Book Chapter Published – Intimacies, Critical Consumption and Diverse Economies

book consumption

Edited by Emma Casey (Senior Lecturer Sociology at Kingston) and Yvette Taylor (Professor at Strathclyde), Intimacies, Critical Consumption and Diverse Economies explores the importance of consumption in shaping the intimacies of everyday life. With contributions from ten academics spanning sociology, anthropology and human geography, this volume develops debates surrounding the emotional and material labour involved in producing domestic and intimate spaces. It builds on previous volumes focused on everyday and gendered consumption including Jackson and Moore’s (1995) The Politics of Domestic Consumption and Casey and Martens’ (2007) Gender and Consumption – both key texts adopted during my PhD.

The edited book came about after a BSA Families and Relationships Study Day in early 2013, convened by the editors. It represented a key point in acknowledging the role of material culture in providing a sociological understanding of everyday life, at a particular point in time following worldwide economic austerity. I presented some findings from my PhD research at the event which led to an invited chapter in the resulting volume. The book was published at the end of 2015 and a launch event held at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow on 29th January 2016. It was the weekend of storm Gertrude which made it rather more eventful!

The volume is in three parts:

Expanding the Field: Conceptualising Intimate Consumption
‘Sticky’ and Shifting Sites of Intimate Consumption
The Intimate Social Life of Commodities

Individual contributions include Julie Seymour’s look at the use of space and practices of display in commercial family homes (i.e. family run pubs and hotels), Sarah Wilson’s account of the significance of material objects in constructing a sense of belonging for young people in care and Rachel Hurdley’s investigation of making home in the workplace.

My own chapter considers the practices appropriated by middle-class mothers in negotiating the perceived risks inherent in consuming second-hand baby clothes, toys and equipment. Here is the full abstract:

Focusing on the mother as consumer as well as carer, this chapter considers mothers’ co-consuming practices related to used/second-hand baby goods purchased at nearly new sales. Citing second-hand consumption as an intimate and risky practice, the material negotiations and risk reduction strategies practiced by middle-class mothers as they engage in consuming second-hand baby items are discussed. Thirty mothers were interviewed, with the narrative of risk focused on two main themes: hygiene and safety. Concerns over hygiene were particularly prevalent when consuming textiles that were seen to harbour traces of the previous other or dirt that may contaminate the ‘pure’ child. Whilst practices of divestment and cleanliness in the home were not necessarily normalised (but were influenced by social factors) the second theme, that of safety, was heavily structured by social conventions and recognised guidelines and offered less scope for subjective mediation.

Waight, E. (2015) ‘Buying for Baby: How middle-class mothers negotiate risk with second-hand goods’ in E. Casey and Taylor, Y. (ed.) Intimacies, Critical Consumption and Diverse Economies, Palgrave Macmillian, London, pp.197-215.

I fully recommend the book for anyone interested in material culture, consumption, everyday life and relationships.

feet-baby

Post to Twitter

Top tips for completing your PhD

hat Phd graduation pixabay

I started my PhD in June 2011, went nominal in June 2014, submitted in November 2014, passed my viva in January 2015 and had my corrections approved in June 2015. There are many end points when you’re working on a PhD, but I think I can truly now say I’ve ‘finished’. Last month my Facebook was filled with pictures of friends graduating, some started before me, some after. And next year I will go through the ceremony with other peers who made it to ‘finish’.

In all honesty, it does feel like a massive accomplishment. At the moment I feel like if I do nothing much more with my life, I’ll be content to have got my PhD. Of course, for a career in academia a PhD is just the start, but right now, I’m happy to cruise for a bit. Because it was hard. And in some ways it’s only now looking back that I can see how hard it was, because at the time I was grateful to be doing something I thought worthwhile, to be learning (and getting paid for it), and to manage my own time and schedule. Now I’m relatively ‘free’ and can see friends going through the angst of writing up I can see how all-encompassing the process is and how, at times, it made me a little bit crazy. My thesis was the centre of my universe, and now I’ve set it free I’m able to think about other areas of my life.

That said, I wouldn’t change anything about my PhD experience and I certainly don’t regret doing it. I think others often saw me as hardworking, in control and not easily flustered. A lecturer once asked me to cover a lecture for him because he knew I’d ‘stay calm’. That’s all very nice but I had the same insecurities as everyone else. Should I be working this weekend? Why haven’t I heard of that theorist? Is that even a WORD?

