Research Seminars

Our Research Seminars are open to academics, researchers and postgraduate research students from across the University, and postgraduate taught students in the Department. They provide an informal setting for intellectual debate, sharing ideas and collaboration.

All seminars are held in the ELMFIELD BUILDING (Building 31 on the Campus Map), unless otherwise indicated.

Forthcoming seminars




Wednesday 2 May 2018, 4-5pm Room G19, Elmfield Building

Dr Ysabel Gerrard, Lecturer in Digital Media and Society, Department of Sociological Studies, University of Sheffield

Platform policing: the moderation of pro-eating disorder content on social media

Social media companies make important decisions about what counts as ‘problematic’ content and how they will remove it. They often make decisions about moderation when they face public pressures, such as accusations that they host pro-eating disorder (pro-ED) content. This is precisely what happened in February 2012, when a Huffington Post writer published a widely read exposé on the ‘secret world’ of Tumblr’s thinspiration blogs. By May 2012, Tumblr - along with Instagram and Pinterest - had publically announced its plans to minimise the spread of pro-ED content. The platforms responded by moderating hashtags, blocking certain tags and issuing public service announcements (PSAs) when users search for troubling terms, like #proana and #thinspiration. The hashtag has thus become an indicator of where problematic content can be found, but this has produced limited understandings of how such content actually circulates.

Using pro-ED communities as a case study, this talk demonstrates the limitations of hashtag logics in decisions about, and discussions of social media content moderation. It explores how: (1) users are evading hashtag and other forms of platform policing, devising signals to identify themselves as ‘pro-ED’, and (2) platforms’ recommendation systems recirculate pro-ED content, revealing the limitations of hashtag logics in social media content moderation. It also turns to future directions for research on the relationship between eating disorders and social media.

This project was conducted during a summer spent at the Social Media Collective, Microsoft Research New England (see: for more details).

ALL WELCOME. Please let us know if you plan to attend

Wednesday 9 May 2018, 4-5pm Room G18, Elmfield Building

Dr Matthew Hughey, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Connecticut

White bound: nationalists, antiracists, and the shared meanings of race

Discussions of race are inevitably fraught with tension, both in opinion and positioning. Too frequently, debates are framed as clear points of opposition—us versus them. And when considering white racial identity, a split between progressive movements and a neoconservative backlash is all too frequently assumed. Taken at face value, it would seem that whites are splintering into antagonistic groups, with differing worldviews, values, and ideological stances.

White Bound investigates these dividing lines, questioning the very notion of a fracturing whiteness, and in so doing offers a unique view of white racial identity.

Dr. Matthew Hughey (Associate Professor, University of Connecticut) spent over a year attending the meetings, reading the literature, and interviewing members of two white organizations—a white nationalist group and a white antiracist group. Though he found immediate political differences, he observed surprising similarities related to how both groups make meaning of race and whiteness. His talk will examine these similarities to illuminate not just the many ways of being white, but how these actors make meaning of whiteness in ways that collectively reproduce both white identity and, ultimately, white supremacy.

ALL WELCOME. Please let us know if you plan to attend

Tuesday 22 May 2018, 1-2pm
Room G19, Elmfield Building

Dr Warren Pearce, Faculty Fellow (iHuman) and Dr Ros Williams, Research Associate, Department of Sociological Studies, University of Sheffield

How climate scientists use social media: collusion and collision of personal, professional and epistemic contexts (Warren Pearce)

The 'acute controversy' of Climategate provided an impetus for climate scientists to more publicly explain their practices through social media (Hulme, 2013). However, this online environment provides new communicative challenges. Social media platforms are sites of 'context collapse' (Marwick and boyd, 2011). Platform architecture facilitates both intentional collusion of contexts (e.g. as a means of maintaining weak ties across broad networks) or unintentional collision of contexts (e.g. through challenges to privacy management) (Davis and Jurgenson, 2014). Climate scientists' increasing use of social media has given rise to disagreements regarding the social context of climate science, and the extent to which these should be colluded or kept apart (Edwards, 2013; Schmidt, 2015; Pielke Jr., 2018).

