Category Archives: Book reviews, summaries and excerpts

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

A summary of one thread within this excellent book….

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

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

The Nature and Extent of Global Educational Corporatism

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

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

The Corporate takeover of New York City’s Schools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The WEF report makes several other recommendations:

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

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

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

Potential Problems with Increasing Educational Corporatism

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

DFES (2013): Digital Technology in Schools. accessed 16/01/2104, updated 18 October 2013. Archived at

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

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



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.

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…

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 —

Daniel Miller’s Stuff – A Summary

Stuff Daniel MillerA summary of Stuff by the anthropologist Daniel Miller

The premise of this book is that things make people as much as people make things. Following Bordieu, Miller argues that individuals learn to become members of society, not through formal education, but because they are inculcated into the general habits and dispositions of that society through the way they interact in their everyday practices, which is already pre-structured in the objects they find around them.

For example, in modern society, we grow up to think of cars as being a normal part of life not just because of the fact of cars themselves, because so much of our environment is shaped around cars (the layout of cities and houses for example), and thus few of us ever seriously question the place of the car in our society.

Miller is also at paints to point out that it is not just in more materialist cultures where stuff is important in framing people’s life experiences – things are just as important in those cultures which have many fewer material items – even in Aboriginal cultures stuff is intricately bound up with the the processes of human communication and the construction of self and society. (He is an Anthropologist after all!)

For Miller, the primary process in society is social interaction, or communication – and things are part of this process, not separate from it (things don’t precede and shape culture like crude Marxism suggests and things are not just made to perform functions that have been predetermined by previous generations) – hence the concept of ‘material culture’, things are intimately bound up with the processes of identity construction and boundary maintenance, in all cultures.

Following Hegel and to a lesser extent Marx, material culture develops (I think for Miller ‘evolve would be the wrong word) through a dialectical process that is contradictory, paradoxical ambiguous and full of doubt. The agentic process of ‘doing material culture’ is a means whereby some people empower themselves, but the process of making and using things can disempower others, and things themselves become objectified and (almost?) take on an agency of their own, developing a kind of power over us. In this later aspect of his theory of material culture Miller draws on Gofmann to argue that the real power of things lie in their ability to frame our view of the world – certain objects come to have power over us because we are so used to them – something which Miller refers to as the ‘humility of things’

So what you see in any material culture (which is all culture) is people using stuff to facilitate communication, and as a result some people become empowered, but at the same time, this stuff becomes objectified and constrains people in unanticipated ways – leading to a range of responses (people always have agency).

Miller gives the classic example of the Kula Ring (a classic example in anthropology which I won’t repeat here) -his point is that the goods in this trading ring don’t have to be traded, they are traded as a means to facilitate social communication – and some people get wealthy through participating – however, the fact that the trading rings exists means that anyone who doesn’t participate (and some people choose not to) risks being branded a witch.

Elsewhere he analyses the ‘normal’ clothing strategies in London as a blasé response to a material culture in which there is too much choice – London is one of the shopping capitals of the world for fashion, and yet look around the streets and so many people choose very similar looking clothes – (blues, blacks and greys!). Millers theory seems to be that fashion is used by some people to empower themselves (women in particular, although personally I don’t buy this, excuse the pun) – but the majority of us fashion appears as bewildering and so we revert to choosing not to choose by wearing very similar clothes to everyone else.

Elsewhere he focuses on housing – In modernist council housing, which was very much imposed on the poor, people feel a sense of alienation because it was built for them and has since become associated with a sense of drugs and crime – however, people try to undo this sense of alienation by decorating them – but mainly couples – because of a combination of woman providing the aesthetics and men providing the DIY – where singles live together, hardly any changes have been made.

He also says that he feels inferior to his own early 1900s house – because it is a period property which he feels he can never decorate appropriately – objects have agency in some way, power over the individual. Simply having a nice house doesn’t lead you to a utopic state he says.

In Conclusion – what I like about the book…

  1. Well, if you want depth you can’t really fault anthropological methods – the on the ground research, using Pobs and interviews over several months in each case does reveal the complex ways people use material objects in a variety of ways. These methods are useful in understanding how people use stuff!

  2. I also buy the whole material culture existing everywhere argument too – I think he’s correct to remind us that less material cultures are still material

  3. And, yes he’s right in that stuff can empower us – it is employed socially – part of the fabric of social life, and yes it does create opportunities for some and constrain others.

In conclusion – what I don’t like about the book…

I guess I’m uncomfortable about the fact that all of the above is where it stops – the point is to elucidate on a theory of material culture rooted in in-depth observations – there’s no real critical analysis – despite the fact Miller says he’s left-leaning at one point.

I’m especially uncomfortable with the chapter on housing – where he seems to be suggesting that couples in council housing have more material freedom in relation to their house than he does in his period property, and I don’t buy the idea that shopping is a means for people who are traditionally marginalised to empower themselves.

I think the whole study needs relating more to the amount of money people have – shopping for sure, is probably liberating for the wealthy, but is unlikely to be so for people who cannot afford to shop.

Also, I think we need more of an objective position on what liberation viz stuff actually means – if you can empower yourself with less stuff – such as a monk who has expert knowledge and perceived rights to access and interpret and manipulate scarce religious symbols, I think it’s fair to say you’re a lot more liberated than an uneducated 40 year old house wife who needs to spend £1500 a month on clothes to feel empowered, and is about to regret that pre-nup she signed because her high-income earning husband’s on the verge of upgrading to a younger model.

Is any one who thinks this  woman is liberated an idiot?
Is any one who thinks this woman is liberated an idiot?

