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

25 July 2014

Challenging assumptions. Law Gender and Sexuality: sources and methods in socio-legal research (part 1)

Add comment Comments (0)

Earlier this year, Jon Sims, Legal Studies Curator, told us what to expect in this year’s Socio-Legal studies training day on law, gender and sexuality. In this post, Jon describes some of the archives and collections discussed at the day, and the recent research and projects available at the British Library.

Websmall-Heroine
Heroine, 1978 (c) Suzi Varty. On display in our exhibition Comics Unmasked.

This year’s joint socio-legal training day saw a number of established academic researchers and staff from UK research collections talking about sources and analysis that underpin the investigation of intersections between law, gender and sexuality. The aim of these days is to introduce newcomers to more unusual information sources and methods that lie outside the typical domain of doctrinal legal research.  Sources used by speakers included:

  • feminist judgments project, at the University of Kent;
  • Stonewall’s “House of Lords #EqualMarriage Bingo” card, which circulated on social media at the time of the Marriage (same sex couples) bill and offered a template of cliché and prejudice with which to interrogate discourse about the bill;
  • wills valued (pre and post 1858) for their biographical potency and their potential to challenge assumptions about vertical genealogy by applying messier legal constructions of queer kinship;
  • pre-Wolfenden police photographs used to explore institutionally embedded ways of seeing homosexuality; and
  • a t-shirt used to help explore the contexts and subtext of its production story, including its gendered and legal dimensions.

Resources from the IALS Archives were highlighted for their potential to support research on women’s history in the legal academy. The Hall Carpenter ArchiveWomen’s Library and Gender Studies collections were introduced by Heather Dawson of the LSE. The remainder of this post serves to highlight British Library resources.

British Library resources

Sharing extracts of interviews with Lesley Abdela  and Vera Baird, British Library curator Polly Russell illustrated the potential of the Sisterhood and After: Women’s Liberation oral History collection to provide context for reforms relating, for example, to equality in pay, educational and job opportunities, and  reproductive health. Further sound recordings were also highlighted including the Hall-Carpenter Oral History archive (catalogue no: C456) which compliments the LSE and LAGNA collections; The Millthorpe Project: Interviews with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans Trade Unionists; Before Stonewall (C1159); and around 60 recordings on the theme of gender studies. (ICA Talks on BL Sounds) .

There’s a growing cross-disciplinary research literature including feminist law journals, work on law’s silence on gender and sexuality, its default male hetero-normativity and impact, biographically and empirically based work on the legal professions, and work on women and gender studies work more generally. This can be found through the Library's catalogue, numerous legal and women’s studies e-resources, bibliographies and guides. Useful collections and reviews of the literature include Ruthann Robson’s (ed) 3 volume Sexuality and the Law (in the Social Science Reading Room at SPIS 346.013) and Rosemary Hunter’s Gendered socio of socio-legal studies in Exploring the 'socio' of socio-legal studies (SPIS 340.115).

The day’s focus on Library collections lay elsewhere however. Attempting to demonstrate the potential of the Library’s diverse collections to help explore the social and cultural context of law’s relationship with gender and sexuality, Jon Sims started at the modern end of things. First off, he used the Broadcast News service archive of France 24 as an example of visual analysis of the diverse composition of the assembled conservative right united in France in opposition to same sex marriage legislation or in support of traditional family values (Sun Feb 2nd 2014 17.00 to 19.59). Similarly, there are multiple disciplinary perspectives on the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality bill (intermittently available online, also held at the British Library, shelf mark: CSC 251/6 : bill No.18 of 2009, Bills Supplement No.13 to Uganda Gazette No.47 Volume CII. 25th September 2009) and its impact, for example on closeting, HIV prevention and treatment. These can be discovered via Africa Wide and Sabinet (freely available in the reading rooms).

