Searching For Pearls

John Goodwin

In this paper, I outline my ongoing research into the life and work of the forgotten sociologist Pearl Jephcott (1900–1980) with three objectives in mind. First, I consider the practice ‘doing’ of biographical research into Pearl’s life and work as well as briefly discuss how researching ‘sociological biographies’ intersects with ‘genealogical’ research. I do this to give a clear overview of the biographical research process and offer some insights into the realities/practicalities of the ‘doing’ of biographical research. This is important to ‘throw light on our practices’ (p. 167) as mentioned by Moore, Salter, Stanley, and Tamboukou [2016, The archive project archival research in the social sciences. London: Routledge] so that those who want to engage in this approach can learn directly from those who do biographical research. Second, using her notebooks, I briefly outline Jephcott’s sociological/biographical research practice. Pearl was a biographical research practitioner well before this approach became ‘fashionable’ and ahead of the ‘biographical turn’. Finally, the paper concludes with the sharing the lessons that I, and others, have and can learn from Pearl’s work, and I reflect a little on how researching Pearl’s biography has changed my sociological practice.*

*For some reason a few errors appear in the published version. Frustrating but it is what it is.

Special Issue of Women’s History Review

Tower Block before demolition 2016, Glasgow (c) John Goodwin

The social sciences are replete with past research studies, worthy of a ‘second look’ but which have often become lost in the mists of academic time. Once cutting-edge research produced by innovative researchers seemingly passed over in pursuit of the ‘new’. In this introductory paper, we reflect on why valuable studies have come to be disregarded by focusing on the work of Pearl Jephcott. We offer a brief biographical sketch before reflecting on why it is important for contemporary researchers to revisit the work of previous generations. We illustrate some of Pearl’s concerns as detailed in ‘Time of One’s Own’ (1967) by focusing on her innovative use of images. We go on to introduce the papers in this special issue of Women’s History Review all of which originated from a conference honouring Jephcott: Gender, Youth, Community, Methodology and More: A Symposium Celebrating the Life and Work of Pearl Jephcott.

Papers are by

Barry HazleyValerie WrightLynn Abrams & Ade Kearns

Tony Jeffs

Susan A. Batchelor

Helen McCarthy

Lynn AbramsLinda FlemingBarry HazleyValerie Wright & Ade Kearns

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.



Research Image Competition

Professor John Goodwin

John Goodwin has been shortlisted for the Images of Research Competition organised by the College of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities, University of Leicester. The narrative for his picture is as follows:

Pearl Jephcott (1900-1980): The ‘Czechoslovakia’ Notebook: A central feature of sociological practice is to continually record the things we encounter, hear and observe to stimulate our sociological imagination. Pearl Jephcott was an exceptional sociologist who epitomised this ‘craft’. Now largely forgotten, a reanalysis of her richly detailed notebooks is essential if we are to both fully understand her contribution to the discipline and to bring her unique sociological contribution back into view.  These notebooks, alongside others forms of marginalia and research ephemera, so often overlooked, reveal much about the history of the discipline and those who have contributed to it.

John’s picture will be shown on Thursday 9 February 2017, from 5pm, in the Attenborough Arts Centre, when the…

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Who is Pearl Jephcott? A forgotten independent sociologist, that’s who!

Challenge Annika

Pearl Jephcott was a radical youth worker who was made redundant in the 1940s and became a sociologist and researcher who studied everyday topics like women’s work, young people’s leisure, Notting Hill and what it is like living in the new high rise flats in Glasgow. She used what we may term innovative or creative research methods like diaries, children’s drawings, participatory action research, ethnography, mixed methods and so on. She died in 1980 at the age of 80 with sociologist as her occupation on her death certificate. However, she was an accidental sociologist and did it only because of her redundancy, says Tony Jeffs who was one of the many speakers and Jephcott fans speaking at a symposium about her life and work at the University of Leicester on 9th July.

You can  read all the Tweets from the event in this Storify (I just dumped all the Tweets…

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