By Janice McLaughlin, Newcastle University
Preparations for the Annual Conference in Manchester next week are close to completion. The event will provide a much-needed opportunity to reflect on many issues both inside and outside sociology and academia. The research topics across the plenaries and parallel sessions speak to our desire to participate in exploring the complex social problematics circulating across much of the world. The varied research debated at the conference reflect growing inequalities, the demonization of the structural vulnerable and the continued difficulties being created for people's lives by the politics of austerity. Whether this be people seeing their welfare benefits reduced or denied, or the undermining of the NHS, or people trying to make a life while working in contexts of zero hour contracts or fabricated self-employment. Papers also speak to the rise of populist and right-wing nationalist politics that target a range of groups based on their religion, race, ethnicity, gender and refugee and migrant status, in order to deliberately fuel hate and distrust. As well as capture such threats to people's public and private life, sociological research is engaged in considering the alternatives to these directions of travel by considering how new forms of protest politics, social life, economic organisation offer genuine alternatives. In the era of alternative facts, the role of our research in providing evidence of the impacts on people's lives of the decisions of others is a vital contribution.
We are also conscious that these trends in social and political life are not just something people within sociology are researching and teaching on, they are also something many are living. This is particularly so for early career researchers who, while providing some of the most innovative research and teaching, can also be the most marginalised and insecure in the academy. While there is more to be done, various aspects of the conference (for example, the PGR day on the eve of the conference and growing mentoring opportunities) provide some space to provide support. Early career researcher members are closely involved in the development of these activities and challenging some of most troubling aspects of modern academia and it is important we recognise the importance of their work.
We also realise these contexts of financial constraint and insecure employment contracts and funding make it difficult for people to always be present at the conference; one aspect of responding to that is providing financial support for attendance, but we will also be making resources from the conference available to those for whom it is not possible. For example, the plenaries – all of which will be tackling the themes highlighted above – by Ben Carrington, Zoe Williams and Lynn Jamieson will be available on the BSA website.
To everyone who can make it we look forward to hearing about all the fantastic work people are doing; to those who can’t we will be continuing to discuss and work with you to ensure varied sociological voices and concerns are reflected within the association.