Jan 13 2015

Book Review by Philipp Degens: The Social Life of Money by Nigel Dodd

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SL Money 2

Money is ubiquitous. We all take money for granted – not in the sense of having enough money in our pockets or our bank accounts, but in the sense that we weigh objects, goods, services, claims, maybe even time in a monetary standard. We seldom ask ourselves what money is. Yet, especially in times of economic crisis, money does increasingly become the object of debate. Part of this debate takes place within conventional economic theory and focuses on monetary and fiscal policy issues. Beyond these issues, however, there are more fundamental concerns about the very nature of money, questions about the value of money, how it works and how it is sustained. These questions evoke perplexities that seem to render money almost incomprehensible.

Nigel Dodd, social theorist from LSE Sociology, explores the social life of money and tackles many of these questions in his new book. His book expands the discussion on money, particularly by linking it to a strand of thought that is commonly regarded as being external to a theory of money. Although his own approach is sociological, he draws on economic, philosophical, anthropological, linguistic and other disciplinary concepts. This way, Dodd permanently opens up and broadens our understanding of money. By doing so, he goes well beyond (orthodox and heterodox) economic theories of money.

The book covers a few key themes that I’d like to stress here particularly. Throughout the book, Dodd challenges the idea that there is or might be money simpliciter, or just one kind of money, and particularly that such money would be an objective ‘thing’ bearing value in itself. One of his key influences is Georg Simmel’s philosophy of money. Following Simmel, Dodd explores money as a “claim upon society”. Money expresses a form of debt between an individual and “society” as a whole. Dodd then further investigates issues rising from this notion, e.g. what is the basis for such claim? And what exactly is society in this sense? He argues, drawing on Keith Hart, for a flexible understanding of “society” that resembles the scale of a particular monetary form. It might be the state or even the nation, but it also might refer to a particular community of users.

The argument, in brief, is that money is not a thing, but a process. It consists of social relations. Just like Simmel emphasized the process of sociation (as opposed to society as something fixed or stable), Dodd holds a fluid view of money and focuses on the process by which money is actively (re)created by its users. It is not an objective entity, but it has social life which rests on, for example, its underlying political, economic, and social framework. Money is never independent of social and political relations, or of culture. It is based on trust and social values. In practice, it might be materialized in precious metal, paper notes, book entries, bits and bytes, shells or whatever form it takes – yet it still derives its value and its meaning from the social relations among its users.

Dodd takes many forms and kinds of money –past, present and imagined– into account. The fact that he conceptually accepts monetary pluralism paves the way for conceiving of multiple opportunities to re-imagine and re-organise money as a means of social progress. Whereas classical social thought on money tends to regard money as malevolent and highlights, by and large, money’s capacity to threaten and erode society and culture, Dodd explores money’s progressive potential. Money, this is one of the key messages, can be organised in a beneficial way, it can be used as a means to reach economic, social, or political goals. However, not one single form of money can serve all purposes at the same time. Dodd discusses various alternatives like, for example, time banks and LETS on a local level, yet also ‘global’ alternatives like bitcoin and freicoin. This openness to and curiosity for utopian and monetary reform concepts is one of the great strengths’ of the book. Dodd asks what such conceptions might offer for a general understanding of money, yet also what they might offer from a normative perspective, how money should look like. In fact, Dodd slightly favours a flexible monetary system with various forms and kinds of co-existing monies. For him, the solution to our monetary crisis is not to develop an alternative form of money, but to develop plenty.

This original and comprehensive book is organized in eight chapters, each of which deals with a particular category. These are origins, capital, debt, guilt, waste, territory, culture and utopia. While some of the themes (e.g. capital; debt, origins, territory) seem to be necessary ingredients of any book on money (although dealt with from different perspectives), others are rather unexpected. On a first glance, the reader might even be surprised by the titles of some of these chapters. Yet Dodd unfolds their key relevance throughout the book and gives plenty of cross references to guide the reader. The chapters on guilt and waste are probably best suited to exemplify the distinctiveness of this book and how it differs from most other works on money. Dodd offers compelling insights from psychoanalytical approaches which link money to excrement and the unconscious. Then, following Bataille’s concept of the general economy, Dodd invites us not to imagine scarcity, but surplus as the fundamental economic problem. Unusual as it is, such a conceptual shift allows for a new perspective on the Eurozone’s transfer union, as the discussion in the book exemplifies thoroughly.

