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.


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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.


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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Our Fantastic Modules

We often get asked by prospective students about what’s in our BA Sociology modules at Westminster. We’re very proud of  our degree: we have a diverse range of options in contemporary sociology, with lots of teaching that derives from our own original research. Here’s a taste of the modules we currently offer, from the first year to the third year. If you have any questions about what we have to offer, please feel free to get in touch with Ben Pitcher ( or Naomi Rudoe (, the Sociology Course Leaders.

Please note that not all option modules run every single year

Level 4 (first year)

4SOCL001W Thinking Sociologically

This module is an introduction to how classical sociological theory has explained social structures and divisions in society. The work of Marx, Durkheim and Weber is introduced to explain the transition from traditional to modern society. Drawing on key features of contemporary society the module also questions and critiques the classical theorists’ applicability to 21st century global society.


4SOCL002W Identity and Society

This module provides a critical vocabulary for exploring and understanding the relationship between the self and society. It introduces classic and contemporary accounts of identity and critically explores sociological accounts of identity and its formation.

London explored

4SOCL003W London Explored

The module uses London as a context to explore sociological theory and to assess and conduct quantitative research in relation to the city. Students are introduced to the themes of the nightmare/utopic/cosmopolitan/global city and use these to write an individual literature review in preparation for designing and conducting a group research project on an aspect of contemporary London life.

understanding race

4SOCL004W Understanding Race (option module)

This module provides an introduction to key contemporary debates in the sociology of race. Each week is organised around a key concept, challenging ‘commonsense’ ideas about racial difference, ethnicity and culture. Exploring the fascinating role of race in the organisation of social and cultural life, this module assumes no prior knowledge of the topic, and provides an excellent foundation for the further study of race at levels 5 and 6. This module includes a walking tour of ‘black London’ led by a professional tour guide.

Researching Society.jpg

4SOCL005W Researching Society

Researching Society is an introduction to doing sociology. Taking research on London as a focus, students learn how to formulate sociological questions and how to identify what kinds of research methods are appropriate for answering them. The module also introduces the academic skills essential to degree level learning, such as sourcing and retrieving information, referencing and academic writing, and assists in supporting students’ transition to HE.


4SOCL006W Introducing Media and Cultural Studies

This module provides an introduction to the study of media and culture, and demonstrates how important they are to an understanding of contemporary society. The module introduces key concepts and applies these to the analysis of a variety of cultural texts, from films and TV to magazines and social media. We apply the insights that can be derived from a range of different critical approaches, and place an emphasis on developing the practice of critical interpretation.

introducing gender

4SOCL007W Introducing Gender (option module)

Gender really needs no introducing – from the moment we are born we are caught up in this most pervasive scheme for ordering the world. Introducing Gender aims to outline the ways in which gender has been understood, and challenged, in sociological and feminist thought. Central to this is the hierarchical division of men and women, and the sites and sources of this gendered power in society.


4SOCL008W London Lives (option module)

This module will explore immigrant lives and their contexts in London. Starting with a historical overview and an introduction to theories of integration, assimilation and settlement, the module will examine current and past processes of inclusion and exclusion in different spheres of society, including politics, the (regular and irregular) labour market, the education system and the criminal justice system. It will also look at linguistic, literary and artistic cultural production.


Level 5 (second year)

5SOCL001W Modern Social Theory (core module)

This module explores the development of social theorising in the 20th Century. It considers the continuities and discontinuities in social theorising in the context of rapid social change and it is concerned with the exploring how the core concepts of classical theory have been adapted, reworked or discarded in response to changing times. Theorists including Lukacs, Parsons, Goffman, the Frankfurt School and the symbolic interactionists will be studied.


5SOCL002W Education Now (option module)

This module makes sense of current controversies in education by evaluating the role of education and government prescriptions for its future, through analysis of policy and practice. Students will write a report on an educational issue such as sex education, social exclusion, faith schools or bullying.


5SOCL003W Work Experience (option module)

This module is practice based, requiring students to: a) negotiate a work placement; b) undertake the work planned to a professional level; c) to identify and further develop their graduate attributes and d) reflect critically upon the nature of work and the structures that underpin the wider experiences of the placement.


