The fact Twitter offers no real tools to control who follows you is a source of concern for some academics. In part this might be a function of a broader reticence towards online publishing. However I think it also stems from how Twitter is conceived as a medium. If you are presenting at a conference, you wouldn’t obsess about the identity of each person in the audience. There might be a variety of reasons why you are presenting: sharing your ideas, promoting your work, connecting with others in your field. At any conference, these motives only partially overlap. The reason(s) for each individual being there varies but nonetheless everyone is working within the same constraints of how the sessions are organised within a physical venue.

Twitter is no different. It’s a spot on the internet that’s staked out as yours. What you do with it is up to you. Some people choose to wander to their podium every now and again, occasionally make an announcement and then wander off. Some people give their presentation at the podium and then leave until they want to give another lecture. Some do their presentation but thrive on the Q&A afterwards. Some might not like the feel of the podium and eschew a formal presentation to go and chat more directly with their audience. Likewise some people just want to listen and ask questions of other speakers. Others would rather ditch the conference and go straight to relaxing at the pub.

Most academic users of Twitter fall into one or more of these categories. Likewise people move between categories. But the interpersonal dimensions of it are fundamentally no different to a conference. It’s just that the form of communication is so dramatically concise, as well as lacking any direct parallel other than the text message, that until you’ve been using it for a long time, it’s difficult to see quite how much like everyday life it is. So don’t be anxious about it. If you want to use it to draw attention to your work then stop worrying about who follows you and just don’t talk about things you wouldn’t in a formal work setting. If you want to connect with other people who have similar interests then just talk about the things that interest you and respond when others do the same, just as you would in any other setting. If you want to get drunk and gossip then go ahead, just remember that people might overhear you and that, on twitter, what you’ve said echoes in the room for a little while before it dissipates.

The same rules of interaction apply on Twitter as they do offline. If someone habitually goes over time for their talk, monologuing at an increasingly bored audience then people in the audience will eventually leave and new audience members won’t stay for long. If someone gives a good talk but obviously resents the Q&A afterwards, people might sit in the audience because of intellectual interest but they’ll think the speaker is a bit rude. If someone turns up, loudly and briefly announces their new book/paper/insight and then leaves the conference, people won’t pay much attention, unless they’re a globe trotting academic superstar.


