School of Social and Political Science

Sociology Seminar Series Spring 2023

Sub head

Full programme of weekly seminars for Semester 2 2022/23.



Sociology seminar poster


All of these talks are hybrid. You can register for the online session at the links below:

Speaker Online registration link
Ben Collier Register here
Sally Hines (note: cancelled due to strike)  
Siobhan McAndrew Register here
Fiona Greenland Register here
Andrew McKinnon Register here
Emily Laxer (note: online only) Register here


Dr Ben Collier (University of Edinburgh, STIS) - 25 January 4-5.30pm / Violet Laidlaw Room

Title: Influence Policing: Mapping the Rise of Strategic Communications and Digital Behaviour Change within UK Law Enforcement and Security Services

Abstract: In this talk, I set out an emerging phenomenon in UK law enforcement - the use of digital ‘nudge’ communications campaigns to achieve strategic policing and security goals. Over the last year, we have studied the use of these campaigns by a single force - Police Scotland - in depth, drawing on empirical research conducted with their dedicated strategic communications team. These campaigns, which involve extremely targeted digital communications designed to directly ‘nudge’ behaviour and shape the culture of particular groups, began in counter-radicalisation as part of the UK’s Prevent programme, but have since moved into a range of other policing areas, from hate crime and domestic violence to knife crime and cybercrime. I set out the historical context of these campaigns in the UK, from their roots in social marketing, through the various iterations of the Prevent strategy, the rise of algorithmic digital marketing infrastructures and surveillance capitalist platforms, and their subsequent transfer from counter-terror policing to a range of other areas. Our study explores the developing institutional and professional arrangements around these campaigns in Police Scotland through interviews and document-based research, drawing on case studies of campaigns across a range of areas. Taking these together, we theorise the rise of influence policing as an embryonic but rapidly emerging domain of police practice, and discuss the ethical, institutional, and democratic implications for the future of law enforcement in the UK. 

Bio: Ben Collier is Lecturer in Digital Methods at the Institute of Science, Technology, and Innovation Studies at the University of Edinburgh. His research focuses on digital infrastructure as a site of power and resistance, including mixed-methods studies of cybercrime communities, law enforcement engagements with Internet infrastructure, and an upcoming book with MIT Press which maps a cultural history of the Tor anonymity network. 

Dr Siobhan McAndrew (University of Sheffield) - 15 February 4-5.30pm / Violet Laidlaw Room

Title: - National and International Opera Worlds

Abstract: Is there a distinct world of classical opera operating transnationally that we can identify via shared repertoire, and historical data on commissions? Or do we see unique histories and positions associated with different national musical cultures? Does the survival of the art form rely on its capacity to project soft power and institutional capacity? 

Answers to these questions form the opening chapters of a long-planned book on British opera in global context. Insights from organisational sociology of music, particularly Damon Phillips’ work on jazz, can help us probe the internal logic of the genre. Reference to a common core identifies works and artists as authentic. The genre’s canon provides a standard against which new works are evaluated. A work becomes an opera by being played in opera houses; and in turn, opera houses are legitimised by staging canonic works, as well as new works which advance the genre. Separation from the artistic mainstream also encourages diversity and novelty: ‘space to develop’.   

I characterise cultural connectedness to a canon, and differentiation from it, by examining connections between works, between composers, and between places staging the same works or works by the same composer. I use techniques from social network analysis to examine the global network of composers over time, drawing on the completist catalogue of over 38000 first performances compiled by Richard Parillo and colleagues at Stanford. I treat cities as linked if at least one composer had a work performed for the first time in each. I then compare the city network for first performances with the city network for current performances, whereby cities are deemed to be linked if they share a composer, and secondly a work. Each of the three city networks is then examined in terms of number of performances by city from 1996, exploiting the publicly-available data on productions by city by date provided by the Operabase listings service.  

Clusters in the city networks allow us to identify distinct operatic cultures, associated both with the time of composition, and current repertoire. By examining the universe of known first performances as well as performances from 1996, I explore features of operatic history evidencing shared cultural connections as well as severing of connections. I also examine the extent to which national repertoires depend on works with international appeal, known to transnational musicians. I attempt to identify which operatic cultures are flourishing and which have disappeared, as well as those which are most ‘open’ compared with the most self-sufficient in terms of currently-programmed works. 

Bio: I completed a DPhil on the economic history of opera funding before working as a policy economist in Whitehall. On moving out of London I moved into quantitative social science: I had become fascinated by opera catalogues and listings and the opportunities they provided to compare countries and periods, and needed to learn how to exploit them. Learning network analysis provided a route to making sense of the mass of data increasingly-available. My broader research concerns relationships between religion, culture and politics, and diversity in culture production, primarily using sociological concepts and methods. Following happy years at the University of Bristol, in 2021 I moved to Sheffield Methods Institute to direct the new undergraduate degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics, which has allowed me to encounter classic social and political thought again following a long break. It has also allowed me to put my keen interest in methodological diversity and creative use of quantitative methods at the heart of both our PPE teaching and to a long-desired return to this long-running project on opera. 

