Social Science blog

33 posts categorized "Sociology"

04 October 2015

Animals Inspired Events at the British Library

Add comment Comments (0)

As it is World Animal Day, I thought I'd take the opportunity to introduce two animal-related events that are taking place next month at the British Library as part of the Being Human festival. These two events were motivated by our current Animal Tales exhibition which shows how animals have come to play such an important role in literature and in human life and culture more broadly.

The Being Human festival begins after the exhibition itself closes, but these two events are still linked to some of the themes of the exhibition. The first, on 13 November is ‘From Animal Tales to Animal Tags’ which is a virtual, drop-in event which hopes to involve interested members of the public in curating our online collection of images which is held on Flickr through tagging images of domestic animals. We have 1 million out of copyright images as part of our Flickr collection which are held under a creative commons license. The more the public are involved in tagging and grouping these images, the more user-friendly the collection becomes to researchers and other interested individuals and groups. If you have a Flickr account, or are able to set one up, it should be easy to participate in this event.

You can take part using your own device at home (e.g. via a tablet, laptop or PC) or can take your device along to one of the participating public libraries within the BL’s BIPC network (more details to follow), or our St Pancras site, to bring a sense of the collective to the event through tagging animals in this collection alongside other members of the public.


Image taken from page 81 of '[Travels through the Southern Provinces of the Russian Empire in 1793 and 1794. Translated from the German [by F. W. Blagdon]. MS. notes.]'

Our second animal inspired event, ‘Humans and their non-humans’ is on the evening of the 19 November at the Terrace Restaurant at our St Pancras site. This event will explore something very close to the hearts of many of us – the relationship between humans and our pets. For this event, we are very lucky to have a fantastic panel of experts to talk about different aspects of the human-animal relationship through the research they have undertaken.

From the biological to the sociological, this event will address issues such as: our emotional engagement with pets, pets as family members, pets as enablers and their role in health and, wider sociological questions about the changing nature of the human-pet relationship. Our chair for the evening will be Professor Claire Molloy, Director of the Centre for Human Animal Studies at Edge Hill University, who has written extensively about the representation of animals in film and other media.

Our speakers for the evening are Dr John Bradshaw, Professor Nickie Charles and Professor Daniel Mills, whose diverse expertise and interests will make this a informative and fun evening for all of us interested in the human-animal relationship. The event starts at 18.30 and will be followed by a pay bar until 21.00. It includes time for audience questions and is aimed at the public, so there is no need to come with any prior knowledge of the topic. This event is charged and can be booked via our What’s On pages. We hope to see you there!

23 March 2015

Spring/Summer Events

Add comment Comments (0)

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?

Extreme Environmentssmall
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’.

Family History - Sepia family portraitsmall

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.

Visual Urbanism 2015small
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.

Shami Chakrabartismall
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

Grammar Daysmall
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

Add comment Comments (0)

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.


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

02 February 2015

2014 in review: Management Book of the Year, the problem with democracy, epigenetics and beyond.

Add comment Comments (0)

2014 saw British Library curators working across diverse themes, including: sport, law, language, gender, ageing and democracy. Through conferences, exhibitions, workshops and collection development, we worked with a range of audiences, uncovering new insights to our collections and learning more about contemporary research. Here are some highlights:

The annual Chartered Management Institute/British Library Management Book of the Year awards ceremony was held in the British Library conference centre on the 3rd February 2014.  Details of the category winners can be found on the CMI website along with videos which summarise each of the books.  The videos were produced by students from Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication.  The overall winner for 2014 was The Ten Principals behind Great Customer Experience by Matt Wilkinson.  We look forward to participating in the 2015 awards ceremony, which takes place on the 9th of February this year.

As part of the public events series linked to the Beautiful Science: Picturing Data, Inspiring Insight   exhibition, we held a public discussion ‘Beyond Nature versus Nurture’.  This event brought together social scientists and scientists to discuss how the nature versus nurture debate has been revolutionised by the study of Epigenetics and to debate the moral, ethical and social consequences of the growing understanding of how nurture affects nature. The speakers were Professors George Davey-Smith and Nikolas Rose.  The evening was chaired by Professor Jane Elliott. The discussion is available as a podcast and can also be watched on the library’s Youtube channel.

