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Summary of Liquid Modernity Chapter Five – Community

Posted by Realsociology on 1st November 2013

Bauman starts of the chapter summarising the liberal-communitarian debate about the relationship beetween the individual and society.

He reminds us that the individual according to the likes of Kant, Descartes and Baccon, could come to truth by using pure reason, and that all individuals if just left alone from the distortions of community would arive at the same notions of truth.

Communitarians criticised this by pointing out that the individual could never be free because individuals are socialised – e.g. through language.

But Bauman points out that it was never clear whether the critiques were saying that the image of the self-contained individual was untrue or just harmful.

Today, says Bauman, the liberal-communitarian debate concerns whether or not liberating the individaul from communal constraints is good or bad. Also today, communities are more like a light cloak rather than an iron cage and the reason why we are concerned for community is because it is in decline. Furthemore, communities when spoken about are postulated – we can comment on them because we are not really bound by them, they are a choice.

Sociologically speaking, communitarianism is an expected reaction to the liquification of life…. yet today the word community is used loosely… the community in today’s communitarian gospel is not that of Gemeinschaft, it is to be chosen (and we have no choice but to choose) – a choice between different identity reference groups.

However…. the communal world is complete in so far as all the rest is… hostile – a wilderness with enemies. The inner harmony of the communal world shines and glitters against the background of the obscure and tangled jungle outside. It is there, to that wilderness, that people huddling in the warmth of shared identity dump (or hope to banish) the fears which prompted them to seek communal shelter. In Jock Young’s words ‘The desire to demonize others is based on the ontological uncertainties’ of those inside. An ‘inclusive community’ would be a contradiction in terms. Communal fraternity would be incomplete without that inborn fratricidal inclination.

(172-176) Nationalism, mark 2

The community of the communitarian gospel is an ethnic community – the choice is either between being at home or being homeless – it is an essentialising idenitity, (a master identity?).

Here Bauman argues that the nation state was the only success story of ‘community’ in modern times.  he discusses the similarities between nationalism and patriotism (both are basically agressive, not gentle) before suggesting that both are based on exluding others – nationalism is closed, and relies on the vomitting out strangers approach, but at least patriotism is more open ended, it invites people in – but only with the aim of ingesting their difference, still leaving others outside.

(176 – 182) Unity – through similarity or difference?

Both Nationalism and Patriotism depend on ‘othering’ – Unity comes from setting up a boundary and then emphasising the difference between us and them.

He now draws on Bernard Crick to propose another type of unity – that based on unity and conciliation – were people pursue self-identification in a multitude of ways and the ‘polis’ is one of onging negotiation and conciliation of differences.

This later, argues Bauman is the only one which is compatible with liquid modernity (so nationalism is no longer relevant?) – Now that disembededness/ individualisation etc. are so advanced, we must either construct a society in which different people can live together collectively, negotiating and reconciling their differences, or we create a society in which we basically avoid eachother and those who are different to us.

We seem to be in the process of creating the later, at least those in power do….. as evidenced in cyber-enclaves and gated communities, which are privatised solutions to insecurity which cost (while we leave the poor outside in ghettos).

He now sites Sennet who puts a pyscho-sociological gloss on this….

The image of the community is purified of all that may convey a feeling of difference, let alone conflict, in who ‘we’ are. In this way the myth of community solidarity is a purification ritual…. What is distinctive about this mythic sharing in communities is that people feel they belong to eachother, and share together, because they are the same… the ‘we’ feeling, which expresses the desire to be similar, is a way for men to avoid the necessity of looking deeper into each other.

Bauman goes on to say that this is also a bid to avoid confronting vexing questions such as whether the self, frightened and lacking in self-confidence is actually work loving in the first place and whether it deserves to be the basis of a design for society.

