The social world is a world we create, that we all have in common. In this series of illuminating podcasts, hear leading social scientists present their perspectives on how our social world is created, and how social science can help us understand people and how they behave. Each podcast includes a downloadable written transcript of the conversation.
Scientific illustrator Alex Cagan has brought 17 of our podcasts to life via his pen. The full suite of his illustrations, with subjects ranging from implicit bias and nonviolent resistance to space and the supernatural, is viewable HERE.
View episode archive:
As the toll from the COVID-19 pandemic increased, polling suggests counter-intuitively that resistance to a future vaccine has also risen. Anthropologist Heidi J. Larson identified several likely drivers of this, including scientists themselves.
Epidemiologist Sherman James outlines the hypothesis behind John Henryism – the idea that high-effort coping with expectations of achievement amid poverty or segregation can result in serious damage to the striver’s health.
In this Social Science Bites podcast, Gurminder K. Bhambra discusses with interviewer David Edmonds why we should speak about the Haitian revolution in the same breath as the contemporaneous American and French revolutions, how former empires conveniently forget the contributions of their colonies now that those empires have downgraded to mere ‘nations,’ and what lessons we should draw from the current iconoclastic impulse toward imperial statuary.
Ashley Mears describes modern jet-setting club life at the VIP level and the Veblen-esque conspicuous consumption, its “ritualized squandering” in Mears words, that is its hallmark.
Economist Anne Case didn’t believe her eyes when she first identified the trend of what came to be called ‘deaths of despair’: looking at figures from the 1990s to the most recent data available from 2018, mortality among middle-aged, non-college-educated white Americans rose, stalled, then rose again.
“You don’t have to go back many months,” says Hetan Shah, the chief executive of the British Academy, in this Social Science Bites podcast, “for a period when politicians were relatively dismissive of experts – and then suddenly we’ve seen a shift now to where they’ve moved very close to scientists. And generally that’s a very good thing.”
Depending on your views, far-right populism can represent a welcome return to the past , or a worrying one. The former, argues sociolinguist Ruth Wodak in this Social Science Bites podcast, is one of the hallmarks of far-right populism – a yearning for an often mythical past where the “true people” were ascendant and comfortable.
Richard Layard remembers being a history student sitting in Oxford’s Bodleian Library on a misty morning, reading philosopher Jeremy Bentham (he of the famed “It is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong”). As he recounts to interviewer David Edmonds in this Social Science Bites podcast, he thought, “Oh yes, this is what it’s all about.”
While you might think that the essentials of human behavior are pretty similar, one of the things Michie quickly tells interviewer Dave Edmonds in this Social Science Bites podcast is that it can be unwise to jump to conclusions when studying behavior (or trying to change it).
Rupert Brown, the biographer of Henri Tajfel, talks about the pioneering explorer of prejudice in this Social Science Bites podcast. Brown reviews the roots of Tajfel’s research arising from the Holocaust, and the current repercussions of Tajfel’s personal misdeeds.
“Social norms are the glue,” cultural psychologist Michele Gelfand tells interviewer David Edmonds in this Social Science Bites podcast, “that keep people together.” How much glue do we need? Gelfand describes the “simple tradeoff” between tight and loose cultures: tight opts for more order while loose aims for openness,
When a mother with minor children is imprisoned, she is far from the only one facing consequences. Their children can […]
One of the most salient aspects of what generally makes a ritual a ritual is that the action itself is divorced from real life or its real life roots – and that fascinates anthropologist Harvey Whitehouse. By his own admission, what intrigues the latest guest in the Social Science Bites podcast series is that ritual is “behavior that is ‘causally opaque.’
“I think the debate about why people use the foodbanks has become really politicized to the point where apparently individual faults and failings are the reason why people are using them,” Kayleigh Garthwaite tells interviewer David Edmonds in this Social Science Bites podcast. To find out, she volunteered to work at a Trussell Trust foodbank in northern England’s city of Stockton, deploying ethnographic methods to learn from the workers and the food recipients.
Britain’s former chief economist knows a thing or two about the impact of immigration on native Britons. In this Social Science Bites podcast, he reviews what data can tell us about the UK’s current heavy inflow — such as that new arrivals create both supply AND demand.
“Education,” says sociologist Sam Friedman, “doesn’t wash away the effects of class background in terms of allocating opportunities. That’s quite profound – I believe there are a lot of people who believe quite strongly that these sorts of educational institutions can and do act as sort of meritocratic sorting houses.”
