Over four decades or so I have dipped my toes into many research pools, covering topics in chronic and disabling illness, stigma, sex work, health inequalities, and sport. I have an enduring interest in philosophy and in social and critical theory, and one recurring theme in my work has been a focus on the social structuring of human agency. A précis of my ongoing interests might look something like this:
Critical theory and its applications
I have written fairly regularly on optimum ways of grounding a reflexive and critical sociology in the face of contemporary challenges and change. This incorporatesa consideration of the linkages between such a sociology and the concepts of civil society and the public sphere of the lifeworld. Central to this programme of theoretical research is the work of Jurgen Habermas. A number of talks, seminars and publications since the late 1980s have addressed themes in this area.
Critical realism and its applications
I am also interested in the writings of philosopher Roy Bhaskar, in particular his defence of ontology against any number of usurping epistemologists. I was a member of an early ESRC-funded seminar series on ‘Making Realism Work’ in 1999-2001 and have continued with various collaborations (including some with Bhaskar, currently based at the Institute of Education). Work since the late 1990s has focused primarily on interdisciplinary approaches to chronic and disabling illnesses and health inequalities.
My earliest substantive study was on the stigma of epilepsy, giving rise to the distinction between ‘felt’ and ‘enacted’ stigma and a number of invitations to give plenary lectures. This interest has not waned and after a lull following my Ph.D submission I have re-fully engaged with the literature over the last decade. I have had a number of recent inputs into ‘rethinking stigma’ and into its pertinence to domains outside of health, such as sex work.
Critical theory initially, and critical realism of late, have underpinned by excursions into the sociology health inequalities. Frustrated by sociology’s colonisation by socio-epidemiology, I have emphasised the salience of social structures, especially class, en route to an embryonic neo-Marxist sociology of health inequalities. This has issued in a number of publications post-2000 and has got up the noses of some colleagues.
Contextualising sex work
After an early research contribution on sex work and HIV/AIDS, I became interested in sex work stigma. This has led to further talks, papers and publications on how sociologists might best understand and explain the sex industry. As a member of an active international research network, I have become involved too in sex worker rights and in putting forward evidence-bases for legislation here and elsewhere.
Sociology of sport
I am writing my second book on sport: these have been somewhat clandestine commitments given that I am seen as/meant to be a medical sociologist. But my theoretical interest in very much in accord with my writings on health however. An unaligned and non-sectarian amateur in a divided sub-discipline, I feel free to venture my own conjectures on sociology and sport. These include, after Norbert Elias, the notion of a ‘de-civilising spurt’, and more.
A new endeavour started with a ‘Scambler family blog’ on the ‘Cost of Living’ website. This introduced a fifth type of sociology to compliment Burawoy’s celebrated paper identifying four basic types. Does sociology stop and shrug its shoulders when evidence-based policy is trumped by policy-based evidence (as in the field of health inequalities)? My interest in the concept of action sociology is part and parcel of a focus on resistance and activism in the era of financial capitalism.
If these categories catch something of my interests, others elude them. I am collaborating with colleagues in Norway, for example, in studies of the prestige associated with particular diseases, and of ‘café society’ (the title of a forthcoming book). But there is enough here for now.