Education, higher education, PhD

Reading Lists: Recommendations, Rabbit holes and Reputation

I was recently asked to try and write a blog to explain my reading strategy. The questions posed were how I decide what to read, when and why. I was also asked about how I read and take notes. I am going to take this into two posts, the first focusing on how my current reading pile has come about.

Why has this stack of books come about?

I hadn’t really thought about this before so I took what I currently had and realised there were three main reasons books and references to follow up were there, namely some form of recommendation, a follow up from a reference i’d come across in other reading or the fact that I felt something was a seminal text in the areas i’m researching.

Recommendation

Recommendations that have populated my list have come from several sources. Some have been as a result of twitter, some from seeing mailshots and stands at conferences and some through personal recommendation.

For example, Education, disadvantage and place came onto my radar through a flyer from Policy Press. Other recent books to drop into this category are the Education Policy Research book I reviewed last week, which came as a result of attending a symposium at the BERA conference and Zizek’s First as tragedy, then as farce recommended by @andewilkins on tiwtter following a conversation about cynicism as ideology that has fascinated me since the BSA conference earlier in the year.

Rabbit holes

When you begin immersing yourself in one topic, you find references to many things you feel you should read, things that look interesting and things that might be central to your research. The process of following one reference to another without really knowing where you will end up brought to my mind the idea of Alice following the white rabbit in her adventures in wonderland and as a result I decided to term these texts my rabbit holes.

There are a number of journal articles relating to this  category in my list, probably too numerous to mention and often this has been a useful way to carve out my reading into relevant studies. It has also lead me to explore specific texts from authors that may have also fallen into the final category; that of reputation. Two examples here are Bourdieu’s Pascalian Meditations which Steven Jones talks about in his chapter in Education Policy Research and in which I wish to explore the notion of ‘playing the game’ further. Bauman’s Wasted Lives has also ended up on my must read list as although I have read several of his books this was cited in another chapter and I feel may have some relevance to issues surrounding my thesis.

Reputation

The books that I would currently put into this category are actually ones on my reading list to revisit. I have read with interest Mills’ Sociological Imagination, Bourdieu’s Distinction and Becker’s Telling about society and all have extensive notes in them. The reason they are still sitting in my reading pile, however, is that re-reading certain parts in light of other thoughts i’m having, now specifically related to my thesis may help me develop my own thesis by drawing on the issues and concepts that these works highlight.

What do I do with this reading?

I wouldn’t suggest by any means this list is exhaustive, nor that my way is the best way but this is how my current reading list has been shaped. It would be interesting to here if this resonates with anyone else or if people have very different strategies for deciding what to read. I will be following up this post by exploring the idea of how I read and think through reading in another post in due course.

book review, Education

Book Review: Contemporary Debates in the Sociology of Education

Within this volume, Brooks, McCormack and Bhopal set out show how the sociology of education can cast a critical eye across the global issues in education from schooling through to university in the mainstream and to the margins. Opening with an outline of the theoretical, political and institutional contexts of the sociology of education, the book gets the reader up to speed with the state of the field before taking them on an editorial journey through the various stages of education by way of an interesting and thought provoking range of chapters based on cutting edge empirical research.

There are a number of chapters on compulsory age schooling examining issues of international comparisons in assessment, citizenship education, academic selection, masculinities, race and gender issues in schools. The most poignant chapter on schooling comes from Carolyn Jackson who explores the issue of fear and anxiety in schools. This is one of the few chapters that focuses on teachers as well as students, an area that on the whole the collection glosses over.  Recent debates surrounding increasing pressure from inspection and policy change on education professionals would suggest that this is an area central to contemporary debates. This however, is a comment as much on the speed of change and the current state of research in the sociology of education as much as it is the book.

The most interesting chapters are those that take the reader those beyond the scope of other texts. Firstly, Kagendo Mutua and Sandra Cooley Nichols chapter on special education in the USA and how gendered identities are constructed within it during adolescence which takes a very different stance on exploring special education provision beyond outcomes and process to explore how individuals develop a sense of identity. There is also an excellent chapter by Steve Roberts focusing on the lifelong educational opportunities of retail workers where he explores the tensions of between an instrumental credentialisation of skills and learning that is useful for life. This chapter is an important contribution as workplace learning is often omitted from debates in the field.

That said, no volume on contemporary debates would be complete without the obligatory chapter on working-class students and university. Wolfgang Lehmann provides this from a Canadian perspective and this highlights another key strength of the volume that in drawing from global perspectives, it helps the reader create a comparison of similarities with more local debates. This is complemented further by Heather Mendick’s exploring issues of the gendered nature of subject selection in Mathematics. Understanding these processes is key if issues of equal access based on gender are to be addressed within STEM subjects.

The final chapter by Keri Facer and Neil Selwyn is a provocation highlighting issues of technology and the importance for sociologists of education to be ready to explore these. They argue that given the ubiquity of technology within all areas of education, that there is sizeable gap in the research literature. In ending on this note, the volume challenges the reader to consider how they can fill this gap and hopefully will act as a stimulus for much needed work in the sociology of educational technology.

This collection serves its purpose of stimulating thought on the contemporary debates of the sociology of education and as such would provide an excellent starting point for those new to the field or who are currently engaged within education but would like to explore a more sociological analysis of some of the issues and challenges they face.

 Reference

Brooks, R., McCormack, M., Bhopal, K. (2013). Contemporary Debates in the Sociology of Education, Basingstoke; Palgrave macmillan

 

book review, digital sociology, public sociology

Book review: Punk Sociology by David Beer

Ever since he threw the initial idea out there on his blog, i’ve been intrigued by David Beer’s Punk Sociology project and after reading it I wasn’t disappointed. It is one of the Palgrave Pivot titles that exist to bridge the gap between a journal article and a monograph. As such it is not an onerous read at a mere 76 pages but within those packs a huge amount of ideas and provocation that has the power to re-inspire a generation of Sociologists.