I think there are two key traits that have got me through my entire education though and they are a consistent work ethic and organisation skills (note not immense intelligence!). Before I share some of my tips however, I think it’s essential to highlight the importance of a positive attitude and general wellbeing. I learnt to accept when to cut my losses and call it a day. On those days it is more productive in the long run to leave your desk and go to bed, or go read outside. Oh and do yoga and/or exercise – you DO have the time.

Consistent work ethic

As soon as I moved back to my University town three months in, I was in the office five days a week working. Some people can only work under pressure. They cruise along for a few weeks not doing much and then stay up three days straight to meet a deadline. Not me, not if I can help it.

• Do take holidays, but not for too long. Even when I went on holiday I usually took a bit of reading to do. I know some people who took weeks off over the summer which might be ok but do that every year and you’re unlikely to finish in three. Holidays or some kind of break are really important though, and much more productive than not taking one (says she who panics about taking more than a week off work).

• Stick to deadlines. Again, deadlines seem to mean absolute zilch to some people. The world can’t function like that and nor should you, for one thing it’s disrespectful to your supervisors or whomever you owe work to. It’s likely they’ve blocked out time to read your work and handing it over late means they won’t give it the attention they would have done. This links to the next point.

• Ask if you need help. This is so important and there are so many places to get information: your peers, supervisors, library staff and the wider community (Twitter for instance is great for reading recommendations or to join weekly chat groups like PhDchat). Don’t be the annoying person in the office who has to ask someone else how to use the copier every time you need it, but do ask for help about the big things. I asked to join undergrad lectures in my first year because I’d moved to a different subject area and felt I lacked some of the basics. I asked the library staff when I wanted access to a particular report and they directed me to a better one. You can also learn a huge amount from your peers.

• Make Uni your second home (but do go home!)*. It’s clear to me that PhDers working remotely miss out. Because they aren’t there for the informal chats, the impromptu staff tutorials over coffee and the post-viva celebrations of others they miss out on key information, like what actually happens in a viva. Again, because I was working in a subject area different to my previous degrees this probably benefited me most because I needed to soak up the discipline – the terminology, the big names. Yes there are distractions in the office, but I genuinely think my thesis and overall experience is better because I was there participating and listening. Also, even in academia, ‘it’s not what you know but who you know’ holds some weight. Honing social networks can lead to opportunities for teaching and part-time work, and people are more likely to help you out when you need it. This is how I justified my coffee break chats, but you don’t need to be a social scientist to know it’s true!

books phd pixabay

Organisation: It’s obvious, but organisation is essential to completing a PhD.

• Make productive lists. I love lists. I have annual lists (a timetable really, or work plan), monthly lists, weekly lists and daily lists. Even out here in China away from the pressures of a regular workday I have a list (write blog – tick). A PhD friend once said to me that when he wakes up in the morning he doesn’t know what he’s going to do that day. I find that astonishing. My problem is over-ambition. I write long lists and can’t do everything, which then makes me feel bad. So I make a real effort to focus on the positives; at the end of the day I run through what I have achieved rather than what I haven’t. You will never reach the end of your to-do list; just accept it and keep ploughing on.

• Keep your files organised. Save file names with the date and back them up. Organise your folders. Keep track of all bibliographical references! I wasn’t great at this, but it really saves time in the long run. Use software to keep track of your references. I had a love-hate relationship with Endnote (it froze my PC just before I was about to print and submit) but I’d still recommend it.

• Don’t put things off. It’s easy to say don’t procrastinate but we all do it. However, I do feel like I’ve had a break through of late. Every time I feel a twinge about not wanting to do something, I do it. Before I have a chance to think about it, before it becomes a big deal. This works for the small stuff, like when you’re anxious about making a phone call. For the big things, break them down into manageable sections and treat each section like the small stuff. To borrow from a well-known sports brand; just do it.

So consistency, organisation and attitude are vital. You don’t need to work 24/7 to get your PhD, in fact that’s counterproductive. In my first year particularly I was often in the office at weekends but I wasn’t working on my thesis, I was blogging. To earn extra cash I was writing about boot and bodices rather than Bourdieu. I spent a lot of time working on stuff that wasn’t my thesis, so I’m sure I could have finished quicker had I wanted to but that’s another nice thing about doing a PhD, you do have relative time and freedom. These other interests provided balance, variety and stopped me feeling suffocated by the PhD, because sometimes distance can do wonders.