In another place (In search of politics 1999) I have discussed the unholy trinity of uncertainty, insecurity and unsafety… each one generating anxiety… with the access to the sources of these out of reach, the pressure shifts elsewhere, to the realm of bodily, domestic and environmental safety. As a result the ‘safety problem’ tends to be chronically overloaded with worries and cravings it can neither carry away or unload. The unholy alliance results in the perpetual thirst for more safety, a thirs which no practical measures can quell since they are bound to leave the primary and perpetually prolific sources of uncertainty untouched.

(182-184) Security at Price

Communitarianism assumes that the cost of increased security is individual freedom. The two cannot be increased simultaneously. Also, the vision of communitarianism is one of an island that protects against the stormy sea, the idea of mastering the sea itself is already abandoned.

Bauman now draws on Durkheim – Society for Durkheim (a view credible at the time) is that body under whose protection we shelter from the horror of our own transcience…. he cites the following quote to emphasise how irrelevant Durkheim’s vie are today… ‘Actions which have a lasting quality are worthy of our volition, only pleasures which endure are worthy of our desires’.

The body and its desires are now longer lived than in Durkheim’s day, but nearly everything else is more transcient – hence the body (along with community) is the only place we can look to for security.

He rounds off this section by suggesting that the body and the community are the only places where we might find security and certainty, and they are lonely places. This has happened because the Nation State has dissolved itself of the responsibility of providing security, or of guaranteeing the security of its citizens.

(185-192) After the Nation-State

There is little hope of salvaging the security and certainty servicecs of the state. This has been erroded by the new global powers (of capital) with the awesome extraterritoriality, speed of movement and evasion/ escape ability; retribution for violating the new global brief is swift and merciless. Indeed, the refusal to play the game by the new global rules is the most mercilessly punishable crime, which the state powers, tied to the ground by their own territorially defined sovereignty, must beware of committing and avoid at all cost….. More often than not, punishment is economic. Insubordinate governments, guilty of protectionist policies or generous public provisions for the ‘economically redundant’ sectors of their populations’ would be refused loans or denied reduction on their debts; local currencies would be made global lepers, speculated against and pressed to devalue, local stocks would fall head down on global exchanges… global investors would withdraw.

Sometimes actual war is necessary, as was the case with Yugoslavia….

Bauman now outlines how history up until heavy modernity was a war over space….. between the settled and the nomads, bewteen the bigger and the smaller,  no longer, today the war is between the quick and the slow. He then argues that what global capitalism wants is the right to be free from commitments, while leaving the tricky issue of security to local goverments, at whatever level these exist.

Four pages are now devoted to outlining the failures of NATO’s attempts to police conflicts. Bauman argues the trend is likely to be to less engagement in local conflicts (the let the war burn itself out approach), before rounding off the chapter suggesting that globalisation has lead to increasing conflicts between communities rather than promoting the peaceful coexistence of communities.

(192-199) Filling the Void

Following Hobsbawm – TNCs would prefer a world with no nation states, or at least smaller states, because these are less powerful and easier to buy. Bauman likes Gidden’s juggernaut analogy, and further suggests that nation states desperately try steer it competitively – they have no choice but to try and attract economic forces favourably because votes depend on it.

The future is one of either supranational regulatory institutions or increasing precariatisation (following Bordieu) – Either way the NS will decline… If this continues, and possibly loses its monopoly on coercion (one if its defining features according to Weber and Elias), it is not at all certain that less violence would be the result. We might just see violence descend to the neo-tribal level.

What could fill this void are what Bauman calles explosive communities, which are born in violence and require violence to continue.

Bauman now draws on Rene Girard’s work on the role of violence in community. Gerard argues that a violent urge is always seeting beneath any community….. To deal with this it needs to be channelled and it is channelled outside of the community – Boundaries are drawn, others created, and unity of the community is periodically enforced by choosing victims from the others to sacrfice. (NB this is all very abstract!)

He now makes a few qualifications, but to be honest I only skim read the rest of this section as I’m not especially interested in this aspect of Bauman’s work at this time, although the point seems to be that explosive communities require violence to define themselves.

