Land Wanted (Advert)

Wanted

A small parcel of land in a peaceful area where I can put up my 16ft Yurt and small off-grid solar energy system. At the moment, I’d prefer this to be in the South East of the UK so I can maintain my current job.

What I want

What I can offer

1/8th to 1 acre of land

To be self-sufficient-ish

Based in the SE so I can earn some £££

Some other people on the same trip to work with

The company of my-self, part-time

Permaculture skills – Doing up yer land

30 000 of her majesty’s pounds

Dry wit and enormous doses of cynicism.

The land I have in mind would either have sufficient room for me to start establishing a water harvesting/ food growing/ waste disposal system using Permaculture methods, or be close to a personal or collective project which is already involved in establishing such a system. I’d actually prefer to be working on projects with a range of other people, I just want my living arrangements to be private, because I like a bit of space to myself some of the time.

I only actually need the tiniest space for my yurt (an 1/8th of an acre would do) but in my wildest dreams this tiny space would be in the middle of a few acres of land with sufficient room to establish a few fruit trees (although unfortunately I might not be around long enough to help harvest them!), a raised bed system, and with sufficient woodland nearby for me to able to source fuel for my (innovative) portable rocket mass heater, and somewhere for me to build a compost toilet, naturally.

Of course if all of this is already established, or in the process of being established, then that would be just fabulous, but I’m just as happy to plonk myself in a bare-field and start from scratch. I’m also happy to go much smaller-scale too. 1/8th of an acre would be enough for me to start establishing a Permaculture basic-needs system. In other words, if you’ve got a big one, I’d be happy to pitch-up in your back garden. Also if you’ve got a suitable caravan then you’d save me half day of putting up my yurt.

PS I don’t mind irritating Nimby dog walkers while in the process of doing this. I’ve been through a special blessing-ceremony especially designed to ward off attacks by those wielding tightly rolled up copies of the Daily Mail. I also have every faith that even Daily Mail readers can be reformed (although in fairness maybe their wealth will need to be forcibly removed first).

Payment

I’m sure we can negotiate but to kick off proceedings….

Ideally – No money changes hands. You just let me put up my yurt on your land and let me work on it – which I’m happy to do for free. Hours of work to be negotiated. I’m thinking a figure of 10 hours a week in exchange for living on your land is fair.

Less Ideally – If it’s an ideal setting and you’re happy for me to do less work than 10 hours a week, then I’m prepared to pay some rent.

Fantasy Realm – You allow me to live on your land for free, and pay me to work your land as well.

Super-Fantasy Realm

You sell me some land. I’ve got £30K kicking about that I’m willing to sink into the perfect piece of land, although I’m well aware of how little that gets you in the SE of England and how rarely such small parcels of land come up for sale (hence the advert, it’s too depressing searching and coming up with nothing).

Why I want to do this in the South East

Frankly I’m sick of paying mortgage-interest on my flat in Surrey and I’d like to sell up and buy outright in another part of the country to stop paying money to a bank which is doing nothing to earn it. However, I can only afford to do this in another part of the country, and I don’t want to quit my current job just yet, so I’m left with the option of squatting on someone’s land. Rent around where I live is just an insult. Fortunately I’ve just always fancied squatting some land and living in a yurt, for decades actually, so it seems sensible to give it ago.

Future Plans – Also give me a buzz if this sounds of interest….

In 2020 (ish) I’ll either be quitting work for good, or starting a ‘gap decade’ during which I’ll travel around Europe with a van and a yurt to visit and stay at some of the many interesting looking Permaculture projects that are evolving in numerous places, so if you’re reading this and you’ve got somewhere that you think might be a medium or long-term (anything from a few months to ten years) possibility for sighting my yurt in the not-too-distant future then do get in touch, as It would be nice to start networking and planning my grand-tour now.

Contact me via twitter if you can make my dreams come true… realsociology (on twitter)

P.S. Technically I don’t actually own a yurt or have any real Permaculture skills as yet (bar having gone on one Introduction to Permaculture weekend), but picking up both is in the medium-term plan, and if I get any decent responses to this ad, then I’ll just accelerate said plan.

My Moneyless (more or less) March Manifesto

My Moneyless (more or less) March Manifesto

So far this year I’ve spent far too much time putting my money where my mouth is, via shitty food, beer and way too many take-out-coffees, so my aim in March is leave my money in the bank and go moneyless, more or less.

There are three/ four reasons I’m doing this:

  1. To save money to try and keep my goal of being able to semi-retire by 48 on track.

  2. To practice the kind of money-restricted lifestyle I’ll need to transition to in later life if I am going to retire early (anything after 53 for full-on retirement I would regard as a total failure, unless I cave in and decide to go part-time at work before I turn 48).

  3. I need to get back to some serious self-discipline after a fairly slack winter.

  4. It feels right – spring is coming, it’s lighter, and this coming half term is only five weeks long – and I’ve got 3/5 Friday’s off teaching, so only 2 full weeks – NICE!

I say more or less because I’m going to make the following exceptions:

  • Any outgoings I’ve already got going out – Which in somewhat contradictory-fairness is a lot of money. So a more honest title for this post might be a ‘disposable-income-left-after-outgoings-less experiment – but it doesn’t alliterate so nicely. My justification is that my ERE strategy is presently best facilitated by my remaining locked-in to the money system for a few more years because of my reasonably high salary and ludicrous rate of equity gain on my mortgaged-flat. Hence it only makes sense to experiment with the money I’ve got left over after mortgage repayments and the utilities I need to pay by virtue of living a non-off-grid salary man lifestyle.

  • I’m going to buy simple, cheap, food – but I’m only going to allow myself to buy the following: Fruit – apples and pears, peppers, tomatoes, olives (I do so love olives!); Veg – celery, carrots, spring greens, onions; milk, cheese, butter and eggs, beans and tinned tomatoes/ paste, tea bags, grain staples – cereals, rice, pasta, couscous, spreads – honey and Mar-mite, walnuts, maybe some pumpkin seeds, and sultanas and dates and flour – to bake bread. I feel the need to bake bread. I mean I could spend two hours a week skip diving, but when I only need to spend £20 a week on food and I can earn than in an hour, it’s completely irrational to skip dive!>! I’ll do one shop, once a week on a Saturday.

  • I’ve got an INSET day in London in mid-March so I’ll need to spend £30 on train fair. Technically this isn’t coming out of my own pocket as I’ll be reimbursed, but it’s London, so I imagine I’ll do coffee on the way up and maybe a beer or two after. Call it a £10 exception to the rule. What can I say? I’m weak.

  • If I need anything for emergencies I’m damn well forking out. This is highly unlikely, but if, for example, a brake cable snaps on my bike, or a drill bit breaks when I’m building something (‘cos I’m a proper builder, me) I’ll replace them. Or if I get a little touch of man-flu I’ll buy myself some paracetamol. What can I say? I don’t like pain.

Wish me luck, and if you see me this March, please feel free (‘cos I certainly will be) to take me out and buy me a pint, or two or four, or a coffee and almond croissant.

I’m not fussy, at least if you’re buying, but I do prefer ale rather than shitty lager, and I might even return the favour, in April.

Cheers! Here’s to a money-free March 2016, more or less.

Four Options for Quitting Work in my 40s

I’m getting a bit sick of my job – It’s a lot to do with the job, but also probably to do with being 42, and with it being January (at the time of writing this).

Also, I’ve now given 15 years full time to ‘the man’. Enough is enough for Christ’s sake. That’s almost a 5th of my entire life.

My original early-retirement plans (in 2015) were to ‘hold-out’ in full-time employment for 7 years – by which time I could travel or transition easily, but the way things are going I might crack earlier, so I need a crack-up plan. NB I’m claiming this as a new concept – a back-up plan is something you have in case a new venture goes wrong (which implies risk taking). In my original early-retirement plan there is no real risk of it going wrong – I just stay in teaching for another 7 (now 6) years and save-hard. However the risk is that I go fucking nuts before the next 6 years are up, hence the need for a crack-up plan. If I feel my mental health deteriorating any more I’ll transition early. This is a post about my options.

It’s interesting to note that this is an indication of how truly awful the UK education system is – I work in a nice college, with nice kids and nice staff, and teach an interesting subject. In short, outside of the immoral private sector teaching doesn’t really get much easier than my job, but my job still makes me feel anxious and miserable and generally shit. This is the effect of the system constantly focussing on the negatives and always demanding more. This is the sub-optimal logic of performativity caused by the neoliberalisation of education. Life is not worth living as a teacher in a marketised education system. The only thing currently keeping me in it is the fact that I earn enough and am frugal enough to save down and get the hell out relatively early, which is something I advise anyone insane enough to go into teaching to do.