Humanitarian aid organizations often find themselves torn by reasonable expectations – to address a pressing crisis and to show that what they are doing is actually helping. While these might not seem at odds, in practice, says sociologist Monika Krause, they often do. Krause, is the author of The Good Project, an award-winning book from 2014, and guest of this Social Science Bites podcast.
You and a body of like-minded people want to reform a wretched regime, or perhaps just break away from it and create an independent state. Are you more likely to achieve your goals by a campaign of bombings, assassinations and riots, or by mass protests which are avowedly peaceful? Your first step should be to schedule a sit-down with Erica Chenoweth, who has been studying that question since 2006.
Gina Neff doesn’t approach smart devices as a Luddite or even that much of an alarmist; she bought first-generation Fitbit when they were brand new and virtually unknown (all of five years ago!). She approaches them as a sociologist, “looking at the practices of people who use digital devices to monitor, map and measure different aspects of their life.”
Reflecting on his new book Migrant City, Goldsmiths sociologist Les Back tells interviewer David Edmonds in this Social Science Bites podcast, co-author and co-researcher Shamser Sinha and Back learned their work was “not really just a migrants’ story; it’s the story of London but told through and eyes, ears and attentiveness of 30 adult migrants from all corners of the world.”
In this Social Science Bites podcast, experimental psychologist David Halpern, the British Nudge Unit’s chief executive, offers interviewer David Edmonds a quick primer on nudging, examples of nudges that worked (and one that didn’t), how nudging differs between the UK and the United States, and the interface of applied nudging and academic behavioral science.
Metrics on the average living standards from the best-off countries in the world (say, Norway) to the worst-off (such as the Central African Republic) vary by a factor of 40 to 50. So notes James Robinson
Fake news, whether truly phony or merely unpalatable, has become an inescapable trope for modern media consumers. But apart from its propagandist provenance, misinformation and disinformation in our media diets is a genuine threat. Sociologist Nick Adams, in this Social Science Bites podcast, offers hope that a tool he’s developed can improve the media literacy of the populace.
When Angus Deaton crafted the term ‘randomista’ to denigrate the rampant use of randomized controlled trials in development economics, Angus Leigh saw an opportunity to make lemonade out of lemons. In this Social Science Bites podcasts he explains how he turned randomista into a compliment and promotes the use of trials to improve social programs worldwide.
One thing has become clear to sociologist Diane Reay across her research – “It’s primarily working-class children who turn out to be losers in the educational system.” Whether it’s through the worst-funded schools, least-qualified teachers, most-temporary teaching arrangements or narrowest curricula, students from working class backgrounds in the United Kingdom (and the United States) draw the shortest educational straws.
“The brain is an association-seeking machine,” Harvard social psychologist Mahzarin R. Banaji tells interviewer David Edmonds in this Social Science Bites podcast. “It puts things together that repeatedly get paired in our experience. Implicit bias is just another word for capturing what those are when they concern social groups.
In this Social Science Bites podcast, social epidemiologist Richard Wilkinson lays out the case that inequality should be fought specifically because it fosters a litany of ill effects.
How did humans diverge so markedly from animals? Apart from physical things like our “physical peculiarities,” as experimental psychologist Celia Heyes puts it, or our fine motor control, there’s something even more fundamentally – and cognitively — different. hear more in our newest Social Science Bites podcast.
In determining what makes a successful prison, where would you place ‘trust’? Alison Liebling, director of the Cambridge University Institute of Criminology’s Prisons Research Centre, would place it at the top spot. As she tells interviewer David Edmonds in this Social Science Bites podcast, she believes what makes a prison good is the existence and the practice of trust.
While they aren’t as unpopular as politicians or journalists, people who work with statistics come in for their share of abuse. “Figures lie and liars figure,” goes one maxim. And don’t forget, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” But some people are the good guys, doing their best to combat the flawed or dishonest use of numbers. One of those good guys is the guest of this Social Science Bites podcast, David Spiegelhalter, professor of the public understanding of risk at Cambridge and current president of the Royal Statistical Society.
When online charitable appeals take off, social psychologist Sander van der Linden perks up. He studies ‘viral altruism,’ and in this Social Science Bites podcast he details to host David Edmonds how he studies this phenomenon.