Bauman’s Consuming Life Summary – Chapter Two – The Society of Consumers

Bauman’s Consuming Life A Summary – Chapter 2 – The Society of Consumers

Summary of chapter One 

A fairly lengthy, paraphrased summary with a few comments in italics
In consumer culture people behave ‘unreflexively’ – without thinking about what they consider to be their life purpose and what they believe to be the right means of reaching it, without thinking about about what prompts them into action or escape, or about what they desire, what they fear and at what point fears and desires balance each other out

Nb – In defining consumers as unreflexive – that is, anyone who limits their conscious reflection to questions of what to consume- rather than focusing on the ‘deeper’ questions of life – Bauman seems to deny that such people have any sense of agency – they are not fully human. 

The society of consumers stands for a set of existential conditions under which the probability is high that most people will embrace the consumerist rather than any other culture, and obey its rules.

The ‘society of consumers’ is a kind of society which ‘interpellates’ its members primarily in their capacity as consumers. While doing that, ‘society’ expects to be heard, listened to and obeyed; it evaluates – rewards and penalizes – its members depending on the promptness and propriety of their response to the interpellation.

As a result, one’s ability to engage in consumerist performance has become the paramount stratifying factor and the principal criterion of inclusion in or exclusion from society, as well as guiding the distribution of social esteem and stigma, and shares in public attention.

(Following Frank Trentmann) This is historically unusual – for most of the modern period consumption was little discussed and when it was it was typically associated with eccentricity and wastefulness.

For the better part of modern history (that is, throughout the era of massive industrial plants and massive conscript armies), society ‘interpellated’ most of the male half of its members as primarily producers and soldiers, and almost all of the other (female) half as first and foremost their by-appointment purveyors of services.

It was the body of the would-be worker or soldier that counted most; their spirit, on the other hand, was to be silenced, numbed and thereby ‘deactivated’.

The society of consumers, on the other hand, focuses its training and coercing pressures on the management of the spirit – leaving the manage- meant of bodies to individually undertaken DIY labour, individually supervised and coordinated by spiritually trained and coerced individuals.

This coercive pressure is exerted on members of the society of consumers from their early childhood.. Following Daniel Thomas Cooke…

‘the battles waged over and around children’s consumer culture are no less than battles over the nature of the person and the scope of personhood in the context of the ever-expanding reach of commerce.’

The society of consumers does not recognize differences of age or gender (however counter-factually) and will not make allowances for either; nor does it (blatantly counter-factually) recognize class distinctions. From the geographic centres of the worldwide network of information highways to its furthest, however impoverished peripheries…

‘the poor are forced into a situation in which they either have to spend what little money or resources they have on senseless consumer objects rather than basic necessities in order to deflect total social humiliation or face the prospect of being teased and laughed at.’ (In Ekstrom et al, Elusive Consumption, 2004.)

However it is down to the individual to negotiate the staggering amount of info in order to make the right consumer decisions to avoid derision.
Since ‘social fitness’ is the responsibility of the individual, if people fail to make the right choices they are blamed (and thus constructed as ‘flawed consumers’) – we are taught to believe that there is nothing wrong with society, because there is plenty of choice, and so if people fail to succeed they are not deserving of care.

At least the above is the case if we are unreflexive viz our consumption habits.

Consumption is an investment in everything that matters for individual ‘social value’ and self-esteem, thus the crucial, perhaps the decisive purpose of consumption in the society of consumers is not the satisfaction of needs, desires and wants, but the commoditization or recommoditization of the consumer: raising the status of consumers themselves to that of sellable commodities.

If you wish to take part in society, you have to consume in this way – turning yourself into a commodity – this is a precondition which is non negotiable thus market relations are fundamental to the society of consumers, as is the calculating mindset which goes along with it.

I’m left wondering what Bauman would make of attempts to set up alternative, low impact cultures assisted by alternative financial avenues such as Kick Starter?

Becoming and remaining a sellable commodity is the most potent motive of consumer concerns, even if it is usually latent and seldom conscious, let alone explicitly declared.
The society of consumers, with its compulsive and willing individualization places a magnified emphasis on the on the subject as the one who has the duty to make oneself something, and on the individual as being the one who is responsible if one fails.
NB – I guess to simplify one of Bauman’s basic points you could just say that we believe that we are responsible for own successes and failures in life only because that is what society tells us, and this isn’t necessarily true.
In the society of producers, society took on the role of a ‘collective Prometheus’ – it took responsibility for the product in exchange for the individual conforming to social norms. If you just ‘became’ what society asked of you’ that was enough – your Promethean challenge, and sense of of Promethean pride could thus be earned if you fulfilled your social role.
However, in the age of individualisation, now that society ‘doesn’t exist’ (TINA) just becoming what society wants is no longer an option – ( in the consumer society the point, the task, is to continually become something else)
Being born, having become something are now sources of ‘Promethean shame’ and the task of the individual is to perfect themselves – to become more than they are, and there is never an end to this process… life is a never ending struggle of becoming.
Because of this, being a member of the society of consumers is a daunting task, a never-ending and uphill struggle. The fear of failing to conform has been elbowed out by a fear of inadequacy, and consumer markets are eager to capitalize on that fear, and companies turning out consumer goods vie for the status of the most reliable guide and helper in their clients’ unending effort to rise to the challenge. They supply ‘the tools’, the instruments required by the individually performed job of ‘self-fabrication’.
However, following Gunder Anders, it is absurd to think of those tools as enabling an individual choice of purpose. These instruments are the crystallization of irresistible ‘necessity’ – which individuals must learn to obey, in order to be free.
Cites teen fashion as an example.
I’d be interested in looking at the social construction of retirement in this… to what extent is retirement constructed as a time when we are expected to ‘consume hard’? Does all of this end then?

