Into the Sea

about the book

Taylah Brown is happy. She is. She has graduated university and she is in love and Sydney is a wonderful city to be in love in – all sunshine and blue water everywhere. It’s 2014 and the future is paved out in front her, a heat shimmer of possibility. Haircuts. Concerts. Holidays. Birthdays. Getting engaged, being engaged, going to brunch to show off the ring. More birthdays, a promotion, finding the right white dress. Getting married, going on her honeymoon, buying a house, having a child, getting a dog, going to the gym, moving house, camping at beach, weekends spent baking in the kitchen. New haircuts, new jobs, more birthdays, more birthdays… Choice-laden, picturesque, this is the good life. Isn’t it?

Grounded in ethnographic research and published in Brill’s award-winning Social Fictions Series, Into the Sea is an experiment in sociological imagination. The story follows a group of young adults through twelve months of the mundane and extraordinary. By closely inspecting the tensions in our everyday scenes – family lunches on the verandah, work days, dinners parties with friends, shopping trips to IKEA – the novel questions what it means to live “the Australian way of life”.

about the author

Ash Watson is a writer and sociologist who grew up in suburbia outside Brisbane, Australia. She now lives in Sydney with her wife. Her fiction explores the social nature of our feelings and the kinds of tensions that hold together our different relationships – micro, macro, and everything in between. Her writing focuses on the stuff and texture of everyday life: the tiny material details of our spaces, the grooves of our routines, the meals we make, what our bodies sense in different places. She occasionally publishes short fiction and poetry, which you can find in places like Overland, Brain Drip, Bareknuckle Poet and SCUM Mag.

In her day job, Ash is an academic. Her research investigates the emergence and impacts of novel technologies such as artificial intelligence and smart home devices. She was awarded her PhD in 2018 and previously held an Endeavour Research Fellowship at Goldsmiths, University of London. She currently works for the ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society at UNSW Sydney, and before this was based at the Vitalities Lab, UNSW. She centres creativity in her research and has built an international profile for her work with arts-based methods such as fiction, mapping, zine making and the methods braiding technique.

Talks and writing

To hear more about the book, you can watch a recorded talk:
A seminar on Sociological Fiction, for the Anthropology and Sociology Seminar Series, University of Western Australia.

The book launch for Into the Sea, part of the The Australian Sociological Association annual conference.

A free online workshop on Social Science Fiction, part of Social Sciences Week Australia. Supported by The Sociological Review and Vitalities Lab, UNSW.

You can also read more about the writing process here:
Watson A (2021) Writing sociological fictionQualitative Research. OnlineFirst 18 January 2021. This article focuses on the methodological question of how sociological imagination may be crafted in and with fiction.

Watson A (2020) Methods braiding: A technique for arts-based and mixed-methods researchSociological Research Online 25(1): 66-83. This article introduces an innovative mixed methods technique that brings together insights from/for qualitative and arts-based research.

Watson A (2016) Directions for public sociology: Novel writing as a creative approachCultural Sociology 10(4): 431-447. This article argues that novel writing presents sociologists with a process and medium through which they can expand their work for a more public, engaging, affective, and panoramic sociology.

Or tune in to these upcoming talks:
June 22 2021. Panel, “Sociology as Literature.” Czech Sociological Society, annual conference.

October 2021. Keynote, “Creative Methods.” National Centre for Research Methods (NCRM) UK, biennial festival.

what others have said

“You have to be an extraordinary writer in order bring to life what is remarkable in the ordinary. In this beautifully crafted work of sociological fiction Ash Watson does just this, linking the most intimate of local details in Australian everyday life to the big issues of global history and society.”
Les Back, Goldsmiths, University of London

“A beautifully written pause-and-think novel that invites you to ponder on lives lived in and through the complexities of the present. Watson limns her characters in vivid technicolour showing how the push and pull of historical circumstances play through lives lived in seemingly ordinary registers. Will change how you think about the local and global forces that shape you.”
Nick Prior, University of Edinburgh

“An apparently simple but actually profound odyssey, not just into the heart of modern Australia, but also into the living core of what we like to call modernity.”
David Inglis, University of Helsinki

“With a whip-smart irony that is equal parts chilling and hilarious, Ash Watson has written a deeply affecting and keenly observed sociological novel set in the bubble of middling white Australia, post 9/11. We follow Taylah, a young school teacher who is unsure if she wants the glossy ‘next episodes’ of marriage and children but is firmly pursuing this social script nonetheless, even across the waking nightmare of the IKEA showroom. But this is a coming-of-age story that – refreshingly – never delivers us an easy ending of individual epiphany. Instead, Watson reveals the slithers of space in Taylah’s everyday life and relationships where visages of consumerist distraction, social/media spectacle, lazy nationalism, and the simmering fear of terror, give way to ennui and insights that quickly slip away again. Slicing through the moments where personal troubles and social problems collide, Into the Sea urges us to reflect on the ways that neoliberalism mediates our intimate lives and deflects our attention away from the things that really matter to us.”
Ashley Barnwell, University of Melbourne

“This novel brings to life everyday aspects of an ‘ordinary’ slice of Australian life. The sights, smells, sounds, taste and feel of the worlds experienced by the characters are artfully evoked. The patois of Australian speech, the mundane activities and rituals that structure the characters’ lives, the weather, the food they eat and the homes, streets and landscapes through which they move are all detailed in language that makes you feel that you are there. Readers will be drawn into the narrative, and along the way, catch vivid glimpses into Australian culture.”
Deborah Lupton, University of New South Wales, Sydney

“This engrossing work is a powerful reflection on the lives we lead and their relationship to collective memory. It unites sociological observation and narrative form with a distinctive and exciting voice.”
Mark Carrigan, University of Cambridge

Into the Sea wonderfully animates the cultural sociology of everyday life, offering as it does a deeply moving and provocative series of insights as to how seemingly ordinary human beings maintain grace under pressure as they live out their lives against the backdrop of a perfect storm continually serving up moments of risk, pleasure, challenge and uncertainty. Watson’s characters and story are based in contemporary Australia, but her exquisitely honed writing depicts a compelling sociological story that can be universally appreciated.”
— Andy Bennett, Griffith University

“Watson offers up a fine example of the sociological imagination creatively rendered; connecting for the reader the personal troubles of Taylah, Caleb, Brett and co. to the public issues of our time. Into the Sea is a reminder that our individual experiences are part of something much bigger, that we are not simply spectators of the events – small and momentous – that punctuate everyday life. Watson’s highly evocative writing quickly draws the reader into the mango memories, sunburnt childhoods and hot chook lunches of the book’s characters. But underneath is always a darker undercurrent, as the characters struggle with and against the good, bad, change of neoliberal agendas and the social conditions of late modernity. A must read!”
Sarah Baker, Griffith University