Following Rashida Manjoo’s (UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women)  recent mission to the UK and mention of “over-sexualized portrayals of women and girls” in the media, the Library’s collections of tabloid newspapers, "lads mags", and "women’s glossies", offer potential support for researching relationships between the circulation and perpetuation of gender stereotypes, unresponsive and unsupportive criminal justice contexts, and low reporting and conviction rates for violent crimes against women. In a similar vein, Shannon Sampert’s 2010 Canadian study on Newspapers and Sexual Assault Myths is available in the reading Rooms (22 Can. J. Women & L. 301 2010  HeinOnline)

While once-elusive reports with references like A/HRC/26/38 or A/HRC/26/39  now can be found routinely on UN websites, the British Library’s UN Depository Collection and statistics from other Inter-Governmental Organisations, such as the OECD, also contribute to our understanding of laws role in facilitating both discrimination against women and girls and in protecting rights. One example,  Gender, Institutions and Development, a statistical data set within OECD i-Library,  provides comparative international figures on for example inheritance rights, female genital mutilation (FGM), legal age of marriage, levels of domestic violence, custody and guardianship rights, reproductive rights and unmet need for contraception, and access to public space.

In Jon’s next post, he’ll talk about resources from earlier in the 20th century, throwing light on the interaction between law, gender and sexuality.

References

Rosemary Hunter. 2012. ‘Feminist Judgements as Teaching Resources’. Oňati Socio-Legal Series. Vol. 2, no. 5. See SSRN abstract 2115435

Rosemary Hunter, Clare McGlynn and Erica Rackley. ed.s. 2010. Feminist Judgements: from theory to practice. Oxford: Hart. British Library shelfmark: YC.2013.a.12208

16 July 2014

Age is in the eye of the beholder

Add comment Comments (0)

Social science curator Simone Bacchini reports on a recent conference at the British Library, which examined the portrayal of ageing.

ProfessorLynneSegal-websmall
Professor Lynne Segal, Birkbeck University of London, speaking at the British Library

Everybody’s doing it, so we might as well be open about it. What? Drug-taking? No: getting older; it’s ageing I’m talking about.

And talk about it we did, at the one-day conference held at the British Library on Monday, 28 April 2014. To be precise, what we explored was how we talk about or, to be more precise, how we portray age and ageing. The event was co-organised by the British Library’s Social Sciences Department, Queen Mary University’s School of Languages, Linguistics and Film, and the Centre for Policy on Ageing (CPA).

You might think that this was a very academic debate, quite abstract and theoretical. And yes, many of the day’s speakers were indeed academics, starting with the keynote speaker, Professor Lynne Segal, - whose recent book ‘Out of Time: The pleasures and the perils of ageing’ (Verso, 2013) is an examination of her own life as well an exploration of ageing. But the whole point of the event was to show that the ways age and ageing are portrayed - in the media, in Government policy documents, or in countless everyday conversations – does have practical consequences.

Alexa-purves-weblarge
This portrait of Ms Alexa Purves (acrylic and watercolour on paper, 83.5 x 59.9 cm.), painted by Scottish artist Fionna Carlisle was displayed at the conference. It is part  of the artist’s cooperation with the Edinburgh-based  Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology for the  Portraits of an Intelligent Scotland project, an exhibition of portraits representing the lives of two groups of people: cohort participants in a unique study of ageing, and the scientists that are studying them.

Like many other occurrences, age and ageing do not appear to be problematic concepts, at least on the surface: age/ing is what happens when, well, when you get older. And yet, think about it a bit more carefully and problems begin to appear. Words like ‘old’ turn opaque: when does one become ‘old’, for example? Is it at 70, 80, or 90? Much depends on average life-expectancy, of course; which is why, in the West at least, who is and who isn’t ‘old’ and what society expects of them is constantly shifting.

So age and ageing have become ‘hot topics’. More and more people are looking at them from a variety of angles. This is why, here at the British Library, we decided to prioritise this disciplinary area by expanding the existing resources to facilitate its study and to actually bring together people with an interest in it, not only to exchange ideas but also to explore how to better respond, as a repository of knowledge, to their needs.

