Department of Sociology

Student research projects

As a Sociology student at Sussex, you will to do a year-long research project in your third year. You can focus on the research topics you want and learn valuable research, data collecting and analysis skills.

Arabella Kyprianides - A profile picture speaks a thousand words

In an age when so much social interaction takes place online, what choices to do we make to shape the way people see us? This was the question that inspired Sociology undergraduate Arabella’s dissertation and drew her to study a sample group of eight female Facebook users.

Arabella looked at how these women constructed their feminine identities through their profile pictures. Specifically, she focused on the three methods of embodying femininity: hair, posture and dress. 

Her study used a theoretically-informed, internet-based content analysis method, and to frame the study she looked at research in the areas of feminine embodiment, feminine identity construction and gender performativity.

She found that users in mainstream social groups were engaged in gender self-stereotyping to portray themselves in appropriately feminine ways. By contrast, users from less mainstream groups were more likely to deviate from the conventional norms of feminine appearance.

Ultimately, her work cast doubt on the most recent gender theory on fluidity. She was able to conclude that, even though femininity is not as restricted as it once was, heterosexual women still strongly cleave to stereotypes, and femininity is a performance that intersects with sexual orientation, interests, motherhood, employment and age.   

Natasha Maslen - Different perspectives on abortion

For her final year Sociology dissertation, undergraduate Natasha Maslen examined the portrayal of the abortion process in modern UK society. She compared the perspectives of women who have been through the process with those of organisations that provide medical and related services, such as counselling.

Her source material included two blogs written by women who had chosen to have abortions – giving a uniquely honest and individual view of this ‘deeply personal experience’ (Sanger 2012). She also analysed the wide range of political and health literature that is published by service providers and other interested parties.

In her reading of the blogs, Natasha identified a number of key themes.  She found that the women were aware of the political and medical framework that surrounded their experience, but this did not define the experience for them.

Although admitting abortion was a difficult decision, the women seemed confident and had a mostly positive experience. This supported the recent research conducted by National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health (NCCMH, 2011).

Natasha’s analysis of the literature found some of these common themes recurring. The literature produced by abortion providers most closely matched the portrayal of the process in the blogs, a finding that perhaps raises questions about the recent criticism from Nadine Dorries on abortion providers’ ability to counsel.

Natasha also found that material produced by Christian-based pregnancy counselling services tended to be more focused on ideology than on communicating a realistic picture of abortion.

Rebecca Williams - Dowsing for health and the 'expert patient'

Many of us are familiar with the concept of using a rod or pendulum to dowse for water. What’s less well known is that this ancient technique is used to find many things that are hidden from view, from energies in the earth to infections in the human body.

Carrying out the first study of its kind, Sociology undergraduate Rebecca has worked with 10 people who ‘dowse for their health’; using this method to search for the root cause of illness or to determine the most suitable remedies.

Rebecca framed her research in the context of the rise of the ‘expert patient’ – looking at whether dowsers formed part of the growing group of people who are preferring to self-manage their health and be less reliant on the traditional healthcare system.

Overall, her research found that dowsers predominantly behave as consumers of healthcare. This is demonstrated by their openness to alternative health and willingness to question the wisdom of doctors. On this last point, she found that dowsers remain reliant upon the medical profession to some extent, recognising when to rely on medical intervention (thus supporting the previous studies by Lloyd et al (1991) and Lupton (1997). 

Rebecca’s work has built upon previous research while also introducing a new patient group that has not previously been acknowledge or studied.

She has also identified areas for future investigation, including the way dowsers use the technique within their main profession, from complementary therapy to spiritual healing and feng shui consultancy.