Dodd writes with great skill. The style is compelling and one enjoys reading the book. At the same time, it is not an easy read. It is demanding, and it takes time to follow Dodd carefully. This is something that inevitably comes with the broadness of Dodd’s approach. Dodd raises questions even more than giving answers, and he draws on a huge range of scholars of which many are not commonly regarded when it comes to money.

Some readers might miss a narrower conclusion and/or a more formal synthetisation of the complex and original discussion. Yet Dodd does not aim to offer one coherent approach to money – on the contrary, he severely doubts that such an approach might even exist. As we have seen, just like money can take various forms, there are various theories on money all of which have something valuable to say. The book proves how fruitful and intriguing it is to take different perspectives and stances on this polymorphic phenomenon. Dodd rejects overly narrow concepts of money that theorize some monetary forms out of sight (e.g. neochartalist approaches focusing on money of account as the defining feature of moneyness). In this sense, the book is a strong argument for diversity in the theory of money.

To repeat: yes, the book is demanding. But it is far more rewarding. Some might not be inclined to accept every argument Dodd develops – yet for sure this brilliant book helps reconsidering views, opinions and theoretical claims on money that might be taken for granted too easily. It is a must-read for any scholar interested in the topic as it helps to better understand the nature of money –or, of monies. Also, surely many future in-depth case studies of particular forms of money will gain enormously from this work.

Philipp is a PhD student and research fellow in the Department for Co-operative Studies at the University of Cologne and spent Lent Term 2014 in the Department of Sociology at the LSE.

Dodd, Nigel (2014): The Social Life of Money. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 456 pp. ISBN 9780691141428, £24.95

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Jan 7 2015

A Blueprint for Local Police Reform to Improve Legitimacy

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Source: Shutterstock

Source: Shutterstock

Doctoral Researcher Tara Lai Quinlan discusses the possibilities for policing reform in the US in the wake of the tragic deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown and Tamir Rice, and the recent shooting of the two NYPD officers. Read her thoughts in The Huffington Post,  co-authored with Deborah Ramirez.


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Dec 17 2014

British Journal of Sociology Special Issue on Piketty’s Capital

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Possibly the most talked about book of 2014, Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century is the subject of the December 2014 issue of the British Journal of Sociology.

This special Symposium edition of the BJS contains eleven original articles discussing various aspects and implications of Piketty’s work across sociology as well as other social science disciplines. Nigel Dodd, in his Editor’s Introduction, states that the aim was to create a space for “developing an interdisciplinary conversation about some really fundamental questions: not simply about social class and inequality, as important as these are, but also issues such as the way different social science disciplines think about history and social change, methodology, and contradiction, and about the social and political nature of capital, wealth and value”.

Open access has been granted for the entire issue, something to get your teeth into during the festive season!

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Nov 14 2014

Insights on Inequality: Danny Dorling’s Lecture on ‘Inequality and the 1%: What Goes Wrong When the Rich Become Too Rich?’


By Tara Lai Quinlan

Danny Dorling gave a thought-provoking and insightful lecture, Inequality and the 1%: What Goes Wrong When the Rich Become Too Rich, to a packed house at LSE’s Old Theatre on 7 October 2014.  Drawing on findings from his important and thoroughly researched new book, Inequality and the 1%, Dorling examined the effects of increasing UK inequality, argued that an ‘awful lot’ goes wrong when the rich become too rich and heavily concentrated in cities like London. Dorling posited that since 2008’s Great Recession, the 1% have only grown richer with a larger gap between the superrich and the other 99%.  Dorling observed that in the UK the top 1% comprise the top 15% of nation’s total income, which is highly problematic.

Much of Dorling’s talk focused on the unprecedented state of inequality and concentration of wealth in London that has hit ‘historical peaks’.  Dorling’s lecture brought to mind the warnings of Saskia Sassen (2001), Doreen Massey (2007) and others in 1990s and 2000s that cities like London were hurtling toward severe and worsening inequality.  Dorling provided overwhelming evidence that these fears were warranted.

Dorling pointed out that the concentration of UK wealth in London has had significant Printimplications not only for the regulation of financial markets, but also for politics, housing and schools. Dorling warned that the unchecked influence of the 1% is bad for society: ‘Society does not operate very well when it treats the top 1% like they can do whatever they want’.

