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Summer 2004
The Providential Scholar
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Mann's Incoherent Empire THAT MANN HAS A CAREER IN SOCIOLOGY AT ALL
, let alone as one of the field's leading lights, is, like Incoherent Empire, also somewhat of an accident. Born and raised in Manchester, England, in a "lower-middle-class household," he made it through a modern history degree at Oxford in the early 1960s without picking up much in the way of direction. "I didn't work terribly hard," Mann recalls. "I had no real idea what I wanted to do; I thought I might become a social worker." In fact, had he chosen differently at one key point, he might have become an agent, not a critic, of empire.

"I was actually approached about becoming a spy," he says with a dry chuckle. "I took the examination for working for 'government communications.' I didn't know what it was. ... They invented a foreign language; you had to translate in and out of it." He did well enough to be invited for a follow-up interview, "but when I got there it dawned on me for the first time what this was about." He reckoned that Her Majesty's Secret Service was no place for a Guardian-reading campus liberal from the industrial North.

Around then the Oxford Department of Social and Administrative Studies, where Mann had trained to become a probation officer, was approached by the General Foods Corporation to do research into the effects of moving one of its factories from central Birmingham to the countryside. "They asked me if I wanted to do it and get my Ph.D. in the process," he says. "It fell in my lap, and I thought, why not?"

Mann conducted a "very intensive" study of 300 employees before and after the factory relocation, to see "who made the move and who didn't make the move, and why." The results were eventually published by Cambridge University Press under the title Workers on the Move: The Sociology of Relocation. What he found was at the time something of a revelation: "People were much more attached to work, and to their immediate nuclear family, than they were to their local community."

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