Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Why Karl Marx would have loved Oasis

Sometimes we make odd connections between seemingly disparate things.

For reasons I can't quite remember I was recently trying to explain the overall traits of some social theorists to a student. It wasn't going well. Previously, I'd talked to this student about music, which had gone well.

Which is why I eventually started likening various social theorists to rock bands.

So with that in mind, and in honour of High Fidelity, here's my top 5 social theorists as bands.

1. Max Weber = The Beatles. Reason? Both were obsessed with the stories of individuals and religion in modern society. However, Weber was a better drummer than Ringo.

2. Michel Foucault = Radiohead. Reason? Both have a reputation for being difficult, dense and slippery. Furthermore, both make more sense when taken as a whole body of work.

3. Karl Marx = Oasis. Reason? Many liked the early stuff but eventually it all sounded chuggingly similar and hasn't aged well.

4. Emile Durkheim = The Velvet Underground. Reason? Both did something totally new, both wrote about suicide and both inspired a hundred copyists.

5. Anthony Giddens = The Rolling Stones. Reason? Both have been remarkably consistent and both began their careers by taking earlier classics and reinterpreting them.
Anthony Giddens didn't play at Madison Square Garden though despite what Wikipedia may say.

Friday, 11 April 2014

A new film about childhood

One of my heroes is a film maker called Mark Cousins, a softly spoken  Irishman who wears his extensive knowledge of film very lightly. His new film, about how childhood is depicted in cinema, has just been released. It's called A Story of Children and Film and I would urge, implore, beg or bribe any of you who are on a course which includes the study of children to go and see it.
I'm going to see it today with my elder son and I simply cannot wait.

The video below is the film's trailer.

If you want to see where the film is showing in London then take a look at the TimeOut website here.

I know it's a mad time of year, especially for final year students, but everything I've read and heard about A Story of Children and Film makes me feel like it'd be worth closing the books and unplugging the laptop for a few short hours and seeing it. You can also watch a review by my favourite film critic Mark Kermode, from here.

And if you decide to take me up on my recommendation please do let me know what you thought of it.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

You've got a new database to play with

It's called Scopus and it's definitely worth exploring.

I like it because you can do quite in depth analysis on how references are used, which references have been written by researchers/lecturers at University of Bedfordshire and lots more besides.

As a quick introduction I'd suggest you watch the video above. If you're in your final year then you may not be inclined to learn yet another new thing at this stage, but for those of you who haven't yet started dissertations it will be worth your while.

It isn't all full-text (when is it ever?), but that issue can often be overcome by combining Scopus searches with DISCOVER and other document supply options such as SCONUL. Also, it can put results into slightly prettier formats than DISCOVER, so for those of you who are visual learners it may suit your style.

If you'd like a Scopus training session then ask your lecturer to contact me and we'll work something out.

Or if you'd like to get on with it just go here and get started.

As a final point I should probably apologize for not showing this to my newest subscribers earlier today but after a 6 hour session I thought you'd had enough!

Monday, 7 April 2014

New programme on the sociologist Weber

Any long term reader of this blog will know that I consider Radio 4 to be one of the reasons to have hope for the human race. Pretty much every week I hear something there that will entertain, inform, provoke and infuriate.

Last week was no different as I heard a show discussing the work of Max Weber, a sociologist whose books, first published over 100 years ago, are to be found in our library and who many of you will have hopefully heard being talked about in class. He's still considered one of the theorists who you really should know about as a mainstay of sociological thought.

The show in question is called In Our Time, presented by Melvyn Bragg and broadcast on a Thursday. I tend to listen to the podcast, allowing me the flexibility to listen any time. One of the things I love about the show is that you always get a sense of the life of the theorists and not just their works (I would say that the two elements are often equally crucial in understanding someone's work), which broadens the person out somewhat.

You can find the Weber episode here and if you'd like a broader look at older episodes then go here for an explore - it's an amazing archive of shows.