There are two versions of human history – That of life as a progression towards greater rationality and freedom, of which consumer choice is the latest ‘highest’ expression, the other is of the increasing colonisation of human life by commodity markets – the society of consumers is its zenith because humans are now obliged to interact with eachother at the same level as the products they consume (as explained above) – they purchase products in order to maximise their own market-value and they have no choice but to do so.
NB – I get the impression that Bauman sides with the later version.
Markets today are sovereign, you only get political rights if you are able to consume – people such as the underclass and illegal immigrants (flawed consumers) are seen as having no rights in the popular imagination, and there is no authority they can appeal to because the state’s ability to draw the line between the included and the excluded has been eroded by the market – it now makes these decisions, and it has no tangible body that can be appealed to if people feel unfairly excluded.
In recent decades the state has shifted many of its functions sideways to the market such that the state has now become the arbiter of market demands, evidence in the centrality of economic measurements as the state’s primary indicators of its ‘success’.

The secret of every durable (successfully self-reproducing) social system is the recasting of its ‘functional prerequisits’ into behavioural motives of actors – the secret is making individuals wish to do what is needed for the system to reproduce itself.
In the modern period, this required an emphasis on deferred gratification – people committing to the idea of putting off pleasure now in order to reap the rewards in the future.
We also see in the general theories of the time – such as Freud’s reality principle and in Bentham’s panopticon – that the good society could only be constructed with the individual’s subordination to the society.
(However, such theories were themselves a product of the crisis of community – the very fact that people were thinking about community demonstrates that community is no longer ‘taken for granted’ as it was in traditional times, and because of this, it was already losing its power as a coercive force).
Much of the modern period thus involved nation states vying to restrict freedom of choice through panopticon style discipline and punish rule, but this was always cumbersome.

In the post-modern era (mistakenly conceived as a decivilising process) the civilising process takes the form of the ‘obligation to choose’ but this breeds little resistance because it is represented and conceived as freedom of choice.
People now are obliged to seek happiness and pleasure and this is lived through as an exercise of ‘freedom’ and self-assertion. Today it is as if the (individualised) pleasure principle has taken over the reality principle as the primary regulating force in society. (Reminds me of happiness is mandatory.)
When society confronts us (which it rarely does as a totality, these days) it does so in ways which make it easy for us to act as solitary consumers… (rather than in large collectivities). Bauman now gives several examples of this:

  • As mentioned earlier on in the chapter, this starts with childhood
  • At university, the new future-elite of consumers are socialised into the norm of living on credit (phase one)
  • At home we have TV dinners and fast food, which protect solitary consumers.
  • The primary acts of consumption are done in swarms – groups who come together for limited times with loose connections.
  • Elsewhere Bauman has also written about the nature of shopping malls, privatised public spaces of individualised consumption.
  • Even our post-modern ‘collective’ carnivalesque acts reinforce individualism – we come together in fringe moments to get our ‘collective’ fix and then go back to being individuals again .. ..


The chapter finishes with something about tax cuts to the rich and shifting taxation away from income to expenditure which doesn’t make much sense in the context of the chapter.

Zygmunt Bauman’s Consuming Life (2007) – A Summary of Chapter One

A summary of Zygmunt Bauman’s Consuming Life (2007) – Chapter One

I use paraphrasing heavily below, so a lot of this is Bauman’s own words, just cut down a lot and also simplified in places. Love the guy’s literary style but it doesn’t always result in accessibility. The chapter is broken up into about nine sub sections, but I’ve knitted a few of the ideas together below to condense these into

Chapter One – Consumerism versus Consumption

1.1 – The basic characteristics of consumer society

The chapter only briefly deals with consumption – which is part of all societies – at the beginning, the remaining 90% deals with consumerism, or the unique features of the consumer society, which emerges with the decline of the society of producers some years after WW2.

Consumerism describes that society in which wanting has become the principal propelling and operating force which coordinates systemic reproduction, social integration, social stratification and the formation of identity and life-policies.

In consumer society wanting, desiring and longing needs to be, just as labour capacity was in the producers’ society, detached (‘alienated’) from individuals and recycled/reified into an extraneous force.

In the previous society of producers desires were always, after deferred gratification, eventually meant to be satisfied.Moreover, the function of objects of consumption, once acquired, was to provided a sense of durability and long-term security. In contrast, the consumer society associates happiness with an ever rising volume and intensity of desires, which imply in turn prompt use and speedy replacement of the objects intended and hoped to gratify them.

Consumer society has the following characteristics (my numbering)

  1. An instability of desires and insatiability of needs – Consumer society thrives when we want more and when those wants have a high turnover rate – i.e when the goods we buy provide satisfaction for a limited time period only.

  2. The desire for Immediate gratification – which has given rise to a ‘Nowist culture’ – or a curiously hurried life. However, because today’s products only have a limited life span and a stigma once its date is reached the motive to hurry is only partly the urge to acquire and collect, the most pressing need is to discard and replace.

  3. Pointillist time – Time is experienced as ‘broken up, or even pulverised, into a multitude of ‘eternal instants’ episodes which are not connected to each other. Bauman suggests that these episodes are like ‘Big bangs’ – they are pregnant with possibilities of magnficent things happening, however these moments rarely live up to their promise and it is in fact the excess of promises which counters each promise not lived up to.

1.2 How the consumer society effects our worldview/ inner pysche/ general way of seeing the world.

In the consumerist economy product innovations grow at an exponential rate and there is increasing competition for attention. This results in a flood of information which we cannot cope with which manifests itself in vertical stacking (think multiple windows on the go at the same time).

Images of ‘linear time’ and ‘progress’ are among the most prominent victims of the information flood: when growing amounts of information are distributed at growing speed, it becomes increasingly difficult to create narratives, orders, developmental sequences. The fragments threaten to become hegemonic.

This in turn has consequences for the ways we relate to knowledge, work and lifestyle in a wide sense.

Firstly this results in a blase attitude toward knowledge – the essence of which is the blunting of discrimination

Secondly it results in melancholy – To be ‘melancholic’ is ‘to sense the infinity of connection, but be hooked up to nothing’ – a disturbance resulting from the fatal encounter between the obligation and compulsion to choose and the inability to choose. (This seems like an evolution of the concept of anomie)

The crucial skill in information society consists in protecting oneself against the 99.99 per cent of the information offered that one does not want.