But Dorling was not wholly unsympathetic to the situation of the 1%. Dorling pointed out that the 1% is not a monolith, and noted that there is more inequality within the top 1% than there is in the remaining 99%.  Dorling offered sobering statistics that while nearly 500 of the top 1,000 wealthiest UK families live in London, staggeringly just 10 of those families own roughly 25% of all UK wealth.  Dorling argued that many within the 1% feel very insecure about their circumstances, noting that ‘even the super rich can feel poor’.  Dorling asserted that he has yet to meet someone in the bottom of the 1% that says they are doing well, pointing out that many are finding life ‘hard’ in London.  Thus Dorling reminded us that membership in the 1% is not a guarantee of happiness. Dorling optimistically observed that discontent within the 1% could lead to positive changes for the rest of us in the 99%.
Dorling observed that gaining entry into the 1% has changed significantly over time. Dorling noted that entry into the 1% varies by country, with the US and UK among the most difficult to enter. Household-Income In the UK, gaining access to the 1% requires that a couple earn a combined £160,000 pounds annually.

Thus while traditional occupations like doctors, lawyers and even professors may have once been society’s top earners, the top 1% is now heavily comprised of those in the financial sector including bankers and hedge fund managers, as well as chief executive officers, corporate managers and even property owners. A wealth of compelling evidence supports this finding, including the results of the recent Great British Class Survey (Savage et al., 2013).
The wealthy remain attracted to London because the city’s inequality has grown significantly over time, meaning their money is increasingly safe here thanks the extremely low rates of taxation even compared to other severely unequal cities like New York.  Dorling asserted that the concentration of wealth in London has changed the feel of the city and what constitutes ‘normal’ wealth. Dorling firmly rejected the notion promulgated by some of 1% and their political allies that the concentration of wealth in London positive because the benefits trickle down for the remaining 99%.  In his rebuttal Dorling pointed to data showing that it costs more to get into the UK’s top 1% compared to other European countries:


Of the numerous negative effects of the increased concentration of wealth in London, Dorling pointed to London’s stark housing inequality as a particularly troubling example.  Dorling observed that much of London’s wealth is housing-based, with a staggering 60% of all London wealth generated from housing.  Dorling attributed this phenomenon to housing policies that began in the Margaret Thatcher-era, and helped not just the wealth but also Members of Parliament purchase London housing at ridiculously low costs.  Dorling estimated that 25% of UK MPs are landlords, and this has led to that the creation of housing policies favouring the interests of landlords over renters.

And UK landlords have increasingly amassed wealth in Britain. Citing 2014 data from Savills and Financial Times, Dorling pointed out that since the 2008 Great Recession, landlords have been charging higher rents, which they have channelled into purchasing more property:

DoFig2-2_Secondary-School-Spendingrling noted that this data shows that the total wealth of landlords in Britain rose by an incredible £245 billion in the last five years.  Dorling observed that the extremely high housing costs have particularly negative effects on children.  With over 25% of UK households with children now being renters, Dorling argued that parents’ perpetual renting creates instability for children, who require solid homes, familiar neighbourhoods and friends to facilitate healthy development.
Despite painting a gloomy picture about the state of inequality in the UK, Dorling is ultimately an optimist who believes changes can occur through both grassroots activism and key policy change.  For example, Dorling argued that the UK must implement rent regulations drawn from successful models in the countries including the US and Netherlands.  Dorling observed that the UK must abandon the culturally ingrained notion that rent regulation is evil.
Dorling also argued that the UK must stop giving enormous tax breaks to the rich.  As inequality has risen the UK has continued to give tax cuts to the rich, which Dorling argued is clearly wrong.  Dorling pointed to countries including Switzerland and Germany where the tax rates on the 1% have remained high over the last 40 years. Dorling observed that societies where the 1% are taxed more heavily have much less inequality than the UK.  Dorling observed that if increased taxation causes some of the 1% to leave London, this is not at all disastrous, adding that many do not currently live in London full time.
In the end, Dorling argued that major shifts in inequality require catalytic events to get them started.  Dorling observed that a second major financial crisis in Europe could be such a precipitating event.  Dorling was optimistic that change to the UK’s dramatic inequality would eventually come, and it is ‘purely a question of time’.


Dorling, D. (2014), Inequality and the 1%, London: Verso.

