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24 posts categorized "Sociology"

04 April 2014

The Redress of the Past

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In this post, Tom Hulme explains more about historical pageants and a public workshop entitled ‘The Redress of the Past’ to be held in London on 8 May 2014.

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The Chelsea Historical Pageant ... 1908. Book of Words.
British Library 11779.k.25

The Redress of the Past: Historical Pageants in Britain, 1905-2016, is a major AHRC-funded project, being conducted at Kings College London, the Institute of Education, and the Universities of Strathclyde and Glasgow. The project will uncover the full spread of the popular pageantry movement in Britain. The British Library’s collections contain many examples of pageant books, music, posters and manuscripts that show how people and communities celebrated and commemorated the past.

Pageants were often huge local community events staged by a variety of different groups for a range of purposes, from town charter commemorations and royal jubilees, to local association fundraisers or political protest. Casts consisted of thousands of locals, and thousands more spectators crowded into purpose built open-air arenas, as communities came together to perform what they saw as a shared history and identity. While the movement ebbed and flowed and declined especially following the Second World War, pageants are still occasionally held today, and have lasted as important memories for those who spectated or took part.

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Greenwich Night Pageant: Pictures. British Library YD.2010.b.2955

As well as producing articles, books and oral histories on this under-researched topic we also hope to encourage popular public engagement, especially through our website and twitter - http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/ and @Pageantry_AHRC – as well as through the creation of a publically accessible database of the pageants we’ve researched. We’d like to get feedback on these aspects of the project, and so are looking for volunteers to participate in a user-group workshop. The purpose of this event is to gain opinions from various constituencies, academic and non-academic, which will then be used to further shape the form and content of the project website and database.

The event will be held at King's College London on the afternoon of 8 May 2014, beginning at 12.30, and includes lunch. If you are interested in participating, please email historicalpageants@kcl.ac.uk by Monday 28 April 2014. In the meantime please do look at our blog and follow us on twitter – we’d love to hear more from anyone who has an interest in pageantry, has watched a pageant, or even performed in one themselves.

Tom Hulme is a researcher on the AHRC-funded project 'The Redress of the Past: Historical Pageants in Britain, 1905- 2016', Kings College London Department of History. 

21 March 2014

The Annual Equality Lecture

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This year we will hold the fourth annual Equality Lecture with the British Sociological Association on the 30 May. This series has been a brilliant way for leading sociologists and social scientists to present their research on key issues in equality to a public audience. This year, we are delighted that our speaker will be Dr Tom Shakespeare, a senior lecturer in medical sociology at the University of East Anglia and disability rights advocate. Tom will be talking about ‘Enabling Equality: from disabling barriers to equal participation’ to explore what it takes to achieve equality for disabled people, in the era of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and ‘welfare reform’.

Tom’s research interests centre on disability studies and bioethics and his publications include: The Sexual Politics of Disability (1996), Genetic Politics (2002) and Disability Rights and Wrongs (2006). He has worked at the World Health Organization in Geneva where he helped write and edit the World Report on Disability (WHO 2011). Tom has been involved in the disability movement for 25 years.

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Above: Dr Tom Shakespeare. Photograph © Jon Legge.

Last year, the speaker at this event was Professor Danielle Allen, from the Institute of Advanced Study, Princeton, who spoke about what is needed from society in order for an egalitarian model of politics to be successful. Her talk ‘The Art of Association: the formation of egalitarian social capital’ is available via YouTube and below:

  

In 2012, Professor Danny Dorling, Halford Mackinder Professor of Geography at the University of Oxford, spoke on the subject of ‘What’s so good about being more equal?’ Much of Danny’s work is available on open access via his website: http://www.dannydorling.org/. Danny’s lecture is also available via YouTube.

The first speaker in the series was Professor Richard Wilkinson, Professor Emeritus of Social Epidemiology at the University of Nottingham and co-founder of The Equality Trust, who spoke on the topic of the best-selling book (co-authored with Professor Kate Pickett) The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone'. The first lecture in the series was hugely popular and was a fantastic start to the whole series.