In short, the entrance of climate scientists into social media provides rich potential for investigating the shifting social contexts of both climate scientists and climate science. Yet research into social media climate change communication has largely been restricted to big data textual analysis that reveals little about these substantial issues. This paper addresses this gap, presenting findings from the first set of interviews undertaken with climate scientists about their social media usage. It focuses on three different types of contexts which inform climate scientists' social media communications: personal (e.g. values), organisational (e.g. employers' policy) and epistemic (e.g. the relative value attached to knowledge validation through traditional journal peer review and post-publication peer review online). Findings inform knowledge on i) social context for climate debates and ii) theories of social media platforms.

Mix and match: Constituting mixed racialized communities in UK stem cell donation (Ros Williams)​

This paper explores notions of “mixed race” in the context of human tissue donation, a key site where biological and social models of race collide. The UK’s mixed-raced population has doubled in ten years, making it timely to explore what mixedness means today. The paper considers bone marrow stem cell transplantation where 90% of white cancer patients, but only 40% of minority and mixed-raced patients find donors. Charities use donation drives and social media to encourage minority/mixed-raced stem cell donation; building on my existing research, I ask what might be learned from adopting ethnographic and digital methods to expand sociological understandings of racialised tissue donation, and of mixedness.

Arranged by STeMiS.

ALL WELCOME. Please let us know if you plan to attend

Wednesday 6 June 2018 Elmfield, Lecture Theatre 1


Where is public sociology now? Sociological urgencies and responses



In his well-cited beginning to his popularization of public sociology in 2004 Michael Burowoy emphasized the need for sociologists to respond ‘to the growing gap between the sociological ethos and the world we study’, reminding his audience that, ‘the challenge of public sociology is to engage multiple publics in multiple ways’. We have organized this event as an opportunity to review and reflect on what public sociologies might mean fourteen years after Burowoy’s intervention and in the context of such national and global urgencies as Brexit, new nationalisms, the refugee crisis, the Grenfell disaster, Trump and the new populism, Me Too, Time’s Up and so forth. This appears to be particular moment when sociological thinking is needed and this afternoon’s presentations showcase some of the disciplinary labour that is currently being done.

Register and see full programme at Eventbrite


Professor Nathan Hughes, Department of Sociological Studies, University of Sheffield

The discrimination and criminalisation of childhood neurodevelopmental impairment in youth justice systems

Childhood neurodevelopmental impairments are cognitive, emotional or communicative functional difficulties, caused by disruption in the development of the brain or other aspects of the nervous system. A growing body of evidence reveals a disproportionately high prevalence of neurodevelopmental impairments among young people in custodial institutions that is consistent across various international contexts. This suggests the widespread failure of current practices and interventions intended to prevent offending and reoffending to recognize or to meet the needs of young people with cognitive, emotional or communicative difficulties. In particular, it highlights the processes within policing and youth justice systems that serve to disable, and ultimately criminalize, young people with neurodevelopmental impairment. This includes inadequate assessment and screening, inappropriate assumptions of verbal and cognitive competence, the use of generic interventions that are unresponsive to learning needs or functional difficulties, and therefore a failure to address key underlying influences on offending behaviour.
This paper will consider the various steps in the criminal justice process at which young people with neurodevelopmental impairment may be disadvantaged, from police interview to court appearance to community intervention to experiences of custody. Furthermore it will critically reflect on the inherent difficulties associated with the key concepts of punishment, deterrence and rehabilitation that underpin such systems, when applied to the lives of young people with impairment. In doing so it will demonstrate how criminal justice systems at odds with international conventions on the rights of young people and those with disabilities.

ALL WELCOME. Please let us know if you plan to attend