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A Good Straight Road

Reflections on the Development of Pre-university Anthropology in the U.K.

Bob Simpson

The articles assembled in this collection provide a timely focus upon a critical issue for the reproduction of anthropology as an institutionalized form of knowledge in the U.K. and more widely. Simply stated, the problem they identify is as follows: anthropology is a relatively small discipline with low visibility beyond the sites in the academy where it is taught and where research is carried out; there are currently significant threats to the future of anthropology as practised within British higher education and in other countries too (e.g. in terms of its funding, sustainability, perceptions of relevance, the current nature of evaluation and audit); one of the main areas of vulnerability, in this regard, is the recruitment of new generations of students into the discipline, which is variable and volatile across the sector; and, finally, a significant factor here is the virtual absence of anthropology in curricula at pre-university level, particularly in the U.K. In addition, the papers show a strong conviction that anthropology has something valuable and engaging to off er at this level and into employment possibilities beyond.

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Ref 2014 and Impact

Reading the Runes for Anthropology in Action

Bob Simpson

On 18 December 2014, the results of the U.K.’s Research Excellence Framework (REF) evaluation exercise were released. This extensive and very costly exercise is intended to take the pulse of U.K. university-based research and now happens once every six years or so. It is also the principal tool used to determine the allocation of approximately £1.6 billion of quality-related (QR) research funding which maintains the fabric of research activity in U.K. HE institutions. Given the fiscal consequences of REF performance it is not surprising that that universities expended considerable time and effort preparing their submissions in the run-up to the exercise and that the results were pored over by academics and their managers across the country. This was a very complex set of runes to read.

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Bob Simpson

What are the civic responsibilities of universities in a democratic society? Since the emergence of the modern university system in the nineteenth century, financial support and a degree of academic freedom have been bestowed on universities but what should society expect back from these places of specialised and, often, elite learning? These are perennial questions, yet answers have been very different under different political and economic circumstances. Originally, the emphasis was on the production of knowledge in settings that were ‘antifunctionalist as well as antiutilitarian’ (Sahlins 2009: 1000); subsequently the wider knowledgeability of students was incorporated as the way the debt to society would be repaid (Nowotny, Scott and Gibbons 2001: 80). In recent years, the making of citizens or, rather, the making of better citizens has come to the fore as an essential output in exchange for society’s input. As part of their ‘service’ to society at large, universities will, amongst other things, produce people who will take their place as members of society with a strong sense of rights that will be asserted and responsibilities that will be exercised.

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Bob Simpson and Robin Humphrey

In the training of doctoral researchers in the use of qualitative research methods, considerable effort goes into preparation for fieldwork and the collection of data. Rather less attention, however, goes into what happens when they have collected their data and begin to make sense of it. In particular, relatively little attention has been paid to the ways in which doctoral researchers might be supported as they begin to write using qualitative data. In this article we report on an inter-disciplinary project that set out to develop research training for qualitative researchers who had completed their fieldwork and were about to embark on writing their theses. An important issue in the delivery of this training was the question of boundaries - disciplinary, academic, technological and personal - and how these might be productively negotiated in the quest for good social science writing.