Public sociology profiles
Lancaster Sociology has an international reputation for ‘public sociology’ – a sociology that transcends the boundaries of the academy in order to engage with wider audiences and to defend and enhance notions of public interest.
Lancaster’s distinctive version of public sociology is one which responds to changing times, using theoretically-informed research in order to generate novel formulations of existing problems, draw attention to new issues that should be of public concern, and to give voice to under-represented voices and perspectives.
Our research achieves public relevance in two main ways:
- We work with users, stakeholders and clients in order to address well-recognised problems in areas such as drug policy, telecare provision, domestic violence, food standards, biodiversity protection or child safety. In this kind of work we provide evidence, evaluate service provision, and provide recommendations which help to shape public policy.
- We draw on research-driven insights to articulate new and emerging issues, and use novel collaborative processes to work with groups and individuals from business, the public sector and civil society to develop new ways of doing things in areas such as water quality, climate change, child protection, and biodiversity.
We have contributed to commissioned reports for organisations including the Higher Education Academy; Department for Culture, Media and Sport; Equality and Human Rights Commission; and European Parliament.
Below are some projects which illustrate the kinds of public sociology undertaken in the Department:
Energy demand and social practices
For over a decade, Elizabeth Shove’s research has challenged the prevailing emphasis on individual attitudes and behaviours and shown that the consumption of energy, water and other natural resources is an outcome of shared social practices. Through innovative forms of interaction and collaboration Shove has inspired organisations such as WWF, the Environment Agency, DECC, DCLG, DEFRA, the Scottish Government and the International Energy Agency to take social practices seriously as topics of policy, planning and intervention. In 2013 this work resulted in the creation of DEMAND: Dynamics of Energy, Mobility and Demand, a research centre funded by the ESRC/EPSRC with support from ECLEER (EDF R&D), Transport for London and the International Energy Agency.
Members of the Child Welfare Research Unit (CWRU) work in close collaboration with practice partners (local authorities, third sector and private sector agencies), service user groups, academics at UK and overseas Universities and the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) to advance the safeguarding of children. Tackling both established and emergent risks, the impact of a responsive research agenda is indicated in influence on national and international policy debate, the adoption of accessible research digests and practical tools in both national and international contexts, measurable policy change with direct benefits to the organisation of frontline services, and the uptake of innovative software applications by children for use in digital environments.
'Understanding and Acting within Loweswater: A Community Approach to Catchment Management' was a three year interdisciplinary research project (2007-2010), funded by the Rural Economy and Land Use Programme (RELU), which developed a novel, collaborative approach to solving the problem of water pollution in one of the Lake District lakes. The Loweswater Care Project (LCP) was formed as part of this project, and still exists as a community-run group. Drawing on the Department’s expertise in the sociology of science, LCP was created as a new institutional mechanism that could enable local people, farmers, scientists, researchers, institutional representatives and others to come and work together as equals on the complex challenges posed by blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) present in Loweswater.
The work of Maggie Mort and Celia Roberts has focused on the social implications of ‘telecare’: remote care technologies worn, installed or embedded in the homes of older citizens. They have addressed an ethical and democratic deficit in this field which has arisen due to a proliferation in research and development of advanced care technologies that has not been accompanied by sufficient consideration of their social context. Their work on projects such as EFORTT, which has emphasised the need to make a stronger connection with users, and to meet meeting users’ specific needs rather than providing a generic service, has led to a shift towards more ethical, socially-aware approach to the provision of remote care services internationally.
The ‘Social Life’ of Health Data
What happens when health data moves outside the clinic and the academic lab into domestic, online and commercial milieus? Such movements are becoming increasingly prevalent through new technologies and health services, and yet they raise a number of important questions
CUIDAR: Cultures of Disaster Resilience among Children and Young People
Disasters and emergencies each comprise unique and troubling entanglements of nature and culture, where climate change or social vulnerability greatly exacerbate how ‘natural’ hazard events are experienced. Cultural sensitivity is essential to effective disaster management and risk reduction, yet disaster plans still largely view those affected as victims and as a homogenous group. Unfortunately, (with a few exceptions), children and young people are virtually invisible as citizens in national and international emergency planning processes for disasters such as extreme weather/flooding/wildfires/earthquakes and other human influenced environmental crises. Funded by EC Horizon 2020, CUIDAR’s participatory approach will work with children across Europe to build emergency plans which are sensitive to the needs and capacities of young people.
Children, Young People and Flooding: recovery and resilience
Research with children and young people in the context of disasters began with the Hull Children's Flood Project following the devastating 2007 floods and continues with the current research which is a collaboration between Lancaster University and Save the Children. We are researching children and young people’s experiences of the UK winter 2013/14 floods, using creative arts methods, firstly to understand children’s perspectives and then how to communicate their ideas to policy makers. Funded through the ESRC Urgency Scheme, it is led by Professor Maggie Mort with co-investigators Dr Amanda Bingley, Dr Marion Walker, Dr Alison Lloyd Williams from Lancaster University and Virginia Howells of Save the Children UK in the first joint project between Lancaster researchers and this major charity.