Category Archives: Sociological Theory

Summary of Liquid Modernity Chapter Three – Time/ Space

With a few comments…

Summary of Chapter Three of Liquid Times by Zygmunt Bauman – Time/Space

In the first section Bauman provides an overview of some of the key features of contemporary urban areas.

Firstly, that modern urban areas are increasingly gated – To illustrate this he offers a description of Heritage Park, a new 500 acre gate community about to be built not far from Cape Town in South Africa, complete with high-voltage electric fencing, electronic surveillance of access roads and heavily armed guards. Within the fortifications, Heritage Park contains several amenities – from shops to salmon lakes, but the most significant feature for Bauman, is the assumption that lies behind the project – that in order to build a spirit of community, we can only do so if we exclude others.

Secondly, he illustrates that a fear of strangers is common by pointing out that increasing amounts of people think they are victims of stalkers and, although there is a long-historical trend of people looking for the source of their misery outside of themselves, this fear of stalkers is just the latest manifestation of a society-wide fear of the ‘mobile vulgus’, the inferior people who are always on the move (stalkers are not generally of the places which they stalk).

He rounds of this section by drawing on Sharon Zukin’s description of LA to provide an overview of the current evolution of urban life which can be described as the ‘institutionalization of urban fear’ the key features of which include…

  • ‘defence of the community’ translated as the hiring of armed gatekeepers to control the entry.
  • Stalker and prowler promoted to public enemy number one.
  • Paring public areas down to defensible enclaves with selective access (thus reducing freedom to move about).
  • Separation in lieu of the negotiation of life in common.
  • The criminalisation of residual difference.

This is actually a very tame section for Bauman on this particular topic. There is a much stronger commentary in ‘Liquid Times’ in which he comments on ‘Fortress cities’, talking about how, for the marginalised, cities are increasingly becoming full of places where they cannot go.

(94) When strangers meet strangers

Drawing on Richard Sennet (which he does often), Bauman points out that ‘a city is a human settlement in which strangers are likely to meet’ – the encounters are likely to be without a past or a future, and such encounters require a particular set of skills which Sennet calls civility.

Civility is not an easy skill to learn, it involves putting on a mask to shield others from having to deal with the private burdens of one’s own self, and we expect the same from others. In other words, civility is based on the mutual withdrawal of the ‘true self’ – we don’t expect to be cajoled into expressing our inner most feelings to others in public spaces, instead we put on a ‘public persona’ and expect others to do the same and this is what enables us to share space with masses of other people. This, in short is civility, which the city requires. Something else Bauman says later in the chapter (to my mind this is the important bit, obscured by his artistic efforts to define the concept) is that civility is hard-work – it involves making the effort to get on (and I assume work with) people that are not like you! In order to work effectively, the city requires civility.

Bauman doesn’t go into too much depth here about what ‘civility’ actually is btw, but crucially it clearly doesn’t involve just doing whatever you want, it involves restraint, and not just of your actions, but of your ‘true’ self-expression

BC – I’m not at all comfortable with the analytical divisions stopping with the distinction between ‘public-persona’ and ‘true (private?) self’ – I’d me much happier with a distinction between ‘public-persona’ and ‘that confluence of aggregates which people in their ignorance label their true-selves’

Bauman then argues that there are two general types public space which are removed from the above ideal-type model of civility –

The first of these categories of public-yet-not-civil spaces are public squares such as La Defense on the right bank of the Seine which are designed to be kept empty by their inhospitable architecture.

The second category is meant to serve the consumer – the most obvious example of which is the shopping mall in which the primary task to be performed is individualised consumption with a minimum of human interaction. In such spaces, encounters are kept shallow and strangers are kept out to minimise the disruption to consumptive acts

On this note, something interesting to explore further are how successfully counter-movements devoted to subvert the logic of such consumer-spaces. Reverend Billy and The Church of Stop Shopping is the most obvious example of this, and some aspects of the UK Uncut protests here in Britain might also be read in the same way.

(98) Emic places, phagic places, non-places, empty spaces

Our consumer spaces, such as shopping malls, are completely ‘other spaces’ – the temples of consumption may be in the city, but they are not of the city. The temple of consumption, like ‘Foucault’s boat’ maintains a distance from daily life, it is anchored out at sea. Temples of consumption are also purified spaces in that diversity and difference are cleansed of all threats to us, unlike the more threatening and potentially disruptive differences in daily life (such as the increasing likely threat of losing your job!), and so these unreal spaces offer us the near perfect balance between freedom and security.

I’m reminded of two things – the contrast to the relative lack of purity and increased uncertainty when shopping in markets in developing countries, and the attendant requirement to pay close attention to the dynamics (and it is more dynamic) of barter – this contrast is useful for criticising western notions of development; secondly, the fact that such purity really is lulling consumers into a very false sense of security because the ‘security’ gained through the act of shopping is so very short-lived.

In such places as shopping malls we also find a sense of belonging, in that we are all there for the same purpose, and so it is here that we find (a very limited idea of) community. The problem with this, as Sennet points out, is that any idea of community, of sameness is a fantasy… it is only achieved through ignoring differences. However, inside the temples of consumption, fantasy becomes reality and we find a sense of belonging for a few hours in a ‘community’ of shoppers. In these ‘egic’ spaces, for a short-time we can ignore differences because we are all united by the urge to shop, we all share a common purpose. The problem is that this is a shallow community that does not require empathy, understanding, bargaining or compromising.