This year Tom's lecture will be accompanied by live subtitles provided by STAGETEXT. For more information and a link to the booking options, please visit the British Library’s What’s On pages.

Useful information

Remember that books by the speakers listed here are available via the British Library’s collections. Begin searching here and find out about how to get a reader pass here. The British Sociological Association lists their events here.

14 March 2014

Beyond Nature versus Nurture

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On the evening of 11th March we held the public event ‘Beyond Nature versus Nurture’ which examined how the field of epigenetics has enabled scientists and social scientists to gain clearer idea of how environmental factors get ‘under the skin’ to change the way genes are expressed and cells behave. The evening examined how the dichotomy of nature / nurture as two opposed explanations for human behaviour and outcomes cannot be upheld with the knowledge we now have from the life sciences and social sciences. It showed how the sciences and social sciences can usefully work together to better understand differences between individuals and groups of people. The event was part of the series of events that have been organised to support the ‘Beautiful Science: Picturing Data, Inspiring Insight’ exhibition at the British Library (free, and on until 26 May).

George Davey Smith, Professor of Clinical Epidemiology at the University of Bristol, was our first speaker for the evening. He introduced the audience to the different factors which can influence the expression of genes, from events at the cellular level of the individual, to the experiences of our ancestors, which have been of particular interest to those working in epigenetics (see also Hughes’ article, below). In particular, Davey Smith described how ‘chance’ and random events in an individual’s life may account for health outcomes that could not easily be predicted by epidemiology. He talked about how the element of ‘chance’ in human life is an issue for other disciplines which aim to understand life trajectories, health and make predictions about outcome. The element of chance and unpredictability in human life seemed an optimistic line of enquiry to pursue given the constant bombardment of stories about known ‘risks’ in our press and media! George’s work has also considered the complexity of the interactions that development and environment can have on human health outcomes over a lifetime and how these factors are often hard to dissect.

Panel and Audience WEB

Above: panel and audience at 'Beyond Nature vs. Nurture' on 11 March 2014. © The British Library Board.

Nikolas Rose, Professor of Sociology and Head of the Department of Social Science, Health and Medicine at King's College London, began his talk with a brief history of the nature versus nurture dichotomy, tracing the influence of this particular conceptualisation on the development of (for instance) eugenic policies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He described the lasting and negative effects of controversial concepts such as eugenics on the relationship between the life sciences and the social sciences. Yet, Rose was optimistic for the future of the relationship between the disciplines, citing developments in epigenetics and epidemiology as exciting and with considerable potential for the different disciplines to work together. He described his own recent work about the impact of urban living on the individual psyche which takes into account the external environment of the city and its impact on the internal environment of the body. This project, which immediately made me think of Georg Simmel’s, ‘The Metropolis and Mental Life’, offers potential for finding transformative ways for the life sciences and social sciences to work together.

Thus, overall, the messages of the evening were optimistic ones. Many of us left thinking about the potential for more interdisciplinary events at the British Library and were rather less concerned than we may have been before about the potential damage we have done to our bodies (thinking that we may be one of the lucky ones that ‘chance’ favours!). I was reminded to really not pay too much attention to all the press interpretations of research on ‘risk’ (a message also clear in one of our previous ‘Myths and Realities’ events), but to rather consider the evidence from well-established epidemiological research about factors that can affect health risks and outcomes (such as smoking and lung cancer). It also seemed about time to dig out those A level Biology text books, as my scientific colleague kindly told me that stochastic pretty much means ‘random’. I’m going to have to look up DNA methylation though…!

Thanks to our speakers, and to the chair, Professor Jane Elliott, Head of the Department of Quantitative Social Science, for a stimulating evening at the British Library.

Further reading

Davey Smith, George. (2012) ‘Epidemiology, epigenetics and the ‘Gloomy Prospect’: embracing randomness in population health research and practice’. International Journal of Epidemiology, 40(3) pp. 537-562. Available online: http://ije.oxfordjournals.org/content/40/3/537.full

Hughes, Virginia. (2014) ‘The Sins of the Father’. Nature. V. 507. 6 March 2014. pp. 22 – 24.

