#Film Review: The Sociologist’s Wife

Production: Popping Orange Communications

The Sociologist’s Wife is a short film, 21 minutes long, that I watched as part of my participation at the annual conference of the British Sociological Association, which I have been regularly attending for many years. The Sociologist’s Wife was broadcast as part of the conference participation, but it is also available on YouTube for free, thanks to funding by the British Academy, a remarkable public institution funding socially relevant research that creates knowledge. This institution has previously kick-started my research by granting me funding for my research into women in the UK’s advertising industry enabling me to start developing my theoretical framework of blokishness using Bourdieu’s habitus, which resulted in numerous journal articles, two books (see here and here), EUPRERA project on Women in PR, now a research network, and a Comms Women advocacy initiative.  

The Sociologist’s Wife is a film that goes in line with the outstanding character of sociological research in the UK, which has historically always been committed to research and advocacy for working-class Britons. In this film, we learn about three remarkable, working-class women, who married four British sociologists (one of these women married twice, both times a sociologist) and contributed to their work and whilst their husbands gave them credit in acknowledgments, researchers who speak in this film are conducting funded research that truly acknowledges their remarkable contribution to British sociology.

The three women who contributed to British sociological research are Pat Marsden (b. 1940, d. 2023), Phyllis Willmott (b. 1922, d. 2013), and Sheila Jackson/Abrams (b. 1936). The latter one is still alive but does not feature in the film, instead, her daughter talks about her. Children of other women feature in the film too and showcase valuable family relics such as photos, and diaries, and they share memories.

Two researchers who discovered their diaries and field notes, Ros Edwards and Val Gillies, speak knowledgeably and interestingly about their findings. Basically, all these remarkable women were observing lives in Britain of their time, wrote field notes and observations, and thus immersed themselves in communities and documented it, with their husbands then using these field notes to write their influential and highly praised books. As one of the researchers in the film, Professor Ros Edwards, says, it would have been hard for men of that time to immerse themselves in the family life of working-class women and children so it was easier for a woman to do it, with which these remarkable women contributed immensely to our understanding of a historical life in Britain and the lives of working classes in particular. The latter is something British sociology is internationally known for, the outstanding research into working classes, which is one of the pillars of British sociology.

I was particularly amazed by these findings because I actually own some of these books and they are meant to be cited in my research when I finally get to analysing data on working classes I have and still haven’t analysed for obvious reasons, too many projects, not enough hours in the day to do it all, and the relocation and settling in a new job and the new culture. The books in stake are well-known works on life in Britain, authored by eminent British sociologists,

  1. Dennis Marsden, a British sociologist who wrote ‘Education and the Working Class’ (1961, in co-authorship with Brian Jackson) and ‘Mothers Alone: Poverty and the Fatherless Family’ (1969). When he died, the Guardian wrote an obituary and praised his contribution to British sociology calling him eminent and his work seminal and a direct contributor to the reform of British comprehensive schools.  
  2. Peter Willmott wrote seminal works on community studies thanks to his wife going to a community to live there and immerse herself into community life. Peter Willmott, along with Michael Young, founded an Institute for Community Studies and his work influenced social policy in Britain and the development of applied social research. His wife Phyliss also later became a sociologist and lecturer on social policy and later became a published autobiographer, due to being a passionate diarist, and has worked as a research assistant in the institute her husband founded based on her fieldwork. She remains probably the most successful of all three wives albeit nowhere near what she deserved.
  3. Brian Jackson, the author of Education and the Working Class, with Dennis Marsden, mentioned above (1969) and the Working Class Community, and whose work has contributed towards the understanding of childcare.
  4. Philip Abrams, who famously authored ‘Neighbours: The Work of Philip Abrams’ and whose name is used by the British Sociological Association for one of their awards for excellence.  

A remarkable film and remarkable research by Ros Edwards and Val Gillies. I truly look forward to publications from this project.

Thank you for reading!

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