To mark Le Grand Départ of the Tour de France 2014 from Yorkshire, members of the team, with colleagues from across the library, curated and installed a display of collection items at the library’s Boston Spa site near Wetherby. The display included accounts of the early days of cycling as a mass pastime and sport, including an 1897 description of a ‘bicycle gymkhana’, more recent journalistic accounts of the legendary cycling extravaganza, typographical prints responding creatively to the 2011 Tour de France – including Mark Cavendish’s Green Jersey win – and the original manuscript of Tim Moore’s best-selling French Revolutions, his 2001 account of cycling the entire 3,630km route of the 2000 Tour de France.

Gill Ridgley and Robert Davies following the installation of Le Grand Tour exhibition at Boston Spa

In addition to the exhibition there was a ‘peloton’ of blogs written by staff including 'Pedal Power' which explored how patents held by the library shed light on the technical development of the bicycle over the last two hundred years and ‘Escorting Stoller's Depart' which reports on the Tour de British Library when members of staff cycled from St Pancras to Boston Spa to mark the start of the Tour de France.

In April we held a one day conference Portraying Ageing: Cultural Assumptions and Practical Implications in partnership with the The School of Language, Linguistics and Film – Queen Mary, University of London and the Centre for Policy on Ageing.  The conference brought together experts from different backgrounds to share and discuss, from a variety of theoretical and practical viewpoints, how age and ageing are not only biological events but also cultural and social constructions and how insights from research can be translated into policy and practice.  They keynote address was given by Professor Lynne Segal, Anniversary Professor of Psychology & Gender Studies at Birkbeck, Guardian Columnist and author of ‘Out of Time: The Pleasures and the Perils of Ageing’. The conference was filmed and the videos can be accessed via a page on the Social Welfare Portal.  An overview of the day is also available via the ‘Age is in the eye of the beholder' blog post.

Professor Lynne Segal delivering the keynote address at the Portraying Ageing Conference.

We were delighted to hold the Fourth Annual Equality lecture in association with the British Sociological Association.  This year our speaker was Dr Tom Shakespeare, a senior lecturer in medical sociology at the University of East Anglia and disability rights advocate. 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) and has been involved in the disability movement for 25 years.

The theme of Tom’s talk was ‘Enabling Equality: from disabling barriers to equal participation’ and explored 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’.  The lecture is available on our podcast page and as a video on the British Sociological Association’s vimeo channel.

Members of the team assisted colleagues from across the library in the planning and delivery of the Languages and the First World War International Conference which was held in association with the University of Antwerp and timed to coincide with the opening of the library exhibition Enduring War: Grief, Grit and Humour.  The conference aimed to study how the languages of combatant nations influenced each other; the use of trench slang to both include and exclude individuals; censorship and propaganda; the development of interpreting as a profession; personal communication and silence during and after the war and how the First World War still influences how we all speak today.  The speakers represented a range of academic disciplines and were drawn from across Europe, North America and Australia.  The programme and related blogs can be found on the dedicated conference tumblr page. Some of the twitter feed from the conference is available via Storyfi.

Post Card Home
Postcard home: Arthur Tildesley writes to his Mother and Father that he is 'tray bon'.

In June we hosted the inaugural English Grammar Day, which was inspired by renewed political interest in the role of grammar in English teaching and assessment and debates about the cultural and educational significance of knowledge about grammar. EGD 2014 was a sell out event and a forum for reflections on the state of, and attitudes towards, English grammar – in school and beyond – with public contributions encouraged in the form of a lively ‘Any Questions’ style Panel session. The event brought together academic linguists, teachers, PGCE students, teacher trainers and non-specialists and we look forward to hosting EGD 2015 on June 29 and making this an annual event.

The year also saw British Online Archives made available via remote access for British Library readers.  This is an online platform which brings together digitised images, and descriptions, of collections held in archives and libraries from across Britain.   Collections include the BBC Handbooks and Listener Research, Parliamentary Labour Party records, missionary and colonial papers (recording some of the earliest contacts between Europeans and the populations of Africa, the Americas, and the Pacific), and the archive of the Communist Party of Great Britain.  More information on some of the material available via the service can be found in an earlier Social Sciences blog post.

Holders of British Library Reader Pass can now access these collections from outside our Reading Rooms, using our Remote e-Resources service at

Britihs Archives Online

Images taken from British Archives Online.

In partnership with the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies and the Socio-Legal Studies Association we held the third national socio-legal training day.  The theme this year was Law, Gender and Sexuality.  The day aimed to draw attention to archives and content which newcomers to the investigation of intersections between law, gender and sexuality may not be aware of and to consider the methodological and practical issues involved in analysing sources. Information about the programme and details of speakers can be found here and overviews of the day can be found here and here.

