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‘Buddhist Sociology’ by Inge Bell – A summary

Posted by Realsociology on 24th October 2013

Summary of Bell, I.P (1979) “Buddhist Sociology: Some Thoughts on the Convergence of Sociology and Eastern Paths of Liberation” in Scott G. McNall, ed. Theoretical Perspectives in Sociology. New York: St Martin’s Press.

I haven’t done any commentary on this yet, but I thought I’d get this summary out anyway…

The first explicit call for a ‘Buddhist Sociology’ was made by Inge Bell (1979) who suggested that an examination of sociology from within the perspective of the ‘eastern  disciplines’ could  challenge some of the theoretical assumptions of Sociology,  inform research methods, and contribute to a critique of the profession itself.

Buddhist challenges to sociological notions of socialisation

In contrast to sociology’s view of socialisation as a mainly positive process, Bell conceputalised the realisation of Enlightenment as a process of desocialisation in which the individual unlearns everything society has taught them, including dualisms such as good and evil, subject and object, casting the enlightened being as one who, having gone through the process of desocialisation, was free to deviate from social norms and, able to see the world afresh without human concepts.

Bell further suggested that the process of realising Satori, or Enlightenment did not involve resocialisation, a process instead variously described as ‘assimilating a thought system which denies the validity of all thought systems; ‘regaining the qualities of childhood’, and ‘experiencing an expansive, unlimtied state of existence in which ‘every deed expresses originality, creativity…. [in which there is] no conventionality, creativity, no inhibitory motivation….’

Bell however did not entirely dismiss the utility of Socialisation, and accepted that there were some posiitve aspects, such as learning  language, learning to use technology and learning basic social codes, which she contrasted to ‘dangerous’ aspects of socialisation which were those tied to and generated by conern for the fate of the self, such as ideas about the afterlife; beliefs that one can be immortalised through celebrity, myths which justify the will to power, and the master illusion of the self as seperate from its environment.

Buddhist challenges to sociological conceptions of the self

Bell congratulated sociologists such as Mead and Bulmer for recognising that socialisation normally results in the creation of an ideal social-self, which is seperate from the ‘subjectively experienced self’, and that emotional problems such as anxiety can emerge when the ideal self and the ‘me’ don’t converge, but went on to criticise them for viewing the ideal-self as a necessary construction and a legitimate structure without which the individual could not function socially, and one which enabled goal-oriented behaviour, underlying a growth-process.

Bell contrasted this to the ‘Eastern view’ according to which the self is not a fixed entity, rather only a series of occurances and experiences,  and as such ‘I’ am merely a process, a continuous creation and re-creation, changing as ‘I’ enter each social situation. In such a view subjective reflections on one’s ‘ideal-self’ merely represent a refusal to accept reality fully (and thus one has to question the validity of engaging in depth-studies of the constructions of such ficticious selves)

Bell suggested that Peter Berger’s micro-analysis of the self came closest to Buddhist conceptions of the self, evidenced in such lines as ‘deception and self-deception are at the very heart of social reality….. in the end we must return to the nightmare moment when we feel ourselves stripped of all names and identities’, but criticised Berger for seeeing the proccess of realising one’s lack of self’ as a wholly negative process.

As a way of overcoming the attendent fear at the ‘death of the self’ Bell argued that we should incorporate the possibility of an Enlightened being into Sociological analysis, a being who plays many roles but does not use them to confer a sense of self; and one who has seen through the view that the self is normal and inevitable, but none the less goes on as before, but does so with a sense of lightness.

Finally in this section, Bell pointed out that incorporating an Eastern sense of self into the sociological imagination would help us realise that there is something more valuable than the conceptualising, knowledge creating ntellect, called basic intelligence, which is our ability to perceive and deal with reality without reference to accumulated knowledge.

A Buddhist contribution to methods

In a relatively short section on Metholodogy, Bell suggested that the Eastern paths could offer social researchers a  potential way of going beyond the distortions which arise because of self-interest and to engage in genuinley value-free research.

She celebrated Mannheim, Mills and Gouldner for their realisation that to do so man must understand his own position in history and how this shapes perception, but then argued that intellect alone was not enough to lift us above our values. To illustrate this, she cited the example of Mannheim (Ideology and Utopia) who, having developed an analysis of how social position formed ideology, went on to evelate his own class, the ‘social intelligensia’ to the position of the only group in society capable of seeing objectively.

Bell concluded that self-interest is rooted not in intellect, but in emotion, and so in order to transcend self-interest, we need detachment from our emotions, and ultimately to detach ourselves from self. She went on to say that enlightenment must revolutionise the practise of Sociology, which to my mind implies that Bell was suggesting that some form of spiritual training towards self-transcendence is necessary to realise a truly value-free sociology.

