Dr Katherine Tonkiss

In late 2017, the Guardian newspaper began to run stories about members of the ‘Windrush’ generation of post-war migration to the UK, comprising individuals who arrived in the UK from Caribbean Commonwealth countries between 1948 and 1971. Despite, at their time of arrival, holding UK and Colonies citizenship and being granted leave to remain under the 1971 Immigration Act, the Guardian reported that individuals from this group were being threatened with deportation to countries they had not lived in since childhood and were facing homelessness, unemployment and having medical care withheld on the basis that they could not prove their right to live in the UK. By May 2018, the scandal had caused national and international outrage and the Home Secretary had resigned as a result. Continue reading


Refugee Week Research Showcase

To mark Refugee Week, the below posters have been produced to showcase some of the research undertaken on refugee-related topics at CCISC. They are currently on display in the foyer of Aston University’s main building.

To find out about other events taking place across the West Midlands as part of Refugee Week 2018, visit

  1. Disorder at the Border, by Karolina Augustova


2. Minority Congregations in the Church of England, by Dr. Demelza Jones and Canon Dr. Andrew Smith

Poster Demelza

3. Imagining the Refugee, by Dr. Katherine Tonkiss

poster Katie

4. Anti-Deportation Activism in the UK, by Dr. Graeme Hayes and Dr. Steven Cammiss

poster graeme

5. The Balkan Route (x4), by Dr. Jelena Obradovic-Wochnik, Dr. Amanda Beattie, Dr. Patrycja Rozbicka and Dr. Gemma Bird

Jelena OneJelena TwoJelena ThreeJelena Four


Meet the new boss, same as the old boss?

Dr Demelza Jones

In an interview on the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show this week, the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, announced that he would be ‘taking a fresh look’ at the UK government’s approach to controlling immigration. This change responds, in part, to outcry at the wrongful identification of the children of Windrush-era migrants as illegal immigrants; with Javid’s predecessor at the Home Office, Amber Rudd, forced to resign in April after failing to adequately explain her knowledge of and role in this scandal. Continue reading

The wind of change is blowing through Britain and the BBC

Dr. Tom Mills

There is currently so much political upheaval in Britain that one might not be able to see the forest for the trees. The panic of the establishment is palpable. It is not only the right wing media that is losing its contenance, but the BBC and Guardian as well. Apparently in desperation neo-liberal interests are stumping up 50 million Pounds to form a new political party headed by Tony Blair to stop the “political rot”.

Continue reading

Well-being and age in co-housing life: Thinking with and beyond design

Co-housing communities, which are designed to encourage interaction in everyday life and informal mutual support, are often seen as a lifestyle that can improve residents’ health and well-being.

This viewpoint considers how spatial design, resident control and home technologies matter to ‘successful ageing’ in the increasingly popular co-housing communities- both intergenerational and senior. Based on the authors’ long-term research into these schemes, as well as on an interactive Continue reading

Contemporary Sikhism symposium at CCISC

Dr Demelza Jones

Dr Sarah-Jane Page

On 9th March CCISC hosted an inter-disciplinary symposium on Contemporary Sikhism, attended by forty delegates including academics, students, practitioners (from religious and inter-faith institutions and NGOS) and members of the public. The event took place as part of the work of the CCISC Religion and Belief research cluster and was organised by cluster co-leads Dr Sarah Jane Page Dr Demelza Jones. Continue reading

There’s more than one way to be anti-isolationist: what two recent adverts can teach us about how people frame opposition to Brexit

Dr Katherine Tonkiss

Dr Tendayi Bloom

In the past few months in the UK, two companies have launched adverts which are explicitly anti-isolationist: Ancestry, a popular genealogy website that helps people trace their family history and HSBC, an international bank. These adverts are particularly interesting because they depict two quite different ways in which those in Britain who position themselves as ‘remainers’ in the debate over whether to leave the EU have framed their views. Continue reading

Deportation and direct action in Britain: the ‘terrorist trial’ of the Stansted 15

Dr Graeme Hayes

Dr Graeme Hayes


The severity of the charge faced by the Stansted 15 should be seen as an important moment in defining the scope for non-violent protest in the UK.