I know this all sounds very virtuous but good habits can save so much pain in the long run. Don’t compare yourself to others. Every PhD project is different and every person is different. Life doesn’t stop because you’re studying either; both happy things and tragic things will justly cause you to take time out at some point. That’s ok. You will still make it to finish; if you want to.

* I understand this isn’t possible for all. For a start some Uni’s don’t give doctoral students their own office space. For others family commitments mean they can’t move close to uni but that doesn’t stop you making the most of it when you do go in. You have to go to supervision meetings right? I’d also really recommend the supportive and abundant academic community Twitter (try #PhdChat).

Other resources:

10 steps to PhD failure (Article)
The Thesis Whisperer (Website/blog)
How to get a PhD (Book)
Guardian PhD network (Online)
Planning your PhD (Book)

Post to Twitter

5 Reasons I Love Fieldwork (and 5 reasons I’m glad it’s over)

I’ve been in my role as a research fellow at Winchester School of Art a year today (happy anniversary to me!). I’m employed on an ESRC project to look at supermarket design and service for the over 65’s (in the UK and China), using a mixed method approach of participant observation, interviews, diary tasks and a quantitative questionnaire, similar to the methods used during my PhD. Since starting the job a year ago I’ve been working towards the UK fieldwork which if I do say so myself, has been no mean feat. We had 30 participants involved across three regions of the UK for 6-8 weeks and each one had to be visited 3 times for interviews and observation.

Recruitment was tricky as these things often are so mostly I’m just relived that we had enough people to take part and now have LOADS of data. It’s been three months of proper fieldwork but in the two months proceeding that I travelled around for recruitment and store manager meetings. This post pretty much sums up all that’s great about fieldwork (in my role at least) and also why I’m glad it’s done. I still have six weeks in China coming up, so fieldwork isn’t quite over yet, but I have few responsibilities during that time. I’m just there to broadly unsure data is collected in the same way we did in the UK.

Travelling

Our research areas were Dorset, Shrewsbury and rural Northumberland and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting to know each of these areas. I now know all the best beaches to head to in Dorset on a warm summer’s day if you want to avoid the Bournemouth crowds, but I’ll never forget the glorious sense of isolation at Bamburgh beach, Northumberland as I literally ran, skipped and jumped along the shore in my jogging gear after a tip off from a participant earlier in the day.

Confirming ‘hypothesis’ and finding out new things

Fieldwork is what research is all about, being out there finding stuff out. I love it as the weeks go on with certain themes reinforced and then someone will come along and say something totally new, helping you remember why you ask the same questions over and again.

Meeting people

I had three research assistants helping on the project (until the last few weeks when I’ve been back on my own) so it was nice hanging out with them and not being totally alone but the participants themselves have been so lovely! I’ve spent 10 hours with some of them over 3 or 4 visits. I’ve received homemade jam and offers of a place to stay if I’m ever back in the area, plus countless cups of tea and biscuits. It’s been a real pleasure getting to know them and hearing how much they’ve enjoyed participating in the project.

Being productive

It’s quite easy to be productive when there are things to do and people to see. We were visiting six to twelve participants a week, collecting 20 hours of video and audio data over a few days on average. Even just visiting one participant a day felt like time well spent.

Staying in hotels

I’ve got my ‘regular’ hotel in Shrewsbury now and stayed in one of the most haunted in Northumberland. Big beds and big breakfasts are definitely perks.

Late afternoon on Bamburgh Beach, Northumberland

Late afternoon on Bamburgh Beach, Northumberland

And 5 reasons I’m glad it’s complete . . .

Travelling

The places were lovely when I got there but travelling every week takes its toll. I flew to Newcastle (I know, I do feel guilty!) which often meant a 7am flight as I’d rather have an extra night at home. Whether by train or car there is no easy way to get to Shrewsbury from Southampton. One day after 6 hours travelling home and a road closure in Soton that brought me to a halt, I abandoned my car and walked home because I couldn’t face sitting in the car anymore.

