The School of Geography, Politics and Sociology

Imagining Pasts and Futures

Imagining Pasts and Futures

This research cluster is concerned with the social imagination of pasts and futures.

Research Cluster

Sociology at Newcastle has well established research strengths in social and cultural perspectives on memory and constructions of the past; utopian studies and social futures; and other forms of temporality, especially in relation to developments in social theory. Our friendly and welcoming cluster opens up active and engaged discussions across the boundaries of these conceptual ideas that speaks to some of the most pressing problems of today.

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Memories of the past are shaped by visions of the future as well as conditions and contexts of the present, just as visions of the future are related to understandings of the past whilst also shaping actions in the present. Social practices of remembering and commemoration, hoping and dreaming, are all simultaneously individual and collective, and they have real importance in institutional and everyday life.

Specific staff interests include:

  • the imagination and practice of alternatives within and beyond capitalist democracies; visions of the Anthropocene and environmentally sustainable futures; the social importance of utopias;

  • the study of the recent past from a historical sociology and anthropology perspective; the future-directed government of memory in nation-building and the role of future anticipation in present-day policy work;

  • the creative affordances of social memory and place for senses of identity and belonging, as well as social exclusion; the intersection of pasts and futures in relation to urban and social regeneration, social transformation and nationhood, the idea of community and empathy

  • political, social and individual memory-work, in particular its significance for identity and personhood, older age, the moral significance of remembering and memorialisation, the bio-technological modification of memory.

  • Cluster members have worked together to explore the discursive and political history of meritocracy and the kinds of futures it opens up and closes down, as well as the temporalities of institutional change in relation to the future of student engagement in HE. 


Professor Elaine Campbell
Professor of Criminology

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 5030

Dr Mark Casey
Lecturer in Sociology

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 7921

Professor Cathrine Degnen
Professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 8467

Dr Dariusz Gafijczuk
Lecturer in Sociology

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 5610

Dr Anselma Gallinat
Reader in Social Anthropology

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 8483

Dr Lisa Garforth
Senior Lecturer in Sociology

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 7487

Dr Ruth Graham
Dean of Taught Programmes for HaSS Faculty; Senior Lecturer in Sociology

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 6987

Professor Robert Hollands
Professor of Sociology

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 7501

Professor Janice McLaughlin
Professor of Sociology

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 7511


Dr Kenneth Taylor
Research Associate

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 3258

Dr Audrey Verma
Leverhulme Early Career Fellow


Dr Grit Wesser
Research Associate

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 3922

Dr Sarah Winkler-Reid
Lecturer in Social Anthropology

Telephone: +44 (0)191 208 8697

Affiliated members

Dr Felix Ringel: International Research Fellow in Social Anthropology

Mr Hugo Radice: Visiting Research Fellow, School of Politics & International Studies, University of Leeds
Dr Emma Casey: Senior Lecturer in Sociology

Joanne Sayner, Senior Lecturer in Culture and Heritage Studies
School of Arts and Cultures


Identity, Belonging and the Role of the Media in Brexit Britain, ESRC 2018-2021.

Cathrine Degnen, Katharine Tyler, Susan Banducci, Dan Stevens, Travis Coan, Laszlo Horvath and Josh Blamire.

This twenty-seven month project explores how everyday experiences of identity informs people’s attitudes to immigration and their senses of belonging (or not) to local places, the nation and Europe in Brexit Britain. Crucial here is an understanding of the role of the media in the formation of attitudes and experiences on these issues. The project develops innovative research strategies that integrate in-depth ethnographic fieldwork conducted by three ethnographers across six different areas of England (northeast, midlands, southwest) with quantitative content analysis of national and local media. We are a multi-disciplinary team of researchers from the Universities of Exeter and Newcastle, who have expertise in Social Anthropology, Politics and Human Geography. For more information, please visit

Knowing the Secret Police: Secrecy and knowledge in East German Society, AHRC 2018-2021.

Anselma Gallinat (Newcastle), Joanne Sayner (Newcastle), Sara Jones (Birmingham), and Grit Wesser (Newcastle).

This three year project explores questions of secrecy and power in relation to the East German Secret Police, the Stasi, and East German society. It overturns the approach of existing research to ask not what the ‘all-powerful’ Stasi knew about society, but what and how East Germans knew about the ‘secret police’. This project investigates how different kinds of knowledge were circulated through social, religious, political and literary networks. It puts these explorations into conversation with a the study of how such knowledge was represented in the literature at the time of the GDR and how it was reflected on in literature written after the Stasi-archives opened. In doing so it pays heed to how information and understandings also passed across the inner-German border. The project is based on the hypothesis that navigating the 'public secret' of the Stasi relied on varied forms of political agency and gave rise to many kinds of political identity. As a result, it aims to challenge narratives about former citizens of the GDR as 'moulded' by the 'SED-dictatorship' and lacking the civic virtues necessary to participate in contemporary democratic life.

Unsettling Scientific Stories, AHRC, Newcastle, York and Aberystwyth, 2016-18.

Lisa Garforth

This project explores the history of the co-construction of science and society by examining fictional futures that have characterised distinct periods across the long technological 20th century. At Newcastle, the sub-project Prospecting Futures (Miranda Iossifidis) is working with reading groups to consider how readers navigate futures through science fiction novels. The sub-project Environment, Complexity, Crisis explores environmental fictions and futures since the early 1970s introduced arguments about the limits to economic growth.