5SOCL004W The Sociology of Religion (option module)

Early sociologists’ view about the erosion of religion in modern societies have been challenged by those who argue that the twenty-first century is experiencing a process of ‘desecularization’ or religious revivalism. This module introduces students to the theories and methods offered by classical and contemporary sociologists to help equip them critically to examine the definitions, social origins, and historical and contemporary significance of religion at the individual, institutional and societal level.


5SOCL005W Sexualities (option module)

This module explores sexuality as a central component of contemporary life and asks how it is deployed in constructions of identity, politics, morality, oppression, liberation, and civilization itself. Sociological, feminist and queer approaches to sexuality, including critiques of essentialism and heteronormativity, are discussed along with topics including danger, the nation, marriage and pornography.


5SOCL006W Emotional Life (option module)

Emotions are not just a private matter. This module explores the centrality of emotions to interpersonal and social life such as love and anger. It examines theories which challenge our assumptions that emotions are solely psychological cognitive states. It will offer alternative models which make the case that emotions emerge out of the social relations in which they are experienced.


5SOCL007W Sociological Research Methods (core module)

This module focuses on research practice and provides core knowledge and skills in primary research methods. Students will design, conduct and analyse an in-depth interview on a topic of their choice and design, and conduct secondary data analysis of a large-scale survey from the UK Data Service. Students will be introduced to data analysis software and the SPSS statistical package to assist with data analysis. The knowledge and skills will be invaluable preparation for the dissertation.


5SOCL008W Youth Culture and Identity (core module)

This module provides a unique insight into youth cultures locally and internationally. It uses classic research on youth culture and subcultures and examines more recent studies on youth leisure, identity, employment and unemployment. The module has a strong policy focus and will be of particular interest to those planning a future in youth work.


5SOCL009W Globalisation and the Media (option module)

The strong link between globalisation and the media has brought about some of the most fundamental social, political and economic changes across the globe. This module assesses how globalisation facilitates the instant exchange of information and the news and asks questions about the expanded reach of multinational corporations through greater information connectivity, global advertising strategies, and integration of economic activity across borders.

LGBTQ Studies

5WSEL009W LGBTQ Studies (option module)

LGBTQ Studies offers an introduction to studying LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) lives from a range of academic disciplines and perspectives. The topic offers a rich entry point into explorations of identity, history, politics, and art/literature as well as addressing questions around equality and diversity at local and global levels, in the family, the workplace, in the media and online and in international society.


Level 6 (third year)


6SOCL001W Sociology Dissertation (core module)

In essence, the dissertation is about doing sociology. Students select a topic for in-depth research, which normally relates to their experience or something of interest in a module. Students showcase their sociological knowledge and skills in setting their own question, operationalising key concepts in a coherent research framework, conducting, analysing and critically evaluating their research.

contemporary social theory

6SOCL002W Contemporary Social Theory (core module)

This module is an exploration in contemporary social theory. It introduces poststructuralist perspectives, and engages with an eclectic range of sociological theories and debates that provide new and exciting ways of thinking about life in the twenty-first century. Students are shown how theories can be used to explore, explain and understand contemporary social issues, problems or concerns.


6SOCL003W Families, Intimacies and Personal Life (option module)

The module examines families and intimate life, drawing on the latest research in family studies in the UK and North America. It explores the concepts of family practices (the ‘doing’ of family), intimacy (the emotional quality of families and personal relationships) and issues in family policy and intervention. It examines the diversity of family, parenting and personal relationship practices, as well as anthropological and queer approaches to families and intimacy.


6SOCL004W Life and Death: The Medicalisation of the Body (option module)

This module will challenge your thinking about the body. It unpacks Shilling’s concept of the ‘unfinished body’ by engaging with a variety of bodily phenomena, such as the cultures of death and dying, healthy lifestyles, embodied identity and the medicalization of the body. These analyses are further underpinned by examining the body’s relationship to power through detailed case study examples.


6SOCL005W Politics, Protest and the Public Sphere (option module)

This module introduces key theoretical debates in political sociology around activism, protests and social movements. Particular attention is given to the impact of globalization and new media technologies on protest movements; and to how such movements operate in the public sphere. The module also explores a range of historical and contemporary examples of protest events and social movements.