Renton, Caroline. L. & Davey Smith, George. (2012) ‘Is Epidemiology ready for epigenetics?’ International Journal of Epidemiology, 41(1) pp.5-9. Available online: http://ije.oxfordjournals.org/content/41/1/5.full.pdf+html

Rose, Nikolas. (2012) ‘The Human Sciences in a Biological Age’. Theory, Culture and Society, 0(0) pp. 1 – 32.

25 February 2014

My notes from a conference

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Robert Davies, Engagement Support Officer for Social Sciences at the British Library, writes:

In January, I was pleased to attend the one day conference ‘Working with Paradata, Marginalia and Fieldnotes: The Centrality of By-Products of Social Research’ at the University of Leicester.

The conference was convened by the University of Leicester, the National Centre for Research Methods (Novella Group) and the Institute of Education. The aim of the day was to provide an opportunity ‘for dialogue across disciplines and research paradigms: across the social sciences and humanities, historical and contemporary data, primary and secondary resources, quantitative and qualitative approaches’.  The programme and range of speakers truly reflected this aim.

On arrival one of my fellow delegates asked me the question:

‘So which area of interest brings you here?’

To which I responded:

‘Well, I suppose, I come at this from two directions; as a former conservator of manuscripts and printed books I understand marginalia, as an Engagement Support Officer for Social Sciences I am fascinated by how we might re-use more recent ‘secondary data’ to help understand contemporary society, but I am not sure what Paradata means.'

So what do we mean by marginalia and paradata?  To quote Henrietta O’Connor:

‘…[they are] material collected as part of, supporting or in addition to the research process.  Annotations and augmentations revealed through the analysis of original documents.  By-products, non-standard ‘data’, ephemera, letters, pictures, notes.’

Speakers and delegates went on to consider methodologies for undertaking the analysis of marginalia and field-notes (such as the application of narrative analysis); the potential ethical implications of undertaking secondary analysis of ‘historic’ surveys and following up with the subjects of those surveys; how the analysis of marginalia and field-notes can cast a light on what we understand to be ‘acceptable’ research practices at any given point and how such perceptions shift over time. It included discussion of the latest technological developments which can, and are, being used to collect paradata during large telephone and on-line surveys to understand low response and drop-out rates and to make appropriate adjustments to the surveys as they progress; how individuals may feel that data is being collected by ‘stealth’; and the potential for, and difficulties of, including cognitive and behaviour coding in surveys.

The conference concluded with an examination of the marginalia and notes of the writer Vernon Lee (Violet Paget). It examined the importance of capturing marginalia during digitisation projects and the sustainability of data which is ‘born’ digital (regardless of whether the digital content is generated through digitisation projects of ‘historic’ material or via large national household surveys).

In the spirit of the conference, to gain alternative perspectives on the day I thoroughly recommend reading Llordllama’s Research Ramblings and viewing a storify by Dr Helen Kara of the tweets posted on the day.  I hope the bibliography below may be of some use (although it is a very small selection of the books and articles available on the subjects covered during the conference).

Bibliography

Andrews, M.; Squire, C.; Tamboukou (editors) Doing Narrative Research, Sage, 2008.  British Library shelfmark: YC.2012.a.10037

Crone, R.; Halsey, K.; Owens, W.R.; Towheed, S. (editors) The History of Reading.  vol. 1. International perspectives, c.1500-1990. vol. 2. Evidence from the British Isles, c.1750-1950. vol. 3. Methods, strategies, tactics. British Library shelfmarks:
Volume 1 - YC.2013.a.1041; Volume 2 - YC.2013.a.1042; Volume 3 - YC.2013.a.1043

Elliott, H.; Ryan, J.; Hollway, W.  Research encounters, reflexivity and supervision, International Journal of Social Research Methodology, Issue 5, Volume 15, pp 433-444. (2012)

Gillies, V.; Edwards, R. Working with archived classic family and community studies: illuminating past and present conventions around acceptable research practice.  International Journal of Social Research Methodology, Issue 4, Volume 15, pp 321-330. (2012)

Groves, R. M.; Heeringa, S. G. Responsive design for household surveys: tools for actively controlling survey errors and costs.  Journal of the Royal Statistical Society. Series A, Statistics in society. VOL 169; NUMBER 3, (2006),pp 439-457.