Punk Sociology is a call to arms framed through the ethos of punk. It should not be dismissed if Punk music and style weren’t your bag or if indeed you are too young to remember Punk. it is really a framework to encourage the re-imagination of Sociology through inventive and exciting methods that breakdown the barriers between sub disciplines, academics and readers and researchers and participants. Beer puts this far better than I could:

 ‘Punk is about playing with and questioning received and established versions and accounts of the world, that it likes to challenge and transcend barriers and boundaries and that it relishes a critical engagement with any fixed or intransigent ideological or material obstacles’ (p.64)

Whilst framing the argument in terms of Punk is certainly novel, much of what Beer argues is not new, in fact it is what Mills and Becker have previously argued for extensively and yet, Punk Sociology appears as a fresh ‘call to arms’ and one that has never been needed more than in an age where metrics and measurement are becoming so important that there could be a tendency to play it safe to ensure research solely fulfils the criteria of excellence set down by the academy.

Part 1 sets out the background of the challenges and opportunities that Sociology faces in today’s academic climate but focuses not on the problems but potential solutions. It does this through a whistle stop tour of Punk ethos. this is consolidated through examination of how the ethos could be used to re-imagine sociology and to revitalise the discipline. It is not a handbook of solutions, but a series of provocations that will help the reader to think about their own work in a new light. Through this method of provocation, it is equally applicable to other social sciences and any one from the fresh undergraduate student to the most experienced of academic.

My only regret about the text is the accessibility of its distribution. The message it has to share is so vital that it is a shame that it comes at a prohibitive cost. Notwithstanding this, I would argue that this should be an essential text for every potential and practicing Sociologist in hope that the call to arms and the provocation it provides will engender the seed change that Beer argues for.

References

Beer, D. (2014) Punk Sociology, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan 

Education, Uncategorized

Book Review: Education under Siege

Having come across this book by chance in a mail shot from Policy Press, I felt I needed to write this review to help others actively seek out the book. This is the book I wish i had been told to read at the start of my career in Education. Not only does it highlight they key issues in education, but it also positions England in a global education landscape and pulls out what it does well and where it falls behind in comparison. In many texts, there is a focus on the historical, philosophical or practical basis of teaching, or a list of past policies and initiatives. This book educates the reader about what has been, what is and what could be.

Mortimore is well placed to write such a book having worked in both the English system at the coal face and in academia as well as having held a professional role in Denmark. The book ensures that no stone is unturned in exploring the nuances and challenges of our education system and how they sit with ideas of what education is for.After examining the purpose of education, Mortimore takes the reader through issues such as learning, teaching, schools as buildings and institutions and inspection before examining more closely the strengths and weaknesses of the system as is. It is the latter chapters, however, that really make this book essential reading as they are where the provocation and critique take place. What makes it essential reading for the practitioner is the way in which current failings of the system are explained in terms of how they impact upon the daily tasks of teachers.

Unlike some similar books, this is not one of answers. Whilst eluding to some solutions does not try to write a blueprint for the future of education but he starts to closely examine the barriers and challenges of the system and suggests avenues for work and research and for policy changes to start improving the system. It is a volume that makes the reader really question the underlying assumption of the field within which they work.  

 

References

Mortimore, P. (2013) Education under siege: Why there is a better alternative, Bristol: Policy Press

book review, public sociology

Book Review: The Engaged Sociologist (4th ed.) Korgen & White

I happened upon The Engaged Sociologist through a recent email from Sage and the blurb looked decidedly intriguing so I thought I would get myself a copy. It has many excellent things going for it and certainly is something I wish I had discovered back when I first began my study of Sociology. it ends with a quote from Margaret Mead which just about sums up the whole premise of the book ‘using your sociological tools, you can help change the world’ (Mead cf. p.224)

Briefly, It is divided into 11 chapters, each taking a similar format followed by a final chapter that suggests some potential research projects which allow practical engagement with the aims of the book. The remaining chapters consist of a section of theory or background relating to sociological concerns or debates, an example of how a real life Sociologist (ranging from students to professors) has worked within that area to affect change, some exercises to put the abstract issues into real life contexts and related discussion points, and finally, some suggestions for ‘actions’ to use the knowledge of Sociology in the readers own community.

The book is written in a clear and accessible way, but is clearly aimed towards undergraduate students in its scope and delivery. It is supported by an excellent website which provides some resources to help support the practical activities and as such would make a good teaching text. What is does extremely well is shows the reader the value and implications of Sociology beyond the classroom and academia.

The book does, however, have its limitations. firstly, it is extremely US centric in its content. It constantly refers to US policy and examples that may seem alien to the average student outside of the continental USA. This is not to say the book is not useful for students across the atlantic, far from it, in fact it certainly enhanced my knowledge of issues that I had little knowledge of before. It may, however, need to be enhanced with examples in a more local context if it was used as a core text for a course in the UK for example. This us-centricity seems to carry through to the theorists cited in each chapter with notable omissions of Bourdieu and Foucault to give two examples.

Nonetheless, the book does fill a gap relating to the “so what?” question that faces many academics when teaching a introductory sociology module to students from a range of disciplines who do not as yet understand the value and power of Sociology. Whilst the americanisation of the examples might be too much for some to bear, especially if considering its use as a core text, it certainly has a value in every lecturers bookcase as a point of reference for some excellent, engaging teaching ideas that bring Sociology to life.

References

Korgen, K.O. & White, J.M. (2011) The Engaged Sociologist, Los Angeles, Sage