Urban Cultural Movements and the Struggle for Alternative Creative Spaces,Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship Sept 2015-August 2017.

Robert Hollands

The aim of this research was to ‘assess the potential of artistic and culture-based urban movements, organisations, and coalitions for effecting social and political change’. The project objectives were to produce a range of illustrative case studies of relevant alternative creative spaces, provide new explanations of arts and cultural-based urban movements, and explore their policy relevance for a number of 'crunch issues' our cities are currently facing (i.e. lack of creative diversity, gentrification, austerity, social polarisation, etc). The research findings are based on interviews with 53 artists, representing 30 alternative arts groups/spaces/ movements, drawn from 16 cities in 11 countries.




Adrienne Attorp


Pardis Asadi Zeidabadi

Conceptions of democracy in secular and religious feminism in contemporary Iran. An empirical exploration
James Cummings A Study of Emergent Non-Normative Sexual Identities in Hainan Province, China
Matthew Hanchard Towards a digital sociology of map use
Diana Kopbayeva Building the Kazakh nation: an exploration of the discourse of nation building in Kazakhstan
Yang Li Screening Tibet from Three Perspectives: An Exploration of Representations of Tibet in Western, Tibetan and Han Chinese Films
Angus McVittie  
Ankita Mukherjee  


Upcoming events will be posted on this page

Past events can be viewed here


  • Degnen, Cathrine. 2018. Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Personhood and the Life Course. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Degnen, Cathrine. 2015. Socialising place attachment: Place, social memory and embodied affordances, Ageing & Society 36:8, 1645-1667.
  • Gallinat, Anselma. 2016. Narratives in the Making: Writing the East German Past in the Democratic Present. New York: Berghahn.
  • Gallinat, Anselma. 2017. The local Aufarbeitung (re-working) of the SED-dictatorship: Governing memory to safe the future. Perspectives on European Politics and Society 18:1, 96-109.
  • Gallinat, Anselma. 2017. ‘Politics of memory’, Chapter 60 in the Sage Handbook of Political Sociology, edited by W. Outhwaite. Thousand Oaks: Sage.
  • Gallinat, Anselma. 2015. Power and vulnerability: Secrecy, social relationships and the East German Stasi, Perspectives on Europe 45:1, 46-52.
  • Gallinat, Anselma. 2009. Intense paradoxes of memory: Researching moral questions about remembering the socialist past, History and Anthropology 20:2, 183-199.
  • Garforth, Lisa. (2017) Green Utopias: Environmental Hope Before and After Nature. Cambridge: Polity.
  • Hollands, Robert. 2017. Creative dark matter rising? Struggling over the future of alternative cultural spaces in the city of Geneva, The Sociological Imagination.
  • Hollands, Robert, Berthet M-A, Nada E, Bjertnes V. 2017. Urban cultural movements and the night: Struggling for the 'right to the creative (party) city' in Geneva, in: Hannigan, J. and Richards, G (eds.) The SAGE Handbook of New Urban Studies. London, UK: Sage Publications Ltd, pp.295-310.
  • McLaughlin, Janice. 2015. Family ties in genes and stories: The importance of value and recognition in the narratives people tell of family. The Sociological Review. 63:3, 626–643.
  • McLaughlin, Janice & Coleman-Fountain, E. 2014. The unfinished body: The medical and social reshaping of disabled young bodies. Social Science and Medicine 120 (November), 76–84. 
  • McLaughlin, Janice. 2014. Digital imagery and child embodiment in paediatric genetics: Sources and relationships of meaning, Sociology. 48:2, 216-232.
  • McLaughlin, Janice and Clavering, E.K. 2012. Visualising difference, similarity and belonging in paediatric genetics, Sociology of Health and Illness 34:3, 459–474.
  • McLaughlin, Janice and Clavering, E.K. 2011. Questions of kinship and inheritance in pediatric genetics: Substance and responsibility, New Genetics and Society 30:4, 399-413.
  • Ringel, Felix. 2018. Back to the Postindustrial Future: An Ethnography of Germany’s Fastest Shrinking City. New York, Oxford: Berghahn.
  • Ringel, Felix. 2016. Beyond temporality: Notes on the anthropology of time from a shrinking fieldsite, Anthropological Theory 16:4, 390-412.
  • Ringel, Felix. 2014. Post-industrial times and the unexpected: Endurance and sustainability in Germany’s fastest shrinking city, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N.S.) 20(S1), 52-70.
  • Mason, R., K. Lloyd, A. Galani & Joanne Sayner. 2018. Experiencing mixed emotions in the museum: Empathy and memory in visitors’ responses to histories of migration, in LJ. Smith; M. Wetherell; G. Campbell (eds.) Emotion, Affective Practices and the Past in the Present. London and New York: Routledge.
  • Kidd J, Joanne Sayner. 2018. Unthinking remembrance? Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red and the significance of centenaries, Cultural Trends 2018, Epub ahead of print.
  • Mason R, Joanne Sayner. 2018. Bringing museal silence into focus: eight ways of thinking about silence in museums, International Journal of Heritage Studies 2018, Epub ahead of print.
  • Wesser, Grit. 2018. Socialist biography and post‐socialist ethnography: On the ethical dilemmas of trust and intimacy during fieldwork. Social Anthropology 26:1, 60-73.
  • Wienroth, Matthias. 2018. Governing anticipatory technology practices: Forensic DNA phenotyping and the forensic genetics community in Europe, New Genetics and Society 37:2, 137-152.