20 Questions - Jackie Leach Scully

1. Who are your intellectual heroes/heroines?

This is not going to help recruiting for sociology, because they are both scientists (!)

a) John Snow, the doctor who removed the handle from the Broad Street water pump to prevent the spread of the 1854 cholera outbreak;

b) Barbara McClintock (1902-1992), molecular biologist who got the Nobel prize in 1983 for her work on transposable genetic elements.

The common factor between the two (and that should hold for social scientists as well) is that they looked at the evidence, not at the orthodoxy, and then stuck to their guns for what the data said was right.

2. Who are your favourite sociologists/social scientists?

Both Erving Goffman and Stanley Cohen seem to me, in different ways, to be sensible and thoughtful and (most importantly) not try to build excessively grand theoretical structures – unlike some!

3. Can you name a critical moral, political or intellectual issue on which you have changed your mind?

Over the last few years I’ve developed what I think is a more nuanced view of veiling by Muslim women (but which I’m sure other people would see as a watering down of former convictions). I now have more respect than I used to for the value of doing one’s duty. On the whole, there’s not much on which I’ve actually changed my mind – my convictions have just got a bit less adamant and baggier around the edges. The exception is Thatcherism, where my views remain clear and totally unforgiving.

4. What is the last piece of music you’ve bought or downloaded?

Patti Smith’s Gone Again.

5. Who are your political heroes/heroines?

Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919). Sophie Scholl (1921-1943). Margaret Fell (1614-1702). Two out of three of those were assassinated/executed, which is a bit depressing, so the fact that Margaret Fell outlived two husbands and three political regimes, and lived into her late 80s, is more hopeful.

6. What are your favourite movies?

A Matter of Life and Death (Powell and Pressburger, 1946) for the sense of humour, the use of colour vs black and white, and the wonderful cut-glass accents.

7. What sociological idea do you think every sociology graduate should understand?

That no single sociological (or other) idea explains everything about human lives.

8. Who are your cultural heroes/heroines?

Annie Dillard; Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica (“Nothing but the rain….);
Vivian Bullwinkel (look her up!) is historical rather than cultural but I want to name her, because heroism like hers is airbrushed out of history when war is assumed to be something that only men ‘do’. Her story formed part of the BBC TV series “Tenko”.

9. What was the last novel (s) you recommended to a friend?

“The Years of Rice and Salt” by Kim Stanley Robinson. It’s a counterfactual history of the world. Nobody has ever heard about it so I recommend it to a lot of people.

10. What philosophical thesis do you think it is most important to disseminate?

Standpoint epistemology – that reality can not just be understood very differently from different social positions, but it can be perceived and described differently as well. This doesn’t mean we can’t identify larger patterns and structures (we’d all give up and go home if that were the case), only that we probably have to work harder to spot them and to keep constantly in mind that the patterns and structures that seem obvious to us might not be so to other, differently positioned people.

11. What philosophical thesis do you think it is most important to combat?

That atheism is an absence of belief.

12. If you could have three guests over for dinner who would they be?

Charles Darwin; Eleanor Roosevelt; my mother.

13. Is there a work in the social sciences which has had a profound effect on how you view the world?

Margaret Urban Walker’s “Moral Understandings” is a work of feminist ethics, not really social sciences. But I include it because her argument that ethics needs to draw on the empirical facts of “actual moral and social orders” gives a strong philosophical basis for contemporary, sociologically-informed ethics. Reading this book was formative for me because it demonstrates very clearly the culturally and historically loaded assumptions behind what we think of as morally obvious or ethically objective.

14. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Basel, Switzerland.

15. What was the last piece of art/theatre/music/etc that gave you goose bumps?

A performance of Handel’s Messiah that mixed (heard) music and sign language.

16. What is your favourite example of architecture in the world?

The city of Dresden: what’s there, what’s not there, what’s been resurrected. The new synagogue is particularly striking, with two buildings surrounding an empty space that was formerly occupied by the synagogue destroyed in Kristallnacht, so that the new synagogue both replaces, and embodies, an unrecoverable absence.

17. What is your favourite sound?

An orchestra tuning up.

18. What talent would you most like to have?

Realistic talent or superhero gift? If the former, to sing; if the latter, to read minds!

19. If you could alleviate one social problem in the world, what would it be?


20. If time travel were possible, which historical period would you choose to visit?

Greece around the time of Aeschylus (about 400 BC) – but only as a man, because most historical periods have been pretty unpleasant for women. As a woman, England during the Suffragette campaign, so I could do my bit by chaining myself to some railings.