6SOCL006W Perils and Pleasures: A London Sociology of Leisure (option module)

London has a long and rich history as a site for transgression, entertainment and leisure. This module, using London as a point of departure, critically examines sociological theories of leisure, emotion, embodiment and pleasure. Drawing on scholarship from urban sociology, leisure studies and cultural studies, we will critically examine and evaluate practices from clubbing to shopping.


6SOCL007W Making the News (option module)

This module examines the processes of the production and dissemination of news in contemporary societies. The main focus is on assessing the consequences of the concentration of media ownership and whether new media offers a viable alternative to monopolised media production. Based on case studies, the module analyses how news is produced, both linguistically and institutionally, the politics of citizenship and the need for a rigorous public realm.


6SOCL008W Crossing Borders and Boundaries: Migration and Identity (option module)

This module examines how immigration and emigration impacts on the structure and culture of local environments. Cultural fields such as literature, music, art and cuisine are explored to discuss the cultural networks and exchanges resulting from migration. Concepts of self, ‘other’, nation and community are used to study how contemporary immigrant identities are shaped by new mobilities, mixed cultures and new ways of communication.

Consuming Race

6SOCL009W Consuming Race (option module)

This module explores how the meanings of race are made and remade in acts of creative consumption. By consuming race we make sense of other groups and cultures, communicate our own identities, express needs and desires, and discover new ways of thinking and being. Ranging across the terrain of popular culture, and finding race in some unusual and unexpected places, this module offers fresh and innovative ways of thinking about the centrality of race to our lives.

 Contemporary Gender Studies

6SOCL010W Contemporary Gender Studies: Feminist Theory and Beyond (option module)

Taking gender to be intersectional and discursively constructed, this module examines how contemporary gender studies go ‘beyond’ existing feminist theory and explores how gender is experienced, known and understood today. It engages with current debates in gender studies around performativity, neoliberalism, transgender, disability and embodiment and feminist/queer subversion and resignification.


6SOCL011W Gender, Education and Identity (option module)

Education shapes pupil identities through the structure, policies, curriculum, culture and psycho-social dynamics of schooling. Using gender as the lens, and an intersectional analysis to evaluate other differences e.g., class, ethnicity, religion, sexuality and disability, this module examines identity work at school. Students will employ autobiographical methods to evaluate how they negotiated their educational identities at school.


6SOCL012W Food, Taste and Consumption (option module)

This module focuses on the study of food, taste and consumption. Based primarily in sociological thinking, it will explore how the experience of taste is not limited to our own sensual likes and dislikes, but deeply embedded in class, history, patterns of migration/ tourism and culture. It will also focus on the ‘experience economy’ of the dining and eating scene in London – from fine dining to fusion ‘global’ cuisine and the rise of farmers markets and food festivals.

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Westminster Sociology Open Talks 2017/18: Changing Bodies: Fatness, Surgery and Choice

Westminster Sociology Open Talks in 2017-18 bring together Sociology staff with external speakers to explore a shared topic of interest. In the first talk of the academic year, Dr Francis Ray White is joined by Dr Samantha Murray from the University of New South Wales to discuss questions around fat embodiment in relation to trans experience and weight loss surgery.

Surgical tools for blog

Date: Thursday 5th October 2017

Time: 5pm

Location: Room 604, 309 Regent Street, University of Westminster, W1B 2HW

This event is free and open to academics, students and anyone else who’s interested in this important topic. Please register on Eventbrite.

Choice or Assent? The Neoliberal Subject and/of Weight Loss Surgeries

Dr Samantha Murray, University of New South Wales

In the midst of a global ‘obesity epidemic’, where dieting regimes and pharmacological solutions have failed as curative therapies, bariatric (weight loss) surgeries have been held out as the ‘gold standard’ in treating clinically determined morbid obesity (Faccio et al., 2016). However, despite the categorisation of obesity as a disease, the individualist politics that defines our neoliberal context continues to position fat subjects as personally responsible for their ‘affliction’, via their unmanaged excesses.

