Including illustrations in your article or book

Most social scientists accept the value of visual data. You can use them to illustrate a particular point, and they also serve as forms of evidence in their own right. So including them in your published work can make sense, but it isn’t always easy.

Originally, I planned to use about a dozen illustrations in my book on British work camp systems. There are hundreds of images of work camps, labour colonies, training farms and instructional centres, so my main problem at that stage was choosing which images to use, in agreement with the publisher. Then came the crunch: negotiating with copyright holders.

Most of the photographic images are under the control of large firms. You may have heard of some: Getty and Corbis, for instance, own the copyright of many photographs originally commissioned by the press, while Francis Frith specialises in old postcard collections (yes, postcards – of work camps).

Still others belong to libraries and archives. Sometimes the archivist does not know who holds copyright; sometimes they don’t reply, or apparently have never heard of the image, which, of course, you have found on their website.

Almost all of these organisations charge for their services. Some don’t, including the fabulous British Museum. Others do: Newham Library has several images of the 1906 Triangle Camp, taken when unemployed Londoners squatted and worked a patch of waste land in order to show that they were not idle; they charge £5 to scan each image, £40 for UK reproduction and £80 for worldwide use – in short, £125 for the first edition of the book using the image, and £120 for subsequent editions.

This isn’t a lot, and it is certainly less than most big private companies charge. But what it means is that a dozen images will cost far more than you will ever receive in royalties. And working your way through the procedures is loaded with risk and uncertainty: if you tick the wrong box on – say – paperback sales in Samoa, and pay the wrong fee, what happens next? I was not keen to find out.

In the end, after talking with the publisher, I gave up. We decided to use an image on the front cover of men at an International Voluntary Service camp in South Wales; it’s a good photo, but we chose it partly because the IVS archivist happily provided the image for free, and even wanted to know which format we would prefer.

What is really frustrating is that several other people offered images for free. The photo at the head of the blog shows young women and men at the David Eder training farm, run by a Zionist youth movement for members who wanted to prepare for life on a Kibbutz. It is one of a fantastic series of images given to me by Allen Bordoley, whose uncle attended the farm, and who himself knows and helped interview several trainees.

I could, I suppose, simply have used the images that came for free. That would, though, have strongly biassed the story. No images of women (Getty hold the copyright to a fine picture of women standing in line outside the Lapsewood Home Training Centre, brooms and dustpans held out for inspection), for example. None of the major Instructional Centres, or the local government labour colonies.

But it would have included a letter from Wigmore Instructional Centre. It was written by Hughie Edwards, an unemployed Welshman, on tree bark, and was given to me by his nephew. Hughie wrote:

Dear Maw, Just a few lines hoping you are ok the same as I am. I am sending you a photo of the South Wales boys and myself, it was taken up the forest. Well, I will only be here for a week next Wednesday. And overleaf: This bark was out of a tree in July 4th 1934 in Wigmore.

Wigmore hughie edwards2

Does this tell us something useful about trainees’ experiences in the work camps? Right now, I’m annoyed with myself for giving up so easily.

Neo-liberalism: an over-worked concept?

Neo-liberalism has to be one of the most frequently used terms in the social sciences. Barely mentioned at the end of the 1980s, it was pretty popular by the turn of the century, and is now commonplace. But what does it mean – and particularly why is it so common in educational research?

I should probably start by justifying my claim that the term is commonly used. A text search of the Journal of Education Policy since 1997 shows 196 items that use the word ‘neo-liberal’, and 53 in the British Educational Research Journal. This may reflect a British tendency to engage in policy commentary, as there were only 23 such items in the Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, and only five in the American Educational Research Journal.

If I had enough time, I’d look systematically at how the word is used. But here are my impressions, based on ways in which I’ve noticed people using the terms at conferences and in their publications.

First, and foremost, neo-liberalism is usually denotes something bad; it is a highly normative term, and it is almost always meant to be derogatory. The (usually unstated) understanding is that neo-liberalism is to be contrasted with social democratic welfarism, which is the implied positive to neo-liberalism’s negative.

Second, the word is rarely defined. In a review of 148 articles on neo-liberalism in politics and development journals in 2009, two political scientists found not one that focused on the definition and usage of the term. The same is true of many other social sciences, and if there is any such definitional discussion in educational studies, I’ve yet to encounter it.