1.3 The consumer society promises but fundamentally fails to make us happy

The society of consumers stands and falls by the happiness of its members

It is, in fact, the only society in human history to promise happiness in earthly life, and happiness here and now and in every successive now – also the only society which refrains from legitimizing unhappiness.

However, judged by its own standards it is woefully unsuccessful at increasing happiness.

Bauman now draws on research carried out by Richard Layard to remind us that once average income rises above approximately $20K per head then there is no evidence whatsoever that further growth in the volume of consumption results in a greater number of people reporting that they ‘feel happy’.

In fact a consumption-oriented economy actively promotes disaffection, saps confidence and deepens the sentiment of insecurity, becoming itself a source of the ambient fear it promises to cure or disperse.

While consumer society rests its case on the promise to gratify human desires, the promise of satisfaction remains seductive only as long as the desire stays ungratified. Clever!

A low threshold for dreams, easy access to sufficient goods to reach that threshold, and a belief in objective limits to ‘genuine’ needs and ‘realistic’ desires: these are the most fearsome adversaries of the consumer-oriented economy.

Consumer society thrives as long as it manages to render the non-satisfaction of its members (and so, in its own terms, their unhappiness) perpetual.

Necessary strategies to maintain this involve hyping a product to the hilt and then soon after denigrating it and creating goods and services such that they require further purchases to be made – so that consumption becomes a compulsion, an addiction and shoppers are encouraged to find solutions to their problems only in the shopping malls.

The realm of hypocrisy stretching between popular beliefs and the realities of consumers’ lives is a necessary condition of a properly functioning society of consumers.

In addition to being an economics of excess and waste, consumerism is also an economics of deception.

1.4 Individualised life-strategies are the principle means whereby consumer society neutralises dissent.

The society of consumers has developed, to an unprecedented degree, the capacity to absorb all and any dissent. It does this through a process which Thomas Mathiesen has recently described as ‘silent silencing’

In other words all ideas threatening to the existing order are integrated into it.

The principle means whereby this is done is through individualisation – whereby individual life strategies become the route to Utopia to only be enjoyed by the individual – changing lifestyle, not society.

To follow the metaphor used by schoolboy Karl Marx, those visions are attracted like moths to the lights of domestic lamps rather than to the glare of the universal sun now hidden beyond the horizon.

The possibility of populating the world with more caring people and inducing people to care more does not figure in the panoramas painted in the consumerist utopia.

The privatized utopias of the cowboys and cowgirls of the consumerist era show instead vastly expanded ‘free space’ (free for myself, of course); a kind of empty space of which the liquid modern consumer, bent on solo performances and only on solo performances, always needs more and never has enough.

Lifestyle strategies smack of adiaphorisation – removing sense of moral responsibility for others.

Related Posts 

Consuming Life – A Summary of Chapter 2

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

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

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

Retirement Cover5

Also available on Amazon, but for $3.10 because I’d get a much lower cut if I charged less!

Summary of Zygmunt Bauman’s Individualised Society (Part Three: The Way We Act)

Zygmunt Bauman – The Individualised Society – Part Three: The Way We Act

Thirteen – Does Love Need Reason?

Love and Reason will forever fail to communicate… for three reasons.

Reason is about use, love is about value. The world as seen by love is a collection of values, as seen by reason, a collection of useful objects – Value is the quality of a thing, usefuleness an attribute of the things’ user. The usefuleness of an object stems from a sense of lack in the user – to use something to fulfil that lack. Usefuleness, and the use of reason to get what we want, is about using up the other, it is about gratifying ourselves. Love on the other hand is about valuing the other for the sake of the other.

Use is about annihilating the other for the sake of the self, love is about bolstering the other in one’s otherness and protecting them. Love means self-denial.

Secondly, reason has boundaries – it is about closing off the realm of possibilities, limiting, while love is boundless – it is forever open ended and has no limits.

Reason cuts infinity to the level of the finite self, love extends the self to the infinite.

Finally, reason prompts loyalty to the self while love prompts loyalty to the other. Reason tells us how to manipulate the other to fit around my desires, love encourages us to bend to the will of the other.

There is more to love than this – it is like signing a blank cheque – giving oneself to the forever changing uncertainty of what the other might be like in the future.

For Levinas ethics precedes ontology – ethics is better than what is – the starting point is that I put them first – my neighbour – this is the starting point, and from this point forwards there are no rules. Talking, engaging in dialogue, figuring out what is right and what should be the ‘is’ moves on from here. But care for the other should be the starting point!

Also following Logstrup – Together these propose ‘responsibility for the weakness of the other’ as the fundamental human condition – always making the effort to put the other first, and figuring out what this means is the basis of human social life – not just obeying commands and deferring to authority. This means a state of uncertainty.

To love means to be in a state of perpetual uncertainty, but people still need to get by – and reason is necessary for this – And to make things easier we often defer to authorities. However, authorities themselves use reason in the wrong way – take their attitude to the welfare state for example– they put reason first – the starting point is that we cannot afford it and so how can we reduce it – it should be the other way around – how can change society so that we can afford it?

Authorities use reason without love. It is up to us to love first (he doesn’t say this here, but he does elswhere)

Bauman seems to be casting an individual or a society which premisis reason as a fundamentally selfish person or society – I’m no philopsher, but I think he’s talking more about cost-benefit analysis than ‘pure reason’ – or instrumental rationality – Whatever, I don’t want to get lost in semantics – I get his point – the society or person which puts the question of ‘how do I use this to ahcieve my goals’ first is selfish – because the logic of use will always end up using the other – bending them to my will.

