The Accidental Sociologist

This is The Accidental Sociologist – a place in which I will be holding court on the wonderful myriad of ways in which getting somewhere entirely by happenstance can result in great things. The column has its origins in a blog post I wrote explaining my inadvertent but fortuitous stumbling upon the discipline during my postgraduate studies. Before falling (occasionally literally, I am rather clumsy) into sociology I was spending my time working on a assortment of haphazard creative projects including novel editing, band promo, theatre production, e-learning, and reading. I think in some circles this last item is referred to as a Master’s in English Literature.

I was well on my way to being a PhD in English Literature: I had a project, a supervisor and a bit of funding. All that stood between me and a completed thesis on the femme fatale in second wave British Golden Age detective fiction was three years of graft and a modicum of starvation. If I’d taken that road I’d be done by now. 

 Chilling thought. Ultimately I decided that my heart wasn’t in it – that while the project was intriguing, it just wasn’t something that I could really be passionate about. It’s akin to the kind of date you enjoy but who doesn’t get invited in for wine and extras. Instead of that I decided to get a proper job. That didn’t go so well either. By the point at which I’d set myself up for said proper job (being an English teacher) I was aching to be back in academia. Teacher training left me with brilliant stories – mostly involving teenage boys and libido – and the desire to finally get my thesis written. I decided that I needed to be more adventurous in order to find the right place for my work and the right topic to carry me through the gruelling years ahead. Somehow, through a process of cataloguing Stuff I Like Reading and people who’s work I was jealous of them having done, and sifting through supervision areas of academics across history, philosophy, politics, law, psychology – the list continues –  I ended up in sociology. Entirely by accident. It means that I sort of have to start over – my new department has this notion that I should learn some actual sociology before they let me loose on a doctorate. So from next week I’m doing (another) Master’s in Sociology and Research Methods, followed by PhD.

This blog has two functions. Firstly, it’s going to feature my forays into formal study of sociology and map out the voyage from arts education to being a true social scientist (bearing in mind that I’m not even certain this will happen). It will embrace all areas of academic development including conferences, publishing and professional development. It will also be a place to find advice on postgraduate study in sociology. I’m going to be writing some surgery-style pieces on topics such as finding the best conferences to present at, writing an abstract, getting your presentation skills sharpened and keeping your sanity intact. I’m also going to be putting your questions to academics in the field and getting expert, tried-and-tested answers.

My academic interests centre around narratives of the grotesque body and their relationship to sexual citizenship. I spend a fair portion of my time thinking about vagina dentatas, leakiness, obstinacy, wilfulness and all things queer(ed). I’m fascinated by how we go about writing our own sociological narratives – how intimate imagination becomes theory and where the self goes when you write in the objective third person. Outside of academia I privilege decadence in all its forms. I like my steak blue and my vodka martini dirty. So, pull up an easy chair, pour a dram of your particular poison and feel free to get in touch with your questions and stories. The Accidental Sociologist doesn’t stand on ceremony.

Sarah Burton is a postgraduate student at the University of Glasgow and has research interests in narratives of the grotesque body, especially in relation to power. She is also Co-Convenor of the British Sociological Association Postgraduate Forum.

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  1. Just found this! I too have come from English Lit background, and I’m currently doing a PhD in Sociology. Now to read your road map on how to be an accidental sociologist 🙂 I’m hoping it will save me time!

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