THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Social Science blog

Exploring Social Science at the British Library

Introduction

Find out about social sciences at the British Library including collections, events and research. This blog includes contributions from curators and guest posts by academics, students and practitioners. Read more

23 March 2015

Spring/Summer Events

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Over the last few months members of the team, along with colleagues from across the library and external partners, have been working to organise numerous public events.  This post gives details of some of these events.

On Wednesday of this week (25th March), we will be holding the next event in our Talk Science Series.  On this occassion, journalist and Antarctic veteran Alok Jha (ITV) will chair a discussion with Director of the British Antarctic Survey Professor Jane Francis, UCL anaesthetist and space medicine expert Dr Kevin Fong and University of Cambridge historian Dr Michael Bravoon the subject of 'Scientists in extreme environments'. They will consider numerous questions including:

  • Why do scientists work in extreme environments, and is it worth the financial and human cost?
  • Why do Scientists travel to the tops of mountains, the polar regions and even outer space in order to conduct experiments, make observations and set up instruments and what have we learned from doing science in extreme environments?
  • Is what we gain worth the high financial, and sometimes human, cost?
  • Does exploring these places also make science a vehicle through which geopolitics is played out and do we need to explore for the sake of exploration?

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For further inforamtion on the event and to book a ticket please visit the library's What's On page

On the 11 May, we will be holding Family History/Public History? in association with the Raphael Samuel History Centre, London.  This evening event will consider how family history spans both private stories and public history. It challenges our ideas of what we mean by ‘proper’ history and experiments with the limits of fiction and non-fiction.

Richard Benson and Alison Light read from their recent work and discuss writing their family histories of the working classes.

Richard Benson’s The Farm (2005), an account of his family during the forced sale of their farm, was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award. The Valley (2014), which sets his family stories against the history of the mining industry, was a Radio 4 Book of the Week; it was praised for combining ‘the epic sweep of Gone with the Wind with the microscopic intensity of Tolstoy’.

Alison Light is author of the much-acclaimed Mrs Woolf and the Servants (2007). Common People: the History of an English Family (2014) explores her own family history across two centuries. Shortlisted for the 2014 Samuel Johnson Prize, one reviewer deemed it ‘part memoir, part thrilling social history of the England of the Industrial Revolution, but above all a work of quiet poetry’.

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The Private History/Public History event is free, but booking is essential.

We will be holding a one day conference, in association with Urban Photo Fest and Goldsmiths, University of London, on the the 29th May on 'Visual Urbanism: Locating Place in Time'.  Throughout the day speakers and delegates will examine interdisciplinary approaches to investigating urban space and consider topics such as how does the temporal dimension influence practices of urban place-making; what happens to our perception of urban space when we look at it both forwards and backwards in time; and how can time-based media be used to challenge linear notions of time?

A keynote talk will be given by Professor Michael Keith (Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS), University of Oxford). The event will include a short film festival showcasing work by artists and researchers exploring urban space through moving images and sound.

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Refreshments, a sandwich lunch and wine reception are included in the ticket price.  Tickets can be booked here.

We are delighted that Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, will deliver the fifth Annual British Sociological Association/British Library Equality Lecture on the evening of the 22nd June.

Drawing on her recently published book 'On Liberty' and her work in high-profile campaigns, from privacy laws to anti-terror legislation, Shami explores how our world has changed since 9/11. Her talk considers whether governments have decided that the rule of law and human rights are often ‘too costly’, and look at the unprecedented pressures those rights are under today. She outlines why our fundamental rights and freedoms are indispensable, even paramount in upholding democracy and democratic Institutions.

The event will be chaired by Professor Eileen Green, Chair of the British Sociological Association and Professor Emerita in Sociology at Teesside University.

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Shami Chakrabarti. Image used courtesy of Liberty.

Tickets are £10.00 full price, with concessions available and can be booked here.

Now are you are you sat down or sitting down while reading this? Have you got or do you have a preference for one form over the other?   If you do, why not join us on the 29th June for English Grammar Day 2015

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English has a number of ways of expressing the same concept and with approximately 400 million mother-tongue speakers and an estimated 1400 million non-native speakers it has become a diverse, flexible language that continues to adapt, evolve – and provoke strong reactions. Despite – perhaps because of – this extraordinary diversity debates about English usage have been commonplace since at least the 18th century. Jonathan Swift’s Proposal for Correcting, Improving, & Ascertaining the English Tongue (1712) warned against the dangers of unregulated language, linking jargon and slang with declining morals and poor social behaviour.

In the 20th and 21st century radio phone-ins, newspaper letters' pages and online discussion forums bear witness to continued enthusiasm for dissecting the state of the nation’s linguistic health – more often than not with a particular focus on notions of ‘grammatical correctness’.

Recent developments in the National Curriculum have placed the teaching of grammar in schools once more at centre stage and divided opinion among politicians, teachers, linguists, and journalists, as well as the wider public. How have teachers implemented changes to their teaching and learning programmes to adapt to the new syllabuses and assessment criteria? What resources are available for students, teachers and the general public to learn more about English grammar and vocabulary?

What do teachers, professionals, academics and the general public feel is the cultural and educational significance of knowledge about the language? Join us for a day of talks, and feel free to ask our panel of experts to explore any aspect of English grammar from ain’t to innit. 

To book a place please see our 'What's On' page

In addition to the above events we also have London and the Nation and A Magna Carta for Women?  taking palce in July.

Gosh! There is a lot going on.  We hope you will join us. 

