The Identities, Lifestyles and Culture research cluster is located at the quadruple intersections in the School of the disciplines of Sociology, Criminology, Social Policy and Social Work. It emphasizes theory (particularly orientation to action) and method. The conceptual orientations of the cluster centre on constructions of social meaning – such as the ‘sociologies’ of: identity and culture; gender and sexuality; risk, stigma and deviance. The way that the cluster’s members approach these conceptualizations are varied but have in common a view that ‘the social’ is janus-faced – an unfolding of the personal that is constrained, and enabled, by parameters of structure and governance. These processes are seen as developmental with the potential to alter or even transform social structure as well as to reproduce it. Reflecting this structure/action tension, the main methodological orientations of the cluster are qualitative, and this has enabled us to be very successful in recent years in forging interdisciplinary links. For instance, in 2010 the cluster had a strong presence at the Association of British and Commonwealth Anthropologists’ national conference held in Belfast on the theme, ‘The Interview – theory, practice, society’, in which the cluster organized one-sixth of the sessions and contributed many papers plus a semi-plenary lecture.
While we recognize that groups working together on a focused theme have the potential to attain more than the ‘sum of their parts’, we do not subscribe to the corporatist point of view and are determined that the cluster will continue to recognize, protect and promote the individual and scholarly conceptual perspectives and substantive interests that lead to true innovation. Paradoxically, it is new ideas rather than management-determined ‘priorities’ that produce the biggest pay-offs both in terms of large research earnings and, ultimately, the University’s reputation. Consequently, while the cluster’s activities have been organized under the umbrella of developing concerns, particularly qualitative/methodological, and will maintain this, we presently are orienting ourselves towards consciously exploring genuinely new and evolving theoretical and conceptual developments in social science. To that end, we are promoting a series of seminars given both by internal members and external guest speakers who are active at the frontiers of what will be social science in the 21st century.
Reflecting our eclecticism at the time of writing, the substantive interests of the cluster’s members include: embodiment and the construction of identity in virtual realities; religion; biotechnology and bioethics; social movements; football; ‘Q2’ mixed methods of researching poverty in sub-Saharan Africa; emotion, social roles, normative change and family life; state ‘punitiveness’ or harshness (particularly new ways of conceptualizing and measuring this and cross-disciplinary perspectives on the issue); experiential knowledge and participatory research. Intellectual activities during the previous year were curtailed by the University’s instrumental priorities that required an emphasis upon preparation for the REF but we hope this period is now behind us.
Julie Evelyn Harris