Does Aid Work? The Aid Audit

Does Aid Work? The Aid Audit:

Below is a summary of this World Service Podcast from 2015


‘Fifteen years ago, German journalist, Ulli Schauen helped compile a book of the top 500 global aid programmes… they ranged from schools for Maasai nomads to support for organic farming to training for volunteer sexual health workers.

The question is did they succeed or fail? Ulli travels to Kenya to see how the projects in that country fared. Ulli sets out to find if Aid really does make a difference.’

(These projects were all related to the original Millennium Development Goals and the folllow ups are here – one author’s blog – The Aid Audit: Development Projects Revisited After Fifteen Years

International Aid money has helped all of the projects below….


Project One – OSIGILI

in 1995 the Laikipiak Maasai formed an organization called OSILIGI (which means ‘Hope’.)

In one of the first projects OSILIGI organized reading and writing courses geared to the nomadic life. In April, August and December, when the nomadic herdsmen are settled, a teacher comes to the village. During these weeks children have concentrated lessons. This made-to-measure education is considerably cheaper than state elementary school. In 4 years, OSILIGI has reached 380 children with this programme, mainly from poor families.

Eco-Tourism - Marginalising the Maasai?
Eco-Tourism – Marginalising the Maasai?

However, the broader issue OSILIGI campaigns for is to establish land rights – to pasture and watering holes, and here they appear to have lost. The Maasai still have no formal rights and their land, and thus way of life, is under threat from agribusinesses and eco-tourism and in the programme we discover that the Maasai live amongst miles and miles of fences – which fence off private farms – one farm being as large as the island of Malta, which houses shipped-in Rhinos for eco-tourism, but this leaves little room for the Maasai.

Osigili seems now to be focussing on the education aspect, but the land rights issue has been taken up by another organisation – IMPACT. It is possible that more progress will be made in this area in the future.

Project Two – A Voucher System for Health Care

In the far West of Kenya the German Government Trained volunteer health advisers – 20 000 community health workers for 10 years. Unfortunately this terminated in 2006 and so no evaluation or final report can be found, the argument here, however, is that a lasting legacy

The German government now funds a voucher programme for the poor where they can use vouchers to receive free or subsidised contraception, maternal health services and HIV treatment.

Through the voucher programme local (privately run) hospitals receive $50 for maternal treatments and $12 for AIDs screenings (from the German Aid fund, they don’t get state funding) – 3/4s of the money goes on medicine and food, but the rest is available to allow for hospital expansion.

To give an example of how it works – one woman is interviewed who is HIV positive, and giving birth in the hospital meant that the infection was not passed on to her two children.

Despite the above, Kenya still failed to reach two of its MDGs -reducing infant mortality and improving maternal health.

But German Government trying to influence Kenyan health policy into the bargain. Germans wand to promote health insurance, Americans want to promote other issues – donors don’t co-ordinate their programmes.

Project Three – The Matinyani Business Cooperative


This is a cooperative of 4000 women, who initially set up a library, primary school and a health centre. They also established a range of small businesses devoted to weaving, water, candlemaking, bakery.

However, all of this stopped working years ago… 75% of the initial money went into other people’s pockets – so they couldn’t pay workers or for materials to keep the projects going.

However, what these women learnt in the early days of this project allowed them to establish their own businesses, many of which are today successful and export to other countries.

Project Four – Environmental Protection on Lake Victoria


Lake Victoria is heavily overfished and polluted.

This projects aims were to build water treatment plants and limiting the spread of the water hyacinth. There are laws in place about catch size (enforced by the mesh size of nets). However, it seems that everyone is happy about breaking the law and the aid-funded environmental organisation doesn’t seem to be enforcing the rules.

The World Bank Project labelled this one as unsatisfactory.

Project Five – A Foot Pump for Water

An Australian company called Kick Start (originally known as Aprotec ) which focussed on developing just one product – a small, foot operated water pump, claims to have lifted almost one million people out of poverty. Aid has been essential in this. The CEO says that it is not profitable to develop such products for people – it’s high risk, low return, and high cost – so it’s a market failure – thus subsidies in the form of International Aid, with this money going mainly into Research and Development and marketing (radio ads).

The pumps themselves are sold for $130 – and they have sold 250 000, which means about 900 000 will have been lifted out of poverty. We visit a tree nursery to see how this works – where an employee is using the foot pump (like a step machine) to pump water to water the young trees – this has allowed the company to grow a lot more trees and it is now much bigger than it used to be.

Question – Has development aid worked in the above five cases?

The programme finishes off by noting that we see all of the classic problems associated with Aid in the above examples, but it is the positive impacts which stick in his mind, especially the fact that when official projects collapse, the people who have gained skills carry on campaigning in different ways.

Find Out More…. There are another two episodes in the series if you wish to listen further!

Neoliberalism in India – the Consequences

Capitalism-A Ghost Story BY Arundhati RoyA brief summary of part of Arundhati Roy’s ‘Capitalism: A Ghost Story’ – In which she explores some of the consequences of privatisation (part of neoliberalisation) in India.

‘Trickle down hasn’t worked in India, but gush up certainly has’

The era of the privatisation of everything has made the Indian economy one of the fasted growing in the world and most of this wealth has gushed up to India’s Corporate Elite.

In India today, a nation of 1.2 billion people, one hundred people own assets equivalent to 25% of the GDP, while a 300 million strong middle class live among the ghosts of the 250 00 debt-ridden farmers who have killed themselves and the 800 million who have been impoverished and dispossessed and live on less than twenty Indian rupees a day.

The most egregious expression of this inequality is Antilla, a building on Altamount Road in Mumbai which belongs to India’s richest man Mukesh Ambanni. It is the most expensive dwelling ever built: it has 27 floors, including 6 for parking, 3 helipads, 600 servants and a 27 story vertical wall of grass. Ambanni is worth $20 billion dollars and his company, Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) has a market capitalisation of $47 billion.

Antilla Mumba

Ambanni’s RIL Corporation is one of a handful which run India, some of the others being Tata and Vedanta, the later of which are truly global in scope – Tata, for example, runs more than one hundred companies in 80 countries.

The consequence of this concentration of wealth, is an increase in corruption, or as Roy puts it – ‘As gush up continues, so more money flows through the institutions of government’. As an example, in 2011, a corrupt minister of communications and information undervalued 2G phone licences by $40 billion dollars, to the benefit of the telecommunications companies which now profit from them, effectively costing Indian taxpayers $40 billion of revenue.

How the Elite in India Benefit from Neoliberal Policies

The way this typically works is that a corrupt government official signs a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ (MoU) with a Corporation which privatises a chunk of publicly owned land, giving that corporation the right to use that land to establish a business – this either takes the form of mining the raw materials from under the land, or establishing a range of other projects such as Agribusinesses, Special Economic Zones, Dams, and even Formula One racing circuits.

Taxes are typically kept very low in these deals – often sow low in that local people see little of the financial benefit of the new business.


This is especially true were mining is concerned. In 2005, for example, the state governments of Chhattisgarh, Orissa, and Jharkhand signed hundreds of memorandums of understanding with private corporations, turning over trillions of dollars of bauxite, iron ore and other minerals for a pittance – royalties (effectively taxes) ranged from 0.5% to 7%, with the companies allowed to keep up to 99% of the revenue gained from these resources. (Allowing people like Ambanni to build their 27 story houses, rather than the money being used for food for the majority of the Indian population.)

In a third strand of Neoliberal policy, companies are subjected to very little regulation. It seems that they are allowed to develop their projects without protecting the environment or paying any compensation to people who are negatively affected by these projects, as indicated in the case study below:

Tata Steel in Chhattisgarh, North East India

Only days after the Chhattisgarh government signed an MoU with Tata Steel, a vigilante militia was established (known as the Salwa Judum). Organised by the state government and funded by Tata Steel the Salwa Judum initiated a ground clearance operation to eradicate the local forest peoples so Tata could set up its steel plant.

The Salwa Judum
The Salwa Judum

The Salwa Judum burned, raped and murdered its way through 600 local villages forcing 50 000 people into police camps and displacing a further 350 000. To keep these displaced persons in check, the government then deployed 200 000 paramilitary troops to the region to make sure that it remained a stable climate for investment and economic growth.

An Adivasi (local tribal group) protest
An Adivasi (local tribal group) protest

According to Roy the government has labelled these people ‘Maoist Rebels’, but in reality they are just displaced peoples.

Find out More

Corporate Watch – Stolen for Steel: Tata takes Tribal Land in India

Do White Working Class Boys Lack Aspiration?

This useful Thinking Allowed Podcast summarises two recent pieces of qualitative social research and helps further our understanding of why white working class boys underachieve in education.

The podcast starts with Michael Wilshaw in 2013 (when he was head of OFSTED) pointing out that only 35% of white girls from low income households and 26% of white boys achieved 5 GCSEs at grades A*- C.

Wilshaw states that there is no reason why such pupils shouldn’t be able to achieve, and effectively blames their failure on a lack of aspiration among white working class boys.

Two sociologists who take issue with Wilshaw’s theory are Garth Stahl (spent nine years teaching in state secondary schools in England before conducting interviews in three London schools), and Heather Mendick ( who has researched the relationship between urban youth and schooling more generally). Together Stahl and Mendick effectively argue that white working class boys don’t lack aspiration at all, what they lack is a middle class view of aspiration, and it is this which puts them at a disadvantage in education.

