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Author: Paul Thompson

This chapter draws on over 17 hours of interviews conducted with Peter between 1997 and 1999. It reveals clear links between Peter’s childhood and education and the kind of sociologist Peter Townsend became and the work undertaken. It observes that the ‘unusual coherence’ in the interviews, which requires only ‘careful punctuation’, is also indicative of Peter’s incisive thinking and clarity of expression, which is reflected in the quality of his writing, which led to an example of the work used in an exam for French students studying English. Through Peter’s own words, this chapter highlights the combination of high research standards with empathy and passion which drove Peter’s work forwards.

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Life Stories of a Generation

Presenting the landmark Pioneers life stories project, this one-of-a-kind book documents how modern social research in the UK was shaped.

It sheds new light on the lives, methods and motivations of men and women who helped develop a new world of research methodology, pioneered feminist research, and first confronted the issues of race and ethnicity.

It combines a fascinating history of the generations who built outstanding and influential social research with a valuable resource for future research and teaching on methods.

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Proponents of deliberative democracy claim that it can provide a fair, efficient and creative method of collective decision making. In practice, however, all groups, including those consulted within public spaces for deliberation such as consultative forums, are,in part, characterised by emotional dynamics that threaten to undermine such deliberation. These dynamics can distort the process of deliberation, lead to sub-optimal outcomes and may even destroy the spaces of deliberation themselves. More positively,these affective forces can be harnessed to further the aims of deliberative democracy. For these negative and positive reasons, it is necessary to understand the emotional dynamics of groups and to apply this understanding to the design of public spaces for deliberative democracy. By focusing on the case of citizens’ juries, this article shows how these aims can be furthered.

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Authors: Paul Thompson and Knut Laaser

Technological determinism is a recurrent feature in debates concerning changes in economy and work and has resurfaced sharply in the discourse around the ‘fourth industrial revolution’. While a number of authors have, in recent years, critiqued the trend, this article is distinctive in arguing that foundational labour process analysis provides the most effective source of an alternative understanding of the relations between political economy, science, technology and work relations. The article refines and reframes this analysis, through an engagement with critical commentary and research, developing the idea of a political materialist approach that can reveal the various influences on, sources of contestation and levels of strategic choices that are open to economic actors. A distinction is made between ‘first order’ choices, often about adoption at aggregate level and ‘second order’ choices mainly concerned with complex issues of deployment. This framework is then applied to the analysis of case studies of the call centre labour process and digital labour platform, functioning as illustrative scenarios. It is argued that the nature of techno-economic systems in the ‘digital era’ open up greater opportunities for contestation.

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Research projects are rarely straightforward. However logically first planned, their success depends on negotiating misfortunes such as ill-health or interpersonal competition, and also rivalry between different groups in the wider research world. Here are some accounts of conflict and also of building up research groupings. Much was expected of Margaret Stacey’s second Banbury Study. It proved a disappointment, and a turning point, the start of the decline of community studies. Colin Bell, lead fieldwork researcher, reflects on the tangle of intellectual doubts and personal difficulties which led to this crucial disappointment: So, to Banbury. Your Tikopia. You once wrote, ‘Banbury will forever be the social system with which I compare all else. It is my Nuer land and my Tikopia.’ You see, that’s there. You see, it was there, I really wanted to be a proper anthropologist! I think that’s no longer true. And I went through Banbury fairly recently, and was quite sort of taken aback with the changes. But it was, it was expansive fieldwork. It was a full community. It was a full range, there were poor people, there were titled people. It had a working economy, an aluminium factory. While we were there General Foods moved Maxwell House Coffee and Birds Custard out of the centre of Birmingham to Banbury... I think, this is almost metaphysical, and I don’t really think I understood – I do now – the constraints that anyone who does a replication, is going to be under, if the person who wrote the first study, which is a bloody good book – a bloody good book – the constraints I was actually under, and I don’t think, deep down, I didn’t own those constraints, I hadn’t internalised those constraints.

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In 1928, the anthropologist Raymond Firth – the oldest of our Pioneers, whom we have already encountered earlier – set out to spend a year on the Pacific island of Tikopia, which was to be the prime focus of his life’s research. He was to be a lone researcher there, out of even radio contact with the wider world. It would be virtually impossible to organise a journey to such a destination in today’s interconnected globalised world: a measure of how the experience of anthropology has changed. Having studied the Maori, I thought it would be interesting to see a Polynesian community at a much earlier phase of development… Tikopia was a second choice, because Durrard, the missionary, had done a little on its language… I went to see him, actually, in New Zealand, and got from him some photographs and so on… I gathered information about it from the Mission vessel, which used to call there about once a year, or every two years, and I discovered that it was obviously a very simple community, technologically, with very little, very isolated, very little contact with the outside world, and so I thought, ‘This is an opportunity to see what, really, Polynesian life was like’, away from contact. (p 57) So with no more than this scanty information, he packed his food stores, clothing and some equipment and presents, and launched himself into the unknown: I set out for Tikopia from Sydney. I first of all took the Matalum, which is an ordinary passenger vessel, going once a month to the Solomons, and to Tulaghi, which was then the headquarters of the Solomons.

