Posts By / Sara Ashencaen Crabtree

Qualitative comments: How the C-19 lockdown has affected the work-life balance of BU academics (Part 4)

Over the last two weeks we (Dr Luciana Esteves, Professor Ann Hemingway and I) have been giving the BU community a blog update of the findings from our opportunistic, cross-faculty survey focusing on the work-life balance of academics within and beyond BU. The previous blogs, Part 2 and Part 3 , have provided data detailing participant responses on the difficulties, or otherwise, of managing a work-life balance during the current pandemic lockdown.

Today’s update puts some additional qualitative flesh on the bones of statistical data. Thematic analysis of the qualitative comments provided some very important insights into the impact of lockdown restrictions; and here we found a broad consensus on certain issues, although these were strongly split between negative and positive viewpoints. It should be noted again that the gender balance of respondents was weighted heavily towards women academics over male respondents; and given these demographics a body of findings carried clear gendered overtones in the survey comments, in terms of the experienced ramifications of lockdown.

While some responses applied to both sexes any gender differences in survey responses appear to be strongly foregrounded by normative, but often overlooked, social constructions pertaining to gendered roles, which are being reinforced, or perhaps more likely, glaringly highlighted, by the material conditions under which lockdown is being enacted. The impact on the publication output of female academics during this period, compared to that of male colleagues, has already been highlighted in the Guardian newspaper, in addition to a recent article in the Times Higher Education regarding the marginalisation and muting of women STEM experts working on Covid-19, in comparison with a dominant male presence occupying the media stage, whether experts on the virus or otherwise.

Returning to the findings of the BU survey, in terms of positive aspects caused by lockdown academia, there were many responses referring to the benefits of working at home as a rule, rather than as a tolerated exception. One of the strongest points concerned the end of travel to the office. This was a significant plus for those commuting from some distance, while for others just the daily struggle of negotiating traffic, the ever-present anxiety of finding a vacant parking space (a particular concern on the Lansdowne campus), together with the exhausting morning rush of organising families prior to getting into work, was felt to be a real boon. Hours were magically freed up for many people and while the financial savings were appreciated, it was certainly not less than the warm feeling of being able to do something really positive in the fight against the climate crisis.

This new, novel freedom to work from home was managed in different ways and for several people could be fitted into a personally tailored and structured day; one with the added benefits of being not only better paced, but healthier as well in terms of improved nutrition, regular exercise, protection from Covid-19 exposure, reduced stress and physical wear-and-tear, as noted in these responses:

‘Freedom to engage with workload at times to suit me and my household. Online meetings were at first a positive as it highlighted to all that in future this could be a way forward instead of travelling up and down the M27 to attend meetings at our campus in xxx. Thus reducing our travelling costs, petrol consumption, stress free and reducing the carbon footprint on the environment.’

‘During lockdown I now do yoga and another form of exercise everyday- and my stress levels are reduced. I save money from the costs of the commute to work and exorbitant childcare costs.’

However, these positive accounts were balanced by those referring to high levels of stress and physical exhaustion, which for many, had been greatly exacerbated by lockdown. This was where gendered distinctions came strongly to the fore. Women academics were now suddenly out of the office outfit and back into the pinafore, overloaded by the typical gendered ‘double-shift’ of balancing waged work commitments and unpaid domestic labour and childcare – a clear case of ‘having none of it’ rather than the clichéd ‘having it all’, as this participant conveys:

‘Constantly feeling I am not doing enough work – knowing I just don’t have time to research. Feeling split between feeling I should be paying my young daughter attention but keep having to look at emails and sort admin etc. Dreading marking coming in as I will spend less time with my daughter while her dad works as a [key worker]. Feels like I am doing two jobs badly: bad mother, bad academic.’

In addition, the lockdown has brought considerable disruption to some professional programmes, where staff are working intensely long hours to mitigate the effects on students, with some struggling with inadequate home office equipment and incompatible or malfunctioning software.

‘Am working extremely long days (average of 12 to 16 hours) as both a mother and a worker. Support for student xxx [professional programme] and cover for colleagues while off sick has increased and requires a lot of personal emotional resources. Am having to deal with a lot of emotions masked as initial anger and frustration and to de-escalate this to support students. Little or no time for own research despite deadlines.’

Even in purely academic programmes the unprecedented strangeness of lockdown has greatly increased student anxiety, resulting in a flood of emails for advice and information, which needs continuous, laborious repetition and new channelling stratgies.

