Alternative Families and Donor Conception: Stories Across the Life-course

Westminster Sociology Open Talks in 2016 bring together Sociology staff with external speakers to explore a shared topic of interest. In the second Open Talk of 2016, Dr Emily Falconer is joined by Dr Susanna Graham, Centre for Family Research, University of Cambridge to discuss stories of complex kinships and alterative families across the life-course, from donor conception through to adulthood. Refreshments will be provided.


Date: 10 November 2016

Time: 5pm

Location: The Boardroom, 1st Floor, 309 Regent Street, University of Westminster, W1B 2HW

Stories of an absent father: single women negotiating relatedness through sperm donation

 Dr Susanna Graham, Centre for Family Research, University of Cambridge

 This talk will present findings from an in-depth, qualitative study exploring the experiences of single heterosexual women in the UK embarking upon solo motherhood through sperm donation. Focusing upon the process by which the participants choose a sperm donor, this talk will elucidate the complex and ambivalent meanings that are attributed to both solo motherhood and sperm donation. By paying particular attention to the women’s decision-making regarding the level and type of information sought about their donor, the power for a sperm donor to become a visible actor, albeit symbolically, in this family form will be explored.


Complex Kinships across the life-course

Dr Emily Falconer, Department of History, Sociology and Criminology, University of Westminster

 This discussion explores the familial relationships of adult children who were themselves raised in ‘queerer’, alternative family structures. Whilst there is now a greater acceptance of same-sex parenting within both public and private services that work with families (fertility clinics, social work, adoption and fostering) U.K public services still struggle to relate to ‘queerer’ families whose lifestyles feel less familiar then the two-parent family. This is especially the case where there are multiple parental figures involved in child rearing. Whilst current U.K law only recognises two legal parents at one time in practice ‘queerer’ families often have more than two recognised parents. There are many combinations of extended queer family formations that include genetic and non-genetic parenting, and ongoing relationships with known sperm donors, but little research that as yet look into the impacts of multiple parenting on the families involved and ongoing networks of care over time. This is especially pertinent where there is a lack of legal recognition beyond two parents, and how this impacts upon care and kinship throughout changes in the life course and potential relationship breakdown.

This event is open to academics, students and anyone else who’s interested in this important topic. External attendees should email in advance.




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Announcing the first event in the Westminster Sociology Open Talks Series 2016: Val Gillies and Naomi Rudoe on Early Childhood and Social Policy

National College of Ireland

Westminster Sociology Open Talks in 2016 bring together Sociology staff with external speakers to explore a shared topic of interest. In the first Open Talk of 2016, Dr Naomi Rudoe is joined by our newly arrived Professor Val Gillies to talk on early childhood and social policy. Refreshments will be provided.

Date: 20 October 2016

Time: 5pm

Location: The Boardroom, 1st Floor, 309 Regent Street

This event is open to academics, students and anyone else who’s interested in this important topic. External attendees should email in advance.


Val Gillies

The Politics of Early Years Intervention: Hopeful Ethos or Cruel Optimism

Few policy ideas unite contemporary politicians as unanimously as the logic of ‘early intervention’. The notion that family based risks can be identified in early childhood and managed to transform children’s lifechances enjoys a cross party consensus and features heavily in strategies for tackling poverty and increasing social mobility. It is hailed by left and right as a progressive, forward thinking approach. In this paper I examine the political and economic presumptions driving this ‘stitch in time’ rationale. Drawing on my co-authored book on the subject I set out some key objections to what has become an unquestioned policy trope. In particular I highlight the negative connotations that flow from a preoccupation with prevention.

Naomi Rudoe

Nursery schools, ‘quality’, and early years education policy in England

Early years education policy in England involves a ‘story of quality and high returns’ (Moss, 2014) whereby investing in ‘quality’ early years education provides high returns in the form of better achievement and social outcomes for children. Education and childcare for 0-5-year-olds involves a messy and confusing patchwork of provision, much of which can be described as a childcare market that includes a significant amount of private provision. The ‘second story’ of early education, argues Moss, is ‘the story of markets’. Moss dislikes both of these stories in relation to early years, proposing instead a different vocabulary of potentialities, possibilities, wonder and meaning-making. In this paper I interrogate the story of ‘quality’ in the nursery school, a fast-disappearing form of state provision in England that ‘ticks the box’ in terms of structure and process quality – two common ways of measuring quality in early years education (Mathers et al, 2012). Through analysis of nursery school head teachers’ understandings and narratives of ‘quality’ in their schools, I will discuss whether ‘quality’ can or should hold any sort of objective or common meaning here, and whether it can be leveraged to re-focus on new ways of thinking about the purpose and value of education and care for the youngest children in the school system.

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Westminster Sociology Anthology 2016

The Sociology team at Westminster celebrated with all the students graduating today at the Royal Festival Hall.

Course leader Francis Ray White awarded the students who were included in this year’s Westminster Sociology Anthology.