You can of course reference podcasts so contact me if you need help with that bit.

Happy listening!

Friday, 4 April 2014

15,000 kids and counting

A three part TV series on child protection and adoption began this week on Channel 4.
I watched the first episode last night and as tough and upsetting as it was, I would recommend it. I don't always promote these things beforehand because they can sometimes be rather 'all surface no feeling' ( I know Benefits Street upset a few of you) but I thought this got the balance about right between personality and process.
That said, I am acutely aware that I'm writing this for people who've worked in this very sector so if any of you think it was an unfair depiction of the job then I'd love to hear from you.

If you've used the Channel 4 on demand (4OD) website before then you'll know how this works, but if you haven't you'll need to register once you reach the log in page. All things being equal, just follow this link and you should be able to see the episode from last night.

If you need help creating your 4OD account then I'll guide you through it.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

The long tail

The inspiration to share things with you can sometimes come from pretty unlikely places. This definitely comes under that category. I was listening to a programme recently about how powerful the i-tunes store is and the statistics that were being chucked around like cheap confetti made my head spin.
You ready? OK. There's 26,000,000 tracks on i-tunes. What percentage of those tracks do you think have been bought/downloaded 100 times or more? I'll tell you - just 6%. That means over 24,440,000 tracks have been bought less than 100 times. I found that 6% figure surprisingly low.

Now it gets weird.

Although I still love buying music that comes in a physical form (CD's and vinyl) I also love Spotify.
Guess how many of Spotify's 20,000,000 tracks have never been played?
It's 4,000,000.
That means 20% of all tracks on Spotify have NEVER been played. Not even by the singer's mum. Amazing.

Why am I telling you all this? Because the situation with e-music is not dissimilar to what happens with our e-books and e-journals. In online publishing this situation is known as 'the long tail'. Basically you get a few things which are used a lot (the head bit) and then a long, long tapering down to the things that are hardly used at all (the tail bit).

Here's the hopefully interesting bit; if you're an unknown author writing an e-book you need readers to be able to find it among the potentially thousands of other books. How you do that is tricky because if you write a book on 'Social Policy' and call it 'Social Policy' it's probably going to get buried. If, on the other hand, you go with a wacky title or (even riskier) a pun in the title then the student may never think of trying those words without prior knowledge.

So once again, it ultimately comes down to the words and how imaginative and specific you need to be. Those of you who are experienced in using Dawsonera (our e-books database) will know how beneficial and crucial these skills can be. If you're new to finding e-resources then don't be afraid to wander off the path and try some weirder keywords. After all, the interesting stuff is quite often found pushing at the edges of a subject. What's more, lecturers usually enjoy coming across a new reference for the first time in a similar way that many of us love hearing a new band on Spotify.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Do you have a favourite lecturer?

If so, have you ever wondered why it's that particular person who does it for you?

A couple of years ago whilst doing a qualification I had to write a reflective assignment on who my educational 'hero' was. I picked a psychology lecturer I had had during my undergraduate degree called Bianca Raabe. She stomped into a lecture theatre at the beginning of my second year, waving a book on social constructionism and proceeded to deliver a 50 minute diatribe on why mainstream psychology was flawed (at best), corrupt (at worst) or incompetent (at somewhere in the middle).

I was in love within 27 minutes.

What my reflective assignment made me do was reconsider whether it was Bianca's delivery which I liked (challenging, combative, committed) or the lecture topic itself (confusing, new, divisive).

Or is it the case that sometimes the topic chooses the lecturer? By which I mean is there such a thing as a typical social work lecturer, a typical social psychology lecturer or a typical academic librarian?

You tell me.

What I do know is that my favourite student groups are typically, questioning, enthusiastic, honest, truculent and entertaining.

So if you ever find yourself mid-lecture thinking 'I really like this woman telling me stuff' ask yourself if it's really the singer you like, or the song they're singing?