Toward an Enlightened Sociology

In this section, Bell vents her frustration at the fact that Sociology has almost nothing to say about how students might actually live in order to raise the quality of their lives, and that this should be remedied by restoring teaching, and personal contact between teacher and student as a central value of the profession in order to encourage students to engage in ‘enlightened self appraisal’.

She suggests that the teaching of Sociology would be most useful if it focused on encouraging students to reflect on what can be changed, as well as offering adivse on how to cope with what cannot be changed. Bell believed that at the root of all of this lay a deep-appraisal of the universe and one’s place in it, which meant getting over the notions that ‘good’ is whatever contributes to ‘my happiness and security’ and ‘bad’ is whatever threatens these things.

As a means to develop such an outlook, she suggested that the teaching of Sociology should focus on developing students’ empathetic understanding, rooted in cultural relativism which could be promoted  in a number of ways: students might be required to live in some unfamiliar part of society for a year, they might be guided into what she calls ‘sociadrama’, involving taking on the roles of others, as well as visits from various people.

Toward a Practicing Sociology

In this section Bell criticised the profession of Sociology, on a number of grounds for being full of ideas about reforming society, but making little connection between these ideas and their day-to-day actions. She cites as examples:

  • Theorising about community while junior colleagues suffer from insecure positions.
  • Moaning about inequality while thinking their own students are unworthy of their attention.
  • Claiming to be concerend with improving society yet being primarily concerend with career advancement
  • Supporting the competitive system of publish-or-perish which leads to a obstructive body of material that demeans those who write.

Ultimately Bell argued that the problem of professional Sociology was that it demythologised American culture, only to replace it with the myth of ‘academaya’, where the professional role was one of striving, competing and deadly seriousness. She saw all of this as a highly developed form of concern with the ego which propogated the idea of goal-orientation as the only possible mode of human conduct. In Bell’s own words…. ‘we enlighten our students to the edge of liberation only to ensnare them again in the authority structure of the acadamy and the related professions’.

Bibliography

Bell, I.P (1979) “Buddhist Sociology: Some Thoughts on the Convergence of Sociology and Eastern Paths of Liberation” in Scott G. McNall, ed. Theoretical Perspectives in Sociology. New York: St Martin’s Press.

Posted in Buddhism, But what can I do?, Sociological Theory | No Comments »

Pointillist Time, Blase Attitudes and Anomic Melancholy – why today’s students struggle to see the relevance of education

Posted by Realsociology on 19th October 2013

 

Zygmunt Bauman: Liquid modern challenges to education. Lecture given at the coimbra group annual conference – Padova, 26 may 2011

This lecture mostly focusses on outlining the ways in which young people today experience life in a profoundly different way to previous generations, and how this experience is inseperable from consumer culture and hyperculture. The specific implications for educators are left almost wholly untouched, so I’ve drawn my own conclusions along the way (getting individuals to do just this – for themselves – is, I imagine, one of the intentions behind Bauman’s ambivalence). On final analysis, I think the point Bauman is trying to make is that an educational paradigm rooted in a ‘linear notion of preparing students for the future’ is completely out of sync with the way in which young people experience the world via a consumer oriented hyperculture. Towards the end of the lecture, Bauman also questionswhether the decision to go to university is a rational one, given the insecurities in the labour market which may well limit students actual life-chances in the future.

As I said above, and I say it again for emphasis in case anyone wants to read it, despite the title this is really a lecture on ‘what the experience of living in a hyperreal consumer culture is like’ (worth a read for its own sake), and it doesn’t start to focus in on (the seeming pointlessness) of education until the final section.

What’s offered below is my summary and interpretation of Bauman’s ideas about the basic characteristics of the experience of life in a liquid modern (consumer oriented, hyperreal culture). My own contributions are mainly twofold – Firstly, I’ve added in a few illustrations to make this material less abstract, and secondly I’ve added in some thoughts on how this experience might be at odds with the way students experience education today (which is what I thought the lecture would’ve been about in the first place!). I will add in critique later, for now I’m exploring the utility of Bauman’s analytical framework by ‘rollling with him’. (And wierdly I’m actually quite enjoying the experience.). This is very much explorative, and drawn from my own experience of teaching for 16-19s for 12 years. (Only 27 years to go…. roll on that lottery win).