The aim of the 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.

Dissertation Anthology 2016

Westminster Sociology Anthology 2016

This year’s anthology includes the work of Nayyar Hussain, who has produced a fascinating study of class, race and gentrification in South Kilburn. Mashudah Farzana’s work explores the experiences of Muslim students at the University of Westminster in the wake of press stories about ‘Jihadi John’. Dhruvee Masters addresses the cultural management of pre-adolescent sexuality, analysing how powerful social institutions enforce a narrative of pre-adolescent innocence. Nile Sobers-Bennett challenges prevalent discourses about cosmetic surgery, refuting the idea that women are ‘cultural dopes’ in the feminine beauty system. Victoria Priegan’s project explores the health experiences of African-Caribbean men and how masculinity influences help-seeking behaviours.

While these five topics 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 contemporary social and cultural life, they challenge dominant ideas and develop new perspectives, and they are centrally concerned with issues of equality and social justice.

Download a free copy in PDF here: Westminster Sociology Anthology 2016





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Sociology Open Research Event: Time and The Body: Stories From the Diasporic Deathbed

In this fascinating contribution to our Open Research Talk series, Dr Yasmin Gunaratnam (Sociology, Goldsmiths) draws on narrative and ethnographic research with migrants and refugees who have settled in Britain and are facing the end of their lives. With the help of ideas from postcolonial, feminist, palliative care, crip theory and neuroscience research, she argues that pain at the end of life for some migrants and refugees is not easily locatable within chrononormative time frames. She draws upon examples from her British Academy funded ‘Case Stories’ project on social pain and transnational dying in the UK. The project used stories, poems and visual images to encourage dialogue with care practitioners and diverse audiences.


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Dorrie on Vanessa


Our very own Dorrie Chetty was interviewed on the Vanessa Feltz radio show this week, where she talked about the representation of migrants, drawing on her own experiences as a fourteen year-old student travelling from her family home in Mauritius to study in Colchester.

For the next month, you can listen to Dorrie here (She’s on at 2hrs, 11mins 30).


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Breaking the binary

Screen Shot 2016-01-15 at 13.28.22Our very own Dr Francis Ray White features on this week’s cover of London gay magazine QX. They are interviewed as part of a feature on ‘Genderqueer & Breaking the Binary’. Francis writes:

I definitely think that in the last year or two there’s been so much more visibility of non-binary people, at least in certain circles. Part of that is down to figures like Jack Monroe coming out publicly, but it’s also the result of a much longer history of trans activism. When people talk about trans issues now non-binary people get mentioned more often and I feel like that has really come on recently. The ideas circulating about what trans is are broadening out, and that’s really good.

But then, last September, there was the government’s response to an online petition asking for transgender people to be able to self-determine their legal gender. The Ministry of Justice’s response to non-binary people was basically to say that they had no intention of legally recognising people who define as a gender that’s not male or female, and that they were not aware of “any specific detriment” experienced by non-binary people! So it feels like things are starting to be discussed, but it’s still not at a point where you can legally define yourself as something other than male or female.

I’m not sure if legal change is the only thing we need. You are erased in other ways. It’s not overt, but it’s just the world is set up for two genders and if you try to be anything else it sometimes feels impossible. Society just needs to be less gendered in general – like often you get asked for a title or a gender when there’s really no need for it.

There’s just a chronic lack of awareness and a lack of knowledge about other gender identities. Like in that petition response, it’s just generally assumed there aren’t many or even any people to whom this applies and therefore it’s not really an issue. So the progress is uneven, but starting to move in the right direction. I came out as non-binary about four years ago and I feel like even in that time there’s been so much change and people are more aware of what it is.

My queer friends are amazing so they get it and that was fine. I’m out to my family, they took a bit longer to understand it, as did people at work. Working in a university is a relatively accepting atmosphere. Not completely, you’d be surprised, but it’s a lot better than some other places. My students are great. I do talk to them about it but it’s difficult. When I changed my name they got used to it pretty quickly, but it’s harder with pronouns. I am asking them to use ‘they’ now and some of them do and some of them don’t.

The hardest thing is keeping hold of that sense that you are what you know you are, even though you rarely get acknowledged as such. Sometimes you have to exist in the face of the confident assumption that you don’t. But you are legitimate; remember that.


 You can read the whole feature here 


francis 1

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Westminster Sociologists visit City of Westminster College

This afternoon  Adam and Ben had a fun visit with students studying Sociology at the City of Westminster College, Paddington Green.

Adam talked through the research process in relation to some recent work on dogs in the city, from the generation of initial research questions to final process of writing up. Ben discussed some work on race and roots culture, and the important relationship between curiosity and context in the research process.

We then heard about some of the students’  fascinating research ideas – from Islamophobia on public transport to mental health in BME communities to the sociology of Ebola and work with cancer survivors. We learned a lot, and we got some tea and cake too. Thanks to Sociology and Psychology teacher Sasha Whyte for inviting us.

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