Social Science Bites

For years, social scientists who studied religion tended to see it as the study of something fated to decline and therefore the key, and almost only, question in their hymnbook was, "Do you still go to church?" But as societies modernise, religion has not gone away. It has, however, changed, mutating into something more institutional than spiritual for some, more fundamental for others, and generally more complex for all.

Enter Linda Woodhead, a sociologist of religion at Lancaster University. The author of such books as 2013's Everyday Lived Islam in Europe, Religion and Change in Modern Britain and The Spiritual Revolution, she looks at how religion is lived in current societies, and how the new forms interact and contest with the traditional ones amid the context of broader social conditions.

Take the case of Britain (and the narrower story of the "spiritual laboratory" of the town of Kendal): "The historic religions like the Roman Catholic Church or the Church of England – which is still the established state church – have been in very rapid decline in terms of attendance, in terms of the number of people who call themselves Catholic or Anglican – all those things are declining," Woodhead tells Nigel Warburton. "And yet, that’s not the only picture. So in some ways, they remain very central in life. For example, they run schools, and there’s a huge demand for faith schools."

Looking just at Kendal, she continued, "we looked at how the churches were declining, but we found to our astonishment, even in 2000, this huge proliferation of alternative forms of spirituality: of mind, body, spirit care. We found 126 different practitioners in this one small town. And, since then, those sorts of things have continued to grow, and, of course, we’ve become more multi-faith."

Between 2007 and 2012, Woodhead directed the AHRC/ESRC Religion and Society Programme, a £12m research investment which embraces 75 separate projects.

Direct download: Linda_Woodhead_on_the_New_Sociology_of_Religion.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 1:00am PDT

Psephology, a word both charming and antiquated, is the study of elections. Ivor Crewe, also charming but not so antiquated, is a studier of elections. The current president of Britain's Academy of Social sciences and the master of Oxford's University College, Crewe has long been a respected voice on politics in the UK, US and elsewhere, as evidenced by the acclaim his recent book with Anthony King, <a href="http://www.socialsciencespace.com/2014/03/king-and-crewes-book-of-blunders-a-paddy-prize-winner/" target="_blank"><em>The Blunders of Our Governments</em></a>, has received.

Here, in conversation with our Nigel Warburton, Crewe marshals that scholarship to divine some salient facts about predicting elections -- an exposition that comes post-Scotland's IndyRef and pre-US midterms. He argues that while current polling attempts to pick a winner, current polling studies is looking for the reason for the result. "The main reason," he explains, "for studying voting patterns – voting behaviour – is to provide a much more accurate account of why elections turned out in the way that they did: why did one party win rather than another?"

Crewe formerly served as vice chancellor of the University of Essex from 1995 to 2007; the Crewe Lecture Hall at Essex is named for him and he was the founding director of its Institute of Social and Economic Research. He also edited or co-edited the <em>British Journal of Political Science</em> for more than 15 years.

Direct download: Ivor_Crewe_on_Psephology.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:45am PDT

Around the world, populations are growing older. But is that because people are living longer? Or could it be that there are fewer younger people to dilute the demographic pool? And what about aging itself -- when exactly is 'old' these days?

Sarah Harper, an Oxford University professor of gerontology and director of the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing, grapples with these sorts of questions every day, asking how these changes will affect relationships, labor, migration, and even the environment. And while she presents the questions as challenges, she's not arguing these challenges need end in tears.

"In the last 25 years," she notes in this podcast, "this debate has moved around from the problem of an aging society to the challenge of the society of an aging society. And now people talk about the opportunity."

Harper started her career as a news reporter for the BBC before training at the University of Chicago's center of Demography and Economics. Her postdoc career took her to China and the Pacific Rim, and she was the first holder of the International Chair in Old Age Financial Security established at the University of Malaya in 2009. She also is involved with a number of demographic and aging-related projects, such as being co-principal investigator for the Oxford Global Ageing Study and leading The Clore Population-Environment Interactions Programme.

Direct download: Sarah_Harper_on_the_Population_Challenge_for_the_21st_Century.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:24am PDT

With the arrival of the quadrennial World Cup, the whole world turns to football fandom. And that alone, independent of what actually happens on the pitch, is exciting to David Goldblatt, the soccer sociologist. “The point is that absolutely no other human behavior can gather these kinds of crowds,” he tells David Edmonds of Social Science Bites. “And if you're a sociologist and you're interested in the origins and consequences of collective action, you really can't beat that.”

In this podcast, Goldblatt—who has taught the sociology of sport at the University of Bristol but who’s best known as a broadcaster and sportswriter who penned the definitive volume on football, 2006’s <i>The Ball is Round: A Global History of Football</i> -- outlines why he thinks cocking an academic eye at the beautiful game is important.

Direct download: David_Goldblatt_on_the_Sociology_of_Football.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:30am PDT

Remember the amazing, spoon-bending Uri Geller? Bruce Hood does. And while Geller is, well, to be kind, controversial, Hood is a quite recognized and reputable developmental psychologist at Bristol University. But he does share one trait with the self-described mystic who fascinated him as a boy -- an interest in the supernatural and how individuals process the potentially paranormal. Rather than collect ectoplasm, Hood focuses on why human beings, starting as children, offer supernatural explanations for natural occurrences.

In this episode of the Social Science Bites podcast Hood discusses the subject via his study of essentialism, "the attribution of a hidden dimension to things giving them their true identity." By the broader definition, it not only includes mystical feats like Geller's but includes attaching sentimental value to an object, being superstitious, or even being religious.

Social Science Bites is made in association with SAGE.

Direct download: Bruce_Hood_on_the_Supernatural.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 1:00am PDT

Here's an idea: social scientists should reflect critically on the prevailing concepts and categories before launching into empirical work with an existing framework. In this episode of the Social Science Bites podcast, sociologist Saskia Sassen discusses that concept, called 'before method,' with Nigel Warburton. Social Science Bites is made in association with SAGE. A transcript of this and other episodes is available from Social Science Space

Direct download: Saskia_Sassen_on_Before_Method.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00pm PDT

Surnames predict social status with surprising accuracy. In this episode of the Social Science Bites podcast Gregory Clark discusses this phenomenon with David Edmonds. Social Science Bites is made in association with SAGE. A transcript of this and other episodes is available from Social Science Space

Direct download: Gregory_Clark_on_Names.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:55am PDT

Social scientist Craig Calhoun, Director of the LSE, discusses protest movements including the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in this episode of the Social Science Bites podcast. The interviewer is Nigel Warburton. Social Science Bites is made in association with SAGE.

Direct download: Craig_Calhoun_on_Protest_Movements.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:01am PDT

In this episode of the Social Science Bites podcast Harvard social theorist Roberto Mangabeira Unger claims that the social sciences need to reorient themselves away from retrospective rationalisation of what exists and focus instead on transformative opportunity. Social Science Bites is made in association with SAGE.

Direct download: Roberto_Unger_on_Whats_Wrong_with_the_Social_Sciences_Today.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:57am PDT

There have been substantial gains in life expectancy in the last two hundred years or so, partly because of improved public health policy. In this episode of the Social Science Bites podcast Angus Deaton, whose recent research has focussed on India, discusses  the relationship between health and economic inequality, and the most effective ways to alleviate the effects of poverty. He also discusses how his research sits within the Social Sciences. Social Science Bites is made in association with SAGE.

Direct download: Angus_Deaton_on_Health_and_Inequality.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:50am PDT