This post is just my initial summary of the lecture, more detail to follow in future posts…

Young people today grow up in a liquid-modern, consumer-oriented, hyperculture which encourages the following -

1. An experience of time as  ‘pointillist’ – in which every moment is pregnant with infinite possibilities, although most of these possibilities remain unrealised. Pointillist time is the experience of many things going on at the same time, and one in which ‘now’ matters more than the future, because ‘if you miss it it’s gone’.

2. The anomic feeling of drowning in an information deluge, in which individuals are bombarded with too much information and have to deselect the majority of information, but lack the capacity to make decisions about which information is most worthy of attention (not least of all because of the pressure to make decisions quickly, meaning there is little time for reflection).

3. A ‘disposable attitude‘ to the products and experiences consumed: life appears as something which is about consuming and disposing, experiencing and forgetting, and all at a forever quickening pace.

At the emotional-intentional level, consumer culture accelerated via hyperculture, tends to lead to a blase and/ or melancholic experience of life. Blase in the sense that commitment to anything seems irrational when continued happiness rests on the ability to forget and move on to the next experience, and melancholic because although hyperculture is pregnant with possibilities, most of these possiblities are never realised. As far as I can see this experienc is also anomic, characterised by both an anxious uncertainty and a gnawing disaffection. (There may be a reason why Bauman doesn’t actually use the word anomie, but unless I’m mistaken, this is basically what he’s driving at.)

Bauman does not say it explicitly, but it is relatively easy to see that the experience of young people, socialised into an anxious, nowist orientation to time, a blase, disposable attitude towards consumption, all underscored by a melancholic/ anomic uncertainty about what it is that they should actually be doing is completely out of sync with many aspects of today’s standard, educational paradigm which asks students to defer gratification and make a long-term commitment to the progressive accumulation of knowledge and skills that will be useful to a future life, which this paradigm further seems to mistakenly assume will also involve some level of life-world security (an experience which is alien to today’s youth).

Bauman finishes off his lecture by delivering a final kick in the teeth to education’s relevance to today’s students: given the relentless downgrading of grades it is far from certain that a university degree you will lead to a well-paying job at the end*, it could actually be the case that today, that if your goal is a good salary and a (relatively) stable career, non-graduates have as much chance of achieving these things as graduates.

(*although this does not apply to the wealthy who can afford to attend the very best universities and have a greater capacity to network their way into the best jobs.)

NB – There are plenty of other threads in this lecture, and the related lectures, to pick up on… this is just one, elaborated on by me!

More detailed summary to follow. Just one question in the meantime… If all of this is actually true – what an earth are we doing as educators? My own prefered strategey right now, is to go buy cake and just try not to think about it, it’s just a question of figuring out what cake?

Related Links

The Bauman Institute - Liquid Modern Challenges to Education (another version of the talk)

Liquid Modern Challenges to Education – Journal Article

Posted in But what can I do?, Changing Britain, Education | 1 Comment »

Who are you? (Laughter)

Posted by Realsociology on 5th October 2013

The video below shows a number of people laughing when asked the question ‘who are you’? (1.55)

 

These people are all highly respected, typically well- educated (in the formal sense of the word) teachers from a range of different spiritual traditions (most, if not all wiill be in attendance at the Science and Nonduality conference 2013 - SAND honors and nurtures the exploration and experience of nonduality as a pathway to greater wisdom and wellbeing in the context of the unique challenges of the 21st century.

Their laugh-response to the question of ‘who are you’ reminded me of a line in Paul Willis’ 1977 classic, Learning to Labour. Just in case you don’t know this off by heart…..  Willis discusses role that messing around and ‘avin a laff’ play in the counter-school-culutre, concluding that ’the laugh confronts the command’. Willis argues that the laugh is a collective response to what the lads see as a ludicrous situation – school tells them to study seriously to prepare themselves for middle class jobs, but the lads have already decided they want ‘proper’ manual jobs that don’t require qualifications, and even if they did try to take school seriously, they’ve penetrated the truth of the situation and realised schools are middle class institutions, so the odds are stacked against them. In such a ludicrous situation what can you do but laugh at it?*

Obviously there are differences in the laughter in video above (it’s individualised, not collective; it’s not overtly challlenging authority in an ‘in your face way’; and it’s extremely middle class and not at all laddish) but a little analysis drags out a few parallels too. To my mind, their laughter when asked ‘who are you’ says ‘what a ludicrous question’, and it’s ludicrous because the subject of the question, ‘you’, or rather ‘I’ is an illusion. Most of these people have been through an intense and long process of introspetion, realised this, and come out the other side, and now they laugh at the question.