Third, people who use the term rarely provide any references to neo-liberal writers and thinkers. Like Stephen Ball in his recent book, if they identify any sources at all, then the reference is to thinkers who share their negative view of neo-liberalism. This strikes me as poor scholarship, and something we criticise our students for when they do the same. But not naming the writers means that you don’t need to discuss their ideas.

Fourth, you then don’t need to discuss how they came to exert any influence. Neo-liberalism is an abstraction. Like ‘globalised/globalisation’, it serves as a floating adjective, or a disembodied force.Neo-liberal stuff happens. Well, yes, perhaps it does, but why did these ideas become popular and who puts them into practice? Who resists them, or fails to resist them, and why?

And finally, the term is so loose that it gets applied to any policy or approach one chooses. New Labour in Britain, Merkel in Germany, Clinton and Bush, the World Bank and Alex Salmond – all can be viewed, and have been, through the furry lens of neo-liberalism.

Of course, these are all generalisations. I’ve come across plenty of exceptions, such as Simon Marginson’s powerful analyses of markets in higher education: he references Milton Friedman, the anti-Keynesian who led the Chicago School of Economics (who defined himself, if anything, as a ‘classical liberal’ – nothing ‘neo’ about him!).  And Marginson sort of defines the term, if rather loosely, as a ‘discourse’ that promotes the role of markets. Otherwise, he neatly fits my portrait, using ‘neo-liberal’ as a floating adjective (most frequently, ‘neo-liberal discourse’ and ‘neo-liberal imaginary’).

In an interesting paper some years ago, the Marxist Chris Harman said that the problem with ‘neo-liberalism’ was that it obscured an important distinction: it became unclear whether the author or protester who used the term was objecting to capitalism as such, or only to a particular regime of capitalism. Harman himself doubted whether neo-liberalism really had any substance, arguing that there was little evidence of a rolling-back of the state, and plenty of evidence of continued faith in Keynesian government spending funded by borrowing.

Without buying into all of Harman’s critique, I think he hit on something important. Slippery concepts serve a purpose, and neo-liberalism is nothing if not slippery. It allows us to scorn that which we are against without scrutinising why these ideas found any purchase, and without saying what we would like to see instead: weak scholarship and watery politics.

An unsolicited invitation from an open access journal

I’ve just received the following email:

I have had an opportunity to read your paper “An Anti-Urban Education? Work Camps and Ideals of the Land in Interwar Britain” in Rural History and can tell from your work that you are an expert in this field. . . . I am the editorial assistant of Review of European Studies (RES). RES is an open-access, international, double-blind peer-reviewed journal published by the Canadian Center of Science and Education. It aims to promote excellence through dissemination of high-quality research findings, specialist knowledge, and discussion of professional issues that reflect the diversity of this field. The journal publishes a broad range of papers from culture, history, art, sociology, religion, politics, laws, education, psychology and economics. RES takes a broad view of European issues and also encourages submissions which are with international perspective.

I checked this out. According to its website, RES is indexed in SCOPUS, which is a reputable bibliographic database. It is published by a company called the Canadian Center of Science and Education, which lists the Canadian Association for University Continuing Education as a member. So far, so good.

Less encouragingly, it turns out that the Center charges a minimum of $US 200 an article; the email did not mention an author processing charge. Moreover, the Center’s products have featured in Jeffrey Beall’s highly-regarded list of questionable publishers, and some of its journals have featured in prominent plagiarism allegations. So I won’t be submitting a paper to RER.

For some background on the ‘dark side’ of academic publishing, see this report in Nature:

And if you want to read my paper on anti-urban work camp movements, you can request a copy here:



Social media and social capital

I am constantly surprised by just how new the new media are. This was brought home to me today while I worked on the next edition of my book on social capital.

James Coleman was dead before the first ever SMS message was sent on 3 December 1992, and Pierre Bourdieu did not live to see the integration of cameras into mobile phones. Robert Putnam wrote Bowling Alone five years before Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook. In short, the main lines of the debate over social capital were laid down long before today’s highly mediated social connections came into being.

It isn’t surprising that most early writing about digitised social bonds was highly speculative, and often pessimistic. During our early discussions over what later became an edited book of critical perspectives on social capital, Tom Schuller used to alarm me with his descriptions of an atomised society of individuals, each plugged into their own Walkman, and sharing nothing of their tastes with their neighbours.