How much money I’ve currently got to play with

Current liquid -ish assets

£20K

Equity (-£5K sales shaft)

£110K

Total capital to play with

£130K

Other (approx)

£16K – Ring fenced for spending when I’m 58/9 (Hoping this will grow and extend into my early 50s)

The headline news is that I can already afford to buy a house outright in a cheap part of the UK, which means I could quit my job now, work part-time for the rest of my life and still probably fully retire in my mid-late 50s.

If I wait until 2018, things are a lot more comfortable, if I wait until 2021, that’s near enough sufficient for me to fully retire.

What I perceive to me my total array of practical options to escape work:

  1. Downsize to a small homestead/ croft somewhere else in the UK, or maybe Ireland, quit work and figure out another way to earn money/ live without money, more or less.*

  2. Downsize to a cheaper house in the UK, rent it out to earn a small base income and travel/ do voluntary work abroad.

  3. Downsize to a cheaper house in he UK, rent it out to earn a base income, buy some land in Portugal and ‘do Permaculture’ and figure out another way to earn money/ live without money, more or less.

  4. Downsize to a cheaper house in the UK and buy a houseboat, and figure out another way to earn money/ live without money, more or less.

  5. *I could do this, and then just stay at work and rent in the local area as a sort of ‘transition year’.

NB – It’s unlikely that any of the above will kick in for me until 2018, given the enormous housing bubble currently inflating in my local area, which I think it’s safe to ride it for a couple more years. 

NB – When I say live without money more or less, I spent a lot of time reading about freeganism this holiday – check out the previous post. 

Approximate Costings

Strategy

Initial Transition and capital costs

Additional Capital Required

Anticipated monthly expenditure

Buy a small homestead/ Croft UK

£150K House

£20K

£900.00

Downsize and travel

£160K

£150K property and £10K to kick-start travel fund

£30K

£200.00 – £1000

Downsize and buy land in Portugal

£200K

£150K House in UK

£50K Land and transition to Portugal

£70K

£700.00

Downsize and buy

House-Boat

£180K

£150K House

£30K Boat

£50k

£900.00

Option 1: Buy a small homestead (nearly) outright and earn money working part-time from home

One advantage of owning a two bedroom purpose-built flat in Surrey is that the flat’s worth a ludicrous amount of money, currently around £245K. With £130K left on the mortgage, and after the £5K cost of being shafted by the sales-system (which I could lower if I self-sold it), this would leave me with £110K in the bank. Plus the £20K I’ve currently got kicking around that leaves me with £130K.

With £130K I could actually buy outright a two-bed semi-detached house in Lincoln. I’ve never actually been to Lincoln, but it does seem to be the cheapest place in the UK that’s not a shit-hole where you can buy cheap property. Given that I grew up in a town that was a shit-hole and that I presently live in a town that’s not that dissimilar, Lincoln would probably be a step-up for me. There are probably other towns where you can buy relatively cheap, some may be better, and if you know of any candidates then do let me know!

Amazingly enough £130K would also be enough to outright-purchase a small bungalow in the highlands of Scotland on just under an acre of land. Add on £20K for updating the property and this would leave me with a mortgage of around £20K.

I figure that it doesn’t really matter where I live in the UK, but I do kind of fancy the Scottish Highlands. When all you want to do is grow vegetables, meditate, read Sociology books, and make your money online-tutoring who cares where you live? I figure the cheapest non shit-hole town/ rural location is best.

A £20K mortgage paid off over ten years would mean repayments of around £200/ month, add on my anticipated monthly costs of living @£700/ month = £900/ month income required to survive, which means I could live off a part-time income.

For every year extra I work, I’ll should have another £15K to play with, so if I do this in 2018 I can add £30K on and maybe even buy a nicer house. Also, I could buy for something a lot cheaper in Ireland, which is something I maybe need to explore more.

Option 2: Downsize and travel

This basically involves downsizing as outlined above, with all the attendant costs plus £10K to kick-start my travel fund.

The rental for a £150K ish property would be around £550/ month gross, which would come down to around £400 month net. Obviously whether I can live off this depends on what I can put up with ‘on the road’.

There are numerous people out there ‘budget travelling’ who demonstrate a range of possibilities viz how little money you can get by on. One of the most inspiring is Dan Suelo – The Moneyless Man – who has managed to survive without money for the last 16 years of his life, but I’d personally be more inclined to become the moneyless, more or less, man. Not as cool, I know, but I know myself. And I’m not cool, so that’s OK by me.

This option also opens up the possibility of buying a van (A converted VW Transporter or Mercedes Vito or something similar) and being more mobile (and obviously not money-free), which would ad about £10K to my overall transition costs.

Of course I could combine travelling with a variety of voluntary work and even paid work – time to dig out the TEFL qualification maybe?

Option 3: Buy a house in the UK outright and buy some land in Portugal; rent out the house and move to Portugal and ‘do Permaculture’.

This strategy involves buying some kind of cheap-ish property as in the other options above, but also buying land with a wreck in Central Portugal and then ‘doing Permaculture’ and self-building a small eco-house. I calculate that I’d need about £50K to very comfortably establish myself in Portugal – £30K for the land + a further £20K to transition over there. When I say ‘very comfortably’ – this includes one year’s worth of living costs while I get established + the cost of a van, and yurt.

The advantage of this would mean that I could rent out property in the UK one while I live in Portugal. The rental for a £150K ish property would be around £550/ month gross, which would come down to around £400 month net. This means that if I escaped immediately I’d have to find an additional £300/ month to pay for said property, but if I can hold out until 2018 then it should pay for itself, and after than it becomes an income-paying asset. So, somewhat unsurprisingly, the longer I can stick out my job, the easier my life is later.

I’ve looked at a fair few blogs by people who have done this, and as long as you’re careful to do everything right, it is possible to pick up some cheapish property in a couple of acres of land to renovate, actually for less than £30K. Central Portugal seems like the best bet.

The massive downside of this plan is that I’ve never been to Portugal, I’ve hardly spoken a word of Portuguese, and my earnings potential would be massively limited. I’ll take a holiday there at some point in the future, I’m sure I’ll like it.

On the ‘doing Permaculture’ front – I’m sure renting out property one is against the ethics of the movement, but I’m also sure, given the prevalence of middle class 50/60 somethings in the movement, that this is extremely common practice, just not something which people advertise freely.

As of February 2016 this is my preferred option for escaping work, hence why I’ve gone into the detail.

Total cost of buying a reasonable property outright in the UK

£150K

Total costs of buying land in Portugal and fully transitioning

£50K

Total Net Wealth Ready to Invest

£130K

Additional Capital Required to fully transition

2016 – £70K

2017 – £60K

2018 – £40K

2019 – £30K

2020 – £10K

Estimated monthly income required after property costs

£700.00

Add or Minus money I’d need to pay of outstanding mortgage/ rental income I’d receive

2016 – £300

2017 – £200

2018 – £000

2019 +£100 (need to earn £600/ month)

2020 +£300 (need to earn £400/ month)

Option 5 – Downsize and Buy a House Boat.

As above with downsizing, and then you can pick up a nice houseboat for £30K – I’ve added on £200/ month to cost of living to reflect costs such as licence fees, and mooring fees. This might actually be more. I’m not likely to do this in 2018, but living on a canal boat is just something I need to do for a period in my life at some point, thus I’m including it. Preferably I’ll be able to keep moving for much of the year to avoid the mooring fees!

In conclusion 

It is financially viable for me to quit my job this year and still retire early but it’s optimal in ERE terms to wait until 2021. A reasonable compromise in my noggin is to hold out until 2018.

Freeganism – A Definition and Overview of the Movement

I’ve been considering strategies for saving money recently, in an attempt to retire early, and got a bit carried away researching/ reading about freeganism – fascinating subculture/ network/ however your want to characterise it…

Freeganism – A Basic Definition

‘Freegans are people who employ alternative strategies for living based on limited participation in the conventional economy and minimal consumption of resources.’ (freegan.info – the first Google return for ‘freegan’ besides Wikipedia).

Pure freeganism involves meeting one’s needs without money, which is typically achieved through a combination of a number of strategies such as:

  • Renunciation – Simply doing without

  • Scavenging – Living of food and goods which have been thrown away, dumpster diving being a practice closely associated with freeganism

  • Recycling and ‘Upcycling’ – re-purposing other people’s waste

  • Repairing – Making goods last longer

  • Foraging – making use of what nature provides for free

  • Skilling up – Growing your own and making goods – here the movement links to city farms.

  • Bartering – exchanging goods or skills

  • Sharing – sharing resources, and space – It’s important to emphasise that many freegans don’t perceive themselves as free-loaders – Some freegans are part of organisations such as Food not Bombs and do unpaid work to salvage thrown away food and cook it in order to give it away.