Massey, D. (2007), World City, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Sassen, S. (2001), Global City: New York, London, Tokyo, Second Edition, Oxfordshire & Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Savage, M., Devine, F., Cunningham, N., Taylor, M., Li,Y., Hjellbrekke, J., Le Roux, B., Friedman, S. and Miles, A. (2013), ‘A New Model of Social Class: Findings from the BBC’s Great British Class Survey Experiment’, Sociology, Vol. 47, No. 2, pp. 219-250.


Tara Lai Quinlan is an attorney and PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at the London School of Economics and Political Science.  Her research interests include criminal law, criminology, terrorism, and policing of low-income and urban marginalised communities.  Her current research examines the socio-political and socio-legal implications of the creation of post-9/11 community engagement and countering violent extremism programmes in the UK and US.



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Nov 11 2014

The Revolution: Is being Televised, Blogged, Tweeted, You-Tubed and Stood Up.


by Lisa McKenzie, LSE Fellow

A spectre is haunting London and that spectre is the rumble of grass roots civil disobedience, activism and – dare I say –  a people’s anarchism.


Karl Marx originally wrote the Communist Manifesto in 1848 as a pamphlet to be read and used by the masses in their class struggle. The Manifesto is a passionate and commanding piece of writing, which has inspired and captured the imaginations of academics, politicians, grass roots activists, and the everyday working class worker for almost 170 years. However since the fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago, and the defeat of the Miners by the Thatcher government in 1985, 30 years ago, it has been argued by many that class struggle has finished, its has ended, and the need for class consciousness, class politics, and class war has been rendered obsolete through identity politics, individualism, and the ‘freedom’ that Neoliberalism brings.

However, over the last few months a militant and grass roots activism has been rumbling away in the heart of our capital city. A dis-organised and responsive activism, communities reacting to the growing inequality, unfairness, and injustice they experience from living in a city where in one square mile there are millionaires working in the financial district, while next door in Tower Hamlets, 50% of children live in poverty. Communities, groups and individuals are fighting back in London without any official or mainstream politics or political figures supporting them or even knowing that they exist.

As a working class woman, and an academic working at the London School of Economics, I also consider myself to be a community and political activist. Consequently over the years I have been involved in many community projects and campaigns. Not since the 1980’s, however, have I experienced the militancy and anxiety amongst working class people and communities which appears to be happening all over London. Maybe I am a naïve Northerner who hasn’t yet got to grips with the politics of London. I might disagree with that though, because in 1984 I was the 16-year-old daughter of a striking miner in North Nottinghamshire, and I have lived through and experienced strange and difficult political times, and during that intense year of 1984-85 I saw glimpses of political revolution. However the events over the last few months in our capital city have left me feeling terrified, exhausted and weak, while simultaneously inspiring me and giving me hope for a future that definitely could be different.

My previous life in Nottingham consisted of community work, and academic research predominantly with mothers who lived on an inner city council estate, I spent 8 years researching the neighbourhood I had lived in for 25 years. I have documented the narratives of those women, their lives and the problems that are faced by working class people living in council estates in Nottingham elsewhere. However in the last 13 months I have lived in east London, and worked at the London School of Economics continuing my academic research but have also become involved in activism and campaigns in London. The energy, and the fight back in the capital has overwhelmed me and inspired me to the point where even I, a cynical lefty academic, believe that change is coming, and it’s happening now. At the same time my research in East London has shown some of the worse examples of inequalities and injustice I have seen towards working class families.

Compresed Balcony

The campaign and fight of the Focus E15 mothers have been one of those terrible examples of how working class families and young mothers in particular are being treated in austerity Britain. The young mothers with very young children were forcibly evicted from a homeless hostel in 2013 in Newham, East London; the hostel sits in the shadow of the billion pound developments of the Olympic Park and the Westfield Shopping Centre. The young mother’s evictions were treated with a severe lack of empathy and with no apparent care for their welfare by the Labour council and a Labour Mayor who seems to despise their existence. They were told that the only social housing available to them was in Hastings, Birmingham, or Wolverhampton. Places where they had no connections, or family. They have been fighting for affordable homes for themselves but also the wider community since September 2013.

Meanwhile devastated families are facing eviction after the inherited estate of Britain’s richest MP bought a stake in their homes on the New Era Estate in Hoxton, Hackney. Conservative Member of Parliament Richard Benyon’s £110million family firm is part of a consortium which bought the housing estate and announced plans for a massive rent hike. Up to 90 households fear the Benyons’ plan to charge “market rents” will treble their bills. Which will force the families who have lived there for generations to leave the neighbourhood, and the residents also know that if they lose this fight they will have to leave London as rents soar way above the affordability of any working class family.