Cloakroom Communities

Bauman rounds off by saying that such explosive communities are also cloakroom communities – I’m not sure the word works, it’s supposed to capture their addiction to spectacle the high emotion. He also calls them carnival communities, a better choice of word.

Finally, Bauman mentions that such communities offer no means of grounding the individual, they do not adequately address the destabilising forces which give birth to them!

Posted in Book reviews, summaries and excerpts, Capitalism, Globalisation, Postmodernism, Sociological Theory | No Comments »

Work in Low Pay, No Pay Britain

Posted by Realsociology on 30th October 2013

In this latest Thinking Allowed podcast on ‘Low pay, no pay’ Britain Laurie Taylor talks to the sociologist, Tracy Shildrick, about her prize winning study of individuals and families who are living in or near poverty. The research was conducted in Teesside, North East England, and focuses on the men and women who’ve fallen out of old working class communities and must now cope with drastically reduced opportunities for standard employment. To my mind, this is a good in-dept illustration of what life is really like for a section of the Precariat (although Shildrick would be more cautious).

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The research is based on the book (published in 2012) – Poverty and insecurity Life in low-pay, no-pay Britain by Tracy Shildrick

This book explores how men and women get by in times and places where opportunities for standard employment have drastically reduced and where people exist without predictability or security in their lives, the book shows how poverty and insecurity have now become the defining features of working life for many.

Work may be ‘the best route out of poverty’ sometimes but for many people getting a job can be just a turn in the cycle of recurrent poverty – and of long-term churning between low-skilled ‘poor work’ and unemployment.

Based on unique qualitative, life-history research with a ‘hard-to-reach group’ of younger and older people, men and women this research challenges long-standing and dominant myths about ‘the workless’ and ‘the poor’, by exploring close-up the lived realities of life in low-pay, no-pay Britain.

Below is a summary of the main points of the podcast

  • The low-pay no-pay cycle is much more common than long-term unemployment. Most people intreviewed were committed to work, even though the jobs they did were not ‘comfortable’ jobs. This was one of their most consistent findings…. which in part explains why these people go back time and time again. This of course is the opposite to what we here in the media about people ‘languishing on benefits’.
  • It is not a guarantee that taking up employment will mean an individual is going to better off than on benefits. Most people were ashamed at having to claim benefits.
  • Jobs typically did not last long enough to take workers away from poverty.
  • In work-poverty is – 66% of poverty live in households were at least one person is in-work.
  • The types of work include factory jobs, bars, customer service, often run through agencies.
  • For the people interviewed these type of jobs are not stepping stones to something better – they get one foot on the rung of the ladder, get knocked off, and have to climb back on again.
  • Shildrick is not convinced that the term ‘Precariat’ is accurate enough to describe adequately the experience of all people who are sometimes put into this category. She argues that the experiences of the people she interviewed are different to those of a graduate working for a few years in similar jobs (although the people she interviewed do seem to fit into the definition of the Precariat used by the GBCS below)
  • In response to the idea that better training is the solution to helping people in these jobs, Shildrick suggests we need to look at the bigger picture – society needs these jobs – we need to think ahout how to reward them more appropriately.

Shildrick suggests that it is ultimately employers who have the power to help people out of this cycle. Unfortunately, the trend seems to be of employers being increasingly inflexible while demanding that employees be more flexible.

Links -

1. This seems to be a good in-dept illustration of what life is really like for a section of the Precariat

2. Also a nice illustration of the effects of living in liquid-modernity – The reality is actually bleaker for them than the above research might suggest – As Zygmunt Bauman reminds us (in Liquid Modernity)- ‘The bottom category are the easeist to replace, and  now they are disposabe and so that there is no point in entering into long term commitments with their work colleagues…..  this is a natural response to a flexibilised labour market. This leads to a decline in moral, as those who are left after one round of downsizing wait for the next blow of the axe.