From personal experience, he may as well be describing every sit-down cup of coffee I’ve ever had in a Cafe Nero or Costa Coffee… Such an EASY feeling of non-community. At some point I must try and work out the average cost per hour per table, I’d like to put a figure on the cost of non-community.

Bauman now turns to Claude Levi-Strauss, who suggested that just two strategies were deployed in human history whenever the need arose to cope with the otherness of others:

Anthropoemic strategies – which traditionally involves vomiting out strangers, which today takes the form of deportation and incarceration.

Anthropophagic strategies – ingesting strangers, which traditionally takes the form of cannibalism, but today takes the form of enforced assimilation.

The first strategy was aimed at the exile or annihilation of the others, the second aimed at the suspension or annihilation of their otherness.

Bauman now brings the above threads together to argue that the public square is the emic stragey, the shopping mall the egic straegy, both are a response to our having to live with strangers combined with our lack of skills with civility. Rather than learn the skills, our urban spaces are designed to either exclude others or nullify otherness.

Quick Commentary – I think Bauman might be the world master in dualistic constructions (no wonder he likes Levi-Strauss.)

Bauman rounds off this section by (much more briefly) outlining two other types of space found in cities (I think the idea is that they also prevent the development of civility, although I’m not sure what his opinion is on the later)

Non-spaces, such as airports and hotel rooms, are those which discourage settling in, and share some features of the first kind of space. These are uncolonised, free of all identity markers.

This is an eerily accurate description of my one (and never to be repeated) experience in a Travel-lodge. As if the sterility of the room wasn’t enough, the final straw was having to pay for breakfast first and then showing the receipt to collect a plate, bowl and cutlery set, although they did give us unrestricted access to the plastic cups.

Finally, there are empty spaces – Those which are unmapped, to which no meaning is ascribed. These are basically the poorer and unknown bits of the city.

(104) Don’t Talk to Strangers

The main point about civility is the ability to interact with strangers without holding their strangeness against them and without pressing them to surrender it or to renounce some or all of the traits that made them strangers in the first place.

All of the above four places are designed to strip out any of the challenges of togetherness by rendering strangers as invisible as possible and minimising interaction with them.

However, even though we have arranged our public places so we minimise the risk of having any meaningful interaction with them, they are still full of strangers. (Bauman argues that our preferred is to try and organise our lives so we do not have to interact with them at all, but for most of us this is simply not possible.)

And so, following Sennet again, we have arranged our cities into ethnic enclaves where we mix with people ‘just like us’ and we end up with little islands of people bound together by a shared sense of ‘being like these people, but not like other people’ – We have avoided the difficulties of forging relationships with and negotiating how to live with people who are different to us, and this creates a self-fulfilling prophecy – because we avoid dealing with people ‘not like us’, those people are more distant, so they appear more dangerous, and the idea of constructing an ‘ideal-society’ of shared interest in the midst of cultural difference becomes ever more fanciful. Or, to summarise all of this succinctly in the words of Sharon Zukin (again) – ‘No one knows how to talk to anyone anyone else’.

Ethnicity is the first and foremost way we retreat from the difficult realm of the heterogeneous society out there, the society which requires negotiating and effort to get along in. In ethnic groupings, we don’t need to talk to people, we just feel the same, our sameness is heteronomous, it is given, our right. Identity is about who you are, not about what you do.

Note to self – or question to self – how does this square with the Buddhist notion of transcending the self through ‘non-doing’ and non-identification. What is the difference between ‘doingness’ in Buddhism (ethics) and doingness in Bauman? Also, is Bauman saying that part of being ethical (being responsible) is ‘doing’ in the sense of making the effort to forge meaningful bonds with people who are not like us (in which case this could be a very noble, ideal reading of Habermas’ communicative utopia)… More to come on this…

Bauman sees such a carving out of ethnic niches as a rational response to a legitimately perceived crisis of public life, where the public realm (this is from the last chapter, remember?!) has been narrowed down to private confessions. Politicians in fact give the message that identity matters above all else, it is who you are, not what you are doing that truly matters. Once you have ‘identity’ as the central logic of existence, purging others not like me needs no further rationale.

Bauman now casts our obsession with purity and purging of strangers perceived to be dangerous as a public pathology – a pathology of public space resulting in a pathology of politics: the wilting and waning of the art of dialogue and negotiation, the substitution of the techniques of escape and elision for engagement and mutual commitment.

He finishes by saying…. ‘Do not talk to strangers has now become the strategic precept of adult normality.’ and providing the basic problem with the premise of the gated community…. George Hazeldon Heritage Park (the gated community mentioned at the beginning) would be a place where, at long last, all passers-by could talk freely to each other. They would be free to talk since they would have very little to talk about – except exchanging the routine and familiar phrases entailing no controversy, but no commitment either. The dreamt-of purity of the Heritage Park community could be gained only at the price of disengagement and broken bonds.

By way of commentary on this section – look at the picture below… from my local paper commenting on travellers using a piece of local grassland to graze their horses on. Odd how this is on my regular running route, and I’ve regularly run across this field, people, horses and all, and never felt particularly threatened by any of them.

(110) Modernity as History of Time

Today, if asked how long it will take to get from a to b, we will be asked about what method of transport, because the amount of space we can cross in a given amount of time is very much dependent on the mode of transport we use to get there. It is normal for us today to try to calculate how long tasks will take us given the technology we are using. We are normatively very time-conscious.

