I haven’t seen a full obituary for Ray Pahl yet, who died earlier this month. Pahl had an interesting status in geography, I think – as the one who got away, but then who lots of people ended up following. He wrote the ‘sociological models’ essay in Chorley and Haggett’s classic Models in Geography, the source text for geography’s ‘quantitative revolution’ in the 1960s, and moved from geography as an undergraduate to sociology – pioneering qualitative methods in the social sciences. It took a while for geographers to catch up.
Once upon a time, for a few months, I tried to do PhD research modelled on the sort of detailed qualitative work on family dynamics that he and his wife Jan Pahl both excelled in – but I simply didn’t have the social skills to pull this off. I took refuge in ‘theory’, and the ‘archive’.
Pahl wrote a lenghty review of Mike Savage’s recent account of post-war sociology/social science in The Sociological Review, published earlier this year, in which he partly situates himself in relation to the growth of social science in the UK as theorised by Savage.
Just in time for Christmas, a new book out on becoming a father, Making Sense of Fatherhood, by sociologist Tina Miller at Oxford Brookes, who has previously written about experiences of becoming a mother. My reason for mentioning this is personal, because I am in it. I was one of Tina’s research subjects, back in 2006 and 2007, which involved being interviewed before and after the birth of our first child. The publication of the book is timely, since we are now expecting our second just after Christmas, so it gives me an opportunity to remember what life felt like last time.
I haven’t read the book yet, so I don’t know whether I ended up being a useful [anonymised] informant, nor what Tina has made of all the dad-talk in general. But I enjoyed the experience of being in her project, both for personal and ‘professional’ reasons. Personally, it was fun to have the opportunity to talk about what was going on way back then, and ‘Tina’ became a kind of imaginary friend in my head, who I would silently talk to as I wondered the streets of Bishopston pushing a pram for what seemed like hours on end. Professionally, it was interesting to be on the other side, as it were, to have a glimpse of the ordinariness of how lots of empirical social science gets done. I didn’t really think of it this way at the time, but it was pointed out to me the other day that my participation in Tina’s project sort of counted as ‘volunteering’. So now I am intrigued to discover if there is any work out there on how dependent social science research is on the willingness of people to be interviewed, counted, surveyed, and so on.
So, I might have more thoughts on being a research subject once I have read the book; and I’m going to look into the ‘research volunteering’ thing a little bit more too. In between all the busy, engaged parenting, obviously.