We also launched our new series of public discussions ‘Enduring Ideas’ in partnership with the Academy of Social Sciences.  The series aims to explore some of the key concepts which underpin society.  In the first event, Professor Matthew Flinders, University of Sheffield and author of Defending Politics, discussed ‘Enduring Ideas: The Problem with Democracy’.

During the evening Professor Flinders asked and addressed many questions: does the apparent shift from healthy scepticism to corrosive cynicism have more to do with our unrealistic expectations of politics than a failure of democratic politics?  Do the problems with democracy – if they exist – tell us more about a failure on the part of the public to understand politics rather than a failure of politicians to understand us?  Is the problem with democracy is not that it is in short supply but that we have too much of it? He went on to suggest new ways of thinking about politics to ensure not the death but the life of democracy.  A podcast of the talk is available here.

Naturally, this post only provides a snapshot of some of the activities we were involved in, in 2014.  We’ve enjoyed working with colleagues from across academia; libraries; archives; third sector organisations; professional bodies such as the Academy of Social Sciences, British Sociological Association and the Sociological Research Association, enormously.  It has also been a great way to meet so many members of the public.  We’re already looking forward to a new Enduring Ideas discussion, Talk Science, the Annual Equality Lecture and more in 2015.  Keep an eye on What’s On for events.

02 December 2014

Feminism in London Conference

Add comment Comments (0)

Louise Kimpton Nye writes:

Last month Polly Russell and I joined about 1000 other people in a vast auditorium at the Institute for Education for the Feminism in London Conference. We were there partly for professional reasons - Polly, a Curator at the British Library, manages a project to digitise, preserve and make freely available the complete run of Spare Rib magazine and I have been working as a volunteer with her for the last ten months. But we were also there as committed feminists, curious to find out more about feminist campaigns, issues and arguments. The atmosphere in that auditorium at the start of the conference was exciting, welcoming, irreverent yet serious and this set the tone for the rest of the day.

  Photograph used with kind permission of Foto Bella Foto

The conference comprised lectures, panel discussions and workshops on a wide range of feminist issues including Grounding Feminist Activity in our Everyday Life, Intersecting Oppressions In The Sex Industry and Sisterhood Around The Globe, for instance.  Annette Lawson OBE (National Alliance of Women’s Organisations) kicked off the day with her keynote speech, ‘Feminism in Context’ in which she explored the sources of misogyny and asked why people are often reluctant to use the word ‘feminist’.  Lawson was followed by a rousing speech from Dr Gail Dines, author of Pornland: How Pornography has Hijacked our Sexuality and Professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies.  

Dines aims to put the radical back into feminism, and argued that the core principal of feminism, ‘the personal is political’ has been undermined by too much emphasis on personal empowerment at the expense of a wider collective feminist activism.  She argued that women in positions of privilege and power have ‘sold out’ to do the bidding of powerful men and that while patriarchal power structures are embedded in institutions, women are never going to gain a rightful share. Dines is a powerful speaker who doesn’t mince her words. She captivated the crowd with her no holds barred analysis of pornography and racism in pornography, subjects we had another opportunity to explore at a film and discussion event over the lunch break, The Porn Industry has Hijacked our Sexuality.

In the morning, we attended Feminist Archives and Activism: Knowing Our Past - Creating Our Future, a workshop which explored the importance of preserving and celebrating feminist history.  From our perspective this was an opportunity to find out about the important work of feminist libraries and archives, to meet a range of feminist librarians and archivists and to talk about our project to digitise Spare Rib. Organised by the newly formed national network of Feminist Libraries and Archives, FLA, this workshop was chaired by Sue O’ Sullivan, member of the Spare Rib collective and Sheba Press. Panel  members included Yasmin Ahmed from the Feminist Library , Frankie Green from the Women’s Liberation Music Archive, Jalna Hanmer from the Feminist Archive North, Zaimal Azad from Nottingham Women’s Centre, Sue John from Glasgow Women’s Library, and Liz Kelly and Joan Scanlon from the radical feminist journal Trouble & Strife.