Schools are Based Around a Middle Class Idea of Aspiration

Stahl argues that aspiration is a big thing in contemporary education – the dominant discourse in the system (which is unquestioned) is that learning will eventually equal earning, and that it is up to the individual student to do this on their own – i.e. the right kind of aspiration is to aspire to earn and then sacrifice now in order to get the grades to get you that income in the future.

The podcast also mentions that this discourse is tied up with the neoliberal idea of ‘self-crafting’ – or working on the self to progress – and no doubt this means that part of aspiration means skilling yourself up to make yourself more attractive to employers – you know the sort of thing – D of E and other volunteering, team sports, musical instrument, winner of the Young Apprentice.

The problem with the above is that it is a very middle class definition of aspiration – the kind of thing middle class parents spend a lot more time instilling in their children than working class parents.

White Working Class Aspirations and how They Conflict with School’s 

According to Stahl, working class boys do  have aspirations – they generally wished for a nice, ‘ordinary life’, not to be greedy, just wanting to get a decent job and to  ‘bring home the bacon’for their family.

There was a significant focus on trades (plumbing for example) as being good careers where they could do an honest days work for a decent wage, a focus on ‘authenticity’ (rather than ‘constructing an image of yourself and selling your image,, maybe?)

One point of conflict was over the paid work some of the boys did while at school – for them it was all part of their future ‘honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay’ aspiration (demonstrating a clear work ethic) but not for the school, as it conflicted with the ‘learning = earning’ discourse.

Interestingly, the boys didn’t reject school like Willis’ lads did, rather they invested in ‘ordinary learner identities’  – they didn’t want to succeed or fail and settled for middling positions in the school.

The harmful effects of the normalisation of middle class aspiration 

Mendick points out that aspiration is now used to judge people – certain aspirations which do not fit into the ‘learning = earning’ discourse are seen as failures – such as being a celebrity, having a family at a young age, or just wanting to being normal for example, all of these are seen as not good enough. The effective of this is normalises a middle class pathway through life and to further denigrate working class culture and aspiration as inferior.

This is supported by Stahl who found that the boys he interviewed had a sense of working class pride, but they weren’t so loud and proud of this identity like Willis’ lads were in the 1970s.

Mendick also found evidence of some middle class children just wanting out from this competitive culture – it’s not just the working classes who are disempowered.

Finally, and depressingly, the researchers both found a widespread acceptance of self-blaming for failure.

Brief Commentary

I think these pieces of research are an invaluable antidote to the dominant culture of middle class aspiration which has infiltrated our education system.

These ideas about aspiration and individual responsibility haven’t just emerged out of thin air after all – as Zygmunt Bauman would probably out, they’re just part of the wider social process of individualisation – Where individuals are expected to find biographical solutions to system contradictions.

I think more students should question the ‘learning = earning’ equation, because in the future formal education and qualifications may well not be the best way for kids to guarantee a secure income (if, indeed they can ever gain a secure income).

Finally, we should ask ourselves whether there’s anything wrong with ‘merely’ aspiring to having a decent job, paying your way, and feeling like you’re contributing to society, rather than always wanting to ‘work harder, earn more cash and so on….’

This is only a selective commentary from the podcast, read the research if you want to find out more…!


Identity, Neoliberalism and Aspiration – Educating White Working Class Boys, and Mendick as studied the relationship

Urban Youth and Schooling

How to End Poverty in 15 Years

In this hour long programme Hans Rosling asks how we can eradicate extreme poverty in 15 years, which is goal number 1.1 of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, to which 193 nations signed up to in September 2015, in New York.

While recognising that relative poverty exists within rich and poor countries alike, the programme focuses on extreme poverty, defined as people living on less than $1 a day, a level at which daily life involves a struggle to get enough food to eat.

Hans (he’s so accessible I’m sure he wouldn’t mind first name terms) starts by putting poverty in historical context, by looking at how wealth (measured by GDP per capita) has changed over the last 200 years. To do this, Hans converts the GDP figures into the amount each person earns per day, ranging from those who live on $1 a day (as many do in Malawi) to those who live on $100 a day (as most people in Sweden do). As shown in the still below – only about 12% of the world’s population today live in extreme poverty.

Poverty infographic rosling

The story of the last 200 years is that we’ve basically moved from a global situation characterised by extremes of wealth and poverty (broadly speaking 1800-1970) to one in which most people world now live in ‘the middle’ in terms of global wealth distribution. In the video clip below, Hans tells this story.


The biggest shift has occurred in the last 50 years – in the 1970s, 50% of the worlds population lived in absolute poverty (2 billion amongst a 4 billion global population). In 2015, even with world population growing by 3 million to 7+ billion, only 1 billion, or 12.5% of the world’s population live in poverty.

So the best-fit picture of today’s global population isn’t one of a massive divide between the rich and the poor, but one of the expanding or ‘big middle’** – Most people in the world today earn between $1 to $10 a day, and many of these have transitioned out of absolute poverty within the last few decades.

Dollar Street – A Global Family Portrait.

To illustrate the differences in living standards around the globe, Hans draws on a number of case studies.

$1/ day – Malawi – Here the focus is on a couple with eleven children. They are basically subsistence farmers and have a small field of maize which they rely on for their basic food. The field is so small they have to endure a hunger season, during which they only eat once a day, and the children fall sick because of lack of food. In a poor season (As shown later in the video), when the rains are irregular, the food may only last for half the year, so the hungry season is long!)

The children go to school, but there are no school meals, so there’s no food until bed time on some school days. The family struggle to pay for the ‘hidden costs’ of education such as school uniforms and books.

There are no jobs in the area, but the families keep grafting – the father turns old bits of tin into watering cans and the mother makes dumplings, two products which are sold to neighbours. However, local people are too poor to be anything other than occasional customers.

In the household there is no electricity or running water and everyone sleeps on the floor, no mattresses. The house is built from perishable materials and once a week the mother has to spread fresh mud on the walls and ceiling to stop the house falling apart. The husband is gradually building a brick house, but it will take him four years to complete it.

These people are literally struggling to build their future bit by bit.

Countries in which significant numbers of people live on less than $1 a day include Burundi and Malawi.

The Big Middle – Up to $10 a day

To illustrate where the majority of the world’s population now live in income terms, we go to Cambodia to focus on some new arrivals to the ‘big middle’ – We focus on a family who live about an hour away from the capital Phnom Penh, but are still close enough to feel the benefits of its development.

Their house is made from more durable material – bricks and plastic/ iron sheets, they have clean water, bicycles, a little car, beds with mattresses, radios, TVs, and electricity.

The Family’s living conditions are far from easy but there is no hungry season like in Malawi, and they have earned enough to buy various life-changing technologies – such as a water pump so is there more time to devote to paid work.

The nearby capital city Phnom Penh is at the heart of an economic boom, mainly thanks to textile exports, and the benefits reach a long way into rural areas.

The father in this family has benefited from this – migration to the city has meant there are fewer farmers, so he now makes $300 a month from growing and selling grass which people feed to their cattle, and he has bought a small bike so he can deliver more efficiently.

However, the mother is currently pregnant with twins, and one of them is upside down…they want a cesarean and this will cost them $500 which will mean they need to borrow money, a price which could put them back into dire poverty for years to come as they struggle to pay it back.

The crucial thing which prevents this from happening is that the family qualify for Cambodia’s recently introduced free health care, available for free for the poorest families only. This is assessed by means of a ‘Poor Card’ – people are asked a number of questions about their standard of living (which is checked later) and if they score below a certain amount of points they qualify for free health care for the whole family, which ensures that complications in childbirth do not result in financial catastrophe.

Among the many countries included in the ‘big middle’ are The Philippines, Columbia, Rwanda, and Bangladesh. However, there are obviously differences, and if you look carefully, these are not all ‘equally poor’ (but this isn’t expanded on).
How to eradicate extreme Poverty

It’s amazing how much life is improving for s many people in so many ways – this is the greatest story in human history, and if we want to lift the remaining billion people out of extreme poverty we need to learn from the lessons of the majority of countries which have lifted themselves out of poverty in the last century.

The basic lesson is that all of these countries have invested in human welfare, in such things as public health care systems and education, which has reduced the child mortality rate, and the birth rate, and altogether this has resulted in economic growth.

Hans demonstrated this by looking at the historical relationship between the child mortality rate and GDP per Capita from 1800-2015. (The child mortality rate depends on many things, such as improved health, education and gender empowerment, so it acts as a proxy indicator for these other aspects of human progress).

The general trend is that in many countries, the child mortality rate goes down first, which is followed by sustained economic growth for many years. It seems that once the Child Mortality rate gets to about 10%, this is when economic take off occurs. This happened in at least the following countries:

  • Britain
  • China
  • South Korea
  • Ethiopia.

In the Infographic below (nowhere near as impressive as Hans’) I’ve selected four African countries, and there’s a clear historical link between child mortality coming down first and then the economy growing (since 1960).


Interestingly, Malawi have recently got their child mortality rate down to 10%, but they are waiting for economic growth.

In short, the lesson of how to end poverty in 15 years – invest in human progress even when resources are limited.