However, it has not always been thus. In pre-modern times, people did not think very much about time and space because such thinking was not required given the nature of their lifeworlds. If people were pressed hard to explain what they meant by space and time, they may have said that space is what you can pass in a given time, while time is what you need pass it, but they didn’t think to much about either because their conception of both was limited because their transportation and work techniques (what Bauman calls ‘wetware’) – humans muscle, oxen or horses – which made the effort and set the limits of what amount of space could be travelled in what time.

He now seems to celebrate the efforts of  Enlightenment thinkers such as Newton and Kant (who he calls the ‘valiant knights of reason’) for their efforts in setting apart time and space in human thought and practise – or as he puts it, their efforts in ‘casting time and space as two transcendentally separate and mutually independent categories of human cognition’ –  the distinction between which provides us with the ‘epistemological ground for philosophical and scientific reflection’ and the ’empirical stuff that can be kneaded into timeless truths’.

Bauman seems to be arguing here that the development of the basic conceptions of time and space have been historically useful, illustrating his modernist roots.

He then argues that it was the construction of such things as vehicles (hardware) that enabled us to travel faster and technologies more generally that enable us to do more in less time that gave rise to this widespread perception of time and space being separate fields of thought.

In Modernity, time came to be seen as something which could be manipulated and controlled, it became a factor of destruction, the dynamic partner in the time-space wedlock, and thus controlling time became crucial to controlling space – Whoever could travel faster could claim more territory. In a nice evocative phrase Bauman says that ‘modernity was born under the stars of acceleration’.

As modernity progressed, time became its central logic: rationalisation was essentially a process designed to make us more productive, to cajole us to do more in less time.

Bauman finishes off this section by saying that the main focus of what the powerful do with time (use their time for?) in modernity is to conquer space. Bauman casts the powerful as those who invade and redraw boundaries, and the faster they can do this, the better, whereas the the weak are those who must defend their territory, for them and their world, time is experienced as something which is ‘running out’.   (The very last line is my interpretation, but I’m 99% sure it’s accurate.)

I’m not sure how far Bauman takes his analysis of the differential experience of time in his later works, but one fairly obvious interpretation is that the wealthy, have time on their side, most obviously in the form of privileged access to high speed rail and air networks, the fastest broadband, and also their ability to employ people to do things for them. In contrast, middling people experience time as something that is scarce, and frequently have too much to do in the limited time available, especially where family and work need to be balanced. In addition, it is worth noting that those on the margins have ‘all the time in the world’ and are free to use this time as they see fit, according to their limited means, but if they are hooked on the synopticon, then much of that time will be spent watching the money-rich, time-rich worlds of the elite who take up such a disproportionate amount of media air-time.

I’m further reminded here of another two things – Firstly the 1960s futurologists such as Toffler who predicted a 4 hour working day once we were properly ‘teched up’ (whatever happened to that?!) and secondly I think there’s utility in developing a methodology for calculating how much of our time we give away in surplus value, most horrifyingly in the form of interest payments on our mortgages. The utility of this would lie in being able to calculate how much time we would gain if gave up these things.

NB – At some point in this section Bauman also makes the point that the conception of our place in physical space seems to have ontological significance in modernity – when he suggests that at the individual level we could replace Descartes’ well known ‘I think for I am’ with ‘I occupy space therefore I exist’ and the meaning would remain the same. This didn’t seem to flow with the rest of his argument but I quite liked the point so I thought I’d make a note of it!

(p113) From Heavy to Light Modernity

This section deals with one of Bauman’s most well-known dualisms

The term Heavy Modernity refers to the era of hardware, or bulk obsessed modernity, where size is power and volume is success. This is the era of ponderous rail engines and gigantic ocean liners. To conquer as much space as one could hold,and then guarding the boundaries was the goal.
In heavy modernity wealth and power were firmly rooted or deposited deep inside the land, empty space was seen as a threat, and heroes were made of those who penetrated the hearts of darkness.

In terms of production Modernity meant the factory, and the bigger, more routinised, more homogeneous the logic of control and the clearer the boundaries in many respects of the word,  the better.  Daniel Bell described the General Motors Willow Run plant in Michegan as one of the best examples.

Heavy modernity also involved the neutralising and co-ordination of time; in this eara, time, and what one could achieve in a given amount of time, became the measure of progress.

The relationship between labour and capital was like a marriage, until death do us part, because the factory tied both labour and capital to the ground. Neither could survive without the other which meant conflict, but a conflict born of the rootedness.

This is now changed, as evidenced by Daniel Cohen in the example of Microsoft: whoever begins a career there has not the slightest idea where they’ll end up. Today’s management is concerned with loser organisational forms, with adaptability, and as a result of thisthe idea of a ‘career’ seems out of place.

Behind this watershed change is the new irrelevance of space, masquerading as the annihilation of time. Space no more sets limits to action because of the instantaneity of communications. The instantaneity of time devalues space. Since all parts of space can be reached in an instant, no space has special value, and thus there is less reason to bear the cost of perpetual supervision of such spaces, given that they can be abandoned and revisited in an instant.

This might make sense when we are talking about software development, but in many other areas of work this just doesn’t apply. Surely we still have heavy modernity in places? The mining sector for example, and even supermarkets, which are at the centre of our nexus of consumption, are rooted physically to one place.