To sum up, this blog provides a limited snapshot of the richness of the qualitative data generated by the survey. While analysis and dissemination continues, a vital new question arises of what important lessons can be developed and applied arising from this very interesting data. While the general public are increasingly aware of the precarity that Covid-19 has unleashed globally, many would argue that these are merely an exacerbation of existing problems that have been around for a long time infecting societies and institutions therein, like academia. In some ways there has never been a better opportunity than now to address them comprehensively and courageously. The question now is how?

Please consider being a participant: the current survey is still open and we hope to gather more responses and which may reflect a greater gender balance from which to draw findings. If you are interested in participating please go to We would be pleased if you would also share the survey with your wider networks as is open to all academics wherever there are. Please note, if you want us to be able to identify that you are BU staff, you will need to mention BU in one of the open questions.

Negative student bias towards women and BAME academics – WAN panel discussion

A few weeks ago an FHSS colleague in the Women’s Academic Network (WAN) raised the issue of how women and BAME academics are generally negatively evaluated by students compared to White male academics. Most reasonable people would normally regard it as self-evident that the traditional, almost monastic concept of a gendered and ethnic homogeneity of scholars is far from the realities of a diverse and international campus. Yet it would seem old tropes remain embedded in unconscious assumptions regarding what constitutes a conventional academic. A quick look at Google stock images demonstrates this. Typing in the terms ‘lecturer’ and particularly ‘professor’ (given the common US usage of the term for most academic ranks), will throw up multiple images – but these mostly depict the same old stereotype. Reinforced time and again, these false projections of an academic norm are internalised by students and, no doubt, the general public, as the ‘genuine article’ – meaning that others that do not fit this image will be felt to be of lesser quality, being less legitimised and generally therefore more suspect. It is easy to move from this position to judging the worth of their educational (and research) endeavours as being inherently inferior.

Although this is not breaking news in terms of relevant research literature, the impact of how students perceive diversity among academic staff has yet to be properly tackled in an academic socio-political context, where great efforts are maintained to keep student customers happy. At the same time few academics can be unaware of the huge significance invested by universities in student evaluations, where in respect of the UK there is increasing pressure exerted on programme leaders and departments to achieve high NSS scores. At BU this pressure now embraces the mid-semester MUSE surveys in a tighter grip. Consequently if any BU students are subject to acting on unconscious bias towards diverse academics then there are now greater opportunities provided for this to be expressed in a punitive fashion.

It was therefore not surprising that our colleague’s point engendered a lively email discussion in WAN; and additionally very welcome offers from members to help to take this issue forward. In order to capture the moment, given this discussion was taking place precisely during the MUSE season, a panel discussion was rapidly set up. Invitations to attend the panel discussion were duly sent out across WAN and to other relevant individuals across faculties, beyond WAN, with leading roles in teaching & learning, monitoring and evaluation, together with diversity and equality agendas, including the UCU.

WAN makes a point of providing a respectful, inclusive and candid space for women academics and PGRs to feel heard and supported. This open-to-all panel event was in keeping with that aim. To an attentive audience attendees offered some deeply concerning accounts of conspicuous xenophobia, racism and misogyny via student evaluation feedback or in everyday encounters. Some of these abusive interactions were described as completely devastating, particularly as they were often expressed with impunity, where staff complaints about student offensiveness were regularly trivialised or ignored. Academics who had experienced or heard of such episodes felt that they were far from adequately protected by existing university regulations; and that a much more robust institutional response of zero tolerance was required to tackle pejorative discrimination in the student body. It is clear that unchecked, unfair judgements of academics based largely on characteristics of gender and ethnicity (although this may not exclude other facets as well), alongside growing institutional scrutiny of staff evaluations, serves to create a highly toxic and risky environment adding greatly to academic precarity and stress.

In order to explore this matter in the greater depth that it deserves, WAN will be hosting another and bigger open-to-all event in the New Year with a view to developing greater traction to move this extremely important issue forward in a constructive way. WAN may have done some heavy lifting here (we are aware of much other good work at BU on diversity and difference), but nonetheless there is a great opportunity for the academic community at BU to come together to ensure that on this issue alone misogyny, racism and xenophobia remains firmly outside of our institution.

If you are not a member of WAN but would like a personal invitation to the next event on this topic please email me (Sara Ashencaen Crabtree) on

Likewise if you are not yet a member of WAN but would like to become one please get in contact.