Given that the laughter above stems from a realisation that there is ‘no-I’, such laughter oould also form the basis for confronting the ultimate command in a postmodern consumer culture – the command to ‘express yourself’, the command to expend a huge amount of money and effort on perpetually reinventing and presenting your constructed-self, the command to avoid looking into the true nature of your ‘self’ and ‘working through’ the realisation that there is nothing there.

Furthermore, this laughter reminds us of two things, especially important in a culture of intellectualism – Firstly, simply the importance of asking meaningful questions. Secondly, answering meaningful questions requires going beyond the intellect, to a place of lived experience, and the process of coming back and re-engaging with an intellectual culture and attempting to render such experiences into concepts will probably be easier (at least less fraught) if one maintains a sense of humour.

*Finally I should just mention that just like the lads’ realisation that school was a middle class institution didn’t really help them achieve a good ‘quality of life’ in the long-term, an initial realisation the ‘truth of no-I’ at a relatively superficial level (that’s all I’ve managed) probably won’t result in your walking around in a perpetual state of bliss-consciousness, that will take a good deal more right effort, mindfulness and concentration.

Related Posts

David Loy (who features in the video above) on our fear of existing

Posted in Alternatives, Buddhism, But what can I do?, Postmodernism, Things I like, What is Sociology? | No Comments »

Using twitter to research sexism

Posted by Realsociology on 8th January 2013

Just stumbled across an interesting use of twitter – I’m not sure exactly what time it started but sometime today (the first tweets originate from 8 Hrs ago, so it must have started circa 12.00 GMT) @EverydaySexism (website here) facilitated a TWITTER CHAT on Street Harassment on the #ShoutingBack encouraging users to tweet their experiences of harassment.
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This post lists some of the responses and then discusses methods
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A selection of tweets on #shoutingback
Most responses relayed experiences on the street and in bars. Some of the most shocking/ retweeted include – (NB – These are in no particular order, my twitter analysis skills aren’t up to that!)

Abi OAbi O@ashke50at 15, with friends on train, group of boys blocking our path and asking if they “made us wet”.

EverydaySexismRT TheAfricanHippy Walking home in the afternoon.Drunk guy says: If I knew where you lived, I’d follow you home and rape you
Emma AmatoEmma Amato ‏@emmatronic - A van that blocks you while cycling so the driver can tell you he wants to be your saddle
Rachel BichenerRachel Bichener ‏@rachelwaxinglyr - chased by a bin lorry full of jeering men for a mile while on my bike, aged 18. Never rode again until 32.
chillerchiller ‏@chiller - If I wrote down all the assaults & verbal harassment experienced since age 12 I’d be here for a month.
ylhlhrylhlhr ‏@stopgrinning - complaining about street harassment or harassment in general, being told by others you should feel ‘flattered’.
Dancing MisanthropeDancing Misanthrope ‏@DaMisanthrope - People shocked by India rape reports as if it’s a foreign problem, check your own backyard

Roxanna BennettRoxanna Bennett@roxannabennett - Male friends told me it was disgusting I was breast feeding and that’s not what tits are for

Natasha ViannaNatasha Vianna ‏@NatashaVianna - Clubs are the worst! How many times have I felt stiff penis on my back while dancing? Too many.
Ellie ThomasEllie Thomas ‏@EleanorMThomas - Friend and I trying to take down tent at festival without bending over, due to shouts of “legs” and “boobs”
Tarah STarah S ‏@tarahfied -  going out to a club. guys decide to dance&touch w/o asking, get offended when you push them away or say no.

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I also quite liked this response…

Hollaback Girl ‏@hollabackgrrrl - Man in bar repeatedly groped me, used homophobic/sexist slurs. I yelled at him the first 3 times. The fourth I broke his nose.
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So what are the strengths and limitations of this as a method for finding out about street harassment? 

Strengths

  • Firstly on a practical note  it’s very easy to set up, free, and accessible
  • Secondly, it’s hopefully empowering for the women using it – I like to think of women reading thinking ‘I’m not the only one’ – quite a few tweets with ‘solidarity’
  • Thirdly, on the concept of validity – it’s giving users the freedom to define sexual harrassment, useful for facilitating debate around the issue.
  • Fourthly, it’s giving us an idea of the range of experiences of sexual harassment - could be a useful basis for operationalising a questionnaire with a more representative sampling frame.
Now to the limitations -
  • Firstly and most obviously, the sample will be biased in the extreme – limited to twitter users, and to users who follow @Everydaysexism and happen to be on twitter at the opportune moment, so this research is useless as a quantitative study.
  • Secondly, we always have to question the validity of what’s being said and it is very difficult to validate the truth of what these women are saying. I am not saying these women are lying, just that it is practically impossible to verify what they are saying.  Having said this, I personally wouldn’t have thought there is that much motivation to lie on twitter about such experiences given that ‘coming out with them’ is probably accompanied by negative emotions.
Find out More 

If you want to find out more about the extent of street harassment – then check out the collective action for safe spaces blog (U.S based)

This Guardian Article suggests 40% of women have experienced sexual harassment – based on a yougov poll

Hollaback – a depressing but useful site in which women in Birmingham share their experiences of harassment, has the potential to expand into more areas!