At the same time, multimillion pound housing developments in London are segregating less well-off tenants from wealthy homebuyers by forcing them to use separate entrances. A Guardian investigation discovered a growing trend in the capital’s upmarket apartment blocks – which are required to include affordable homes in order to win planning permission. However poorer residents are forced to use alternative access, a phenomenon being dubbed “poor doors”. Even bicycle storage spaces, rubbish disposal facilities and postal deliveries are being separated.

It seems that social cleansing, social apartheid and social inequality has been accepted as ‘common sense’ by the political elites of 2014-11-06 05.28.06-1London. Through the narrative that London is a special place where the special people live, and if you cannot afford to live in London you need to leave, and leave quickly and quietly.

The unintended consequences of this hard line neo-liberal approach to the identity of Britain’s capital city is that some of the most dispossessed and powerless groups are forming their own political movements, growing in working class communities around a class consciousness centred around the precarity of low paid and insecure work, rising rents, and the onslaught of gentrification of their neighbourhoods which seldom includes them in its plans. This grass roots activism is thriving amongst those groups who are being treated harshly, and have very little or no power, they are fighting for their lives, their communities and for the future of their children as we did in 1984 against pit closures. This fight has become especially apparent amongst working class mothers, who until they faced eviction and homelessness they were not politically active, or interested. There are now campaigns all over London from Hendon to Lewisham fighting forced evictions, and the unfair inequality and struggles that Londoners are now experiencing in their everyday lives. I have met women with their children on recent protests at the TUC Austerity March ‘Britain Needs a Pay Rise’ who have never been on a political march before, and mothers with their babies are picketing outside the notorious ‘One Commercial Street’ that was investigated by the Guardian as a ‘Poor Door’ developer.

And if all of this grass roots activism hasn’t been strange enough in belly of the beast which is London, we have had an emergence in ‘celebrity’ activists bringing attention to the causes of the Focus E15 and the New Era Campaigns in the form of the self-styled messiah and agent provocateur Russell Brand, who I bump into almost daily at some community meeting, protest, or picket. The BBC3 programme ‘The Revolution will be Televised’ is also on site at most protests, filming and interviewing those who have a fight in London. The politicians of Westminster have no idea that this is happening; while celebrities are in awe of these strong and determined working class women, hanging on the their coat tails for legitimacy in their own political positions.

There is an energy in the Capital, and dare I say a class-consciousness is rising amongst people who even just 12 months ago had little interest in politics. Something is happening; a spectre? Or is Revolution in the air as Russell Brand’s new book ‘Revolution’ advocates? Perhaps, although I am doubtful Mr Brand’s book will have the impact that ‘The Communist Manifesto’ had as a call to arms to the working class to shake off their chains. Undoubtedly Mr Brand and other celebrities are adding and highlighting the rumble of discontent within the Nation that mainstream politics are failing to reach.

Compressed Baby I am hopeful and inspired that the discontent and change in working class politics are coming from the grass roots, from mothers with babies on their hips shouting ‘shame on you’ as they march for the first time past parliament.




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Oct 29 2014

Long nights on Brick Lane

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Brick Lane 4Riad Azar on ethnographic research in London’s Brick Lane

“…and then I realised that time was circular”, a friend told me after reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel 100 Years of Solitude. Our discussion was stubborn, returning to me time and again during my first few weeks in London. I was about to begin an MSc programme in Political Sociology; it was time to think like a social scientist. But it must be possible, I thought to myself, to find a way to describe changes not only in time, but also in space. Physicists agreed that space-time was a curvature; linearity might only be a constraining factor on our human perspective. My ethnographic fieldwork on Brick Lane served as the lab to test out this idea, to counterpose the variables of time and space in order to describe social change in an urban environment, and to allow literature to inspire my epistemological foundations.

Five years ago I cycled off the ferry from Liverpool and found myself in Dublin. I had my bicycle, a tent strapped to its frame and £100 I made busking in Cambridge. James Joyce’s Ulysses took up half of the pannier bag; its dual function as a pillow helped me justify the added weight. Living Joyce’s classic on the streets of the Irish capital made a notable impression on the way I thought about time. I recognised the streets and neighbourhoods, and gawked at the McDonalds that stood in the place of Bloom’s infamous morning butcher. Perhaps the scents were similar.

