Category Archives: What is Sociology?

Who are you? (Laughter)

The video below shows a number of people laughing when asked the question ‘who are you’? (1.55)


These people are all highly respected, typically well- educated (in the formal sense of the word) teachers from a range of different spiritual traditions (most, if not all wiill be in attendance at the Science and Nonduality conference 2013 – SAND honors and nurtures the exploration and experience of nonduality as a pathway to greater wisdom and wellbeing in the context of the unique challenges of the 21st century.

Their laugh-response to the question of ‘who are you’ reminded me of a line in Paul Willis’ 1977 classic, Learning to Labour. Just in case you don’t know this off by heart…..  Willis discusses role that messing around and ‘avin a laff’ play in the counter-school-culutre, concluding that ‘the laugh confronts the command’. Willis argues that the laugh is a collective response to what the lads see as a ludicrous situation – school tells them to study seriously to prepare themselves for middle class jobs, but the lads have already decided they want ‘proper’ manual jobs that don’t require qualifications, and even if they did try to take school seriously, they’ve penetrated the truth of the situation and realised schools are middle class institutions, so the odds are stacked against them. In such a ludicrous situation what can you do but laugh at it?*

Obviously there are differences in the laughter in video above (it’s individualised, not collective; it’s not overtly challlenging authority in an ‘in your face way’; and it’s extremely middle class and not at all laddish) but a little analysis drags out a few parallels too. To my mind, their laughter when asked ‘who are you’ says ‘what a ludicrous question’, and it’s ludicrous because the subject of the question, ‘you’, or rather ‘I’ is an illusion. Most of these people have been through an intense and long process of introspetion, realised this, and come out the other side, and now they laugh at the question.

Given that the laughter above stems from a realisation that there is ‘no-I’, such laughter oould also form the basis for confronting the ultimate command in a postmodern consumer culture – the command to ‘express yourself’, the command to expend a huge amount of money and effort on perpetually reinventing and presenting your constructed-self, the command to avoid looking into the true nature of your ‘self’ and ‘working through’ the realisation that there is nothing there.

Furthermore, this laughter reminds us of two things, especially important in a culture of intellectualism – Firstly, simply the importance of asking meaningful questions. Secondly, answering meaningful questions requires going beyond the intellect, to a place of lived experience, and the process of coming back and re-engaging with an intellectual culture and attempting to render such experiences into concepts will probably be easier (at least less fraught) if one maintains a sense of humour.

*Finally I should just mention that just like the lads’ realisation that school was a middle class institution didn’t really help them achieve a good ‘quality of life’ in the long-term, an initial realisation the ‘truth of no-I’ at a relatively superficial level (that’s all I’ve managed) probably won’t result in your walking around in a perpetual state of bliss-consciousness, that will take a good deal more right effort, mindfulness and concentration.

Related Posts

David Loy (who features in the video above) on our fear of existing

Christmas Survey

I don’t celebrate Christmas because I don’t have anyone to celebrate it with. Instead I meditate a lot and do my annual spring clean. If you’re also alone this Christmas, I recommend this as a coping strategy. It’s still pretty bleak, but waking up on 27th having had no Christmas with a clean flat is definitely better than waking up on the 27th with a not-so-clean flat.

This year I’ve decided to really go to town and literally clean EVERYTHING. Although I’m starting to wonder whether moving the fridge and physically washing the walls down with soapy water is maybe a bit excessive. Even though I’ve been in my flat three years, the walls behind the fridge don’t look dirty to me, so my present dilemma this Christmas Eve is should I wash them or not?

I think I will, because I have committed to washing everything, but I got to wondering, is this excessive, how often do people wash the walls behind their fridges?

Anyway, I created this survey to find out, so please if you’ve found this site, humor me and complete it, thanks and for what it’s worth, Merry Christmas.

NB: The survey refers to whether you wash the walls behind your fridges at any time of year, not just at Christmas time. 


Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world’s leading questionnaire tool.

This is also my first embedded survey, something of a practice run… So apologies if you can’t see the results, I will update later as I’m sure they’ll be a lot of interest in this….

Also if the survey just doesn’t work for some reason, do let me know, as I say, this is a trial.

Actually just in case the embed doesn’t work – here – Click here to take survey

Top Four (youtube) Videos for teaching Post-Modernism

I’ve arranged these videos in the order of

  • Easy
  • More difficult
  • More Dude
  • More obtuse.

If that order doesn’t make any sense, get with the postmodern programme…

Video 1 – Easy – Clearly designed for A level students, with a very very nice example of ‘cultural hybridity’ at the end, courtesy of X-Factor



Video 2 – Although this is more difficult  (but still important) it does quite a good job of explaining postmodnernism as the abandonment of the ‘truth claims’ of modernity, and Lyotard’s related idea of postmodernism as an ‘incredulity towards metanarratives’.



Video 3 – A Dude explains postmodernism – Bit more an artistic rather than a sociological tone – I especially like the section on youtube, which is very postmodern



Video 4 – Obtuse – More obscure, but I think this describes quite nicely the postmdoern experience in hyperreality.