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This chapter focuses on the age-old debate in the social sciences about the primacy of methods and the relationship of our Pioneers to one of the main ideological battles blighting disciplines such as sociology. There are a variety of methods that are used in the social sciences to uncover different questions. They can be grouped into two main strands – qualitative methods (involving participant observation, structured in-depth interviews, unstructured interviews, and focus groups) and quantitative methods (such as secondary survey data analysis, and experimental methods) with a backbone of usually inferential statistical techniques. Every researcher makes a conscious decision to adopt a method in their social enquiry and it would have been extremely unusual for the Pioneers not to engage with a sometimes oppressive responsibility to pick a ‘side’, and the dogmatic prescription to stick with it.

For some of the Pioneers, the primacy of one of the methods over the other is undoubted. As we have seen, John Goldthorpe led two of the key projects in post-war British sociology, first on the Affluent Worker and then on social mobility. He became one of the strongest supporters of quantitative methods; and homage to survey techniques underlies the active current of his interview, and indeed of his career. He argues clearly for the importance of quantification in sociology to bring the discipline to scientific rigour. John sees British sociology as weakened by the debate and the rejection of positivism. In his own words

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Our central task in this book has been to guide the reader into an awareness of an intriguing set of interviews with twentieth-century social researchers that are available for further reading, listening and scrutiny. Through the fragments of these voices we sense something of the excitement of earlier days of doing social research in Britain.

These interviews all throw light on a common problem: how empirical social research was conducted and given shape in mid-twentieth-century Britain. We have not aimed at a grand account of this history: we have referred to some more specific studies on this, and our own aims have always been much more modest. This is to put on record the fascinating stories of some earlier creative researchers working in intriguing new ways before they become forgotten. (Indeed, we have been a little surprised to find how already new generations have not heard of many of them.) We also wanted to capture something of the social and cultural contexts in which they worked and the dilemmas they faced. It is already – just a generation or two on – a very different world to the world of research we now live in. But we find all over these interviews the marks of the world we live in being gently shaped by some of these researchers. It is good to have them in the archive, on the record and full of future possibility.

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This book is doubly unusual. First, it does not argue a single hard-shaped account of British social research, but a way into exploring its diversity. Second, it does not stand alone as a book, but is the frontispiece, the doorway, for a remarkable set of life story interviews. These 58 interviews are all available in full as both audio and transcript online, through both the UK Data Service and the British Library. You can find basic information on each interviewee in our Biographical summaries (see pp 219–231). For each interview there is also a summary, a brief bio, lists of publications and sets of text and audio highlight extracts. The audio clips can be heard through YouTube. So this book is the front door for a multimedia resource for all interested in learning and teaching about the development of British social research.

Essentially, it highlights the experiences and practices of the generations who were active from the 1950s to the 1980s, the crucial founding generations for today’s social research scene. These were the decades which saw the final phase of colonial anthropology, the explosive growth of sociology in universities, and then the founding of theme-based women’s, ethnic and cultural studies and the development of ethical practices and systematic methodologies.

The archive started from the work of Qualidata, now absorbed into the UK Data Service, which was set up by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) in 1994 to search out and rescue un-archived data from major post-1945 research projects.

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Because his anthropological research was funded by the Colonial Office, Jack Goody went out to Ghana as a Colonial Officer. Despite his egalitarian social commitments, he found himself embedded within the colonial system: I went on the boat train up to Liverpool, and I was met there by somebody from the Dempster Line, who said to me, ‘You do realise you’re travelling with a lot of black gentlemen?’ I said, ‘Well, I suppose I’ll have to get used to that, because I’m going out to study them’. So I was allowed to get on, and I got on this boat – it was rather depressing, right down in the hold – and we were allowed up on deck for what, half an hour or an hour every day. But I had very interesting company down there because the Africans I was with, one was going to be a lawyer, one was a doctor – I can’t remember the others very much, but they’re the people who were in my cabin, so I probably had a lot more intelligent conversation down there than I did up in second or first class with Europeans. (pp 34–35) Jack was met as soon as he reached Ghana by a former Ghanaian student who like Jack had been supervised in Oxford by Meyer Fortes: The former student’s name was Kofi Busia, who wrote a book on the Ashanti, and eventually became Prime Minister after Nkrumah, and he was Head of the Sociology Department in Lagos, and he looked after me… I suppose, through having been a prisoner-of-war, and also I felt my age was against me, I wanted to get things done as quickly as I could, so time was very important to me, so I didn’t spend long in Accra at that time, in the capital.

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