Winner of the British Academy Peter Townsend Prize for 2013 How do men and women get by in times and places where opportunities for standard employment have drastically reduced? Are we witnessing the growth of a new class, the ‘Precariat’, where people exist without predictability or security in their lives? What effects do flexible and insecure forms of work have on material and psychological well-being? This book is the first of its kind to examine the relationship between social exclusion, poverty and the labour market. It challenges long-standing and dominant myths about ‘the workless’ and ‘the poor’, by exploring close-up the lived realities of life in low-pay, no-pay Britain. Work may be ‘the best route out of poverty’ sometimes but for many people getting a job can be just a turn in the cycle of recurrent poverty – and of long-term churning between low-skilled ‘poor work’ and unemployment. Based on unique qualitative, life-history research with a ‘hard-to-reach group’ of younger and older people, men and women, the book shows how poverty and insecurity have now become the defining features of working life for many. – See more at: http://www.policypress.co.uk/display.asp?K=9781847429100#sthash.8EnqVw5J.dpuf
Winner of the British Academy Peter Townsend Prize for 2013 How do men and women get by in times and places where opportunities for standard employment have drastically reduced? Are we witnessing the growth of a new class, the ‘Precariat’, where people exist without predictability or security in their lives? What effects do flexible and insecure forms of work have on material and psychological well-being? This book is the first of its kind to examine the relationship between social exclusion, poverty and the labour market. It challenges long-standing and dominant myths about ‘the workless’ and ‘the poor’, by exploring close-up the lived realities of life in low-pay, no-pay Britain. Work may be ‘the best route out of poverty’ sometimes but for many people getting a job can be just a turn in the cycle of recurrent poverty – and of long-term churning between low-skilled ‘poor work’ and unemployment. Based on unique qualitative, life-history research with a ‘hard-to-reach group’ of younger and older people, men and women, the book shows how poverty and insecurity have now become the defining features of working life for many. – See more at: http://www.policypress.co.uk/display.asp?K=9781847429100#sthash.8EnqVw5J.dpuf
Winner of the British Academy Peter Townsend Prize for 2013 How do men and women get by in times and places where opportunities for standard employment have drastically reduced? Are we witnessing the growth of a new class, the ‘Precariat’, where people exist without predictability or security in their lives? What effects do flexible and insecure forms of work have on material and psychological well-being? This book is the first of its kind to examine the relationship between social exclusion, poverty and the labour market. It challenges long-standing and dominant myths about ‘the workless’ and ‘the poor’, by exploring close-up the lived realities of life in low-pay, no-pay Britain. Work may be ‘the best route out of poverty’ sometimes but for many people getting a job can be just a turn in the cycle of recurrent poverty – and of long-term churning between low-skilled ‘poor work’ and unemployment. Based on unique qualitative, life-history research with a ‘hard-to-reach group’ of younger and older people, men and women, the book shows how poverty and insecurity have now become the defining features of working life for many. – See more at: http://www.policypress.co.uk/display.asp?K=9781847429100#sthash.8EnqVw5J.dpuf

Posted in Book reviews, summaries and excerpts, Capitalism, Changing Britain, Neoliberalism, social class, Wealth and Income Inequality | No Comments »

Summary of Liquid Modernity Chapter Three – Time/ Space

Posted by Realsociology on 16th October 2013

With a few comments…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(94) When strangers meet strangers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(104) Don’t Talk to Strangers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(110) Modernity as History of Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(p113) From Heavy to Light Modernity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(p118) The Seductive Lightness of Being

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

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

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

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

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

Bauman provides two qualifications to the above -

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

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

(p123) Instant Living

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

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

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

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

Posted by Realsociology on 8th October 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Summary of Liquid Modernity – Chapter Two – Individuality

Posted by Realsociology on 7th October 2013

 

blueI’m presently enjoying re-reading Bauman’s major works – I thought offering up my summaries might be useful to some students. I will eventually further summarise/ comment/ critique, but in the meantime.. the raw summary of chapter two of Liquid Modernity….