  1. Twitter has a definite image problem. It first penetrated the public consciousness in a way which has left it defined by celebrities and, particularly for academics, this is unattractive. If you want to persuade academics to use it, it’s important to illustrate that the academic twittersphere (I hate the term but have yet to come across a better one) has some quite specific characteristics. Perhaps by demonstrating some of the varied kinds of high-quality interaction you get on there e.g. #phdchat discussions, the feeds of high profile academics who are engaged users, the possibility for crowd-sourcing. 
  2. It’s difficult to convey the point of Twitter. Partly this is a result of the inadequacy of ‘micro-blogging’ as a concept: it doesn’t get across what such a service is, how it can be used or what value these uses have. If you want to persuade academics to use it, your account has to be framed in practical terms. However this is difficult because much of the terminology, interface and minutiae of Twitter are inherently confusing and probably always will be. Therefore it’s important to convey that you really do have to try it properly (i.e. fill out your profile, add a picture, find relevant people to follow, have some conversations, explore a hashtag and do some retweeting) before you’re in a position to make an informed decision. They may subsequently decide it’s not for them but it’s important to get across that everyone finds it quite bewildering from the outside or when they first sign up. Hence the prevalence of the “I’m not sure what the point of Twitter is” opening tweet. 
  3. The steep learning curve isn’t a very attractive proposition to academics. Hence as well as being framed by examples of high-quality intellectual interaction, sessions should be framed by an account of the different uses to which you can put Twitter and how these fit into, as well as enhance, existing aspects of academic practice e.g. connecting at conferences, promoting your work. People just aren’t going to be bothered to persist with a slightly bewildering service unless they’re confident that (a) it leads somewhere (b) that ‘somewhere’ is a place they’re going to benefit from being, given who they are and what they do. 
  4. There’s a difficult balance to strike between the technical aspects of doing workshops about Twitter and the more conceptual aspects relating to how people conceive of and engage with Twitter. People will have technical questions and they should feel free, if at all possible, to ask these as and when during training workshops. Technical questions left unanswered will hinder, perhaps fatally, people’s ability to relate Twitter to them. But the main focus of such a workshop should be on the conceptual questions, as the aim should be to allow potential academic Twitter users to be able to construe the service, as well as the uses to which it can be put, in terms of their existing practices, projects and commitments. Therefore the core technical training should take place before hand: either in the form of a computer session where everyone signs up, a step-by-step guide distributed before hand to get people up and running or a demonstration at the start on an OHP with a dummy twitter account which can ‘lose its identity’ after each session. This can be supplemented by further resources which are sent after the session (potentially via Twitter? incentivising subsequent use vs alienating those who don’t immediately get round to it) which take the step-by-step training to a higher level. This would allow technical questions to come up and be asked in a free-flowing way which would benefit the ‘thinking through’ process which is a necessary component of a session. But it would also hopefully minimise them so that they don’t interrupt the flow of the session or dominate it. 
  5. Unless people quickly get tied into some sort of network on Twitter they’re unlikely to persist with it. In part this entails the necessity of getting people to choose followers during a session, as well as demonstrating the various means through which this can be done. But an equally important part of it is getting people in the session to follow and interact with each other. Therefore they’re tied into a network by the time they leave the session and, even if only a smaller number actively engage, their engagements are going to have consequences throughout this initial network (through their RTs and conversations etc) in a way which is going to maximise the chance that disinterested/apathetic participants see interesting stuff in their timeline and feel moved to explore further. Furthermore follow ups from the facilitators could usefully stimulate this but it must be carefully and conservatively done, otherwise it risks coming across as contrived and/or intrusive. 
  6. Not everyone is going to respond to Twitter in the same way and, if you’re an overly enthusiastic social media geek, it’s easy to forget this. This is ethically problematic, in so far as it can lead you to fail to recognise that some forms of engagement with Twitter (i.e. keeping it as narrowly professional in the capital ‘p’ sense of the term) are grounded in people’s lives and personalities in ways that must not be implied are the ‘wrong’ ways of using Twitter. You’re also likely to, at best, fail to connect with workshop participants and, at worst, alienate them if you fail to explicitly recognise the human diversity which leads to the diversity of ways in which one can engage with Twitter. Therefore “there’s no right or wrong way, it’s a case of trying it and figuring out how you want to use it” should be a running motif through trainings sessions, there should be allotted time for group discussion of core issues (e.g. professional vs private online identity) with the facilitators taking a back-seat to gently steer discussion and answer technical questions. 

C. Wright Mills: Legacies and Prospects – 50 Years On
Friday 13th April, 11-12.30pm 


In March 2012 it will have been 50 years since the death of C. Wright Mills. In that time the world has changed beyond recognition: the Cold War ended, the Keynesian consensus broke down, a globalizing neoliberalism rose to the ascendancy and the internet began to transform human communication and culture. In recent years, with 9/11 and then the financial crisis, it seems that history has returned with a vengeance.

This panel will explore the relevance of C. Wright Mills’ ideas 50 years on, considering the value of his legacy and the resources his work offers to understand the rapidly changing social world of the 21st century.

Prof Mike O’Donnell (University of Westminster) – “Charles Wright Mills and the (Continuing) Problem of Radical Agency”.