 

Posted in But what can I do?, Feminism | No Comments »

Three Buddhist Inspired New Year’s Resolutions

Posted by Realsociology on 1st January 2013

1. Be mindful

2. Be compassionate

3. If you fail at either of these, just try again

(Not necessarily in that order, and with thanks to The Buddha etc.)

Posted in Buddhism, But what can I do?, My 'life' | No Comments »

Christmas Survey

Posted by Realsociology on 24th December 2012

I don’t celebrate Christmas because I don’t have anyone to celebrate it with. Instead I meditate a lot and do my annual spring clean. If you’re also alone this Christmas, I recommend this as a coping strategy. It’s still pretty bleak, but waking up on 27th having had no Christmas with a clean flat is definitely better than waking up on the 27th with a not-so-clean flat.

This year I’ve decided to really go to town and literally clean EVERYTHING. Although I’m starting to wonder whether moving the fridge and physically washing the walls down with soapy water is maybe a bit excessive. Even though I’ve been in my flat three years, the walls behind the fridge don’t look dirty to me, so my present dilemma this Christmas Eve is should I wash them or not?

I think I will, because I have committed to washing everything, but I got to wondering, is this excessive, how often do people wash the walls behind their fridges?

Anyway, I created this survey to find out, so please if you’ve found this site, humor me and complete it, thanks and for what it’s worth, Merry Christmas.

 
NB: The survey refers to whether you wash the walls behind your fridges at any time of year, not just at Christmas time. 

 

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world’s leading questionnaire tool.

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This is also my first embedded survey, something of a practice run… So apologies if you can’t see the results, I will update later as I’m sure they’ll be a lot of interest in this….

Also if the survey just doesn’t work for some reason, do let me know, as I say, this is a trial.

Actually just in case the embed doesn’t work – here – Click here to take survey

Posted in Alternatives, But what can I do?, My 'life', What is Sociology? | 3 Comments »

To Pole or not to Pole, is that Objectification?

Posted by Realsociology on 6th December 2012

My sixth form college (16-19) has just started ‘pole fitness’ classes and put this very large banner up to advertise them. The college’s take on this is to see ‘pole-fitness’ on a level with Zumba – It’s simply a different form of exercise that young women (let’s face it – it’s primarily women who will attend either) can use to empower themselves, but the former’s just a bit more aethletic and more ‘Burlesque’ than Zumba.

However some staff have commented that it just doesn’t seem appropriate for a 16-19 college to be promoting something that is associated with the sex-industry. The sexual connotations are visible in the banner – you can ‘clearly see cheek showing’ as one member of staff recently pointed out.

Of course I had to go away and do some digging on the issue, and it comes as no surprise that there are a wide range of opinions about whether or not Pole-Fitness is empowering or oppressive to women. To summarise just two…

Clare Mohan, writing at the Varsity Blogs about Pole Fitness in Cambridge University sets out the argument against it….

‘Whatever you name it, pole fitness or pole dancing, you’re still participating in the social context of the pole. Everyone knows where it comes from, that pole dancers are to be found in strip clubs and sex establishments up and down the country, and that pole dancing (which is, a huge percentage of the time, an activity carried out by women) is a dance form specifically designed to excite the watcher (who is, a huge percentage of the time, a man). So pole dancing encourages a view of the dancer [as a] sexual object.’

For more information on the objectification of women see the ‘Object‘ website.  

The ‘Pro-Pole’ voice comes from a number of women who both ‘pole’ and identify themselves as Feminists over at the StudioVeena.

Two of the more compelling arguments for ‘poling’ being empowering include…

(From ‘Nilla’) “Maybe people feel that way because stripping as a profession is often seen as something women would only do as a last resort, and that it’s degrading for any woman who does it (It can be, but so can working in the fast food industry).  So in a way, taking pole dance out of the stripping/sex industry context and doing it for your own enjoyment is the ultimate act of feminism, kind of taking the activity back for your own control and enjoyment rather than having to do it for the enjoyment of someone else.”