  • Squatting – is often the preferred housing strategy

According to Michelle Coyne (2008) freeganism emerged from a complex social history, having its roots in anarcho-punk culture of the 1970s which challenged Corporate Capitalism, and today there still seems to be strong links between the few visible aspects of freeganism and an anti-capitalism, anti-corporate and especially anti-consumption ethic. Most freegans seem to eschew the idea of spending 40+ hours a week working for money in order to consume hard and then waste hard and prefer to engage in more meaningful unpaid labour in order to meet their needs in a more environmentally conscious way and reduce their impact on the planet. There are thus strong links between freeganism, anarchism and the modern environmental movement.

In the absence of money freegans rely heavily on social networks, and either other people’s generosity or superfluity in order to get by. They also have to invest a considerable amount of time meeting their basic needs through scavenging and networking, which is something they have more of than the average in-work person. NB – It is important to emphasise again that most freegans do not see themselves as freeloaders, although this is often a critique leveled at the movement, rather they perceive themselves as re-framing and re-balancing the concept of work as something which should be more diverse, more humanly connected and less dehumanising than something you just do for money.

Four Examples of Freegans

It’s usually much easier to understand a concept through some examples – so here’s a non-exhaustive selection of four people who practice freeganism

Mark Boyle – The Moneyless Man

Britain’s highest profile freegan (at least in terms of Google search returns) is Mark Boyle who commenced a three-year money-free experiment on buy nothing day 2008. Reflecting on the experiment in a 2015 interview he says:

‘I lived in a caravan I found on Freecycle, and I kitted this out with a wood-burner made from an old gas bottle, which I fueled using wood I’d gather from the land around me. I cooked my simple fare outside, 365 days of the year, on a rocket stove…. I gathered up the unused apples from the surrounding area to make cider, and the campfire became my pub, around which friends would sing and dance and make music together. We became participants in life, not only consumers of it. To wash my clothes I used a plant called soapwort which I grow, and washed clothes in either an old sink or the river, where I also bathed. I brushed my teeth with toothpaste made from wild fennel seed and cuttlefish bone. I had a composting toilet and used discarded editions of The Daily Mail for toilet roll – a fine use for it.’

More details about the practicalities of living without money can be found in Mark’s book – The Moneyless Manifesto, along with the foundations of his critique of the money system and an explanation of his preference for economic systems based on gift exchange.

Before commencing his experiment, and indicating his broader commitment to gift-economics, Mark established a gift and skill sharing platform called Freeconomy, which has since merged with the similar site Sreetbank, where anyone can sign up and offer skills or stuff for free.

Since the money-free experiment Mark has co-founded the first moneyless pub. The Happy Pig is based on a Permaculture gift-based smallholding, An Teach Saor, soon to be offering free workshops, free education, free accommodation and of course, free alcohol. The pub was converted from an old pig shed and funded through a crowd souring campaign, so while not entirely money-free, it is still at least gift-based.

Dan Suelo, the man who lives without money

‘Easily the most famous homeless person in America’, Suelo has set up home in a cave in Arizona since he quit money in the year 2000. Although Suelo does the occasional critical blog about the system, and is something of a go-to man for advice about moneyless living, his lifestyle seems less politically motivated than Mark Boyle’s and he appears to be more of am individualist ‘free-spirit’. He says of himself:

I’ve been totally without cents since Autumn of 2000 (except for a couple months in 2001). I don’t use or accept money or conscious barter – don’t take food stamps or other government dole. My philosophy is to use only what is freely given or discarded & what is already present & already running (whether or not I existed). I don’t see money as evil or good: how can illusion be evil or good? But I don’t see heroin or meth as evil or good, either. Which is more addictive & debilitating, money or meth? Attachment to illusion makes you illusion, makes you not real. Attachment to illusion is called idolatry, called addiction. I simply got tired of acknowledging as real this most common world-wide belief called money! I simply got tired of being unreal. Money is one of those intriguing things that seems real & functional because 2 or more people believe it is real & functional!

https://sites.google.com/site/livingwithoutmoney/

Recent entries on his blog and Facebook page (which are sporadic because he relies on public libraries) refer to his having ‘fickle fun’ and the fact that he is a ‘mooch’. However, there is also something of a spiritualist side to the guy – he has recently given up his mooching in order to care for his ageing parents and previous blog posts talk about practising ‘deep sitting’ and his web site contains links to various religious ascetics who live for free without publicity.

Elf Pavlick

Elf Pavlik is much less high profile than the above two. He gave up money in 2009 after he had come back to Europe from San Francisco. In California he had been working for a highly competitive internet company that was mainly trying to compete with other companies, without really producing anything to make people happy. He decided he had enough of that and started living in nature for a while and he tried to give up money. He lives an urban lifestyle, relying on other people to feed him and give him a bed or some floor space, and relying on discarded clothes. He walks or cycles most places, but does occasionally take public transport, and wears a ‘no ticket’ label when he does, which explains that he lives without money. He does work with other people, but only on collaborative projects, preferring to co-create rather than somebody paying him and telling him what to do.

Twitter seems to be Elf’s social media domain of choice where he describes himself as living moneyless and stateless and links to hackers4peace, zerowaste, polyeconomy and (interestingly) the world peace game.

Carolien Hoogland

A more mainstream version of freeganism is Carolien Hoogland’s year without money which she undertook because she wanted to to be freer in the work she did. She spent sixth months planning her experiment and wrapped up her wallet on New Years Eve 2009-10 and commenced a year of money free living. She arranged barter arrangements with her local dance school, electricity company and local cafe – she got her goods/ services for free and did free-work for them in exchange. She also cooked once a week when friends would bring food to share. She found that her life was more social and connected than ever in her ‘economy of relationships’ which also gave her a feeling of existential security.

NB she wasn’t technically money free, she maintained health care, splurged on ice creams once for her friends, and she also lived with her partner, so I’m sure he paid for the rent etc, but I think this is worth mentioning because it’s probably more manageable for most people, but I’ve included this here because I really liked the idea of just getting in contact with companies and bartering with them, definitely outside the box.

There are more freegans the world over, but I think four examples are enough – they provide a feel for the breadth of the movement – Mark Boyle’s freeganism seems primarily inspired by his commitment to gift rather than money-exchange economics and has evolved into an emerging globally networked yet locally based gift-based Permaculture in Ireland (definitely the type I most closely identify with), while Elf’s is more of an urban hacker’s freeganism, and he seems to be working on building virtually networked freeganism, something I don’t know much about TBH. Despite his recent tribalism, Dan Suelo’s moneyless living seems more like an eclectic personal quest for spiritual and individual freedom, while Carolienne Hoogland’s is a much more mainstream barter-based Freeganism.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning https://moneyless.org/ – A site set up by two people who have lived partially freegan lives and contains lots of useful advice for anyone wanting to get into freeganism.

What’s So Different about Freeganism?

While I do so love my typologies, I think it’s more useful to focus on the commonalities of these freegans – It’s not just the commitment to money-free living which distinguishes them from the mainstream, the following are recurring themes within the freeganism/ money free living movement

  1. Lamenting the de-personalising effects of money exchange – freegans prefer either gift-economics or barter and reliance of personalised networks to meet their needs.

  2. Co-creation within social networks – being money free means meeting needs through reliance of social networks, which can mean closer connections with people.

  3. Freedom from money as promoting individual freedom – being free of money obviously frees you from the need to engage in paid work, and many freegans also seem to relish the freedom to set their own day to day timetables and to travel as they please. There is the potential for this to contradict the point above.

  4. Ecologism – An essential aspect of many money-free strategies is meeting your own needs from the natural environment – through foraging and grow your own, freegans thus tend to be green-leaning.

  5. Anti-Consumption and anti-waste – freeganism is very much the anti-thesis of the rapid turnover of goods within a consumer culture, and dumpster diving to reclaim (mainly food) waste is a recurring theme in freeganism videos on YouTube.

  6. A critique of the exploitative logic of corporate capitalism. I don’t think it would be appropriate to label freeganism anti-capitalist, because so many of its practices seem to depend on it, but there is an undercurrent of critique of global corporations and a distinct preference for localism.

I include the ‘antis’ at the end because I get the impression that freeganism and money-free living are more about positive social change rather than protesting unjust economic systems.

How Many Freegans are there in the UK?

It’s hard to say for certain. Given the links between freeganism and left-green politics it is possible that there are thousands of freegans living off-grid in both urban and rural areas.

There certainly aren’t that many examples of freeganism in the UK online. A Google search for ‘Freeganism + UK’ suggests that there are a lot more people writing about freeganism, and/ or writing about their short-term experiments with freeganism then there are actual committed freegans writing about themselves. (Searched February 13 2016).

