Archive for the 'Social Science' Category

Blinded by science: when biology meets policy

Sue White and David Wastell, authors of Blinded by science out today, explain the rise of neuroscience and genetics and their influence and impact on social policy.

David Wastell

Sue White

“Biological sciences, particularly neuroscience and genomics, are currently in the ascent. These new ‘techno-sciences’ are increasingly seen to promise a theory of everything in the psychosocial realm.

Social policy has not been slow to conscript technological biology, and is making significant use of neuroscientific evidence to support particular claims about both the soaring potentialities and irreversible vulnerabilities of early childhood, and the proper responses of the state.

The far reaching implications of epigenetics

The last decades have also seen a profound shift in our understanding of biological processes and life itself.

Whereas genetics has conventionally focused on examining the DNA sequence (the genotype), the burgeoning field of epigenetics examines additional mechanisms for modifying gene expression in manifest behaviours, physical features, health status and so on (the phenotype).

It provides a conduit mediating the interaction of the environment on an otherwise immutable DNA blueprint, and invites a natural interest in the impact of adverse conditions, such as deprivation or ‘suboptimal’ parenting. The implications of this for social policy are far reaching.

Continue reading ‘Blinded by science: when biology meets policy’

Free extract: After urban regeneration by Dave O’Brien and Peter Matthews

After urban regeneration by Dave O’Brien and Peter Matthews publishes today and to celebrate we’re making the book’s Introduction free to access. So if you’re waiting for your pre-ordered copy to arrive or simply interested to find out more, read on…

Peter Matthews

Peter Matthews

Dr Dave O'Brien

Dave O’Brien

This edited collection has emerged from studies funded through the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council’s (AHRC’s) ‘Connected Communities’ programme.

The first book to publish in the Connected Communities book series, it uses the evidence and knowledge created by a range of projects to explore two theses: first, that the UK, and England in particular, has now entered a ‘post-regeneration era’; and, second, that new relationships are being developed between academics, universities and ‘communities’, producing new kinds of knowledge.

Download the pdf of the full Introduction here.

Dr. Dave O’Brien is Senior Lecturer in Cultural Policy, at ICCE, Goldsmiths College, University of London. He hosts the New Books In Critical Theory podcast.

Dr. Peter Matthews is Lecturer in Social Policy at SASS, University of Stirling. He publishes widely in urban studies, planning, social policy and housing.

After urban regeneration [FC]After urban regeneration is available to purchase here  from the Policy Press website. Remember that Policy Press newsletter subscribers receive a 35% discount – if you’re not a member of our community why not sign up here today?

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

How neuroscience has transformed our understanding of child development

As we celebrate the launch of Abbott and Burkitt’s ground breaking new book Child development and the brain, we asked author Esther Burkitt to tells us more about what inspired her interest in child development…

EstherThe rapid advance of methodologies led me to be interested in how we can better understand children’s development in core aspects of their lives. We used to rely on behavioural methods with observational measures which could tell us how children responded in a wide variety of situations yet which did not necessarily tell us about the mechanisms guiding their behaviour.

My passion for understanding child development stemmed from working as an assistant neuropsychologist in a clinic dedicated to assessing children’s cognitive, emotional and social development for assessment and intervention purposes.

We used a wide variety of measures to build a picture of how the children were feeling and functioning. This work led me to pursue a PhD designed to investigate how we might understand children’s feelings though verbal and nonverbal measures. This also involved a myriad of methods including objective behavioural and self-report measures to reach a fuller understanding of what children were feeling and what they were trying to communicate.

Mixed methods

Some researchers adopt a single specific approach to research and some adopt a mixed methods approach. I am in the latter camp as I believe that different kinds of information arise from different ways of examining an issue and when working with children we need to be creative in the methods we adopt to understand development from an adult and from their perspective.

Happy house by a six year old

‘Happy house’ by a six year old

A keen interest of mine involves trying to find ways that children express and communicate emotion in their drawings and to find ways audiences may better understand what emotions they are expressing and conveying. For example, we might think that a child feels positively about a person drawn in yellow until we realise that they dislike the colour intensely and use it to show negativity.

This has led me to adopt mixed methodologies to look at children’s drawn and verbal affective reports, their behaviours during the drawing process and how these measures fit, or often do not, with a range of adult audiences’ understanding of the children’s emotional experiences.

