Not continuity or change but continuity and change

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Not continuity or change but continuity and change

  • Graham Crow (University of Southampton)
  • Interdisciplinary perspectives on continuity and change:
  • what counts as QLR?
  • NCRM Network of Methodological Innovation event
  • University of Southampton, 15 November 2012

Overview of presentation

  • Outline of project on Isle of Sheppey, Kent, involving a partial re-study of a modern sociological classic focussing on ordinary people’s everyday lives
  • Discussion of ‘imagined futures’ essays written by young people for what they tell us about worldviews
  • Comparing ‘then’ and ‘now’ and looking for continuities as well as changes

Overview of Sheppey project

  • South East Coastal Communities Project 2009-10, funded by HEFCE
  • Dawn Lyon, Peter Hatton, Tim Strangleman (University of Kent), Graham Crow (University of Southampton), Jenny Hurkett, Alice Young (Blue Town Heritage Centre, Sheerness), in association with TEA, and UK Data Archive
  • Focus on memories of the Naval Dockyard (closed 1960) and its occupational community and on young people’s imagined futures
  • Partial re-study of Ray Pahl’s 1970s/80s study

Location of Sheppey

Map of Sheppey

The original study

  • Divisions of Labour (1984) based on an extensive, mixed methods project
  • Methods included essays written by 142 school leavers in May 1978 (mainly 16-year-olds, 89 boys, 52 girls), imagining themselves towards the end of their lives and looking back
  • Essays now archived at UKDA
  • Speedy publication of ‘Living without a job: how school leavers see the future’ New Society 2 November 1978: 259-62; focus on themes of work, unemployment and family
  • Analytical theme developed of contrasting myth and reality (Pahl 1984: ch.7; Wallace 1987: 14)

Aspirations of geographical mobility in the 1978 essays

  • Not all essays locate their authors’ imagined futures, but 55 of the 141 envisage geographical mobility beyond Kent:
  • London (12 essays)
  • Scotland (3 essays), Cornwall (3 essays)
  • Crawley, Derby, Devon, Doncaster, Dorset, Hampshire, Newcastle, Newmarket, Northampton, Norwich, Portsmouth, Reading, Wales (1 essay each)
  • USA (4 essays), Australia (3 essays), Germany (2 essays)
  • Cyprus, France, Italy, Tibet (1 essay each)
  • Overseas ‘seeing the world’ with Armed Forces (11 essays)
  • This is at odds with the common-sense victim-blaming focus on lack of ambition as the explanation of high unemployment levels

What is the status of such data?

  • Archive material includes Ray Pahl’s notes about the essays, including (on a few)
  • ‘total fantasy’ (on 8)
  • ‘totally unrealistic idea of what he earns and what he gets – own house, car etc.’ (on 38)
  • In 2009-10 a further 110 essays were collected. They have many more points of reference to celebrity culture than the 1978 essays do, thus continuing to raise questions about how ‘realistic’ young people’s accounts of their imagined futures are.

Essay 42

  • This is it. The end of my career is near. Tomorrow I must say goodbye to the footballing world. Twenty years of playing for the team I have supported since being a child and then become the manager for twenty five years. Gillingham Football Club, the club I watched battle through the lower leagues as a child and being scouted by the club at the age of fifteen, making a record 325 appearances and scoring 72 goals. Playing for the club I enjoyed two promotions and suffered relegation. I then moved on to be offered the manager’s job hours after announcing my retirement. It was a total no brainer. This is what I had dreamt of since being young, watching matches pretending I was the manager as a child, folding my arms pretending to tell the players what to do. This was my chance to really live that childhood dream and put my name down in history as the most successful Gillingham manager. Then I took the club to become the Premier league champions for five consecutive seasons. The highlight of my career was taking a nearly relegated, administration bound, Gillingham up three divisions into the Premier League. This was a project that took my whole career and most of my life. All this was fantastic and exactly how I wanted to live my life. Now I have fulfilled my life ambition I can die happily knowing my life has had an affect on others and I have supported and nurtured other young players that, like me, have aspired to be one of the greats.
  • npower League Two Table 13/11/2012
  • Position Team Played Points
    • Gillingham 17 37
    • Port Vale 17 32
    • Cheltenham 17 32
    • Bradford 17 28
    • Fleetwood 17 28
    • Rochdale 17 27
    • Burton Albion 17 26
    • Torquay 17 25
    • Rotherham 16 25
    • Exeter 17 24
    • Southend 17 23
    • Northampton 17 23
    • York 17 23
    • Dag and Red 17 22
    • Morecambe 17 22
    • Accrington 16 21
    • Oxford Utd 17 20
    • Chesterfield 17 19
    • Plymouth 17 18
    • Bristol Rovers16 17
    • Wimbledon 17 17
    • Wycombe 16 13
    • Barnet 17 13
    • Aldershot 17 13