(p118) The Seductive Lightness of Being

In this section Bauman contrasts power in heavy modernity with power in liquid modernity.

He uses Muchel Crozier’s Bureaucratic Phenomenon to illustrate how power worked in the heavy period. Crozier pointed out that people who manage to keep their own actions unbound, norm-free and so unpredictable, while normatively regulating the actions of their protagonists rule: the freedom of the first is the main cause of the unfreedom of the second, while the undfreedom of the second is the ultimate meaning of the freedom of the first.

In Liquid modernity, while this basic relationship remains the same, it is those who come closest to the momentariness of time rule. Today Capital does not concern itself with managing labour; surveillance and drill are no longer necessary. Labour (because it either has little interest or choice in the matter, dealt with at more length in the next chapter) allows capital to travel light and engage only in short term contracts, in hopeful search of opportunity, of which there appear to be many. In Liquid Modernity, domination consists in one’s capacity to escape, to disengage, to be ‘elsewhere’ and the right to decide the speed with which all this is done, stripping the people on the dominated side of their ability to resist their moves or slow them down. The contemporary battled of domination is waged with the weapons of acceleration and procastination.

The bit below is actually at the beginning of this section in the book, but I thought it made much more sense at the end…where he deals with how we are possibly beginning to view time differently.

In the extreme case of the liquid modern, the software world, time appears as Insubstantial and instantaneous, and so Bauman argues this is also an inconsequential time, in which we demand on the spot fulfilment , but which is also characterised by immediate fading of interest. Today, given that space and time are closer together, we have only ‘moments’ – points without dimensions.

Bauman provides two qualifications to the above –

Firstly, he questions whether this way of conceiving time (time with the morphology of an aggregate of moments) is still time as we know it.

Secondly, he says that the above only describes the developmental horizon of late modernity – the ever to be pursued yet never to be reached in full ideal of its major operators. It is a tendency towards rather than a state reached.

(p123) Instant Living

Bauman starts with Sennet’s observation that Bill Gate’s is very  willing to destroy that which he had created in order to bring into being the next best thing, representing the trend for Liquid modernity to devalues the long term, (possibly because instanteity makes every moment infinite?)
Bauman next spends another couple of pages outlining how, in modern society, we valued the long-term more, and there was basically a balance between stability and change.

Today the balance has shifted towards an incredulity towards the value of stability/ immortality and there has been a culture shift towards constant revolutionising of many aspects of life.

Rational choice in this culture means to pursue instant gratification while seeking to avoid the consequences. This ushers both culture and ethics into unexplored territory. Today’s generation is living in a present that wants to forget the past and no longer seems to believe in the future…. but the memory of the past and trust in the future have been thus far the two pillars on which the cultural and moral bridges between transience and durability,  human mortality and the immortality of human accomplishments, as well as taking responsibility and living moment by moment, all rested.

C.V. building – another individualised ‘solution’ to systemic contradictions

As part of our college tutorial programme I was recently required to show my students this ‘monster guide to writing a C.V.’

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I’ve been reading way to much Bauman recently to not subject this to some Baumanesque analysis, and from this perspective, writing a C.V. appears as a strategy for ‘middling people’ to avoid becoming ‘surplus people’ (or ‘waste’ to use another of Bauman’s terms).

A summary of the Advice in the Monster C.V. video with Baumanesque commentary

1. The purpose of the CV – ‘Your CV should tell a propsective employer why you’re the ideal canditate to invest time and money in….Essentially it’s a sale’s brochure, pinpointing the unique selling points which make you stand out from the crowd’

This is a nice illustration of how individuals have to turn themselves into commodoties, and market themselves. Bauman says in Consuming Life: ‘People today are…. ‘enticed, nudged or forced to promote an attractive and desirable commodity, and so to try as hard as they can, and using the best means at their disposal, to enhance the market value of the goods they sell. And the commodity they are prompted to put on the market, promote and sell are themselves. The activity in which all of them are engaged (whether by choice, necessity, or most commonly both) is marketing. The test they need to pass in order to be admitted to the social prizes they covet demands them to recast themselves as commodities: that is, as products capable of catching the attention and attracting demand and customers’. (who in this case are the employers.)

2. The content of the C.V. – ‘Your contact details so a prospective employer can contact you immediately; a paragraph that captures the attention of your reader and entices them to find out more about you, but don’t cram this with too much information; a bullet-pointed list of your work experience and qualifications so that an employer can match your skills to those of the job specification; your ‘key skills’ such as IT packages you’ve used, and the level you’ve achieved.’

This is a supreme example of the process of Individualisation – In Liquid Modernity, Bauman defines the process of Individualisation as follows…. how one lives today becomes a biographical solution to system contradictions – risks and contradictions go on being socially produced; it is just the duty and the necessity to cope with them which are being individualised. He goes on to say that we…. ‘are now expected to find individual solutions to our problems ….. gone is the ideal of the just society. No longer are we to solve our problems collectively through Politics (with a capital P) but it is put upon us to look to ourselves.’

3. A final word of warning – ‘Spelling and typographical erroz (lol!) – any errors are your responsibility and are one of the first things employers use to weed out weaker candidates.’