Kirgis, N.;  Lepkowski, JM. “Design and Management Strategies for Paradata Driven Responsive Design: Illustrations from the 2006-2010 National Survey of Family Growth,” in Improving Surveys with Paradata: Analytic Use of Process Data, Krueter, F. (editor). New York: J.W. Wiley & Sons, (2013).

O'Connor, H.; Goodwin, J. Revisiting Norbert Elias's sociology of community: learning from the Leicester re-studies. The Sociological review. VOL 60; NUMBER 3, 2012, pp 476-497.  Blackwell Publishing Ltd , 2012.

O'Connor, H.; Goodwin, J. Through the interviewer’s Lens: Representations of 1960s Households and Families in a Lost Sociological Study, Sociological Research Online, Volume 15, Issue 4, (2009).

Turner, Malgorzata New perspectives on interviewer-related error in surveys : application of survey paradata (2013), University of Southampton, Thesis available via the British Library Electronic Theses Online System (EThOS).

Other Resources

The Research Ethics Guidebook: A resource for social scientists Online 

Developing Generic Ethics Principles for Social Science: An Academy of Social Sciences Initiative on Research Ethics

UK Reading Experience Database 1450 -1945

01 November 2013

Challenging myths and understanding society

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On the evening of the 15 October we held the 20th and final event in our series (with the Academy of Social Sciences) on ‘Myths and Realities’. The series began in 2009 and has examined discrepancies between political and press representations of social issues such as immigration, nutrition, education, crime, food, the environment, welfare and more to understand the gap between social science evidence and more broadly accepted and propagated social ‘truths’. Each event included talks from academics and social science practitioners in which they presented evidence from their field about the particular set of beliefs under discussion. Nearly all of the events have been podcast and are available here as well as on SoundCloud to download.

The final event was chaired by Professor Dame Janet Finch and the speakers were Professors Ivor Gaber and John Holmwood. It aimed to take a broad view of the role of the press and politicians in reproducing particular narratives about our society and to examine the role of social scientists in presenting evidence and challenging misconceptions.

Prof. Gaber gave the first presentation, and with a background in journalism and communications, offered his insights into the notion that as a journalist, one should ‘never let the facts get in the way of a good story’. Gaber critiqued this axiom to show that whilst this way of working could be seen to be responsible for many of the current ‘myths’ about society (e.g. the ‘scroungers’ discourse, ‘problem families’, ‘drugs’, ‘immigration’ and so on), it is also a cultural facet of an industry which is highly pressured and competitive, shaped by particular patterns of ownership and bias as well as by audience expectations. Gaber drew on writers such as Stanley Cohen (e.g. Folk Devils and Moral Panics) and Stuart Hall (e.g. in Policing the Crisis) to talk about the way in which particular narratives about society become subject to exaggeration and distortion as well as about how the press are often guilty of giving primacy to the views and opinions of particular groups (as has been discussed again more recently in relation to the ‘riots’ of 2011). Finally, Gaber raised the question of what objectivity is to the press (a ‘gold standard?’, ‘worthy aspiration?’) and finished on a lighter note with this comic song by Dan and Dan films!

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Above: 'News on the way' by Vratislav Darmek Cc-by

Prof. John Holmwood’s presentation took a different approach, deconstructing the notion of the ‘expert’ social scientist verses the general public/the press. He suggested that there is a danger to the notion of democracy in thinking of oneself (in this case, the social scientist) as the expert or definer of what counts as valid knowledge. In fact, and as recent events have shown, it is in the public interest to question the nature of ‘expertise’. This took me back to another event held here at the British Library (to which Holmwood contributed) where we examined the relationship between power and knowledge (asking whose knowledge counts?). He suggested that when we think of lived realities, and how these realities are perceived and understood by the individual through various practices and experiences, it can become difficult to make a clear distinction between ‘knowledge’ and ‘belief’. If this position is held to be a useful one to take when considering beliefs in other areas of social science, then why isn’t the same approach taken when we examine the different ‘truths’ about society put forward by the press, the public, and social scientists?  Holmwood suggested that there was some truth in Paul Dacre’s recent point that politicians and the press on the left perhaps do not trust the public enough. Holmwood’s intervention was a useful and in some ways surprising one which gave the audience plenty of food for thought for subsequent participatory session as well as for events we hold in the future.