The top 17 of the top 20 search returns are for newspaper articles from either local, national or special interest sites and only 3 are links to actual freegan sites – one of which (search return number 1) seems to be the major info source for freeganism globally – ‘Freegan.info’. The second specific site is ‘Freegan.org.uk’ – and this only has limited information, with no information under any its main site headings, and the third return is for a blog called Dumpster Dinners which was last updated in February 2013.

In addition to the above – the following site (http://www.meetup.com/London-Freegans/) was founded November 2014 and has 229 members (Accessed 13/02/15), with 8 meet ups to date (although the most recent was in Calais). However, there is very little discussion, and as with the Google search – 3/5 posts on the discussion board are asking for people to be the subjects of journalistic investigations.

The UK Hippy Forum further suggests a dearth of online discussion – this thread is mainly devoted to dumpster diving and mostly seems to point to the limited opportunities for doing it.

http://www.ukhippy.com/stuff/showthread.php/60741-freeganism

Freegans are a little more active on Facebook – the Dumpster Dive group has 133 members and some photos of successful raids – https://www.facebook.com/groups/UKDumpsterDive/?fref=ts – b

Finally I’ve managed to source 11 videos on YouTube (playlist) which focus on Freeganism between 2008-2015 – which I think each cover different groups around the UK. NB the streamed-interview with Mark Boyle is very interesting.

The most visible manifestation of freeganism online is the Freecycle Network – which currently consists of 604 Groups spread across the UK, with 4,439,508 members. Unfortunately this tells us next to nothing about the actual number of moneyless or nearly moneyless Freegans in the country.

Freeganism’s connections to other movements

The practice of freeganism is common to a broad range of philosophies and movements, such as various forms of religious asceticism, monastic orders, various forms of anarchism, radical ecologism, and the homesteading/ Permaculture and off-grid living networks.

It’s likely that all of these will have some members who are living with very little money, and any true attempt to assess the scope of moneyless living in the UK would include an analysis of these. Such related networks include. Unfortunately this kind of breadth analysis isn’t something I’m in a position to do at the moment.

Criticisms and Limitations of Freeganism

The waste-reclamation aspect of freeganism has been rightly criticised for being dependent on the surpluses of Capitalism, but this is something of a moot criticism given that two of the above examples at least are actively involved in creating alternative gift-economies to meet human needs through a totally different paradigm. Whether these are realistic or not I’m not in a position to comment on.

A second criticism is that free-economics might work for basic needs such as food and clothes, but Freecycle’s not exactly inundated with skilled trades and professional people offering their services for free, which raises the question of how generalisable it is across different sectors of the economy.

A third criticism is the fact that freeganism is too radical a lifestyle for it to ever have mass appeal, so it’s potential for social change is limited, but this is at least partly countered by the breadth of the movement allowing for small-steps to be taken for those who can’t go through with total commitment.

A final criticism is that this does seem to be a very white, middle class movement – engaged in by people in developed societies, many of whom have the safety net of social welfare to fall back on. It’s a very romantic vision of ‘not poverty’, the reality of moneyless living around the globe, where the state isn’t paying for the roads or other infrastructure, isn’t so pretty.

Useful Sources of Information on Freeganism and Moneyless Living

General Info Web Sites

http://freegan.info/ (strategies for sustainable living beyond capitalism)

http://freegan.org.uk/

https://dustbindinners.wordpress.com/

YouTube playlist – UK focus – in chronological order, more or less

Groups active in the UK

Meetups – http://www.meetup.com/London-Freegans/

The UK Hippy Forum – http://www.ukhippy.com/stuff/showthread.php/60741-freeganism

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/groups/UKDumpsterDive/?fref=ts

Individuals – Links above:

  • Mark Boyle
  • Dan Suelo
  • Elf Pavlik
  • Carolienne Hoogland

Academic articles and Books

Victoria C More (2011) Dumpster Diners: An Ethnographic Study of Freeganism

Alex V. Barnard (2011) ‘Waving the banana’ at capitalism: Political theater and social movement strategy among New York’s ‘freegan’ dumpster divers

Michelle Coyne (20008) From Production to Destruction to Recovery: Freeganism’s Redefinition of Food Value and Circulation

http://www.uiowa.edu/ijcs/production-destruction-recovery-freeganisms-redefinition-food-value-and-circulation

Jeff Ferrell (2006) Empire of Scrounge: Inside the Urban Underground of Dumpster Diving, Trash Picking, and Street Scavenging (Alternative Criminology)

Early Retirement Progress Update 2016

January 2016 And I’m now one year in to my 7-10 year plan to (semi-) retire by the time I’m 51, and ambitiously by 48. This is the second of my intended 6 monthly updates, this allows enough time to show clear progress (hopefully rather than regress) and also these things to take quite a lot of time to review.

Executive Summary

  • Total Net Wealth gain of £27000 in 2015

  • Net wealth gain excluding equity – £9000

  • Average total monthly expenditure not including mortgage – £930

  • Average monthly savings of – £536

  • Average savings to expenditure ratio – 62% (if I include mortgage payments)

  • Overall I give myself 8/10 – For once I’m actually going to focus on the fact that I’m doing most things right, rather than the few things I could improve on.

Reminder of Original Long Term Financial Goals – Updates in Italics, YEARS COUNTED FROM JAN 2015. 

  • Be mortgage free in 7-10 years (£133K outstanding)

  • Pay over £1000 a month towards the mortgage (15 year term) with a mind to either using savings or ‘trading down’ to pay off early.

I’m easily on track to do this in 10 years if I stay put in my flat in Surrey. However, the £140 I pay (in reality it’s probably more) towards service charge every month is becoming increasingly insulting, and so I’m looking at ‘downsizing’ to a house in a poorer area and commuting to work, POSSIBLY BY 2018.

  • Save £200 a month towards a ‘land fund’ – eventually to be used to purchase a van and land on which to establish a forest garden.

  • Save an absolute minimum of £250/ month in additional funds (=£30K after 10 years, without accumulations). Ideally this figure will be significantly higher.

In analytical terms I now treat these the same. I’ve done quite well here – my average overall savings each month is £537 – I made the decision in November to shove £140/ month into teacher’s AVCs, I’ve now decided to reverse that – I can’t access them until I’m 55 – what was I thinking?

NB The reason I keep banging on about land is because land squatting is a key part of my ERE strategy.

  • Find additional income streams to boost the above figure. Target = £20K in five years.

I’ve finally made some progress here – early days, more on this later as it develops.

  • Continue paying into the Teacher Pension Scheme.

It’s not quite a no-brainer to keep paying into this, but it still makes sense. The amount I pay in has increased, and because of recent changes to the scheme I’m now stuck with a pension at 60 of around £7K/ year – everything I pay in from now on is not worth claiming until I’m 65 – If I claim my future contributions at 60, I lose 25% of the value of current and future contributions (what I’ve already got is protected, but then again I’m sure this could change under the nasties.)

Now onto the more detailed updates…

January 2016 Update One – Spending days compared to non-spending days

Spend Non Spend 2015

It was going so much better up until December – but still – I won by 11 days!

Jan-June 2015 Update Two – Expenditure and Savings Summary

  • Ratio of expenditure to income excluding mortgage –62% (down from 64% 6 month ave).

  • Ratio of expenditure to income including mortgage – 21% (down from 23% 6 month ave).

ave monthly savings and expenditure

  • Frivolities = beer/ coffee/ subscriptions/ transport, (because I only really use transport for entertainment rather than work).

  • Necessities = council tax, services, food, ‘stuff’.

  • Property = mortgage repayments + service charge.

NB For calculating the above savings to expenditure ratio I always count service charge (an outrageous £140/month) as ‘expenditure’ but for the first calculation I count mortgage payments as savings because in the future my flat will act as an investment which will bring in an income (while I squat in a field).

Technically I should count the interest part of this as expenditure and the repayment as investment, but honestly I can’t be bothered to work this out and recalculate it every month as the repayments change, so stuff that! Just reduce the figure by a few percentage points if you’re uncomfortable with it.

January- June 2015 Update Three – Total average monthly expenditure excluding mortgage more detailed breakdown

This is really the headline figure – and it comes out at £930/ month, or £11K/ year – This is an honest account of how much I will need in retirement to live extremely comfortably. The service charge is something which is going to disappear hopefully very soon, but I figure the future cost of running a van which I currently don’t have will come out around the same amount of £140 a month, maybe more, so I’ll stick with £900 a month to live off. I’ve factored in £700 a month for my monthly retirement budget – this covers all of my necessities and allows £50 for ‘frivolities’ – so the idea is that Ill either need to suffer or do some kind of work to pay for me beers in retirement. Then again, that probably won’t be necessary as I’ll be enlightened by that point, and just naturally high on the joy of life.

average monthly expenditure 2015

Of course if I can pull off a land-squat my services costs will fall drastically, as will my food costs, so all of this could come down to nearer £5-600 in future. Whether that’s sustainable or not remains to be seen!