The logic of what Bauman calls love is the opposite – putting the well-being of the other first. (NB Bauman does mention that there is a danger of becoming a patsy to the other – and all of the above is assuming you don’t yourself end up being manipulated by them….which is something we need to be on our toes about.)

I guess the principle of the welfare state is the first ever in world history where we’ve had this on such a large level. It is interesting to think how little we focus on how many lives have been saved or turned around by the welfare state, while instead we focus on the very few ‘welfare scroungers’. My suspicion is that the reality of welfare is the former, not the later, something I need to look into for sure!

I also like the question rephrasing in this – everyone should get a minimum level of care – how do we change society to make sure this happens? This is what labour should be focusing on in the election, fat chance of course!

Chapter Fourteen – Private Morality, Immoral World

For Levinas, his starting point is the moral party of two – where we are both for the other. This is morality. This is the primal scene in which both are unconditionally responsible for the other. However, when a third party comes into being (society), this necessary and sufficient condition of the moral party does not suffice any more.

Here in society I am confronted with many others and their companions – and the concepts of difference, number, knowledge, time, space, truth and falsity – my intuitive reality is not enough to cope with this anymore. In order to deal with this third other, I must leave my primal realm, and here I encounter social order and justice.

In society, with the third party, we lose our primal connection with the other as a face – and we become individuals who have roles and are governed by laws. To interact with society (following Simmel) is to engage with people who wear masks, engage in fraud, and we must learn the appropriate rituals for dealing with these people. This is far, far removed from original duality.

To return to original morality, if we can, we need to get back to connection with the other with all forms of social status dropped. We need to be reduced to the level of bare humanity given to us at our birth.

Kindness and charity are the two basic human characteristics – naturally, in the moral universe of two, they overflow…brcause we recognise our common humanity. However in society, the concept of violence is introduced through making comparisons – differentiation and then the liberal state wades in to put limits on charity – and justifies these limits through reason.

The basic problem is that there is a gap between micro and macro ethics – because I cannot be limitlessly for many others – it is impossible, so the state, that vehicle which Levinas thought would translate ethics into the social realm, can never be as ethically pure as the original two-person ethical ideal.

Following Jonas, the gap between micro and macro ethics has really come to the fore in the age of globalisation – technology and capitalism have altered the world massively, and not everyone benefits, and it seems that we have a decreasing capacity to know and predict the consequences of our actions. In fact the growing knowledge of the dangers ahead goes hand in hand with our incapacity to deal with them.

Jonas suggests that ethics (normative regulation) needs to catch up with Capitalism and technology – what we need is a sort of categorical imperative mark 2.

Bauman rounds off by pointing out that ethics are under siege mainly because of Free Market Forces being freed from the control of the nation state (and repeats what he’s written elswhere) This process basically polarises.
Can intellectuals provide moral guidance?

A weird end to the section – He basically seems to argue that the current knowledge class by delcaring the end of ideology have effectively become the organic intellectuals of the post-modern era —- They provide no ethical guidance to us. However, it may be immoral to simply lurch from one crisis to the next thinking that there are no better ways to live.


In short, I agree with the end points, but not the ‘hypothetical ontology’ the end point rests on.

So in a hypothetical situation in which I am just with one other person (as a face) I cannot help but feel compassion (this is what he is talking about) for that other person, and I am naturally for him.

This sounds like it’s got something in common with the Buddhist concept of one’s true nature that ‘just is’ – Intuitive, overflowing with compassion, but in Levinas’ view this requires a dualism, an other, just one other, to bring all of this out. I’m inclined to say this is utter nonsense – It such a state of overflowing compassion exists it is self-less, and universal, beyond the self, not dependent on one (hypothetical?) other.

I think an ontological flaw (because it’s coming from a hypothetical idea generated by the intellect maybe) is that ‘my’ ability to be a moral being (basically limitless compassion) is dependent on there only being one discrete object – ONE OTHER (which, for clarity presumes that morality depends on a subject (me) and an object (ONE other) – Of course if this is the premise, then universal morality to more than one other is impossible.

There is no necessary reason why the ability to be moral requires one other in particular. I prefer the idea of morality defined around a pure-motive to do good for others which stems from self-transcendence, thus the basis of morality is not self-self it is non-self.

I am aware btw that I may be talking utter nonsense.

However, I do agree that it is much harder to be limitlessly for a range of others rather than one specific other, what I don’t agree with is the necessity of the other as the basis for morality. And the idea of the state as providing normative regulation because of the complexity of this makes sense – although obviously this is a very idealised conception of the state.

I also agree that there is a difference with dealing with ‘people stripped down’ as human beings, compared to dealing with people in society, because in society people take on roles and wear masks, this is something we do need to get over if we are to be more compassionate.

Finally, I also agree with the idea of using ethics to tame Capitalism. I also agree that to abandon ethics to relativism is to provide sustenance to the forces of Capital.

Chapter Fifteen – Democracy on Two Battle Fronts

Democracy requires an active agora, which in turn requires autonomous individuals and an autonomous society – a society in which people are free to form their own opinions and in which agreement around those opinions becomes law.

Democracy is under threat in the sense that the public body finds it more and more difficult to enact what is good and more and more people retreat from the agora.

The professional politicians no longer visit the agora, and for the citizens taking part in it seems increasingly like a waste of time and effort.

But the public space has been filled with private concerns.

Thus we have a Gordian knot that will be difficult to untie.


This is basically a repetition of what’s already been said in previous chapters.

Chapter Sixteen – Violence Old and New

Terrorism is a form of violence, but it is more than the acts themselves which attract the label – it is only those who lack power who get defined as terrorists by the powerful.

The essence of violence lies in coercing people into doing things they would not otherwise do, it lies in restricting their freedom.

The essence of all power struggles is the right to define with authority and to deny the right of others to define fields of action.