Liz Kelly talked about the impetus for digitising Trouble and Strife magazine – a desire to ensure that the ideas of older-generation feminists are available online to younger feminists. The interactive online resource takes articles from past editions of the magazine and reflects on these from a present-day perspective.  Kelly was keen to encourage women to get in touch if they wish to contribute to the website,

Yasmin Ahmed, gave us a potted history of the Feminist Library which started in 1975 and houses a large archive of Women’s Liberation Movement material, as well as an extensive collection of feminist books, journals, photos, leaflets and pamphlets charting different feminist perspectives from around the world.  Ahmed’s presentation stimulated some interesting discussion about modern attitudes to de-cluttering and whether it is ‘worth’ keeping our old magazines and other memorabilia.  The resounding message from the older feminists in the room was “don’t throw anything away!”  Indeed, the Feminist Library will take people’s old books, photos, leaflets etc. and archive them.  One younger delegate said how much she enjoys handling the resources held in libraries and archives, in contrast to using the internet for research. Others concurred with this and argued that physical space of a library can play an important part in creating and maintaining feminist communities. The consensus was clear, in our digital age there is still a place for physical items and for spaces where feminist activists, historians and scholars can come together and share ideas and resources.

Photograph used with kind permission of Foto Bella Foto

In the afternoon, I attended the workshop on Fighting Against Patriarchy in Turkey.   The panel comprised four inspiring young women from the Istanbul Feminist Collective who gave us a vivid picture of how feminists are organising in Turkey to develop a feminist theory and practise against the system of patriarchy.  These women made a real impression on me.  They had such a firm handle on what is needed to make a real difference to real women in Turkey and explained their goals with focus and clarity.   Violence and sexual violence against women were key themes.  They talked about how the women’s movement in Turkey has successfully argued that so-called ‘custom killing’ or ‘honour killing’ should be called femicide.  For them, every male crime against a woman is political in a country where at least three women per day are killed.  But it is in the domestic sphere and in the labour market that the Istanbul Feminist Collective believe deep change is needed if women are to gain the independence needed to rise up against violence and oppression.  Men control women’s labour in Turkey, both paid and unpaid, the collective argue.   ‘We want our dues back from men’ was how one of the panellists described their goal to ‘force the state to demolish the gender division of labour’.  This was powerful stuff. 

Male violence against women and rape were key themes running through the day.  They were explored by both keynote speakers at the start of the day and further discussed in some of the workshops.  Violence against women was also the main topic of the closing plenary, with the Awarding of the Emma Humphreys Memorial Prize which recognises individual women and women’s groups who have raised awareness of violence against women and children.   Women nominated for the prize stood up to give their personal testimonies of how they had been affected by male violence in what was the most moving part of the day. 

Intense and inspiring in equal measure, the conference achieved a good balance between academic debate and discussion of how issues of inequality affect women in their everyday lives.  There was also plenty of entertainment on hand with the fantastic stand-up comedian Kate Smurthwaite chairing the plenary session and a poet in residence who spent the day gathering material for a poem which she then performed at the closing session.  The day ended on a real high note with a feminist party with performances from feminist band the Stepney Sisters, formed in 1975, performance poet, Carmina Masoliver, artist and activist Rebecca Mordan (founder of Scary Little Girls), and many more. Lively, engaging, challenging and rich, this conference had something for everyone.

22 September 2014

Exploring Play – a free, open, online course

Add comment Comments (0)

Professor Marsh writes:

Beginning on 29th September 2014 and running for 7 weeks, the University of Sheffield has developed a new, free, online course ‘Exploring Play: the Importance of Play in Everyday Life’ which will be delivered through the FutureLearn platform. Through the course, we aim to investigate play as a serious subject for study and in particular examine the place of play as an
important part of our everyday lives, across our life courses. Play is not only something that occurs in childhood, with a moving away from ‘childish pleasures’ in adulthood, but it is an essential part of life.

‘Exploring Play’ doesn’t require any previous knowledge in the area, just an enthusiasm to know more. It introduces key theories and concepts, and explores the many definitions there are of play. Given that play is such a fuzzy concept, some consideration is given to the meaning of play from different personal, academic and professional perspectives and its value in terms of its contribution to our daily lives is a matter for extensive reflection.

The course is highly interactive and uses video, articles, discussions, quizzes and a wide variety of resources including the British Library Playtimes website. This website was created as part of the AHRC Beyond Text project Children’s Playground Games and Songs in the New Media Age and provides information on the history and nature of play, drawing on some of the data collected in that project. In the ‘Exploring Play’ course, learners will engage with the material on the British Library website and consider what it tells them about changes in play over time.
Children playing on stones in river
Children playing on stones in a river © University of Sheffield

One of the main aims of the course is to enable participants to understand the very varied nature of play as it takes place across difference contexts. For example, the nature of play in different cultures is explored and learners will consider the way in which the values of different societies impact on the play that takes place within them.