The video rounds off with going back to Malawi to demonstrate that all is needed to lift many farmers out of poverty is investment in small scale irrigation systems, so crops can be easily watered when rains are irregular. A dam would transform the lives of small farmers in remote areas by allowing them to grow not only more staple food, but also a greater diversity of crops which could be sold.

The investment required is relatively little, but who will pay? The private sector won’t, because there is no profit, and governments in poor countries are still too poor, so the third option is International Development Aid.

However, Development aid needs to be refocused away from the richer developing countries – Currently, countries such as India and China receive aid equivalent to $300 per person, but the poorest countries, mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa, receive only $100 per person. In short, aid is going to the wrong places.

Poverty Infographic Hans Rosling

Hans argues that we should perceive aid to end poverty not as charity, but as an investment. There are three basic arguments for this:

1. Extreme poverty breeds problems such as war and conflict.
2. If we lift people out of extreme poverty, they will become the customers of tomorrow, and possibly the entrepreneurs of tomorrow.
3. It is the most effective way of combating population growth – below $1 a day, the average number of babies per woman is five, above, it the average is 2 or less.

In conclusion, Hans suggests we would be mad not to end poverty in 15 years, and that compared to the other two problems the world faces: climate change and war and conflict, this goal is actually easy to achieve.


**Another way in which Hans illustrates the growth of the ‘big middle’ is by pointing out the following statistics:

80% of people have electricity at home? (the audience thought 40%)

83% have have got vaccinated against measles? (the audience thought 30% )

90% of girls out of ten go to primary school (in that age group) (the audience thought 40%).

Tyranny of the Moment – A summary

Tyranny of the Moment (A Summary/ Notes)

A summary of/ notes on Tyranny of the Moment: Fast and Slow Time in the Information Age by Thomas Hylland Eriksen (2001)

The general focus of the book is on why social life has become so hurried and accelerated and what the (negative) consequences of these changes are for family life and leisure-time.


We face a double paradox – Despite the proliferation of time-saving technologies we seem to have less time to spare than ever, and the information revolution has not created a more informed population, but a more confused one.

The book stems from a sabbatical in which the author got very little work done, because his time seemed to filled with lots of minor tasks – he had no time to sit down to a long project. So it seems with life today – we seem unable to think a thought more than two inches long.

This book is not luddite, it is an attempt to create understanding of the unintended consequences of the information society.

The general focus of the book is on how life is hurried and accelerated – how working days are overloaded, leisure-time is chopped up and the consequences of these changes for family life.

Chapter One – Introduction – Mind The Gap

A central claim of this book is that the unhindered and massive flow of information in our time is about to fill all the gaps, leading as a consequence to a situation where everything threatens to become a hysterical series of saturated moments, without a ‘before’ and ‘after’, a ‘here’ and ‘there’ to separate them.

We seem to live about two seconds in the future. When one is on the receiving end of a mass of information, the scarcest resource is slow, continuous time.

In the information age it could be that more flexibility makes us less flexible and more choice makes us less free – Why do most of us have less spare time, and why does more information result in less comprehension?

Chapter Two – Information Culture, Information Cult

We need to understand the move from an industrial to an informational society – a term which can be traced back to The Frankfurt School, MacLuhan and of course Toffler.

The move to the informational society is only one of many trends leading to greater complexity, uncertainty and individualism.

The twenty first century began in 1991 with three major events – firstly the collapse of the USSR, secondly the emergence of geopolitical instability, for example the Balkan Wars and the USA’s New World Order – heralding more wars in far flung places.

The third major event was the emergence and rapid growth of the Internet, which changes knowledge through linking chunks of it together differently and leads to constant updating, which heralded the move to an informational society, which is a society in which IT is integral to all production, as it is in many other spheres of social life.

Information has now become the new scarce resource – Information processing is increasingly integral to many jobs.

In the information society, freedom from information is a scarce resource. The skill we really need to learn is to learn to filter out the 0.001% we actually need.

Many of us are coming to see living in a world of colourful fragments of knowledge – and engaging with this knowledge without being able to grasp everything in its entirety as not being a problem. People used to worry about knowing everything – now they don’t.

however, even though we do not regard this as a problem this represents a profound transformation of knowledge.

In information society, the gaps are being filled with fast time (NB Mgraine has something to say about this).

For those on the supply side of the economy, they are competing for attention – and they want our attention NOW because information can quickly become obsolete. For those of us who are consumers, freedom from information is our scarce resource. (Interesting).

People are uncertain of who they are, where they have to re-invent themselves on a day to day basis. People are free to choose but not free not to choose.

In Information society – The point of gravity in the global economy has moved from things to signs. The sign economy changes at astonishing speed, and requires other organisational forms and a greater flexibility than the economy of things, since signs float more freely than things…. The free availability of ideas simultaneously implies that many of them compete for the free spaces in our heads, leading to confusion and uncertain identities – identity has become disembedded from tradition, or major, continuous narrative. Hybridity and blurred boundaries are the norm.

Another feature of the 21st century is that freedom and vulnerability are synonyms – the bipolar world has been replaced with a unipolar world. That pole is called market liberalism and indivdualism, and its beats the drum with catchwords like flexibility, freedom and openness. Resistance is scattered and uncoordinated. New tensions result and new types of scarcity might emerge as a result:

  • Slow time
  • Security
  • Predictability
  • belonging, stable, personal identity
  • Coherence and understanding
  • Cumulative, linear, organic growth
  • Real experiences.

What matters is not whether any of this is new, what matters is the fact that our age is the information age.

What is the relationship between technology, time and culture? You have to understand this by looking at the recent past… which is where we go back to in chapter 3…

Chapter Three – The Time of the book, the clock and money.


Acceleration is at the heart of the last 10000 years of cultural history – Writing lasted 4500 years, the printing press 500, while radio only had a few decades of dominance before the TV. Today, it is feasible that a product can be obsolete before it hits the shelves.

He now apologies for making some general comparisons of the traditional, the modern era and the information era…..

In this chapter Eriksen looks at five technological innovations which indicate those ‘peculiar institutions’ of modern society which are precursors of the information society: Writing, clocks, money, and notation,

Writing – Has been an essential tool in the transition from a concrete society based on intimate, personal relationships, memory, local religion and orally transmitted myths, to an abstract society based on formal legislation, archives, a book religion and written history.

The emergence of Clock Time – Time used to be event-determined – Something would happen when everything else was ready – You find this in some traditional societies today – where trains arrive when they arrive, not at a pre-given time. With the invention of the calendar and especially the clock, time becomes external and something which we are expected to sign a contract to stick to from cradle to grave – It becomes something objective which can be chopped up. It also now becomes something which can be used to coordinate us – the basis of modern business.

Bergson in ‘Time and Free Will’ has criticised how quantitative empty time now regulates us from outside rather than letting tasks at hand fill time from within.

Money does roughly the same thing to payment, value measurement and exchange as clocks and writing do to language and time. They make the transaction abstract and impose a standardised grid on the whole world. They place individual, mundane transactions under an invisible umbrella of abstraction. Money renders personal connections and trust redundant, as long as we agree on the value of the digit.

Musical Notation is his final example – manuscripts make music abstract, separate them from the individual. He argues that classical music would not have been possible without musical notation.

All of these changes together lead to a small-scale society based on local knowledge to a large scale society based on an abstract legislative system and abstract knowledge founded in logic and science.

The printing press and the industrial revolution were also necessary to pull all of the above together in modernity – a society where external abstract systems regulate huge people into being part of of one machine in which they are expendable. ‘Particular individuals are expendable because language, economy, memory, morality and knowledge are all externalised’.

Linear time is not part of the problem…

In addition to all of the above, possible because all of the above, a key feature of modernity was faith in progress – that things were getting better – however, now we are living in a postmodern age. People think things are about to go horribly wrong. This is not caused by linear time, but by a time perception which is not sufficiently linear. Time has been partitioned into so many pieces that the only time in existence is a single, manic, hysterical moment which is continuously changed, but which does not point to anything other than the next moment.

This could well be an unintended consequence of the efficient society concerned with speed.

Chapter Four – Speed (and the consequences of time speeding up!)

The chapter starts off by drawing on Paul Virilio, a theorist of speed (dromology)

Virilio studies the military – pointing out that invading a country used to take another country months to organise, then weeks and now possibly minutes – even more rapidly if we include the potential of cyber-war.

In response to Mcluhan’s global village, V prefers the term global megacity – characterised by anonymity and disintegration – Where everyone communicates to everyone and nobody really speaks with anyone. Time dominates place, everyone is close by in an instant.

The chapter now goes into an interesting description of how acceleration took place in the industrial revolution which was caused by the IR and new productivity demands in commodity production.

This acceleration was aided in the second half of the twenty first century by Information Technology – IT is simultaneously catalyst, source of coveted goods and economic powerhouse.

There are eight consequences of acceleration which are unique to post-modernity:

One – Speed is an addictive drug…

Because it is easier to communicate today, we communicate more – previously, the labour in writing a letter precluded the writing of unnecessary letters, emails are easier to write, and we we can be contacted anywhere, so we send more emails. Also, we are now more impatient in waiting for a response. In the age of email, we now expect, demand, a rapid response to our communications –

Because we demand a rapid response, this interrupts slow time.

It is not just email, everything moves faster now.