“we used to think that infants did not understand that the world existed beyond their touch yet now we know very young infants appreciate this”

This project offered a great opportunity to synthesis some core information about how different approaches to examining children’s development have changed our understanding of key developmental topics. For example we used to think that infants did not understand that the world existed beyond their touch yet now we know very young infants appreciate this.

I’m interested in going on from here and a potential next step in this work would be to measure the neuropsychology influencing drawn and written expression and communication and to assess what emotional pathways are activated during children’s engagement with different communicative channels.

Child development and the brain [FC]Child development and the brain launches today and you can buy your copy from our website here (RRP £19.99). Don’t forget Policy Press newsletter subscribers get a 35% discount when ordering through our website. If you’re not a subscriber yet why not sign up here today and join our Policy Press community.

Ann Oakley: Connecting private lives and public work

Author and academic Ann Oakley discusses gender, patriarchy, methodology, and the politics of memory and identity at the Bristol Festival of ideas event held at Foyles bookshop in November.

Ann talks frankly and openly about the experience of being the daughter of Richard Titmuss, policy analyst and defender of the welfare state, and how growing up in what she refers to as ‘the blue plaque house’ in London shaped her own personal, political and academic development.

In conversation with  Sarah LeFanu, Ann shares stories about discovering and developing her feminism amid the act of dusting her father’s bookshelves as well as her delight in burrowing into deep and darksome archives where she uncovered papers that had not previously been seen to find ‘the shadowy spaces behind and between the official texts.’ Her enthusiasm for the way the private and public interact in the making of people is heartfelt and contagious. Listen to Ann speak below:

Much of the discussion is based around material recently published by Ann in her latest book Father and Daughter, in which she mixes biography, autobiography, intellectual history, archives, and personal interviews to provide a compelling narrative that analysis defies the usual social science publications to offer a truly distinctive account. Copies are available at the Policy Press website at a 20% discount.

Personal brand ‘essential’ to gangland survival

Academic and Policy Press author Simon Harding’s award winning book The Street Casino is based on findings from his extensive ethnographic study of local residents, professionals and gang members in south London.

Harding’s research provides a fresh perspective and new insights on the gang world. He believes more time should be spent understanding, rather than condemning, the street gang system if we are serious about helping the young people trapped in it. Interview and report by Rebecca Megson.

 

SimonHarding2NEW FINDINGS show that street gang leaders actively work to build a ‘brand’ for themselves as an essential part of gang culture.

Author and senior criminology lecturer Dr Simon Harding has been researching street gangs for some years. He has found that on the street developing a person’s brand is as essential as it is in mainstream consumerist society.

Harding explains that an individual’s brand is effectively ‘capital’ on the street; capital that can be traded, exchanged, increased and reduced. Brand protection is one reason why street violence erupts and escalates so rapidly.

Harding says: “If I ‘dis’ you, I take some of your ‘street capital’. You have to act pretty quickly in order to regain it. You might do that by knifing me, in which case you have now regained and multiplied your street capital.”

It doesn’t end there, though. “If the person is knifed in front of other people the value of that action is perceived to have increased. The wider group of people then also knife the person as their way of getting a piece of the capital.”

‘Creativity and intelligence’

Harding’s ethnographic study has focused specifically on a deprived area of Lambeth, South London, SW9. He interviewed people from the area, including young people involved in street gangs.

He says: “What I found was an enormous amount of creativity and intelligence – these young people just want to get on with their lives. They are in gangs but they view it as something they have to get involved in even though they don’t really want to be. We owe the young people involved a moral and social responsibility to understand their world.”

Harding is very clear on one point that he feels needs to be addressed first and foremost: the wellspring of gangs is poverty.

“People enter gangs because there is no plausible alternative available to them. The old ways of moving from adolescence into adulthood have evaporated.”

“the gang has a strong gravitational pull”

There are few opportunities for the young people Harding talked to – something which he says is made worse in a multiply deprived area that has been effectively ‘written off’ by both local and national government.

As local services retreat, youth facilities and clubs close. If jobs exist they are sub-minimum wage and dead-end. Harding says: “These people are constantly battling the poverty trap, the gang has a strong gravitational pull.”

At this point, literally the only ‘game in town’ is the gang.

Harding says: “This is where my metaphor of the ‘Street Casino’ comes in – life is a casino for these people. They think they are going to win and win big, but the reality is very different.”

