Author: kenplummer

For over 40 years I worried about things sociological; now I have time to stand and stare.

No One is Alone

I saw Side by Side with Sondheim in 1976 at the Wyndham’s Theatre in London in 1976, and became a Sondheim fan. Oddly I had already seen Company (at Her Majesty’s) and A Little Night Music (at the Adelphi), but this compilation revue finally hit me. Sondheim was a complex tunesmith and  a marvellous lyricist. Hot on the heels of this came Sweeney Todd and Merrily We Roll Along (which is coming back to London this Christmas).  Here is one of my all time favourite songs –  and one that has shaped my oddball sociology. It is from Into the  Woods.

You move just a finger,
Say the slightest word,
Something’s bound to linger,
Be heard.
No one acts alone.
Careful, no one is alone.

See Bernadette Peters sing it: You Tube

Sondheim: One of my musical heroes

Sondheim: One of my musical heroes

What does the Humanist quest for unity in the midst of difference mean for us today?

In this web blog, I will piece together various view on humanism and recently I have just come across a short  essay on humanism by the sociologist Richard Sennett which is of some interest. He concludes:

I have wanted …. to explain in this essay why the label “humanist” is a badge of honour, rather than the name for an exhausted worldview. Humanism’s emphasis on life-narratives, on the enriching experience of difference, and on evaluating tools in terms of human rather than mechanical complexity are all living values—and more, I would say, these are critical measures for judging the state of modern society. Looking back to the origins of these values is not an exercise in nostalgia; it is rather to remind us that we are engaged in a project, still in process, a humanism yet to be realized, of making social experience more open, engaging, and layered.

‘Humanism’    Hedgehog Review Summer 2011

Hedgehog Review

Summer Musicals: Mack & Mabel, Ragtime

Mack and Mabel , Ragtime.

There are two wonderful seasonal, short-run musicals in London this summer to take your mind off the Olympics: Mack & Mabel in the small and lugubrious Vaults at the Southwark Playhouse, and Terrence McNally, Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens’s Ragtime at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. If you are a lover of musicals, you cannot afford to miss them.

Both are set in the same early twentieth century time period in US history. Both are gloriously sung and performed with large hidden orchestras and skilful productions on engaging bleak stages. And both are musicals that have had  ‘marginal ‘ lives in the UK. They have not been great successes in the past: not least because one is overtly political ( Ragtime had a short run at the Piccadilly in 2003 );  and the other is Jerry Herman’s dark musical, the one without the ‘happy ending’ ( Mack & Mabel opened on Broadway in 1973 to a scant 63 performances and only came to London for s short run in 2006). Both are passionate labours of love that thrill the audience. They are not obvious choices for a summer audience  and it is daring for Thom Sutherland and Timothy Sheader to direct them to their glory on the London stage.

Mack & Mabel tells the story of the tragic love affair of Mack Sennett and Mabel Normand against the backdrop of early film making. It is, I think perhaps, Jerry Herman’s finest score – all his styles and moods are here celebrated; and those who know his other scores (like DollyMame and Cage!) will hear his rifts and moods at work again. And here the performances are without exception stunning: but cold tingles down my spine have to be reserved for Laura Pitt-Pulford who is Diva of the Year for me.  Ragtime is an epic musical – 35 songs of wide range drive  through three tales of migration, black servitude and bourgeoise life. A huge cast spreads over the open air stage and merges Doctorow’s famous story of past America with contemporary omens of bad more times. It is amongst the most complex and politically aware musicals I have seen.Those who say musicals are always silly and optimistic should think again. Darkness, tragedy and even politics awaits you – but with great joy and passion!

Two glorious moments in the theatre this summer.