Professor Sara Ashencaen Crabtree

WAN convenor



WAN seminar: Working Women and Flexible Working

Dr Zoe Young is one of those rare creatures: an academic organisational sociologist and practising consultant to industry for the development of gender-equitable policies around the issue of flexible working. She has recently published an important research monograph, based on her PhD, exploring the experiences of flexible working among working mothers. In WAN we were very pleased that Dr Young accepted our invitation to share her interesting findings to an engaged, mixed audience of academics and professional services, with a lively discussion ensuing.

Flexible working is often mooted as the panacea for gender-based inequities in the workplace in terms of stalling and interrupted career progression and gender pay gaps. Moreover, this is primarily a gendered issue as flexible working is most likely to be requested by women, and this for the equally gendered reason that it is mostly women who are expected to adapt their working lives to the demands of childcare.

The conventional argument for flexible working (which is different from part-time working) is that this will help women to balance family and work time better and in consequence will overcome gendered career inequities. But does it?

Dr Young’s research suggests otherwise, pointing out that there are multiple variations of flexible working that could potentially be offered to employees from a currently very limited menu. Not only is the menu unimaginative and meanly populated, but while women have a legal right to request flexible work, companies are under no legal obligation to comply. Her research illustrates the unnecessary stressors and casualties caused to women workers by organisations unwilling to adapt to employees’ changing circumstances – and how flexible working, as it is currently practiced, far from being a solution, may add to the issues that disadvantage women in the workplace.

At BU the benefits of promoting flexible working is being seriously explored by the Equal Pay Review Committee and by Athena SWAN committees. It is recognised that all posts ideally should be flexible working ones and that male colleagues should also be encouraged to consider new working modes in order to spread the potential benefits. However, as Dr Young’s research suggests, a very important outcome of ensuring greater gender representation for flexible working, is that it would also serve to minimise the currently feminised disadvantages associated with that elusive pursuit of a better work-life balance.

Second WAN international seminar ‘Reclaiming the academy: Scholarship, gender and consumerism’

On the 23rd of May the Women’s Academic Network held their second international seminar ‘Reclaiming the academy: Scholarship, gender and consumerism’. Our international keynote speakers were Professor Maggie Berg from Queen’s University, Canada, and Professor Barbara Seeber from Brock University, also in Canada. Notably, Maggie and Barbara are the acclaimed authors of the extraordinary book The Slow Professor: Challenging the culture of speed in the academy. The audience was deeply absorbed by both their keynote speech and workshop, which outlined why ‘slowness’ in academia is vital to university life. We were dismayed to hear of the bizarre attacks made upon their work, in which sexism and gender oppression were clearly implicated, echoing one of the presentations on the silencing of women’s voices by our old colleague, Professor Heather Savigny of De Montford University. Yet Maggie and Barbara’s work speaks with the authority of deep scholarship and conviction and, as such, is generating great support globally. In this seaside corner of the world it has inspired research at BU among WAN members, along with international conference presentations and a forthcoming keynote speech for a DAKAM women’s studies conference in Turkey in December 2018 by Professor Sara Ashencaen Crabtree; and finally, a planned ESRC research bid.

The seminar was well attended by a mixed audience of internal and external academics and PGR, where we, WAN co-convenors, warmly welcomed the support of our good male colleagues in the capacity of presenters and participants. We heard some excellent presentations, culminating in an evocative social dreaming session by Anne-Marie Cummins and Dr Lita Crociani-Windland of the University of West of England. Thanks to our friend, Dr Ian Davies, colleagues and students from BU Music provided a superb finish to the day with beautiful singing and musical accompaniment and the whole event supported by the invaluable help of Sarah Cronin in OD.

The evaluations by participants were (gratifyingly) completely outstanding, encompassing without exception the two highest points of appreciation. Comments related to the excellence of the programme, the relevance of the topic to the audience and the warm collegiality experienced throughout the day. The only criticisms received was that maybe next time a 2-day event rather than 1 (noted, thanks) and that the rather ferocious air-conditioning needed taming (agreed).