Two – Speed leads to simplification…

For example paintings to photos, and summaries of books in Readers Digest (actually the reference to Readers Digest dates this a bit!)

Three – Speed creates assembly line effects….

Quite a weak section – speed leads to a reduction in quality generally, but sometimes fast products are OK and especially better than nothing!

Four – Speed leads to a loss of precision…

Today decisions have to be made almost immediately. Those who pause for thought are overtaken by those prepared to act immediately. This can lead to bad decisions and uncertainty – unsurprising maybe when we no longer stop to reflect.

In politics, politicians react immediately and short termism is in fashion – those who play the long game get nowhere (the greens?). While in financial markets, ripples in one country rapidly domino to others.

Finally he turns to Journalism where accuracy and complexity have been replaced by speed and what’s interesting. What matters is beating the other guys to getting something published.

Erikson notes that this is correlated with declining trust in journalists – an interesting dialectic where increasing freedom = increasing distrust.

Five – Speed Demands Space…

Because they complete over our attention, every spare moment is precious in the information age – There are less empty spaces, less time for the free flow of thought, messages on mobile technologies fill every gap.

Six – Speed is Contagious…

Short wins out over long – and what’s lost along the way is context and understanding and credibility. We also speed up…. Plays are faster…

A political scientist recently studied the development of the annual financial debate in the Norwegian Parliament, comparing the speed of speech in selected years from 1945 to 1995 – Looking at Phonemes per minute…

584 in 1945

772 in 1980

863 in 1995

In other worlds the average politician spoke 50 percent faster in 1995 compared to 1945.

Increasing speed also makes us more impatient – If a plane journey takes an hour, a delay of 15 minutes is less bearable than if the same journey took two hours. Similarly we are now impatient when it takes a computer 30 seconds to log on.

Seven – Gains and losses tend to equal each other out…

For example — Although computer processor power doubles every 18 months, so does the complexity of the software.

Worse, more complex software means more chances of crashing.

Also it means more choice, and more time spent negotiating these choices, and hence less efficiency.

Eight – Technology leads to unpredictable changes

Who could have thought that time saving technologies and more information could have made time scarcer and us less enlightened?

Chapter Five – Exponential Growth

Basically involves the doubling of a number over a certain time period – Growth is slow at first, and then there is a sudden leap upwards, leading to a qualitative shift in a very short time – for example when a village becomes a town.

Exponential growth creates scarcity of space…

There is now a dearth of information – and when there is more information, we spend less time looking at any one piece of it…. And thus the producers of info change the info to fit in with this – Movies are more action packed and commercials shorter for example. Speed is also a narcotic, it is easier to speed up the info rather than to slow it down.

Side effects become dominant -

Quantitative growth leads to qualitative change – For example Bateson’s Polyploid Horse and the tendency to larger institutions towards Bureaucratisation. Basically larger organisations are less efficient, and more time is spent in wasteful activities.

There is more of everything – he now spends some time outlining the rapid growth of books and journal articles (most of which are never read?) and air traffic. Before stating that the growth rates in cyberspace surpass everything (p97)

Changes in cyerbspace represent compression in time – more and more information, consumption, movement and activity is being pushed into the available time, which is relatively constant. When the growth line hits vertical, time has ceased to exist – this happens when news is outdated the moment it is published.

When more and more is squeezed into each moment, the result is stacking…

Chapter Six – Stacking

We have moved from the relatively slow and linear to the fast and momentary – novels and old style dramas evolved based on passed events and assume you read progressively. The internet and new style dramas (Dynasty) stand still at enormous speed – the web is not hierachical and new dramas despite the cliffhangers do not generally progress – you can pick up the narrative thread after being away for several episodes.

The most important part of navigating the web is filters, but filters do not remove the fragmentation .

We are forced to customise the content in the internet – this gives us freedom of choice but we lose internal cohesion, meaningful context and slowness.

In the Informational Society pieces replace totalities…

Industrial society

Informational Society

CD/ Vinyl record


Sinlge channel TV


Stationary Telephone



Mutli-channel TV


Mobile Telephone

Lifelong Monogamy

Lifelong work


Linear Time-saving

Scarcity of Information

Serial Monogomy

Flexible Work


Fragmented Contemporariness

Scarcity of Freedom of Information

The tidal waves of information fragments typical of our kind of society stimulate a style of thought that is less reminiscent of the strict, logical, linear thinking characteristic of industrial society than of the freely associating, poetical, metaphorical thinking that characterised many non modern societies. Instead of ordering knowledge in tidy rows, Information Society offers cascades of decontextualised sings more or less randomly connected to each other.

Contemporary Culture runs at full speed without moving an inch

The close cousins of acceleration and exponential growth lead to vertical stacking. Since there is no vacant time to spread information in, it gets compressed and stacked in time spans which become shorter and shorter.

He also uses music to point out that nothing new has been created since about 1990. The new now emerges from stacking – new combinations of old phenomenon. This has consequences for human creativity.

When this happens it becomes increasingly difficult to create narratives. The fragments threaten to become hegemonic. This has consequences for the way we related to knowledge, work and lifestyle. Cause and effect, internal organic growth, maturity and experience are all under threat in this situation.

The law of diminishing returns strikes with a vengeance

Media appeal is the most important thing politicians can have – their ideas are less important. Those who take time and prefer complexity have less influence.

Today, there are diminishing returns of media participation following information explosion… Basically the more channels, the less valuable a media appearance. Also, a stronger effect is needed to get the message across.

News has a decreasing marginal value – the first ten seconds is valuable, and after that…?

Information destroys continuity….

A section on today’s typical HE student who has to vertically stack activities – a lecture is something one goes to between many other activities – slow learning is marginalised – and universities adapt – they teach faster. This is like his own life, but his is because of information lint.

Very few academics today have five years to spend writing a book – especially since the marginal value of new information is next to zero, and so easier to produce something rapidly that grabs attention, even if it is cut and paste from a conference paper.

Because of all this stacking, the moment is ephemeral, superficial and intense. When the moment dominates, everything must be interchangeable with everything else in the immediate NOW – even if some things only make sense with duration.

Chapter Seven – The Lego Brick Syndrome

The relationship between time and space has undergone dramatic transformations in the IS -

  • Baudrillard talks of the implosion of the time/ space axis
  • Giddens says there has been a collapse of time and space
  • Castells talks about how the space of flows has been replaced by the space of places
  • Harvey of Time Space Compression.

It is no longer viable to pretend that a certain duration corresponds to a certain distance, and for this reason delays, gaps, slowness are threatened.

When time is chopped up into sufficiently small units, it ceases to exist as duration but continues to exist as moments about to be overtaken by the next moment.

The same pattern can be observed in many apparently unrelated fields…. We used to receive a set of lego bricks at birth with a number of sets of instructions to choose between – now there are no instructions – this must have been what Giddens meant when he spoke of the self as a project – it is not a given entity, it has to be created again and again.

He now looks at how fixation on the moment, stacking and the lego brick syndrome influence labour, family life, leisure, and consumption.

An accelerated professional life offers flexibility but leads to a whole host of other negative consequences….

In the Corrosion of Character, Richard Sennett describes how successful people in the emergent economies of the 1990s – flexible, adjustable, technologically capable people – experienced a vacuum in the very centre of their lives. They work in sectors such as finance, web design, e-commerce, advertising and journalism, in sectors which have been radically transformed in the information age.

New technology in many ways makes up the backbone of these industries, but at the same time it also forces the labour market to adapt to it. Old-timers with long and vast experience do not have much value in this new setting.

Sennett describes people who have been liberated from the monotonous drudgery of the labour market, but they live under constant pressure to reinvent themselves, update and change their perspective on the job they are doing. There is little of routine in their work, and they enjoy the opportunities on offer, but they experience serious problems in attempting to make their lives hang together as something other than a discontinuous series of events, career moves, and so on.

Some of them are virtually burnt out by the time they are 35. He now quotes some stats (30% of the workforce report mental health issues in the UK) and early burn-out is already in a good position to contend for the title of the civilizational disease of the new century.

Also, long-term planning seems to have disappeared as a concept in the world of work. Short-term stays in jobs are much more common than they used to be and contract work has increased enormously. (I guess this means more intense working?). This means job security is reduced.

This new world of work also favours a particular personality type – adaptable, opportunistic etc, which helps to explain why teaching is now seen as a low-grade profession.

Finally, these changes result in increased uncertainty, not least because the present is opaque but also because the demands of this moment are terrorised by the next.

The effects on family life and leisure-time

Given that fast time beats slow time, when the concept of working at home was introduced, the former was bound to win. Workers may not be expected to be on time any more, but they are expected to be online.

Work has invaded our home lives, and one of the most profound effects is that our family lives have become ‘Taylorised’ (following Bateson) – because increased flexibility in one area of life means less in other areas:

We now have to negotiate how to keep the kids busy so I can fit in with the flexible demands of work. We have lost the sense of slow time in which we just live for the sake of living, family life has become a tit for tat process of negotiating.

Family life is not particular labour-intensive, or capital-intensive, but it is time-intensive – and this is precisely what is absent in today’s society, hence these changes

Furthermore, family life in general is by nature slow and fits the current era badly – frequent changes of life partners are clear indications of the spread of the tyranny of the moment into the intimate sphere. The number of failed marriages and the number of Peter Pans and Bridget Jones are also testimony to this.