This is one of my favourite poems: I only encountered it a couple of years ago

Primo Levi

To My Friends by Primo Levi

Dear friends, and here I say friends
in the broad sense of the word:
Wife, sister, associates, relatives,
Schoolmates of both sexes,
People seen only once
Or frequented all my life;
Provided that between us, for at least a moment,
A line has been stretched,
A well-defined bond.
I speak for you, companions of a crowded
Road, not without its difficulties,
And for you too, who have lost
Soul, courage, the desire to live;
Or no one, or someone, or perhaps only one person, or you
Who are reading me: remember the time
Before the wax hardened,
When everyone was like a seal.
Each of us bears the imprint
Of a friend met along the way;
In each the trace of each.
For good or evil
In wisdom or in folly
Everyone stamped by everyone.
Now that the time crowds in
And the undertakings are finished,
To all of you the humble wish
That autumn will be long and mild.

16 December 1985

Primo Levi was a holocaust and gulag survivor; he wrote the important  If This is a Man (1947); he died, almost certainly suicide, two years after he wrote this poem in 1987.

Imagining Better Worlds For All : Opening Imageries and Poetics

Everard Longland: Butterfies-Escape-The-Web(2011)

Over the coming weeks I am hoping to put together  some short pieces about a better world.

I have for some time been concerned about the failures of the modern world and our endless critique of it.We need some sense of a positive future thinking.

Although I am no simple utopian, I do like the idea of ‘thinking forward’ –  of Dreaming of a Better Social World for All.

Something has gone terribly wrong with our current values of markets and money.

The following captures a little of  what I think. It was presented at my British Sociological Presidential Lecture at the British Museum in October 2011. 

I am against a world riddled with the values of the market place
I need Cosmopolitan Hope – a dreaming forward-
in a world of often unbearable darkness.

I need Wisdom – experience and science ands art-
in a world of chaotic complexity.

I need Empathy- my bridge to the others –
 in a world of monologic terrorism.

I need a Human Flourishing  – a potential developed for all-
in a world of wasted lives.

I need Social Justice for all- a fairness and freedom and equality-
in a world ruled without justice

I need Meliorism – those practical actions
which will make the world a better place.

Above all: recall the golden rule:
Treat others as you would be done by.

And Be kind. Be kind. Be kind.


Table: Dreaming of a Better Social World: In Defence of Social Values over Economic and Nationalistic Values  (in process)

Feature of Society and People to be developed Value Literature ‘Enemies’ to question & challenge
Hope; Melioration; Progress Progress; cautious optimism Science Fiction
Despair, nihilism
Role taking, empathy & dialogue Sympathy The Empathic Society; Dialogic ethics, Recognition theory, Monologic Terrorism; lack of empathy; a certain blindness in human beings
Altruism – concern with others Compassion, kindness & care Feminist Care TheoryThe Compassionate Temperament CrueltyViolenceSelfishness
Justice, Democracy and Social Rights Fairness, Freedom, Equality The Philosophies of Justice and Human Rights Authoritarianism; Tyranny of others, Elitism, Scapegoating, Bullying….Slavery, the Unfree, Unjust. Unequal
rights denied
Human Flourishing ‘The Good Life’ & ‘The Virtues’ Human Capability Theory with Rights and Flourishing Neglect, ExploitationDenial of opportunities,Incapacitation. Societies based on economic values centrally.
Cosmopolitanism Acceptance of differences Cosmopolitan theory/ Difference theory NarrownessEthnocentrism
Humanitarianism Societies based on caring for the others The Humanitarian Society Cruel, violent, genocidal societies
Wisdom Experience– both historical and personal;Science – both hard and soft;Imagination – both limited and unlimited Confucius and all the ‘wise thinkers across cultures and throughout history Folly , Stupidity (which is not the same as ignorance); Blind science, blind rationality.


Coming Tales

        1. The Hopeful Society
        2. The Empathic Society
        3. The Kind, Compassionate Society
        4. The Just and Rights Society
        5. The Flourishing for all Society
        6. The Wise Society
        7. The Humanitarian Society

Gay Culture/ Gay Rights

 Today I have placed a selection of articles on Gay Rights and Gay Cultures on the Selected Writings page.