At 10pm on 28 March 2017, fifteen activists wearing pink hi-viz vests entered the perimeter of London Stansted airport’s InFlite executive jet centre, and walked openly across a grassed area to where a Titan Airways Boeing 767-300 was parked.

The activists waved to the pilots and split into two groups; one group used metal tubing to lock themselves together at the front of the plane, whilst the remaining activists walked to the rear of the plane, where they constructed a tripod and locked themselves together underneath it. Continue reading

Regimes and Spaces of Austerity: Inside the British University


I am an academic working in a British university, and I am currently on strike. Alongside many of my colleagues – administrators, librarians, lecturers, graduate students – in the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU), I am taking industrial action in order to persuade Universities UK (UUK, the body which officially represents Britain’s universities) to commit to meaningful negotiations over the reforms they seek to impose on our pensions scheme (known as the Universities Superannuation Scheme, USS).1 According to the calculations made by UCU, UUK’s reforms to USS will result in the average member of the scheme losing about £10,000 per year in retirement; younger colleagues stand to lose far more than older colleagues.2

Continue reading

Norm Circles and Social Fields

Dr. Tom Mills

In a recent article for the British Journal of Sociology I offered a critical, and for the most part sympathetic, engagement with Actor Network Theory (ANT) in which I focused particularly on Bruno Latour’s provocative critique of sociology. The thrust of Latour’s argument is that what he calls ‘the sociology of the social’ fallaciously ascribes agency to a non-existent entity called ‘society’ or to a non-existent substance: ‘the social’. But society, Latour convincingly argues in his occasionally insightful and occasionally irritating polemics, does not exist, and neither does ‘the social’ (Latour 2005). Sociologists, therefore, should abandon their antiquated conceptual vocabulary (society, power, classes, capitalism etc) and focus instead on researching complex, hybrid networks of humans, concepts, objects, machines and molluscs.

I won’t go into much further detail, but my argument in that article is that whilst Latour identifies a real weakness in much sociological theory, the analytical payoffs promised by Latourian metaphysics can best be found in a sociological realism rooted in the philosophy of critical realism.

One impressively lucid alternative has been offered by Dave Elder-Vass, who has himself engaged critically with Actor Network Theory (Elder‐Vass 2008) and who kindly offered some feedback on a draft of my article. Elder-Vass rejects the reification of society and ‘the social’ for similar reasons to Latour, but argues nevertheless that the intellectual resources of sociology can be effectively utilised if we attribute causal powers not to society as such, but to a myriad of social institutions he calls norm circles (Elder-Vass 2010, 115-143). This, he argues, allows us to speak of a social structure above and beyond the beliefs and actions of individuals; something which sociologist have always done, but without sufficient precision or clarity.

In Elder-Vass’s theory, norm circles are understood as overlapping social collectives that encourage, endorse and enforce particular practices. In doing so, these ‘circles’ are more than the sum of their parts and give rise to a tendency for particular outcomes via each member’s understanding of their own normative environment. There are said to be different types of norm circles that relate to different types of norms, and understood within norm circle theory any identifiable social groups will likely be associated with numerous overlapping norm circles (described in terms of ‘clustered’ circles). There are, for example, epistemological and epistemic circles. Epistemological circles are collectives that validate beliefs as knowledge by upholding and enforcing particular epistemological standards, whilst epistemic circles are groups which uphold and enforce particular knowledge claims (Elder-Vass 2012).

What I think is particularly useful in the idea of norm circles – and the thing that makes it distinct from many other contemporary sociological models – is that it is fundamentally concerned with people and practices, rather than ideas or discourses. In this respect, a potentially interesting point of comparison is Bourdieu’s concept of the social field, which is another significant attempt to conceive of an objective social structure above and beyond individual human agents – and one which is similarly more concerned with practices than ideas and discourses. In An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology, Bourdieu who was certainly gifted, but not with concision, defined a social field as

a network, or a configuration, of objective relation between positions. These positions are objectively defined, in their existence and in the determinations they impose upon their occupants, agents or institutions, by their present and potential situation (situs) in the structure of the distribution of power (or capital) whose possession commands access to the specific profits that are at stake in the field, as well as by their objective relation to other positions (domination, subordination, homology, etc.). (Bourdieu 1993, 97)