Muffin the Mule

Muffin the Mule puppet, V&A Museum of Childhood Collection

A very wide range of topics is considered, including outdoor play spaces for children and teenagers, playful adult engagement with urban environments, disability and play, play in virtual worlds and play in the workplace. Through the seven weeks of the course, learners will gain a great deal of knowledge about play - and engage in some playful learning activities along the way!

To sign up visit:

31 July 2014

Challenging assumptions. Law Gender and Sexuality: sources and methods in socio-legal research (part 2)

Add comment Comments (0)

Last week, Jon Sims introduced some of the archives and collections discussed at this year’s Socio-Legal studies training day on law, gender and sexuality . In this post, Jon looks at British Library resources that address the interaction of law, gender and sexuality during the 20th century

Gay news, issue 11 [1973]

Stepping back in time, Mass Observation Online (available in the British Library reading rooms) provides access to survey material collected by volunteers during and following WWII, on themes including sexual behaviour, family planning, and war time industry. Stepping further back, English translations and academic commentary on classical works by Plato, Aeschylus or Aristophanes provide historical insight on, for example, women’s role in high public office and the military, and female symbolism in the representation of justice. They also support investigation of the cultural impact of classical literature on the judicial and legislative process in the 19th and 20th centuries.

On August 4th 1921, with reference to ancient history and the supposed role of women in the destruction of classical empire and civilization, a proposed amendment to criminalise “gross indecency between females” was introduced by the Criminal Law Amendment Bill (House of Lords, 1921). The Parliamentary debate on the bill reveals varied contexts with which women and same sex sexual relations were framed by the men of both houses (Nancy Astor voted against the clause).

In addition to anecdote from family law practice, reference to the erosion of family structures and social institutions, “feminine morality” and vice, talk of “perversion” is couched in terms of “brain abnormalities” and neuro-science. While the “medico-legal” stance on sexuality enters this legislative discourse in the form of Ernest Wild’s citation (HC Deb 4.8.1921, Vol. 145, Col.1802 – see references at end of this post) of Krafft Ebing’s  Psychopathia Sexualis. Eine klinische-forensische studie, a study published first in 1886 and already reaching an English translation of its tenth edition by the end of the century. The spectre of eugenics is reflected in Lieutenant Colonel Moore-Brabazon’s proposal that when “dealing with perverts” the best policy is to “not advertise them… because these cases are self-exterminating.” (HC Deb 4.8.1921, Vol. 145, col. 1805). Wild’s allusion to Havlock Ellis’ Sexual Inversion brings to mind Ellis’ later work in The Task of Social Hygiene.

The cultural influence of the social hygiene movement in relation to gender and sexuality was discussed by Frank Mort and Lucy Bland (ICA Talks on BL Sounds) in November 1987, less than a month before the introduction of the New Clause 14, later enacted as section 28 of the Local Government Act, prohibiting the promotion of homosexuality “by teaching or publishing material”.

The harder to find parliamentary material for both of these bills can be accessed in the Social Science reading room. A popular cultural perspective can be seen in the Comics Unmasked exhibition, revealing the impact of anti-homosexual legislation and wide spread social prejudice. Friday Night at the Boozer, from AARGH! a benefit comic aimed at organising against the clause 28, captures the pub atmosphere of “ranting, bigoted boozers”. In Committed Comix 'It Don't Come Easy', published in 1977 ten years after the decriminalisation of sexual acts between two consenting men in private, Eric Presland and Julian Howell recount the story of, “a pair of young men on a first date,” who still, “check under the bed to ensure ‘there's no fuzz hidden around’.” The Homosexual Law Reform Society publications (1957 to 1974) also provide valuable insight into the social context in which the law operated with regard to sexuality.

By the time Wolfenden reported in 1957, the Examiner of Plays in the Lord Chamberlain’s Office had, according to Steve Nicholson, “never passed a play about Lesbianism and … very very rarely one in which homosexuality is mentioned.”  (Nicholson, 2011). As well as the Wolfenden report itself, readers at the British Library can access correspondence and readers’ reports in the Lord Chamberlain’s Plays  Collection (Manuscripts Collections Reader Guide 3: the play collections).