Making sense of these data – the craft of qualitative longitudinal research

  • Relevance of debates generated by use of this and other techniques about ambitions, aspirations, plans, strategies, expectations, dreams, fantasies and the best ways of capturing these (Himmelweit et al 1952; Veness 1962; Elliott 2005; Anderson et al 2005; Brannen & Nilsen 2002, 2007)
  • Different interpretations by different members of the research team regarding ‘hope’/‘constraint’
  • Sheppey as a ‘space of hope’ (Harvey, 2000)
  • Imagination as a space in which hope can be explored

Making sense of these data – the craft of qualitative longitudinal research

  • It is tempting to highlight change because this is often what jumps out from the data.
  • This is true, for example, of the greater prominence of celebrity culture in the 2009-10 essays compared to the 1978 ones
  • It is also true of visual materials

Making sense of these data – the craft of qualitative longitudinal research

  • But there are also important continuities in underlying patterns, once we acknowledge the presence of changing cultural expressions (e.g. perspectives on ageing and being ‘old’)
  • These are still quite strongly gendered imaginations, in some respects (e.g. girls’ essays are more likely than boys’ essays to mention having children) and there are persistent differences in the types of work envisaged (e.g. girls and care work)
  • There is also the continuing importance of place – local connections offer something of a ‘safe space’
  • Important to remember that Pahl’s original research is ‘an interesting study of an unusual place’ – but where is ‘typical’?

Making sense of these data – the craft of qualitative longitudinal research

  • Final point that theme of continuity and change also relates to theory and methods
  • It is not only because of social change, but also because of methodological and theoretical developments, that we cannot ‘step into the same river twice’
  • We found it quite useful to undertake some quantitative analysis of the frequency with which themes appeared in the essays, influenced in part by Pahl’s concerns about ‘cherry picking’ from qualitative data and focusing on the striking cases rather than the routine ones. This fits with theoretical interests in ‘ordinariness’


  • Anderson, M. et al (2005) ‘Timespans and plans among young adults’ Sociology 39(1) 139-55
  • Brannen, J. and Nilsen, A. (2002) ‘Young people’s time perspectives: From youth to adulthood’ Sociology 36(3) 513-37.
  • Brannen, J. and Nilsen, A. (2007) ‘Young people, time horizons and planning, A response to Anderson et al’ Sociology 41(1) 153-60.
  • Crow, G. (2008) ‘Thinking about families and communities over time’, in R. Edwards (ed.) Researching Families and Communities. London: Routledge, 11-24.
  • Crow, G. (2012) ‘Community studies: lessons and prospects’, Sociological Review 60(3) 405-20.
  • Crow, G. and Lyon, D. (2011) ‘Turning points in work and family lives in the imagined futures of young people on Sheppey in 1978’ in M. Winterton, G. Crow and Brett-Morgan (eds) Young Lives and Imagined Futures: Insights from Archived Data
  • Elliott, J. (2005) Using Narrative in Social Research: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches (London: Sage)
  • Harvey, D. (2000) Spaces of Hope, Edinburgh University Press.
  • Himmelweit, H. et al (1952) ‘The views of adolescents on some aspects of the social class structure’, British Journal of Sociology 3(2) 148-72
  • Lyon, D., Morgan-Brett, B. and Crow, G. (2012) ‘’Working with material from the Sheppey archive’, International Journal of Social Research Methodology 15(4) July, 301-9.
  • MacDonald, R. et al (2005) ‘Growing up in poor neighbourhoods’, Sociology 39(5) 873-91.
  • Pahl, R.E. (1978) ‘Living without a job: how school leavers see the future’ New Society 2/11, 259-62
  • Pahl, R.E. (1984) Divisions of Labour (Oxford: Basil Blackwell)
  • Veness, T. (1962) School Leavers: Their Aspirations and Expectations (London: Methuen)
  • Wallace, C. (1987) For Richer, For Poorer: Growing up in and out of work (London: Tavistock)
  • Weddell, E., Lyon, D., Crow, G. and Brett-Morgan, B. (2012) ‘Imagining the future’, Sociology Review 22(1), September, 2-5.
  • Living and Working on Sheppey project

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