So, we’re going to make a zine… 😱

Ned Coleman-Fountain, Assistant Professor in Sociology, writes about the Zine assessment for our new module Bodies in Social Worlds, which he co-taught with module leader Sarah Ralph-Lane. Abigail Harrison, a sociology student offers some reflections on making a zine.

Embodying Sociology

Sociology students develop their sociological imaginations in the often unfamiliar world of the university. Here, they learn to ‘do sociology’ and become accomplished in a whole range of academic practices. We learn to navigate new buildings; sit in lecture theatres; talk and interact with other students in seminars, and workshops; and search around the library for texts. We learn how to reference (Harvard style), read complex theory, and listen and sit with others whilst we dissect, in our own language, what one or another concept, word or phrase means. We learn to transform how we see the social world around us through our grasp of sociological ideas.

At the centre of this experience sits our body. Being a student is an embodied experience. We may get a flush of worry as we find ourselves among people we don’t know, and who we think must understand things better than us; our concentration fluctuates through tiredness or sensations of hunger during an afternoon lecture; we put on physical performances of ‘being a student’ for the benefit of ourselves and others, taking up the props of student life: our clothes, our books, our pens, our paper. 

Our sociological imagination also involves the body as a way of perceiving and relating to the world. Those ways of perceiving and relating that we develop are often shaped by our sense of our own embodiment. Shaped by our class habitus, ‘race’, gender, sexuality, dis/ability, and age.

Here we come to the concept of embodied sociology. To embody sociology means not only developing a sociology that interrogates the body as a sociological phenomenon. It understands that the body is the medium through which we do the social: we all do sociology as fully embodied human beings. This embodiment matters for how we take up and put the discipline into practice through our sociological imagination. 

A Zine for Bodies

In our zine assessment for Bodies in Social Worlds, we asked our students to consider how we might ‘do’ or ‘embody’ sociology as a sort of ‘body work’, and to represent that creatively through zine making. Reflecting on the relationship between sociology and ‘the body’ meant we had to explore how learning about sociology at university has shaped our relationships with our own bodies, from the different settings of learning through to how our developing sociological imagination provides a context for relating to our embodied selves.

Seeing ‘doing sociology’ as a form of body work meant seeing our learning as acting on our bodies. 

Amber's Zine - Yellow zine showing a cut out figure and lettering reading 'Body Work'
Amber’s Zine

We were delighted with how the students responded to this task. There was notable anxiety about the newness of the activity. This was something very different from other forms of assessment which we become used to doing. Many students asked that we give them a word count to set some perimeters for writing.

We used this unfamiliarity as a source of inspiration – how, in learning to do sociology at university, do we embody what Bourdieu calls a ‘feel for the game’. To what extent does writing form part of the sociologist’s habitus, and what happens when we seek to break out of conventional modes of scholarly creation. 

Georgia's Zine - A card cut zine with collage elements, including a bare torso, jewelled design features, and cut out lettering reading body work. Other scraps adorn the surface.
Georgia’s Zine

As students’ widened their view they learned better how to take in the academic space. Zines recorded the feeling of sitting chairs not designed for the bodies some students had; their capacity to maintain attention through lectures and workshops; and other ways that the body interrupts and makes its presence known – or as, Leder suggests, how the body ‘dys-appears. These features spoke the a social organisation of the body as well its phenomenological properties.

Looking further still, zines explored the modes of bodily styling and shaping – or body work as we had explored through the work Debra Gimlin. Students explored how they felt about the way they learned to ‘sit’ in their genders, and enact proper forms of presentation through their clothing choices. 

Abigail's Zine - A printed zine showing spatial features of Northumbria University campus (large stone carved bodies and buildings). The text reads - Body Work: A Northumbria University Sociology Student's Account
Abigail’s Zine

Further still students reflected in their zines on the extent to which ones bodily presence in the classroom marks one as included or not, echoing the words of Nirmal Puwar and Aarti Ratna who delivered one of our guest talks on the module.

Jada's Zine - Produced in a monochrome them. It displays abstract images of bodies and the words 'variations of embodiment within an educational context'
Jada’s Zine

Finally, as Sarah and I looked over these objects as they came into us, as we got to hold them in our hands, we were struck by how beautifully personal they were, and how the students had succeeded in using the format not just to explore the concepts, but also to insert themselves in their academic work. Reflective work is often challenging to do in the context of an academic assessment where students often worry about writing in the first person.