Combining sociology and genetics, Melinda Mills and her collaborators abandon the nature v. nurture controversy for empirical research on family formation, inequality, child-rearing and other real-life concerns. In this Social Science Bites podcast, she discusses this new field of ‘sociogenomics.’
“Most people,” explains Goldsmiths sociologist Bev Skeggs in this Social Science Space podcast, “think they’re using Facebook to communicate with friends. Basically they’re using it to reveal how much they can be sold for, now and in the future, and how much their friends can be sold for.”
Economist Sabina Alkire has spent her career looking at all the things beyond just a lack of money that make us poor. In this Social Science Bites podcast, the director of the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative explains the need for a consistent and reputable means of measuring poverty over time.
Philosopher Tom Chatfield’s media presence – which is substantial – is often directly linked to his writings on technology. But his new book is on critical thinking, and while that involves humanity’s oldest computer, the brain, Chatfield explains in this Social Science Bites podcast that new digital realities interact with old human biases.
In the Social Science Bites podcast, Ioanna Palaiologou and Dave Edmonds also talk about cultural differences in play and how it is a vital part of children’s emotional development. All work and no play, it seems, does more than make Jack a dull boy.
In this Social Science Bites podcast, Nobel laureate economist Al Roth explains to interview David Edmonds some of the ins and outs of market matching, giving a wealth of real-world examples.
In this Social Science Bites podcast, the director of Studies for Psychological and Behavioural Sciences at Cambridge’s Christ’s College discusses how environment – and that includes the cultural, built and financial environments –buttresses short term pleasures over long term benefits to the detriment of public health.
Border criminology, Mary Bosworth details in this Social Science Bites podcast, is trying to understand both things that are happening at the border but also things that are happening in our criminal justice system.
Ask a number of influential social scientists who in turn influenced them, and you’d likely get a blue-ribbon primer on the classics in social science. And so it as we present the third and final series of answers to that question drawn from the first 50 guests on the Social Science Bites podcast series.
What is an “organization?” According to Chris Grey, the guest in this Social Science Bites podcast, in many ways it’s a moment in time. “An organization,” he tells interviewer David Edmonds, “is also a momentary crystallization of an ongoing process of organizing.”
In this Social Science Bites podcast, anthropologist Scott Atran describes how ‘sacred values’ prove remarkably immune to negotiation and can empower vicious terrorism or victorious revolution.
During the recording of every Social Science Bites podcast, the guest has been asked the following: Which piece of social science research has most inspired or most influenced you? And now, in honor of the 50th Bites podcast to air, journalist and interviewer David Edmonds has compiled those responses into three separate montages. The second appears here, with answers – presented alphabetically – from Bites’ guests ranging from Sarah Franklin to Angela MacRobbie.
When looking at big data, says computational social scientist Gary King, “The data itself isn’t likely to be particularly useful; the question is whether you can make it useful.” In this Social Science Bites podcast, he explains more about the importance of data analysis.
In this first of three of montages from past Social Science Bites podcasts, 15 renowned social scientists reveal their pick for “Which piece of social science research has most inspired or most influenced you?”
People tend to herd together, whether it’s following the crowd or determining what news to accept. UCL economist Michelle Baddeley has studied this behavior and discusses what she’s learned in this latest Social Science Bites podcast.
In this Social Science Bites podcast, MIT’s Sandy Pentland tells interviewer Dave Edmonds about the origins of social physics in the barren days before the advent of widespread good data and solid statistical methods and how it blossomed as both a field and for Pentland’s own research.
In this Social Science Bites podcast, Harvard’s Jennifer Hochschild explains to interviewer David Edmonds some of the pertinent data points from her years of using quantitative and qualitative analysis to map the racial, ethnic and class cleavages in America’s demography.
Anna Machin’s research combine the study of neurochemistry, dating sites and waist-to-hip ratios to gives us the best understanding of the evolution of love and romance. In this Social science Bites podcast she details her research interests and findings.
Sociologist has studied the dance club scene — think of the lamented Fabric nightclub as a cultural touchstone — for years as a ‘participant observer.’ In this Social Science Bites podcast she talks about the scene’s obvious drug use and the mechanics of doing ethnography at a rave.
