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Writing a History of History

by YPU Blog on January 8, 2015, Comments. Tags: history, holocaust, judaism, manchester, memory, museum, poland, Research, and Sociology

Introduction

Hi, I'm Janek and I'm a historian, sort of. I specialise in memory studies. I research how people remember the past and why the way they imagine it changes. You could say I write a history of history. After all, what we write as historians changes the perception of the past the most. You could also say that what I do is not history at all, that it's sociology or cultural science. It's very confusing, even for me!

But let’s pretend I'm a historian. After all, I did graduate in history from Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. Then, two years ago, I moved to Manchester to do a PhD here. I do memory studies and, in particular, I look at how the Holocaust was remembered in my home town, Krakow.

In Depth

But what does it really mean? One of my case studies is an old Jewish Town in Krakow. For years, it lied neglected but, in the past couple of decades, it has turned into one of the most popular and fashionable spots in the City. Think Castlefield. It's like Castlefield without the canals and with synagogues instead. In my research, I try to find some traces of Jewish heritage in this now fashionable area. I look at how the Jewish relics have changed over time and how they have contributed to making the place so popular.

My other case is the local history museum, like the Imperial War Museum. The History museum in Krakow has always had an exhibition about Jewish history, but, only a couple of years ago, it was turned into the most important part of the museum and its biggest attraction.  How did this happen? What did curators tell us about Jewish history at the old exhibitions and what do they tell us now? And my favorite set of questions: Why do we believe them? What do they do to back up the story they tell? How do they convince us that what they say is important?

The best part of my project is that it can actually make a difference. People often think that writing about the past is not important for the present; Scientists change lives, not historians. But with a project like mine it’s different. I get to talk to museum curators and  planners and show them my findings. So there is a good chance that next time when you go to museum in Krakow you will see an exhibition with my ideas in it!

Going Further

If you're interested in history museums: http://www.mhk.pl/ or here http://www.iwm.org.uk/.

And if you want to read more about the cool old Jewish District: http://www.krakow.pl/english/22663,artykul,zydowski_krakow.html


 

You might be a cyborg!

Introduction

My name is Scott Midson and I'm in the third year of a PhD in Religions & Theology (R&T). In my research, I look at how technology changes the way that we think about ourselves. More specifically, I explore the idea of ‘creation’, which is an important religious idea, and ask what it means to re-create ourselves or to create things like robots.


In depth

I didn't always know I was going to be studying robots and religion, though! Going back a few years, I came to university (at Manchester) with an interest in the sociology of religion. I didn't study religion at A-Level but was given a place on the ‘BA Religions & Theology (Religion & Society)’ programme because of my interest in the subject. Here, I looked more and more at ideas about technology and how new media technologies influence our beliefs. I then took a year out and did some travelling, but when I returned to the department as a postgraduate, I came across a very interesting essay by Donna Haraway called ‘A Cyborg Manifesto’, and I loved it so much that I ended up writing a PhD thesis on it!

In the essay, cyborgs are used as metaphors for the ways that we interact with technology and how we cannot separate ourselves from the technologies that we use everyday. Think about the technologies you use everyday: could you live without your computer, for example? Or your mobile phone? Or what if you had no access to a clock – how would this affect you and society? We are cyborgs, the argument goes, because we live so closely with our technologies.

But not everybody likes the idea that we are cyborgs. For some people, there is a limit to how much we should embrace technology – think here of dangerous robot-like cyborgs in ‘The Terminator’ or ‘Star Trek’. Or, imagine that a new technology becomes available that would surgically implant your phone in your body. Would you want it? Would it be any different to always having your phone with you in your pocket?

A lot of people fear invasive technologies like this, and a big part of my research is finding out why. This is where I link what I study to religion: in Christian theology, humans are described as created in the ‘image of God’. Although what the ‘image of God’ means is unclear, there seems to be a link between the ‘natural’ state of humans (i.e. when they were created by God) and the use of ‘unnatural’ technologies. I thus question religious ideas about the ‘natural’ human and the ‘image of God’ in order to look at how we can use the cyborg metaphor better and not fear it so much.