Emily's zine - a simple printed design with a Red rose overlayed with the text ' Sociology and Me' in a white box
Emily’s Zine

In the feedback we got a sense of how happy students were with the work they had managed to do in the end. There was a “great sense of achievement and accomplishment after completion”. They recommend that we continue to run with the assessment, albeit with some changes: more instruction earlier on, some templates, and maybe a word limit. Things to think about, although we might not give way on providing a word limit.

Abigail Harrison: It is right to say there was quite a lot of anxiety around the zine assessment in the beginning. Being the first cohort meant we had no examples of prior work – what was our zine supposed to look like? And whilst I was one of the students who insisted on a word-count originally, upon reflection, the lack of word-count only added to the creative element – my zine would have looked completely different if we had had one.

For the first time, we had complete control over the design, content, and formatting of our assessment and that change was refreshing; physically holding something we had created gave a lot of us a sense of achievement in the end. We had to think about how we could show the meaning behind theory without words, how we could use drawings or photographs to deliver an effective message – skills that I think we had rarely used until this point.

The zine assessment, and the module on a whole, allowed for us to gain a deeper understanding of ourselves, our own bodies, and how they fit into the university setting – it is a module I am grateful to have had the chance to study.

How to Pull! (Without inadvertently being a creep or a sex offender): A PhD student’s creative guide.

Amanda McBride is a Sociology PhD student, studying gender and the night time economy. Ruth Lewis interviewed her to find out the back story to her animation about ‘pulling’ – How To Pull! (without inadvertently being a creep or a sex offender) – produced with artist Graeme from Arms Reach

Q: How did you come to make an animation about sexual harassment?

A: I won a Cumberland Lodge Scholarship 2017 and applied for a development grant from them. The grants are to enable PhD students to do researcher development activities that PhD stipends don’t cover – eg podcast training, workshops and other experiences. I’m really interested in visual representations; I love zines and comics and I think very visually – I use mind-maps all the time. The focus on sexual harassment came about because it’s an aspect of my research that didn’t really make it into the thesis in a major way but it was so persistent in the interviews that I didn’t want it to be lost. Graeme is an artist and someone I talk to about this kind of stuff and we decided that would be a good way to spend the money- collaborating with an artist to create an output I couldn’t do otherwise.

Q: Why an animation?

A: I am ambivalent, confused about current attempts to change behaviours around sexual harassment. I don’t know what’s going to work. I’m not on the internet – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter – at all but I know young people use those things and I really like using clips and videos in my teaching. And animation has the possibility of text and image. Communication is so visual now. What I’ve learned is that animations are particularly good because you don’t have to overload people with verbal, textual, wordy info. There are other dimensions to people’s learning. We wanted it to have a light tone and people to relate to it in a gentle way. And that could be done with visuals in a way that didn’t undermine the importance of the message.

Q: So what was your approach for the animation?

A: Let’s assume that lads are at least oblivious that they’re sexually harassing. I don’t think most lads who do it are aware – they just go out and do what everyone else is doing. I just wanted to frame it in that way. I was eager no one would feel attacked. So much of the harassment is born out of not knowing how to speak to people you fancy. It somehow seems to take more confidence to ask someone if they want a drink than it does to walk past them and grab their arse! So we wanted an informative video, coming from a gentle, kind, humorous place about what the girls said they didn’t want. It’s based on interviews with women but we made it relatively gender-neutral. It’s they’re pulling tips for anyone – girls who are pulling girls, boys who are pulling boys, girls who are pulling boys, boys who are pulling girls. There are a lot of stereotypes about non-hetero practices but non-straight people are having some pretty hairy experiences too. On the posters that go with the animation, there’s no reference to gender – other than that it’s based on interviews with women in the NE. We wanted to make it as gender-neutral as possible. There are girls who engage in dodgy practices too – I didn’t want to make it just about straight men, but it’s based on young women’s accounts about their experiences with straight men. Sexual aggression can manifest all over the shop and it’s too complex a message – that  it’s ultimately linked to heteronormativity – that’s more than a 2 minute animation can capture! So we thought focusing on three tips would help.

Q: What was the hardest part of the project?

A: I like being left to my own devices when it comes to work, so this was my first real attempt at working with someone. Collaborating with someone I knew was on same page obviously helped but opening myself up to feedback isn’t something I do easily; I had to remain open to Graeme’s suggestions, which were always excellent. Graeme initially edited the script and ended up contributing a lot to it, including the best jokes.  