As with a real casino, there are many diversions along the way to keep people playing. They win a little, get some girls, have some entertainment.

Harding found that young people believe in the ‘game’ as their way out. They get addicted, the game becomes compulsive and people get stuck in this world. “The gang becomes the only game in town – but more than that, it becomes the only game they know how to play.”

In light of his findings Harding believes that young people need better support from local services, who in turn should work more effectively with a deeper understanding of the gang domain to provide a safer, alternative future to the Street Casino.

Copies of The Street Casino are available to purchase, with a special discount from the Policy Press website.
The Street Casino has just been awarded The Frederick Milton Thrasher award for Superior Gang Research. The award was established by the journal of Gang Research in 1992 to honour and recognise outstanding scholarship, leadership and service contributions by individuals and programs in dealing with public safety issues like that posed by gangs.

Ray Pahl, friendship and the emergence of Discover Society magazine

By John Holmwood, University of Nottingham, President of the British Sociological Association and Managing Editor of Discover Society

Discover society logo

Earlier this month a new online magazine, Discover Society, was launched. The magazine features articles on social research, policy analysis and commentary, and is supported by the British Sociological Association, the Social Policy Association and Policy Press.

The seed of the project was planted when some of us who went on to set up Discover Society met with Ray Pahl, the eminent sociologist best known for his studies of social interaction, polarisation, work and friendship in suburban and post-industrial communities, shortly before he died in June 2011. We talked about a range of topics, including the fate of universities in the face of marketisation, the financial crisis, and the increasing hardship on the front-line of austerity Britain. We also talked about the future of social research – in truth, the future of sociology and the special character of the sociological imagination and its public relevance.

Ray researched and wrote about communities, but he also wrote for communities. As part of our visits to Ray, we also helped arrange his papers. In a dusty attic space, old copies of New Society were piled up and he pointed to them and said, “That’s what we need today. Without a magazine to disseminate sociology and social policy, there will be no real engagement.” Ray had written for New Society and, like many others – as the response to Mike Savage’s article on the magazine in our first issue shows – had felt its demise in 1988 keenly. He associated its closure with the changing tenor of the times and the claim that there was no such thing as society associated with the promotion of neo-liberal policies designed to make the claim a reality.

Ray’s comment was a challenge to remember that a common strand in the plural nature of social research is a commitment to engage in and engender public debate. It is no accident that Ray wrote about communities and about friendship. The North American political theorist and community advocate, Danielle Allen, has also argued that a reinvigorated public debate needs to cultivate the arts of friendship in order to develop new solidarities.

It is out of such solidarities that Discover Society has developed. In proposing it, the first question we were asked was about our business plan (given that New Society had folded, how might we succeed?). We decided that academic friendship – collegiality, if you will – could make it happen as a common commitment to show what the disciplines of sociology and social policy could contribute to public debate. Support from like-minded friends at Policy Press has followed.

Friendship entails commitment and, in the case of Discover Society, this is also commitment to a wider purpose. Our masthead contains the phrase, ‘measured – factual – critical’, and under this rubric our contributors will document the operations of power, inequality, and the unintended consequences of policy interventions as well as their often problematic basis in social fact. However, we will also document solidarities, limits to the development of solidarities, and the means of overcoming these limits. Public debate needs more argument, but it also requires the motivation to act across differences. To understand when making common cause is the most important thing.

LSE Review of Books Awards

Margherita Margiotti

Margherita Margiotti, winner of the prize for the most read review in Sociology and Anthropology, sponsored by Policy Press

The LSE Review of Books is a blog founded in April 2012 which aims to review the latest books in social sciences. In its first year it has gained over 4000 readers a week and 10,000 Twitter followers and reviewed many of our books.

I attended the first LSE Review of Books Awards ceremony in London yesterday on behalf of Policy Press. We were pleased to sponsor one of the prizes, which was awarded for the most read review in Sociology and Anthropology. The winner was Margherita Margiotti of the University of Bristol, with a review of The Subject of Anthropology by Henrietta L. Moore.

The Verso Prize for Most-Read Review in Law and Human Rights was won by Tara O’Leary for her review of Criminalisation and advanced marginality by Peter Squires and John Lea, published by us!

You can see a complete list of the winners on the LSE Review of Books Awards website.

The event was an opportunity for publishers to meet the reviewers and share information. We look forward to working with LSE Review of Books in the coming years to see many more of our books reviewed.

Kathryn King


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