Upon reflection the topic of the seminar appeared to hit a strongly vibrating chord in individual participants resonating with growing concern permeating the sector about the morphing and future of academia. For instance, it is disquieting to note from the research literature that the UK appears to be in the vanguard of adopting corporate values, systems and processes that have been critiqued in the literature as damaging to the ethos, the practices and environment of academia – not only harmful to academics in all ways but also to students in terms of their motivations towards and engagement with their studies, owing to the policy vectors influencing a flawed understanding of the purpose of academia, if viewed as purely instrumental. Yet we note that the HEI trends towards quasi-business models lags behind the realisation of actual business and entrepreneurial industries that the target-driven corporate model in fact damages innovation, commitment, creativity – and ultimately the health of employees. The gulf between privatised business models and academia are great and need to be recognised as such, as celebrated academics such as Stefan Collini and Frank Furedi make very clear. Writing in the Times Higher Education, the brilliant sociologist, Laurie Taylor (the caustic creator of the satirical ‘University of Poppleton’) sought to remind us a few years ago that just as good actors hold their allegiance to the concept of the ‘stage’, so too do academics owe theirs to that of ‘academia’ – not to any particular establishment.

This seminar was thus both timely and significant in allowing the topic to develop through inter-related themes and enabling us to recognised shared concerns and identify a corpus of collegial interest that bodes well for future research collaboration focusing on the threats towards, the defence of and the recreation of what academics really value together with the role of what flourishing university cultures contribute to society.

Sara Ashencaen Crabtree, Lorraine Brown, Frances Hawkhead & Jayne Caudwell

WAN Co-convenors


New from the Women’s Academic Network – forthcoming semester 2 events

The Women’s Academic Network (WAN) has been a not-so-quietly growing feature of academic life at BU since September 2013. For many women academics (those in the know) it offers an annual programme of events, activities and career support in a vibrant and open or lively and confidential environment. Sometimes these events are geared specifically for women academics and women PGR, but many are open-to-all colleagues and students.

The success of WAN, being non-corporate, depends very heavily upon the hard work of its co-convenors galvanised by the wider goodwill and enthusiasm of women colleagues. Plus we have a small but invaluable annual budget to run operations – thank you ULT! But despite having 24 hours written into the WAN co-convenor yearly workload allocation (nowhere near enough, believe me) we sometimes struggle to get the message out about our great events, to advertise membership to women colleagues (especially new colleagues to BU), and to effectively manage our rather clunky, home-made communication systems.

But things are changing! We hope to have our own BU webpage at long last, to revive and update our languishing Facebook page, keep up the tweets and to create real posters round BU to promote events. Through these means we plan to reach out more effectively to all those people who may not know that there is a forum here of like-minded, pro-women colleagues for every faculty and corner of BU. It’s called WAN. Because as one of our keen member’s has just expressed it, ‘WAN is the most collegiate forum at BU’. We think so too.

So here is a handy list of upcoming WAN events for your diaries, where we hope to see more colleagues interested in supporting and/or joining our ever-expanding network:

March 8, 2018 International Women’s Day (IWD) with WAN, 12.00-15.00, Fusion.

There are a number of IWD events going on at BU every year. Here is ours for 2018 which is open-to-all:


Josie Fraser (she of the ‘In the Valley of the Trolls’ talk) speaking about the online harassment of girls and women. Title: ‘Speaking Out Online: “all your base are belong to us…”’

BU’s Dr Sue Sutherland’s research documentary Village Tales, which used film techniques as participatory research methodologies with village women in India to self-document their lives.

Plus Professor Gráinne Conole (HEA, National Teaching Fellow) candidly telling us about her amazing and challenging journey to being a 4* international professor. Facilitator Professor Debbie Holley of CEL.  Title TBA.

Lunchtime refreshments served.

Register at:


SPEAKER EVENT (open-to-all) – April 19, 17.00-19.00 pm, EBC.

Title: ‘Girls Interrupted: Young women’s life stories reflecting on growing up in Post-Katrina New Orleans and the impacts on their gender identities and sexualities’.

 Speaker: Dr Lisa Overton, Lecturer Politics at Middlesex University and Course Convenor for War, Conflict and Development at Birkbeck University.

This ethnographic study draws on gender and disaster scholarship, feminist trans/methodology and queer theories to explore how growing up after Hurricane Katrina affected young women’s life course, particularly their gender and sexual identities.

Drinks and canapé reception.