 Bauman begins by pointing out that Huxley’s and Orwell’s dystopias were very much products of their time. Although they clearly had their differences, what they both shared in common was a fear of individual freedom being reduced to a sham ; both felt the world was heading in the direction of an ever increasing split between remote controllers and the controlled. Just like Plato’s inability to imagine a utopia without slaves, Huxley and Orwell could not imagine a world without a supreme controller’s office. Today’s Liquid Modern society, the type of dystopia imagined by Orwell and Huxley makes no sense.

 

Capitalism Heavy and Light

 In this section, Bauman introduces his by now classic concepts of heavy and light (or liquid) modernity.

 He casts ‘heavy capitalism’ as being a like Nigel Swift’s notion of the ‘Joshua discourse’ – centrally organized and rigidly bounded. In heavy Capitalism, order is all important, and to be seen as having legitimate existence, something must serve a purpose that fits the overall end. In such a ‘modern’ system – the system is like God, it is the reason for its existence, and its perpetuation is the goal. Under such a discourse, it was the capitalist managers of business who controlled things – who decided what was rational and what was not, thus determining the range of viable alternatives available to actors.

The world sustaining the Joshua discourse was the Fordist world, which in its heyday was simultaneously a model of industrialisation, of accumulation and of regulation. At a deeper level, the Fordist model was also an epistemological building site – It was about binary oppositions such as manager and managed, design and execution, freedom and obedience.

Heavy Capitalism was fixed to the ground , tied to one place (as in the Fordist factory), it seemed set to stay and it seemed as if there was no alternative to it. Despite the seemingly oppressive nature of this heavy period of history, this at least gave people a sense certainty, predictability and rootedness, and people generally had jobs for life, they knew where they stood, labour could ‘dig in’ and make deals.

All of this solidity is gone under Light Capitalism. NB Bauman here doesn’t actually say much about this concept, possibly in an attempt to mirror the ‘ambiguous nature’ of this current mode?

He limits himself to saying that nowadays capital travels light, it can stop-over almost anywhere, and is no longer has to stay put. Labour, on the other hand, remains as immobilised as it was in the past – but the place it was once fixed to has lost its solidity. Bauman characterises the passengers of ‘Light Capitalism’ as being on an aircraft who have discovered that….

 ‘to their horror the pilot’s cabin is empty and that there is no way to extract from the mysterious black box.. any information about where the plane is flying, where it is going to land, who is to choose the airport, and whether there are any rules which would allow the passengers to contribute to the safety of their arrival.’

 (p59) Have car, can travel

In Heavy Modernity, we new what the ends were, although there may have been some level of uncertainty over the means whereby we should achieve those ends. However Liquid Modernity introduces a new level of uncertainty as we no longer know what the ends are. Furthermore, in the absence of a supreme office, it is now up to the individual to decide what these ends should be.

Since there are now more life experiences than we can experience in a lifetime, even when we achieve something, there is still more to be achieved, and thus in the Liquid Modern society, are always becoming something but never finally arriving finally.

On this note, Bauman offers up a nice quote by Zbyszko Melosik and Tomasz Szudlarek:

‘living amidst apparently infinite chances offers the sweet taste of ‘freedom to become anybody’. This sweetness has a bitter after-taste, though, since while the ‘becoming’ bit suggests that nothing is over yet and everything lies ahead, the condition of ‘being somebody’ which that becoming is meant to secure, portends the umpire’s final end of game whistle: ‘you are no more free when the end has been reached; you are not yourself when you have become somebody’.

This state of unfinishedness, incompletenesss and underdetermination is full of anxiety and risk, but its opposite brings no unadulterated pleasure either, since it forecloses what freedom needs to stay open.