Serial Monogamy is a good example of standing still at great speed – the same debates in relationships had over and over again.

Marriages are also under direct pressure from the Tyranny of the Moment in which ever more exciting things are just around the corner, and there is no sense of continuity. Duration and continuity lose out, spontaneity and innovation win.

The Cult of Youth is Caused by the Tyranny of The Moment

When knowledge changes quickly, what role for the older generation? They lose at least some of their relevance and the youth are minded to fashion their own values from fragments – from a mixture of the older generation and X box!

Until quite recently 15 year olds were quite happy to start their adult life – to become properly independent persons – while at the other end of the scale, with age came established certainty and authority.

Today, however, youth, or that ambiguous phase between childhood and adulthood, has extended in both directions – through marketing to the very young and those in their 40s to remain younger. Lasch’s ‘The Culture of Narcissism’ is now truly relevant.

Two of the most serious symptoms of the tyranny of the moment are the cult of youth and the crisis of knowledge transmission – A society which does not value ageing has no interest in where it has come from – and thus no real handle on where it is going.

Our society values spontaneous energy over historical experience (in the new economy) and this is often blamed on advertising and pop culture, but it is all of the above that is really to blame.

Leisure-Time becomes a stressful rush to get more things done…

Staffan Linder talks of The contradictions of Capitalism – a healthy growth rate requires us to produce more efficiently and consume at a faster rate. Leisure time thus turns into a mad rush for intensified consumption. Leisure time becomes like work – we have to organise it, learn to multi-task and stack, to consume more efficiently and spend less time doing just one thing.

The fragmentation of work, consumption, family life and the public sphere brings us to a world where each must construct their own identity – but is such a task manageable or is life inevitably becoming collage-like and filled with singular events and impressions, arbitrariness and spontaneity with no over-arching direction, is the fast-mode becoming hegemonic rather than a mix between fast and slow modes?

Finally, the further social consequences of a life in fragments…

Bauman is far from alone in publishing books such as life in fragments – the dividing of time into ever decreasing units and the lost of internal coherence lead to….

  • Fundamentalism
  • Extreme Opportunism
  • Burn-Outs
  • Politics devoid of vision.

Does the Information Revolution actually increase efficiency?

Obviously with more complex technology we are required to go on courses to learn how to use their functionalities.

But also when we have mobile technologies, the quiet times disappear because we are expected to be always on! When emails reach a certain threshold, we loose convenience and they become oppressive. Similarly he argues that many transport connections designed to speed travel up are cancelled out by traffic jams and queuing….And now we have impatience, which is the transition between fast and slow time , and journeys are filled with things we should be doing.

Chapter Eight – The Pleasures of Slow Time…

Not everyone is affected by the pressures of fast time – but a growing number of people in the developed world are and because fast time affects the production of culture the majority is exposed to such pressures – when you switch on the TV for example.

A brief summary of the main points in Tyranny of the Moment

  1. When there is a surplus, and no scarcity of information, the degree of comprehension falls in proportion with the growth of the amount of information. The more you know, the more you do not know.
  2. The main scarce resource for suppliers of any commodity is the attention of others
  3. The main scarce resource of the inhabitants of an IS are well-functioning filters
  4. Acceleration removes distance, time and space.
  5. When fast and slow time meet, fast time wins
  6. Flexible work causes a loss of flexibility in the non-work areas of life.
  7. When time is partitioned into sufficiently small units it ceases to exist as duration.

There are many academics who write about exponential growth, stacking and acceleration – Giddens and Beck are the figureheads but also Bordieu, and their theme seems to be that there is now a generalised inability to get a coherent overview of everything in this fast moving world.

There are few solutions offered to acceleration and information overload:

Castells just warns against ‘building castles’

  • Giddens talks of dialogic democracy but provides no substance about how this might be achieved
  • Bordieu – simply suggests we hit the off button
  • Baudrillard escapes into dark humour
  • Virillio says he has no solutions

So what to do? Some suggestions:

  • What can be done fast should be done fast
  • Remember that dawdling is a virtue as long as no one gets hurt
  • Recognise that slowness needs protection
  • Treat delays are a blessing in disguise
  • The logic of the wood cabin needs to be globalised
  • All decisions need to exclude as much as they include
  • It is necessary to switch consciously between fast and slow time
  • Recognise/ accept that most things one will never need know about
  • We also need to put the breaks on fast time by….
  • Establishing press rules for the slow production of more types of news.
  • Establishing the rule of less is more – quality over quantity.

He finishes with a number of fairly obvious public/ work level policies for introducing slowness, which I won’t go into.

Free Schools – Arguments and Evidence for and Against


This is relevant to the educational policy aspect of the education topic within the sociology of education.

What Are Free Schools?

A Free School in England is a type of Academy, a non-profit-making, state-funded school which is free to attend. Free schools are not controlled by a Local Authority (LA) but instead governed by anon-profit charitable trust.

To set up a Free School, founding groups submit applications to the Department for Education. Groups include those run by parents, education charities and religious groups. Ongoing funding is on an equivalent basis with other locally controlled state maintained schools, although additional start-up grants to establish the schools are also paid.

Between 2010 and 2015 more than 400 free schools were approved for opening in England by the Coalition Government, representing more than 230,000 school places across the country.

Similarities between Local Authority schools and Free Schools

  • They are both free for students to attend

  • They are both have similar amounts of funding

  • They are both subject to same rules about how the select students (they have similar admissions policies)

  • They are both subjected to Ofsted inspections

Differences between Free Schools and Regular State Schools

Local Authority Schools

Free Schools

Must follow the National Curriculum

Don’t have to follow the National Curriculum

Funding controlled by Local Authority

Funding comes straight from government

‘standard’ school day and term times

Free to set school days and term times

Teachers must be qualified

Teachers don’t have to be qualified

A brief history and overview of types of Free School

Free Schools were introduced by the Coalition government in 2010 general election as part of the Big Society initiative. The first 24 Free Schools opened in autumn 2011.

Since 2011, any Local Authority in need of a new school must seek proposals for an Academy or Free School, with a traditional Local Authority school only being allowed if no suitable Free School or academy is proposed. Since July 2015 the government is regarded all new academies as Free Schools – hence if there’s demand to establish them, any new school being established will be a free school.

To date, since 2010 there have been around 400 Free Schools established, which translates into about 250 000 school places, and the government hopes to establish an other 500 Free Schools over the next few years.

Types of free school

The majority of free schools are similar in size and shape to other types of academy. However, the following are distinctive sub-types of free school:

Studio school – A small free school, usually with around 300 pupils, using project-based learning.

University Technical College – A free school for the 14-18 age group, specialising in practical, employment focused subjects, sponsored by a university, employer or further education college.

Arguments for Free Schools

Free schools are a very good example of a neoliberal policy – the government is taking power away from Local Education Authorities (local government) and giving more power to parents, private businesses and charities to run schools.

Supporters claim that

  • There is a higher proportion of outstanding free schools – Twice as likely according to C4’s Full Fact
  • Free schools create more local competition and drive-up standards -
  • They allow parents to have more choice in the type of education their child receives, much like parents who send their children to independent schools do.
  • They also claim that free schools benefit children from all backgrounds – which could especially be the case with….
  • We need more school places – because of the recent increase in the birth rate, not to mention increasing migration and free schools could play a crucial role in this. In fact, where primary schools are concerned, about 70% of applications for free schools are in the areas where there is most need for new schools (See Channel Four’s Full Fact)

Arguments against Free Schools

Critics argue that…

  • There is a higher proportion of failing Free Schools – According to this article (March 2015) from The Independent newspaper Free Schools are a failure: One third of them have been rated ‘inadequate’ or ‘requires improvement’ compared to only one fifth of Local Authority Schools.
  • This list of failures includes three school closures, worst of which seems to have been the Al-Madinah free school which imposed strict Islamic practice on staff and students (for example by forcing even non-muslim female teachers to cover up) and was found to be so bad that OFSTED had to create a new category of ‘dysfunctional’ to grade it before ordering it to close.
  • Free schools benefit primarily middle-class parents with the time to set them up, fueling social segregation – I can really see this being the case with ‘studio schools’. (I can’t help but imagine a nice, small school with extensive playground and playing fields in a Devonshire village, so nice in fact that the yummies occasionally leave their 4WDs at home and walk the school run, at least when they’re not in the mood for heels.)
  • Free schools divert money away from existing schools – There is a set amount of money in the education budget, and if free schools (and academies) get initial start up grants from the government (which some do) this means relatively less money for the Local Education Authority maintained schools.
  • They are not actually needed and have lead to a surplus of school places – More than half of Free Schools opening in 2012 opened with 60% or less of the student numbers predicted by the impact assessment documents of each institution, leaving more than 10% spare places. Elsewhere, where Free Schools are fully subscribed, regular Local Authority schools have surplus capacity. This replication of capacity is grossly inefficient.5. People don’t actually want Free Schools – Polling in April 2015 put public support for Conservative proposals to increase the number of Free Schools by at least 500 at 26%.
  • While the image of Free schools might be of motivated parents setting them up, Peter Wilby, writing in The Guardian, predicted that Free Schools would be run by private companies rather than parents, teachers or voluntary groups. There is also the fact that in 2012 over 60% of free school applications were made by faith groups.