Social research invariably lags behind innovative forms of behaviour, and only now can we see a significant body of evidence about how people understand relationships that are mediated by networks such as Facebook. Most of this early evidence comes from western societies, particularly the United States, and quite a lot is based on studies of highly educated young people who are still at college. And for both ethical and practical reasons, we still have relatively little evidence of the dark side of the new social media.

I’m still reviewing this growing mountain of research. At this stage, I reckon that most of the empirical studies suggest that most young people use social media partly to maintain existing social bonds (for example, with old school friends now studying elsewhere, or between young emigrants and their friends back ‘home’) and partly to exchange hot information with a wider and more disparate network. In short, social media can in these cases help sustain existing bonds, while extending them for specific purposes.

If this is born out by subsequent studies, then we don’t need to worry too much about the future social capital of our societies. It will change somewhat in composition, but the underlying bonds of reciprocity and trust will still be there. Sometimes people will use these networks to spread ill-will and hatred rather than enlightenment and joy, but that is also true of face-to-face ties, as you can hear for yourself in almost any pub. Every nationalist knows that it helps to bind people together if you can also give them someone to hate.

This is, then, a rather dull conclusion. It is unlikely to satisfy critics like Sherry Turkle, a veteran student of digital cultures who now laments the corrosive effects of email and texting for giving us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship, undermining the reciprocity and learning that occur through face-to-face interaction, compromising our privacy, and favouring novelty over substance.

But I see it as offering some clear pointers to the future of regulation over social media, the development of appropriate rules of ‘netiquette’, and the extension of social media across existing digital divides between the knowledge-rich and knowledge-poor. If social media can indeed help build social capital, we should do it in ways that are inclusive and socially sustainable.

My entry in Who’s Who

This morning, I opened a letter asking me to confirm my proposed entry in Who’s Who. It comprised six lines, with a mixture of contact details, website, and job title. I had to correct any errors, then sign, date and return the form, to an address in Berlin.

This is, of course, another dodgy ‘publisher’, targeting academics and presumably businesses. On the letter head, the word’s Who’s Who are in capitals; below that, in very small print indeed, is the qualifier: In (European) Commerce and Industry. And in very, very small print it emerges that there is a charge of €399, and that the signed form confirming my details is deemed to be a formal order for this service.

Right at the very bottom of the letter are the company’s contact details and – ominously – the ‘Venue of Litigation’. I tried searching for the company – Buchvertrieb Wockel – but could not find a website. Their address is shared with a hairdresser and a Chinese restaurant.

A flattering invitation

It’s always nice to be praised. An email arrived today inviting me to speak at a conference, telling me that ‘your unique, inspirational message will be the perfect way to kick off the congress’. It goes further, describing the conference as an ‘historic event to celebrate the milestone achievement derived from you’. And it also invited me to join the conference committee. Wow!

This all sounds great. The event is in Wuhan, in China, which sounds a nice place to visit. And according to the website, I’ll also be able to hear several other ‘renowned speakers’, from Johns Hopkins, the University of Alberta, and the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

It sounds ideal – but there’s a catch. My inspirational message is being requested for a conference on HIV. However you stretch it, this is not my area. And there is a nice big fee –the early bird rate for speakers is quoted at $2,149 – as well as some rather ominous talk of membership, with a fee that has to be ‘updated’. Just to add to the confusion, the invitation talks about the 4th Annual Symposia of HIV (HIV-2013), but the website lists the event on those dates as the 3rd Annual World Congress of Microbes.

So is this just another dodgy invitation? A simple mistake (I am not, sadly, the only John Field in academic)? Or an over-enthusiastic conference administrator, hoping that my swollen male pride will overcome my lack of expertise, and persuade me to share my unique inspirational message with a bunch of microbe or HIV specialists?  

At first glance, I guess you might think this is kosher. The website lists many academics on the organising committee, including a reader in maths at Strathclyde University, a reader in pathology from Cambridge University, and a professor of food studies at Ulster University. I’ve not contacted them to ask whether they really are involved with this organisation, but given that their expertise has nothing much to do with HIV or microbes, this conference – if it exists – is unlikely to be a quality event.