016 that may peak your interest!

Philosophy
The Royal Institute of Philosophy is conducting their annual conference on July 7th-8th 2016 at our very own University of Exeter! The topic will be moral enhancement and the possibility to morally enhance individuals by manipulating their genomes or brain chemistry. This conference will bring together moral philosophers, philosophers of biology, philosophers of technology, and neuropsychologists. For more information visit http://royalinstitutephilosophy.org/events/conferences/.

Criminology
You can sign up to the following event by visiting http://store.dmu.ac.uk/browse/extra_info.asp?compid=1&modid=1&deptid=38&catid=131&prodvarid=331.

18 February 2016
First Annual Emotion and Criminal Justice Conference 2016
De Montfort University, Leicester, UK

Social Anthropology
The Association of Social Anthropologists (ASA) is conducting their annual conference on July 4th-7th 2016 at the University of Durham. The topic of this year’s conference is ‘Footprints and Futures: the Time of Anthropology’. Discussions will focus on the direction the discipline of anthropology will take in the future by examining debates on economics and politics, development and energy, health and well-being, cultural evolution, and the different modalities and experiences of fieldwork. This conference expects to attract over 500 social anthropologists and other social scientists. You can read more about this conference and sign up by visiting http://www.theasa.org/conferences/asa16/.

Biological Anthropology
The British Association for Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology (BABAO) is conducting their annual conference on September 9th-11th 2016 at the University of Kent. Speakers will be coming from across world, including Canada and the US. For more information on BABAO the 2016 conference, visit http://www.babao.org.uk/index/annual-conference-2016.

Sociology & Social Anthropology
The following are a few examples of sociology and social anthropology conferences taking place in the UK this year. For a full list of events, go to http://www.britsoc.co.uk/events/forthcoming-events.aspx.

Methodology
16 March 2016
BSA Early Career Forum Regional Event 2016: Demystifying the ‘insider/outsider’, ‘involvement/detachment’ debate – Locating the Researcher in Qualitative Methodologies
Sheffield Hallam University, UK

Health
19 February 2016
Environment and Human Health – Social Perspectives: One-Day Workshop (BSA Climate Change, Environment & Health and London Medical Sociology Study Groups)
London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London, UK

Globalisation
6-8 April 2016
BSA Annual Conference – Global Societies: Fragmenting and Connecting
Aston University, UK

Social Inequality
19 May 2016
Under Control. Childhood and 20th Century Dictatorships (1917-1991)
University of Warwick, UK

Body
26 February 2016
BSA Ageing, Body and Society Study Group 7th Annual Conference: Ageing and Culture – Programme
University of Manchester, UK

Art
22 February 2016
Re-imagining loneliness: the contribution of the arts and literature
University of Kent, UK

Digital Age
20-21 June 2016
Science/Technology/Security: Challenges to global governance?
University College London

Climate Change
5-6 May 2016
BSA Climate Change Study Group: Re-Configuring Everyday Practices for a Post-carbon World
University of Surrey, UK

Interview with Isabelle Rogerson

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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

 

Interview with the Joint Presidents of the Sociology and Anthropology Society

One of the ways you can get more involved in the SPA department is through the Sociology and Anthropology Society, who put on both social and academic events and are a good port-of-call for any issues students may have. In this interview, we talk to Joint Presidents Lily Francis and Rachel Reed about studying at Exeter and the society itself.

Introduce yourselves!

LF: Hi, my name is Lily Francis, I am a third year sociology student and Joint President of the Sociology and Anthropology Society!

RR: I’m Rachel, Joint President of the Sociology and Anthropology Society and a third year BA Sociology Student.

Why did you choose to study Sociology?

LF: I chose to study Sociology because I always knew I was interested in people and why we act in the ways that we do. Once I studied Sociology at A level I knew it was the subject for me! I love the range of topics you can cover in sociology, anything from media, to health, to globalisation and I honestly feel that it relates to the actual world we live in, rather than being too theoretical!

RR: I was supposed to study Biology as an A level but I got put off by the course. I started scrolling through the courses at college and came across Sociology. After reading about it and researching it, I discovered that it was something I’d rather be doing. I preferred looking at different aspects of society, particularly education and childhood. So I quickly changed my Biology A level to Sociology. After working hard and getting an A*, I realised it was something I enjoyed and should carry on pursuing.

What’s your favourite thing about studying in Exeter?

LF: The range of subjects that we can study, and the flexibility of the courses here. I’ve taken modules in Sociology, Anthropology, and Philosophy which means I’ve been able to widen my knowledge and be more than simply a Sociology student. I also love the campus! It’s so pretty and green, and I am always finding new places that I hadn’t yet discovered like the gardens surrounding Reed Hall.

RR: The campus! It’s so green and open. Although the hills are a struggle; it’s a good workout!

Why did you get involved with the Sociology and Anthropology Society and why should others do the same?

