Sociology posters: like Twitter, but with more words and pictures?

Sociologists can communicate their research-based ideas, arguments and findings in a range of ways, including in journal articles, books, contributions to print and broadcast media, and through oral presentations at conferences. Nowadays, of course, there are social media based tools of communication too, such as Twitter and blogs. In my own career I have used all of these, but until recently I had never done a sociology poster presentation.

Poster presentations usually take place at conferences and involve a display of A1 size posters, each detailing an argument or research findings. I found the process of preparing my poster presentation a real challenge, both technically (in terms of its physical look and production) and intellectually, in terms of effectively transforming what was a 7000 word published journal article in to a A1 visual display. One of the great things about Twitter is that you are heavily restricted in how many characters each of your tweets can contain. Twitter forces you to be succinct and to the point. My experience of presenting sociology in a poster format is that it is just like Twitter, only with a few more words and pictures. In other words, presenting sociology via a poster forces you to get to the gist of the matter and convey your points in the most efficient, effective and engaging way.

Did I pull it off with my poster? Well, I am showing it at the BSA Ageing, Body and Society Study Group Conference ‘Body Work in Health and Social Care’ on 6th September 2011 but here’s a preview, judge for yourself!  

15/09/11 UPDATE – Due to an accident and subsequently having a plaster cast on my leg, I was not after all able to show my poster at the conference! I am hoping to show it at another conference at a later date.

29/03/12 UPDATE – My poster is due to be shown at annual conference of the British Sociological Association, University of Leeds, on April 12 2012.

Here are some tips I picked up on the way:

Have an attention-grabbing title, in large font

Divide your poster up in to sections of information and use headlines for each

Use a good contrast of colours between text and background

Include your institutions logo, and that of any funding support for your work

Give emphasis to your really key points through using bold or slightly larger font size

Don’t bother with an abstract or include references, but do have a brief introduction and conclusion sections

Remember, its a poster not a paper – you have to grab people’s attention with it, so it has to be visually attractive and convey your topic at a glance; but you are also expected to stand next to your poster and engage in face-to-face communication and dialogue with the audience it attracts

Use Powerpoint (or a similar package) to prepare your poster. The University of Leicester offers good advice on how to use Powerpoint effectively to prepare a poster.

When using Powerpoint, to see what your poster will look like at A1 size, use zoom to increase what you see to 283%

Less is more – aim to include between 300 and 500 words on your poster

Any graphics/pictures used have to be of the right pixel quality, so they look good when blown up to A1 size – about 300 pixels is the minimum but 400-500 is ideal

(With thanks to Ollie Williams from Department of Sociology, University of Leicester for his help with some of these tips).

Poems, photos and song lyrics as sociology teaching resources

At the University of Leicester, in my undergraduate sociology module Ageing, Death and the Life Course, I try to make use of a range of teaching and learning materials. This includes poetry, lyrics and photographs. In the past, I have used campaign posters from charities like Save the Children, and Age Concern, and Shakespeare’s ‘Seven Ages of Man’. To preface a lecture on Death and Dying, I play the song End Credits by Chase and Status. This year I asked students to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of key concepts and theories in the sociology of age and the life course through their analysis of either a poem, or a photograph.

The poem is A Crabbit Old Woman, thought to have been written by a woman who died at a geriatric hospital in Scotland in the 1960s. The photograph (which I can’t reproduce here) depicts four generations of adult women in the same family. Both poem and photo allow students to write about the three key ageing processes that are key to sociological perspectives (physiological ageing or the body, life course, and cohort), and both allow consideration of gender and age (Pilcher 1995). The poem is particuarly useful in terms of analysing old age as a stage of the life course.

I’d like to make more use of these kinds of resources because students respond well to them and it enhances their learning in ways that academic literature resources mostly don’t offer. For a while, I have wanted to use extracts from the film ‘Big’ starring Tom Hanks, to teach about the social construction of childhood and the importance of bodies in shaping age status and social identities – but I haven’t been able to source this properly.

I would welcome any suggestions for visual, poetry or film resources that I could use in my module on ageing, death and the life course; please email me at

Pilcher, J. (1995) Age and Generation in Modern Britain, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

A useful resource for using visual images in sociology is available from the Open University.

Ageism: the forgotten discrimination?

Whilst some forms of discrimination have been outlawed for decades, discrimination on the basis of calendar age has only more recently been the subject of legislation. In the UK, age discrimination (in employment) was first outlawed in 2006. The Equality Act 2010 is the new law which is set to provide protection against age discrimination in employment, training and adult education for people of all ages. When the Act comes fully into force in 2012, it will for the first time introduce protection against discrimination on the basis of age in goods and services, including health and social care services.