I came out as gay in 1966 and I guess this now makes me an ‘old timer’. My life was nevertheless transformed by being a founder member of the London Gay Liberation Front and writing a PhD on the changes that were happening after the law changes in 1967. I have witnessed a lot of change.

My first book was Sexual Stigma (1975) and I think it can be downloaded. Click here.

My second book was a collection from people working at Essex University in the later 1970’s: The  Making of the Modern Homosexual  (1981)

The Making of the Modern Homosexual

The third was Modern Homosexualities (2001)


Humanistic Art? Edward Hopper

Edward Hopper

In 1981, I encountered the work of  Edward Hopper.

I wanted to use his ‘Nighthawks’ for the cover of my new book: ‘The Making of the Modern Homosexual’: but the publisher did not like the idea.

Since then, the image has almost become a cliche of modern art.

See Hopper: NighthawksEdward Hopper    Niighthawks

Inspirational: Stan Cohen

Stan Cohen as Key Inspiration Stan Cohen was my first teacher and inspiration in sociology. He taught me social psychology and the sociology of deviance as a student at Enfield College in 1965 and 1966 – and he showed me what a non pompous intellectual life could look like. His ideas inspired me as I…


Having written the short piece about Anthony Grey,  I recalled writing the following about the Albany Trust Archive .

It  is the ‘Preface’ to Gay Activism in Britain from 1958: The Hall Carpenter Archives. Gale Group. 2002. You can find the full archive at:

Here is my little bit of it:

Introduction: The Albany Trust Archive 

Ken Plummer

Professor of Sociology, University of Essex.


 My first encounters with the Albany Trust were between the years 1967 and 1971, during what might be seen as ‘a middle phase’ of its work. I approached it as a young graduate who was both a little worried about his emerging sexuality at the same time as pondering the idea of doing a Ph.D. on how the legal changes of the Sexual Offences Act 1967 might impact the gay community. I met Anthony Grey, the Director, along with Doreen Cordell (the counsellor) and Joy Blanchard (the office guru), who, together welcomed me into their small group of supporters and volunteers. For several years I was a frequent visitor at their slightly ramshackle offices in Shaftesbury Avenue – where a rickety old lift would take you slowly to ‘their floor’, often accompanied by seemingly strange looks from porters. As a volunteer, my main task was doing some work on the massive press cuttings files which they had been collecting since their inception and which lay somewhat disorganised. My other main involvement concerned various conferences and researches. Occasionally I would glimpse important people in the corridor: the Canadian Professor of Politics at the LSE, Bob McKenzie or the eminent Cambridge criminologist, Donald West, whose book  Homosexuality was my bible at that time. And as I went to various meetings and conferences I was thrust into what I can only say now was a genteel world of closeted gayness: Bishops, priests, social workers, professors, and politicians. All wanting change but none wanting to rock the boat too much. Caution was the byword of that time. And as a working class lad, I learned to sip wine.

The Albany Trust was one of a number of international movements of that period who were pushing for change. It was nowhere near as developed as comparable groups in the USA  (such as the Mattachine Society and the Society for Individual Rights) documented in W.Legg Dorr..), or in the Netherlands. But the Trust (along with the H.L.R.S.) nevertheless played a crucial role in changing the climate and environment and gaining itself as a firm place in history as the key early group involved in legal, educational and social campaigning around homosexuality.

Indeed, in many ways, the Albany Trust (AT) may be taken as emblematic of the many major reform and pressure groups of post war Britain.[1] Formed in 1958, initially it was the H.L.R.S. which was the dominant wing of the organisation. This was not a grass roots activist movement, but one spearheaded by ‘worthies’ who campaigned to implement the proposals of the Wolfenden Report as best they could. Their work culminated in the Sexual Offences Act in 1967 and the history of that Act has been well documented elsewhere. [2] After that time, the Albany Trust came into its own for a short while. Indeed, its prime roles- Counseling Services, Public Education and Research – became extremely important. Much of the work of the AT and its allied organisations is documented in these papers.

