At the end of next month, I step down as Digital Engagement Fellow at The Sociological Review Foundation. It will have been five years at that point since I first received an e-mail from then editor Bev Skeggs inviting me to get involved, joining Marcus Gilroy-Ware to get the digital operation off the ground for what became The Sociological Review Foundation. It strikes me in retrospect that saying ‘yes’ to that invitation was one of the best things I’ve ever done, though I find it hard to imagine how I would have responded differently. I’ve learned so much through my involvement with it that has changed me as a sociologist, practitioner and person. In many ways, it’s responsible for what has been a pretty wonderful post-phd trajectory in many respects, as I got involved soon after submitting my PhD in March 2014 and leave just as I approach the fifth anniversary of being awarded it in September of the same year.
But it’s also left me juggling very different demands during that time and after years of pursuing a dual career as sociologist and social media practitioner, I’ve realised that I want to be a full time researcher. I’ve never done this before, with my part-time PhD taking six long years to finish and the idea has been playing on my mind for the last year until I realised I had to pursue it. I’m sad to be leaving but I’m excited to be throwing myself into research in a way I never have before, albeit with six months or so of freelancing while I make the transition. It’s definitely the right move but there are so many highlights to my time with The Sociological Review I wanted to share before I go:
- Undisciplining was unspeakably exhausting but I was so proud of what we did, as a small team led by events manager Jenny Thatcher (who herself did a team’s worth of work) as we put on what I think was a truly different sociological conference
- I often say we shouldn’t treat social media metrics too seriously but I’m still proud of the nearly 50,000 followers on Twitter and nearly 25,000 on Facebook we’ve accumulated in the time I’ve been running them.
- Watching a network of people coalesced around a journal become a charity, with its legal existence, routines, identity and culture. I honestly feel I’ve learned more about organisations by being part of this process than anything I’ve ever read in a book or paper.
- Publishing creative outputs like From Stigma Power to Black Power: A Graphic Essay and University: A New Way of Life. My passion for social media began with a sense of how it could be used to ensure an audience for innovative ways of working outside of traditional publication systems. Not only do I love the outputs we’ve published, including a whole series of films, but I love the fact that I’ve had the chance to put ideas I had written about in the abstract into practice through my work with TSR.
- This piece by Bev Skeggs describing her experience of navigating the social care system with her elderly parents is the best blog post I’ve ever read by an academic. It also kicked off one of my favourite sections, exploring the contemporary sociological imagination in a way blogs are so well suited to yet rarely seem to be used for.
- On a similar note, asking Ashleigh Watson to edit a new fiction section is one of the things we’ve done that I’m most proud of. It’s provided an online platform for sociological fiction, something which has been a passion of mine for years despite the fact I’m terrible at writing it, ensured by Ashleigh’s immense skill as a writer and editor.
- The events 😍 there have been so many I’ve had the pleasure to organise with Jenny Thatcher, learning so much about how to organise accessible, inclusive, engaging events in the process. My highlights include Social Media and Doing a PhD (with the wonderful Inger Mewburn and Pat Thomson), The Sociological Review and the History of the Discipline (at the Keele Foundations of British Sociology archive), Social Media: Problems and Prospects and The Practice of Public Sociology. These are just the ones I took the lead on though and I’ve been involved in countless other, either helping Jenny in some way or just attending because I was interested.
- Stating the Sociological was a series we coordinated after an infuriating Times Higher Education feature on the state of sociology. Rather than snipe on Twitter, I instead co-ordinated a series of responses which offered a much deeper perspective on the issues which the lacklustre THE article had claimed to address. The highlight for me was this piece by Des Fitzgerald which has the best closing line of anything I’ve ever been involved in publishing.
- Our feature on the legacy of Zygmunt Bauman which offered an engaging, sophisticated, critical yet respectful appraisal of his work and a chance to reflect on what he had contributed to our journal over time.
- Chronic Illness and the Academy was a feature coordinated by Anna Ruddock and we did nothing more than provide a platform for it. But the fact we had that platform to provide made me really happy, as we hosted a powerful, multifaceted discussion about an issue which is often ignored, simplified and/or marginalised. The feature on self-harm currently underway by Brigit McWade is shaping up to be similarly important and I’m so pleased we’ve been able to provide a platform for these conversations.
- #SociologicalPets continues to make me happy, even if it did provoke accusations of sociologists sharing cat pictures while rome burns. I come back to it every six months or so and inevitably find that new people have used it in the meantime.
- Discovering the Foundations of British Sociology archive at Keele, getting the opportunity to organise an event around it and being inspired by the early British sociologists with their vast theoretical ambitions and powerful commitment to public sociology avant la lettre.
Above all else, it’s been a pleasure to work with so many wonderful people, particularly Bev, Michaela, Emma, Jenny, Chantelle, Zoe and Attila. But there are so many others, including the editors, trustees and the editorial board members. It’s been particularly fantastic working with Emma as digital editor of the journal, with whom all this work on the blog was undertaken, and Jenny in her role as events manager but as a whole it’s just been full of wonderful collaborations with interesting, passionate and thoughtful people. I could go on for a long time… thank you The Sociological Review Foundation for a wonderful five years and the opportunity to contribute to what I truly believe is the best thing currently underway within British Sociology.