- Bourdieu P (1984) Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste. London: Routledge.
This one is more than a little predictable, I know, but Distinction really did play a huge part in my decision to go into sociology. It also made me re-think and re-analyse parts of my own biography. In school my best friend was a boy whose parents who had come from a very traditional working class family in South Wales. They had gone on to be very successful dancers and when I was a teenager their family moved into my, very middle class, area of Bristol. But the thing that always troubled me was that although the family had the money to move into my area, the neighbours never accepted them. They had different accents, wore different clothes, decorated their home differently and drove a different car. And now when I look back, I understand that the force governing this exclusion was Bourdieusian habitus. At root, my friend’s parents were lovely, sociable people who had done well and wanted to enjoy their success in a new area with new friends. But because their identity was rooted in their working class upbringing – where they had developed particular tastes and values – their new middle class neighbours could never embrace them. To me, the differences were exciting – my parents would never let me eat at McDonald’s, have TV on at the dinner table, or go on holiday to the Costa Del Sol. But what I came to realise is that these practices marked my friend’s parents out as different, as being less sophisticated, as lacking in cultural capital. As a teenager this snobbery not only struck me as incredibly unfair, but it also made me acutely aware of the often shadowy and unconscious role that culture plays in marking out social class in British society. Distinction reignited that interest, and taught me that while nobody ever seems to talk about class, its influence is nonetheless everywhere we look – in the way we speak, in the way we act, in what we like – in other words in most of the things that we think of as natural and take for granted
- Mahony P, Zmroczek C (eds) Class Matters: ‘Working Class’ Women’s Perspectives on Social Class. London: Taylor and Francis
I sometimes get quite frustrated by how unimaginative sociological writing is. But when I was doing a literature review for my current project on the experience of social mobility, I came across this gem. It brings together a number of now famous feminist sociologists, such as Dianne Reay and Bev Skeggs, who write candidly and movingly about their experience of entering the academy in the 80s and 90s as working-class women. The essays are beautifully written but also tremendously insightful.
- Willis, P. (1977) Learning to Labour.
I remember reading this when I was doing A-level sociology and being struck by how rich it was. It did what all good ethnographies should do – it let me into a social world that I had absolutely no idea about – that was a million miles away from my own privileged middle-class upbringing. I loved it.
- Piketty, T. (2014) Capital in the 21st Century. Harvard. Harvard University Press
Clearly, this is not a piece of sociology. However, it has already had a hugely influence on me. As well as the direct effect on my own work on class and inequality, I’ve also been amazed and heartened by its wider non-academic impact. For a piece of serious scholarship to have such a profound impact on political discourse is incredibly exciting. Long may it continue.
Sam’s Two Novels/Non-academic Books:
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz
Junot Diaz has a wonderful ethnographic antennae and this semi-autobiographical exploration of Dominican-American identity is outrageous and brilliant.
Laughter in the Dark– Vladimir Nabokov
I love the way Nabokov writes. This is a kind of precursor to Lolita and is tremendously dark and provocative.
Sam’s Four Pieces of Music:
Have a good time – Paul Simon
I was brought up with Paul Simon and his music will always have a special place in my heart. This one reminds me of my sister’s wedding and being very happy.
Deep Blue Sea – Grizzly Bear
These guys make beautiful contemporary pop music. This is melancholy and lovely.
Strangers – Portishead
I was a 90s trip-hop kid in Bristol so a Portishead track is obligatory. This one has a beautiful break about 1m 15secs in…
Brown Paper Bag – Roni Size
Again, a lot of my adolescence was spent in clubs experimenting with Drum N Bass and amphetamines. Roni Size was the king of the Bristol scene and unlike a lot of Drum N Bass, I’m amazed at how good this track still sounds.
Sam’s Luxury Item
I’ve consulted with my partner and she says a pair of tweezers is pivotal. Left to its own devices my monobrow is not a pretty sight.