DPhil Student Spotlight: Benjamin Low

DPhil Student Spotlight: Benjamin Low

Benjamin started his DPhil in 2018, and is a member of Linacre College. Previously, he studied sociology, theatre studies, and arts and cultural studies, receiving a BSocSci from the National University of Singapore and an MA from Erasmus University Rotterdam.


Benjamin Low Photo

Why sociology?

What initially made me want to make sociology my major as an undergraduate was chancing upon Howard S. Becker’s classic article 'The Professional Dance Musician and His Audience' (1951) sometime during my second year of undergrad study and being inspired by it.

What struck me about that article back then was how his analysis of the relationship between jazz musicians and their non-musician audiences in 1951 still rang true in 2010.

Reading that article made me realise that there were viable career paths available to academically inclined musicians (and vice versa) and that jazz and sociology had much in common as somewhat ambiguous fields of knowledge and practice.

Reading Becker’s work showed me that in sociology, practical knowledge of a field can have analytic utility and that being an outsider to a field can have its perks. Sociology – especially the subfield of cultural sociology – appealed to me as I perceived it to be a discipline in which the diverse experiences I had gleaned over the course of my life and musical career would be worth something.

What attracted you to the department in Oxford?

My supervisor is the main reason I applied to undertake my DPhil at the Department of Sociology in Oxford. Professor Neff's work is brilliant, relevant, and spans a vast expanse of intellectual terrain all the way from cultural production to labour, organisations, data science, and even engineering. I wanted to learn how to be like her – a competent cultural sociologist who has something unique to bring to the table and is adept at participating in and managing inter-disciplinary and mixed-methods projects.

My supervisor aside, I figured that enrolling as a DPhil student at the Oxford Department of Sociology would present me with a unique opportunity to be in an institution that accommodates a very diverse group of people and has ties with many other departments in the University.

I felt that enrolling in such an institution would help me to become more familiar with working in an inter-disciplinary environment that transcended methodological backgrounds.

Who is your academic hero?

My academic heroes are my supervisors: Professors Koen van Eijck and Gina Neff. They are amazing sociologists and great people. The former was my supervisor back when I was doing my master’s in Rotterdam and the latter is my supervisor here in Oxford. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to learn from and work with them.

Where do your research interests lie?

My research interests primarily lie in Cultural Production, Innovation, and Social Stratification.

What did you do before coming to Oxford? 

I have been an active jazz musician playing mostly drums since I finished my 2-year military obligation in 2008.

In 2018, I was planning to do a tour of Europe with the help of the Goethe Institut to release an album I recorded live in Malaysia featuring German saxophonist Tony Lakatos. These plans were abandoned as I managed to secure the funding to begin my DPhil in Oxford in that same year.

I would have been touring or making more music if I did not enrol in my DPhil programme!

However, the album has recently been uploaded for streaming and download.

What do you hope to do when you finish your course?

When I graduate, I hope to be able to publish my work either in journals or as a monograph and work towards securing a full-time position in a university that would be conducive to my development as an academic.

Ideally, I would be conducting research while honing my teaching chops and learning new things. Basically, I hope to be able to apply myself to situations that I can grow from, be they in academia or not. Finally, I hope to get back to making some music.

What piece of advice would you give to prospective students?

Trust your supervisor(s)!

What do you enjoy the most about living or studying at Oxford? Did you find anything surprising?

I enjoy the greenery and scenery in Oxford as well as how I can cycle anywhere. What I find surprising is how nice people are in Oxford.

Favourite Book:

'The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath' – H.P. Lovecraft