The audience contributed to the subsequent discussion with questions such as:

  • Are all these ‘myths’ necessarily always right-wing?
  • Why does the value of cognitive psychology not feature in this discussion?
  • How do ‘myths’ and ‘realities’ around pornography feature in this context?

The event itself (excluding audience questions and further discussion I’m afraid) can now be viewed as a video online via our YouTube channel. Please feel free to use this video to generate your own discussions, or in your teaching, and please feel free to share the link!

04 October 2013

Listen up!

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Over 350 conversations between friends and family members from people across the UK have been made available this week on the British Library Sounds website. These conversations were recorded as part of the Listening Project, a partnership between the British Library and the BBC, and cover all kinds of topics relating to family relationships, friendship, personal memories, triumphs, tragedies and intimate and everyday life. They offer a unique insight into the lives of people across the country and will be preserved for future generations at the Library. Importantly, they can be listened to by anyone via the website.

Holly Gilbert, who works on the project at the British Library has written a more detailed blog post about the collection here. She describes how the conversations detail narratives of different people's lives which range from 'coming out' stories, to experiences of war, to life in unusual careers such as that of a polar explorer.

A full press release about the project can be found here on our press and policy pages.

02 October 2013

The realities behind the social ‘myths’

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The final event in our long-running and successful series of social science debates ‘Myths and Realities’ (in partnership with the Academy of Social Sciences) takes place on the evening of 15th October. It will be a bit of a celebration of the series (with a drink included in the ticket price) as well as a chance to address the broad question of why we (members of the general public as well as our politicians!) often believe the various social ‘myths’, rhetoric and narratives that we do, despite evidence to the contrary which is often available for public access.

For example, government figures suggest that benefit fraud costs the nation around £1.6 billion last year whilst tax fraud costs around £14 billion. So why then is the cost of benefit fraud to the nation seen as far higher in the public imagination? This is just one example of the kind of gap between widely held views about society and the evidence about social and economic reality that this series has explored. Other examples include the social reality of immigration, addiction, work-life ‘balance’, crime and punishment, educational standards (not as good as my day!) and health and food (is the modern diet really as bad as all that?) and social class (are we really all middle-class now?). We’ve had some great speakers from the academic realm and from policy and practice across the series, and many of our podcasts are on the British Library’s website as well as on SoundCloud.

WEB Myths and Realities FINAL
Our final event will build and draw on the questions and points raised across the series to examine the role of the press in producing and maintaining some of these social ‘myths’. We will look at how we, as members of the public, access evidence about the society we live in (and whether we are interested in doing so?), the responsibility and role of our politicians in revealing social ‘truths’  and what social scientists could be doing to bring about greater clarity for all.

The event will be chaired by Professor Dame Janet Finch who was awarded her CBE for services to Social Science in 1999, she is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the Morgan Centre at the University of Manchester and was Vice Chancellor of Keele University.

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Above: Professor Dame Janet Finch. By Mholland [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Our speakers will be:

Professor Ivor Gaber, Professor of Journalism at City University. As well as having worked as a senior editor for major news organisations such as the BBC and Channel Four, he has published widely on political communications and has also worked as a media consultant for various organisations and governments.

Professor John Holmwood, Professor of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Nottingham. He is the President of the British Sociological Association and co-founder of the Campaign for the Public University. His current research addresses issues of pragmatism and public sociology.

Please join us for an evening of discussion and debate, as well as a glass of wine to celebrate the end of the series! Tickets are available via the British Library events pages and box office.

p.s. In 2014 we will be launching a new series of social science events for the public. Watch this space...