(From ‘Poledanceromance’) ’”To me, the answer is very simple (sex positive feminist): feminism must be about choice. It’s about women supporting other women in our efforts to explore undiscovered parts of ourselves. If I want to explore my potential by staying at home full-time to be the best mom I can be, you’d support me in that. If you wanted to explore yourself as a sexual being by experimenting in different sexual relationships, I’d support you in that (provided everyone is being safe!)”

If you read through the arguments for poling, many of them focus on the notion that it’s good for women to be allowed the freedom to express whatever they like through dance, including their sexuality if they damn well please, and they argue that in pole-fitness this process of exploration is completely liberated from the context of male domination and objectification that may exist in stripping.

What’s interesting is that both Pro and anti-pole stances see a sexual link in the activity, which brings me back to the original question – Is it right for a 16-19 college to be promoting something that has obvious sexual connotations? Moreover, is it right to do this when we all know that it will be mainly, probably solely young women, rather than young men, engaging in this sexualised activity?

Personally I don’t feel particularly comfortable with the college’s promoting pole-fitness, but am I just showing my age here? Or maybe this is my ‘inner patriarch’ just wanting to control young women from expressing their freedom? Or my ‘inner dad’ wanting to prevent young women from growing up?

Maybe I just need to get over it and start promoting pole-fitness in tutorials? Maybe that’s the future… ‘And don’t forget… final UCAS deadlines are this Friday, next Wednesday there’s a guest speaker talking about how to break into Journalism, and any young women wishing to explore their inner sex kitten are welcome to attend our new pole-fitness classes on Tuesdays… Please undress appropriately.’

Comments more than welcome…

 

Posted in Beauty Myth, But what can I do?, Feminism, Gender, My 'life' | 2 Comments »

The London Marathon – Little more than a vessel for Corporate advertising

Posted by Realsociology on 23rd April 2012

The London Marathon is mainly about this kind of thing

A couple of my friends recently ran the London Marathon dressed as a Panto Horse – so I watched it to catch a glimpse of them – which I finally did, but I had to wait until right at the end of the BBC2 highlights show. As a result of keeping my eye on the BBC’s London Marathon for about 3 hours, I feel as if I have been used and abused.

I am a victim of the Corporate Branding of my public space. I honestly wanted to watch this event but I had no choice but to witness, in nearly every camera shot, the various Logos of the event sponsors – mainly Virgin, but others such as Adidas were in there too.

The London Marathon is a great event – I personally love running, and even I’m not that cynical (OK perhaps I am) about the money raised for charity and the ‘personal’ stories of some of the runners, but these tales seemed to take a back seat to the ‘Corporate event’ – from what I saw, the London Marathon is now primarily a vessel for Corporate advertisers to pollute our visual space with logos I do not wish to see: From the start, round every major landmark, right up to the trophy ceremonies where the corporate puppet-whores (the elite winners) adorned themselves in the logos of their sponsors.

But it's been sabotaged by this man

Critics might say that all of the money spent on advertising is going to a good cause – And a lot of money is going to come from allowing Virgin etc. to advertise in the world’s best marathon, and last year the London Marathon company had a turnover of about £18 million and made a profit of £4 million – a significant chunk of which goes to charity. However, this is nothing compared to the £47 million which individual runners make for their own individual charities.

I’d much rather see the London Marathon company scale down the advertising and just about cover costs – let the runners run for charity rather than using Corporation’s advertising to generate a little bit extra.

If you’re sick of Corporate Logo Creep,  I recommend reading,  or at least looking at summaries of Naomi Klein’s ‘No Logo’ – it was written in 2000, but she really predicted this trend – the trend of Corporate branding progressively taking over more and more of our public space

Finally, my friends did actually break the world record for the fastest panto horse to complete a marathon, they’re raising money for help the hospices, why not donate here - Who knows, if the BBC had spent more time flagging up the people’s efforts to raise money for charity rather than panning in on celebrity and Corporate logos, they’d be closer to their target of £5000!

Oh, you could also boycott all Virgin products, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend ever going out at night and vandalising Corporate logos where ever you see them.

Posted in But what can I do?, Sociology on TV | No Comments »

Shard Hacking – Challenging Surveillance Society?

Posted by Realsociology on 10th April 2012

You may have noticed that three thrill seekers recently slipped past (quite literally!) security scaled The Shard , posting pictures of themselves on the Place Hacking Blog – run by Bradley L. Garret. The three are members of the “London Consolidation Crew”, comprising of mainly middle class professionals, who have gained access to more than 300 locations in 7 countries over the last years.