Relying on other people

It’s to be expected that fieldwork never goes exactly to plan. The Friday before our first week in Shrewsbury I was left with just one participant as others dropped out. It’s no ones fault and we managed but it put the timetable off track as we had to recruit more. What I did do was phone participants a lot, and certainly the day before appointments so I never turned up at someone’s house with them having forgotten I was coming.

Data management

Once you’ve collected the data you have the stress of making sure it’s safe at all times! There were a few panics about whether interviews recorded and if I’d copied a file into the wrong folder. Plus my laptop was slow to catch up and needed an emergency trip to IT for a memory boost two weeks in.

Not being productive

I’m not going to complain that fieldwork isn’t a good use of time because it’s a brilliant use of time, but it is tiring and you need to be quite single-minded to keep everything in order so very little writing has occurred during the last 5 months. Awkward when you have two people waiting for paper drafts.

Staying in hotels

I love my flat really and didn’t like missing out on social events and seminars (yes really), but mostly I just can’t stand making tea with long life milk!

Post to Twitter

Recent Guest Posts

I’ve had a few guest posts published recently –

Giving UK Ethical Fashion the Celebrity Treatment – La Leaf

La Leaf is a Berlin-based ethical fashion site. I was approached by the lovely Sarah, co-founder and editor of the site, to write about an aspect of ethical fashion from my UK-based perspective. Drawing on my recent trip to Zandra’s Rhodes penthouse for the launch of her latest collaborative collection with People Tree, I wrote about the rise of the celebrity in eco-fashion and what we can learn from the food industry.

Crossing Disciplines – From Fashion Undergrad to Geography PhD – PhD2Published

PhD2Published was set up in 2010 by Charlotte Frost as a resource for helping early career researchers to get their first academic book published. It now provides all sorts of advice for PhD students and ECRs. I wrote this blog to share my experiences of moving into social science from a strong background in fashion.

PhD Publishing Strategies – Which Journal? – Geographypostgrads.com

Geographypostgrads.com is the University of Southampton Geography blog for our own postgrads to contribute too and which I edit. I wrote this post to explain my thoughts on academic publishing and the strategy I’m using to help myself move across to sociology.

Post to Twitter

Writing About Consumption

“The single main problem with conventional writing about consumption is that it seems to consist largely of authors who wish to claim that they are deep by trying to show how everyone else is shallow.” (Miller 2012, p. 107)

This is my new favourite quote. I don’t want to divulge my key findings, nor do I have time to get into a debate about this now but it’s a nice reminder of subjectivity and the self-importance of researchers, because rightly or wrongly I definitely could have fallen into this trap.

My PhD is all about consumption of material goods. Very early on, I had to make the distinction between consumption and consumerism. Consumption is a crucial element of social life and should be addressed as such. More than simply an act of purchase, consumption is a continuous process of consuming/partaking in/using up a good or service. It is intrinsic to everyday life and a way in which we construct meaning, assert identities and practice acts of love. Consumerism has more negative connotations. It is defined by the ‘desire’ rhetoric rather than ‘need’ and is a fundamental part of the postmodern era I view as distinguished by choice.

I’ve been rewriting my thesis literature review recently and it has been great to go back and see how all of the existing knowledge fits together, and how my studies add to the debates. Without exception humans require some level of consumption in order to survive and to meet basic physiological needs, but consumption over and above this has sparked widespread interest amongst scholars as an avenue for exploring identity construction, socialisation, social class and the relationship between people and material things. I find all of this fascinating, and my approach to the literature review is so different to 2.5 years ago when I started drafting review documents. I can now critique it and discuss it, drawing on historical, sociological and geographical literature to provide a basis for my empirical work.

Consumption and its Consequences by Daniel Miller, 2012

Post to Twitter

New Year Reflections 2014

Happy New Year! I hope you had a good Christmas. I certainly did, despite the fact that my parent’s house became a casualty in the storm that hit the South East. This was one end of my road when I was trying to get home on Christmas Eve, and when I did finally make it back I found the lounge under 8 inches of water and no power.
sussex flood
We spent Christmas at a house owned by the charity my mum works for – normally used as offices and a children’s centre – it accommodated us very well for two nights so we were the lucky ones. My thoughts were with all those who had nowhere else to go; the village next to ours were without power for days. Also very appreciative to all the engineers who worked hard over Christmas to get people reconnected.