Register at:


SPEAKER EVENT (open-to-all) – April 26, 12.00-14.00, LAWRENCE Lecture Theatre, Talbot

 Speaker: Dr Helen Fry

Title: ‘Historian Dr Helen Fry unwraps “A very secret war: Bugging the Nazis in WWII”’

During WW2, British intelligence bugged the conversations of over 10,000 German prisoners-of-war at three clandestine stately houses. Trent Park in north London was reserved for Hitler’s Generals and in an astonishing turn of events, they were housed in luxurious conditions and were lulled into a false sense of security. By the end of the war, there were 59 German generals under one roof. They relaxed and became unguarded in their conversations, and inadvertently gave away from of Hitler’s most closely guarded secrets.

(see also Guardian article by Helen on this topic, 17 Feb 2018)

Lunchtime refreshments.

Register at:


SPEAKER EVENT – May. Full details: TBA

Speaker: Professor Rosalind Gill, City University London

Title: ‘The Cult(ure) of Confidence, a critique of the ‘Lean In’ messages aimed at women to explain their failure to reach the upper echelons of every aspect of society.

About the speaker: Professor Gill is known for her research interests in gender and media, cultural and creative work, and mediated intimacy. For the last decade she has made a significant contribution to debates about the ‘sexualization of culture’. She enters this contested and polarized field bringing an emphasis upon difference – particularly the ways in which differently located groups are positioned by and in relation to sexualization – and upon new ways of thinking about the relationship between culture and subjectivity – how what is “out there” gets ‘in here; to shape our sense of self.

Registration pending. For further queries please contact WAN co-convenor Dr Frances Hawkhead



The Second Women’s Academic Network Research Seminar: ‘Reclaiming the academy: Scholarship, gender and consumerism’.

By popular demand we are holding the second WAN seminar, which is open to all BU colleagues, PGR and external academics. The theme of this year’s seminar focuses on the transitions of the academy in neo-liberal politicised spaces and how these are influencing the roles and expectations of academics and students, with a particular focus on women and scholarship.

 Keynote speakers: Professors Maggie Berg (Queen’s University, Canada) and Barbara Seeber (Brock University, Canada), authors of the Slow Professor: Challenging the culture of speed in the academy.

 Call for papers

We invite papers that relate to the above theme as well as papers that focus on gender-based research and/or are sponsored by WAN (open-to-all)

Deadline for submission of abstracts for consideration is March 9, 2018.  Please submit abstracts to WAN co-convenor Professor Sara Ashencaen Crabtree at

Register at:

Finally if you want to know more about WAN or would like to join the network, please contact any of the WAN co-convenors:

Dr Frances Hawkhead, Dr Lorraine Brown,  Dr Jayne Caudwell or Professor Sara Ashencaen Crabtree


Back in the Women’s Room – WAN research seminar

Professor Ann Phoenix

On the 24 May the Women’s Academic Network (WAN) held their first public research seminar entitled ‘“Back in the Women’s Room”: Dialogues on gender-focused research’. This seminar, organised by Professor Sara Ashencaen Crabtree (in reference to the famous feminist novel The Women’s Room by Marilyn French), focused on research that had been either funded by WAN or were closely linked to WAN’s aims and interests. Accordingly 5 paper presentations were given by BU academics with a guest appearance by our founding member, Professor Heather Savigny of de Montford University, speaking on the topic of the hidden injuries to women in neoliberal academia.

A profoundly erudite keynote lecture was offered by our eminent speaker, Professor Ann Phoenix of the Thomas Coram Research Unit at the Institute of Education at UCL, who flew in from her secondment at the Helsinki University Collegium for Advanced Studies to attend the seminar. The day was completed by two successive 90 minute workshops, one given by Professor Phoenix on feminist intersectional research and the other being a fascinating, participative social dreaming workshop on women in academia, conducted by Dr Aanka Batta of the Faculty of Media & Communication (FMC). Professor Tiantian Zhang of SciTech gracefully closed the day.