The other really hard thing was expecting someone to work for free. Because the grant was small, Graeme got paid for two days and it took him a month of work. And he gave a third of the money to the guy who did the music. He did it because he wanted to. It really was a labour of love. So the hardest part was the recognition that there is very little money flying around for this kind of stuff and that it’s obviously not something that is valued by those holding the money.

Q: Who d’you want to see the animation?

A: Young people. I’m aware there is a culture of sharing things you find funny, things that enter into cultural consciousness. Which is why we wanted to make it light touch – I think that works. I’m not a behavioural change scientist and not involved in front line activism so I just thought ‘what’s a nice light way for people to engage with this?’ And I wanted it to be useful as a resource because institutions are keen to provide direct guidance to their students around consent, gender behaviours and that sort of thing, so thought it could be resource for educators.

Q: What kind of response have you had, so far?

A: People seem to really like – I’ve had lots of good feedback about it. Another Cumberland Lodge scholar works on the Good Lad Initiative and he’s shared it through that campaign so it should get a pretty wide, diverse audience. Shout-up, which campaigns to make our pubs, clubs, bars and venues sexual harassment free zones, has also been in touch and it’ll be included in their training for venue staff.

Q: What’s next?

A: I want to continue with more outputs for the public and I’m currently working on a collaboration with Chantal Herbert of Sister Shack (a feminist organisation that promotes and supports women in the creative industries), to make something audial, a podcast or radio show. Of course, I’m also prepping for the viva and attempting to get some academic articles published!

Amanda submitted her thesis, entitled ‘High Spirits: young women’s pleasure in the night time economy’ in December 2019 and is now preparing for her viva.

My Study Abroad Experience

Alana visits a traditional South Korean village with friends

Alana Parker chose to spend a year abroad in South Korea. She shares her experience so far.

“I’m often asked why I chose South Korea to be my destination for a study exchange, and I never really know how to answer! I believe I wanted to experience an entirely opposite and new culture to my own; and that is what I got. Assimilating into a new culture was a scary experience, but the rewards have been wonderful. As one of many exchange students studying at Korea University, I not only met many kind and welcoming Koreans, but also people from all over the world, from the US, to Sweden and France. Making friends from such diverse backgrounds really opens you up to the world and broadens your horizons.

As a Sociology student, it was interesting to soak up this new culture and learn how different societal values work to produce different hierarchies, norms, food and drinking cultures and so on. As a high culture and a collectivist society, there are many visible differences. Importance is placed on small gestures such as bowing, and also on status as respect is expected to be given to those older than or of a higher status than you. Alongside learning about Korean culture and language, I chose North Korean Human Rights and the History of the workers party to study which have proven to be incredibly interesting subjects. My experience in South Korea so far has been amazing. The things I have learnt and the experiences I have had have been invaluable. I highly recommend anyone who is considering a study abroad experience to take the plunge!”

You can see some of Alana’s pictures from here. If you are studying at Northumbria University, and are interested in study abroad schemes, you can find out more information on our dedicated webpages here.

Becoming a Domestic Violence Champion

When a group of women students at Northumbria were trained to become domestic violence (DV) champions what they didn’t expect was the positivity it would generate

May 2018: I had finished my Sociology and Criminology BSc at Northumbria University, and with that came the desire to throw myself into idleness… and I did, for a week or two. Then guilt and boredom creeped in. I needed to do something productive. From my degree and volunteering at Shelter Newcastle and Crisis Skylight, I had an idea of the career I wanted. My interest and experience centred around violence against women and girls (VAWG), the rehabilitation of offenders and insecure housing. While volunteering at Crisis and Shelter was good experience, I was interested in something more focused on VAWG. Then I remembered West End Women and Girls (WEWAG). They had come into one of my Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) lectures to speak about their centre in the West End of Newcastle. We learned how their peer educators went into local schools and trained girls to become Domestic Violence (DV) Champions. Once the girls were trained, they would act as a listening ear and a line of support that anyone in their school who is experiencing abuse can turn to for help and signposting.

Anyone can experience and perpetrate abuse. However, it is women who disproportionately face abuse at the hands of their male partners¹¹-¹². Abuse is a form of gender-based violence, influenced by the gender inequality in our society¹. In a 2017 Women’s Aid survey, one third of young women said they had been in an abusive relationship. Over two thirds of young women had experienced one or more ‘red flag’ behaviours of abuse¹⁰. WEWAG’s goal of starting conversation of abusive relationships early is absolutely necessary, and very encouraging to me.