P209 – In all order building enterprises legitimacy (the right to define) is key – in other words the right to coerce, and in such enterprises, fighting (violence) means getting rid of anyone else who might contest your right to categorise….. your right to limit other peoples’ freedoms – thus the fight against violence in such a way is unwinnable.

Modernity has enlisted the fight against violence as one of its major concerns, yet it cannot document much progress – firstly because it is impossible to measure the actual amount of violence suffered by individuals and secondly because the very concept of order building rests on there being enemies to defeat.

However now that our institutional frame is crumbling, coercion is no longer working – people have more power to assert themselves, and violence is one way through which we can push boundaries… hence things like sexism.

At the level of the nation state – for those new nations, ethnic cleansing seems to be the way forwards. This, and making countries accommodate capitalism – both forms of violence.

17 – On Postmodern Uses of Sex

Sex, Eroticism and Love are linked yet separate. They could hardly exist without each other but each exists in an ongoing war for independence, and their boundaries are well-known for being contested.

Sex is simply the biological urge to reproduce – It hasn’t changed much, but eroticisms is cultural experimentation around sex – and lord knows there is enough surplus sexual energy to be inventive with.

In the past society dealt with this surplus sexual energy (the tendency towards eroticism) by either chaining it to sex for reproduction or to love – either people were encouraged to just have sex for reproduction and then any aspect of eroticism was hidden (either repressed or dealt with via porn, prostitution and affairs) OR it was linked to the romantic ideal of love.

Nowadays, however, eroticism is free floating – Why>? It isn’t just market forces manipulating it – There are two main underlying reasons.

Firstly the end of the ‘panoptic model’ of securing social order – which was necessary to turn masses of men into an army of industrial labourers.

However, today, the vast majority of people are integrated through seduction rather than policing, advertising rather than indoctrination, need creation rather than normative regulation. Most of us are trained as sensation seekers and gatherers rather than as producers and soldiers. We have a constant need for every deeper experiences, more intense than the ones before – this is the basis of a society based on seduction. It is not health but fitness which describes this society – being prepared to always be on the move!

There are three problems with the sensation gathering life-strategy in general…

Firstly, Fitness is always on the horizon, and is shot through with anxiety – you can always be fitter!

Second because fitness is solely about the Erlebniss, about sensations, it can never be intersubjectively reported or compared in any meaningful way – sensations remain entirely subjective – thus it breeds loneliness.

Finally – in fitness one is both the subject and the commander – you have to split yourself into two in order to drive yourself on – fitness requires total immersion, yet you also have to stand back and evaluate yourself – this is an impossible task for one person to accomplish.

All three of these lead to uncertainty, an unfocused free-floating anxiety.

Eroticism which ultimately focuses on the most extreme form of pleasure – organism has all of the above features – and thus eroticism is always a project – never complete, rarely fully satisfying.

Secondly sex is the material substratum of the cultural production of immortality and the supreme metaphor for the effort to transcend individual mortality and stretch human existence beyond the lifespan of individual humans. When sex is linked to reproduction or love then it reflects the efforts of humans to make themselves immortal, when it is detached from these then it loses this (?)

PM eroticism is perfect for constructing those PM identities which require Maximal impact and instant obsolescence.

Identities are now free floating, part of this is plastic sexuality – it has nothing to do with gender norms anymore. Parental control over child sexuality used to be regulatory – now we are suspicious of parents – child abuse etc. so we keep our distance. In short – all bonds of identity are being eroded.. This encourages us to rethink everything……

The problem for postmodern sexuality is that it is contradictory! Full of ambivalence!

18 – Is there life after immortality? This is a very obscure final chapter, quite an irritant to read.

Following Heidegger we know that our life means living towards death, and we know that our life is short.

Life appears to us (NB this is merely an assertion) as the only window of opportunity we have to transcend death, and culture is what we have (laughingly) built up to make our existence more permanent, less transient. (NB he’s getting all of this from Ernst Becker).

One way in which culture has convinced us of our immortality is through life after death: in the idea that the soul lives on after the body. He argues that this has not been disproved. However, following Weber, and to Nietzsche – Modern society no longer believes in God – but only because his existence cannot be proved.

In the absence of God, we build two bridges to try to deny our own mortality – individual level bridges, through a legacy of posterity and memory, but these are for the few only that stand the test time, so for the rest of us there are public bridges – two stand out – the family and the nation, both efforts to achieve ‘collective immortality’. There are others, such as football clubs, but none of them are serious competitors compared to the previous two.

However, families and nations have now ceased to be about perpetual duration.

Nations are now powerless compared to capital, and (interestingly) one thing which testifies to this is the ease with which new statehood is granted – smaller nations are easier for TNCs to deal with. Similarly with the family in the age of cohabitation and confluent love, relationships are not expected to outlive the people who make them up.

Given the crumbling of institutions which link the individual to universal values, then for this first time in history counting days and making days count is irrational. The consequences are as follows:

Firstly, the routes to individual immortality become crowded and as a result fame as a strategy is replaced with notoriety – which is results in a situation of maximal impact and immediate obsolesce.

Secondly, because even fame is now no longer a guarantee of immortality, then there is more urgency to enjoy mortal life, hence the moment becomes more precious.

Thirdly, the body, as all we have left (rather than the soul I presume) becomes the focus of our attention.

Fourthly, because the body becomes our temple, but we cannot be sure what effects this or that product has on it, we exist in a state of anxiety.
Ours is the first culture in history to not value the durable, we live to cast off, we live our life in episodes.

We have not been here before – we live in a state of continuous transgression and we do not seem to mind, but it remains to be seen what ‘being here’ and its consequences are like.

Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh (A summary)

This post is just a  summary of this excellent book in which Thich Nhat Hanh does a wonderful job of reminding us just how simple Zen is. This post summarises Part One - Breathe: You Are Alive.

peaceEditor’s introduction

Peace is every step.
The shining red sun is my heart.
Each flower smiles with me.
How green, how fresh all that grows.
How cool the wind blows.
Peace is every step.
It turns the endless path to joy.