Social theorists from Aristotle to Hegel have always held the telos as sacrosanct; the progression of time as the driver of change. But what about space? And perspective? 100 years on and the alley I stood in had been completely redrawn.

Fast forward a few months and I came across Justine, one of four novellas that makes up Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet. In these pages, I was introduced to the Egyptian port city, and through each novella I experienced space and place from the perspective of the rotating protagonists. Time held a secondary function as the vignettes were laid out in the order of importance to the narrator, rather than chronologically.

Brick Lane 3These literary musings served as the starting point for thinking about my research on Brick Lane, the busy street in East London that has captured the hearts of London’s immigrants, tourists, bankers, workers, and curious characters since the 17th century. The street has been studied through a variety of lenses: from social scientists to film makers and novelists, some of whose works have angered the subjects they were studying so deeply that the ashes of their books are a reminder that the work of depiction is always political. Ethnographic methodology allowed my colleagues and I to think about Brick Lane from the lens of those who inhabited the space. Taking our inspiration from Joyce’s use of time, and Durrell’s use of space, our research centred around the construction of social identity through the organisation of time and space.

We sought to discover the impact of the time of day on the domination of specific spaces of Brick Lane by different social groups. We were also curious about how spatial hegemony by social groups was used to redraw boundaries – the divisions on the street in the afternoon were radically different to those in the evening and night. To do this we decided to organise our research temporally; each of us was given a specific timeframe to conduct participant observations and interviews. Our participant observation served the goal of establishing which social groups were present, whether they were weekend food market workers, hipster thrift store shoppers, businesswomen rushing on their commute, or the midnight drug dealers. Our interviews allowed us to access their perspective on how the street was organised during our allotted timeframes. Areas which were encouraged to visit by the curryhouse owner on a Saturday afternoon were frowned upon by the panhandlers of Wednesday evening. Ethnography allowed us the freedom to traverse this dense mix of social relations; documenting and understanding how specific social groups were empowered to dominate space and lay claims upon territory that would not even exist six hours before or after our conversations.Brick Lane 2

My timeframe was late night, between 10pm and 6am. My research subjects were the homeless, drug dealers, party goers stopping in for a beigal at the two competing 24 hour shops. Through them I discovered the night time economy. The Beigal shops served as the attractor that brought in capital in the form of late nighters, some of them stumbling, slurring their speech, and singing. The homeless and the drug dealers used this potential resource base to their advantage, the former soliciting spare change in order to secure a room at the nearby shelter, the latter to peddle their wares. Both were drawn by the potential of accumulation, a potentiality which existed because of the interplay of time and space on the darkened street.

I looked through the field notes of my colleagues, and discovered that they had observed similar tensions. The domination of space seemed to always be based upon some type of capital accumulation. By being acquainted with a specific slice of Brick Lane in space/time, we were able to conclude that the time of day has a profound effect on which social groups feel empowered and therefore dominate Brick Lane. I depart from my group members in hypothesising that this is due to the competition for consumers, and therefore a drive towards the monopolisation of the accumulation of capital (Harvey, 2006; Marx, 1990). Through our study of the commodification of culture (Horkheimer & Adorno, 2002) and tourism (MacCannell, 1999), and our witnessing of periods of group ‘accentuation’ and dominance, I believe we were observing a transition in accumulated capital on behalf of the tourists from the curryhouses to the food market and hipster-sites. As curryhouses are losing out on potential customers and focus shifts to the food market, Bengalis feel that they are losing their hold on the space, as the food market (understood as the materialisation of the gentrification process) is commanding the accumulation of capital; the data regarding the tax-free nature of the market further emphasises the structural nature of this movement. This can be seen in the Bengali’s lack of presence – and concerns over the safety of ‘their’ group – during times when either (a) the food market is dominating the street, or (b) the morning and evening rush- hour commuter traffic is at its peak.Brick Lane 1

An interpretivist and impressionistic appreciation in ethnography methodology guided the writing process. I was able to add a spatial element to the paper by dividing the document in half. I saw this as a demonstration of the intimate relation between classroom and site, theory and practice, speculation and observation. The left column documented the discussion within the classroom where the research and observations were analysed and framed, particularly during ‘key events’ and ‘epiphanies’. The right column contained our story on Brick Lane: field notes, interview transcripts,  spatial representations and photos.