Prof Liz Stanley (University of Edinburgh) – TITLE TBC

Prof John Holmwood (University of Nottingham) – TITLE TBC


Until people started calling themselves homosexual, it didn’t make much sense for anyone to refer to themselves as heterosexual. Up until that point, it had simply been taken for granted and, as such, escaped scrutiny either by individuals or by society more widely. As adjectives both homosexual and heterosexual were coined in 1892, in an English translation of work by the early sexologist Kraftt-Ebing. However, as a noun heterosexual didn’t enter common usage until the 1960s. The Google Ngram viewer illustrates the relative occurrence of each term within their (enormous) corpus:

To put it bluntly: people write more about homosexuality. The argument I’m making certainly doesn’t entail the view that there weren’t heterosexual people until homosexual people but rather that the visibility of sexual difference (slowly) made heterosexuality an object of deliberate reflection. I included asexuality as well as bisexuality below but the former is pretty meaningless given its prevalence as a biological term. Nonetheless, it seems interesting and arguably inverts a common way of understanding the relationship between sexualities i.e. homosexuality –> heterosexuality –> bisexuality rather than heterosexuality –> homosexuality –> bisexuality. In a sense heterosexuality, as a concept in itself rather than the characteristics of person referred to by that concept, should be understood as derivative from homosexuality, again understood as a concept rather than set of imputed characteristics.

So what effect would a much increased visibility of asexuality have? Following through the line of thought above, it would make being sexual an object of deliberate reflection. This is certainly my own experience in three years of studying asexuality and it’s been a pretty interesting one. It seems likely that a widespread acquaintance with asexuality, even if it is entirely mediated, would bring being sexual into discursive awareness in a way that hasn’t previously been the case. Quite simply: you’re more likely to reflect upon a personal characteristic if you’re aware that there are people who don’t share it. Furthermore, although I think internal conversation is important to this process, there’s also a vast dialogical element to it. Or to put it simply: you’re more likely to talk to others about a personal characteristic you share with them if you are aware that there are other people who don’t share it. 

Within the asexual community, once technology enabled people to conduct dialogues about their shared experience of being asexual in a sexual world, a rich and differentiated language quickly emerged. In spite of this commonality, there were also differences within the asexual community and, as people continued to discuss them, language began to ‘catch up’ to experience. Conversely I wonder whether, once sexual people begin to reflect upon being sexual as something more than a biological characteristic construed in terms of the entirely vacuous notion of a ‘sex drive’, will a rich panoply of sexual difference similarly begin to emerge? So sexual difference might come to be construed not in terms of object choice (i.e. hetero/bi/homo) but in all manner of complex idiosyncrasy which, at present, only very tangentially finds any sort of discursive expression.

First they taught us to depend on their nation-states to mend,
our tired minds, our broken bones, our bleeding limbs.
But now they’ve sold off all the splints
and contracted out the tourniquets
and if we jump through hoops then we might just survive.
Is this what we deserve?
To scrub the palace floors?
To fight amongst ourselves?
As we scramble for the crumbs they spit out,
frothing at the mouth about the scapegoats that they’ve chosen for us.
With every racist pointed finger I can hear the goose-steps getting closer.
They no longer represent us so is it not our obligation to confront this tyranny?

This book presents current research focusing on sexual minorities. It discusses topics that include gay and lesbian parenthood; asexuality; media representations of trebly marginalised minorities; the effect of imaged contact on heterosexual women’s attitudes toward lesbian women; and, the high-school experiences of sexual and gender minority youth and best practices in the development of interventions designed to attenuate homonegativity. The final entry is a ‘virtual discussion’ in which contributors responded to a set of questions that focused on key issues in the field of sexual minority studies.

Amazon link / Table of contents

(It’s a bit pricey for individual purchase but the sort of thing that every university that has courses on sexualities should have in its library. Why not suggest the purchase…?)

The BSA postgraduate forum is sponsoring an event of  Social Class and Educational Aspiration for postgraduates involved in this area of research. The Conference and Workshop will be hosted by the  University of East London On Tuesday 20th and Wednesday 21st  March 2012. The event is structured around five keynote lectures by leading social class and education academics alongside two tutorial PhD workshops, conducted by the academic speakers.

Conference abstracts  are sought from 18 postgraduates; eight of whom will be selected to give a 20 minute talk and the rest will be invited to give a poster presentation. There is an option to only give a poster presentation but you must still send an abstract. It is intended that the conference theme is interpreted widely, however the following themes  in relation to social class are of particular interest:

·         Educational aspiration,
·         Educational attainment/achievement,
·         Access to higher education,
·         Recent changes in educational policies,
·         Theoretical and methodological discussions on social class and education.

