Meet our Head of Department
Our Department has a whole host of academic staff working hard to effect positive change. We wanted to give you a chance to learn more about one of them: our Head of Department, Paul Johnson.
Even when I was young, I had big ideas about changing society
I left school when I was 16. I went straight into work and stayed there for a few years. It wasn't until I was in my early 20s that I decided to go to university. I did an access course and that got me onto a degree in Durham.
Back then I felt like I was quite a political person so I thought I might study politics, but I quickly realised that that’s not what I wanted to do. I genuinely cared about a number of issues in society, so I decided to study sociology.
I suppose it was mainly inequality that bothered me. I cared about all sorts of inequalities, but particularly LGBT inequalities, which I still care about now.
I’m still pretty proud of getting my first degree
I did my Bachelors and Masters at Durham, then went to Newcastle to do my PhD.
I’m proud of the fact that I managed to get myself back to university after having left school at 16 and getting my degree. I think all undergraduates should be proud of getting a degree. It's a real transition in life.
It’s more common to have an undergraduate degree now, in the sense that more people have them. Even so, it’s still a really major achievement and I think people should be proud of it.
I strongly believe that research should have a practical end
I spend a lot of time trying to make change happen. One of the ways that I do that is working with parliamentarians. In 2016, I proposed a change that removed the final piece of anti-gay law relating to the armed forces. That law basically said that a person could be dismissed from the armed forces because of their sexual orientation. After that, I wrote legislation leading to the introduction of pardons for gay men in Northern Ireland who had previously been convicted of offences relating to their sexuality.
Right now I’m working on a bill that would change the law to allow clergy in the Church of England to marry same sex couples if that member of the clergy chooses to.
All sociologists know how to influence change
That’s what we should be doing. I can write statutes because I’m a sociologist of law. I find it quite easy to do. I’m not sure most sociologists would. Nevertheless, everyone of them can effect practical change. I think all my colleagues do. They just do it in different ways.
The amazing thing about sociology is that we’ve got people who cover so many different topics. At York we’ve got specialist modules in the paranormal, the sociology of corpses. The modules we are offer are so eclectic and even a bit quirky!
I really believe that sociology is a serious and important discipline, that it's a really worthwhile thing to do for the good of our society.
At York, we encourage our students to have a really open mind
For us, there's no right or wrong way to look at the world. What we focus on is giving you the skills you need to critically understand society.
We’re welcoming and open to all people, and I think that’s a real strength of ours. We also provide a really good education; as a student here you'll learn how to make positive change.
If I could say one thing to prospective students, it's please get in touch if you want to know more about us. We're always happy to talk!