Garret, from Los Angeles  has recently complete a PhD on ‘Urban Exploration’ (urban exploration being the process of researching, exploring and discovering temporary, obsolete and abandoned spaces in the built environment)  in which he charts the rise of an ‘urban exploration crew’ between the years 2008 -11. He took an active part in the group during this time, so this is a great example of a local researcher (presently living in Clapham) doing a form of participant observation.

Garret defends trespass in this video by pointing out that the actions are benign, but also alludes to the fact that there is a more political motive to the acts – which is clearer if you read his thesis (OK – I only skim read bits of it -Time!) in which he posits that

‘group are one of many who react to increasing surveillance and control over urban space by undertaking embodied interventions that undermine clean spatio/ temporal narratives. ‘

(In other words, the group dislike surveillance and so, in response to this, engage in a kind of subversive political action by ‘breaking into’ places they are not supposed to go into at odd times of the day (or night). )

As he says in the video – There are increasing amounts of public space where you just can’t go into, and increasing amounts of public spaces where its not clear if you can go there or not, or where its unclear what you are allowed to do. The actions of physical trespass push those boundaries and possibly challenge notions of what ‘freedom’ in the context of urban living means.

Garret also says the group are engaging with ‘history in the making’ in a creative way by trespassing and effectively hurting no one, while challenging our ideas of the boundaries of public and private, which is much better than what most people do – which is passively accept the status quo. These people are, after all, more active than the average citizen.

Finally – they also remind us that it’s impossible to secure large sites – as security guards aren’t machines - because they are fallible – suggesting, maybe, that the ‘man’ can be resisted.

Personally, however, and I think Garret and the others might well agree (I’m sure the question is up for debate) – I’m not sure how much this has really got to do with politics and challenging notions of citizenship – it is also about identity – and ‘the rush’ – and a great example of edgework – breaking the law to gain an emotional thrill and status (and possibly expressing your masculinity?) in a post-modern age – (would this have happened before social networking allowed the posting of pictures?).

As a final note, whether its about identity or politics or both, this is a pretty cool hobby, and if I were 20 years younger I’d be on the next train to London Bridge!

Some (minor bits) of this blog was cut and past from the links above 

Posted in But what can I do?, Crime and Deviance, Things I like | No Comments »

A Buddhist wouldn’t Criticise Fashion, but the thought might sometimes arise…

Posted by Realsociology on 5th March 2012

This is a not-so-brief post on why I think Fashion is pointless – from a Buddhist point of view. It starts off with an allotment analogy but ends up with 6 reasons why I don’t like Fashion. (NB this first draft is quite abstract, I’ll jazz it up with a few pop. Culture references laters….)

Here we go……

When I go to my allotment I don’t tend to think too much about what I wear, other than to ensure suitable functionality for the tasks in hand. I just chuck on a pair of old walking trousers or traccy bottoms, combined with an out of shape T shirt and sweater – and of course my wellies – and off I trot.

Dressing for the allotment should be a model for dressing in wider society – because on the allotment, what you wear simply doesn’t matter, no one is in the slightest bit interested in judging you by your attire, and your outward appearance is almost completely irrelevant to your engagement with the land, the veg. and other people.

In fact, if you take a moment to reflect on it, what you wear is actually largely irrelevant to realising true happiness in the Buddhist sense of the word, where happiness is defined as realising a stable peace, or equanimity of mind.  

Happiness in Buddhism requires one to walk the ‘Noble Eight Fold Path – and there is absolutely no reason why wearing basic, functional, even tatty, clothes, should prevent you from practising any of the following aspects of this path (narrowed down to 6 because of ease of analysis) –

  1. Reflecting, as you are now, on Buddhism and striving to know your ‘inner self’
  2. Acting with compassion towards other beings.
  3. Renouncing your attachment to particular things –
  4. Doing a worthwhile job – other than requiring certain clothes for functionality in some areas of work.
  5. Leading a routine life that avoids being too fussy and has too much emphasis on ‘picking and choosing’.
  6. Developing meditative awareness – other than requiring clothes of sufficient comfort and warmth.

No, there is no reason whatsoever, that you should be prevented from ‘walking the Buddhist path’ for lack of fancy clothes. In fact, where two aspects of the path are concerned – renunciation and trying to avoid being fussy through avoiding picking and choosing – giving up your desire for particular clothes and not worrying about what you wear would actually be positive steps towards their realisation.

Maybe it’s the fact that I love Buddhism so much that I enjoy the near total irrelevance of attire to human interaction on the allotment – there is definite synergy between the two; and maybe this also explains why I generally dislike most of society so much – because the allotment is actually the only ordinary day-to-day ‘public domain’ I can think of where what you wear simply doesn’t matter.