Peace is not be sought externally, but in slowing down and enjoying each step, each breath.

Part One – Breath! You are Alive

24 brand new hours

Every new day we have the opportunity to live and spread peace. Peace is already with us, the question is whether we allow ourselves to realise this.

We are very good at preparing to live, but not very good at living. We have difficulty remembering to be present in this moment, which is the only moment there is to be alive.

This book is a wake up bell – a reminder that we can only be happy in this present moment.

The Dandelion Has My Smile

You should start the day with a smile, it is the source of all peace and happiness.

If you lose your smile, remember that the dandelion and others, all of those who support you in your efforts to be happy, are keeping it for you. If you remember this, all you need do is breath consciously for a while and your smile will return to you.

Conscious Breathing

Hanh has calligraphed the phrase ‘breath, you are alive’ onto a wall in his meditation room.

Breath unifies mind and body, doing so consciously brings us into this present moment.

Breathing and smiling are two very important things

To breath consciously just say ‘breathing in, I know I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out’.

Present Moment, Wonderful Moment

In our busy society, it is a great fortune to be able to breathe consciously. We can take a few moments to do this almost anywhere – at home, at work, commuting. This is a recommended meditation for beginners or someone with 50 years practice.

The basic practice is this – sit and say

Breathing in I calm my body
Breathing out I smile
Dwelling in the present moment,
I know this is a wonderful moment.

Or simply

Present moment
Wonderful moment.

Our appointment with life is with this present moment, if not now, then when?

Thinking Less

Most of the time we think too much, and much of it is useless, as if we had a cassette tape going on in our heads.

Conscious breathing can give us a rest from this, because the above ‘mantra’ is just a tool of concentration, not thought.

After a few minutes CB we should feel quite refreshed because we regain ourselves.

It is important to be in the present moment, because the past in gone and the future not yet here.

Nourishing Awareness in Each Moment

Being in society we often feel harassed, our sense bombarded by all sorts of things. Hanh now has it in for TV –

‘Do you ever find yourself watching a TV program? The raucous noises, the explosions, gunfire are upsetting, and yet you don’t get up and turn it off. Why do you torture yourself in this way? Watching a bad TV program, we become the TV program. We are what we feel and perceive, so why do we open our windows to sensationalist productions made for profit? We are too undemanding of ourselves,, to lonely or bored to create our own lives. By watching TV mindlessly we allow others to guide us, we need to be more careful.

Of course I am not just talking about television, all around us every day there are lures set by our fellows and ourselves – how many times a day do we become lost and scattered by them?

We must be very careful to protect our fate and our peace. It is good to withdraw every now again, close our senses to the world and renew ourselves. (However, many of us find this scary.) At first we might withdraw to nature, or the forest, to escape the chaos of modern life and to clear our senses and this will help us to re-engage with ordinary life in a more controlled manner.

However it is important not to close ourselves off altogether, because there are many miracles outside.

Sitting Anywhere

You can practice conscious breathing anywhere, even just for a few moments.

Sitting Meditation

The lotus or half lotus position is best, if not a chair, or lying down.

We sit to cultivate mindfulness, peace and non violence, not to endure pain, so it is fine to adjust yourself if pain sets in. Occasionally combine sitting with walking meditation – basically whatever feels natural.

Do not use meditation to avoid confronting your problems, they will just return if not dealt with.

Meditation should be practiced gently but steadily throughout our daily life, not wasting a single moment to see into the true nature of life, including our every day problems.

Bells of Mindfulness

Every time you hear a bell, return to yourself, breathing in and out and smiling. Say ‘Listen, listen, this wonderful sound brings me back to my true self.”

Even non-sounds, such as rays of sunlight can return us to this wonderful, present moment.

Cookie of Childhood

This section starts with Hanh relaying how he used to eat Cookies very slowly. Eating slowly and mindfully is a most important practice.

The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.

Tangerine of Mindfulness

If I offer you a freshly picked tangerine to enjoy, I think the degree to which you enjoy it will depend on your mindfulness.

You can see everything in the universe in one tangerine (the tree, the roots, the earth, the blossoms, the wind, the sunlight). When you peel it and smell it, it’s wonderful. You can take your time eating a tangerine and be very happy.

The Eucharist

In a drastic way, Jesus was trying to wake up his disciples – When we eat, we should be mindful, when we see people we should be mindful. If we are mindful life is real in this present moment, if not then people are as ghosts.

Eating Mindfully

The Purpose of Eating is to Eat.

Before eating, set the table, breath and smile at each other. Not many people do this, but it is very important.

We should be appreciative of the food we eat when so many are starving in the world. Eating is a good opportunity to generate compassion.

We can eat silently, or talk, but only positive talk, nothing distracts from the simple pleasure of being in the moment and eating in friendship.

Washing Dishes

The idea that doing dishes is unpleasant can only occur when you are not doing them. The dishes themselves and the fact that I am here washing them are miracles!

If I am incapable of enjoying washing the dishes, I will be incapable of enjoying dessert, forever dragged into the future, never able to live in the present moment.

Each action done in the sunlight of awareness becomes sacred.

We do the dishes, not only to have clean dishes, but to do the dishes.

Walking Meditation

Walking can be very enjoyable. We walk slowly, alone or with friends. If possible in some beautiful place, walking not in order to arrive, but just to walk.

Shake off all worries and anxieties, not thinking about the future or the past, just enjoy the walking in the present moment.

If we walk in a hurried manner, we only sow seeds of anxiety. Instead, we should walk as if we are the happiest person on earth, planting peace and serenity.

While you walk, count your breaths, co-ordinate your breath with your paces, as many as you need, and if you want to stop a while and look around you.

Telephone Meditation

The telephone is very convenient, but we can be tyrannised by it. When we hear the phone ring it often causes some anxiety, and when we talk we often talk of trivial things and forget ourselves. We are victims of our telephone.