While the process came to few ‘conclusions’, as each formulation was met with a new series of questions, I took away a few lessons. The breadth of the human experience and the depth of subjectivity are infinite, maybe even containing multiple dimensions. Therefore in studying social life we should be equally diverse in our sources of inspiration. But while our interests may be diverse and many the researcher must always keep her single responsibility in mind: to do justice to those who we study.



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Oct 20 2014

LSE Sociology at the forefront of the Inequalities agenda

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Personal Reflections by Mike Savage

It hardly needs emphasis that rising inequality within and between nations is increasingly in the public eye. The success of protest movements such as Occupy has highlighted the distinctiveness of the top ‘one per cent’. The World Economic Forum recently identified income disparity as one of its principal risks to economic and political security in the twenty-first century. International nongovernmental organisations such as Oxfam have drawn attention to the cycles of advantage transmitted across generations through opportunity capture and unequal political representation that reinforce privilege. Think tanks such as the Young Foundation have championed an ‘inequalities agenda’ and ongoing concerns with entrenched social disadvantage and declining social mobility in the UK have all pushed this question to the forefront of public debate. This is an arena where the potential of academic research to cross-fertilise with such interests to produce a genuinely public social science is huge, as testified by the remarkable interest in the work of Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson, Thomas Piketty, Danny Dorling, Owen Jones, David Graeber and others.

I am therefore delighted that the Department of Sociology at the LSE is pushing forward with a series of initiatives to bolster and enhance this current of work. My own awareness of the dramatic public interest was hugely boosted by the popular interest in the Great British Class Survey, findings from which were publicised by the BBC last year, and is the most popular piece of digital public sociology ever (with nearly 9 million people to date seeking to ascertain their ‘new’ class position on the BBC’s ‘class calculator’). Our paper ‘A new model of social class?’ continues to be the most downloaded paper in the journal Sociology well over a year after publication. A group of us in LSE Sociology, including academic staff Sam Friedman, Daniel Laurison, Lisa McKenzie, and numerous graduate students have been meeting regularly to collaborate on further research and publications from the GBCS. This work is a major focus of my own ESRC Professorial Fellowship which is now continuing into its second year. Seven recently prepared analyses will form a special issue of Sociological Review (collaborative with colleagues from the Universities of Manchester and York) to be published in 2015. These new papers use detailed analyses of the GBCS data to offer distinctive findings on social mobility, political engagement, geographical dynamics, and the significance of elite higher education which are also being written up for a Pelican book under the title Social Class in the 21st century.

However, this GBCS research is only a small part of a much bigger wave of interest evident both in the Sociology Department and in the LSE more widely. Within the Department there has been a brown bag seminar on ‘inequalities’ over the past year attracting up to 25 academics and graduate students. A series of meetings have taken place with the Young Foundation with an agreement to be collaborative partners in research funding bids on the inequalities theme. The Race Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies PhD Network, which collaborates with this wider inequalities group, continues to host a lively set of events. We are co-operating with the Runnymede Trust, Britain’s leading independent race equality think tank, and we hope to further strengthen the Department’s long term interests in questions of race and ethnicity in the future. The Department has played a key role in the development of a new interdisciplinary MSc in Inequalities and Social Science which will run from October 2015, and has this year put on new MSc courses on ‘Urban Inequalities’ (taught by Fran Tonkiss) and ‘Class, Politics and Culture’ (taught by Sam Friedman) – which have attracted huge student demand.

Linked to the work of Judy Wajcman, LSE Sociology has also been promoting an interest in the important but often overlooked temporal dimensions of inequality, that is, the unequal distribution of discretionary time. With this theme in mind, Judy and Nigel Dodd are organising a seminar on The Sociology of Speed, with invited speakers including Craig Calhoun, Ingrid Erickson, Paul du Gay, Jonathan Gershuny, Melissa Gregg, Steve Jackson, Donald MacKenzie, Harmut Rosa, Saskia Sassen, Richard Sennett, Sarah Sharma, Oriel Sullivan, and John Urry and myself.

More generally, we are interested in exploring the intersection between science and technology studies and forms of inequality, with studies of differing kinds of meritocratic and scientific elites, and discussions of the significance of academic and intellectual hierarchies.

