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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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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.

Open access

Haptic Mediations

Intergenerational Kinship in the Time of COVID-19

Bob Simpson

Abstract

During the COVID-19 crisis, living in lockdown and observing social distancing rules have become an integral part of everyday life. In this article, I offer some auto-ethnographic reflections on the increased use of ICTs within families and particularly across generations. Using vignettes relating to communication with my one-year-old granddaughter and my 92-year-old mother, I consider what it means to have the haptic dimensions of kinship relations stripped out and replaced by technologically mediated connection. By way of conclusion, I consider the relationship between the ‘magic’ of ICTs in interpersonal communication on the one hand and Marshall Sahlins’ notion of mutuality on the other.

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Citizenship, craft and the making of Mode Two citizens?

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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Writing Across Boundaries: reflections on the place of writing in doctoral research training for social scientists

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.

Open access

Part 1: Tribal Peoples, History and Ethnology

Bob Simpson, Dalir Barkhoda, and Judith Okely

Abstract

Three authors reflect on their conversations and interactions with Sue with particular reference to her fieldwork in south-west Iran in the mid-1970s and how that influenced her subsequent research on community development, organisations and social change.

Open access

Experiences of first-generation scholars at a highly selective UK university

Caitlin Hindle, Vikki Boliver, Ann Maclarnon, Cheryl McEwan, Bob Simpson, and Hannah Brown

Abstract

Targets set by the UK Office for Students require highly academically selective UK universities to enrol a greater percentage of students identified as least likely to participate in higher education. Such students are typically at a disadvantage in terms of levels of academic preparedness and economic, cultural and social capital. Drawing on eighteen interviews with first-generation students at Durham University, we identify five sites of pressure: developing a sense of belonging within the terms of an elite university culture, engagement in student social activities, financial worries, concerns about academic progress, and self-transformation. Based on these insights, we argue that support for first-generation scholars will require that universities recognise and redress elitist cultures that discourage applications from prospective first-generation scholars and prevent those who do enrol from having the best educational and all-round experience.

Open access

Data management in anthropology

The next phase in ethics governance?

Peter Pels, Igor Boog, J. Henrike Florusbosch, Zane Kripe, Tessa Minter, Metje Postma, Margaret Sleeboom‐Faulkner, Bob Simpson, Hansjörg Dilger, Michael Schönhuth, Anita Poser, Rosa Cordillera A. Castillo, Rena Lederman, and Heather Richards‐Rissetto

Recent demands for accountability in ‘data management’ by funding agencies, universities, international journals and other academic institutions have worried many anthropologists and ethnographers. While their demands for transparency and integrity in opening up data for scrutiny seem to enhance scientific integrity, such principles do not always consider the way the social relationships of research are properly maintained. As a springboard, the present Forum, triggered by such recent demands to account for the use of ‘data’, discusses the present state of anthropological research and academic ethics/integrity in a broader perspective. It specifically gives voice to our disciplinary concerns and leads to a principled statement that clarifies a particularly ethnographic position. This position is then discussed by several commentators who treat its viability and necessity against the background of wider developments in anthropology – sustaining the original insight that in ethnography, research materials have been co‐produced before they become commoditised into ‘data’. Finally, in moving beyond such a position, the Forum broadens the issue to the point where other methodologies and forms of ownership of research materials will also need consideration.