The Providential Scholar
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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
"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."