I’m a semi-retired academic. I was born in the west London suburb of Hounslow, and after doing a London University external degree at Cambridge Tech spent 21 years studying and teaching at Sussex University. Subsequently I moved to Lancaster University and the wonderful North of England, where I’ve been since 1993.
Not a very varied career, I know, but the best thing about being an academic is that you are constantly thinking and learning about new things and developing new ideas, so there’s no excuse for getting in a rut.
I’m a social scientist with primary interests in inequality, power and moral economy, and also what philosophy can tell us about those things. I also have secondary academic interests in ethics in everyday life, the interplay of emotions and reasons, dignity, and how people are valued by others. More recently I’ve become interested in climate change. In different ways, all these things are relevant to understanding what supports and what limits our well-being – defining that very broadly. I increasingly believe that social scientists have a responsibility to the public that funds them to do more on issues that directly or indirectly help us deal with issues of well-being.
You might be wondering what discipline I belong to. The answer is none. I believe that splitting social science into separate, competing disciplines, each of them trying to expand its empire while retaining its disciplinary blinkers, has been a failure, limiting social scientists’ ability to offer useful knowledge for life and for improving society. If you want a good answer to a question about, say, economics, the chances are you’ll need to take account of things that researchers in sociology, anthropology, politics, philosophy, human geography, history and psychology have dealt with. The same goes for answering these other disciplines’ questions. Look back at the founders of the social sciences in the 18th and early to mid 19th century, and you’ll see that they ranged freely across this now-balkanized territory: they were pre-disciplinary. And that’s one of the reasons why people like Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx and many others from that era have made such a mark on our thinking. This is why I have been an advocate of ‘post-disciplinary’ social science for most of my career.[i]
I have Sussex University’s former goal of ‘redrawing the map of learning’ to thank for this realisation.[ii] Although I now work in a sociology department at Lancaster University I joined it because many of my colleagues are similarly relaxed about ignoring disciplinary boundaries, and their work has clearly benefitted from this freedom; they don’t seem to mind my undisciplined wanderings, and they gave me the title Professor of Social Theory and Political Economy in acknowledgement of this. My work website is here.
Outside work, I love being with friends, walking, cycling and making music, and I have nerdy amateur interests in geology, birds of prey, and neuroscience. Politically, I’m a red-green but the only political party I’ve ever belonged to was the Labour Party for a couple of years during the Miners’ Strike in the 1980s. That’s not counting decades of membership of what Owen Jones calls ‘the yelling-at-the-TV party’, possibly the largest political party in Britain.
[i] Since summer 1978, in fact. For the full argument in defence of this position, see my article on ‘For postdisciplinary studies: Sociology and the Curse of Disciplinary Parochialism/Imperialism’, in Eldridge, J., MacInnes, J., Scott, S., Warhurst, C., and Witz, A., (2000) (eds) Sociology: Legacies and Prospects, Durham: Sociologypress, pp.85-97