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The Power of Working 'with' Students.

Updated: Jul 13, 2022

By Dr Wendy Podd

Sociology students are passionate about challenging social injustice and social change. By working with students, outside of deadlines and learning outcomes, amazing things can happen.


Sociology NORTH essentially emerged via students wanting to put their learning into action. In part, this was due to frustration and anger regarding the many social injustices and social inequalities in society that they had learned about. They wanted to know, “what can we do about it!” The late Professor Pete Rushton also had a great influence on the development of Sociology NORTH. In 2019, Peter was nearing his retirement and would often declare, “we need an orphanage for retired Sociologists, so we have somewhere to go.”

Sadly, we lost Pete in the spring of 2020. He was an extremely knowledgeable and passionate man, yet to me he was a confidant, advisor, supporter, and comrade. Pete joined the University of Sunderland in 1979, graduating with first-class honors at Cambridge and could have worked anywhere in the world. Yet, he chose to live and work in Sunderland, where dedicated his life to the university and made an impact upon staff and students alike. Seeing how everyone has worked together and everything that has been achieved thus far, Sociology NORTH is affectionately known amongst the members as the ‘orphanage’.

Photo: Shared with me, by Professor Pete Rushton, 04/11/2019

In 2021 an opportunity came to apply for the Vice-Chancellors Teaching Fellowship award, and in discussions with Sociology students, we hatched a plan, applied and we were successful. Working together, we discussed our motivations, what our values were, and what we were trying to achieve. Given everyone’s individual motivations for becoming involved and the vast number of ideas, we decided to select a key theme for the first year that would allow us to ensure that everyone would be able to support each other’s vision. That theme was poverty!

As a group we collectively defined our core values, which include celebrating and promoting Sociology, making the subject more accessible to the everyday and putting our sociological imaginations into action. The key here is ‘putting sociology in action’, by initiating, collaborating, and supporting projects that are beneficial to its members, and the wider community.

The ambition was not to replicate traditional Sociological journals or texts, but to have our voices heard and provide a platform for others to find their 'voice', who identify as ‘living in the North’. During the initial discussions concerning the name of the project, we discussed the many ways that we in the North East of England are discussed and portrayed by those in the South. Our lives, our class and our identity have often been defined by men in the South, whether it’s by those in power or the founding fathers of Sociology itself. Did anyone ask us? Is anybody listening? Does anyone even care? Yet, here we are again with the most recent rhetoric about levelling up! Does anyone wonder why we need to be leveled up?

For us, we define North as everything up from 90.0000° S, 45.0000° E - the South pole. Our blog is not a grand pity party, about hard done to lives in the postindustrial North. Of course, we are all too aware of the impact of decisions made about the North, as we and our families lived through these times. The blogs will center around narratives that draw from our direct and lived experiences, our views and perceptions of issues relating to inequality, injustice and social issues. These issues impact us all in some way. This is sociology in action, utilising our learning to reframe and gain new insights into the reality beneath the surface.

We got our t-shirts, just in time for the blog retreat!

Since the first Sociology NORTH meeting in September 2021, the project has gone from strength to strength. A space has been established for learning to be put into action, the seeds of emerging projects have been planted, and a supportive working environment is being cultivated. Anything seems possible as there are ‘limitless opportunities' in what we can achieve by working together. There are moments when I observe the members of Sociology NORTH in action, discussing issues, planning in meetings, and taking on new challenges, and I just think WOW - look at them go! I know that Pete would have rolled up his sleeves and been involved in this project. Pete would have loved seeing everyone’s sociological imaginations firing on all cylinders.

Happy Days!


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