NB – The obvious immediate area for improvement besides service charge (PAIN!) is beer, I intend to hammer this down from September.

January Update 4 – Total Net Wealth

Well I’ve gained £27K TNW in the last year, but most of that’s equity, only £9K gained not including equity – still, that’s enough accumulated in one year to live for approx 1 year and 1 month. 

I’ve basically got £32k to either go towards an early retirement fund or blow on some land to set up a land squat. Not bad for the end of year one!

It’s kind of comforting to know that that’s enough to buy some kind of Quinta in Portugal – I’ve even taken off £4K from the figure to factor in a contribution to selling up and moving on in case it comes to that! It also doesn’t include a small emergency fund I’ve got stashed away.

So all in all, I’m on track to achieve my ERE goals, I could do better, but I think this not so extreme route to retirement (land squatting aside) is sustainable!

If you like this sort of thing – then why not my book – 

Early Retirement Strategies for the Average Income Earner, or A Critique of Curiously Ordinary Life of the Everyday Worker-Consumer

Available on iTunes, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble – Only £0.63 ($0.99)

extreme early retirement

Also available on Amazon, but for £1.99 because I’d get a much lower cut if I charged less!

Sociological Perspectives on Advertising

A brief summary of pages of 27-32 of Joel Stillerman’s ‘Sociology of Consumption’: The Effects of Advertising and Branding on Consumers (with comments!).

The theories covered in this section include:

The Manipulation Thesis

(1) This originated with Adorno and Horkheimer’s essay ‘the culture industry’ which was inspired by their observations of 1930s Hollywood and the way the Nazis used propaganda.

The basic idea is that advertising manipulates consumers into buying goods. Mass entertainment is produced in a similar way as mass produced auto-mobiles and other products. Adorno and Horkheimer viewed advertising as standardised, artless and manipulative. Products offered people cheap thrills which provided them with compensatory pleasures after a day at a dissatisfying job. Playing to consumers’ emotional vulnerability, music, film and advertising offered instant gratification without true satisfaction while helping them to tolerate unacceptable working conditions.

In short, the culture industry was a form mass manipulation which helped to keep the working masses happy in order to discourage them from protesting about poor wages and working conditions.

A long line of scholars has followed this basic idea – through with different foci –

(2) Kenneth Galbraith argued advertising played the same function of manipulation but rather than seducing the masses into political apathy served the function of convincing shoppers to buy new goods and keep industry profitable.

(3) Jean Baudrillard argues advertising helps businesses solve the ‘realisation problem’ – namely how to sell the increasing number of goods which are produced as Capitalism ‘evolves’. However, Baudrillard accords advertising a more central role in changing our culture. He argues that rather than focussing on the functional properties of a good advertising articulates their emotional or symbolic properties, thereby unleashing an endless process of consumption that has lost its connection to exchange and only reflects a symbolic system which classifies goods into different categories.

Furthermore, goods are no longer appealing because of their individual properties, consumers only recognise them as part of a particular style: in a particular living room set, combined with certain objects and colour combinations for example.

As a result, for Baudrillard, advertising has overtaken our culture and we are trapped in a world of symbols and the incessant need to consume.

(4) More recent analysis focuses on the emotional aspect of advertising – how advertising attempts to link particular emotions and sex to certain products (e.g. Zukin 04 and Smart 10)

(5) Other analysis focuses on how society is increasingly organised around consumption rather than work and thus individuals are expected to consume at a certain level or else face rejection by their peers (Bauman 2007).

Comments

I’M broadly sympathetic to Manipulation Theory in that I believe we can distinguish between ‘basic’ and ‘false’ needs and the primary function of advertising is to manipulate people into buying shit they don’t simply need.

Taking all of the above together I think the primary function of advertising is that it reinforces a world-view in which it’s it’s normal to shop, it’s normal to consume at a historically high level, it’s normal to link happy states to products (or rather sets of products in Baudrillard”s case), it’s normal to construct your very identity using consumption, and it’s normal to spend a lot of time alone and with others, engaged in consumption.

In short the effect of advertising is to convince us that consuming is a normal part of everyday life which should not be questioned, and we are right to assume that shopping as a strategy can provide us with individual and collective emotional fulfilment as human beings.

However, I don’t actually think advertising is necessary to a high consumption society – the various reasons outlined in this post explain the emergence of a high consumption society – we’d probably consume at similarly historically high levels without advertising – advertising exists because of surplus production – broadcast by producers to get our attention amidst a whole load of other producers churning out what is essentially the same shit-we-don’t need.

The other bit of manipulation theory I agree with is that advertising has a sort of ideological function – it masks the truth of its existence and the truth about unnecessary consumption which is as follows

(a) Advertising primarily exists to help the capitalist class sell the shit they produce.

(b) Despite what advertising tells us about this or that shit we really don’t need any of it.

(c) If we ‘buy into’ the messages of the advertisers (which are a bunch of lies) we’re being stupid/ shallow

(d) In the case of Bauman – if we pursue happiness through consumerism, we’re probably going to end up being miserable in the long run.

(e) We don’t freely choose to consume, we are buffeted into it by social and economic pressures (meaningless work, pestering kids (who have been manipulated by advertisers), busy-hurried lives, the strange desire to stand-out) and the causes of these pressures-to-consume need to be put under investigation but the very act of consuming at a high level prevents us from doing so, and advertising helps in this.

(f) There are more effective ways to pursue happiness which aren’t about consumption – producing things, and ‘sprituality’ being the two most obvious.

‘Active Theories of Consumption’

Having outlined the above five aspects of Manipulation Theory, Stillerman now turns to more active approaches.

(1) Other scholars have criticised the manipulation thesis. Douglas and Isherwood (1996) argue that goods are a ‘communication system’ and that most of our consumption is ritualistic. There are essentially three reasons we consume

Firstly – we consume to remain connected with others and stay involved in the ‘information system’.

Secondly – people can also find their place within the group and mark of stages in the life cycle through engaging in consumption rituals.

Thirdly – consumption is also about boundary maintenance – the wealthy try to monopolise certain events and goods, the middle class try to gain access to them and the working classes try to maintain their consumption at a certain level.

COMMENT – All of this is true – we consume actively, BUT – the frame within which we consume has changed radically over the last few decades – the pace of consumption and overall level of consumption have increased, and so (inevitable) has the amount of choosing people have to do – as a result, we are devoting more and more time to keeping up with consuming… Take the average cost of weddings, houses and raising children increasing for example. Also, people may well consume actively in various ‘neo-tribes’ but the fact that this is the norm, also means more time has to be devoted to consumption – THUS society has made us into consumers, this is the thing I find most interesting, focussing on HOW people consume once they have been made into consumers just isn’t interesting….!

(2) Colin Campbell (2005) rejects the manipulation thesis for two reasons – first, he argues that this thesis distinguishes ‘needs’ from ‘desires’ but there is no easy way to know what ‘basic needs’ are because needs are always cultural defined in all societies (No they are not – food, water, shelter, clothing for warmth, security, this is straight up post-modern BS). Second, he argues that advertising tries to appeal to consumers in order to convince them to make a purchase, rather than manipulating them. (OK – I accept the fact that consumer are more active, but I’d like to see Cambell distinguish between the act of manipulation and appeal).

(3) Slater (1997) rejects the idea that consumers are cultural dopes, and argues that they buy products in response to their own individual or cultural needs and dispositions.

(4) DeCerteau (1984), Fiske (2000) and Miller (1987) also argue that consumers are more active – they use goods in their own ways, often appropriate goods and creatively recontextualise the meanings of them in ways which are specific to their own live (this sounds like Transformationalism and cultural hybridity in Globalisation), and some of these consumption practices are forms of resistance against advertisers.

(5) Other scholars emphasise the liberating aspects of consumption, arguing that because shopping and and consumption were not traditionally coded as masculine, these became the domain of women and women gained status, satisfaction and a degree of freedom by becoming skilful consumers.

Comment – I fully accept that people make active choices when it comes to consumption – however, to reiterate the above point – It is society which has made us into consumers, focussing on HOW people consume once they have been made into consumers sort of misses the point – As far as I’m concerned, for the majority of people, consumerism is a pathetic strategy toward ‘agency’ – agency within a sub-optimal framework, which is based on false promises and false hope of realising happiness and satisfation.

Beyond the Active Passive Debate

Recent scholarship has moved ‘beyond’ (sideways?) debates about whether individuals are active or passive in relation to advertising.

(1) Leiss (2005) argues that advertisers study society, recycle existing beliefs and practices and broadcast those ideas back to society. The importance of advertising lies in the fact that it has become integrated into our culture and affects how we view ourselves.

