Welcome to Motel Kerang: Pearl Jephcott’s Australia Notebook and the ‘Craft of Sociology’

We will be presenting the following paper at:

Tracing the trace: What is an archive? What is a collection? What is a document? Fri 13 Jan 2017 @ the University of Edinburgh



A feature of sociological practice is to continually record experiences and observations so as to sustain the ‘sociological imagination’. As Mills (1959) famously instructs, sociologists should ‘start a file’ to capture these observations, fringe thoughts or snippets of conversation. So it is, perhaps, in these files that the ‘traces’ of previous generations of sociologists are to be found. For any researcher seeking to understand the disciplinary contribution of those who have gone before the analytical and explanatory potential of such notebooks and personal research ephemera is immense. However, such materials are not easy to find as they are rarely formally archived but, instead, are retained by the individual researcher or their estate.  Considering these issues, in this paper we focus on three aspects of our research into the life and work of Pearl Jephcott (1900-1980). First, we outline our journey of ‘tracing the traces’ of Pearl and our quest to discover as much as we could about this forgotten sociologist. A journey which took us via the various ‘formal’ archives linked to Pearl’s work and on to the genealogical work of Goodwin (2015) who managed to locate Pearl’s relatives – dispersed family members who had fortuitously retained the remnants of Pearl’s personal research archive. Second, we contrast the formally deposited archived materials relating to Pearl’s research with the personal research notebooks and ephemera unearthed via the trace. Finally, we present and explore Pearl’s ‘sociological craft’ by focusing on one notebook she collated during her trip to Australia in 1971 aged 71. The Australia notebook reveals Jephcott to be an exceptional sociologist who, epitomising the ‘craft’ advocated by Mills, methodically and richly documented her visit via notes, original artwork, clippings and postcards. Detailed personal research ephemera that offer insights into Pearl’s sociology that could not have been ascertained from any formally archived materials.



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