There was good attendance by BU and external academics along with PGR. The seminar was seen to be enormously successful and received excellent evaluations from participants. However, while a thoroughly gratifying outcome (and hopefully the beginning of other such seminars) the main impact of the day was to be able to focus on issues of genuine relevance and concern to women (and male) academics through papers on gendered barriers to academic careers by Professors Ashencaen Crabtree and Chris Sheil. A paper on women knowledge workers and flexible working by doctoral candidate, Aleksandra Biernat, resonated with our awareness of the difficulties of negotiating masculinised workspaces as women. Drs Haana Osman and Lorraine Brown delivered a WAN-sponsored paper on UK Muslim women tourists. Professor Candida Yates followed with another sponsored research paper on perceptions and emotionality in the wake of Brexit – a most topical issue. Dr Stephanie Schwandner-Sievers gave an impressive account on the ambiguities of gender in post-War Kosovo. Finally, Professor Ann Hemingway et al. discussed their early work on Slow Professorship as a means of reclaiming deep scholarship – where synergies were found with colleagues from the Faculty of Management, who are also engaged in exploring this area. We were also really pleased that this work inspired such a strong response for further engagement with our colleagues across Faculties, where Professor Mike Wilmore, Dean of FMC was eager to continue discussions at a higher level.

The day provided a number of valuable opportunities for colleagues to explore gender as both an analytic framework, a subjective experience and as firmly embedded in ubiquitous contexts and daily social interactions. It provided an invaluable forum to examine the complexities, paradoxes and oppressions that form the problematic and bone of contention in gender politics – and in so doing privileged those vital areas of concern that otherwise too often remain unheard and unseen.


Professor Sara Ashencaen Crabtree


Islam and Social Work: Culturally sensitive practice in a diverse world

islam%20and%20social%20work-pbk_qcThe complexities of multiculturalism as a social ontology and as a political discourse have taken a rapid and alarming turn to the right in a political moment of increasing social turbulence on issues that revolve around national identity, ethnicity and religion. It is therefore timely, if regrettably so, that the second edition of Islam and Social Work makes its debut this month.

The first volume went to press in 2008, in my first year at BU, and my co-authors and I were overwhelmed when the book was showered with positive reviews. Regarded as not only the best, but the sole European text on this conspicuously important topic, it was also viewed as having no counterpart in the Global North (where the subject of social work and minority ethnic groups has been a dominant theme in the social work literature for decades). Since then it has been regularly cited and I been privileged to have anonymously reviewed dozens of papers on Islamic interpretations of social work practice. I have learned that Western social work is no longer the epicentre of practice – there are other worlds out there. I feel that this earlier book was, if nothing else, pivotal to opening the door much wider to be able to hear from our Muslim social work colleagues around the world, whose practice can challenge the restrictive, bureaucratised and therefore often inhuman professional processes in the UK

Strangely, however, over the years, despite the world having changed so very much since in terms of the shifting geo-political axes of power, the rise and fall of despotic regimes, the call for accountability of Western leaders implicated in invasion of Gulf nations, the Arab Spring, global terrorism, Al-Qaeda and later the monstrous birth of imploding Daesh – no one has produced a text to supersede the old first edition. And so, reader, we, Fatima Husain, Basia Spalek and I decided to produce the 2nd edition, which has been fully revised and updated, rewritten virtually from scratch, and I believe we have produced a book that is specific in detail, expansive in scope and completely international in outlook.

We hope that this will be a text that is the first port of call for all social work students across the globe who are interested in learning more about competent and sensitive practice with Muslim service user and client groups across the lifespan, as well as discovering the many beauties and wise profundities that are embedded, but often overlooked, in the youngest of the Abrahamic religions, Islam.

Professor Sara Ashencaen Crabtree

Professor of Social & Cultural Diversity

International Social Work – the rising star of the East

Penang%20conference‘International social work’ – this phrase to those who are interested in the profession and its developments, will either dilate eyes with lit up interest or will be scanned and dismissed as irrelevant to parochial concerns. In our experience it’s simply not a neutral subject, nor an uncontested one but is in fact replete with rich histories, cultural clashes as well as alliances; where grassroots initiatives and discourses engage a guerrilla warfare with dominant hegemonies; where neo-liberal colonialism competes for terrain and influence in poorer nations, wealthy in potential.

These were some of the topics that were discussed both formally and informally at the 2nd International Social Work Conference 2015 held last week in Penang, Malaysia in collaboration with the Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) and prestigious Institut Sosial Malaysia. The organising committee was led by under the organisational leadership of our good colleague, Associate Professor Dr Azlinda Azman, Chair of the Social Work Programme at USM.