Against this backdrop, over the last decade, there has been a massive increase in the number of weight loss surgeries (WLS) carried out, often as elective procedures (Drew, 2011; Angrisani et al., 2015). However, the ‘choice’ to undergo these surgeries can be experienced as ‘assent’, rather than ‘consent’, and further, the lifelong management of post-WLS embodiment remains invisible. In other words, the medico-cultural value of weight loss overshadows the complexities attendant on the allegedly simple ‘choice’ to undergo bariatric surgery and live a fat-free life. Drawing on an autoethnography of WLS, here I offer a phenomenological account of the problematic lived (dis)connections between health and bodily appearance in obesity treatment protocols, and the role of ‘choice’ in neoliberal medicine.


Backrolls Vs Gender Roles: The Fat/Trans Intersection

Dr Francis Ray White, University of Westminster

Critical thinking around fat and transgender has thus far existed in largely separate spheres and each remains ignorant of the others’ insights. This has resulted in a failure to account for the embodied experiences of people who are both fat and trans. This talk will focus on the medical gate-keeping around gender reassignment surgeries for trans people in terms of the weight restrictions imposed on candidates and the assumption that they can, and will, lose weight in order to access surgeries. This example raises key issues around the ‘malleability’ of the body, specifically the tensions between transgender activism predicated on the idea of the body’s inherent malleability, and fat activism that has politically insisted on the body’s non-malleability and its right to exist as fat. Caught between these conflicting approaches, fat trans people have often been excluded by both sides. In asking questions about how fat activism can help challenge fatphobia in trans communities, and how fatness shapes the experience of being trans in both everyday incidences of passing/misgendering and in interactions with healthcare professionals and gender identity clinics, this talk will attempt to move beyond existing approaches and imagine new ways of thinking the fat/trans intersection.

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Westminster Sociology Anthology 2017

At this year’s graduation ceremony at the Royal Festival Hall, Dr Naomi Rudoe presented graduating students with the third edition of the annual Westminster Sociology Dissertation Anthology, which showcases some of the outstanding and innovative research produced by final year Sociology 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 Mark Armstrong-Wood’s work on community libraries in Austerity Britain, Kate Taylor’s work on tattoos in the workplace, Rhianna Bedi’s work on sexual double standards, Sonia Kamili’s work on war and gender roles, and Shivani Pandya’s work on migration and Brexit.

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.

Mark, Kate, Rhianna, Sonia and Shivani are not alone in producing great dissertation projects. The Sociology team had the pleasure to read some really excellent work this year. In particular, we would like to commend work by Yasmin Siddika, Aneesah Rehman, Sannah Iqbal, Fareena Akram, Latifah Stone, James Shipley and Olivia Lovelock.

Click here to download a PDF copy of the Westminster Sociology Dissertation Anthology 2017

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To our students, on the Teaching Excellence Framework

Year after year in Sociology at Westminster we receive consistently high levels of student satisfaction (90-100%) in the National Student Survey. Individual Sociology staff have won awards for their quality teaching, and most recently were awarded a team Excellence Award in recognition of our innovative teaching programme. We have specialist teaching qualifications which mean our work is informed by the latest thinking in Higher Education. External examiners reported only last week how impressed and inspired they are by what we do.

While it does not come as a surprise, we are disappointed to find that our university has been ranked ‘Bronze’ – the lowest category – in the national Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), published this morning. Although the stated aim of the TEF is ‘to recognise and reward excellence in teaching and learning’ the outcome for Sociology at Westminster has been the direct opposite: the TEF result says, quite plainly, that we’re crap at our jobs.

This is why I’m writing to you, our undergraduate students. You know as well as I do that the TEF result is just not true. You know that in Sociology you’ve got a really dedicated teaching team. You know how much work we put in to developing super interesting modules (spending many more hours on this than the university asks us to). You know how much one-to-one support we provide to develop your knowledge and skills. You know how intellectually transformative our critical, socially engaged teaching can be.

We’re confident that you know how good our teaching is, but we don’t want the TEF’s insinuation to shake that. We want our graduating third year students to know (as our examiners tell us) that your hard work is comparable to that produced at the UK’s most elite institutions. Because the TEF is telling you, quite plainly, that you’ve had a third-rate experience, it’s important to explain why the TEF is a fundamentally flawed mechanism.

While there is variance in student satisfaction across our University, the issue with the TEF is not that Sociology is being dragged down by poor results in other subject areas. That would be unfair on our colleagues who work very hard in increasingly difficult circumstances to provide excellent teaching.