Going further

One of the best things about what I study is how frequently these themes and topics appear in popular culture. Most sci-fi films and books make reference to how technology changes the human, and you’d be surprised at how many of them involve religious and theological ideas in some way! If you’re interested in this topic, then a good place to start exploring further is to ask how technology is portrayed next time you watch a (sci-fi) film.

 Other useful sources to get you started are:

Charlie Brooker’s TV miniseries ‘Black Mirror’ (http://www.channel4.com/programmes/black-mirror/) – all episodes are available online (but many do contain some shocking images and offensive language)

I keep a research blog where I post intermittently on films, programmes, and even billboards that catch my attention (http://scadhu.blogspot.co.uk) (I also tweet some stuff about my research - @scadhu)

This ‘cyborg anthropology’ site (http://cyborganthropology.com/Main_Page) gives a fairly good and accessible overview of the metaphor of the cyborg

If you’re interested more generally in the sort of stuff we get up to in Religions & Theology at Manchester (we don’t all want to be priests or vicars!), then check out this page (http://www.alc.manchester.ac.uk/subjects/religionstheology/). Alternatively, the Lincoln Theological Institute (LTI) page (http://religionandcivilsociety.com/lti/) shows some of the more specific work that some people in the department do. The LTI is a think-tank that does its own projects but is connected to the University of Manchester R&T department. 

 

The politics of young people

by YPU Admin on June 27, 2014, Comments. Tags: politics, Research, social sciences, and Sociology

Introduction

My name is Aimee Harragan and I am just coming to the end of my first year of a PhD in Sociology. My research focuses on young people aged 16 – 30 years and what politics means to them. There is no right or wrong answer to this, instead my work aims to talk to young people and understand if and how politics affects their day-to-day lives. I am particularly interested in the role media (TV, Radio, Papers and News Apps) plays in young people’s daily routine.

In Depth

A PhD is like an extended project and allows students to spend 3 years focused on one piece of research. Sociology is the study of human societies and the way they work. I became interested in young people and politics through my experience of citizenship classes at school. The government had just made these compulsory, and despite being at a good school, these classes were a boring hour of box-ticking! Citizenship classes were supposed to be a chance to explore current issues, have debates and understand ways that we can challenge the government on the decisions which impact everything we experience everyday; from the price of milk to the length of the school day. The media also likes to highlight examples of young people seeming uninterested in politics – like voting, young people are the least likely group to vote in government elections. But if I was not being taught how to understand politics, and other people don’t vote in political elections, how does everyone else come to understand and take part in politics?


I decided to follow this trail of understanding politics and decision-making through my A-Levels, my Undergrad Degree and Master’s Degree in Sociology and finally here, my PhD.  I hope that my work will help to clear up what we mean by politics and the ways young people can influence decisions, maybe this will be through education but also through broader organisation in the community.  I hope to show people that young people are interested in current issues and the decisions that affect their lives; this is overlooked by politicians and other authorities. I really enjoy this research because I meet lots of interesting young people who are the future decision makers!

Going Further

Find out more and get involved with some of these great organisations dedicated to the views and opinion of young people:

·  Bite the Ballot: is a not for profit organisation that empowers young people to speak up and act, to make their votes and opinions count. http://bitetheballot.co.uk/

·  Youth Parliament: Run by young people, the UK Youth Parliament provides opportunities for 11-18 year-olds to use their voice in creative ways to bring about social change. http://www.ukyouthparliament.org.uk/

·  British Youth Council: empowers young people across the UK to have a say locally, nationally and internationally. http://www.byc.org.uk/

·  Citizenship Foundation: The Citizenship Foundation inspires young people to take part in society as equal members. http://www.citizenshipfoundation.org.uk/index.php

·  Reclaim Project: is a leadership and mentoring project based in Manchester. The project empowers young people across the North West to make positive changes in their communities and to find inner strength and self belief. http://www.reclaimproject.org.uk/

Click here: http://www.socialsciences.manchester.ac.uk/subjects/sociology/ to find out more about Sociology at the University of Manchester, or about other research taking place in the Social Sciences: http://www.socialsciences.manchester.ac.uk/subjects/sociology/postgraduate-research/phd-students/


 

Why Sociology?

by YPU Admin on July 16, 2013, Comments. Tags: civil partnership, marriage, Research, and Sociology

Introduction

My name's Em, and I'm currently researching for a PhD in Sociology at the University of Manchester. 