Anyway, I was just reading back on the post I wrote this time last year. That’s the lovely thing about having a blog, it basically is a diary. You can read it too here. Work wise I’ve had a brilliant year. I’ve finished my fieldwork and had a very rough draft of one results chapter done before Christmas. Last year I wrote that my goal for 2013 was to get a journal paper published or in review and I’ve surpassed myself (if I may say that) by getting one empirical paper published, one commentary paper in press (due Jan/Feb) and being invited to write a book chapter. I travelled more this year than I have in a while – Amsterdam, Paris and Norway, Edinburgh twice, and for fieldwork I’ve travelled more than 4000 miles around the UK. Here is what else I did in 2013:

• In February I presented at the BSA Intimacies, Families and Practices of Consumption Conference in London. This was a lovely day and full of interesting talks. Following this the convenor’s Emma Casey and Yvette Taylor worked hard on developing a proposal for a book – “Intimacies, Critical Consumption & Diverse Economies” and before Christmas we found out this has the go-ahead from Palgrave Sociology so this is what I’ll be contributing a chapter too. I also wrote a commentary piece on “Second-hand consumption among middle-class mothers in the UK: thrift, distinction and risk” for Families, Relationships and Societies journal.
• I went back to Amsterdam in February to supervise the human geography undergrad fieldcourse. Being my second trip I felt a lot more comfortable and confident around the city and helping the students with their research projects.
• I co-organised the Ethical Fashion Futures workshop with fellow PhDer Ellie Tighe. It was a small but really successful event. We had great feedback on the day, giving people from a range of interdisciplinary backgrounds the chance to mingle and share ideas. It opened up more opportunities than I ever imagined, see below.
• After the workshop/conference day, Ellie and I were invited to give a talk on ethical fashion at the University of Southampton Multi-Disciplinary Week in March. This was recorded and is available to watch online (hence, it’s the most effort I’ve put into a presentation for a long time!). We also provided a brief interview and blog post.
• In July I was featured in the Guardian online, for my work on campus in promoting ethical fashion. This was really exciting, and mainly came about through the visibility of my blog and the coverage of the talks and events I’ve been involved with at Uni.
• In August I attended and presented at the Royal Geographical Society conference in South Kensington. I presented in the session “Economic Change and Children, Youth and Families: Current Experiences and Future Frontiers”. The RGS was really inspiring. I used to always call myself a ‘fake geographer’ but the RGS made me proud to say that I’m a geographer – I realised if I keep saying I’m a fake geographer people might start to believe me.
• I had the following peer reviewed paper published “Eco babies: reducing a parent’s ecological footprint with second-hand consumer goods”, International Journal of Green Economics.
• I launched Ethical High Street after months of consideration. Clearly the PhD is my priority for now but I’ll continue to add to EHS and hope that other people find it useful. I also had a bit of a brainwave today but I’ll mull over that for a while. The Christmas lull is good for developing thoughts!

2013 was the year I became surer of myself, academically. I’m never going to be the most intelligent but I’ve realised that within my niche I do know what I’m talking about. I’ve also realised that no academic knows everything within their subject – in fact, everyone is constantly learning and has to bluff their way through on occasions. A couple of months ago I attended a women in science and engineering professional development course. It was quite eye-opening, making me consider my goals, strengths and weaknesses and giving greater consideration to how I’m perceived. I think sometimes for self-preservation sake I play up to the fashion-girl image, I use the fact that I studied fashion for five years pre-PhD as an excuse. But as I’m leaving my department in a few months’ time, how do I want people to remember me? As the girl who sent round emails about tea and cake and wore leopard print jeans to work, or as a capable academic? I think I’d be happy with all of the above but not the former over the latter.

My PhD funding runs out in May! I hope to submit not long after and then move on to pastures new. When I started in 2011 I wasn’t planning for a career in academia but as the end gets nearer I find myself clinging on to that very option more and more. I really love research, I love learning, I love telling people about stuff and I love running my own schedule – where else can I do all that but as an academic? I’ve got a really busy six months coming up – thesis to write, book chapter to write, running seminars for two undergrad. modules (I had no teaching last semester) and I’m going to the Association of American Geographer’s conference in Florida!!

As for where I’ll be this time next year – well I could be sat at this same desk in Southampton or I could be half way around the world. Here’s to a great 2014 x

Post to Twitter