Thursday, 2 November 2017

Future Sociology – PhD at York (2)


Daniel Robins on Necro-Waste
I am just approaching the end of my first year as a Sociology PhD student here at York. I have two fantastic supervisors: Ruth Penfold-Mounce and David Beer, whom I have been working closely with to develop my project on necro-waste. I did not start with the concept; it just found me about two months in. It affirmed to me that a PhD is always in progress, always amenable to change.
My research focuses on this idea of necro-waste, which is essentially the analogy of corpse parts as waste. By drawing on theories of value, I am exploring the value attached to and generated out of necro-waste as it passes through the UK Death Industry. It’s highlighted at three stages.  The first of these is the gatekeeping stage. This is where the necro-waste is prepared for disposal by the funeral director. Two methods of disposal are then explored; disposal through cremation and disposal through natural burial. This is because these produce two different types of waste; dry waste and wet waste. Each of these offers the opportunity for the necro-waste to be commemorated. As such, the third stage focuses on the artists that reuse cremated remains in these commemorative rituals. This stage also explores what becomes of the natural burial ground.
In the background, I have also been writing through some ideas. I recently published a piece for Discover Society, where I conceptualise Ian Brady’s remains as akin to radioactive waste, otherwise known as ‘toxic necro-waste’. The SATSU department here at York also provides PhD students with a lot of opportunities. I was able to extend these thoughts and write them on the SATSU Threshold blog. Each of these encouraged me to write an article on the Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective, where I discuss toxic necro-waste further. I understand it as a concept that can be used to further extend the study of necro-waste.
Writing these has helped me as a PhD student in a couple of ways. First, as the PhD is always in progress, it’s helped me to develop some of the ideas in my thesis. Second, it’s provided content, along with my research, to discuss at conferences through both talks and networking with fellow death researchers. Last, it's helped build my confidence as an academic and develop my writing.
I am trying to treat my PhD as an apprenticeship and am actively seeking as many opportunities as I can. I am on the board of studies, and am working with other Sociology PhD students to develop this year’s York Sociology Postgraduate Conference on ‘embodiment’. I also teach two seminar classes on the first year undergraduate module ‘Introducing Social Psychology’, which I really enjoy. So, it’s been a busy, but excellent year.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Future Sociology – PhD at York (1)

Bethany Robertson on Women in Farming


As a farmer's daughter I've always been interested in the position of women in agriculture which led to understanding the gender identities of women farming in Norfolk for my undergraduate dissertation. For my PhD studies, I'm widening the scope beyond Norfolk by making comparison to the Yorkshire region. Hopefully, this will help understand the experiences of women working in a variety of agricultural contexts including arable and livestock based. Growing up on a farm inspired me to pursue this research and offers a means of contributing to rural communities other than by working on my family’s farm.

My PhD research considers the diverse experiences of women in farming beyond the assumption of a ‘farmer’s wife’ by speaking to women who farm and are from a variety of backgrounds, ages and farm types. We tend to think of farmers under the rubric of the 'family farm' but I will learn about the experiences from new entrants or those who have entered the sector as a career change too. I hope to build up a picture of women’s involvement in farming land and livestock which challenges the stereotypical view and considers how the identity of farmers has changed. The rationale for my PhD research is summed up in a piece I wrote for The Conversation recently.

I’m in the second year of my PhD, and working on the most exciting but scary part of the process: fieldwork. In my case, this means literally getting out into the fields as I travel across Norfolk and Yorkshire to interview women who farm. It’s one of my favourite parts of sociological research; going out to listen to people’s stories. It’s especially important in terms of my PhD topic as part of my motivation is to make the social issues affecting rural communities heard in a university culture that seems to prioritise ‘the urban’.

On the days when I want a break from my PhD, I get involved with some of the other activities going on in the department to develop my related interest of human-animal relations. For example, I’ve recently spoken at Thresholds symposium and will be leading a reading group session about pet death soon. I’m also a seminar tutor for first year students which is not only a great experience in learning the mechanics of university teaching, but immerses me in areas of sociology which aren’t part of my PhD.


You can read more about my interests from the sociological snippets on my blog: http://snippetsofasmilingsociologist.blogspot.co.uk/