If I’m honest, I came to sociology quite by accident at A-level in 1996. My university career came much later in part because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do and I did not have the right attitude to study which meant I didn’t get the right grades to go to university. Roll forward another 9 years (2005) my brain was still incredibly active, busy, and questioning and I thought going to university might help! So, in 2005 I applied to go to college to do an Access to Higher Education course which gave me the skills and confidence to start a degree. A year later (2006) I started at BSU (Bath Spa University) and studied psychology, sociology, history (from my second year – I concentrated only on sociology, and took a couple of psychology modules). It was here that I realised I wanted to become a lecturer and learned I would need to do a PhD. I was taught by some really inspiring, funny and passionate lecturers who introduced me to sociology and I finally felt I was home, I fitted in this environment. They showed me how sociology was made up of different parts much like a big jigsaw puzzle. Our identities (made up of different combinations such as race, ethnicity, gender, class, sexuality and social roles: parent; child) are worn like masks, and shape how we are seen, and how others engage with us. They also influence the kinds of encounters we can have with others. We were also introduced to the idea that certain structures like ‘school’, ‘the family’, ‘marriage’ all operate to shape our experiences, keep things the same (continuity) and pattern our behaviour to maintain social order. Excitingly, these structures are not fixed; overtime they are rejected, remoulded, and contested by individuals sharing stories and people getting together in the form of ‘social movements’ to challenge the way these structures impact people’s lives.


In Depth

I think every academic has a story to share that begins with a fascination or preoccupation about something that connects them and their experiences to the topic they end up studying.  Why am I researching Civil Partnership? For my undergraduate dissertation I had been exploring how gay couples divide housework. I picked up on academic conversations that suggested there was a lot of concern about the impact of civil partnership, and how it might alter how same-sex couples ‘do’ their relationships. I was curious about why legal recognition for same-sex relationships caused such heated ‘battles’.


 

A central and controversial issue recurring in these ‘battles’ was the costs of gaining acceptance and visibility and being able to fit in, and the consequences that ‘fitting in’ would have for people whose relationships could not be considered ordinary. These concerns were quite lofty and abstract, they did not seem to engage with people’s everyday concerns or represent their lived lives. I was struck by the way that legal recognition was viewed as either having a positive impact, or a detrimental impact. These opinions could not allow for the possibility that civil partnership could be both ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Additionally, no one had considered the factor of generation and how being a certain age and having different experiences before the availability of civil partnership might shape how they made sense of civil partnership. These concerns led me to develop my PhD project: After the Act: Narratives of Display and the Significance of Civil Partnership. The main aim of my project has been to explore the significance that civil partnership might have for a generation of people who would have formed and sustained intimate relationships without access to legal recognition.


Doing this project has meant I’ve travelled all over England and Wales, speaking to individuals or couples. I’ve been welcomed into people’s homes and workplaces. The stories that people have shared have focused on a number of key areas of their life: what their life was like before civil partnership; what their civil partnership day was like (was it a big celebration or a formality, who came and how did they react to the couple and how did the guests get on with each other); life afterwards (has it altered relationships with families-of-origin, and what impact has it had on encounters with others – acquaintances and strangers). Can they be more open about their relationship in public (e.g. hold hands and kiss) and are members of public they encounter tolerant and accepting? I am currently writing chapters describing my findings.


Going Further

Further information about Sociology at Manchester can be found on the department's webpages

You can find out more about studying Sociology, and careers in Sociology through the Brightside Trust's Bright Knowledge pages