Why I am quitting the British Sociological Association

Now that my PhD is almost complete, I’ve received a polite request from UCU that I rejoin as a staff member. I was pleased to find that subscription rates are on a sliding scale, with the highest band paying twice as much as the band I’m in (and unlikely to leave any time soon).

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So UCU, as an organisation I’ve had little involvement in, will continue to have me as a member. In contrast, the BSA, an organisation I’ve committed huge amounts of my time to in various guises have a much less inviting membership policy (left) and conference costs (right):

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Registration is OPEN.

BSA Member Full Conference  £310
BSA Member Day Only Registration  £140
BSA Concessionary Member Full Conference  £165
BSA Concessionary Member Day Only Registration  £65
BSA Member Postgraduate Day Only Registration (22 April)*  £25
Non-member Full Conference  £450
Non-member Day Only Registration  £250
Non-member Postgraduate Day Only Registration (22 April)*  £50

I would need to renew my membership before the next conference. I’m a research associate in one place (2 days a week) and a research associate in another place (1 day a week). As someone “NOT a full-time student, fully retired or unwaged” this means my annual membership fee is £118. Note that part-time students, often those without funding, don’t qualify for concessionary membership either. This means that ‘UK member’ encompasses everyone from the £60,000 & above through to, I guess, the £5,000-£10,000 categories used by UCU to determine the fees of their members. So as someone post-PhD with 60% employment is it unrealistic to expect not to be placed in the same cost category as someone on the salary of a full professor? The sliding scale doesn’t have to be particularly radical (UCU’s isn’t) but its absence is emblematic of the lack of understanding (or concern – I’ve assumed the former given principle of charity) that I’ve witnessed so frequently from those at the heart of the BSA. I understand academics on Council were opposed to the recent changes, but that decisions are made by a very small number of Trustees.

In the past five years I’ve occupied many roles and organised lots of events as part of them, all at a time when as an unfunded part-time PhD student working full time with a wide range of other projects I had very little timeI did these things with the BSA because I want to contribute to the sociological community in the UK:

  1. Co-convened the Postgraduate Study Group
  2. Been part of the steering committee for the Theory Group
  3. Co-founded the Digital Sociology Group
  4. Co-convened the Realism Group
  5. Managed the websites for each of the above
  6. Helped out as much as possible when people got referred to me as ‘the social media guy’

At this year’s BSA conference I had organised:

  1. A realism plenary session with Margaret Archer
  2. A digital sociology plenary session with Deborah Lupton, Emma Uprichard, Mike Savage, Noortje Marres and Evelyn Ruppert
  3. A panel discussion on Digital Public Sociology
  4. A panel discussion on sociological approaches to self-tracking (w/ Chris Till)

I’m still irritated that I won’t be able to attend any of these. As one of numerous PhD students from my department, I wrote to the BSA explaining the complex situation we faced for getting department’s funding to support our travel. We were offered a short extension of the presenter deadline for registrations in January but not one long enough to clarify the situation. Or one long enough to allow me to desperately scrape together the funds to register.

I now can’t afford to attend the BSA. Including membership it would be £428. Along with train fair and accommodation this would be easily £600 or more. Would you pay £600 to go to a conference, in which you had organised a range of events, but weren’t allowed to speak at? I can’t afford to go to the BSA. But I wouldn’t go under these conditions anyway.

I understand that long term trends mean that the BSA will become increasingly dependent upon their membership. Well I have been the most committed and enthusiastic member imaginable. Yet after five years of mounting frustration I now want to have nothing more to do with the British Sociological Association and I’ll looking for some other way to contribute to sociology in the UK.

So why am I writing this? Partly to explain why I won’t be at the conference despite my having organised 4 relatively high profile events. It seemed like a bit of an academic faux pas and it was stressing me out. Partly to make my feelings clear about the BSA rather than just slink away into non-participation. Partly to vent the frustration that I’ve been politely restraining myself from expressing for years, knowing I’ll no longer find myself ceaselessly defending the BSA against all the people who criticise them for precisely the issues that have (silently) troubled me for the entire time I’ve been involved. Partly out of sheer concern for British sociology that the BSA is responding to short term financial challenges with action that is destructive to its long term strategic needs. The BSA needs members  and I don’t think those running it day-to-day realise quite how much grumbling goes on about the BSA within British sociology. More to the point: unless there is a radical change to pricing structure I suspect much of my cohort and subsequent ones will just fail to engage. The BSA risks losing PhD/ECR students in the UK. The only reason it hasn’t already lost them is because, I’d suggest, the widespread belief persists that you ‘need’ to have a presentation at the BSA on your CV to get a job.

Categories: Committing Sociology, Higher Education

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4 replies »

  1. I fully agree; the conference fee politics of these bigger Sociological Association events really got out of hands… similar situation with the ISA.

    Suppose, the ‘professional’ organisation of these mega-meetings consume a lot of money ( I doubt efficiency and effects though). Time to move on I guess…

  2. I’m saddened but not surprised to learn that the BSA is acting this way. You have done so much work on their behalf and it’s ridiculous that they don’t have an appropriate category for members in positions such as yourself. Given this stupid error they should give you a free place and a written apology.

  3. Yeh I fully sympathise Mark. The conference is even in Leeds this year, where I’m based, but I’ll not be registering as on a part-time teaching assistant’s wage I’ve not got any spare cash to fund the cost. Pretty frustrating!

  4. It really saddens me how privileged the sociological discipline is despite it’s claim to challenging inequality. Something that also aggravates me is that all of the top tier journals have a hefty submission fee of about $50…just for a *shot* at being published in a journal with a very low acceptance rate.

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