Analysis – Free Schools Good or Bad?

To be honest at this stage it’s difficult to say – because Free Schools have only been around for five years, and because there are so few of them – it is difficult to make reliable comparisons between the results of free schools and local authority schools.

As it stands, Free Schools seem to be having a polarising effect on educational achievement – with both a higher proportion of schools achieving outstanding and being graded unsatisfactory at the same time. This is pretty much what you’d expect when you give middle class parents etc. with cultural capital a fat wedge of cash and a considerable degree of freedom to run their schools in a way that they see fit.

Whether or not you think polarisation is a good thing probably depends on your politics. If you’re right-leaning (neoliberal or new right) you’d probably interpret these trends in a positive way – more success at the top end should eventually drag all of the other schools up, even if there’s a few initial teething problems with a higher proportion of schools failing at the bottom. Eventually, demand for those failing schools should fall so they’ll either close or be taken over by the more successful schools.

However, if you’re more left-leaning then you’d probably hypothesise that the children in the outstanding free schools are probably those from middle class backgrounds, and those in the failing schools – probably more likely to be from working class backgrounds, so all we are seeing here is an intensification of the reproduction of class inequality, although we don’t yet have the data to assess this.

Find out More…

Given the ideological nature of Free Schools, be careful of where you source your information form – A good starting point to find out more is go to Channel Four’s Full Fact which takes a cautious look at the statistics on various aspects of Free Schools.

Proactive Women and Individualised Men? Gender Differences in Mid-Life Solo-Living


The long term increase in Single Person Households in well documented – as in the infographic below.

Single Person Households UK

As is the fact that older people are more likely to live alone that younger people.

Single Person Households by age UK

As can be seen from the above chart, most of the increase in solo-living has come from middle aged people (45-64 year olds) and a recent longitudinal study: The Demographics of Living Alone in Midlife explores this in more depth:

The headline news (see the chart below, unfortunately going back to  2007) was that

  • At ages 35-49 there are approximately twice as many men living alone as women  – On average about 13% of men live alone compared to about 7% of women in these age categories.
  • At ages 50-54 the numbers of men and women living alone are approximately equal.
  • From age 55 and upwards the numbers of women living alone outnumber men and ratio gets larger as the population ages.

Percent Living Alone age and sex

To break this down into more detail….

  • The percentage of both men and women living alone has increased in all age categories.
  • For ages 35-39 approximately 15% of men live alone, compared to 6% of women.
  • For ages 40-49 approximately 12% of men live alone compared to 6% of women.
  • For the age categories 35-39, 40-44 and 45-49 the proportions of men living alone approximately doubled between 1984 and 2007 and in all of these aged categories there are twice as many men living alone as compared to women.
  • For the same age categories for women, the number of 35-39 year olds trebled over this period, and for women in their 40s, the the number living alone doubled between 1984 and 1997 and then stabilised from 1997 to 2007.
  • For the age category 50-54 roughly similar proportions of men and women live alone, with men rapidly catching up with women.
  • For people aged 55 and over, there are more women than men living alone and numbers have increased at similar levels.

This research also takes a more in-depth and comparative look at the social characteristics of middle-aged men and women who live alone – which reveals some of the possible reasons for the increasing numbers of men and women living alone.

Firstly – women who live alone are much more likely to be educated than men:

males females living alone education

Women living alone aged 35-64 are much more likely to have degrees – 38% of women living alone have degrees compared to 25% of men.

Men living alone aged 35-64 are twice as likely to have no qualifications – 15% of women have no qualifications compared to 27% of men living alone.

Given that men and women tend to couple up with people of similar (ish) ages (actually women on average go for men 6 years older, but that’s fairly similar) and people of at least similar class backgrounds  and levels of educational achievement  – the overall increase in people living alone across both sexes could be down to 20 years of women outperforming men in education resulting in a much higher proportion of educated women compared to men.

So possibly, we’re now living in a society in which millions of educated women aged 34-49 are living alone because they don’t want to settle for an uneducated male partner.

The converse of this is that we’ve also got millions of uneducated men aged 34-49 who are living alone, not out of choice, but because their more educated female peers don’t see them as a viable prospect.

Thirdly (I’m sure there are two reasons above!?) – If we look at the situation of people living alone in relation to children, we find that the increase in men living alone is probably mostly down to two combined factors – the long term increase in divorce and the fact that children (where they exist) are more likely to go and reside with the mother than the father…

families - children

As the table above shows us, for 35-64 year olds, an average of 15% of men living alone have at least one dependent child compared to only 2% of women, reflecting the fact that hardly any women with dependent children live apart from them.

To conclude on some Social Theory, one might tentatively say that the above research supports Giddens’ idea that increased gender equality has led to women being less prepared to settle for shallow relationships, as there is evidence of more (educated) women choosing to live alone rather than settling for any old relationship.

However, where men are concerned, perhaps Beck’s individualisation Thesis applies more – they appear to have less choice than women about whether they live alone or not – middle aged male solo-livers seem to be the ones being left on the shelf altogether or abandoned by their partners and children after a failed relationship.

Of course the above is hypothetical, you’d need to do some qualitative research with middle aged men and women to uncover the extent to which they’ve ‘chosen their solo lives.

Food Inc – A Summary

This is a Superb documentary which demonstrates the downsides of the industrialisation of the food system in the USA.

It is relevant to the following areas of Global Development within A level Sociology.

  • Illustrating the downsides of Industrialisation

  • Illustrating unfair trade rules (corn is subsidised in America)

  • Illustrating the downsides of forced neoliberalisation

  • Illustrating the incredible power of Transnational Corporations in America and the negative consequences of them controlling the food chain ‘from seed to supermarket’.

  • There is also one example (the local farmer guy) of People Centred Development

  • Illustrating the limitations of western models of development

Scene One – Food Inc.

The Film starts by outlining the unrealities of the modern American supermarket, where there are no seasons and the meat has no bones. Then a bold statement – there is a deliberate veil drawn over the realities of the food production chain, which is basically a factory system, an industrialised system. The rest of the documentary is devoted to outlining the downsides of this system.

Scene Two – Fast Food for All

It’s suggested that the move towards an industrial food system started with McDonald’s – when the McDonald brothers got rid of their waitresses and invented the drive through to cut costs, it caught on massively and McDonald’s and other fast food outlets expanded, and so did the mass demand for standardised food products.

McDonald’s is now the largest purchaser of Beef in America and one of the largest purchasers of potatoes, tomatoes and even apples, and of course corn-syrup (and hence corn). It was the demand for large volumes of standardised food goods that led to a concentration of food production into massive farms and factories.

Such is the concentration that only four companies now control 80% of the beef packing market, with similar concentrations in other food sectors, so even if you don’t eat in a fast food restaurant you’re probably eating products produced by the same system, by the same food companies. One company name to look out for in particular is Tyson!

Tyson, which is the largest food production company in the world has redesigned the chicken – so it grows in half the time it used to, and has larger breasts. It has also redesigned the chicken farmer and the whole process of chicken farming.

The video now takes the inevitable trip to the battery farm – where hideous abuses take place, most all IMO for the chicken farmers who are kept in debt by Tyson because Tyson keeps demanding they upgrade to new systems. Keeping chickens in abusive conditions is very actually very expensive!

Scene Three – A Cornucopia of Choices

Starts with an interview with the most excellent Michael Pollen – ‘The idea that you need to write a book about where our food comes from shows you the scale of the problem’.

There are only a few companies involved and only a few food products involved, and much of our industrial food turns out to be clever rearrangements of corn… Ketchup, Peanut butter, Coke, and even batteries contain corn derivatives.

So important is corn that even though yields have increased from 20 to 200 bushels of wheat an acre, 30% of the US land base is planted to corn – which is subsidised which in turn leads to over production. Subsidies are in place because the big food TNCs (Tyson and Cargill) want cheap corn, and they have the ears of the government (no pun intended).

There is a transport network which transports corn to CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Farming Operations) where thousands of cattle are kept standing in their own manure until they are slaughtered.

The fact that cattle are now fed corn rather than grass has created the conditions in their stomachs for e.coli to breed, this comes out in manure, and because cattle in CAFOs all live close together shit is transferred between them and it spreads and gets in the food chain and to the consumer

Scene Four – Unintended Consequences

Which ends up with children dying.

In the movie we are persistently shown how food is farmed along factory lines – we go to the inevitable battery chicken factory and processing plants, massive corn fields and CAFO’s – or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations – where thousands of cattle are farmed together, literally standing in their own shit all day, before being slaughtered.

NB this is very different to how food is marketed to Americans – It is marketed in a very misleading way with images of small scale farmers out in the open air with their free range animals. (NB if you’ve never thought of the concept of ‘industrialisation’ as being applicable to food production as well as to the manufacturing of goods then this shows how good a job the food industry has done with its marketing!).

The reason given for this industrialisation/ rationalisation of the food system is the profit motive – It’s cheaper to mass produce things, which is something demanded by the handful of companies who control the entire food chain in the US and require standardised food products for mass distribution.

Costs are further kept low because the American government subsidises corm production so that it can be sold for less than the cost of producing it. Corn is the main constituent of animal feed today, so cheap corn = cheap meat.