In our formal affiliation as visiting professors and editorial board members at each institution respectively, we (Profs Sara Ashencaen Crabtree and Jonathan Parker) were extremely honoured to be invited to be plenary speakers at this excellent conference with the keynote delivered by Professor Dr Vimla Nadkarni, President of the International Association of Schools of Social Work. This was a star-studded event with an opening speech by Dato’ (Dame) Sri Rohani Abdul Karim, the Minister of the Ministry of Women, Family & Community Development in Malaysia. We were also able to catch up with the President of the Malaysian Association of Social Workers, Teoh Ai Hua, by now an old friend and colleague. We also met Dr Al-Azmi Bakar, Director of the Institut Sosial Malaysia. Sara even managed to catch up with her delightful, former student, Chan Soak Fong, now an elegant, professional woman and prominent social work wheel!

It was also an opportunity to reflect upon the shifting positions of power where Western social work is declining in global influence and the new star of social work rises in the East. Civilisations fade – and in the West we have had our day in the sun, which appropriately enough is setting in this direction. The social work models we developed and imported from Britain (along with those from the USA) during our heyday, have an honoured place in the new world order, but it is quite clear that vigorous pan-Asian paradigms are decentring Western models by taking centre stage in international social work. This trend unfortunately is particularly accelerated by an inward looking stance where the energies of social work in England and Wales seems heavily occupied in negotiating the radical shifts to the profession, which many would argue are jeopardising both its independence, its diverse remit as well as threatening to dilute its intellectual rigour. In the meantime schools of social work in the USA and Australia are jostling aggressively for influence in the Asian world in a neo-colonial push for power bartering their richer resources for a place at the Asian social work table.

It was therefore exciting and important to debate with Professor Nadkarni and other colleagues, these global trends, the opportunities and the threats. We discussed the rise of expertise in Asia, particularly but not specifically located in India, and where in countries like Malaysia social work is being rightly recognised as having great power and influence globally. Accordingly, Asian governments are beginning to recognise its huge potential to help transform national landscapes and therefore to bring international prestige to nations. This seemed symbolised by the media attention the conference commanded, where both the conference and its speakers appeared in all the major newspapers and on national television twice in two days. Sadly social work commands little public or political interest in the historical land of its birth, Britain especially in England, except to focus on deficits, failures and gleeful witch-hunts of hapless social workers caught in the crossfire.

We, in England, can learn much from the Asian experience, however, and the importance of accepting the wisdom of others whilst reigniting the grassroots activism from which much social work was original forged. It changes our position and perspective but perhaps in late modern society this is good for us, challenging us to think differently. For ourselves, our social research in Malaysia, and Southeast Asia as a whole, has opened up exciting vistas for us which we will explore and immerse ourselves in as we move forward into this new age and contest for authentic, impassioned social work, welfare and grassroots action

Sara Ashencaen Crabtree & Jonathan Parker

Sociology meets Archaeology – Stonehenge as a site of multiplicities

Sociology students at StonehengeSara Ashencaen Crabtree, Stewart Davidson, Alexandra Jarrett, Georgia Larkins, Ana Paixao Pancada, Charles Scovell-Burfutt, Seval Fleming

Recently FHSS Sociology+ and SciTech students undertaking the final year sociology unit ‘Seekers, Believers & Iconoclasts: Sociology of Thought’, joined up with BSc Archaeology students for a joint Faculty trip to Stonehenge, led by Professor Tim Darvill and Professor Sara Ashencaen Crabtree, Dr Eileen Wilkes and Professor Jonathan Parker. The field trip provided a very important exploration of the overlapping domains of belief, from the prehistoric to the contemporary world, exemplified by Stonehenge, one of the most visited ancient sites in the world.

The day started inauspiciously being dark with rain. After visiting the considerably improved new information site with its excellent exhibits, including an appealingly nostalgic one of historical tourism to Stonehenge, we visited the monument itself. Always impressive and endlessly enigmatic, windswept Stonehenge offers endless variation of vista, where the scale and positioning of the stones appear to change immensely from different viewpoints. From there we followed the processional route in reverse away from Stonehenge negotiating mud and sheep dung on our cheerful march. Tim, charisma totally undampened by the rain, led us on a mobile lecture tour around much of the great prehistoric landscape of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments studded with a bewildering range of burial barrows, dented with ditched enclosures and crossed by great processional avenues.

It was a privilege to visit Stonehenge with our two BU archaeologists on hand to properly explain the relevance of the landscape that would otherwise have been trodden with little appreciation of the incredible importance of what lay underfoot and what it meant, where Stonehenge sits at the centre of a vast metropolis of monuments.

