Success for Westminster Sociology in the Guardian University Guide 2019

Screen Shot 2018-05-29 at 10.04.21We’re really happy to see another impressive 5 points rise for Westminster University’s Sociology and Sociology and Criminology courses in the Guardian University guide 2019. At 28 out of 91, this puts us comfortably in the top third of UK Sociology courses.

League tables like this only give a partial picture of a university education, but it’s very gratifying to see that our ‘value added’ is being recognized, which ‘compares students’ degree results with their entry qualifications, to show how effectively they are taught’.

On value added, Westminster is in the top-ten institutions for Sociology in the UK.

For the full Guardian Sociology ranking, click here.

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Sociology lecturers win excellence awards!

 

Many congratulations to Sociology lecturers Dr Hilde Stephansen and Dr Francis Ray White who were this evening awarded individual Westminster Learning and Teaching Excellence Awards. These are a very prestigious award, with only a small number given out each year to the most deserving candidates. Francis and Hilde were both awarded £1000 for career development.

Hilde (pictured right) was congratulated for her research-informed teaching, for transforming the quality of research methods provision across disciplines and for her collegial and collaborative approach to teaching.

Francis (pictured left) was awarded for their work in cross-disciplinary learning and teaching, and was commended for raising the visibility of LGBTQ and gender issues and promoting inclusion and diversity in the curriculum and across the University.

The sociology team is very proud of you both. Well done, and thanks for all your hard work!

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Embedding mental health and wellbeing

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The Westminster Sociology team recently took part in a day-long workshop on embedding mental health and wellbeing in learning and teaching, led by specialists from AdvanceHE.

After being given our Team Award for Teaching Excellence in 2017, we decided to prioritize the issue of student mental health and use our award money to fund this workshop.

Part of the workshop enabled us to develop our understanding of some of the key issues relating to student mental health in Higher Education. While as sociologists we retain a critical stance towards the structural conditions that can negatively impact on mental health, we are nevertheless interested in the ways in which we can prioritise and enhance students’ mental wellbeing. We are keen to work on increasing our awareness of students’ mental health and to explore areas in which we might foster positive approaches to mental health in our teaching and personal tutoring practice.

We discussed how we might heighten a sense of community in Sociology for both staff and students, as well as how we can use contact time in ways that support students to be active partners in their learning, encouraging them to connect with each other both inside and outside of the classroom.

We had a really enjoyable and productive day, and were able to invite colleagues from English, Psychology and Modern Languages to work with us on this important topic. It is our hope that this workshop will provide a catalyst for future initiatives on mental wellbeing at Westminster.

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What are British Values?

Ben had a fun chat this morning with the presenters of Saturday Morning Live on Voice of Islam Radio. His interview starts at 1:21:46.

“When politicians worry about British values they’re trying to suggest that some people don’t fit in, some people don’t belong. And this is where racial and religious minorities get subject to scrutiny and suspicion […] There’s an inflammatory language here that suggests some people belong more than others, and I fundamentally contest that. Britain is not a white nation. Britain does not somehow belong more to white people than racial or religious minorities. That’s something to be fought over and contested. The vision of British values that get articulated often is a very exclusive one”

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Third Westminster Sociology Open Talk of 2017/18: Contesting the Boundaries of Ethno-Religious Identities

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Westminster Sociology Open Talks in 2017-18 bring together Sociology researchers with external speakers to explore a shared topic of interest. In the third talk of the academic year, Dr Umit Cetin and Dr Celia Jenkins are joined by Professor Mary Hickman (London Metropolitan University) to discuss the formation of ethno-religious identities, focusing on two different case studies: the Irish in America (Hickman) and the Alevis in the UK (Cetin and Jenkins).

Date: Thursday 8th February 2018
Time: 5-7pm
Location: The Boardroom, 309 Regent Street, University of Westminster, London W1H 2HW

This event is open to academics, students and anyone else who’s interested in this important topic. Attendance is free but we ask attendees to register via Eventbrite.

ABSTRACTS

‘Being Irish American’: a contemporary collective identity?

Professor Mary Hickman, London Metropolitan University

There are indications of robust ethnic identities amongst late-generation European ethnics in the United States against the predictions of assimilation theories. Collective identities, including ethnicity, remain significant in everyday life, however, their quality and character have been subject to change, in response to a range of economic, social and political transformations. This paper explores the basis of the continuing relevance of ‘being Irish American’ across a range of domains based on evidence collected from the NYU Ireland House Oral History Collection.

 

Re-constructing ‘Aleviness’ in a transnational context

Dr Umit Cetin and Dr Celia Jenkins, University of Westminster

The paper focuses on the continued relevance of being Alevi in the UK through comparison of the social construction and situational aspects of Alevi identity in the transnational contexts of Turkey and the UK. These different contexts provided new means for Alevis to re-construct their community and to create a sense of belonging which has facilitated the transformation of a previously negative identity into a positive one. This paper draws on collaborative action research with the UK Alevi community over the past ten years in their campaign for greater public recognition of their ethno-religious identity.

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Mary Poppins, race and cultural inheritance

I watched Mary Poppins for the first time in a long time over Christmas (3.45pm, Boxing Day, BBC1). Presumably like most contemporary viewers who understood the allusion, I bristled uncomfortably at the movie’s passing reference to soot-faced chimney sweeps as ‘Hottentots’, and wondered whether anyone at the BBC had thought about how this awkward scene might go down with its Boxing Day audience. 