The above two process go on in a culture of fear and anxiety – To quote Bauman (LM) ‘The modernising impulse means the compulsive critique of reality, and the privatisation of that impluse means compulsive self-critique, and perpetual self-disafection. It means that we look harder and harder at how I can improve myself.’ In another section of LM – ‘Individualisation consists of charging actors with the responsibility for performing that task and for the consequences (also the side effects) of their actions.’ – If we fail in this system it is because of our poor spelling

Of course what the C.V. doesn’t remind us of are the systemic contradictions that make C.V. writing a necessity for anyone wishing to play the game of climbing the career ladder…

For such a reminder, we can again turn to Bauman – who reminds us that society is still ‘obsessed with modernising, with creative destruction… but in its liquid modern phase the drive to privatisation and deregualation have lead to even more phasing out, cutting out, merging, downsizing and dismantling’…. Today Capital moves from place to place, enterprise to enterprise, quicker than ever, and this means that capital is freer than ever to pick and choose its labour force from any part of the world…. which means decreasing job security and increasing competition, which sets the context for the necessity of constructing a ‘C.V, and career-biography’ (a cviography?) – A C.V. becomes a necessity to achieve a decent job.

Furthermore, something which the video fails to mention … ‘The New Capitalism has a strong preference among employers for free-floating, unattached, flexible, ‘generalist’ and ultimately disposable employees’ – this means that that C.V. you’ve just spent the last two weeks ‘perfecting’ isn’t perfect, it’ll be out of date by this time next year and will need updating!

However, as Bauman says in ‘Liquid Modern Challenges to Education’ the C.V. and the educational history it summarises are no guarantee of a good a job:

‘Nothing has prepared them for the arrival of the hard, uninviting and inhospitable new world of downgrading of grades, devaluation of earned merits, doors shown and locked, volatility of jobs and stubbornness of joblessness, transience of prospects and durability of defeats; of a new world of stillborn projects and frustrated hopes and of chances ever more conspicuous by their absence. Today, the throngs of the seduced are turning wholesale, and almost overnight, into the crowds of the frustrated.

For the first time in living memory, the whole class of graduates faces a high probability, almost the certainty, of ad-hoc, temporary, insecure and part-time jobs, unpaid “trainee” pseudo-jobs deceitfully re-branded “practices” − all considerably below their acquired skills and eons below the level of their expectations; or of a stretch of unemployment lasting longer than it’ll take for the next class of graduates to add their names to the already uncannily long job-centres waiting lists.’

Of course a sixth form college like mine would never subject its students to this type of analysis… that would just kill aspiration. Instead of wasting time pondering this fruitless line of analysis further, students are advised to dismiss immediately any thoughts that there may be any grain of truth in such an analysis.

Instead , you are advised to go engage in voluntary work, do D of E, learn the saxophone take up gymnastics, set up a debating society, establish your own mini-enterprise (make sure it’s a good one!), learn Greek, brush up on your IT skills, read all of the major works of English Literature written between 1831 and 1869, and basically work 26 hours a day to make sure you get 4 A*s… Well go on then, get going.. it’s ALL DOWN TO YOU!

Britain – A nation of caravanners?

 

I’ve been re-reading Zygmunt Bauman’s Liquid Modernity this weekend – I thought the following ‘caravan park’ passage so fitting as an analogy for British society that it was worth reproducing…. (pages 23-4)

 

The socially disengaged?
The socially disengaged?

‘The kind of ‘hospitality to critique’ characteristic of modern society in its present form may be likened to the pattern of a caravan site. The place is open to everyone with his or own caravan and enough money to pay the rent. Guests come and go, none of them takes much interest in how the site is run, providing the customers have been allocated plots big enough to park the caravans, the electric sockets and water taps are in good order and noise the owners of the caravans parked nearby do not make too much noise.

Drivers bring to the site their own homes equipped with all the appliances they need for their stay, which at any rate they intend to be short. Each driver has his or her own itinerary and time schedule. What the drivers want from the site’s managers is not much more (but no less either) than to be left alone and not interfered with. In exchange, they promise not to challenge the managers’ authority and to pay the rent when due.

Since they pay, they also demand. They tend to be quite adamant when arguing for their rights to the promised servics but otherwise want to go their own ways and would be angry if they were not allowed to do so. On occassion, they may clamour for better service; if they are outspoken, vociferous and resolute enough they may even get it. on occassion, they may find the managers’ promises not kept, the caravanners may complain and demand their due – but it won’t occur to them to question and renegotiate the managerial philosophy of the site, much less to take over the responsibility of running the place. They may, at the utmost, make a mental note never to use the site again and not to recommend it to their friends.

When they leave, the site remains much the same as it was before their arrival, unaffected by past campers and waiting for others to come; though if some complaints go on being lodged by successive cohorts of caravanners, the services provided may be modified to prevent repetitive discontents from being voiced again in the future’

Bauman contrasts this analogy to the era in which Adorno and Horkheimer developed their critical theory, pointing out their critical engagement with society took on the model of a household – they spoke (this is my interpretation now…. ) as if they were part of a shared household and had the right to redecorate it, and to make structural alterations.

Society (by which I think he means people in general, it’s not clear) used to accomodate the old ‘producer style critiques’ of Adorno and Horkheimer,  but now people only tend to listen to ‘consumer-style critiques’ as modelled in the caravan site analogy.

The challenge facing critical theory, according to Bauman, is to convince all those caravanners out there to ‘come back home’ to society. I sent a pingback to The Caravaning Club….. that should start the ball rolling, unless they define it as harassment?