This is probably why, when I sometimes nip from my allotment into town in order to feed my coffee addiction (I’m not a perfect Buddhist), I feel slightly ill at ease when I’m standing in the coffee queue – I’m not dressed appropriately for playing the ‘expressing my middle class identity through spending £2.50 on some frothy milk and four shots of espresso to go’ game. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t exactly suffer anxiety attacks over this, and I’m not about to stop wearing my scruffy old allotment clothes, but I can feel the ‘you look too scruffy for this place vibe’ coming off some fellow coffee-expressers.

Now perhaps you think I’m being over-sensitive, but if you know me, you know I’m not exactly a sensitive person, so I think this vibe I feel is real – and it’s a result of the logic of ‘having to wear particular clothes in particular situations’ having penetrated so deeply into the average person’s psyche that they actually judge me – ME! – on the clothes I wear rather than ‘my deeper-self’ (which is f**king marvellous btw.)

I mean think about it – learning how to pick appropriate styles of clothes for particular situations is a basic part of our early socialisation – Work, weekends, weddings, for example, all require us to ‘know what to wear’, and in our fashion conscious age, we’re expected to select particular colours and cuts that suit our skin tone, body type, and age. Worse, we are called upon to periodically change our wardrobes to accommodate the latest season’s fashion – autumn/ winter – spring/summer – For all I know things now change more often and less predictably – frankly I couldn’t give a toss if they do.

Worse still – for some members of society, clothes aren’t just about fitting in – they are about standing out – and a considerable amount of money is spent on ‘shopping as leisure’ – many people going into debt in order to ‘look good’. And of course this whole process of adornment doesn’t stop at clothes – there’s also hair, nails and accessories. Obviously, at the time of writing, women have things a lot worse than men.

Worse still – many friendships and relationships are periodically colonised by clothes-shopping rituals – where you pair  or group-up and parade around the shops reflecting on how certain combinations of clothes suit or not. This is actually regarded as fun by millions of people in Britain.

You’ve probably got the impression that I don’t approve of the time, money and effort so many people put into picking and choosing their items of clothing – and the reason I don’t approve is because this ritual that is so precious to so many people in Britain, this leisure pursuit that is so embedded in our popular-culture, all of this time, money and effort will do absolutely nothing at all to make you truly happy, at least not if you want to achieve happiness in the Buddhist sense of the word.

If we go back to the Noble Eight Fold Path you’ll see what I mean – Considering six of the aspects that lead to happiness – we can now see how the ritual of clothes shopping in order to express yourself through outward appearance is actually the antithesis of what you should/ should not be doing-

  1. True happiness requires you to know your ‘inner self’- clothes shopping involves reflecting on what outward forms of dress you think are acceptable/ desirable, or what forms of clothes say a certain something about your ‘social personality’ and then buying or not buying.
  2. True happiness requires that you act with compassion towards other beings – assuming you are shopping alone – you are focussing entirely on how other people see you – purely selfish, the antithesis of compassion. If you are helping someone else select clothes, you may think you are being compassionate, but you are in fact lying to them by perpetuating the notion that outward appearance matters more than ‘inner self’
  3. True happiness requires renouncing your attachment to particular things – shopping involves, obviously, attaching your social self to particular clothes etc.
  4. True happiness requires doing a worthwhile job – Functionality aside – If you are competent in a certain field – you can do a good job whatever you are wearing – but today some professions now require a certain style – There is a possibility that those who can master this style may be deemed more suitable for the job than someone less stylish and yet more competent. Attachment to appearance makes this situation more likely
  5. True happiness requires one to leading a routine life that avoids being too fussy and has too much emphasis on ‘picking and choosing’ – as with no 3. It is obvious that clothes shopping – involving picking and choosing by its very nature – is the antithesis of this.
  6. True happiness requires one to developing meditative awareness – worrying about what you look like and how you appear to others can only work against this.

 

As a penultimate note I’ll just make one brief qualification – I do think one will generally be happier if clothes are functional to tasks at hand, clean, and fit appropriately. Besides these requirements, I fail to see how buying any new clothes in the next decade could possibly lead to my being any happier.

Finally, If the six reasons above aren’t enough to convince you that spending time, effort and money on fashion is a waste of time – try this for a closing thought – think about it logically – the only people who really care what you look like probably care what they look like – this means that they are probably walking around either worrying about how crap they think they look, or lauding over how good they think they look on any particular day. Either way, they probably aren’t paying you that much attention, so you may as well not bother trying to impress them.

Posted in Buddhism, But what can I do?, My 'life' | 1 Comment »