Social fields, Bourdieu goes on to say, are a ‘structured social space, a field of forces, a force field’ (Ibid.) Part of the difficulty here is that the concept of ‘field’ is tied up with Bourdieu’s other sociological concepts. But in more conventional terms we can understand social fields as ‘relatively autonomous social microcosms’ that emerge historically and are characterised by unique forms of competitive and strategic relations between the agents and institutions that populate them. Bourdieu’s fields are hierarchically structured, and their agents possess differential resources with which they pursue distinct strategies in ‘struggle[s] for the transformation or preservation of the field’ (Bourdieu 1998, 40). As Thomson emphasises (2008, 72), the concept of a social field, like all of Bourdieu’s concepts, should be seen as ‘an epistemological and methodological heuristic’ to be put to use in empirical research. Doing so, according to Bourdieu, should involve (1) establishing where a field stands in relation to what he calls the ‘field of power’ (meaning the field of the ruling class, the elite, or the dominant classes in society) (Wacquant 1993); (2) mapping out the relations between the positions within the field occupied by agents and institutions; and (3) examining the internalised dispositions (habitus) of its agents. (Bourdieu and Wacquant 1992, 104-5) Bourdieu himself used the concept to research education, culture, academia, housing, television journalism and the state.

How might a Bourdieusian social fields relate to norm circles? Are they compatible epistemological and methodological heuristics? In broad terms, I think they are. Were we to overlay a social field with norm circles, I think we might consider it as comprising of overlapping ‘circles’ that together produce and reproduce its particular dynamics. In a given field there will likely be a set of norms that undergird the terms of competition within it (described by Bourdieu in terms of a field’s illusio and doxa), as well as norm circles associated with particular locations within the field and the distinct norms that predominate there.

In the academic field, for example, there are more or less universal norms relating to certain pedagogical and scholastic practices (relating for example to lecturing, plagiarism and peer review) as well as distinct norms associated with particular disciplines and competing subfields, each with their own epistemologies, political commitments (tacit or explicit) and scholastic practices. In the case of sociology, for example, we could point to Burawoy’s influential typology of professional, policy, critical and public approaches (Burawoy 2005), or Williams, Sloan and Brookfield’s (2017) more recent description of analytical and critical approaches in UK sociology. In Bourdieu’s somewhat idiosyncratic schema, the sorts of strategies and dispositions associated with these different sociological practices would be regarded as forms of the position taking, illusio and doxa that characterise social fields, but they can at the same time be understood as practices undergirded by clusters of overlapping norm circles – clusters which together give rise to the social field’s relational dynamics and emergent properties.


Bourdieu, P. (1993). The field of cultural production: Essays on art and literature, Columbia University Press.

Bourdieu, P. (1998). On Television. New York, The New Press

Bourdieu, P. and L. J. Wacquant (1992). An invitation to reflexive sociology, University of Chicago press.

Burawoy, M. (2005). “2004 American Sociological Association presidential address: for public sociology.” The British Journal of Sociology 56(2): 259-294.

Elder-Vass, D. (2010). The causal power of social structures: Emergence, structure and agency, Cambridge University Press.

Elder-Vass, D. (2012). The reality of social construction, Cambridge University Press.

Elder‐Vass, D. (2008). “Searching for realism, structure and agency in Actor Network Theory.” The British Journal of Sociology 59(3): 455-473.

Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social : an introduction to actor-network-theory. Oxford, New York, Oxford University Press.

Mills, T. (2017). “What has become of critique? Reassembling sociology after Latour.” British Journal of Sociology Advance online publication, DOI: 10.1111/1468-4446.12306.

Thomson, P. (2008). Field. Pierre Bourdieu: key concepts. M. J. Grendell. Oxon: Abingdon, Routledge: 65-82.

Wacquant, L. J. (1993). “From ruling class to field of power: An interview with Pierre Bourdieu on La Noblesse d’Etat.” Theory, Culture & Society 10(3): 19-44.

Williams, M., et al. (2017). “A Tale of Two Sociologies: Analyzing Versus Critique in UK Sociology.” Sociological Research Online 22(4): 132-151.