(Try replacing the word telephone with Smartphone and this is even more true.)

Next time you hear the phone ring say ‘listen, listen, this wonderful sound brings me back to my true self. Breathe and smile and be in control of yourself, for two rings, and then pick up the phone, in consciousness – then how fortunate for the other person. If you are both doing this, it transforms the whole experience.

Driving Meditation

We often don’t need to use the car, rather we use it as a means of escaping from facing up to ourselves. Hence this poem to help overcome this.

Before starting the car
I know where I am going
The car and I are One
If the car goes fast I go fast.

The message here is – wherever the car goes, my self goes, there is no escape. If we realise this, we may choose not to drive, and go for a meditative walk instead.

The car and I are one – the car is not an instrument which we control, when we drive, we become the car – with all its destructive powers.

We should also aim to be in the present moment rather than thinking about arriving – this way red lights won’t be quite as irritating.

When driving – if stuck in traffic, do not fight this, this is useless. When you see a red light, breathe and smile instead, use it as a chance to practice.

It is not just going for a drive which we use to distract ourselves from ourselves, from the pain of being alone with ourselves which we cannot stand – our culture offers us many things to distract us, to keep us busy.


Mindfulness should not just be something we do in the meditation hall. We should bring mindfulness into our daily lives, into every moment. We should practice smiling while cutting carrots, and in general be mindful when at work and in our leisure time. We need to discuss among ourselves how best to do this.

Breathing and Scything

Here Thay relays the time he bought a Scythe – he found that if he coordinated his breathing with his movements, and concentrated on what he was doing in an unhurried manner, he could work for long periods, if not he tired quickly.

He then says that he takes care to not tire himself by getting out of breath, he practices non violence on his body because it is just a means to an end.

One day an old man offered to show him how to use a Scythe and although more adept adopted a similar style to what Thay had taught himself. Every time he sees someone cutting grass with a Scythe he knows they are practicing awareness.


In the West, we are very goal oriented, we know where we want to go, but along the way we often forget to enjoy ourselves along the route.

There is a word in Buddhism that means ‘wishlessness’, or ‘aimlessness’. The idea is that you do not put something in front of you and run after it, because everything you need is right here, in yourself.

Whatever we do we should do in an aimless way. The point of doing anything, is just to do it.

Often we tell ourselves don’t just sit there, do something. But in fact, the opposite may be more useful – don’t just do something, sit there! We need to learn to stop from time to time in order to see clearly.

This basically involves being mindful – which is the foundation of happiness. If we are mindful we can learn to take pleasure in the many miracles that we usually just take for granted.

We should appreciate more what we have – there are so many things in life which we do not appreciate because we are too busy trying to get somewhere else.

Our Life is a Work of Art

We have developed a habit of looking at things with the intention of getting something. However, this is wrong. Instead we should look at things just in order to be with them, with no gaining thought.

The point of meditation is just to be with ourselves and the world. If we are capable of stopping, we will see, and if we can see then we will understand.

When we do not trouble ourselves about living life as a work of art, if we just live each moment fully with no gaining thought, then our life becomes a work of art. When we learn to be peace then our life as art will truly flourish.

Hope as an obstacle

When I think deeply about the nature of hope I see something tragic. We need to abandon hope in order to fully realise the joy in this present moment. Hope is for the future, and although it can help us deal with the present moment, that is all it can do. Instead of focusing on hope for the future we should channel our energies into now.

A.J. Must said – there is no way to peace, peace is the way. Thus it should be with our life, don’t focus on doing something now in order to be happy, learn to focus on the moment and be happiness in what you doing.

Flower insights

Starts with the flower sermon: when someone holds out a flower to you, they want you to see it, but in order to see it you need to be fully yourself, not thinking about the meaning of the flower.

When you are really yourself then you can enjoy life in this present moment.

Breathing Room

We have a room for everything – but not for mindfulness, Every household should have a breathing room, where we can sit and start the day in meditation, or for reconciliation.

Hanh now imagines a scene where a husband and wife have an altercation, but instead of escalating the row, the husband withdraws to the breathing room, and sounds a bell. The wife feels better because she knows her husband is taking time out. The daughter who witnessed the slight altercation feels relieved and also goes into the breathing room, another bell sounds, which reminds the wife she should now go and join her husband and daughter. Now the whole family, by virtue of a bell and a breathing room are sitting in reconciliation.

Hanh rounds off by saying he knows of families where the children start their day with brief meditation sessions and that every household should have a breathing room.


Continuing the Journey

This section of the book has been concerned with mindfulness practice, or how to be mindful in a variety of situations. Mindfulness is the cornerstone of a happy life. The next section deals with how to deal with unpleasant emotions.

Explaining the decline in marriage, via sociological perspectives and Plotagon

You may remember a great piece of software called Xtranormal that allowed you produce videos like this….


Unfortunately Xtranormal’s been offline for over a year now. In the meantime I’ve been digging around for alternatives – one of which is Plotagon, available on the iPad. It doesn’t have quite the functionality of Xtranormal, but it does the job. Below is a brief video on the decline of marriage….


What I like about the Software….

  • Firstly, limited options mean it’s relatively easy to get the hang of.
  • It’s very easy to publish and share.
  • You get a decent selection of settings and characters for free.


What I don’t like about the software

  • It’s only available on the iPad.
  • The above means it’s difficult to pre-script in word and cut and paste because you need to keep switching back and forwards between apps.
  • It’s quite ‘clunky’ to use – especially when editing – with several second pauses between touching a part of the script and the key pad popping up, although this might just be my ancient iPad 2
  • You can’t change the camera angles like you could with Xtranormal
  • The characters are (at the moment) a little bland – I really liked the bears (especially the stripey one) from Xtranormal

Still, all in all, not bad for free!