In general, the correspondence files in the Lord Chamberlain’s plays collection reveal the frameworks, such as morality and decency and differentiation between public and private space, within which legislatively empowered censorship, in association with commercial and artistic theatrical interests, negotiated the bureaucratic application of law and its control of the public visibility of diverse sexuality (On the scope of its powers see for example the 1909 Report from joint select committee ..on stage plays (censorship) ). More particularly, attempts to negotiate the Lord Chamberlain’s licence (security against the risk of prosecution) for public performance of one particular play, Jean Genet’s The Balcony (LCP Corr 1965/469), explicitly problematic to the censor for its “major themes of blasphemy and perversion”, including off stage voicing of faked sadomasochistic pain, lasted from 1957 until 1965; or from Wolfenden until just a few years before decriminalisation and  the abolition of theatre censorship by the Theatre Act 1968.

A longer look at some of the sources and collections discussed at the training day will feature in the Spring 2015 issue of Legal Information Management. More information about the day’s programme can be found at, and in the Socio-Legal Newsletter No.73 (Summer 2014)


Criminal Law Amendment Bill. HL Bills (1921) [8,a-d etc; 21, a – b & 22].
Harder-to-find House of Lords Bills, such as this one, can be requested from shelf mark BS 96/1. See our guide to Parliamentary Papers for more details.

Parliamentary debates on the Criminal Law Amendment Bill (1921) [HC Deb 4.8.1921, Vol. 145,  cols.1799-1807] ; [HL Deb 15.8.1921, Vol.    cols. 567 – 577].
Available in the Social Science reading room at BS. Ref. 13 and 14. See our guide to parliamentary proceedings

Standing Committee debate on Clause 28  (SC Deb (A) 8.12.1987, cols.1199 ff)
Available in the Social Science reading room at BS. Ref. 23 

Report from the Joint Select Committee of the House of Lords and the House of Commons on the stage plays (censorship); together with the proceedings of the committee, minutes of evidence, and appendices.
British Library shelfmark: Parliamentary papers B.S. Ref 1, 1909 session paper no.303, vol VIII pg 451

Report of the Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution (Homosexual Offences and Prostitution). [the ‘Wolfenden report’]. 1957. Cmnd. 247
British Library shelfmark: B.S.18/158.; Parliamentary papers B.S. Ref 1, 1956-57 session, vol XIV pg 85

Committed Comix: It Don’t Come Easy. 1977.
British Library shelfmark: Cup.821.dd.150.[C]

[Artists Against Rampant Government Homophobia] (1988). AARGH! Northampton
British Library shelfmark: YK.1990.b.10288

Arnot, M; 'Images of Motherhood: Achieving Justice in Nineteenth-century Infanticide Cases' Socio-Legal Studies and the Humanities: conference abstracts

Cohen, D (1987) 'The legal Status and political role of women in Plato’s Laws', Revue internationale des droits de l'antiquité 34 (1987) pp27-40
British Library shelfmark P.P.1898.hab

Ellis, Havelock (1897) Studies in the psychology of sex. Vo. 1. Sexual inversion.
London. British Library shelfmark: Cup.364.b.1.

Ellis, Havelock (1912) The task of social hygiene. London.
British Library shelfmark:

Krafft-Ebing, Richard von (1886) Psychopathia Sexualis. Eine klinische-forensische studie. Stuttgart.
British Library shelfmark: 7641.ff.29.

Krafft-Ebing, Richard von [translated by Francis J. Rebman] (1899) Psychopathia sexualis, with especial reference to antipathic sexual instinct ... The only authorised English translation of the tenth German edition. London.
British Library shelfmark: Cup.363.ff.22.

Homosexual Law Reform Society. [1959]. Homosexuals and the law, etc. London.
British Library shelfmark: 8296.a.13.

Homosexual Law Reform Society. 1963- . Spectrum A.T./ H.L.R.S. Newsletter. London.
British Library shelfmark: Cup.364.ff.1.

Homosexual Law Reform Society. [1965- ]. [Miscellaneous pamphlets and leaflets.] London.
British Library shelfmark: Cup.702.dd.1.

Homosexual Law Reform Society. [1966- ]. Report, 1963-66 [etc.]. London.
British Library shelfmark: P.201/52.

Nicholson, Steve. (2003- ) The censorship of British Drama 1900-1968. Exeter.
British Library shelfmarks: vol 1 (1900- 1932) YC.2003.a.4950; vol 2 (1933- 1952) YC .2005.a.12027; vol. 3 (the fifties) YC.2011.a.16019; vol. 4 (the sixties) forthcoming

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.

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.

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.