Category Archives: Sociology

The reading list

I’m not sure if anything really prepares you for the sheer relentlessness that a taught Master’s programme brings. There is always something to be read or written or thought about or made. It’s never-ending.

It’s May which means it’s the long stretch of Summer Term: dissertation time. This time of year for our cohort is when we are also finishing up internships and we’re also having our second meeting with our supervisors.

This is when the seriousness of the dissertation hits home and the doubts creep in.

The doubts are temporary yet intense. And in hindsight, somewhat helpful. But nevertheless, there’s a week in the postgraduate calendar which I’m sure has an unspoken understanding of being ‘self-loathing week’. There are lots of questions, lots of doubts, supervisors sometimes (helpfully) play devil’s advocate to ensure you’re really thinking critically about your project.

It inevitably comes around to the point that you’ve just not read enough. The more you read, the more you understand the theory and the methodology surrounding your chosen topic. And even though it’s the last thing you want to do, it’s the best thing you could do (and it’s actually quite enjoyable).

So here’s what’s on my reading list:

Stack of books about ethnography

Reading list – May 2013.

A lot of the books and articles are ethnography based: they either are ethnographies or they’re instructional on how to do ethnography.

In terms of articles, I’ve been reading a lot of Eric Laurier from the University of Edinburgh. He has done many cafe ethnographies in Britain over the past 15 years. His literature reviews do a good job of explaining some of the sociological views of cafes from Latour, Habermas and Goffman.

In addition to reading Laurier’s articles, I’ve been making my through¬†Kitchens,¬†an ethnography of restaurant kitchen staff by Gary Allen Fine. So far, I’ve gained some insights into how you could view each cafes or restaurant as an individual habitus (or community, for the non-sociologists).

The bulk of the books on the stack are the how-to books. They will be read in the coming weeks, but they will be immeasurably helpful in planning fieldwork and deciding the finer points of methodology.

It’s all (slowly) coming together.

Actor-Network Theory: why it’s relevant in the cafe

Trying to understand Bruno Latour’s Actor-Network Theory sometime feels as difficult as understanding… Higgs Boson. Explaining Actor-Network Theory to a lay person can feel clumsy and not-so academically accurate. So apologies in advance if this is overly simplistic (or indeed, if it’s overly confusing).

Look around you, can you see your smartphone? I bet it’s within arm’s reach or at least in the same room as you.

Your smartphone was invented by a human. Someone dictated what went where to make it work, they decided what functions it should include.

But then you purchased the smartphone and it started to mould your behaviour, the way you interact with others and how they interact with you. In turn, you’ve added more apps and data to your smartphone to change your actions and influence your living further.

(are you still with me? I hope so.)

My understanding of Actor-Network Theory is that that humans and non-humans (objects, things, concepts) are all ‘actors’ in a ‘network’ where we impact, influence and change one another in equal parts.

And what does this have to do with coffee and wifi?

Actor-Network Theory is just one ‘sociological lens’ we can use to look at the cafe.

I assert that we’re being moulded and shaped by wifi, the location of wifi and the actions we do via wifi. The very fact that wifi is in a cafe shapes the way we interact with others in and out of our immediate vicinity.