(2) Finally Holt and Holt and Cameron (2010) argue that advertising reconfigures existing beliefs and practices in a way that resolves psychological needs for specific groups of consumers, which arise because of social and economic challenges they face.

Advertisers create adverts based on profiling certain groups and try to strike a chord with them – advertising recycles existing cultural practices in a manner that resolves psychological distress and uncertainty among people within these groups.

Leiss and Holt and Cameron all argue that we should understand advertising as the product of a dialogue between creative professionals and specific social groups.

Once again to reiterate the above, advertising may well help people resolve psychological crises they’ve developed because of having alienating jobs and busy-hurried lives, but the consumption that one’s encouraged to do in order to resolved such psychological distress is only ever going to offer short-term release, a quick fix if you like.

Overall I think all of these active theories of advertising which (a) fail to contextualise its function within the broader social and economic context (alienating/ insecure/ liquid) and (b) fail to recognise the fundamentally false nature of advertising’s promises to alleviate the suffering induced by this social and economic context are ultimately incomplete theories (and probably derived from people with career-histories in advertising!)

Consuming Life, Zygmunt Bauman: A Summary of Chapter 4

Chapter 4: Collateral Casualties of Consumerism

The concepts of collateral damage and collateral casualties have become a central part of political discourse.

The concept of collateral damage is that when harm occurs as an unintended consequence of an action, then the person doing that action cannot be held legally or morally responsible. The divorcing of the two is fundamentally about encouraging a kind of moral blindness towards the victims.

One tool which the politicians have in their box to justify collateral damage is the difficulty of measuring the likely amount of it for any given conflict – It is as if by not calculating the likely ‘collateral damage’ (or at least not publicly sharing the calculations) then this is what enables the claim of unintentionality to be justified.

Bauman now argues that collateral damage occurs not only in the realm of military involvement but also in the extension of the market into more and more spheres of social life – and the ultimate form collateral damage here is the commoditisation of daily life…

In the words of J. Livingstone, ‘the commodity form penetrates and reshapes dimensions of social life hitherto exempt from its logic to the point where subjectivity itself becomes a commodity to be bought and sold in the market as beauty, cleanliness, sincerity and autonomy.’

Arlie Russell Hochschild argues that the consumerist invasion into personal life has lead to the ‘materialization of love’:

Exposed to a continual bombardment of advertisements through a daily average of three hours of television (half of all their leisure time), workers are persuaded to ‘need’ more things.

To buy what they now need, they need money. To earn money, they work longer hours. Being away from home so many hours, they make up for their absence at home with gifts that cost money. They materialize love. And so the cycle continues.

For the top tier of knowledge workers, who spend long hours at work, employers go out of their way to make work environments homely, and one may experience a sense of home in workplace (albiet with your love relationship in your actual home kept going by commodities) – Whereas for the lower tier of workers, they are subjected to the very worst of Capitalism — Long working hours and insecure contracts, and not enough time to maintain meaningful relationships at home – and so for them, neither work nor home provides emotional anchors for these people.

The search for individual pleasures articulated by the commodities currently offered, a search guided and constantly redirected and refocused by successive advertising campaigns, provides the sole acceptable substitute for both the uplifting solidarity of workmates and the glowing  warmth of caring for and being cared for by nearest and dearest inside the family home and its immediate neighbourhood.

Politicians who wish to reinstate family values should think hard about the fact of the consequences of living in a consumer society – where people are trained to afford other people no more respect than the consumer goods they consume (who exist solely for our pleasure and which need replacing every two years).

The Underclass is the collective victim of the progress of consumer society.

The Term Working Class implies a people who have a useful function in society, the term lower class implies a society on the move – the lowest class being at the bottom of a ladder which it might climb. The term underclass belongs to a different image of society, one which is not hospitable to all, and one in which belonging is achieved by denying and excluding rights to certain others – and this group of others in consumer society is the underclass.

The underclass is seen as wholly cut off from the class system, a no-class, which threatens to undermine the class based order of society. This is just how the Nazis described the Jews.

According to H. Ganns, the underclass describes a wide variety of people – the workless poor, illegal immigrants, single mothers and drug addicts.

What all of these have in common is nothing, except that they are flawed consumers, they have no market-value – they cannot take place in the game of consumerism. They are conceived as an overall drain on society, like weeds who only drain from the beautiful garden, and thus the rest of us would be better off if they did not exist. They are largely conceived of (constructed?) in terms of the dangers they pose to the rest of us.

However, there is one useful function the collectivity of the underclass performs – As a source of moral panics – as a place to which we can attach the cause of our our fears – even though in reality these fears (or anxieties) are endemic to the rootlessness of consumer society itself.

The poor of society (and not necessarily just the unemployed) are useless because they cannot perform their principle duty – they cannot consume! They are thus outcasts, but they do not find solidarity as this, they experience this as loners and do not expect to be helped or find a collective way out.

So where is the place of the poor in the consumer society? In short, it is out of sight – either indoors, in ghettos, or in prisons, and mentally we are made ethically blind to them through the rewriting of their stories – from deprivation to depravity – it is their fault that they are poor.

The problem here is that once you remove a section of the population from moral consideration, they become collateral in solving society’s problems – Violence can thus be justified as a means of exterminating them, as happened with the Jews in Nazi Germany.

Nazi violence was committed not for the liking of it, but out of duty, not out of sadism but out of virtue, not through pleasure but through a method, not by an unleashing of savage impulses and an abandonment of scruples, but in the name of superior values, with professional competence and with the task to be performed constantly in view.

I think Bauman’s point is that we are doing to the poor in this country what the Nazis did to the Jews in Germany in the 1930s – writing a discourse which removes them from ethical consideration and then makes their eradication a procedural duty.

A society unsure of its own reproduction is besieged by demons of its own making – For the order building societies of the past those demons were the revolutionaries who wished to build different orders, for the consumer society of today, its demons are those who cannot consume. The problem with this is that the more the consumer society progresses, the bigger the gap grows between those who are able to consume and those who want to consume and cannot. This is simply the logic of the market.

In consumer society the ultimate goal seems to be being happy through consumerism, which means always to be doing something, always to be consuming something (in other words the goal is the avoidance of boredom) – A busy life full of consumption is a measure of success and happiness – and thus people are compelled to do so. The problem is is that there seem to be no limits to the number of things you can consume, no limits to the number of things you can do – the goal posts keep moving, there is no end!

For the poor this a real problem because they are able to listen to messages about things you could be doing (from the evil advertisers) but are unable to participate, this can breed frustration and all sorts of other negative consequences.

The disarming, disempowering and suppressing of hapless and/ or failed players is also an indispensable supplement to integration through seduction in a market-led society of consumers.

Prison is the primary means by which this is done – the means through which society now exorcises its inner demons – and these demons are cast as ending up there because of their own fault, not because of society. And the harsher the punishments can be, the more effectively those demons are exorcised.

Bauman now traces the common usage of the term ‘The Underclass’ differentiating between Gundar Myrdal’s usage of the term in 1963 – when he used it to mean the coming threat of structural unemployment in the context of increasing productive efficiency – here being a member of the underclass was something over which individuals had little control – it was a failure of the organisation of society to provide sufficient jobs for people.

He contrasts this to the usage of the term by Ken Auletta – who argued that being a member of the underlcass in the early 1980s in America was not a matter of poverty, but of actively opting out of normative values – it was a choice to be feckless – However, his study was based on a highly unrepresentative sample of people from one training centre, in which you had to be an ex convict to gain a place – And here Bauman questions the lumping together of of all the various categories of people into one class.

Joel Spring – Education Networks: Power, Wealth, Cyberspace and The Digital Mind

A summary of one thread within this excellent book….

The DFES (2013) has an overwhelmingly positive view of the future role of ICT in schools and colleges, noting that it has transformed other sectors, that parents and pupils expect it, and that pupils need ICT to equip them with future-work skills. In DFES literature, digital media seems to be presented as a neutral technology through which individual students can be empowered, with emphasis on the benefits such technology can bring to schools, such as more personalised learning, better feedback, a richer resource base and the possibility of extending the learning day. This discourse further constructs not only technologically reticent staff and lack of access to ICT resources as a potential problem, but also centralised government itself, with the forthcoming renewal of the ICT curriculum being fully endorsed and authored by Google, Microsoft, and IBM, with the vision being that 16 year olds will be able to write their own apps by the age of 161.

There are, however, those who are skeptical about the neutrality ICT, the claimed inevitability of its expansion and the supposed benefits of the increasing digitisation of education. One such skeptic is Sociologist Joel Spring who, in a recent book, Education Networks: Power, Wealth, Cyberspace and The Digital Mind, draws our attention to the increasing control of education systems around the world by global corporations, a process which he refers to as Educational Corporatism.

