I joined the Essex Department in 1994 and I felt that I was coming home. This was not simply because everybody was so welcoming and friendly towards me. It was because Essex had been at the centre of the discipline throughout my career: it was the intellectual home to which I was returning.
My first encounters with Essex had been while I was an undergraduate student at a
London College and had taken place at a distance through my reading of the works
of the leading British sociologists who were associated with the Essex Department.
These were, at the time, simply individual ‘big names’ who were writing on the major
topics covered in my syllabus and I had little idea that they were members of the
same Department. I had studied for the London External degree and the breadth and
range of the topics covered accorded well with the range of concerns that had been
deliberately established at Essex. The compulsory course in ‘Ethics and Social Philosophy’
used Alasdair MacIntyre’s A Short History of Ethics (MacIntyre 1967) as its major
text and I was inspired by his socio-
Wider issues of class and inequality were explored in the ‘Modern Britain’ course
and these were pursued through the themes raised in David Lockwood’s Black Coated
Worker (1958) and his contribution to The Affluent Worker in the Class Structure
(Goldthorpe et al. 1969). We were taught how to understand the dynamics of class
reproduction through Dennis Marsden’s brilliant evoking of the grammar school experience
in Education and the Working Class (Jackson and Marsden 1962). My studies began in
1968, a time of great radicalism and political upheaval, and the political dimensions
of class conflict were inevitably central to what we were taught. Discussions of
One of the most popular options to study at the time was ‘Criminology’, at a time when it was being revolutionised as the ‘Sociology of Deviance’. A central text in the emerging sociology of deviance was Stan Cohen’s Folk Devils and Moral Panics (1972), in which he set out an account of the social construction of deviant labels and of the subsequent amplification of deviance through mass media reactions. It was through the course in Criminology that I first met a future member of the Department: a young postgraduate student from the LSE called Ken Plummer was one of our tutors.
The central course in my degree scheme was ‘Theories and Methods of Sociology’ and
the main British contributions to sociological theory that we came across, and that
had a huge influence on me, were David Lockwood’s two articles on ‘Some Remarks on
The Social System’ (1956) and on ‘Social and System Integration’ (1964). His critical
but highly supportive review of Parsons’s much-
It was after getting my first job that I became more aware of the Department as a
collective entity. I had been lucky enough to get a permanent lectureship after just
one year as a PhD student and a short article in a low-
At Strathclyde, I had begun a research project on social stratification in Scotland
and in 1973 I was invited by the Edinburgh sociologist Frank Bechhofer to join the
SSRC Social Stratification seminar held at Cambridge twice a year. The other participants
in the seminar, all holders of grants in the days when social science research was
supported by a research council that was still allowed to call itself the Social
Science Research Council, included David Lockwood, Mick Mann, and Colin Bell. Others
who joined the seminar over the years were Howard Newby, David Rose, Pete Saunders,
and, a little later, Gordon Marshall – though I had known Gordon since his days as
a postgraduate student through a friendship with one of his former teachers in Stirling.
The Seminars were exciting and remarkably productive, though the proceedings were
often dominated by John Goldthorpe’s ritual intellectual combat with all-
The research in which I was most directly engaged involved studies of economic elites
through investigations into interlocking directorships. Much research in the area
was impressionistic and relied on informal techniques to map supposed power structures.
I struggled to find more systematic and quantitative methods to help with the analysis
and it was Essex sociologists who, contrary to the stereotype often held of them,
provided some key insights. A key broker was Tony Coxon, who had just moved from
Edinburgh to Cardiff and would later move on to Essex. Tony had employed multidimensional
scaling in his own studies of occupational cognition, which he had reported at the
Stratification Seminar, and he put me in touch with the mathematical works of Pat
Doreian (1970) and Peter Abell (1971). Through their books and papers I later discovered
the work of Ron Atkin (1981) in the Essex Mathematics Department. This engagement
with formal modelling continued through my move from Strathclyde to Leicester and
became a major element in the production of my book on Social Network Analysis (originally
1991). It was at this time that I first visited Essex, to give a paper in the Departmental
seminar and when Harold Wolpe quizzically interrogated me on what it all signified.
Later developments in this research on elites involved comparative work on Russia
and Eastern Europe that I undertook with David Lane, then at Cambridge, and led to
some involvement in the East-
The other area in which I had direct contact with Essex sociologists was through
my work in the philosophy of science. I had discovered Roy Bhaskar’s realist approach
to science when it first appeared in the mid-
Essex sociology was, therefore, central to my intellectual development prior to my
own time in the Department. It was also, of course, central to the development of
the discipline in Britain. During the 1950s and 1960s, the key departments in the
development of sociology had been those at the LSE and at Leicester. The LSE had,
perhaps, peaked in the early 1950s, but the two Departments jointly provided many
of the recruits to the new sociology Departments that were being set up in the 1960s.
