Cultural and Social Change (Barry Richards and Rosie Read)

A number of colleagues from four Schools (AS, HSC, MS, ST) met on Monday 27th June to consider whether a meaningful theme, complementary to those already in development, could be defined within the broad territory of the social sciences and humanities. We had a useful discussion around the following points:

  1. The themes are being defined as a way of presenting BU’s research externally, but may have internal effects, in promoting collaborations, inflecting research identities, etc.
  2. There will inevitably be major areas of overlap between several themes, given that all are broadly defined.
  3. Dialogue between themes in the development phase would help to clarify boundaries.
  4. The themes of ‘Creative & digital economies’ and ‘Leisure and tourism’, and also ‘Health and well-being’, were ones where overlaps and interfaces with a ‘culture&society’ one would be most obvious.
  5. Contributions to the debate about how to define a ‘culture&society’ theme had suggested that ‘history’ and ‘welfare’ were two important parameters, amongst others.
  6. In the discussion we were very aware of the need to introduce some limits to the theme, and of the possibility therefore that some ‘potential ‘members’ might not fit into the final definition of it.
  7. There was also a view that we should try to include both social scientific and more humanities-based researchers.

The proposal that the phrase ‘Cultural and social change’ might be an appropriate theme title was favourably received. While still very broad (no doubt in some contexts unhelpfully so), it puts implicit emphasis on the historical context (‘change’ being a process in time), which is important for those studying contemporary life as well as for those actually doing historical research. It would encompass researchers of different philosophical orientation, and is hospitable to agendas of social engagement (such as the social welfare vision from HSC, the commentaries on democratic culture from MS, contributions to media and cultural policy/production from MS and ST, and the perspectives on various social issues from AS). Whether the theme title can be modified to reflect explicitly this principle of engagement for social betterment remains to be seen.

The meeting decided that in order to produce a full prospectus for this theme we would invite any interested colleagues to contribute further inputs to it – building on or otherwise responding to the above – via the Research blog. These could be thoughts about the overall theme, or suggestions for specific elements to be within it. If you’d like to do so, please indicate which heading of the theme template you are addressing (summary, scope in/out, ‘big societal questions’ which the theme addresses, link to RC priorities, interlinks with other BU themes). Given the need to finalise a statement about the theme within the next month, we agreed that blog-based conversations and inputs could run until 15 July, at which point a smaller group would hopefully collate them into a generally acceptable statement which would establish the theme across at least the four Schools so far involved. Myself and Rosie Read are happy to play a part in that group; if anyone else is interested please let us know.

You can access the latest version of the scoping document for the Cultural & Society theme here:  Cultural and Social Change – July 2011

In the meantime, to help consolidate the responses so far around this theme, please note that the previous two discussion threads entitled ‘Culture and Society (Rosie Read)‘ and ‘Culture and Society (Barry Richards)‘ are now closed and all future responses related to this theme should be made to this post using the link below. Thank you.

Barry Richards

3 Responses to “Cultural and Social Change (Barry Richards and Rosie Read)”

  1. Edwin van Teijlingen

    What is the logic behind choosing the title or label ‘Cultural and social change’? Are we, as social scientists, not interested in studying society in our scholarly activities rather than just focus on those elements that ‘change’? Social change refers to a (significant) alteration over time in behavior patterns and cultural values and norms. Since some of our work, so I’m informed by my social work colleagues in HSC, centres around the study of the underserved and those without a voice, the study of a lack of change can be equally important. If we agree that this is the case than the label ‘Culture and Society’ makes more sense as it is more inclusive (and more appropriate). Following my argument to its logical conclusion, why not stick to widely recognized label ‘Sociology’ for the study of Culture and Society?

    Prof. Edwin van Teijlingen
    Book review editor Sociological Research Online

    • Barry Richards

      In reply to Edwin’s post, ‘change’ came from the prominence of historical perspectives amongst those involved in the discussion. But in any event, are there many social situations that do not change today? As for ‘sociology’ while it’s a term that can be used as broadly as you like, it is the name of a specific discipline which a number of those who’d like to be associated with this theme don’t see as their home or may feel they don’t know very well.

  2. Jonathan Parker

    The theme is certainly taking shape and the development of a beginning focus provides much food for thought. I think that the two strands of social science and humanities research is partciaulrly important and opens, more widely, the possibilities vis á vis RC funding, alongside, perhaps more importantly to many of us, potentially exciting and innovative lines of research. I remain a little concerned about creating themes that are too restrictive, however, as I think these will fall out of the broader ‘theme’ as groups cluster around certain areas; and, if there isn’t a broad base to begin with, it may be the case that smaller clusters develop according to minority interests. If we have a broader more inclusive approach to start with we retain the potential for dialogue and support and, importantly, interdisciplinarity. However, if we constrain and focus we may leave smaller groups to flounder or develop on the ‘margins’, which, at its worst, may replicate some of the silos many are hoping to avoid.

    Having said all that, the two identified strands of history (broad and multi-disciplinarily relevant) and welfare (a contested term open to much interpretation) offer a great deal to many of us. They represent a useful starting place from which to develop this BU theme.

    Prof. Jonathan Parker