My discomfort will be familiar to anyone who has read the ‘classics’ of children’s literature to kids, for such references are far from uncommon. The adult reader is faced with the option of either skipping objectionable passages or of critically reflecting on them as indictments of racisms past. The option selected will depends on the type of source material: for me, the for-laughs treatment of ‘Cannibals’ in Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking books make these sections unreadable, while (although it makes for pretty heavy bedtime reading) representations of ‘Indians’ in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s ’Little House’ saga can with the right framing provide critical insight into the values of US settler colonialism.

Contemporary discussion of such material tends to line up in a predictably polarised fashion. On the antiracist spectrum we get the advocacy of censorship or critical engagement, supplemented by the championing of different stories: alternative canons, recent productions, front and back-stage diversity. On the spectrum of racial disavowal we get arguments defending childhood innocence from the intrusion of supposedly adult themes, voices protecting the realm of creative expression from a proto-totalitarian political correctness, or a resistance to judging the cultural productions of the past by the criteria of today.

It’s the latter argument that fascinates me if it’s applied to a cultural text like Mary Poppins. The show’s Boxing Day scheduling confirms it as an artefact of a collective past: the sort of thing that parents or grandparents might watch with children. These viewing practices are characterised by nostalgic sharing – the repetition of the adult’s own childhood enjoyment and their desire to pass this on to another generation. To be disconcerted by the film’s Hottentot reference is therefore to call into question more than just one’s uncritical enjoyment of Mary Poppins: it is to jeopardise this act of cultural continuity; it is to call into question the legitimacy of the past to which the adult remains attached, and which continues to inform their sense of themselves and their place in the world.

Cultural change around the language of race is not therefore just to do with a dispassionate historical reckoning that a Hottentot reference broadly acceptable in 1964 would not pass muster in the present. It is an undermining of our own pasts, insofar as we conceive of our individual and collective cultural histories as shaping who we are. If significant fractions of Mary Poppins’ Boxing Day audience are resistant to the diagnosis of racism in this artefact of cultural inheritance, it is because it opens up the past that constitutes us to suspicion. It seems to demand the reappraisal of a realm with which until now we had been comfortable, which we had taken for granted, and in which we have lived our lives. 

This same process is at work in recent high-profile sexual abuse stories: what is disturbing to our culture about Jimmy Saville or Harvey Weinstein is not the abusive actions of these men, but the recognition that they operated in a culture that on some level condoned and supported that abuse. What disturbs is not how abusers behaved, but how we behaved. We behaved according to the norms of cultures that we have subsequently learned to read as abusive. We allowed practices we would not condone today. The risk of attachment to the culture of the past is, therefore, the possibility that it might come back and indict you. 

Acts of cultural reappraisal happen all the time. We register them when we refer to a movie or a book as ‘dated’, acknowledging that a gap has opened up between ourselves and the moment of origination. (Perhaps the forthcoming Christmas 2018 Mary Poppins reboot is an acknowledgement of this gap, that we have all moved on). But it’s true that certain cultural texts hurt us more than others. The original Mary Poppins movie has long been a privileged artefact of cultural inheritance, and as such it has the power to make us realise that the culture that we build our lives upon is capable of calling us into question.

 @Pitcher_Ben

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Second Westminster Sociology Open Talk of 2017/18: New Directions in Sociology

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The second Westminster Sociology Open Talk of 2017-18 showcases the current research projects of our PhD students. Nikhaela Wicks will discuss nighttime policing and ‘race’ in the UK while Elvan Can will explore gentrification and the loss of public space in Istanbul.

Date: Thursday 30th November 2017
Time: 5-7pm
Location: The Boardroom, 309 Regent Street, University of Westminster, London W1H 2HW

This event is open to academics, students and anyone else who’s interested in this important topic. Attendance is free but we ask attendees to register via Eventbrite.

ABSTRACTS

Nikhaela Wicks
Department of History, Sociology and Criminology
University of Westminster

The continued construction of the deviant racialized Other and the impact for policing at night in the UK

This paper explores the ways in which certain contexts give rise to particular understandings of race and racialized persons and the impact this has on the policing of racialized persons, venues and licensees at night in the UK. I will begin by looking at the way in which racialized persons have been demonized over time, from the black mugger of the 1970s to the Muslim terrorist we are taught to fear today. Recent media stories will be explored, from the four black girls turned away at Dstrkt nightclub as they were not of a ‘certain calibre’ to the Dice Bar being banned by police from playing Bashment. These media stories will be situated amongst historical understandings of how racialized night time scenes have been linked to criminality throughout time (Talbot, 2007). I engage critically with the above by approaching race as a discursive construct (Hall, 1997), suggesting that the language and systems of thought used to make sense of race at any given point in time are radically contextual. I argue that conceptions of race intersect more broadly with understandings of gender and class. The importance of discourse analysis in revealing the nuance of racial meanings and contradictions between how the police speak of race (in conversation, in policy documents, in meetings) and how they respond to racialized minorities (at night, in the day, amongst colleagues, friends, on the job) will be uncovered throughout the paper.

Elvan Can
Department of History, Sociology and Criminology
University of Westminster

Gentrification and Loss of Public Spaces in Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul is an interesting mega city not just because of its location between the West and the East but also because of its historical background, rapid political and cultural transformation throughout the history. This research aims to focus on the impacts of these transformations from an urban aspect of Istanbul and how the city was transformed. In order to have a clearer picture, urban history of Istanbul, the society’s relation with the city and governmental policies and approaches to gentrification are crucial sources. However, the main focus is the current situation of Istanbul with the increasing numbers of gentrification projects and how these projects transform and change the city as well as its public spaces. Needless to say, that, public space understanding, culture and use is not the same in Istanbul as they are in many other cities. Thence combination of all these dynamics are forming something that is changing the city and its public spaces incredibly fast that transformation needs attention and deserves a study.

 

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