LF: I thought it would be a great way to make friends – and I was right! Most of my really close friendships at Exeter have originated from the society, whether we met at my fresher’s meet and greet picnic, or at a social in 2nd year, I have found some amazing people to hang out with! I think being part of the committee only strengthens those relationships, but also is a great way to develop yourself as a person! I have gained lots of confidence by being on the committee, and have developed vital skills that will (hopefully) impress future employers!

RR: I joined SocAntSoc as a member in first year. At the end of first year I realised that I hadn’t been getting involved in as much activities as I would have liked to. The AGM for SocAntSoc arrived and I decided I should run and got the place as the academic and careers rep. Then this year I got the joint role of president. It allowed me to take a break from studies, explore what Exeter has to offer outside of the University and to make new friends. Not only that, but it can allow students to help each other with their modules

Do you have any study tips for your fellow students that you consider vital?

LF: 1) Actually do work in first year (I know, boring!). But it helps you to prepare for the next two years, rather than it being a shock when you find yourself with 3 pieces of coursework that you had never properly practised before!

2) Learn how to reference properly and quickly. Find a method that works for you, and try and do it as you are going along – it saves lots of time in the future.

3) Find a favourite place to work. Mine is at my desk in my flat, but many students like the library, the sanctuary, or even Costa! Wherever you work best – stick to it!

Lastly, I know everyone says it, but actually give yourself a break and have some fun! I guarantee your lasting memories of university will be the good times you shared with your friends rather than slouched over a desk at 2am.

RR: Organise your time – Write down when all of your deadlines are. Make quality notes! They’ll help you out with revision and essays. Finally, get enough sleep!

Finally, what are your post-graduation plans?

LF: To go travelling for a month around South-East Asia, and after hopefully find a job! I am aiming to work in customer services management in the South West area.

RR: I’m going back home to Cornwall as I have a place on a postgraduate SCITT programme. I’m going to (hopefully) become a primary school teacher!

Interview with a Combined Honours Student

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Many students at the university choose to take a Combined Honours degree encompassing two or three courses. In this way, students have the option of studying multiple disciplines they enjoy. Is this option manageable? Jess Wiemer interviewed Jack Powys Maurice, a second year BA Archaeology and Anthropology student, to uncover his opinions on his Combined Honours degree.

Do you find balancing two courses difficult?
Yes. The writing style for both subjects is different. Though the referencing style is the same, there is a philosophical methodology in anthropological writing that’s not in archaeology. It’s difficult to switch from one to another, especially when writing two essays in either subject at the same time. It’s hard to switch between two different mindsets.

Do you find one course easier than another?
I find anthropology easier than archaeology. I feel like I’m more attuned to anthropology and the philosophical mindset.

Why did you decide on Combined Honours?
I was interested in both subjects and liked the opportunity to study both equally. I also didn’t want my degree to be narrowed down. I liked the idea that my degree would be broader and be relevant to more career prospects.

Are you happy with your decision?
Yes, I couldn’t be happier.

What advice would you give to new students thinking of doing Anthropology and Archaeology?
Anthropology has a reading list on each module and archaeology doesn’t. I’ve found that I put a lot less effort into outside reading in archaeology because of this, which is potentially why I’m better at anthropology. I’d suggest putting more effort into outside reading in archaeology despite its lack of reading lists. I don’t put equal value on the courses but suggest to new students that they should. It doesn’t matter if your interest in the courses is unbalanced because they are each worth 50% of your degree. I also suggest to consider your whole degree when picking modules. For example, you can pick anthropology modules that relate to archaeology. This can integrate your degree more effectively.

At least for Jack, Combined Honours at the University of Exeter has been a rewarding investment overall. Despite difficulties in managing varied academic writing expectations, it seems to be a great option for the multi-disciplinary mind.

New Year’s Resolutions

Happy New Year! It’s New Year’s Day and with a new year comes a fresh start. Yes, we all know what New Year’s Day means – New Year’s resolutions. But what to make your new resolve? You’ve already tried that no chocolate thing; that never lasts long. Studies say cocoa is good for the heart anyway. Maybe, you think to yourself, it’s time to get more involved, to spruce up your CV. If that’s you, here are six ways that you can get more involved in the university related to your degree!

Students As Change Agents
This is a scheme where you get to create your own projects and shape your university experience the way you want. Got an ambitious idea to reshape a course content? Want to work with lecturers to solve a common issue together? Then put it into action! Jason, one of your editors on SPA Undergraduate News, runs a project called Global Exe that deals with conflict resolution and cultural integration through interactive theatre. It’s been running for 2 years now and attracted participants from 4 different continents! Interested to start your own Students As Change Agents project? Then contact: ssis-studentengagement@exeter.ac.uk to let them know of your plans!

Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology Twitter Accounts
Twittering for new topics to discuss over the coffee table? Then check out this list of Twitter accounts by organisations around the globe that bring you the latest research findings!
@socwomen (Sociologists for Women in Society [SWS]) – Great place to lookout for news regarding feminist research and activism for women throughout the globe.
@soc_imagination (Socio Imagination) – Discover fun articles on their columnists’ favourite Sociology books; advice for studying sociology; academic life in sociology and much more.
@wileyanthro (Wiley Anthropology) – Keen to discover new books and even exclusive online access to major anthropological publications across the world? Then Wiley’s the place to go!
@anthroworks (Anthropology Works) – The anthropology of life is an everyday phenomenon. @anthroworks brings you stories from around the world and unpacks it from an Anthropological angle.
@philosophynow (Philosophy Now) – International magazine discussing ideas – from the philosophy of gossip to Marxism. Anything you can think of, they’ve got it.
@oupphilosophy (Oxford Philosophy) – This is actually the philosophy team from Oxford University Press, bringing you insights on philosophy through book excerpts, free online articles and even fun news around the globe like the philosophy of Star Wars!

Buddy Scheme
The SPA Buddy Scheme is a programme designed to help new students feel comfortable at the university. Second, third, and fourth year students studying within our department are paired up with first year students to give advice on studying, campus life, and provide links to services such as the Wellbeing Centre and departmental staff. It’s a great way to give back and help students in a new and overwhelming situation. It also looks great on your CV! If this sounds like something you want to get involved with, applications for new mentors will be sent out at the end of term. Get in touch with ssis-studentengagement@exeter.ac.uk for more information.

Events
Events held at the university are a great way to gain new information about careers, current research, and your degree. Careers events are specific to your needs and can be chosen among degree-related advice or skills building. Keep tabs on the events that you sign up to, because some may be applicable toward your Exeter Award! To sign up to a careers event, log onto https://mycareerzone.exeter.ac.uk and check out what they have to offer.
Research talks are a great way to understand more about current events and debates, and may help you decide what you want to do for your dissertation or career. Information about these talks are generally circulated via email through departmental office mailing lists. Keep an eye out and take note of anything you might be interested in!
Degree-related talks give specific advice to those studying in certain areas, and are helpful to those who aren’t entirely sure of what they want to do after university. For example, Jess Wiemer is leading a Students As Change Agents project to organise an event for anthropology students who want to get involved in research at the beginning of March. Topics covered will include advice on publishing, fieldwork, and internships. For more information, contact Jess at jw624@exeter.ac.uk.

Journals
The University of Exeter has its own journal geared towards undergraduates, the Undergraduate Exeter. It is an interdisciplinary journal, and is the perfect way to get your writing noticed and boost your CV! If you are feeling exceptionally proud of an essay you have written, or even simply trying to branch out into writing about subject areas you are interested in, the Undergraduate is a great place to start! The journal added in a new Social Sciences section for print just last month, so it is a brand new opportunity for Sociology and Anthropology writers! If you are interested in submitting an article, visit http://www.theundergraduateexeter.com. All pieces should be written in Microsoft Word and limited to 3000 words.

Societies
Societies are a great way to meet like-minded people and have some fun! Both the Philosophy Society and the Sociology and Anthropology Society run fantastic events and socials throughout the year. If you like the experience, you can even run for a committee position for the following year! Sign up for membership to the societies through the Guild website at https://www.exeterguild.org/.

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!


 

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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: www.labohemefr.wordpress.com

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.

Books to read if you’re a Philosophy student

About to start Philosophy at Exeter? Or are you a Philosophy student looking for something different? Philosophy lecturers from the department have given us their suggestions for a number of titles that inspired their interest in Philosophy:

Dr Edward Skidelsky: The Great Philosophers by Bryan Magee

“A chatty introduction to the history of Western philosophy, based on a series of television interviews conducted by Magee in the 1980s. Very clear and readable”.

Professor Michael Hauskeller: The Philosopher’s Dog by Raimond Gaita 

“A great read on the nature of the mind, about what it means to be a human and an animal, and how we can understand each other”.

Dr Staffan Müller-Wille: Discovering Plato by Alexandre Koyré 

“He not only explains Plato’s philosophy very well, but at the same time raises the question of what philosophy actually is about”.

Dr Joel Krueger: Zen Action, Zen Person by Thomas P. Kasulis 

“This book awakened my interest in Zen Buddhism – and non-western philosophy more generally – and serves as an important reminder that profound philosophical resources exist outside the standard Western canon”.

 Professor David Inglis: No Exit, and Three Other Plays by Jean-Paul Sartre

“Jean-Paul Sartre wrote plays andnovels to introduce readers to his philosophy ofexistentialism, which in turn drew upon earlier major philosophers. These plays are an enjoyable introduction to central themes in French and German philosophy, and are absorbing to read in their own right, as they contain intense dramatic situations”.

 

Gemma Joyce