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Benjamin Hirst

Teaching Fellow in Sociology (Rep, PGR)
University of Leeds

Through the ‘Making a World of Difference Campaign’, Ben was awarded an MA Scholarship at the Bauman Institute thanks to a philanthropic gift from Mr Lee Gledhill. This generosity has allowed Ben to excel at postgraduate level to such an extent that he recently secured through competition an ESRC Quota Award that now funds his 1+3 PhD project.


I came to University of Leeds in 2008 to study the BA Social Science programme, a one-year foundation course run by the School as part of its widening participation initiatives that provided a means for me to pursue higher education. After successfully completing the foundation year, I went on to study for a BA in History of Art and Sociology which I achieved in July 2012 with first class honours.

Area of Study

Throughout my degree I have maintained a keen interest in the history of European sociology, social theory and philosophy, and my work has reflected this interest. Throughout my studies I have become particular interested in the classics such as Marx, Weber and Durkheim, the process or figurational sociology of Norbert Elias, twentieth-century French philosophy as well as the social theory of Zygmunt Bauman.

Research Interests

A number of writers have begun to reflect on what the decrease in student numbers may mean for the future of higher education, and in particular what challenges it presents to the future role of the arts and humanities in Britain (Collini 2012). In discussions on the increasing rnarketization of education, it has generally been argued that the turn away from the arts and humanities is part of an ongoing process of a societal devaluation of non-instrumental forms of knowledge such as sociology, literary and cultural studies, as well as philosophy and art.

To account for this change, Zygmunt Bauman (2000; 2003; 2009; 2012) has applied his concept of 'liquid modernity', arguing that as society has become increasingly individualized and formerly 'solid' ideas, from ethical and cultural norms to the lofty goals of the nation-state, have become less and less desirable, the function of higher education has been thrown into question. "Liquid modern culture", according to Bauman (2009:158), "has no 'people' to cultivate. It has instead its clients to seduce". This situation has arguably been intensified further by the recent three-fold rise in tuition fees, leading to the further encroachment of a consumer mentality onto education. Thus, there has been more of a demand for subjects which have a more immediate practical use and therefore a greater chance of leading towards a career.

In this research I will explore some of the sociological and political underpinnings of these debates, exploring to what extent processes of `liquid modernity' have changed the character and function of the British art school. The art school provides a particularly interesting case study as it is arguably likely to bear the heaviest brunt of a severe series of cuts to university funding. This project will therefore not only require looking at the historical and social place of the art school in Britain, but will also ask:

  • How has the art school changed over the course of the 20th century?
  • What has been the character of these changes?
  • Has the greater costs of education raised the problem of access?

School of Sociology and Social Policy and the Bauman Institute.

After studying in the School of Sociology and Social Policy for four years I have developed a great fondness for the staff, and a deep respect for both the research which is produced within the department and the high standard of teaching which I have encountered throughout my degree. With the establishment of the Bauman Institute, I am confident that the department as a whole will only improve, and I am honoured to be a part of it.

Outside of Study

Outside of University I work part-time as a gallery information assistant at the Henry Moore Institute which, among other things, keeps me connected to the cultural and artistic life of Leeds. I also have a great love of both cinema and music, and am known to occasionally venture out of the confines of my house to play a gig or watch a movie!

The Future

As I stated above, after my MA I hope to continue on to study for a PhD whilst teaching sociology at undergraduate level.