This industrialisation of agriculture has several downsides:

  1. EXPLOITATION and ABUSE of animals – we see several images of animals being kept in atrocious conditions and dying.

  2. Exploitation of workers – battery farm owners are paid very little, and the often illegal migrant workers who pack chickens even less.

  3. The spread of diseases and health problems linked to animals being kept in appalling conditions. Includes children dying of E.coli, and the companies responsible being allowed to carry on producing.

  4. Environmental damage – when cattle and pigs are kept in mass enclosures excrement becomes a pollutant rather than a fertiliser (which would be the case if they were kept in open fields with enough room to graze. Also because corn rather than grass has become the main feed for factory ‘farmed’ animals we have a situation where corn is shipped to meat growing houses, then the meat shipped to consumers, with all the attendant petrol costs, which you wouldn’t have with local food production systems.

Scene Five – The Dollar Menu

Starts off with a low income family shopping at Mcdonald’s – they in fact buy lots of junk food over healthy fresh vegetables because the former is cheaper. The biggest predictor of obesity is income level -

The industry claims a ‘crisis of individual responsibility’ for obesity – but the problem is that we are biologically hard-wired to seek out three tastes – salt, sugar and fat, which are very rare in nature, but are everywhere in modern society thanks to the industrial food industry, so this claim is clearly disingenuous.

The father of poor family has diabetes (his pills cost something in the region of $200 month) and 1 out of 3 people born after the year 2000 in the US will develop early onset diabetes.

Scene Six – In The Grass

Featuring Joel Salatin from Polyface Farms – basically a farm where their livestock eat actual grass and they slaughter them by hand– and have much conditions than your average meet factory – the livestock also manure the fields automatically – basically a sensible, truly efficient farm.

As a contrast, we now take a trip to Smithfield Hog Processing Plant, the largest in the world in North Carolina, where over 30K hogs go through every day, where they treat their workers like their hogs – the workers are drawn from the poorest people and work in a conveyor belt system, sometimes getting covered in feces and blood and developing infections to the extent that finger nails separate from hands.

They effectively use up workers – few of the local population work at the plant, workers are now bused in from 100 miles away, and they also employ illegal immigrants from Mexico (ie people desperate for the money) – who have come to America because of NAFTA which led to cheap US corn flooding into Mexico, putting 1.5 million Mexican corn farmers out of business, who now work illegally for giant meat multinationals under appalling conditions. US meat companies actually actively recruited these workers from Mexico, with adverts and buses laid on.

Of course the government response is to crack down on the illegal immigrants rather than the meat companies.

Scene Seven – Hidden Costs

You wouldn’t want to buy the cheapest car – so why do we apply the same principle to food?

In any case, once you add up the environmental, social and health costs of industrial food, it ends up being far more expensive than locally grown, ethical, organic food.

Back to Joel Salatan who says that although some people make a round trip of 500 miles to get to him, he has no desire to upscale and argues that he can’t do so without compromising the integrity of his business.

This is then contrasted to Stonyfield yoghurts, who are the third biggest yoghurt brand in the states, run on ethical principles.

Like many other ethical companies, these are now owned by a massive international corporation and deal with companies like Walmart – who are stocking more ethical products for economic reasons. The argument for this is simply the impact.

Scene Eight – From Seed to the Supermarket

Back at the turn of the century, the average farmer could feed 6-8 people, now it’s 120 people. The change to farming has been profound – I mean, who sees a farmer anymore.

We now take the inevitable trip to Monstanto Land – who developed both Round Up (a pesticide) and then the Round Up Ready Soya Bean.

In 1996 – 2% of Soya beans grown in the US for Monsanto’s

By 2008 – this had risen to 90%.

Since the 1980s its now legal to patent life, there are now prohibitions on saving seed – when the concept first came about farmers were appalled now it’s just accepted and Monsanto effectively control 90% of Soya production in the US.

Monsanto as a team of private investigators (sometimes ex-military) who visit farmers who save their own seed.

We now take a trip to a farmer who didn’t switch to Monsanto’s GM seed, but his fields are contaminated by Monsanto’s seed because of cross-contamination.

We’re also shown the case study of Monstanto suing a certain ‘seed cleaner’ (used by the 10% of farmers who aren’t GM and save their own seed) who is already in debt to the tune of $25 000 and he hasn’t even been in a court room, and friends of 50 years no longer talk to him for fear of coming under Monstano’s wrath.

The end result is that Monsanto effectively own the Soya Been and they control it from seed to the Supermarket – you have to be in bed with Monstano to be a soya farmer

Scene Nine – The Veil

Covers the revolving door between the Justice Department, the development of seed-patenting law and Monsanto’s Corporate executives – its seems that for the past 25 years the US government has been dominated by people who work for food multinationals.

This is a case of centralised power being used against workers, farmers and ultimately consumers.

This has resulted in legislation which prevents the labelling of GMO products and also criticism of the food industry.

There is now an outline of the legal protections the meat industry has – The most famous case being when Oprah said Mad Cow Disease had meant she didn’t want to eat another Burger – the industry sued her for lose of profit and the case spent 6 years in court and a million dollars in fees – sometimes the industry will sue just to send out a message even if it knows it can’t win.

Scene Ten – Shocks to the System

Basically the food system is precarious – fewer food substances, fewer companies and heavy dependence on petroleum.

The cracks are definitely showing, and every time the public get a glimpse of the truth, they tend to turn their backs on this industry.

The battle against the tobacco industry is the perfect model that illustrates the possibility of breaking monopolistic controls over a system by a few powerful corporations.


You can vote to change this system three times a day.

Buy from ethical companies who treat workers and animals humanely.

Choose foods that are organic and grown locally and in season, shop in Farmers Markets

Tell the government to enforce food safety standards….

‘You can change the world with every bit’.

See the Food Inc documentary for more information…

The Gender Pay Gap – A Brief Analysis

This chart shows what most of us would regard as a generally positive trend – the decline in the gender pay gap – which is down to 9% for full-time workers, and even lower for part-time workers.

Gender Pay Gap 1 2014

However, there’s a lot more going on than this….

For starters, there is considerable variation by age – with women in their 20s and 30s actually earning more than men in the same age categories, with  a significant pay gap then emerging between older workers.

Gender Pay Gap by Age

The ONS notes that the gender pay gap between workers 40+ is probably down to women taking time off to become primary child carers, which to my mind is pretty bleak – Given the ‘negative’ gender pay gap between younger workers, this suggests women are getting into jobs which will give them the same (or better) wages than men (reflecting their higher educational achievement) but that this is then abruptly reversed when childcare responsibilities fall on the mother rather than the father.

It also seems that women in higher paid jobs lose out more compared to men in lower paid jobs – with the gender pay gap for the highest 10% of earners being near 20%, while it’s nearer 5% for the lowest 10% of earners (so rich women are less equal to rich men than poor women are to poor men, at least if we look purely at income). Of course this will also reflects the gendered age differences in the chart above.

Employment - gender pay gap

However to complicate matters there’s not a straightforward correlation between occupational class and the gender pay gap – it’s actually the traditionally masculine jobs which have the highest gender pay gap, not the highest income ‘professional and managerial’ jobs.

 gender pay gap occupation

There’s various explanations for this larger gender pay gap in traditionally male occupations – It could simply be the later entry of women into such occupations compared to women going into the professions – thus there are fewer older women than older men, so women on average earn less compared to men because older workers earn more than younger. An alternative explanation would be that women who go into these professions are less likely to return them after taking time out to raise children, in which case the question of whether this lack of return is due to gender-barriers, or genuine free-choice would arise. Of course, it’s probably a mixture of all three of these reasons.

Finally, it might be worth exploring what’s going in in Northern Ireland that’s led to such a significant reduction in the gender pay gap….. Whether this is down to social policy or just societal changes I don’t know, drop me a line if you do!

Employment - gender pay gap 1997 to 2014


Consuming Life, Zygmunt Bauman – A Summary of Chapter 3

Chapter Three: Consumerist Culture

A brief summary of chapter three, mostly just paraphrased, and basically just my own notes, comments and links to follow!

An influential, widely read and respected fashion handbook, edited by a highly prestigious journal for the autumn–winter 2005 season, offered ‘half a dozen key looks’ ‘for the coming months’ ‘that will put you ahead of the style pack’. This promise was aptly, skilfully calculated to catch the attention: and very skilfully indeed, since in a brief, crisp sentence it managed to address all or almost all anxious concerns and urges bred by the society of consumers and born of consuming life.

In order to belong You have to metonymically identify with the pack, it is not simply enough to follow its rules/ procedures (belonging is not a given!)

The only way to guarantee security is to stay ahead of the pack!
The reference to ‘staying ahead’ is a precaution against the danger of overlooking the moment when the current emblems of ‘belonging’ go out of circulation.
Fashion items come with a use by date – however great your gain from promptly following the call, the gain won’t last forever. In the liquid modern world, slowness means social death. This chimes with pointillist time.
Thirdly you have to make a choice, but you have only a limited range of products to choose from and you have no control over the range of choices!

The major difference which sets consumerist society apart from its productivist predecessor seems to be the reversal of the values attached respectively to duration and transience – consumer society rests on the denial of the values of procrastination and deferred gratification.