The idea for the conference began to form following an observation: on one hand, scientific innovations that allow us to live longer are hailed as great advances; while on the other, the fact that people nowadays live longer is regularly framed as a problem. The metaphors that are often used when the topic is discussed, for example in relation to the welfare state and health services are revealing: ‘time-bomb’ and ‘drain on resources’ are only two examples. And in discourse on ageing populations, older citizens (itself a problematic label: who are ‘the elderly’? Are they all the same?) are often portrayed as ‘takers’, leading comfortable lives at the expense of the younger generations who, when their time comes, will not be as fortunate. The messages we receive are, in other words, contradictory; age is both an opportunity, especially in a market economy that sees longer lives as a chance for prolonged consumption, and a burden, for its ‘costs’.

The ways in which we, as a society, represent age and ageing are therefore relevant and have consequences for the ways we construe and relate to older people. From policy-making to intergenerational relations, the ways in which age is construed and presented are never neutral. They can and should be constantly challenged; to do so, both the art historian and the sociologist, the social worker and the literary theorist, as well as – let’s not forget it – older people themselves, can and should contribute to the debate. Something we hope to have facilitated with this event, a video recording of which will soon be available (watch this space!).

And anyway, when does ageing really start? The day we are born, one may say.

 

11 July 2014

Escorting Stoller's Depart

Add comment Comments (0)

Keen observers of British Library blogs will have noticed a profusion, perhaps that should be a peloton, of posts related to the Tour de France 2014.  In this post Jerry Jenkins, Curator for International Organisations & North American Official Publications, describes his motivation for joining the ‘Tour de British Library’:

On Friday last week I had the pleasure of riding my folding Brompton bike, with colleagues on a tandem, from the Library’s site in Boston Spa to Selby and back again. This was our contribution to the Tour de British Library, a monumental two-day cycle by library colleagues between the British Library’s twin sites at St. Pancras in London and Boston Spa, Yorkshire to celebrate Le Grand Départ of the Tour de France 2014 from Leeds.

Depart from Boston Spa crop
Jerry Jenkins and colleagues Roy, Lynne and Alastair preparing for their departure from Boston Spa to Selby.

When plans were drawn up to unite our London and Yorkshire sites with this two day, two-hundred mile ride to coincide with the start of the Tour de France, I was keen to take part. Aside from the obvious pleasure of going for a spin in the country, there is a good reason why this endeavour is appropriate: a large portion of the Library’s collections are stored in Boston Spa.

Indeed, the 'Roswellesque' sounding Building 24, where official publications are stored, contains linear mile upon mile of shelving holding a treasure trove of information, debate, statistics, discourse, reports, pamphlets and periodicals on every conceivable subject, including a few items on cycling and bicycles.  In the daily life of the Library these publications quietly trundle back and forth to and from Boston Spa to the Reading Rooms at St Pancras in their own “petit depart”.   So my excursion to join colleagues on the Tour de British Library for the final stage was, in part, homage to the collections.  The way they make their way up and down the country illustrates how the route between London and Yorkshire is well-worn with the transference of knowledge between the two British Library sites.

It was also a way of supporting other colleagues who had set off the day before from London with a copy of Douglas Cowie and Matthew Shaw’s book, Stoller’s Depart to Boston Spa as part of the Tour de British Library.  Stoller’s Depart is an especially commissioned work to coincide with the Yorkshire Grand Depart.

Sculptureofcyclists
Le Tour de France dans les Pyrénées, by Jean-Bernard Métais.  Photograph by Jerry Jenkins.

To celebrate the Tour de France the Library currently has two displays of related material: The Grand Depart -Tour de Lead Graffiti at St Pancras and Le Grand Départ at Boston Spa.  Both displays can be viewed free of charge.

A resource guide to the library's holdings of Official Publications can be found here