Later the sociology students reflected on what they had learned. Alex, taking BA Sociology & Anthropology, spoke of the epiphanic moment of drawing essential connections between the generic theoretical and specific social phenomena that lay around her. Georgia on BA Sociology & Social Policy (BASSP) thought about material culture, and how the ancient and modern participant engages in the drama of performance. As sociologists we learned from our archaeological colleagues that Neolithic Britons with great subtlety and vast ingenuity orchestrated this physical pilgrimage over the landscape, drawing ancient pilgrims from huge distances, through the construction of an approach where Stonehenge is dramatically obscured and revealed successively en route – thus channeling both physical approach, perception and therefore experience.

Stewart on BASSP wrote a lengthy analysis: ‘My time throughout BU has given me a much broader perspective on this academic discipline, all too often other social sciences are intertwined. However, when Tim conceptualised this idea of Scienti, the merging of ideas that contributes to a new way of understanding, I challenged my own perception and it’s given me an alternative way to examine things.

I did not hesitate to sign-up for this field trip… I mean it’s not every day one gets an opportunity to have a reconnaissance guide (Tim Darvill) take you around the landscape to expand our understanding of our pre-historic ancestors’ rich history and an opportunity to see it through Stone-age eyes! I have gained transferable skills and drawn comparison to even another unit! My understanding is clearer now on what Bourdieu is suggesting in terms of habitus: we become a structured structure. This even has links with labelling theory and the fluidity/structures flows in everyday practice. This is from observing these momentous structures encountered on the day and the assimilation of these ancient societies.’

To conclude, the success of this trip, where sociology meets archaeology in a synergistic appreciation of the multiplicities of meanings in belief systems, has inspired us as an academic group to explore more opportunities for cross-Faculty engagement, in terms of both research as well as teaching – and where the Stonehenge landscape is now clearly on our sociological map.




WAN speaker event: ‘Inspiring our futures: High profile women at BU’

A lunchtime Women’s Academic Network (WAN) event on the 4th June to participate in a panel composed of three senior, high profile BU women proved to be one of our most popular WAN events. This drew in a wide audience of female academics of all ranks from across all the Faculties of the University. We were additionally honoured to have in the audience our VC, Professor John Vinney and the PVC for Global Engagement, Dr Sonal Minocha.

The panel included Sue Sutherland (OBE) Chair of the University Board, Professor Gail Thomas, Dean of the Faculty of Health & Social Sciences and Head of Centre Excellence Learning and Professor Christine Maggs, Dean of the Faculty of Science & Technology.  The seminar topic focused on an interactive discussion of career progression, achievements and dealing with potholes, cul-de-sacs, obstacles and speeding highways along the way from the personal and professional perspectives of our three eminent speakers.

Professor Sara Ashencaen Crabtree opened by the event by welcoming the audience, introducing the speakers and warmly acknowledging all the support provided by panel members and her fellow co-convenors, Associate Professor Dr Heather Savigny and Professor Chris Shiel– not forgetting every member of the WAN community, whose numbers across BU grow weekly. This has helped to make WAN a powerful and exhilarating vehicle for achieving equality in diversity at BU.

The honesty, humour, courage and grit of the speakers in talking so candidly about their road to success was a revelation to the audience who were both moved and liberated to engage fully in discussions with the panel, plying them with questions, comments and sharing their own stories. This was the opportunity to demonstrate that strength in leadership lies in being able to reveal human vulnerabilities and aspirations – a lesson that was deeply inspirational to everyone in the room.

The VC closed the event with his own account – personal, unembellished and moving, staying on to discuss with WAN members his own vision for the future in respect of our shared aims. We, co-convenors, were delighted that the success of this event as another step towards assisting our fellow female colleagues on their paths to progress where the superb examples offered by our outstanding panel received a myriad of compliments from our enthralled WAN participants.

Reminder:  Next WAN event Chaired by VC Professor John Vinney, 7th  July, 5pm   TAG02, Tolpuddle Annexe, Talbot Campus.

 Topic: Getting to the top: A grand plan or serendipity?

Speaker:  Professor Judith Petts, CBE, Pro Vice-Chancellor Research & Enterprise, University of Southampton

Please note: this is an Open WAN Seminar – all academics, irrespective of gender, are warmly invited to attend.  For full details of, and registration for Event: Prof Judith Petts, PVC Southampton, please see


Professor Sara Ashencaen Crabtree, Dr Heather Savigny & Professor Chris Shiel,

WAN Co-convenors