The DV Champion Training

Picture 1

I called up WEWAG, told them I remembered them from my lecture and asked if they could help me become a DV Champion. They got back to me, saying they were keen to bring the DV Champion training to Northumbria Uni. They asked if I would be interested in working with them. I emailed Ruth Lewis, my IPV lecturer, and started to generate interest. When I met WEWAG and Ruth to discuss our plans, I was surprised when WEWAG’s peer educators arrived. They were my age! In their early 20’s and relatable, clever and funny. These women would be training me and a group of students to become DV Champions. I couldn’t wait! The response to our advert was overwhelming. We were delighted that over 60 women willing to commit to becoming a DV Champion got in touch. Because of this interest, it is possible that another group of women will be trained later in the year. The positive vibes continued once the training started.

I’d never seen someone my age delivering a training session of any kind. I didn’t realise the importance of peer educators and the positives that come with having people your own age in the role, with vast knowledge of domestic abuse and available for support. 16 to 19-year olds are more likely to experience abuse than older people and the abuse is often equal in severity to abusive adult relationships⁷. Yet this age group are are less willing to confide in professionals and adults as they don’t trust them as much as their peers and fear the repercussions of disclosing to a grown-up⁴. Young people need to develop a rapport with professionals before disclosing abuse, and WEWAG recognise the increased likelihood and value that comes with having peer educators involved in their organisation.

The training was informative but also fun. We covered types of abuse, warning signs, the effects of abuse on survivors, the perpetrator, self-esteem, assertiveness, boundaries, disclosures, and sources of support. WEWAG made us feel at ease with ice-breakers. We began with sharing with the group two truths and a lie. We learned embarrassing stories from nights out, about a famous relative, weird talents and peculiar pet-hates. The ice-breakers could have been embarrassing, but the trainers took the lead, and it wasn’t long before we were laughing and relaxed as a group. All the activities were interactive and done a way that you could relate them to your own life. You could think, what would I do in this situation?

All of us on the training knew of the gender inequalities that exist today, but the training really refreshed the ‘girl power’ energy in us. We ended the first day by going around the group and saying what you love about being a girl. Programmes with the purpose to educate young people about sex and relationships have been found to be more effective when they explicitly address gender inequality¹³⁻¹⁴. We had been educated, but I think what I took away most from the training was the focus on empowerment and self-esteem.

WEWAG were 100% successful in igniting the self-love in me while being funny and relatable; they opened up about their lives and relationships (both healthy and not so healthy) and I thought how important this could be to someone who didn’t know what a healthy relationship was. Young people with limited knowledge around relationships are more prone to victimisation, as they sometimes don’t know the signs of abuse². We were all feminists and had a strong sense of what was right and wrong in intimate relationships; for someone who had never really learned about what is healthy, I’m confident that by the end of the training they would know what is acceptable and be left feeling like they could confide in WEWAG. Even when it came to complex questions like, is it ever okay for your partner to ask to look at your phone? WEWAG tackled the answers light-heartedly, relating it to their lives, so we could relate it to our own lives. In the end, the answer was always about freedom and respect.

The training generated thought provoking discussion and it was refreshing to be surrounded by like-minded women who had come together due to a shared drive to support other women. The aim was that, by the end of the three days, we would have learned about the gendered nature of domestic abuse, we would be confident in spotting warning signs and be able to assist and signpost anyone experiencing abuse to different support services, while creating a safe atmosphere. This was definitely achieved but across the days of training, in some ways it didn’t really feel like that’s what we were there for. We were laughing so much, felt so relaxed and were happy to learn, because we didn’t feel any judgement and were learning about each other, talking about shared experiences as well as all the knowledge required to be a DV Champion.

The training is complete and we are waiting for WEWAG’s formal graduation ceremony. We will then get our DV Champion information packs and will take on the role officially! Currently, we are trying to figure out how to advertise the support service to students around campus, while maintaining a high level of anonymity. Once this is up and running, anyone experiencing abuse or with any concerns will be able to contact one of the DV Champions or attend a drop-in for support and advice. Referrals will then be made to WEWAG so that the person seeking help doesn’t have to search for different organisations that will be able to help them.

The DV Champion training and the peer education programme at WEWAG manages to create a positive out of a negative. At University, where self-esteem can be low and misogyny is high, it’s more important than ever to educate young people on what is acceptable and healthy in a relationship, and be able to support any students that are experiencing abuse and asking for help. Northumbria is the first University where WEWAG has trained up a group of DV Champions, and I am confident we’ll be able to mirror the values of WEWAG and be successful in the role and successful in spreading the positivity and love.