Some Thoughts on Renata Salecl’s The Paradox of Choice….

In this RSA Animate, Professor Renata Salecl explores the paralysing anxiety and dissatisfaction surrounding limitless choice


Summary

Especially since the collapse of Communism, more people have tended to associate increasing freedom of choice with positive social change, however, psychologists have found that too much choice has negative consequences

  1. It can lead to feelings of anxiety
  2. It can pacify us as we are frozen in indecisiveness

Why does choice lead to anxiety?

Firstly, Because our choices are not simply an individual action: when we make a choice we are thinking about how others will judge us on the basis of  those choices and the critieria we used to make those choices, so choice is social. To illustrate this she used an example of someone who agonises over a wine choice in a restaurant – too expensive = showing off, too cheap = skinflint and so the range of actual choices narrows to something in the middle.

Secondly, because we are always trying to make an ideal choice – Switching partners or electricity bills for example

Thirdly, choice always involves loss: when we make a choice, we lose the possibility of another.

Another process at work in a society obsessed with choice is that we look at our own lives and know that they are mundane compared to the fantastic lives of those who have made the ‘right choices’ which are presented to us in the media (mainly through celebrity culture where people get famous for just being rather than doing). But we do not state how mundane our own lives actually are, we keep quiet because we feel  a sense of shame, a sense of personal responsibility for our own failures – We think that if we fail it is our fault, our fault for making the wrong choices.

This all goes back to Capitalism cashing in on the idea that anyone can make it, anyone can become a self-made man (despite the fact that. structurally, this is impossible), and today this same idea is perpetuated through the ideology of choice, both in terms of consumption, and in every aspects of our lives (‘I should be free to choose my job/ partner/ sexuality/ etc.’).

To round off, Salecl draws on Freud to point out that Capitalism, a system that ‘progresseses’ through ever faster changes, and through making us work longer hours, and through turning us into consumers, creates subjects who at some point come to think that they are in control of their own lives… But they understand this control through ‘consumption’, and at some point they start consuming themselves – which is why there is so much Bulemia and workaholism, so much addiction, in society…

Finally, Salecl argues that the ideology of choice prevents social change.. because when we mistakenly think we are in charge of our own destinies, when things go wrong, this turns to self-criticism and strategies for making our lives better or just coping.

Brief comment –

Some nice ideas here that bring together themes from Giddens (addiction) and Bauman (individualisation, and I even get a smattering of Jamison’s postmodernism as the cultural logic of late capitalism… but TBH I don’t actually see that much that’s actually new!

Coffee really is bad for your health (and safety)

Two nice articles illustrating the madness of health and safety… both concerning coffee….

In Bournemouth, a bus driver ordered passengers off a bus after a woman spilled some coffee. One woman spilt a third of her cup of coffee while getting on the bus, and then a further ten people were told they couldn’t get on because specialist cleaners were needed to clear up the ‘dangerous liquid’. The bus was pulled to one side and a replacement vehicle ordered, leaving the ten passengers to wait in the rain.

Secondly, according to and item I found in The Week, “health and safety officials in Warwickshire have banned hot drinks at a mothers’ coffee morning. ‘Coffee and play’ sessions at the Children’s Centre in Stratford-upon-Avon have been renamed ‘baby play’ and parents now catch up over a (plastic) cup of squash or water. The council said its ‘hot drinks policy’ was to minimise the risk of scalding children. ”

These two cases together are a wonderful illustration of the far reaching effects of  ‘individualisation’ and ‘litigation culture’ working together to result in collective lunacy – Both cases involve local councils who are no doubt very aware of the potential of being sued for any ‘preventable accidents’ on their property – a situation which can only happen when the populace at large are highly individualised – feeling little sense of obligation to wider society, while feeling they have the right (in this goaded by claims lawyers) to cream as much out of society as they can when the opportunity arises.

Going a little deeper – I’d blame neoliberalism for this – a political economy that allows individuals the freedom to exploit and enrich themselves at the expense of others – this is the kind of logic that has lead to the emergence of ‘Fortress Cities’ – in which the rich defend themselves in gated communities and SUVs against the increasing numbers of urban poor.

I think its appropriate to view the above two cases as local councils adopting a ‘fortress city’ mentality – setting up rules that protect themselves against any selfish individual who might try to make money out of them by holding them responsible and suing them for those unfortunate accidents (slipping/ scalding) that are, in reality, just an unfortunate and it has to be said extremely rare part of modern life.

Although, the optimist in me sees an opportunity for collective action in this – On reflection I’m wondering if the first case isn’t part of a surreptitious ‘work to rule’ campaign on the part of a unionised bus driver, whose just had a pay freeze? – Maybe this raises the possibility of using health and safety as part of a campaign against public sector cuts….

So in the interests of health and safety I think all unionised teachers should cease doing all of the following – Any curricular activities involving physical activities, especially school trips; any teaching that involves teaching to tests, in fact we should drop all testing and examinations altogether, this causes way to much stress to our delicate children; and all marking and preparation outside of class – associated with numerous health problems such as RSI, eye strain, back pain and stress in general.

In fact, perhaps we could go further, in the interests of health and safety, maybe we should just stop doing anything, and just….. sit there, over coffee of course.