The Nature and Extent of Global Educational Corporatism

According to Spring, a global shadow elite network is responsible for encouraging the growth of Information Communications Technology in state education programs in the USA and increasingly in other countries, something which is unsurprising given that the global education market is a $7 trillion industry, greater than the value of every other information industry combined (WEF 2014).

This network consists of a relatively small number of IT and communications company executives who have close links with senior policy makers in governments, who together have overseen an increase in the use of ICT for the surveillance and education of students. Spring characterises this network as a ‘Flexnet’ because the key actors, or ‘Flexians’, move between government departments and education, media and ICT companies, spending a few years working respectively for one government department before moving to an ICT corporation, and then back to the public sector to spearhead technological initiatives drawing on their corporate contacts to do so, and finally moving back to a more senior Corporate role, supposedly to take advantage of the profits generated from said initiatives.

The Corporate takeover of New York City’s Schools

The means whereby Flexians within the global shadow elite operate is illustrated by the Corporate takeover of New York City Schools.

In 2001 billionaire and superlcass ICT mogul Michael Bloomberg was elected mayor of New York City. After lobbying for and gaining control of New York schools, Bloomberg appointed as school chancellor Joel Klein, a lawyer from another ICT conglomerate, Bertelsmann. Technically Klein lacked the legal requirements to head NYC schools, but this requirement was waived by the state commissioner for education.

Klein initiated changes that centred on student testing and data collection (echoed in education ministries around the world). To aid in this, he contracted with the company Wireless Generation to use their ‘ARIS’ system of data collection and management. Klein then left his position as chancellor to become executive vice president at Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, which bought 90% of Wireless Generation for $360 million.

In addition to the above, while Klein was chancellor, Murdoch’s New York Post also supported Klein’s efforts to establish more charter schools and undermine protection for teachers.
The Global Neoliberal Agenda for Education

At a global level, the shadow elite influence governments through The World Economic Forum and The United Nations, which both voice considerable optimism about the future role of ICT in meeting the world’s educational needs in the future. As an example of this optimism, Spring points to The World Economic Forum’s Global Information Technology Report 2010-11, authored by prominent members of the Shadow Elite.

Where education is concerned, the report anticipates ‘Transformation 2.0′, a process in which educational institutions will make increasing use of analytic software tools which convert data into actionable insights. This not only means the now well established use of data on students’ past test results to predict the probability of their passing or failing certain subjects and then directing resources more efficiently to those in need, but the report also predicts the increasing use of ‘data exhaust’, or more qualitative information collected on students throughout their school careers, for the same purposes which in the future might mean increasing surveillance of the number of and length of virtual interactions students make each term in in order to inform educational interventions.

Individual schools and universities do not possess the resources to develop and maintain the kind of software required to collect and collate such ‘Big Data’, so ‘transformation 2.0 might see educational institutions becoming locked into long-term data-analytics contracts with global ICT companies: The future of education might be one where schools do the teaching at a national level but informed by data analysis carried out by global corporations using global data sets.

The WEF report makes several other recommendations:

  • To use ICT to make education more engaging and better suited to the needs of each student through making greater use of data analytics and what Spring calls ‘edutainment’ software, which special emphasis being given to promoting STEM subjects.
  • To better link technology to assessment.
  • To support access to online instruction in and out of school.
  • To increase ‘productivity’ in the education sector: ICT is seen as a relatively const-efficient means whereby schools can accelerate student progress, rather than employing more teachers.

According to Spring’s analysis this vision is ideological and it represents a global Neoliberal agenda for the progressive privatisation of education through governments spending more public money on data analytics, online instruction and assessment delivered by global ICT corporations. It is already the norm in the US for IT and communications companies to develop educational software which are provided to schools for a profit, a practice which the ICT elite wishes to see replicated in other parts of the world.

The ICT Shadow Elite’s ambitions are not limited to developed countries, they are also targeting the education sectors of developing countries, and as an an example of this Spring cites the Microsoft-UNESCO agreement established in 2009 regarding ICT and Higher Education. As part of this agreement, Microsoft offered £50 million of ‘seed money’ to introduce a range of educational technologies to a number of countries – such as DreamSpark, MicrosoftLive@edu, Digital Literacy Curriculum, and The Microsoft IT Academy Program. Spring’s theory is that such an initial seeding will reap dividends in the future as public education sectors expand they will spend increasing sums of money on upgrading software and buying related ICT educational products from Microsoft in future years.

Potential Problems with Increasing Educational Corporatism

Spring points to several possible negative consequences of global companies effectively having more control over national education systems.

Firstly, this is likely to further reduce educational management to the employment of data mining and analysis to predict how student test scores and graduation rates relate to social characteristic information and identifying which limited interventions can be made to improve examination results, with the effectiveness of teachers further reduced to how efficiently they can enhance these measurable results.

Secondly, it is likely that there will be an increasing level of control of knowledge by ICT corporations. The concern here is that this will lead to the further standardisation of knowledge into a form which can be easily assessed through technology, which potentially means preferencing quantifiable knowledge over more qualitative and critical knowledge which require more human intervention to asses. In addition to this, schools are increasingly likely to be seen as institutions whose job it is to provide a 21st century workforce for ICT firms, meaning the preferencing of STEM, ICT and business related courses.

Thirdly, the corollary of greater control being handed to global ICT corporations is declining autonomy of individual schools and teachers. This actually seems to be an explicit goal of the global shadow elite: the WEF (2011) states that the main barrier to extending technology in is ‘human’, with ICT, rather than more teacher-time being (quite literally) sold as the most effective means to personalise learning in order to meet the needs of each learner.

Another idea which potentially undermines teachers which is widely publicised by prominent Flexian Bill Gates is that we should have least one good course online for all subjects rather than lots of mediocre ones. This idea seems both sensible and inevitable but its manifestation might come in the form of a core of highly skilled experts constructing corporate-approved online content for a global education market, with for-profit companies responsible for managing testing and tutoring replacing much of the work teachers currently do.

A final possible consequence is an increasing inequality of educational provision. As governments struggle with finances in the age of ideological driven Neoliberal austerity, it might be that cash strapped schools move towards providing online only tuition for some courses while students at better managed and funded schools retain more formal ICT-supported lessons. This is precisely what happened in Florida in 2010-11 when 7000 students in Miami-Dade county were placed in virtual classrooms in order to beat the state’s class size mandate, which specified a maximum of 25 students per class, but did not apply to virtual classrooms.

Conclusion:

While the increasing use of ICT in education appears to offer many benefits, such as enhanced personalisation of learning and increased teacher productivity, the importance of Spring’s analysis lies in reminding us that while technology itself is neutral, the way in which it is deployed is not given the corporate networks and which are currently lobbying for the further digitisation of state education, and the neoliberal agenda of which this is a part.

At present it is difficult to see how anything can halt the spread of Educational Corporatism: there is a clear demand from today’s students and their parents for digitised education and global ICT corporations are clearly well positioned to play an increasing role in the delivery and management of virtual learning environments; and with further government cuts likely, the viritualising of learning seems an obvious way to save money in the education sector by reducing the number teachers.

Whether or not the future of education will be one of reduced teacher autonomy with for-profit Corporations having greater control over national curriculums and thus even more access to students, and what the effects of this will be remain to be seen.

Bibliography 

C. Paucek et al (2014) Chapter 8: Online Education: From Novely to Necessity, in World Economic Foundation: Education and Skills 2.0: New Targets and Innovative Approaches. Geneva: Switzerland.

DFES (2013): Digital Technology in Schools. http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/teachingandlearning/curriculum/a00201823/digital-technology-in-schools accessed 16/01/2104, updated 18 October 2013. Archived at http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20130123124929/http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/teachingandlearning/curriculum/a00201823/digital-technology-in-schools

Spring, J (2012) Education Networks: Power, Wealth, Cyberspace and The Digital Mind. New York: Routldege. Kindle Edition.

WEF (2011) The Global Information Technology Report 2010-11: Transformations 2.0

 

 

The Island of Nauru – Our Collective Ecological Future?

The case study of Nauru illustrates the potential catastrophic consequences of pursuing economic growth without considering the ecological consequences. It may only be one island but Klein argues that the logic which hollowed out Nauru is the same logic which has driven the global economy for the last 400 years. 

The extract below is taken from Naomi Klein’s ‘This Changes Everything’ (2014: Chapter Five  Beyond Extractivism

Few places on earth embody the suicidal results of building our economies on polluting extraction more graphically than Nauru. Thanks to its mining of phosphate, Nauru has spent the last century disappearing from the inside out; now, thanks to our collective mining of fossil fuels, it is disappearing from the outside in.

For decades, the tiny South Pacific Island of Nauru, home to only 10 000 people, seemed to be an example of a developing country which was doing everything right.