The most obvious problem with the TEF is that it doesn’t engage with teaching at all. Nobody has observed a single lecture, seminar, or workshop. In the very simplest terms, the TEF is a lie. Instead of this, the TEF uses proxy data, and alongside student satisfaction it includes metrics like drop-out rates and graduate employment data.

It is no wonder, then, that the more elite institutions like Oxford and Cambridge have generally obtained a ‘gold’ rating in the REF.  These universities continue to be populated by disproportionate numbers of privately-educated students whose privilege goes on to secure them the UK’s top jobs. This isn’t because these students have experienced excellent teaching: it is because elite institutions continue to play a significant role on reproducing preexisting social privileges. The advantages conferred by social class are invariably consolidated by white privilege.

The TEF also needs to be understood as part of a wider and ongoing process of the marketization of the university sector. The TEF is according the author of a recent report, ‘not so much about teaching excellence as raising fees’. The TEF promises to give elite institutions the right to raise fees (and so further reinforcing class distinction); it will force lower-ranking institutions like Westminster to reduce fees, with a predictable knock-on effect on future student expenditure and the resourcing of teaching. In short: the TEF is going to make things a lot harder for non-elite universities like Westminster.

In the General Election students and young people put the injustice of tuition fees firmly back on the political agenda. There’s increasing recognition that neither university staff nor students are benefiting from the market in UK Higher Education. In Sociology at Westminster we will do our best – in collaboration with our amazing, talented students – to struggle against its injustices, and that includes the faulty verdict of the TEF.

Ben Pitcher is Co-Leader of the Sociology BA Honours at Westminster. @Pitcher_Ben

Image from the University of Salford SU ' there's more to excellent teaching than statistics'

Image from the University of Salford Student Union:



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Sociology team win teaching excellence award

sociology team

In a Ceremony at Marylebone on 23 May 2017 the Sociology team at Westminster received a Teaching Excellence Award. Award holders make a significant contribution  to learning and teaching at Westminster through contributing learning resources, promoting learning and teaching development at faculty level and more widely. Complementing the individual Teaching Fellowships awarded in previous years to Dr Celia Jenkins, Dr Ben Pitcher and Dr Naomi Rudoe, the Excellence Award recognizes the work of the whole team in developing an innovative and inspiring teaching programme.


Receiving the award on behalf of the team, Dr Hilde Stephansen gave some background to the Sociology team, the work we do, and our plans for the future:

Sociology at Westminster is one of three disciplinary groups within the Department of History, Sociology and Criminology. We have a diverse student body, the majority of whom are non-traditional students from local working class and ethnic minority communities, especially women. The application was based on the work that we do as a team to support our non-traditional students and deliver an innovative degree programme that responds to a diversity of interests, experiences and needs.

Our approach to teaching and learning is informed by principles of critical pedagogy and based on an understanding of sociology as a transformative discipline that develops students critical thinking and enables them to connect personal troubles to public issues, to quote the sociologist C. Wright Mills. Our non-traditional students are particularly affected by structures of inequality linked to class, ethnicity, gender and sexuality, and we use our subject expertise in these areas to develop research-informed teaching that links issue they face in their personal lives to sociological theory.

A key feature of our degree programme is the high level of support we offer to our students. Recognising that our non-traditional students have specific support needs, we have consciously integrated study skills and information literacy within our core curriculum – making sessions on academic writing, referencing, finding and evaluating sources part of our core provision. We offer high levels of support with assessments and we work especially hard to provide high-quality, constructive assessment feedback.

Finally, we take a holistic approach to the student experience and work hard to make students feel part of an academic community. We have a Facebook page and a blog, a student forum that offers an informal space for students and staff to discuss the course together, and we organise social events and fieldtrips to London museums and exhibitions.

We know that much of the work we have done is successful but we have also identified challenges. These include an apparent increase in the number of students experiencing mental health issues and a lack of confidence among some students in their skills and abilities. We therefore plan to use award for a student consultation exercise to identify support needs in areas including mental health, academic skills and employability, which will inform further improvements to our curriculum and teaching practice. We also plan to use the award to support our professional development as a team by drawing on the expertise of professionals working in these areas.

excellence award

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