Corporate Pay Rises by 49% – Another reason to support #LSX

Research from Income Data Services showed that directors of companies on Britain’s FTSE 100 index enjoyed a 49 percent rise in total salaries last year compared to 3 percent rise for the FTSE 100 in the last business year.The total annual pay for the directors now averages 2.7 million pounds

This compares to a recent drop in annual average salaries – according the Mail, a drop of £2500 in the average in a recent 6 month period

For some reason, radio 4 gave air time to one such CEO justifying the inreases due to the fact that these companies are global in scope – and if we didn’t offer such huge salaries in the UK, the ‘talent’ at the top would go.

It’s unusual for radio 4 to give airtime to such nonsense! Nonsense according to Toybe and Walker’s book – unjust rewards – Chapter 3 of which investigates why Britain’s chief executives get paid so much money – and finds those at the top are not especially talented people – and there is no correlation between company performance and executive pay – for every Alan Sugar there are dozens of bureaucratic pen pushers who just go with the flow. Worryingly old boy’s networks restrict access to the boards of the FTSE 100 companies – how else could it be that, in the age of globalization, 85% of CEOs of the FTSE 100 companies are British?

Also, If there was true competition for these jobs the field would be much more international, and if there was genuine competition for these jobs, wages and bonuses would be driven down!

Instead CEOs get paid as much as they do because they demand it – and they base their demands on what other CEOs are demanding – and their demands for ever increasing wages get pushed through at board meetings because of recommendations by consultants who make their recommendations for wage and bonus increases by looking at other CEOs salaries.

Of course the government is on the side of the Corporations and it won’t do anything to combat inflated and unjust corporate pay levels- which yet another reason to protest, strike etc – It’s up to us to, after all, to control these Corporate leaches….

Related posts –

 Disparities between top pay packets need better explanation

Socialist review – unjust rewards

My review of ‘unjust rewards’

The government needs to welcome the hatred of the business and financial elite…

FDR said that – in 1936! Sound relevant to today? The obvious difference being that FDR is talking about his government standing up to the business and financial elite during their first term in office – we haven’t quite got there yet.

 

an extract from the speach –

“For twelve years this Nation was afflicted with hear-nothing, see-nothing, do-nothing Government. The Nation looked to Government but the Government looked away. Nine mocking years with the golden calf and three long years of the scourge! Nine crazy years at the ticker and three long years in the breadlines! Nine mad years of mirage and three long years of despair!…

(NB he’s talking here after he’d been in power for a term…) We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace‹business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering. They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me‹and I welcome their hatred.”

——

 

8 Reasons Young Britains Don’t Fight Back?

Excellent  recent post from Alternet with the above title – very useful updates on the continued relevance of what the A2 syllabus broadly calls ‘Marxist Theory’ – It basically argues that there are 8 ways in which the system socialises youth into being passive and unconcerned so there is no belief among the young that they can (even if they believe they should, which is rare) change anything… even with the increasingly obvious social injustices in the West – the most obvious being the fact that the rich are getting richer while the poor suffer.

The article has a U.S. focus – below I outline the ‘8 reasons why people don’t fight back’ andconsider the extent to which these ‘8 ways are true in modern Britain, adding in a few further pieces of evidence, drawn from a few books I’ve read and my experiences of students I’ve taught. So are there eight reasons Young Britains don’t fight back include –

One – Debt – University graduates starting out in life with thousands of pounds of debt are too concerned about losing their jobs to get involved in protest.

Impossible to tell at the moment how this will play out in the future in the UK – the government only recently introduced hefty tuition fees. I’m not convinced that debt will act as a passifying force in the future. To be honest, I’m broadly optimistic about the future of protest in the UK and its possible beneficial effects on our democracy, although, the biggest challenge is to actually translate critque into alternatives – and broader economic alternatives for everyone rather than just focussing on the student debt issue. Something I’ve yet to look into is mass debt-default/ not-paying movement as a possible strategy to bring down the elite – kind of like is occuring in Greece.

Two – Psychopathologising and medicalising non-compliance

This is where any behaviour that is critical of the system is deemed to be a sympton of psychiatric disorder. To be honest I don’t think this is happening in the UK to the extent it is in the US –  I only heard of ‘opposotional defiant disorder’ through this blog for example. What is happening though is increasing police powers have lead to people being arrested for ‘suspected’ anti-social behaviour, and the now near-ubiquitous use of kettling could turn people off protest, although there are some encouraging signs of students at the recent fees protests who witnessed kettling and have been turned against the government and very much onto protest. 

Three – Schools educating for compliance rather than democracy. Drawing on Jonathon Kozol, the author argues that ‘School teaches us that we are “moral and mature” if we politely assert our concerns, but the essence of school—its demand for compliance—teaches us not to act in a friction-causing manner.’ (This seems to a timely return to Ivan Illich’s ideas in deschooling society NB- I think blogging etc. could well be quite close to the ‘learning webs’ at least as far as humanities are concerned that Ivan suggested as part of his education-altertative)

I’m in basic agreement with this. While the the citizenship agenda widely taught in UK schools offers critically minded teachers the opportunity to teach about direct action etc, more often than not citizenship is a lame excercise in getting students to accept their client-role in UK politics.

I am also frequently dismayed at the gaps in students’ knowledge know when they start A levels at 16 – I remember last year that only about four students out of forty (this was in the A2 year!) had a basic understanding of the process of global warming – I really don’t think it should be my job to teach this stuff!