In his conversation with interviewer David Edmonds, Michael Billig — the author of landmark book ‘Banal Nationalism,’ dives deeply into one particular example of nationalism, the British royal family, and what the British themselves think about the royal family and the place of the royals in British ideology
It’s often remarked that technology has made the world a smaller place. While this has been especially true for those with the wherewithal to buy the latest gadget and to travel at will, but it’s also true for economic migrants. Those technological ties are one of the key research interests of Mirca Madianou who discusses her work on transnational families and social media in the latest Social Science Bites podcast.
“As a behavioral scientist,” Iris Bohnet tells David Edmonds in this Social Science Bites podcast looking at implicit bias, “I strongly believe that we now do have the insights and the tools to help us promote behavior change, not by changing mindsets but changing organizations.”
Michael Burawoy is a practitioner of what we might call ‘extreme ethnography.’ In this Social Science Bites podcast, Burawoy tells interviewer Dave Edmonds about his various experiences on factory floors, and some of the specific lessons he learned and the broader points — often unexpected — that emerged from the synthesis of his experiences.
“In a sense, you could summarize the literature: ‘Groups are bad for you, groups take moral individuals and they turn them into immoral idiots.’ I have been trying to contest that notion,” social psychologist Stephen Reicher says in this Social Science Bites podcast, “[and] also to explain how that notion comes about.”
One of the leading exponents of what might be called the second coming of kinship studies, Janet Carsten, a professor of social and cultural anthropology at the University of Edinburgh, has (literally) brought new blood into the field, exploring kinship’s nexus with politics, work and gender.
In this Social Science Bites podcast, Ted Cantle (of the post-2001 riot report that bears his name) explains how the concept of ‘parallel lives’ continues to exert a malign influence wherever communities find themselves segregated — even when they may live cheek-and-jowl.
‘I think that happiness is better than a lot of what the ‘happiness industry’ represents it as,’ Goldsmiths sociologist Will Davies tells interviewer David Edmonds in this Social Science Bites podcast.
Social psychologist Sheldon Solomon routinely thinks about the unthinkable, studying how humans behave differently when the unthinkable forces its way into their thoughts. In this Social Science Bites podcast, he explains how the fear of death actually propels humankind forward.
In this Social Science Bites podcast, social theorist Steven Lukes tells interviewer Nigel Warburton how Émile Durkheim’s exploration of issues like labor, suicide and religion proved intriguing to a young academic and enduring for an established one.
C. Wright Mills was one of the most important sociologists of the 20th century. He believed that sociology could change people’s lives, and that sociologists, far from being neutral, should help bring about such change, and his ideas would fuel ‘60s counter-culture. In this Social Science Bites podcast, John Brewer reveals the full man behind the icon.
Erving Goffman has been called the most influential American sociologist of the 20th century thanks to his study of the social interactions of everyday life. In this Social Science Bites podcast, social psychologist Peter Lunt discusses his own inquiries into Goffman and how he approached his subjects with “an ethnographer’s eye.”
It’s an unusual approach for an academic: a hands-on approach. Literally a hands-on approach. Trevor Marchand is an anthropologist interested in how information about crafts is transferred from expert to novice. This has led him to Nigeria, Yemen, Mali, and East London …
Max Weber is recognized as a father of modern social science, but his work, developed in pre-World War I Germany, sometimes suffers in translation to today. In the latest Social Science Bites podcast, his pre-eminent interpreter explains how Weber remains relevant.
Religiosity has changed for the majority of populations in Britain and the West, and so a new kind of way to study it must arise. In this Social Science Bites podcast, Linda Woodhead discusses the new sociology required to study this nuanced spiritual landscape, and what some of the implications are on the secular world.
In this episode of the Social Science Bites podcast series, political scientist Ivor Crewe, the current president of Britain’s Academy of Social sciences and the master of Oxford’s University College, discusses the modern art, and sometime science, of election polling.
Around the world, populations are growing older. But is that because people are living longer? Or could it be that there are fewer younger people to dilute the demographic pool? And what about aging itself — when exactly is ‘old’ these days?
As the World Cup kicks off, sportswriter and sociologist David Goldblatt discusses his unique academic vantage point of the beautiful game in the latest Social Science Bites podcast.
Listen as Nigel Warburton talks with developmental psychologist Bruce Hood about the very natural tendency to look to the supernatural to explain events.
Here’s an idea: social scientists should reflect critically on the prevailing concepts and categories before launching into empirical work with an existing framework. In this episode of the Social Science Bites podcast, urban sociologist Saskia Sassen discusses that concept, called “before method,” with Nigel Warburton.