There is plenty of evidence that the formal prohibition of age discrimination is needed. For example, in 2009, a National Review of Age Discrimination in Health and Social Care (for the Department of Health) concluded that ageist attitudes were affecting investigation and treatment levels for older people. Research for the UK charity Age UK (published in March 2011) shows that age discrimination is the most widely experienced form of discrimination in Europe. In the UK, 64 per cent of those interviewed said that age discrimination was a serious problem. The survey found that those people aged over 50 were very concerned that employers would tend to give a job to someone aged in their 20s rather than an older person. In the UK, 49.7 per cent of those interviewed judged this perceived tendency on the part of employers to favour younger rather than older workers to be a problem. British people were above the European average in believing that prejudice towards other age groups is wrong. Nonetheless, the survey also showed that older people in the UK were looked upon as being friendlier, but also as less competent than by people in the rest of the Europe. Across Europe, people aged 70 or over were shown to be at the age least likely to be envied. There have also been high profile cases involving ageism claims, such as Miriam O’Reilly’s case against the BBC in January 2011.

Although the new legislation is intended to outlaw discrimination on the basis of age for people at all stage of the life course, much of the wider debate about ageism is actually about the prejudices experienced by older people. Yet, children, teenagers and young adults can also be subjected to stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination. You only have to think of shops displaying notices saying ‘No unaccompanied children’ or ‘No more than three school children are allowed in the shop at any one time’. Young drivers pay more for their car insurance than older drivers, and young workers get lower levels of the minimum wage on the basis of their calendar age. It is unlikely that the Equality Act will operate to eliminate these kinds of ageism against children and young people, but on the whole it is a welcome development. Alongside stronger and more widespread laws outlawing ageism, however, we also need a change in everyday attitudes as to what a person’s calendar age can, or can not, tell us about their interests and activities, their attitudes and beliefs, and their competencies and experiences.

The life and times of a journal article

My article ‘What Not to Wear? Girls, Clothing and Showing the Body’ has finally been published. I say finally, not in criticism of the workings of the journal that it is published in, but as a description of the life and times that this article has been through.

First written in 2005, an earlier version of this article was submitted to a highly ranked UK journal of sociology but, after a reviewing period of several months, was rejected outright. Next, the article was submitted to a highly ranked European journal of sociology. Despite acknowledging its receipt, the editors never let me have a decision and did not respond to emails or snailmail (postal) queries about its status. Essentially, I was ignored! Taking their resounding silence over a period of half a year as a hint that my work was not wanted, I submitted it elsewhere.

The article was eventually submitted to Children and Society in December 2008. It was finally accepted for publication in April 2009, and published ‘virtually’ (early view) online in June 2009. The paper copy of the journal in which my article appears has a publication date of November 2010

Published journal articles then take on even more of a life of their own, of course. My article ‘Mannheim’s Sociololgy of Generations’ was first published sixteen years ago in the British Journal of Sociology in September 1994. According to Google Scholar at least, it has been cited over 70 times in other publications. The article now lives on in cyberspace, made readily available to audiences by others (not by the publisher directly, and not by myself) as a complete PDF download (for example,

I wonder what will happen to ‘What Not to Wear?’ in sixteen years time?

The uses of sociology: happiness on BBC Radio 4’s Thinking Allowed

For some time now, BBC Radio Four’s Thinking Allowed programme has been an important pathway for sociologists who wish to engage in ‘public sociology’. The program is presented by the sociologist Laurie Taylor, and is described as ‘new research on how society works’. According to Michael Burawoy (2005), public sociology is sociology presented to a wide, non-academic audience in an accessible and relevant way in order to share the ideas, arguments and research of sociologists. Through public sociology, the social, political and personal uses and potential of sociology is highlighted: it helps people understand society as it is now and can show them how things might be bettered.

Check out the recent edition of the programme which focuses on happiness and features one of my colleagues at the University of Leicester,
Dr David Bartram. David talks about his research on economic migrants and whether their higher income leads to their happiness. The ‘happiness work’ that comes with working as a hairdresser is also discussed via the sociological work of Rachel Cohen, who is a Senior Research Fellow at University of Warwick

You can find out more about Thinking Allowed at

Burawoy, M. (2005) ‘For public sociology’,American Sociological Review, Vol. 70, Issue 1, 4-28.