Amongst these new Departments, Essex rapidly took the lead. As others have shown,
there was a deliberate decision to concentrate resources in the University among
a small number of large social-
The Department also had a major influence on the wider discipline through the movement of staff into Departments of Sociology (and into other subjects) at other universities. The Department was, however, remarkably stable in its composition. After all, for anyone lucky enough to be appointed at Essex, there was nowhere else for them to move to that would be the slightest bit as exciting. Those who did move, however, carried the Essex inheritance with them and made major contributions both nationally and globally. Much of this influence was through the cohorts of graduate students who passed through the Department. Essex was one of the first Departments to recruit large numbers of postgraduates and, especially, to recruit on a global scale. The recruitment of international students may have been stimulated by financial motives, but sociology staff at Essex quickly recognised the intellectual benefits from having such diverse cohorts of students. New and different sociological traditions were constantly brought into the Department, and the evolving Essex approach was ‘exported’ along with the new doctoral graduates. The annual Graduate conference—which began in 1986 at the height of the round of deep cuts that the discipline then faced—became a crucial element in the social and intellectual cohesion of the Department.
The slowdown in staff recruitment that occurred because of the cuts of the 1980s meant that there was little mobility within the profession and membership of the Essex Department became more static. Paradoxically, this gave it a great strength in perpetuating a coherent tradition within which, as Alasdair MacIntyre might have remarked, constructive controversy and debate could take place. This was the basis for the openness of the Department to new areas and intellectual interests. Although it had long been organised around a core of intellectual concerns around the exploration of class and stratification, it began to develop equally thriving traditions in the study of sexuality, health, and crime. I had first been invited to apply for a post at Essex at the height of the stratification phase, but was unable to make the move for family reasons. When I did move, these new areas were all thriving. Despite my own lack of work in these areas, the prospect of engaging with diverse traditions was exciting, as I had always been open to influences from ostensibly different areas from my own.
My initial reaction on ‘coming home’ in 1994 was one of anxiety: I wondered whether
I would be able to live up to it and become properly a part of something that had
been so important throughout my career. In my first week I attended the regular staff-
Abell, Peter 1971. Model Building in Sociology. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
Atkin, Ron 1981. Multidimensional Man. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Benton, Ted 1977. The Philosphical Basis of the Three Sociologies. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Cohen, Stan 1972. Folk Devils and Moral Panics. London: McGibbon and Kee.
Doreian, Patrick 1970. Mathematics and the Study of Social Relations. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
Goldthorpe, John H., Lockwood, David, Bechhofer, Frank and Platt, Jennifer 1969. The Affluent Worker in the Class Structure. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Jackson, Brian and Marsden, Dennis 1962. Education and the Working Class. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Lockwood, David 1956. 'Some Remarks on The Social System'. British Journal of Sociology
7, 2: 134-
Lockwood, David 1958. The Black-
Lockwood, David 1964. 'Social Integration and System Integration' in Zollschan, G.K. and Hirsch, W. (eds.) Explorations in Social Change. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1964.
Lockwood, David 1992. Solidarity and Schism. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
MacIntyre, Alasdair 1967. A Short History of Ethics. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Mann, Michael 1970. 'The Social Cohesion of Liberal Democracy'. American Sociological
Review 35, 3: 423 -
Newby, Howard 1977. The Deferential Worker. London: Allen Lane.
Newby, Howard, Bell, Colin, Rose, David and Saunders, Peter 1978. Property, paternalism, and power: class and control in rural England. London: Hutchinson.
Parsons, Talcott 1951. The Social System. New York: The Free Press.
Rose, David, Newby, Howard and Vogler, Carolyn 1989. Social Class in Modern Britain. London: Routledge.
Scott, John 1979. Corporations, Classes and Capitalism, First Edition. London: Hutchinson.
Scott, John 1991. Social Network Analysis. London: Sage.
Scott, John 2005. Social Theory. London: Sage Publications.
Scott, John 2011. Conceptualising the Social World. Principles of Socilogical Analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Scott, John and Bromley, R. 2013. Envisioning Sociology. Victor Branford, Patrick Geddes, and the Quest for Social Reconstruction. Albany, NY: State University Press of New York.
Townsend, Peter 1957. The Family Life of Old People. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1963.
Townsend, Peter 1962. 'The Meaning of Poverty'. British Journal of sociology 13,
Coming Home: Reflections on Essex Sociology
This biographical account was written for a publication marking the 50th Anniversary
of the Essex University Department of Sociology. It concerns my career-