If you are interested in taking part in this event please see   for further details on how to apply. You will need to complete the application form and write an abstract of no more than 250 words on how your research demonstrates a sociological and/or educational critical engagement with social class and education – in particular educational aspiration.

If you have any further queries please contact Jenny and Tamsin at: .  The deadline for applications is Monday February 6th 2012.  Please note that this event is free for all participants who are BSA members and £25 to all non-BSA members. All participants are expected to be present for the full two days.

Yeah I am sick and tired of people who are living on the b-list
Yeah they’re waiting to be famous, and they’re wondering why they do this
And I know I’m not the one who is habitually optimistic
But I’m the one who’s got the microphone here so just remember this
Well life is about love, lost minutes and lost evening
About fire in our bellies and about furtive little feelings
And the aching amplitudes that set our needles all flickering
And they help us with remembering that the only thing left to do is live

6th Annual Interdisciplinary Postgraduate Conference
Marginal Cartographies: Researching Beyond Borders
Department of Sociology – University of Warwick


In the age of globalisation, British mainstream academic research seems to pay too little attention to other parts of the world. In this context, Marginal Cartographies: Researching Beyond Borders, the 6th Annual Interdisciplinary Postgraduate Conference which will take place at the University of Warwick on 28th April 2012, aims to offer an arena for research that deals with marginality, in all its senses.

The Conference focuses on research that goes beyond traditional disciplinary, temporal or spatial boundaries. We welcome papers that go beyond perspectives, theoretical approaches or methodologies that frame current British mainstream research in the field of humanities, arts, education, cultural studies and social sciences in a broader sense.

The following streams on marginalized perspectives are intended as a (non-exclusive) guide of possible topics/clusters:

Theoretical perspectives on marginalised/broadly overlooked topics
Methodological issues
Sensorial research, including visual research
Embodiment, emplacement, and cultural practices
Media research
Literature & art research
Gender, ‘race’ and ethnicity
Researching the past (e.g. memory studies, oral history)
Policy and politics
Religion and spirituality
Migration, citizenship

The organising committee welcomes abstracts from postgraduates in any discipline, on issues that fit within and go beyond the focus and topics suggested above. Selected papers will be presented in a friendly and supportive academic environment, with each presentation lasting 20 minutes and 10 minutes for questions and answers.

Please send an abstract (under 300 words including your personal details – name, institution, phone number and e-mail
address) to

Deadline for submitting abstracts is 12 February 2012.

Notification of acceptance will be given by 16 March 2012, at the latest.

You are welcome to contact the Organising Committee at if you have any further

We look forward to seeing you at the University of Warwick.

Until 2001 there wasn’t an asexual community. Why was this? 

  • The question is more complex than it appears.
  • The internet was a necessary condition because it allowed a geographically dispersed group to connect. Was it a sufficient condition though?
  • It provided the infrastructure for a disparate group to connect.
  • However there still had to be a converging drive to connect across a diverse and disparate collection of individuals.
  • What explains this drive to connect? Empirical and theoretical dimensions to this.
  • Empirically, asexuals pretty much universally face partially or entirely pathologising reactions (at least initially) from others when they voice their lack of experience of sexual attraction. “Maybe you’re just a late bloomer”, “There’s probably something wrong with your hormones”, “Were you sexually abused as a child?
  • Theoretically, it’s the experienced inadequacy of the sexual/intimate discourses situationally available to make sense of the fact they don’t experience sexual attraction.
  • Their everyday environment both (a) renders this lack of sexual attraction problematic, making it an unavoidable object for internal deliberation (b) fails to provide the cultural resources necessary to articulate a self-understanding which is either subjectively or socially adequate.
  • This is the socio-cultural process underlying the drive to connect.

What explains the reactions asexual individuals face? 

