This is the second part of my two part opening blog post. Last week I wrote about my anxieties about actually sitting down to write and what to focus on. This week I want to clarify some of this and the inspiration behind it. I also want to write a little about the research that I am currently conducting.
As I said in the previous post, I want this to be a place for me to share my musings and observations of everyday life in a much more casual manner than the channels I normally use. One of my biggest sociological heroes is Erving Goffman and it is his work which has inspired me to take this approach.
Goffman’s research focus was very much on illustrating the day-to-day interactions that occur between people in a variety of different situations and different social experiences. This is what sociologists call the micro level of society. His work has been an inspiration to me in terms of the ideas he presented, but also the way that he wrote about these ideas. Although his books are sometimes a bit difficult to follow in terms of their structure, I found I ‘got’ Goffman from the beginning and the writing style in his early books is very straightforward. For me at least, his attempts to describe what happens when people go about their lives in different settings and how we mix with other human beings, helped me explain many things I saw around me, but ones that I never had a name for. Just one example, as I could go on forever about Goffers (I think maybe Goffman deserves a blog post of his own), is his theory of civil inattention.
Many of us might have been on a packed bus or train and surrounded by strangers in very close proximity, but somehow everyone avoids eye contract and ignores each other. Or we might be walking down a street and coming towards us is another person, we both look at each other from a distance, eye contact is made, but as we then get closer and pass each other, we both look away or avoid looking at each other (try breaking this rule sometimes, it can be interesting!). We participate in these sorts of practices to avoid social awkwardness with strangers and to maintain our privacy. Of course these things are not set in stone and they can be challenged or disrupted, but it is these sorts of insights from Goffman that have helped me make sense of often unnamed phenomena.
As well as being a home for all my academic work, this blog will also be a place for me to share my own observations of life around me, drawing on Goffman for inspiration. I bet he would have embraced blogging if he was still with us!
Access and experience of higher education for young men from low-income backgrounds.
As part of my attempts to try and understand the social world around me, I am also interested in the way men and masculinities operate. My previous research has focused on mainly young men from working-class or lower-income backgrounds in a variety of different contexts within and beyond educational institutions (see the tabs at the top of the screen) but it has all been focused in the UK. I wanted to expand this work, and create an opportunity to work outside the UK, so through some contacts in Vancouver, my current project is based in Canada.
The principal aim of this study is to investigate the higher educational experiences of young men from low income backgrounds- or those who are the first in their family to attend university- at Simon Fraser University [SFU] in British Columbia, Canada. Taking an intersectional approach to class, race and gender, this study’s key focus is to explore how these young men’s masculinities are shaped and reshaped in the university context. It is a very small study, due to time constraints, but I hope to interview between 12-15 young men during the autumn or ‘fall’ semester.
The proposed study is guided by the following research questions:
- Do academically successful young men from working-class backgrounds experience specific challenges or barriers (e.g. peer and family expectation, finances, mobility) in accessing higher education?
- Does academic success and transition to university mean creating or adopting different or new performances of masculinity to their home communities?
- Do the traditions of a community or a geographical place impact on what is acceptable subject choice by young men?
- What are young men’s experience of, and attitudes to, education, learning and the courses they study?
- What leisure interests do academically successful young men engage in whilst at university, and are these classed, raced and gendered?
- To what extent (if at all) does university foster and develop opportunities for men to resist hegemonic forms of masculinity or does it intensify male privilege through misogyny and sexual harassment?
- What strategies are adopted to achieve future success and how do these impact on relationships with family, friends, peers and partners?
Since I started at SFU at the beginning of September. I have had a lot of interest in the study and have already begun interviewing young men and have lots more lined up who want to take part. I will share the findings and the research journey here as it progresses.
In next weeks post I will write about my arrival in Vancouver via a first class flying experience and the sociological insights I gained!