Theme 4: Cultural Values and Politics: Social Cohesion and Expertise
Theme Convenor: Penny Harvey (email@example.com)
Theme Researcher: Hannah Knox (firstname.lastname@example.org)
This theme takes as its point of departure a series of topical ideas, both in academic writing and in popular understanding, which we seek to expose to sustained anthropological, sociological, historical and geographical scrutiny. Ideas that we are becoming more 'individualised', that there is social fragmentation and weakening social bonds, that expertise and technological developments bring about social development have a widespread currency which is often taken for granted. In this theme we will conduct a series of detailed case studies, including ethnographic fieldwork outside the UK, qualitative case studies, statistical analyses of trends, and historical inquiries, to assess whether these stereotypes are misleading.
The distinctiveness of this theme arises from our concern to draw on a series of linked empirical projects, often using unusual and innovative methodologies, to allow us to elaborate a sustained evaluation of contemporary arguments. We are thus concerned to relate theoretical reflections with both quantitative and qualitative methodologies.
What we have done so far
Research within Theme 4 has focused on three intersecting areas of concern, (i) social cohesion, exclusion and fragmentation (ii) the cultural politics of knowledge and (iii) new formations of value.
Both archival and ethnographic work has shown that social and cultural participation is not primarily driven by the cost benefit calculations of individual actors. Rather, differing levels of emotional engagement and divergent perceptions of what is at stake not only influence what people do, but also how difference is perceived and understood by others. In comparative international contexts we found that standard measures of participation fail to recognise or acknowledge significant cultural spaces of intense engagement. Reluctance to manifest engagement is also related to fluctuating commitments over time from state agents and capital interests.
We approached the cultural politics of knowledge through comparative research on expertise and technical knowledge and the values associated with knowledge forms and informational devices. Several projects found that while technical expertise is valued, so is an aptitude for reading between the lines. A focus on visualisation and information technologies also links several projects that engage with how knowledge is configured as an economic and public good, how intimate relations are made explicit within the family, how information is presented and understood, and how the increased accessibility of certain data forms via the internet offer novel means to reproduce familiar concerns. Our focus on new formations of value looks at how knowledges, localities, bodies and the moral valence of difference are reconfigured in relation to technological, legal and regulatory change.