What’s in a name? According to economist Gregory Clark, a lot of divine-able information about your family’s past and perhaps a fair bit about your children’s future. In the latest edition of Social Science Bites, David Edmonds talks with Clark about his at-times controversial examination of surnames and their nexus with social mobility.
In the latest edition of Social Science Bites, American sociologist Craig Calhoun discussed the formation of protest movement and the role of social science in addressing and understanding these outputs of social change.
In the latest edition of Social Science Bites, Brazilian philosopher and politician Roberto Mangabeira Unger discusses what is wrong with the social sciences today, arguing that they have degenerated into a pseudo-‐science.
Angus Deaton is a social scientist and the author of The Great Escape: Health, Wealth and the Origins of Inequality. His Princeton colleague, the philosopher Peter Singer, argues that aid is vital to combat the terrible mortality rates in some countries. Angus Deaton disagrees..
Listen to the latest podcast in the Social Science Bites series.
At the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Val Curtis has become a taxonomist of different – she says there are seven – types of disgust, and she explains them in this episode of the Social Science Bites podcast.
You might assume that deaths increase in a recession, but that doesn’t necessarily happen.
Social epidemiologist Kate Pickett, co-author (with Richard Wilkinson) of The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone, argues that inequality […]
Has equality for women been achieved? Feminism has apparently achieved many of its aims. But have they? Angela McRobbie from the Department of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London, discusses her research on this topic.
The latest episode of Social Science Bites is an interview with Lawrence Sherman, professor of criminology at Cambridge University and a keen advocate of experimental criminology.
In this episode of the Social Science Bites podcast sociologist Ann Oakley discusses her research into a range of questions about women’s experience of childbirth.
New technologies have dramatically changed choices around reproduction. Sarah Franklin, Professor of Sociology at Cambridge University, discusses her research
In honor of the late Doreen Massey, an eminent geographer who died Friday at age 72, we repost her Social Science Bites podcast, which has long been one of our most popular. In this interview, Massey asked us to rethink our assumptions about space — and explained why.
Thinking is hard, and most of the time we rely on simple psychological mechanisms that can lead us astray. In this episode of the Social Science Bites podcast, the Nobel-prizewinning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, talks to Nigel Warburton about biases in our reasoning.
Toby Miller, author and editor of over 30 books on interdisciplinary topics within the Social Sciences, discusses Cultural Studies in relation to his work on the Hollywood film industry and addresses wider questions about objectivity and bias.
Is the world getting less violent? It seems unlikely. But Steven Pinker has amassed empirical evidence to show that it is. In this interview with Nigel Warburton for the Social Science Bites podcast he explains some of the possible causes of this transformation.
What can psychology tell us about morality? Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind, discusses the place of rationality in our moral judgements in this episode of the Social Science Bites podcast.
There is still a great deal of inequality between the sexes in the workplace. In this episode of the Social Science Bites podcast Paul Seabright combines insights from economics and evolutionary theory to shed light on why this might be so.
In the past twenty years there has been a revolution in economics with the study not of how people would behave if they were perfectly rational, but of how they actually behave. At the vanguard of this movement is Robert Shiller of Yale University. He sits down with Nigel Warburton in this episode of the Social Science Bites podcast
How are children using the Internet? How is it affecting them? Sonia Livingstone, who has overseen a major study of children’s behaviour online discusses these issues with Nigel Warburton in this episode of the Social Science Bites podcast.
Some people have strong and visceral reactions to cities. They might love or loathe New York, or Jerusalem, or Berlin. This may have something to do with the architecture and the infrastructure of a place; it may also be a response, at some level, to the people, the culture, the politics, the way of life. Avner de-Shalit claims that some cities – not all cities but some – have a spirit.
We all need to co-operate to some degree. According to the eminent sociologist Richard Sennett, author of a recent book on the topic, complex co-operation is a craft.
“Everybody lives in a society…They want to know what it is they’re living in” An exploration of the nature of the social sciences. How do they differ from the physical sciences? What challenges do they face? What is their value?
For more entertaining and enlightening interviews from David Edmonds and Nigel Warburton, sign up for their Philosophy Bites podcasts series. The pair have also tackled free expression issues for Social Science Space partner Index on Censorship with their Free Speech Bites series. They have produced three anthologies of Philosophy Bites interviews: Philosophy Bites Again, Philosophy Bites, and Philosophy Bites Back (all published by Oxford University Press).