  • Their friends, family, peers literally did not understand.
  • The sexual assumption is a habitual cognitive category which, as an empirical claim, asexual individuals regularly encounter in the dispositional reactions and the reflective judgements of peers, friends, family and others.
  • The sexual assumption —> sexual attraction is both universal and uniform: everyone ‘has’ it and it’s largely the same thing in every instance.
  • The sexual assumption is a component in distinct clusters of interactions which asexual individuals find themselves engaged in at different points in their biographical trajectory.
The methodological implications of this approach
  • Construing the lives of participants in biographical terms & preferably studying them longitudinally
  • Valuing their personal narrative (in both an ethical and methodological sense) without reducing their biographical trajectory to their story about it.
  • Recognising the multi-dimension nature of that biography: individual <–> networks, individual <–> ideas, individual <–> social structures
  • All of these dimensions shape biographical unfolding in different ways AND they interact with each other
  • My particular focus in studying asexuality has been at the level of individual <–> networks and individual <–> ideas.
  • In the terms I used above, the  everyday environment (a) renders lack of sexual attraction problematic, making it an unavoidable object for internal deliberation (b) fails to provide the cultural resources necessary to articulate a self-understanding which is either subjectively or socially adequate.
  • This plays out differently at distinct identifiable stages e.g. when someone first starts to recognise that they don’t experience sexual attraction and a given reference group does OR when they’ve decided that an assumption of self-pathology is unsustainable and want to find other ways to understand themselves.
  • A general approach to studying sexualities would involve using qualitative methods, preferably longitudinally, to (a) identify situations such as the this at particular moment in the individual’s past, aiming to fully capture the material and psychic aspects to them (b) understanding the individual’s internal deliberative responses to them (c) identifying the ensuing influence on the individual’s biographical unfolding over time.


Are you interested in being a Postgraduate Forum Convenor?

Our existing team work together to make sure that student members of the Association are kept up-to-date with matters of specific interest to them. They will also facilitate contact between student members and the BSA Council. In return for their hard work and dedication.

Postgraduate Forum Convenors are offered a free place at BSA events and all travel expenses are reimbursed.

The Convenors’ tasks include:

  • Circulating information to other postgraduates via the PG Forum email distribution list
  • Maintaining the PG Forum pages of the BSA website & the Facebook fan page.
  • Supporting and hosting PG Focus podcasts
  • Making contributions to Network
  • Assisting with the processing of BSA Support Fund applications by joining the panel of members who grant awards from the Fund
  • Helping organise the Postgraduate workshops/events at the BSA Annual Conference
  • Representing the interests of Postgraduate members at Council meetings

Since the PG Focus podcasts were launched to great success in 2009, they have become an increasingly important part of the PG Forum activities. We are therefore particularly interested in having someone join us who has knowledge about, or an interest in learning, skills relating to the compiling, editing, uploading, and online maintenance of the blog and PG Focus podcasts.

The successful applicant will work with current convenors to become
proficient at assisting with the online and media aspects of the PG Forum’s activities. The new convenor(s) will also share other duties, including attending on average one Council meeting and two PG Forum meetings per year; quickly and efficiently dealing with email correspondence regarding Support Fund applications and other business; overseeing the organization of a session for the PG Day and spearheading new initiatives that will benefit the PG Forum community.

While the time commitment for this role is flexible, with responsibilities shared between convenors, and the workload varies over the year, applicants can expect to devote between 4 and 16 hours per month to PG Forum

If you have questions about what being a convenor entails, please contact us at

Include a letter explaining why you think you are suitable for this role.
Deadline for applications: 1 March 201

  1. To define the reality of the human condition and to make our definitions public
  2. To confront the new facts of history-making  in our time, and their meaning for the problem of political responsibility.
  3. Continually to investigate the causes of war, and among them to locate the decisions and defaults of elite circles.
  4. To release the human imagination, to explore all the alternatives now open to the human community by transcending both the mere exhortation of grand principle and the mere opportunistic reaction.
  5. To demand full information of relevance to human destiny and the end of decision made in irresponsible secrecy.
  6. To cease being the intellectual dupes of political patrioteers.

– C. Wright Mills