A Sociological Autobiography: 71 – From Books to Papers

By | February 2, 2018

In an earlier autobiograhical posting I offered a ‘ledger’ for the 1990s, giving a tally of a very varied list of publications. 2006 was to prove a turning point in a number of ways. The threat to my job, expedient and unwarranted though it was in my view, now as well as then, had the effect of altering my behaviour (I guess there are those who would judge the threat to have been worthwhile therefore, but I have no words of solace for them).

Ever since the start of my academic career in 1972 I had privileged the writing of books and even chapters over articles, for no particular reason that I can put my finger on. I had no qualms about introducing pristine data (yes, I once did data) or ideas in this way: the concepts of ‘felt’ and ‘enacted stigma’ actually made their first appearance my stigma/deviance chapter in the inaugural edition of Sociology as Applied to Medicine, which I edited with Donald Patrick in 1982. The ledger from the 1990s betrays a relative paucity of journal articles. That didn’t bother me in the least: I had said roughly what I wanted to say and was not overly fussed about where I said it. What the statistics suggest is that I shifted my focus.

I have not commented on the 1980s in this episodic sociological autobiography, so for the sake of completeness here goes. I published one authored book; 4 edited books; 14 chapters; and 7 peer-reviewed journal papers. So, 26 items.

Well at least I’ve progressed (quantitatively). In the 1990s I accumulated one authored book; 4 edited books; 23 chapters; and 18 peer-reviewed journal papers. So a heterogeneous assembly and a grand total of 46. How do the ‘noughties’ compare? Well these are the figures: 2 authored books; 7 edited books; 26 chapters; and 21 peer-reviewed journal papers. This adds up to 56. Most interestingly, only 7 of the 21 papers were published between 2000 and 2005, while 14 were published between 2006 and 2009, marking the years I came under pressure to perform in more demonstrable and institutionally acceptable ways.

I will comment only briefly on the books and chapters before appraising the papers. I published two sole-authored books: Health and Social Change, in 2002, and Sport and Society, in 2005, both of which have been mentioned in previous fragments. The former represented a kind of summing up of where I was at, and the latter was a novel, unexpected and enjoyable excursion into alien territory. Both were, I think, clearly and concisely written, though some would probably add ‘a bit of a slog’. An edited collection on Habermas, Critical Theory and Health was published in 2001 and was, I think, a fruitful way of introducing Habermas and critical theory to a wider audience. The four volumes edited under the general title of Medical Sociology, gathered together and rendered more accessible ‘key’ texts for global scholarship. There were two further editions of the textbook Sociology as Applied to Medicine (in 2003 and 2008). Of the chapters I have even less to say. I wrote about many things, perhaps most interestingly (from my point of view), critical realism, class as a generative mechanism, civil society, HIV/AIDS (see the last blog) and postmodern death.

Was the increased quota of noughties’ papers worthwhile? It would be easy here to focus on the journals I published in – Sociology, Sociology of Health and Illness, Social Science and Medicine, Health, Social Theory and Health, for example, all respectable – but that would be to ‘play the game’, to cosy up to the crazy management world of competitive metrics, and to compromise sociology. The question that matters is: ‘did I say anything worthwhile?’ I don’t think there are any dud papers. I pursued my own agendas on critical realism and class-generated health inequalities and was second author on studies with both Masters and Ph.D students. There are two areas, however, where I feel progress was made: the sociologies of (a) stigma, and (b) sex work. In one paper in particular – published in Social Theory and Health in 2004 – I signaled a personal lesson learned. I addressed the compelling critique of medical sociology’s longstanding orientation to ‘disability as deviance’, and reflected on the work of disability theorists and, importantly, activists, who rightly insisted on stressing the significance of ‘oppression’. It was the beginnings of a rethink and a move towards what might be called a political economy of stigma. Two papers on sex work, the one on ‘migrant sex workers’ journeying to London on short-term fund-raising trips, and the other on stigma (shame) and deviance (blame) as barriers to effective health care interventions, edged discussions forward.

Setting aside any superficial career considerations, how to assess the discernible late-noughties shift to writing articles? It bears repeating that I found writing for journals considerably easier than writing books, if not chapters: at its simplest, it was quicker. So upping my quota of peer-reviewed articles did not demand a greater time commitment than I was used to. And I guess different outlets serve different objectives. Books promise comprehensive, summative overviews, while chapters and papers more often dip toes in the water (if more determinately than blogs, which allow one merely to think aloud). The shift caused me a degree of ambivalence however: you grow accustomed – become habitualized – to doing things a certain way. I continued beyond 2006, and continue beyond the noughties, to negotiate a take-it-as-it-comes mix of outlets, though writing books has become a very different proposition over time; but that’s the subject of a future blog!

What the bizarre, unanticipated year of 2006 did was prompt – no provoke – a novel set of publishing priorities. I responded ‘appropriately’, with some learning and without undue suffering. That’s how it goes. What stayed constant was my commitment to tell it as I saw it, novel, novella or short story; and in that respect I was to remain a fortunate babyboomer. I could get away with continuity amidst the chaotic threat of discontinuity around me.

A final and more engaging query to self: does writing articles affect, positively or negatively, how one says what? I have said previously that I once flirted with a jigsaw model for sociology. To rehearse this again, it comprised three processes: (a) a best guess at the final picture of the jigsaw (ie society and/or social change); (b) substantive research (or maybe meta-reflection) on a particular phenomenon (eg a health care system), which constitutes one/another piece of the jigsaw; and (c) a dialectic to-ing and fro-ing between the big picture and pieces of the jigsaw, each informing the other in what is a cumulative project.

I have a sense that while books lend themselves to (a), articles encourage a separating out of a few more pieces of the jigsaw, in other words to (b). This division of labour may be neither clear nor consistent, and often hasn’t been either in my case; but there is surely something in it. At least that’s my hypothesis!



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