Web site of the week – the British Sociological Association

It may be aimed at post-grads and beyond, but The British Sociological Association is useful to the average A level student in five ways –

  1. The ‘what is Sociology’ section of the site is readily understandable – and of direct relevance to the ‘should sociology be a science’ debate
  2. The press releases section offers some nice summaries of recent research – (Interestingly for staff at the college who read this – one recent finding is that subcontractors on building sites maintain their contracts through offering kick backs to the company that runs the building project – which might help explain the poor build quality of just about everything that’s gone up since I arrived at the college 8 years ago. )
  3. The section on ‘what do Sociologists do’ might be useful to any student considering a degree in the subject – although I imagine such numbers will diminish following the Tory cuts.
  4. The ethics section – useful for research methods
  5. Finally, and a bit cynical this last point, reading around the site gives you an insight into how academics make quite simple sociological ideas sound more complex than they have to!


Ed Miliband – Influenced by Zygmunt Bauman?

Much to my delight I just stumbled across this article in the Guardian. Turns out that the new labour leader Ed Miliband is good friends with Bauman! I feel like I should have known this before somehow… Some good news on which to end the week!

All I’ve done below is cut and paste a few highlights – it’s late sorry!

Bauman and Milliband – the relationship

Bauman says he was “encouraged by Miliband’s first speech as leader to the Labour party conference, saying that it offered a chance to “resurrect” the left on a moral basis.

“Particularly promising for me was Ed’s vision of community. His sensitivity to the plight of the underdog, his awareness that the quality of society and the cohesion of community need to be measured not by totals and averages but by the wellbeing of the weakest sections,” says Bauman. “There seems to be a chance that under his leadership Labour will rediscover its own ground and recover its own feet.”

Bauman and the Milibands have history. Ed’s father, Ralph, and Bauman became close friends in the 1950s when both spent time at the London School of Economics (LSE). Both were leftwing sociologists of Polish-Jewish descent.

Ralph Miliband’s decision in 1972 to join the politics department at Leeds university, where Bauman taught sociology, that proved pivotal to their relationship. Bauman’s house in Leeds became a regular stop for the Miliband boys. Ed and David grew up watching the two academics discuss the future of the left.

A useful, very brief summary of Bauman’s basic world view –

Underlying his theory is the idea that systems make individuals, not the other way round. He says it does not matter whether one is dealing with Communism or consumerism, states want to control their public and reproduce their elites. But in place of totalitarian rule, western society looks to scare and entice by manufacturing public panics and seducing people with shopping. Bauman’s work today focuses on this transition to a nation of consumers, unconsciously disciplined to work endlessly. Those who do not conform, says Bauman, become labelled “human waste” and written off as flawed members of society.

And what is Sociology according to Bauman?

“The task for sociology is to come to the help of the individual. We have to be in service of freedom. It is something we have lost sight of,” he says.

While I’m on the Bauman theme – here a couple of good posts from the Global Sociology Blog on Bauman – one on the economic crisis – a nice short summary, and the other on ‘liquid fear’

Web site of the Week – RSA videos


I just wanted to flag up these RSA videos as an excellent way of introducing some very complex ideas – the ideas covered in these videos go beyond sociology – there are typically about theories that draw on many different academic disciplines, but for those of you that like thinking about sociology/ politics/ philosophy and want to push your understanding beyond the A level syllabus these are excellent. The link below is to many of the videos they’ve done and they’re also on youtube –

As to the The RSA web sit e it says  “For over 250 years the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) has been a cradle of enlightenment thinking and a force for social progress.  Our approach is multi-disciplinary, politically independent and combines cutting edge research and policy development with practical action.”

The RSA offer a number of pamphlets and a good events (mainly lectures) series that focus on a wide range of political issues – althogether very interesting stuff – OK this is way beyond A level stuff but this is a good example of how Sociology can be relevant to real life.

So here we have it – 300 years after the Enlightenment spawned Sociology – so the Enlightenment tradition continues – Note that all decent sociologists and all decent academics draw on material from many disciplines and this is something I would encourage you do do as you develope – BUT – when it comes to the exam, narrow you foucs and try not to be too clever – or you may fail! When you finish the exams you can get back to being properly clever again!

Ten left wing and feminist ideas from the A Level Sociology course

  • The Mainstream Media is not a ‘reflection of reality’ or a ‘window on the world’ – thin beautiful women are over-represented, as are the middle and capitalist classes – people on average are not as wealthy or beautiful as the media would have you believe.


  • Relative deprivation, social exclusion and poverty are rife in Modern Britain – 12 million live below the government’s poverty line.


  • Meritocracy is a myth – statistically, the lower your social class background, the lower your chances of becoming wealthy, getting a good job, being healthy into your old age, and generally being happy. Our society is not fair!


  • Very few people are famous, you probably never will be. Get used to it.


  • From the viewpoint of many Feminists Pornography is not a representation of ‘normal sexuality’! Pornography encourages men to view women as sex objects – and may even encourage violence against women – and this is something you might want to resist.


  • The wealthy and powerful put their own interests before the interests of the majority


  • Many of the Companies you buy products and services from are involved in exploitation and pollution


  • It is unlikely that Politicians and Corporations with power will ever give you sufficient information to make properly informed judgements about how to act – do not trust them


  • Almost a billion people in this world are malnourished while roughly the same number is obese – this is one of the reasons why some would argue that Capitalism isn’t working!


  • The material standard of living which we regard as normal is historically unusual and probably unsustainable – learning to live with less may be an appropriate life-goal.