13 September 2013

Propaganda, the geography of not-knowing and the history of ignorance

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Toby Austin Locke, a member of the Social Sciences department at the British Library, writes about the dangers of forms of propaganda which promote non-action and acceptance.

We tend to think of propaganda as something fairly active; a message or instruction to act or think in a certain way, a persuasive force. The images that spring to mind when we speak of propaganda, the quasi-mythological Uncle Sam, the deified images of noble Soviet workers, or even the seductive images that flit across our television screens and line the walls of the underground stations, all appear to encourage us to act or think in a certain way, to stand by our country, to honour the workers, to use the right aftershave in order to achieve absolute sexual virility. But the current exhibition here at the British Library has made me start thinking about another form of what could be considered propaganda, a form that is potentially far more pervasive and powerful. Propaganda that rather than persuading us to think or act in a certain way,  encourages us not to think or act at all, to keep our heads down, to maintain our apathy.

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Above: Soviet Women c.1920 by Unknown artist, via Wikimedia Commons. Copyright statement and download here. [Public domain]

There is a famous piece of propaganda which illustrates this particularly well, one which has recently seen resurgence in the popular imagination and has transformed from an old, forgotten piece of state propaganda to a potent commercial image, practically a brand in its own right. I’m thinking of the famous Ministry of Information poster ‘Keep Calm and Carry On.’ This image was never used for its intended purpose. It was originally designed to be distributed should Nazi forces have invaded England.

The sentiment behind this message is open to questioning. Would the British public really be encouraged to ‘keep calm and carry on’ had Hitler’s forces reached England? Would we really want to ‘keep calm and carry on’ as fascism took hold of Europe?

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Above: Keep Calm and Carry On. By original poster by UK Government, enhancements, conversion to PNG by oaktree_b, via Wikimedia Commons. Copyright and download here. [Public domain]

To my mind at least the answer is no. When atrocities are occurring all around you, when ethics are no longer a matter of concern, when peoples lives and existence are at stake, the last thing I would like to see happen is for everyone to ‘keep calm and carry on’. Surely if there are ever times for people to rise up and take action, it would be under such conditions.

The question I’m trying to raise here, perhaps a little clumsily, is regarding the role of non-action, of ignoring, of not knowing in certain power relations. In a short video snippet, Bruno Latour briefly mentions two possible areas of study: the geography of not knowing and the history of ignorance. He points out the work-like elements of knowing, the labour involved in knowledge, that may often make not-knowing or ignoring the easier option. Facing up to painful truths is certainly not easy, but does ignoring the ethical consequences of such truths seem like the best alternative? It comes back to J.S. Mill’s statement “it is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.” (2010 :46) Would we rather know and act to attain ethical outcomes and perhaps be dissatisfied, or remain in ignorance and contentment?

It could be suggested that such a message is found articulated in political discourse today through the current UK Government’s mantra regarding people who want to ‘work hard and get on’ and the pan-European political insistence of the necessity of austerity. Supporters of the welfare state across the country are coming out in protest against the ‘bedroom tax’ and wider austerity measures, but the mantra of Government, particularly regarding those who want to ‘get on’, offers them no support – it is here to support those who keep their head down and keep going. Whilst there are equally arguments to be heard in favour of the Government’s approach, a supporter of welfare provision could certainly make a case for this mantra being a reincarnation of the ‘keep calm and carry on’ approach to propaganda, encouraging people to look the other way, and not think too hard about the wider consequences of what is going on around them. Of course, the ethical implications of such an approach are open to debate, and are certainly not about to be resolved here.

Toby Austin Locke currently works on the Social Welfare Portal at the British Library. The views represented here are his own and do not reflect those of the organisation. You can follow him on twitter @BLSocialWelfare (in a professional capacity) and his personal twitter account is @TobyaLocke.

Toby Austin Locke is currently working in the British Library social sciences team on the Social Welfare Portal and is due to start working towards his doctorate in October 2013 at Goldsmiths College, University of London. You can contact him on twitter @tobyalocke or read more of his blog-posts at - See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/socialscience/2013/02/encounters-between-art-and-science.html#sthash.U42T6ySO.dpuf