During the 1970s and 80s, the island was periodically featured in press reports, as a place of almost obscene riches, much as Dubai is invoked today, and in the mid-80s Nauru was reported as having the highest GDP capita in the world.

All of this was due to the fact that Nauru was made up almost pure phosphate, a valuable fertiliser, which the Nauruans had been shipping to mainly Australia since they gained their independence in 1968.

Extraction had been going on long before, since 1900, carried out by a series of colonial rulers, who had a simple plan for Nauru once all the phosphate had been extracted – simply ship the islanders to another island. In other words, Nauru was developed in order to disappear – an acceptable (and largely invisible) sacrifice to make for the advancement of industrial agriculture.

When the Nauruans themselves took control of their country in 1968, they had hopes of reversing the hollowing out of their island. They put large chunks of their mining revenue into a trust fund, with the intention of winding down the mining operation and rehabilitating their island’s ecology. However, this long term plan failed as Nauru’s government received catastrophically bad investment advice and the countries mining wealth was squandered.

As a result, rather than being wound-down throughout the 70s and 80s the mining continued unabated and Nauruans benefited from the royalties which rolled in – one consequence was a radical change in diet as islanders came to eat large amounts of processed food (as one resident recalls – ‘during the golden era we didn’t cook, we at in restaurants) which resulted in Nauru becoming the fattest place on earth (today it has the highest levels of obesity and the highest levels of diabetes in the world). Another consequence of high levels of cash was high levels of corruption amongst public officials.

Another consequence was, of course, the hollowing out of the island – in the 1960s Nauru could still have passed as a pleasant tropical island, but the 1990s it was a hollow shell with a small strip around the edge where people lived.

Now the island faces a double bankruptcy – with 90% of the island depleted from mining it faces ecological bankruptcy and with a debt of at least $800 million it faces financial bankruptcy as well.

But this is not the end of Nauru’s problems – it now also faces rising sea levels and inland water shortages because of climate change.

This isn’t the end of the misery of Nauru – because in the past decade the island has become a dumping ground of another sort – In an effort to raise much needed revenue it has agreed to house an offshore detention centre for the government of Australia, in what has become known as ‘the Pacific Solution’. Australian navy and customs ships intercept boats of migrants, most from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan, and immediately fly them to Nauru where they languish in a detention centre, unsure of their status, sometimes up to five years.

Amnesty International has called the camp ‘cruel’ and ‘degrading’ and one journalist has likened it to a death factory because conditions are so bad that people have been driven to attempt suicide.

Unfortunately for us, the logic which has led to such devastation and cruetly on Nauru is the same logic which has underpinned the last 400 years of ‘development’. This logic is the logic of ‘extractivism’ – a non-reciprocal, dominance based relationship with the earth, one of purely taking. The opposite is stewardship, which involves taking but also taking care that regeneration and future life continues.

Extractivism is also directly connected to the notion of sacrifice zones – places that, to the extractors, somehow don’t count and therefore can be poisoned, drained, or otherwise destroyed, for the supposed greater good of economic progress.

This extractivist thinking, unfortunately, lies behind not only the whole history of modernity and colonialism, and obviously neoliberalism, but also behind Socialism, including most of the recent leftist movements in Latin America, because despite their advances in bringing greater equality, national income is still heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Even the mainstream in the Green Movement are failing to challenge the extrativist model because they have come under the thrall of large-scale, big tech solutions to climate-change, rather than accepting as necessity that the earth requires us to consume less.

Pretty much the only ray of hope for a sustainable future according to Klein lies in the Scandinavian social-democratic models, which are going to take a globalised grass-roots movement to realise on an  international level.

Is a Western Style of Education Appropriate for Developing Countries? (Education and Development Post 3/3)

Previous Post: What are the Barriers to Providing Universal Education? (Education and Development 2/2)

Many of the education systems in developing countries are modelled on those of the west – in that they have primary, secondary and tertiary sectors, they emphasise primary academic subjects such as English, Maths, Science and History and they have external systems of exams which award qualifications to those who pass them. The idea that a Western style of education is appropriate to developing countries is supported by Functionalists/ Modernisation Theorists and generally criticised by Dependency Theorists and People Centred Development Theorists.

Functionalist thinkers (Functionalism is the foundation of Modernisation Theory) argue that Western education systems perform vital functions in advanced industrial societies. These functions include (a) taking over the function of secondary socialisation from parents (b) equipping all children for work through teaching a diverse range of academic and vocational subjects, (c ) sifting out the most able students through a series of examinations so that these can go on to get the best jobs and (d) providing a sense of belonging (solidarity) and National Identity. Functionalists thinkers such as Emile Durkheim and Talcott Parsons saw national education systems with their top-down national curriculums and examinations as being essential in advanced societies.

It follows that Modernisation Theorists in the 1950s also saw the establishment of education systems as one way in which traditional values could be broken down. If children in developing countries are in school then they can be taught to read and write (which their parents couldn’t have done in the 1950s given the near 100% illiteracy rate at the time), and the brightest can be filtered out through examinations to play a role in developing the country as leaders of government and industry.

According to modernisation theory, school curriculums should be designed with the help of western experts and curriculums and timetables modelled on those of Western education systems – with academic subjects such as English, Maths and History forming core subjects in the curriculums of many developing countries.

However, there are a number of criticisms of the Modernisation Approach to education.

Dependency theorists have pointed out that most people in developing countries do not benefit from western style education. According to DT, education was used in many colonies as a tool of control by occupying countries such as Britain, France and Belgium. The way this worked was to select one quiescent minority ethnic group and provide their children with sufficient education to govern the country on behalf of the colonial power. This divisive legacy continued after colonies gained their independence, with school systems in developing countries proving an extremely sub-standard of education to the majority while a tiny elite at the top could afford to send their children to be educated in private schools, going on to attend universities in the USA and Europe, and then returning to run the country as heads of government and industry to maintain a system which only really benefits the elite, while the majority remain in poverty.

One potential solution to the exclusion faced by the majority of children from education in the developing world comes in the form of Non Governmental Organisations such as Action Aid, who are best known for their Sponsor a Child Campaign, in which any individual in the west can pay £20/ month (or thereabouts) which can fund a child through education. One example of a homegrown version of this charity is the Parikrma Humanity Foundation which essentially ignores the daunting numbers of uneducated children and just focuses on educating one child at a time from the slums of India, to a relatively high level, so that they can escape their poverty for good.

 

People Centred Development theorists criticise Modernisation Theory because of the fact that Western style curriculums are not appropriate to many people in developing countries. In short, the situations many people in poor countries find themselves in mean they would benefit more from a non-academic education, and more over one that is not explicitly designed to smash apart their traditional societies. According to PCD if people from the west want to help with education in developing countries, they should find out what people in developing countries want and then work with them to meet their educational needs. One excellent example of this is the Barefoot education movement which teaches women and men, many of whom are illiterate, in North West India to become solar engineers and doctors in their own villages, drawing as far as possible on their traditional knowledge. There is one condition people must meet in order to become teachers in this school – they must not have a degree.

 

It might also be the case that modern technology today means that Western Education systems are simply not required in developing countries. Bill Gates (Head of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the largest Philanthropic charitable organisation in the world which controls over $30 billion of assets, and has a similar amount pledged by wealthy individuals) – who (again unsurprisingly) believes that developing online education courses will change the face of global education in the next 15 years because they can be accessed by anyone with a smartphone. One of the leaders in the development of online courses is the Khan Academy- whose strapline is ‘You can learn anything… for free.

An interesting experiment which suggests this might just work is Sugata Mitra’s ‘hole in wall experiment’  in which he simply put computers in a hole in a wall in various slums and villages around India and just left them there – children picked up how to surf the internet in a matter of days, and even learned some rudimentary English along the way. Mitra’s theory is that children can teach themselves when they work in groups, and his intention is to develop cloud based educational material which will enable children to teach themselves a whole range of subjects.

 

One problem with leaving education to People Centred Development Approaches or leaving it to children to educate themselves on the internet is that this will probably leave children in poorer developing countries lagging behind in terms of the skills and qualifications required to compete for the best paying jobs in the international job market. In comparison to developing countries, developed countries spend a fortune on their education systems and children spend considerably longer in education, and there is an undeniable link between the successful education systems in South East Asia and the hours invested in education by South East Asian children in countries such as China, South Korea and Singapore and the rapid growth of these economies over the past decades. The problem with this approach is that its success may well be related to the culture of the region which emphasises the importance of individual effort in order to achieve through education.

Related Posts

Education and Development 1/3: Introduction

Education and Development 2/3: Barriers to Education

A hyperreflexive blog focussing on critical sociology, infographics, Buddhism and extreme early retirement

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