Four – No child left behind/ Race to the Top – The title here isn’t overly clear – this is a critique of ‘testing culture’ in education. The author says ‘standardized-testing tyranny that creates fear, which is antithetical to education for a democratic society. Fear forces students and teachers to constantly focus on the demands of test creators; it crushes curiosity, critical thinking, questioning authority, and challenging and resisting illegitimate authority’

This is most definately happening in the UK – a number of my colleagues (I teach 16-19) have complained of students turning up to revision lessons with a ‘revise me’ attitude. As if spending time on revision classes rather than actual teaching wasn’t bad enough, students now expect to be guided through revision step by step – . The deeper cause of this is of course an education system dominated by league tables in which teachers are encouraged to ‘teach the test’ –  Students have learnt that what matters is their exam performance (their relative exam performance even!) rather than the subject matter itself.

I’d also say that schools are increasingly undermining students’ ability to think critically by pandering to short attention spans and pushing what I call ‘edutainment’ (See Frank Furedi’s Wasted) – teaching through popular game activities – which further reinforces the passive-consumer identity –  although I might er be guilty of this myself!

FiveShaming Young People Who Take EducationBut Not Their SchoolingSeriously. This is where the government equates just being at school and completing school with a minimum standard of qualifications as an indicator that you are a ‘valued member of society’ who is ‘heading for success’ – the other side of this equation is to damn and even criminalise those people who are not in school or who do not finish school.

In the UK the gradual expansion of the ‘education life-cycle’ – children now start younger and within three years will have to stay in some kind of education or training until 18 – suggests a similar trend towards the state pushing the value of education, as does the state’s right to imprison parents of truanting children.

AS to demonising those who fail – the term NEETS – 16-24 year olds Not in Education, Employment or Training has also appeared in the last decade – the term being pretty much synomous with the roughly million strong young underlcass who have failed everything in school. These are seen as such a threat to society that government task forces have been commissioned to figure out what to do with them. (On this note there is a book I’m looking forward to reading that covers the demonisation of the working class more generally – ) 

Six – The Normalisation of Surveillance – Once again – yes yes yes – one of the most obvious trends in the UK – the most surveilled society on earth – just in college we have the crystal registration system, then a seperate attendance monitoring system, 4 interim reports, and parents evenings. These processes are all found in primary and secondary schools as well of course, all required for effective monitoring of progress. There is also a system in place which alerts authorities to ‘potential problem students’ before they start school so that they can be put into special measures when they start.

This excellent podcast looks at what students think of surveillance – it includes some pretty grim material of the inreasing use of cameras in toilets.

Seven – Television – well at least we don’t have Fox News! Not that it would matter because students aren’t interested in news. Here the author notes the pacifying effects of TV on students – well intuitively I agree that TV has a negative effect, very difficult to prove this of course, this reminds me of some nice research from 2006 – apparantly 1 in 6 young people think they have a realistic chance of becoming famous like someone off Big Brother – suggesting TV does matter.

I’m also convinced that, and Darren Brown had better watch out, that I can pick which students’ parents read the Daily Mail Comic after a month of listing to their views.

Finally, it is worrying how much students love watching videos in class – OK there are a lot of good documentaries for Sociology thanks mainly to C4, the Beeb and especially indepednents, but sometimes I think I could stick on any old nonsense and the students’s be happy. Getting them to disuss even the most basic points from a 20 minute vid is, however, much more difficult.

Eight – Fundamentalist Consumerism – the arguement here is that consumer culture undermines the ability of people to form solidaristic movements

Are students affected by consumerism? Well many of them are – interested in Fashion and expressing their identities through the stuff that they buy – but a number are also more than just consumers – I’m not so pessimistic about this – perhaps things are genuninly worse in the US?

Overall I’d say similar trends are occuring in the UK, but I’m not convinced that UK youth are as passive and consumerist as Americans – I think there’s hope for the future – especially when our elites are making such arses of themselves and such a bloody mess of our society.

Is Nicola Roberts the ultimate Female Eunuch?

Nicola Roberts - naturally skinny?
Nicola Roberts - naturally skinny?

Even though she’s a lesbian? Well look, actually I don’t know if she’s a lesbian or bisexual or what and frankly I don’t care – whatever – and I mean ‘whatever’ – her sexuality is – she is obviously obsessed with her looks and judging by the photos below it appears that she actually wants wants to be a seen as a mannequin, and so her sexuality, whatever way she swings, is obviously very tightly woven into her body image – hence why I think we can call her a female eunuch… It’s all about the display and apparently not much else.

If you listen to the lyrics of her latest song ‘beat of my drum’ – which seems to be about how she’s going to tempt girls away from men – there is no content whatsoever, and I mean none at al,l other than ‘I’m sexy, I’ll have you eventually’ -the chorus…

girl imma make you march to the beat of my drum
want to put it on ya baby you’ll be in love
if you got a man i’ll make you forget him
playin hard to get , i aint even gon sweat it
girl make you march to the beat of my drum
i will have your heart the second we touch .
if you got a man ill make you forget him
right here on the floor, imma tell you how to march to the beat of my drum’

Nicola Roberts - no just kidding I found this mannequin in a local skip
Nicola Roberts - no just kidding I found this mannequin in a local skip

Nicola Roberts – if you want to be seen as a mannequin, congratulations, you’ve won me over – you are truly, madly, deeply vacuous beyond compare.