In the LSE as a whole, there have been a series of collaborations which my colleagues from other Departments who have worked for over 20 years at the LSE describe as unprecedented. A key focus has been the work of Thomas Piketty, whose Capital in the 21st century has energised remarkable interdisciplinary debate across the globe, and nowhere more than at the LSE. The British Journal of Sociology have given over their entire December 2015 pages to a special issue with long reviews by myself, Tony Atkinson (Economics, Oxford/LSE); Laura Bear (Anthropology, LSE); Frank Cowell (Economics, LSE), John Holmwood (Sociology, Nottingham); Jonathan Hopkin (Government, LSE); Gareth Jones (Geography and Environment, LSE); Di Perrons, (Gender Institute, LSE); David Soskice (Government, LSE), and Piketty himself is writing a response to these essays to accompany this issue. On May 11th 2015 there will be a special day-long seminar when Thomas Piketty will join his reviewers in an intensive inter-disciplinary debate on Inequalities in the 21st Century (please make a note in your diaries and watch for further details).

All these energies are currently being harnessed to a proposal to form an LSE wide International Institute of Inequalities (III). In 2012-13, as part of its Strategic Review, all academic staff at the LSE were asked, ‘which three big issues facing the world do you think the School should seek to solve’. The topic of inequalities was placed first, ahead of climate change (with the inequalities related topic of ‘poverty’ coming third), and this momentum has led to huge excitement across the institution with the III expected to start its operations in early 2015. The III will host a new MSc on Inequalities and Social Science, organise doctoral provision, and co-ordinate research activity and funding bids on the theme of inequalities from across the LSE. The Sociology Department is one of the most enthusiastic backers of the III, and we confidently look forward to playing our role in the III’s aim to ‘provide strategic leadership around the theme of inequalities with a view to establishing LSE as the leading inter-disciplinary university analysing inequalities in the world’. These are, indeed, exciting times for LSE Sociology.

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Aug 10 2014

Report Back from the ‘Race’, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies PhD Summer Symposium

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This summer the LSE Sociology Department and Social Policy Department jointly hosted the fifth annual Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies PhD Symposium—a unique academic network and space where PhD students exchange ideas, present new work and receive constructive feedback from leading scholars and work collaboratively across disciplines and institutions.

The Fifth annual Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies PhD Symposium

The Fifth annual Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies PhD Symposium

It is exciting to see how this network—which had its very first meeting at the LSE five years ago, and has continued as a traveling conference at different universities in London—has now grown to include a much wider national, and even international, student participation. It is a special intellectual space, one that places an emphasis on the quality of dialogue rather than academic status. Over the last five years it has provided numerous students with a unique and vibrant intellectual space to hone their academic craft with a deeper political engagement in their research around questions of social justice and inequalities. Many participants have gone on to collaborate together.

The academics and intellectuals who first helped launch this student-led network initiative include: Paul Gilroy, Claire Alexander, Suki Ali, Les Back, John Solomos, Liza Schuster, among many others, who have continued to chair panels and lead roundtable discussions over the years maintain spaces for emerging scholars to engage critically and politically with their work inside a larger intellectual communities working on research that employ these headings.

Over the last several years we’ve witnessed a shift in participation to include much broader disciplinary boundaries, like medicine and urban studies, but find that the intentional and explicit heading of ‘race’, ethnicity and the post-colonial, continue to bring together researchers working on pressing and important questions of social inequalities and injustice.

This was a special year for the wider REPS Network as it officially launched a larger initiative to expand, what has been up until now, a primarily London-based university network to include support and participation from other institutions, faculty and students nationally, and even internationally. This year we have participants representing institutions across the U.K. including: Heriot-Watt University, University of Essex, University of Glasgow and Warwick University. This broader participation was made possible by the support of the Runnymede Trust’s AHRC Academic Forum grant and Mike Savage’s ESRC Professorial Fellowship.

If you are interested in learning more about upcoming LSE REPS-related events and seminars you can visit the LSE REPS PhD Network webpage.

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Jul 3 2014

Mike Savage Reviews Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century

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Read Mike Savage’s Sociological ruminations on Piketty at the Stratification Culture Research Network blog here.

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May 27 2014

What Use is Sociology? Olivia Mena reviews this book of conversations with Zygmunt Bauman, Michael-Hviid Jacobsen and Keith Tester

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This conversational book with Zygmunt Bauman looks at the usefulness of sociology with an aim to inspire future conversations about the discipline. Olivia Mena found this book to be a sounding board of the timeless but central questions which social theorists and practitioners must revisit regularly in the everyday practice of the ‘scientific sorcery’ that is sociology.


Originally posted on the LSE Review of Books

Posted by: Posted on by Sian Lewin