The formation of the HLRS was a brave moment and an exciting time. I was too young to witness that (my time came with excitement of GLF), but it appears that at an early meeting  at Caxton Hall near Westminster, over 1000 people turned up as it went public. The frisson of excitement is caught by someone who was there:

I went with a friend of mine.. and we went early, feeling very self conscious. It was packed out. By going to a place like that, you were proclaiming in a blaze of lights that you were one of the se hundreds of homosexual men… they were mostly men — meeting , not in the usual situation, cruising the place, but going there to talk about law reform… On the platform was a man called Anton Grey… I was very excited by the meeting, so I went up to  him and told him that he had given a marvellous speech and I was very interested.. He gave me his address and I joined the society…[3]

The AT stood at a critical juncture in the history of lesbian and gay relations in the UK. Before its birth in 1958, homosexual relations had stood on the shadows of sickness and crime. A messy sordid affair; a blackmailer’s charter; a horror. The 1963 film Victim with Dirk Bogarde and Sylvia Syms captured these tragic days well. But shortly after the passage of the 1967 Act, a new vibrant gay world developed that symbolically and seismically was transformed with the arrival of the new GLF movements in November 1970 at the London School of Economics. As has been well documented, a change in language, politics, but most of all a change in mood came about. Nobody in the old AT had ‘come out’ but in GLF it was a sine qua non. The language of the AT was shaped largely be religious leaders and educators, whereas those in GLF were flamboyant politicos – and proud of it.

I do not wish to sound unfair, but it was a very radical shift. The AT symbolized the old, elite pressure group and welfare model with its traditionalism, its deep liberal conservativism, its religiosity and pastoral leaders, its doctors and genteel men (and overwhelmingly they were gentlemen). The GLF signaled the new social movement in the making: radical, fiery, anarchistic, colourful.  The one held conferences at the Southwark Diocesan Conference Centre  – where I recall learning to play croquet for the first time; the other held public drag balls at Kensington Town Hall and took to the streets to proclaim its outness. That the Albany Trust’s earlier work was held in disdain by the latter movement is revealed in a highly polemical pamphlet published in 1973 called The Joke’s Over. It is an almost unintelligible anarchist document, and it aims to both publish the Albany Trust’s Social Needs Survey [4]and at the same time critique it. ‘Fuck you, Albany Trust’ it proclaims.

All of which is a pity, because the AT was composed of brave individuals in its day who were busy making serious legal challenges in a time of smothering hostility and shame. This was the early ‘queer world’ and one far removed from its late twentieth century counterpart. This collection of papers is probably far from complete, but it is nevertheless a highly valuable collection from a period of significant change. It is one which will be of use to researchers, archivists and activists for many years to come.

[1] The Abortion Lobby was the comparable movement of the time, and all this is discussed in a rather odd book of the time by Bridget Pym Pressure Groups and the Permissive Society 1974, David and Charles. More critical is the approach in National Deviancy Conference (eds) Permissiveness and Control MacMillan, 1980.

[2] See especially Antony Grey’s own accounts in Antony Grey Quest for Justice London: Sinclair -Stevenson, 1992 and  Antony Grey Speaking Out: Writings on Sex, Law, Politics and Society 1954-1995  London: Continuum International, 1997. See also:  Stephen Jeffery -Poulter  Peers, Queers and Commons : the Struggle for Gay Law Reform from 1950 to the present. London Routledge, 1991.

[3] Bernard Dobson: quoted in  Walking After Midnight, 1989 London Routledge. This was an oral history produced by the Hall-Carpenter Archives themselves.

[4] This was a large scale survey distributed to a thousand or so lesbians and gays about how their social needs and how they would like to see the gay world changed. It was never published, but did galvanize a major conference at York University on the Social Needs of the Homosexual.

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