Getting on the Career Ladder: Reflections on Volunteering

Another positive from the training is the career ‘doors’ that have been opened to me. Although at University you barely have a minute to spare, I would definitely recommend taking any volunteering or training opportunities you come across by the horns! I have managed to get my foot in the door through my volunteering and have built up a positive reputation for myself, as well as making contacts that were useful to me while at Uni (I interviewed Crisis and Shelter members of staff for my dissertation) and are even more useful now I’ve graduated. However, the thing that is most important and useful while looking for a job is the experience. If you’re like me and you want to work in a sector that will inevitably have vulnerable people with complex needs attached to it, then a degree by itself will not suffice. Real life experience is not something that can be faked or talked up on a CV and it is something that employers will be looking for.

Although I currently work evenings in a restaurant, I’m not worried that I should be in a grad job by now. I’m taking my sweet ol’ time! I still do volunteering and training through the daytime. Every day I learn more. I am dealing with different and more challenging cases, and have my own client list to support. I’m becoming more of an asset with more skills under my belt. Even if you’re not looking for a career working with vulnerable people, volunteering is a great way of making sure that you actually enjoy the work you’re doing (in the real world) and it sets you apart from everyone else in the UK with a degree, going for the same job as you are. You may have to sacrifice some of your free time and your social life, but it will be worth it 100%!


  1. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW, UN Women). (1992). General recommendations made by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Published online: UN Women. Seen in: Women’s Aid, 2019.
  2. Council of Europe (2011). Protecting Children from Sexual Violence: A Comprehensive Approach. Council of Europe. Available Online. Seen in: Houses of Parliament. (2018). Relationships and Sex Education. Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. Available Online.
  3. Crisis Skylight Newcastle. (2019). Available Online.
  4. Crisma, M. Bascelli, E. Paci, D. & Romito, P. (2004). Adolescents Who Experienced Sexual Abuse: Fears, Needs and Impediments to Disclosure. Available Online.
  5. Halliday, E. (2019). North East Women are Most at Risk of Experiencing Domestic Abuse from a Partner. Available Online.
  6. Houses of Parliament. (2018). Relationships and Sex Education. Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. Available Online.
  7. Safe Young Lives. (2019). Young People and Domestic Abuse. Available Online.
  8. Shelter North East – Newcastle. (2019). Available Online.
  9. West End Women and Girls Centre. (2019). Available Online.
  10. Women’s Aid. (2017). Women’s Aid Annual Survey. Available Online.
  11. Women’s Aid. (2019). What is Domestic Abuse?. Available Online.
  12. World Health Organisation (WHO). (2013). Global and Regional Estimates of Violence Against Women: Prevalence and Health Effects of Intimate Partner Violence and Non-Partner Sexual Violence. Available Online. Seen in: Houses of Parliament. (2018). Relationships and Sex Education. Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. Available Online.
  13. Wolfe, D. Crooks, C. Jaffe, P. Chiodo, D. Hughes, R. Ellis, W. Stitt, L. & Donner, A. (2009). A School-Based Program to Prevent Adolescent Dating Violence: A Cluster Randomized Trial. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. Available Online. Seen in: Houses of Parliament. (2018). Relationships and Sex Education. Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. Available Online.
  14. Yakubovich, A. Stöckl, H. Murray, J. Melendez-Torres, G. Steinert, J. Glavin, C. & Humphreys, D. (2017). Prospective Risk and Protective Factors for Intimate Partner Violence Victimisation Among Women: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. The Lancet. Available Online. Seen in: Houses of Parliament. (2018). Relationships and Sex Education. Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. Available Online.

Rethinking Sexual Citizenship: An Interview with Prof Diane Richardson

Dr Emma Casey interviews Prof Diane Richardson, Newcastle University for the Sociology podcast series

Emma Casey interviewing Diane Richardson

A special podcast was recorded in March 2019 to discuss with Professor Diane Richardson her paper ‘Rethinking Sexual Citizenship’, which was the winner of the 2018 Sociology Journal Sage Prize for innovation and Excellence. The interview was conducted by Dr Emma Casey, Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Northumbria University and Editorial Board Member of Sociology. Diane is Professor of Sociology at Newcastle University where she has worked since 1998. She has written for many years on the topic of sexual citizenship and is one of the leading international experts on the topic. In the podcast she talks about the themes of her paper and shares her insights into future directions for sexual citizenship studies.

The link to the Sociology Podcast is here: