2022 Westminster Sociology Anthology

After a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the Westminster Sociology Dissertation Anthology is back! At today’s graduation ceremony at the Royal Festival Hall, we marked the publication of the sixth edition of the anthology, which showcases some of the innovative and outstanding research produced by BA Sociology and BA Sociology and Criminology students at the University of Westminster.

This year’s anthology includes work by Sara Atsou, who conducted a qualitative study of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on ethnic minority students’ mental health and educational achievement; Maruša Pinter, whose dissertation examines the impact of Covid-19 workplace policies on gender inequality; Hafsah Ahmadmunir, who explores the significance of, and challenges involved in, decolonising UK universities; Calesha Moncrieffe, whose dissertation analyses shifting discourses about food bank users between 2014 and 2021; Ellis Milsom, who examines how the idea of a Universal Basic Income challenges currently dominant ideas about welfare; and Charly Walters, whose dissertation analyses anti-immigration discourses in Swiss newspapers.

While these six research projects are very diverse, they all have in common a set of qualities that make them distinctively ‘Westminster Sociology’: they engage passionately and creatively with some of the urgent issues of our time, they use a finely tuned sociological imagination to link the personal and the political, and they are motivated by a concern to understand and challenge social inequalities.

Selecting dissertations for this anthology from among the many high-quality research projects produced by our students is never easy. This year was a particularly strong year, and the Sociology team had the pleasure of reading some really excellent work. In addition to the dissertations included here, we would like to commend Mamtaj Begum’s research on Muslim students’ experiences of higher education, Jordan Larkman’s sociological study of kindness, and Maya Fehr’s analysis of global policy discourses around Covid-19 vaccine inequality.

Congratulations and well done to all our final year students – we are very proud of you!

Dr Hilde Stephansen and Dr Jennifer Fraser, on behalf of the Sociology Team

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Sociology scavenger hunt!

As part of arrivals week, on a beautiful late summer afternoon, teams of Sociology and Sociology-Criminology students got to know one another by exploring our Fitzrovia campus and our neighbouring streets and buildings.

It was the first time back on campus for most of us, and it was lovely to meet new first year and foundation students in person. We were also joined by a team of second year students, who were taught online last year and were having their first proper day on the university site.

Team 3 did an excellent job and are our overall winners, so very well done for that. They even managed to make our offices in Wells Street look nice! All members of Team 3 win a £10 token of their choice. Team 5 (who also got 100% correct answers) came in second place. Teams 2, 3, 4, and 5 all win a coffee from the cafe. The staff team of Hilde, Francis and Ben didn’t do so well, but we had a nice time regardless.

Special commendation goes to Team 4 for some of their creative finds, including the best dog by far:

One member of each winning team should email Francis with the names of team members so we can sort out your prizes.

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Ben and Francis’s Top 10 Tips for Studying

Here are some tips Francis and Ben put together for getting the most out of your online learning this year.

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Missing Voices and New Connections: Online Community Choir Singing during COVID 19.

Emily Falconer shares some insights into Online Choir Singing for the COVID 19 Chronicles of Discover Society 

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I click on the ‘join meeting’ button, and I’m met with a screen full of squares. Tiny moving faces smile, squint, some too dark to make out. The faces are drinking tea, shooing away cats, adjusting their chairs. Others are standing, rocking babies in slings- their heads cut off the top of the screen. All are silently mouthing something in broken synchrony, everyone mute. The Choir director throws an imaginary ball. We all catch it. She laughs, claiming ‘I love the look of your faces when we go low!’. I can hear the shaky sound my own solitary voice in the kitchen, along with the hum of the washing spin and the boiling eggs tapping against the metal of the saucepan on the stove.

This is an experience of on Online Zoom community choir session during the COVID 19 Pandemic in the UK. Choir singing as a face-to-face activity has, like many social gatherings, been severely curtailed by social distancing laws. Community choirs had been heralded as a social lifeline to millions across the UK. Research into the physical and psychotherapeutic health benefits of community choirs largely agree group singing good for you. It can boost the immune system, create feelings of happiness and belonging, reduces stress and is the most effective way to bond together large groups of people (Pearce et al 2017, Dingle et al 2019). Community choirs are recommended for adults suffering from depression, physical and mental health difficulties, homelessness and marginalised lives.

The Coronavirus outbreak continues to expose the many ways people in isolation connect socially through virtual means: Netflix parties, virtual pubs and bookgroups. Group singing and music, a powerful tool long used for social and spiritual connection, joined these creative ways of togetherness, and online choir sessions such as the Sofa Singers, sprang up on a global scale.

My research into choir singing has been historically preoccupied with the atmospheric space of shared sound and vibrations. How this translates into a virtual space is of great interest. From meeting at a regular time each week, to gather, to see and be seen, to embody the space, feel the presence of the other bodies, the touch, the breath, the post-rehearsal pub drink, and of course the acoustic sound.  Between March-July 2020 I turned my attention to gathering the experiences of 40 community choir members and 22 choir directors via qualitative surveys, research based at The University of Westminster. Online choirs are both a painful reminder of the loss of singing together in the same space, whilst at the same time create opportunities for deeper- and at times more equalitarian- connections.

Ongoing interactions: Inviting the choir ‘into your living room’
For those for whom community choirs had come to play a significant role in their social lives, coming together virtually maintained vital social interaction, structure and rhythm during what was often isolating, frightening and shapeless long weeks of lockdown. Members spoke of being ‘reminded there was a world outside my flat’, a regular commitment in the week to ‘hang on to’, a ‘lifeline’, a sense of escapism and ‘much needed normality’, keeping our community and ‘family’ close, and a ‘feeling of belonging and togetherness’. Members reflect on the importance of familiarity and connections during a lonely and deeply stressful time:

I have experienced such warmth and joy from logging into the Zoom choir. The first time I logged in was approximately day 5 of the lockdown and I was in what I like to think of as the ‘panic phase’. Everywhere I looked in real life there were scared faces and this ripple of uncertainty throughout the land. I live alone so I was feeling EXTEREMELY and intensely lonely! I knew I had to try anything and everything to get back my flailing grip on reality. One by one up popped all those little faces on my computer screen; they were like little honey bees in the nest! Some of the faces were familiar and some not-but seeing those little teeny tiny, honey-I-shrunk-the kids-faces smiling and chattering and even just simply moving made me feel better for the first time since the Pandemic began. It felt like being replanted in the soil. (Member, 40, London).

A couple of times I was so overwhelmed with being together like that I became too choked up to sing but still so enjoyed joining in and listening. I am amazed to be able to join up with everyone like this (Member, 52, Cumbria)

Our choir has evolved from being a group activity to being a family. We see each other more than our own chosen friends or family so to lose that connection in the current circumstances would, I believe had a profound detrimental effect on us all. (Member, 42, London)

Missing voices, ‘painful’ loss of sound
Maintaining social connections, however restorative, were presented as scant compensation for the loss of harmonies and collective sound. Current technology allows only one voice to be heard at a time- the antithesis of group singing, which attributes the intensity of the shared experience to the blending of multiple voices to ‘become one’. Choir leaders selected morale boosting repertoire that reflected the stoic mood of ‘keeping on together whatever lies ahead’, yet singers spoke of the ‘visceral pain’ of ‘missing voices’.

‘I have wept and wept…it HURTS not to be able to hear those voices together… the full physical experience of singing and all vibrating together is utterly missing’ (Clare Elleray Mee; Growing Singing)

What is missing is the feeling of breathing as one with your fellow choir members, and with that the synchronised heartbeats and feeling of unity. What’s missing is the support of the voices around each singer encouraging them to open their mouth and let out the scary sound that is their voice. What’s missing is hearing and feeling the glorious sounds made by the choir and the uplift that gives… I am aware that I am doing a good job for my singers in keeping them together but it doesn’t feed my soul (Anonymous Choir leader)

I don’t think you can ever fully replicate that energy through Zoom! That collective moment has to be physically FELT and breathed into your body and out again and passed onto the next person and so on. The breath and vibrations and skin cells of everyone in the room have to be mixed into a glorious union of voice and minds and heart and souls. (Member, 40, London).

New opportunities, different voices
Resigned to the fact that choirs were no longer (predominantly) about singing, creating new opportunities for deeper connections emerged as a strong theme in the research. Abandoning the rehearsal in its usual format, online choir sessions became a forum for ‘checking in’ with each other, allowing everyone’s voice to come ‘into the room’ in turn.

 Initially, a good quarter of the session was dedicated to chatting and seeing how everyone was doing, sharing suggestions of distractions; from watching theatre productions, Frieda Kahlo ballets to vegetable growing tips. We listened to health updates of those affected, hoping and hoping. As the months have passed we have become more used to not hearing each other during the singing. (Kirsten Taylor, SONG BIRDS)

Despite seeing the same faces every week for ten years, for the first time members were discovering each other through intimate conversations. ‘Weathering the storm’ together opened meaningful rapports, where ‘chat instantly went deep, no wishy washy topics. Like “are you making ends meet?” “are you too lonely to cope?” which in my eyes kind of beats “that’s a nice scarf, is it from Laura Ashley?”. This newfound ‘group therapy’ can of course simultaneously work to exclude those who not feel comfortable. Yet for those who thrived, the loss of the collective voice made space for new voices where members felt, in some cases for the first time, ‘really heard’.

Like all online shifts, virtual choirs can create greater accessibility for those who have difficulties traveling to shared spaces, due to health, disability, caring responsibilities or affordability. Having been previously forced to leave the choir due to accessibility, members claimed social distancing has enabled them to ‘reconnect’. Less confident singers have ‘been liberated by being able to sing without being heard by others!’, and for those for who struggle to perform awkward small talk whilst packing up, the abrupt click of ‘End Session’ feels like a welcome relief.

The future landscape of choir singing remains uncertain. One choir leader told me that choirs have been left to fend for themselves, and while this has meant community choirs have produced their own resources and directives, ‘it’s another example of governments failing to acknowledge the importance of the arts in people’s day to day lives’. Identified early as a high risk activitygovernment guidelines have only recently clarified how choirs can rehearse safely. In the meantime, virtual choirs can provide an unexpected space for listening to each other’s voices somewhat differently.

References:
Dingle, G. A., Clift, S., Finn, S., Gilbert, R., Groarke, J. M., Irons, J. Y., Williams, E. J. (2019). An Agenda for Best Practice Research on Group Singing, Health, and Well-Being. Music & Science.
Pearce, E., Launay, J., MacCarron, P., & Dunbar, R. I. M. (2017). Tuning in to others: Exploring relational and collective bonding in singing and non-singing groups over time. Psychology of Music, 45(4), 496–512.

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Results Day (at last!)

Finally, FINALLY it is results day at Westminster! Many congratulations to all of our students who have completed their first or second years, and a special congratulations to those of you getting your final degree results today. You did it!

We know that this year, more than any other, you have done this under incredibly difficult circumstances, and your perseverance in the face of a global pandemic, exile from the library and emergency online teaching is to be applauded and celebrated. Really, well done. For those of you still completing work, we see you too and your time will come. Keep at it (and we’re still here to help if you need us).

We also know the pandemic has robbed you of some of the rituals and rites of passage usually enjoyed by students at the end of their degrees. We didn’t get that ‘last class ever’ moment when tutors get a bit dewy eyed and say things like “is it really three years since you were in my [insert Level 4 module title] class?”. When we asked you to submit your dissertations online we knew there would be no ‘handing-in-my-dissertation’ selfie moment for you (a screenshot of the Turnitin ‘submit’ button is not as Instagram-able, we get it).

We also know you’re having to wait for your graduation ceremony – that special day when we take over the Royal Festival Hall, wear ridiculous outfits, and when your tutors and loved ones, a) weirdly meet, and b) demand you pose for endless unflattering photos. Until that joyous day comes (and it will come), we thought we’d share with you some of our own end-of-degree moments – so, please enjoy this rogues’ gallery of blurry, in some cases pre-digital, snaps of the Sociology team at their proudest/most awkward.

Umit

 

Here’s Umit at his graduation from the Sociology degree at Westminster in 2008, see he’s been through what you have and survived!

Naomi

 

 

 

Naomi is the only one of us brave enough to admit to having had an official degree photo done! By the time of her PhD she’d embraced the more everyday snapshot format.

Adam

 

Adam: This was my PhD graduation. It absolutely bucketed down with rain, roads were flooded, there were serious traffic jams across Sydney and I, with lots of other people, turned up late and dripping wet. It was an early ceremony but was held on campus so we went back to the Gender and Cultural Studies offices afterwards to dry off and drink champagne in our damp robes. It was actually a fun day!!

Celia

Celia shows up at graduation every year to receive the many unwieldy floral tributes bestowed on her by grateful graduands. She says she was “too radical” to attend her undergrad ceremony, but then realised that as her parents had bankrolled her through university, she ought go to her MA and PhD graduation ceremonies for them.

Val

 

 

 

 

Val is another one of us who didn’t go to their graduation. In the long-term it does get you out of having to supply embarrassing photos for features like this when you’re a big shot professor (although mortar boards can be photoshopped on). Also, it is totally OK not to want to go to the ceremony. You still get your degree!

Hilde

 

Here’s Hilde at her PhD graduation back in 2012, feeling proud but also slightly star struck standing next to the famous Marxist economic geographer David Harvey.

David

 

 

 

 

David: As these are really rather strange times, I thought I’d share a strange picture on my graduation day receiving my PhD from the father of modern sociology Anthony Giddens in 2001 at the LSE. I cringe at the thought that I seem to have an audience with a seated king on his throne!!

FRW

 

Francis: I remember my gender studies lecturers (the very eminent Professors Jackie Stacey and Sarah Franklin) telling me that graduation robes were designed to be worn with a “man’s” shirt and tie (the hood hooks onto your shirt buttons and the tie covers it up), and I took this as an excuse to wear a suit and tie to my undergraduate graduation. There is, however, no excuse for not tucking in my shirt.

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Emily, currently on sabbatical/marooned in Spain and unable to access those graduation photos buried deep in a loft somewhere in the UK, did manage to find this photo from her brother’s graduation – she’s wearing his hat! It still as an air of summer celebration to it, and some fine sandstone in the background.

 

JenniferJennifer has been ‘in exile’ and without access to their full photographic back catalogue…or their full wardrobe, so they couldn’t even model this year’s graduation outfit for you. In lieu of a photo of their graduation (unobtainable despite much hassling of friends) here they are in the wilds of Scotland, practicing some serious social distancing.

Ben

Ben: I couldn’t find any graduation pictures (ok I could, but they are awful), and so I picked this one instead. This apparently serene springtime photo was taken a few hours after the final exam of my third year. I acutely remember the terrible state I’d got myself in that morning; the accumulating stress that led to me abandoning the second answer and walking out early, certain I’d messed it all up. I guess I’ve chosen it now as a token of solidarity with those of you who have struggled at some point along the way: I fucking hate exams.

 

 

Congratulations to you all again, and we’re looking forward to celebrating your successes in person as soon as that’s possible.

The Sociology Team

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Another successful year for Sociology Work Experience students at the Employability Awards

This has been another successful year for our Sociology Work Experience students at the Employability Awards, with Kyra-Lamar Arneta winning the LAS Short-term Placement Student of the Year Award and Sajida Khanom winning third place in the Explore Teaching Placement Student of the Year Award. The Level 5 Work Experience module offers students a chance to choose their own placement, which ideally is related to a possible career choice after graduating. The placement provides an opportunity to apply graduate level skills gained from doing their degree in Sociology or Combined Honours in real work situations. The students are encouraged to work independently but with support from the module leader, Engage officer at the University and their manager/mentors in the workplace. Increasingly, employers are favouring graduates who have completed work placements whilst at university and one of the ways that Westminster has promoted employability is through the Employability Awards Scheme which offers a number of awards to the placement students in several categories.

 

Kyra-Lamar Arneta, a Sociology student, completed her placement at the City of Westminster College as a teaching assistant via the University’s Explore Teaching Scheme. She said that she “learnt how to create and execute an effective lesson… and the importance of organisation, time-management and communication”. The experience has confirmed that she does want to go into teaching when she graduates. After receiving her prize money of £200, Kyra said

“I am very honoured. I am beyond grateful to be recognised for my work during my placement.”

 

Sajida Khanom, a Sociology student, completed her placement as a teaching assistant at a secondary school and her mentor nominated her for the award based on the quality of her work there. Sajida stated that:

 

The work experience module equipped me with more knowledge about all workplaces. I learned various ways to adapt my current skills and highlight the gaps missing within my skills set. Reflecting on my current skills at the time enabled me to develop new skills to add to my CV. The work experience module has prepared me for what to expect when applying for jobs and going for interviews. These are just some of the few things I learned in this module.

 

Sajida also expressed her amazement at winning the £100 prize and said:

I felt really proud of myself for winning this award […] This is a great achievement and I will hold onto it closely.

 

Both students offered advice to current students to make use of the university’s careers’ service, Engage and take advantage of this module and the Explore Teaching scheme and other opportunities to find out what you need to do when looking for work and filling your skills’ gaps. I am also proud of all the work experience students who learn so much from taking this module and I am especially proud of Kyra-Lamar and Sajida.

 

Umit Cetin

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Sociology under Lockdown

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Coronavirus has meant some big changes to how we work in Sociology at Westminster. We went under lockdown two thirds of the way through our second semester and made a rapid adjustment to online teaching. It was sad not to be able to see our students face to face, but we have lots of experience of using online technologies and were able to make good use of recorded lectures, online reading lists and teaching tools like Padlet and Prezi during those last four weeks of term. Now we’re facing the possibility of teaching entire modules online during the coming academic year, and are thinking especially hard about how to make sure our new students feel included in the valuable learning community we have in Sociology.

We’ve seen how important a sociological perspective is to understanding some of the contradictions at work in the current crisis. While in one sense we’re all in it together, in another sense the last couple of months have highlighted how existing race and class inequalities have significant impacts on our chances of surviving or dying from the disease. Political choices made in the name of scientific objectivity are reshaping how our societies operate, and many of the apparent certainties we were living with at the start of 2020 are now in flux. In our research and in our teaching, the Sociology team will be doing important critical work to make sense of this changing world.

In the meantime, we’re thinking a lot about all our current students, but particularly our third year students working hard to complete their dissertation projects. While the  summer graduation ceremony is postponed we really look forward to a time when we can celebrate your graduations with you properly, face to face.

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Event: Thinking about a Career in Social and Criminological Research?

On the 12th November, Soc-Crim students were invited to a very useful event: Thinking about a Career in Social and Criminological Research, organised by Soc-Crim Course leaders Hilde Stephansen and Emily Falconer. Two external speakers, Graham Farrant, Chief Executive of the Social Research Association and Molly Mayer, researcher at National Centre for Social Research gave overviews of how to get into the sector, and what everyday life as a social researcher can look like. The second two speakers, PhD student Nayyar Hussain and Lecturer in Criminology, Jeane Gerad, provided insights into their own journeys and love of research- which brought them into academia. If you are a stduent thinking about your future career, these events are a great starting point for ideas.

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November Graduation for Sociology and Soc-Crim Students

A very proud Emily Falconer joined in the celebrations at the Royal Festival hall on the 11th November 2019 as another round of Sociology and Soc-Crim students graduated from the University of Westminster. A delighted Saemah Osmani and Alexia Yirenkyi (pictured) were part of the ceremony, along with Aisha Ahmed, Aisha Butt, Prabhleen Kaur, Mohammad Imtiyaaz Ahmed and Tanjia Sultana. Well done for your achievements, and we wish all our students a successful future.

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Sociology Anthology 2019

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At this year’s graduation ceremony at the Royal Festival Hall, the Sociology team presented graduating students with the fifth edition of the annual Westminster Sociology Dissertation Anthology, which showcases some of the outstanding and innovative research produced by final year Sociology and Sociology-Criminology students at the University of Westminster.

The aim of this anthology is to reward good dissertations, to provide an example of quality work for future dissertation students, and to promote more widely the achievements of our students in Sociology at Westminster.

The anthology includes work by Kate Salmon, who has produced an in-depth qualitative study on women’s perspectives of stranger harassment in public space, paying particular attention to intergenerational differences. Iqra Bi’s  research explores how South Asian women who are University graduates navigate their social realms and negotiate the dichotomy of modern and traditional ‘good Muslim women’ ideals. Sadia Haque asks ‘who gets labelled a “terrorist”’? in a discourse analysis of online news articles covering two terrorist attacks. Isabelle Jackson’s project explores the ways young heterosexual people in contemporary British society learn about sexual practices and pleasure through sex toys. Chloe Mead has conducted fascinating survey research on the drinking cultures of British University students. Finally, Sazkar Kaka Rhsh’s impressive project investigates the marital life experiences of Iraqi-Kurdish women in the UK.

While these five projects are incredibly diverse, they all have qualities that
 make them distinctive of the kind of work our students produce in Sociology
 at Westminster: they engage creatively and passionately with some of the
 urgent issues of our time, they use a finely tuned sociological imagination to
 challenge taken-for-granted assumptions, and they are motivated by a desire 
to understand and challenge social inequalities.

Kate, Iqra, Sadia, Isabelle, Chloe, and Sazkar are not alone in producing great dissertation projects. The Sociology team had the pleasure to read some really excellent work. In particular, we would like to commend Brooklyn Stevens who collected some amazing, rich and fabulous data on the gentrification of Brixton and how it affects everyday lives and communities. Well done to all our third year students – we are very proud of you all!

Dr Ben Pitcher, on behalf of the Sociology team, July 2019.

Click here to download a free pdf copy of this year’s Westminster Sociology Anthology.

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