Dr Fiona Greenland (University of Virginia) - 8 March 4-5.30pm / Violet Laidlaw Room

Title: Theorizing Artifact Repatriation as Cultural Repair

Abstract: The paper offers a sociological framework for understanding the recent growth of cultural repatriation demands and what this means for the value and meaning of contested objects. Theoretically, I use the cultural sociological framework of trauma and repair to situate looted and returned artifacts in social and emotional relationships between parties. Structurally, I analyze the international legal frameworks that have evolved to process source countries' restitution claims. A key finding is that repair does not end with repatriation, but rather continues through long-term practices of curation and display. Empirically, I will draw on case materials involving Italy's former colonial holdings in Africa, and the United States' repatriation of Native American grave goods. 

Bio: Fiona Rose Greenland, Ph.D., D.Phil., is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Virginia. She holds a doctorate in sociology from the University of Michigan and a doctorate in classical archaeology from the University of Oxford. Her research focuses on art restitution, nationalism, and cultural policy, with particular interest in national and international governance frameworks for protecting antiquities from theft and destruction. Her book, Ruling Culture: Art Police, Tomb Robbers, and the Rise of Cultural Power in Italy (2021, University of Chicago Press) was awarded the Mary Douglas Prize for Best Book in Culture from the American Sociological Association's Section on Culture in 2022. She is co-director of the CURIA Lab (Cultural Resilience Informatics and Analysis), whose collaborative projects prioritize mixed-methods analysis of cultural destruction and recovery. Currently she is Principal Investigator on an NSF-supported study of the relationship between civilian deaths and cultural heritage loss during the Syrian war. Greenland's work has been supported by the National Science Foundation, Social Science Research Council (USA), and the Quantitative Collaborative at the University of Virginia, and her articles have been published in Sociological Science, Sociological Theory, Theory and Society, and the American Journal of Cultural Sociology. She is a Faculty Fellow of the Center for Cultural Sociology at Yale University. 

Dr Andrew McKinnon (University of Aberdeen) - 15 March 4-5.30pm / Violet Laidlaw Room

Title: Shailer Mathews’ Historical Sociology of God: Metaphors of the Divine and the Social Imaginary

Abstract: Part of a larger project examining the social conditions of possibility for conceiving the divine in monotheistic terms, this paper examines Shailer Mathews’ historical sociology of religion, which has been roundly ignored for the better part of a century. In two important books, The Atonement and the Social Process (1930) and Growth of the Idea of God (1931) Mathews argues that images of the divine have drawn on political concepts, and are premised on political relations and institutions. Images of the gods are drawn from the experience of social superiors, be those tribal elders, feudal lords, or monarchs. Religious imagery has thus relied on political metaphors, making consideration of the emergence and growth of the state essential for understanding religious development and change. I will argue that Mathews’ theoretical schema has much to recommend it, though it could be supplemented by more careful consideration of the social logic of metaphor, allowing him to consider the operation of religion within relations of power as well as power relations within the religious imagination. 

Bio: Andrew McKinnon is Senior Lecturer and Head of the Department of Sociology at the University of Aberdeen. His primary areas of interest are in the sociology of religion, especially conflicts over sexuality within global Anglicanism, and social theory, taking particular interest in the role of metaphor in the construction of sociological theories. 

Professor Emily Laxer (York University, Canada) - 22 March 4-5.30pm / Online Only Event

Title: Populism, Rights, and Legality in Canada: Lessons From an Understudied Case

Abstract: From the U.S.’s Donald Trump, to France’s Marine Le Pen, to India’s Narendra Modi, the rise of right-wing populism is transforming politics-as-usual in several democratic systems.  Among the troubling elements of this populist surge is its association with campaigns to overhaul constitutions, with sweeping consequences for individual and collective rights.  In this talk, I derive lessons about the relationship between populism, rights, and legality from an understudied case: Canada.  While often portrayed as impervious to the populist surge occurring elsewhere, Canada has in fact seen a significant increase in populist claims-making, both at the federal and provincial levels.  Provincially, this is manifested in governments’ accelerated attempts to circumvent the Constitution as a means to push through legislation affecting minority rights, electoral policy, and other domains.  Based on close observation of the discursive strategies behind – as well as the implications of – these measures, I offer conclusions about the impact of emerging populisms on rights and legality in Canada and beyond. 

Bio: Emily Laxer is Associate Professor of Sociology at York University’s Glendon Campus in Toronto, Canada.  Her research draws on sociological approaches to politics, immigration, race, and gender to assess state policies attending immigrants’ citizenship, rights, and belonging in diverse settings.  International in scope, it has been published in both English and French in such peer-reviewed journals as Ethnic and Racial Studies, the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, Nations and Nationalism, Contemporary Studies in Society and History, Comparative Sociology, and edited volumes. Dr. Laxer’s research also forms the basis of a sole-authored monograph, Unveiling the Nation: The Politics of Secularism in France and Québec (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2019), which received the John Porter Tradition of Excellence Book Award from the Canadian Sociological Association (2020).  Dr. Laxer currently holds a York Research Chair in Populism, Rights, and Legality.