The ‘consumerist syndrome’ is all about speed, excess and waste – not only do we rush to acquire things, but we rush to get rid of them too, and because there are so many choices and insecurities, it is rational to hedge your bets (buy three outfits, and only ever where two of them for example).

A consumer society cannot but be a society of excess and profligacy

There are two basic ideas about why society is necessary:

Firstly the Dukheimian/ Hobbesian idea that it is necessary to prevent war

Secondly the Levinas/ Logstrop – that it is necessary in order to make the unconditional conditional (through establishing laws).

The classic scholars worried that if society disappeared we would descend into a war of all against all or become overwhelmed with a sense of moral responsibility but this has not happened because we are taught that now we only need have responsibility for ourselves, not for others.

However, the concerns of previous sociologists assumed that there would be some sense of the social in people’s minds – there isn’t any more…the advent of consumerism has sapped the credibility of both cases – each in a different way, though for the same reason – the expanding process of the dismantling the once comprehensive system of normative regulation. Ever larger chunks of human conduct have been released from explicitly social patterning, supervision and policing, relegating an ever larger set of previously socialized responsibilities back to the responsibility of individual men and women.

As Pierre Bourdieu signalled as long as two decades ago, coercion has by and large been replaced by stimulation, the once obligatory patterns of conduct (duty) by seduction, the policing of behaviour by PR and advertising, and normative regulation by the arousal of new needs and desires.

An intensely and extensively cultivated sentiment of urgency provides individuals and institutions alike with illusionary, though nevertheless quite effective, relief in their struggles to alleviate the potentially devastating consequences of the agonies of choice endemic in the condition of consumer freedom.

Following Aubert….Permanent busyness, with one urgency following another, gives the security of a ‘full life’ or a ‘successful career’, sole proofs of self-assertion in a world from which all references to the ‘beyond’ are absent…. When people take action, they think short-term – of things to be done immediately or in the very near future . . . all too often, action is only an escape from the self, a remedy for the anguish… and the deeper one sinks into the urgency of an immediate task, the further away the anguish stays.

An additional benefit of declaring a constant state if emergency is that  it makes people easier to manage – where work is concerned asset stripping and downsizing keep people in a constant state of needing to be updating their skills sets to look for work.

In a society of consumers and in an era when ‘life politics’ is replacing the Politics that once boasted a capital ‘P’, the true ‘economic cycle’, the one that truly keeps the economy going, is the ‘buy it, enjoy it, chuck it out’ cycle.

The life of a consumer, the consuming life, is not about acquiring and possessing. It is not even about getting rid of what was acquired the day before yesterday and proudly paraded a day later. It is instead, first and foremost, about being on the move.

If the ethical principle of the producing life was the delay of gratification, then the ethical guideline of the consuming life has to be to avoid staying satisfied. For a kind of society which proclaims customer satisfaction to be its sole motive and paramount purpose, a satisfied consumer is neither motive nor purpose – but the most terrifying menace.

Not being satisfied with what one has is crucial for the society of consumers – profit depends on it – and stigma is attached to those who settle for fixed needs or those who sit still, or are happy with who they are – such people are stigmatised as ‘flawed consumers’.

Consumers should be constantly striving to be someone better, or to be someone else altogether, they should always be on the move – and afraid of boredom and stagnation; and to be a good consumer, forgetting is as important as moving on.

Despite consumerism being dressed up as freedom… what is not allowed is the freedom to not change.

Pointillist time is uniquely suited to separating us from the past and helping us forget the future – part of the experience is thus life lived as ‘serial births’ – of life as an unending string of ‘new beginnings’

Lesław Hostyn ski, an insightful analyst of the values of consumer culture, has listed and described a long series of stratagems deployed in the marketing of consumer goods in order to discourage the young (and ever younger) adepts of consumerism from developing a long-term attachment to anything they buy and enjoy.

One such strategy is the replace the old barbie doll scheme through which Mattel promised young consumers they would sell them the next Barbie at a discount if they brought their currently used specimen back to the shop once it was ‘used up’…. Exchanging one Barbie doll for a ‘new and improved’ one leads to a life of liaisons and partnerships shaped and lived after a pattern of rent-purchase.

As Pascal Lardellier suggests, the ‘senti- mental logic’ tends to become ever more saliently consumerist: it is aimed at the reduction of all sorts of risks, the categorization of the items searched for, an effort to define precisely the features of the sought-after partner that can be deemed adequate to the aspirations of the searcher. The underlying conviction is that it is possible to compose the object of love from a number of clearly specified and measurable physical and social qualities and character traits.

Following Erikson…. pointillism  may well be the most salient feature of our times – the desire to forget the past, not be constrained by it, and experience everything in a lifetime – in a carpe diem way, but of course there is not enough time to experience everything and hence…we live in a tyrannical situation.
The individual consequences of extreme hurriedness are overwhelming: both the past and the future as mental categories are threatened by the tyranny of the moment . . . Even the ‘here and now’ is threatened since the next moment comes so quickly that it becomes difficult to live in the present.

A further consequence, examined ny Elzbieta Tarkowska, a prominent chronosociologist, has developed the concept of ‘synchronic humans’, who ‘live solely in the present’ and who ‘pay no attention to past experience or future consequences of their actions’, they live in a presentist culture – a culture which breeds humans who lack commitment to each other.

(As outlined in ‘Liquid Love’) Human bonds nowadays tend to be viewed – with a mixture of rejoicing and anxiety – as frail, easily falling apart and as easy to be broken as they are to tie.

Freedom from commitment is the most valued attribute of the typical relationship in consumer society, freedom to be able to eject a stale relationship is more important than committing.

Allowing another individual into your sphere of intimacy has always been anxiety inducing because others are inherently unpredictable – however modern relationships are different because the principle source of anxiety today pertaining to relationships is the fear of missing out on other relationships – the better highs one might be experiencing with new partners compared to the drudgery of committing to one person forever.

Anxieties no longer arise because of the other they arise because of the possibility of not having to be committed, which means relationships today are constantly judged against what other joys they are preventing us from experiencing (experienced automatically as a kind of opportunity cost).
The internet is the perfect medium for the intimate relationship in consumer society – because it takes little effort to forge relationships and even less to cut them off, the later being achievable at the click of a button.

Electronic (non face to face) relationships allow for a quick cutting off ‘emotional ties’ – this ability to cut off ties quickly is what people value the most – and it is this that is the perfect training for life in a market-mediated consumer society – where the disposability of things is valued more highly than their acquisition.

Numerous members of the knowledge classes (who spend a lot of time online) have suggested that the internet offers a viable alternative to the traditional institutions of democracy, which people seem to be decreasingly interested in.

However, political communication online tends to take the form of shouting about one’s virtues – stating that you are for or against something rather than doing anything about it and forming a movement for change – Political Communication online has become fetishised – It enables people to feel as if they are doing something when in fact they are not.

In reality, the internet is an unlimited space which soaks up dissent into a stagnant pool, where dissent is recycled in the knowledge economy of forgetting, recycled as soundbites, while real liquid modern politics is able to go on largely unchallenged.

Bush and Blair were still able to go to war despite significant amounts of virtual protest. The internet sets up a chasm between real politics and citizens (if you can still call them that!)

In the liquid modern society of consumers no identities are gifts at birth, none is ‘given’, let alone given once and for all and in a secure fashion. Identities are projects: tasks yet to be undertaken, diligently performed and seen through to infinitely remote completion.
Even in the case of those identities that pretend and/or are supposed to be ‘given’ and non-negotiable (such as class/ sex/ ethnicity), the obligation to undertake an individual effort to appropriate them and then struggle daily to hold on to them is presented and perceived as the principal requirement and indispensable condition of their ‘givenness’.

Identity is a sentence to  lifelong hard labour. Remember that consumers are driven by the need to ‘commoditize’ themselves – remake themselves into attractive commodities

Two things alleviate the constant stress of having to continually remake oneself… Cloakroom Communities – which are phantom communities where one subjectively feels like one belongs just by being amongst others and Fixed Term communities – where some kind of collective activity takes place but one is free to leave with no consequence.

Both types of community have two things in common – firstly, the primary means whereby you indicate your belonging is through shopping – for products which display that you are part of the group, and secondly there is the absolute right to exit without penalty. In both of these communities the idea of the integrated self is a myth.

It seems as if the only types of identity community are temporary and based on buying in and then discarding, identities are short lived and experiential – you adorn yourself with that which is necessary and invest short term into the moment – then you move on.

The problem with all of the above is that (A) you’ll wake up with the same old self after every session, only older and poorer after every such session, and (B) this means of constructing and expressing the self denies everyone else recognition – because you can always exit at the drop of a hat.

It is as if we have constructed a social world where the only means of belonging comes with an in-price (through consumption) and will only ever last for the short-term – so you have to continually put a lot of effort into getting ready to take part in these short-term (fictitious communities) (NB – He doesn’t actually give any examples of these communities!). Identities constructed online are carnival identities – to be taken up temporarily and discarded whenever one is bored with them….

The ‘community’ of internauts seeking substitute recognition does not require the chore of socializing and is thereby relatively free from risk, that notorious and widely feared bane of the offline battles for recognition. In the internet-mediated identification game, the Other is, so to speak, disarmed and detoxified. The Other is reduced by the internaut to what really counts: to the status of the instrument of one’s own self-endorsement.

All of this comes from being brought up in Pointillist Time —

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