12 March 2015

Shopping in Suburbia

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Robert Booth writes about Shopping in Suburbia and 1960s market research on the rise of the supermarket:

The rise of budget supermarkets and online shopping, the declining popularity of the big weekly shop and the announcement of branch closures across the country leave established British supermarkets in an unusually precarious position. Until about 20 years ago the ascendancy of the supermarket seemed unquestionable. They have so dominated the food landscape it has been easy to forget that they have only been around for about 60 years. An early market research report titled Shopping in Suburbia provides both evidence of early reactions to supermarkets and a sense of how revolutionary they actually were when they first appeared on the high street. Published in 1963, Shopping in Suburbia recorded and analysed women’s reactions to the novelty of supermarket shopping. It offers an insight in to a time supermarkets were starting to replace independent specialist retailers like butchers, greengrocers and bakers. According to the Centre for the Study of Retailing in Scotland, between 1961 and 1971 there was a net decrease of 60,000 shops in the UK . From today’s perspective Shopping in Suburbia is revealing and prescient.

Attitudes to Supermarket Shopping

The rise of the supermarket changed shopping habits, encouraging consumers to become more exploratory shoppers. One 57 year old housewife remarked that “when I see something new that I wouldn’t think of to buy at the ordinary store, at the supermarket I can look at it and read the directions”. In a supermarket, shoppers could browse at their leisure, without being subject to the scrutiny of a shopkeeper. The report is a reminder of the role supermarkets have played in introducing consumers to new foods and styles of eating and have, therefore, been a key factor in shaping the nation’s tastes.

Supermarkets age and attitude

One contemporary criticism of supermarkets, that they encourage us to buy more than we need, is also touched upon by the report, with one interviewee noting that “most people seem to believe you spend more and it is easy as everything is laid out and it’s so easy to pick up packets and tins of things that look nice”. When Shopping in Suburbia was written the advertising industry was becoming increasingly sophisticated and the idea of ‘consumer psychology’ was beginning to gain acceptance. Without the involvement of the shop keeper to guide the consumer, branded packaging was required to speak for itself for the first time.

One aspect of supermarket shopping commented on by many of the respondents in Shopping in Suburbia is the increased sense of anonymity it offered shoppers. Opinions were mixed as to whether or not supermarkets were ‘friendly’ places to shop , yet 74% of housewives in the report agreed with the statement that “Nobody knows who you are in supermarkets”. For a lot of shoppers in the 60s, it seems that such anonymity was a good thing. One particular correspondent relished no longer “having to bother with the shop assistant” and the report notes that the findings “suggest a certain degree of isolation may be acceptable”. Whether or not the housewives of the 60s would have welcomed self-service checkouts remains debatable though.

Views about supermarket owners, much as today, were varied. “I don’t think they have a very good opinion of the public,” claimed one respondent, “I think they prey on their weakness to buy.” Not everyone that the researchers spoke to was so critical though, with one lady picturing “a person capable of handling staff, fair in his judgements, everything to his finger-tips and knows exactly what’s happening in his shop”.

Image of Owners

Importantly, the 1963 supermarket consumer is assumed to be a woman. Shopping is acknowledged as being just one of any woman’s “major household tasks”. The increasing popularity of supermarkets did, however, allow women to spend less time shopping and to do so less frequently. Considerations of housewives’ class and social status are also central to the report, with working class women’s attitudes towards supermarkets generally more positive than those of other groups. The only men that feature in the report are supermarket managers, owners and workers. The idea of asking a male consumer what he thinks about the changing nature of shopping isn’t even entertained.

It is perhaps ironic that the writers of the report had concerns that supermarkets were becoming too commonplace and were too closely located. Today, Tesco alone has 3300 stores across Britain; when the report was commissioned in 1961, there were only 572 supermarkets in the whole country. The information laid out in Shopping in Suburbia offers an excellent glimpse of a time when supermarkets were a novelty and serves as a reminder of how the dominance of the supermarket is a very recent, and not necessarily inevitable, phenomenon.

References:

Shopping in suburbia: a report on housewives' reactions to supermarket shopping undertaken on behalf of Premier Supermarkets Limited, W.H. Smith and Son Limited and the J. Walter Thompson Company Limited – British Market Research Bureau (1963)

General Reference Collection YD.2010.b.3075 / General Reference Collection 08233.t.16


Retail change in Britain during 30 years: the strategic use of economies of scale and scope – John Dawson, Centre for the Study of Retailing in Scotland (2004) 


Document Supply 7755.040130 no. 0402

27 February 2015

Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life

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This week, we announced our new online course Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life. This is the first online course of its type that is using the Library's collections, and we are developing and delivering it with the Centre for the Study of Ideologies at the University of Nottingham. The course will start in May, and run on the FutureLearn platform.

During the course, learners will explore and debate issues such as: freedom, community, place, justice and choice. These concepts form the building blocks of our political views but they mean different things to different people. We'll be exploring how those words come to hold different meanings and how political ideas can impact on everyday lives.

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B. Prorokov, Freedom American-Style. 1971. (detail of poster).

There are two academic leads on the course. Mathew Humphrey, Professor of Political Theory, works on environmental political theory and theories of ideology. Maiken Umbach, Professor of Modern History, researches the relationship between political ideas and material culture (eg through the built environment or private photography).

The 5-week course draws on themes and items used in our 2013 exhibition, Propaganda Power and Persuasion. One of the most enjoyable aspects of curating that exhibition was giving public tours and talking to people as they visited the exhibition. This is a subject that everybody has an opinion on and experience of, and this new course will provide a new space in which to continue discussions started during that exhibition, and to look at the subject in a new light.

An exciting aspect of this course is that we'll be calling on learners to post images to an online gallery, contributing to the debate on what freedom or protest or community might mean. The online nature of the course means that people can join from all over the world, and there are no previous qualifications or experience required to take part.

Registration is open now. You can fnd out more, and see a video trailer for the course online.