Bauman uses a Buffet Table analogy to describe this world of possibilities….

the world full of possibilities is like a buffet table set with mouth-watering dishes, too numerous for the keenest of eaters to hope to taste them all. The diners are consumers and the most taxing and irritating of the challenges consumers confront is the need to establish priorities’ – which dishes to forgo that have never yet been experienced… the means are obvious, but the question of ‘have I used my means to the best advantage’ remains.’

Bauman rounds off this section by pointing out that (or this might be inferring it!) Liquid Modern Capitalism requires consumers…. and there is no objective function of the consumer other than to carry on making choices. To make the choice between what to consume is the telos, the purpose the end goal. This means the consumer can never be wrong. If we accept this role of consumer, this means consigning ourselves to a life of perpetual choice and uncertainty.

(63) Stop Telling Me Show Me

Heavy Fordism had clear authority figures. However, in the new capitalism, these don’t disappear, it’s just there are more of them and none of them hold their power for long.

Bauman now makes the distinction between Heavy Modernity’s authorities as ‘leaders’ and Liquid Modernity’s authorities as ‘counsellors –

Leaders

Counselors

A by-product and necessary supplement to the world which aimed at the ‘good society’.

Are to be followed, demanding and expecting discipline.

Act as two way translators between individual good and the ‘good of us all’ (between Mill’s private worries and public issues).

Politics with a capital P.

Use the word ‘we’ – offers the possibility of collective solutions to social problems.

Exist in a Liquid Modern World in which there is not only no commitment to the hope of agreeing on the ‘characteristics of the good society’, but where people generally believe that there is no such thing as society.

Are to be hired and fired. Need to earn the right to be heard by currying favor with would-be listeners.

Are wary of stepping beyond the closed doors of the private, and so offer only therapeutic means to fight off private worries – life-politics

politics with a small ‘p’.

After counseling, the private individual is as alone as when he started.

 

The crucial thing about advice offered by counsellors is that the counselled is always referred to things he can do himself to put him in the right situation. The source of one’s unhappiness is always diffuse, never rooted in society. Solutions offered to personal worries typically come in the form of individual examples…

What people today want is a living example of how they can solve their own problems, rather than a leader to tell them. Bauman provides the case of Jane Fonda as an example of one of these ‘examples’. Fonda took responsibility for her own body, treated it like a project, and made her own way, through her own efforts. The message here is ‘I am to blame and to shame if I err.’

Other examples of popular examples are celebrities and Bauman also casts the chat show in a similar light – On chat shows, it is people ‘like me’ who explain their stories. He explains the popularity of chat shows because they are closer to me, and there are more examples to be learnt from. Ultimately, however, chat shows legitimise filling public space with private concerns (that never become public issues).

The current definition of the public sphere seems to be the right of the public to play out their private dramas and the right of the rest of us to watch. As an example of this Bauman reminds us of how we are interested in the private lives of politicians, and much less interested in their political careers and policies.

 (p72) Compulsion turned into addiction

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Blue Water shopping centre

Looking for counsel, guidance and examples becomes an addiction, because no matter how much of these we receive, none ever deliver on their promise of fulfilling us, they all have their use by date, and so we must move onto the next fix. This is similar to the short-lived satisfactions gained through the consumption of products, the satisfaction gained through each materialistic attachment eventually fades, and so we move on to the next one. As a result, we become ‘content’ that we can simply ‘stay in the race’, and abandon any attempt to reach the finish line.

The archetype of staying in the race is shopping – and today this doesn’t just mean going to the mall – pretty much anything we do today takes the form of shopping if, by shopping, we mean scanning the assortment of possibilities, testing, touching, comparing and finally choosing.

To quote Bauman directly…

‘ the avid and never ending search for new and improved examples and recipes for life is also a variety of shopping, and a most important variety, in the twin lessons that our happiness depends on our competence but that we are personally incompetent, or not as competent as we could or should be if we only tried harder.

(On a personal note this sounds like the message we give out to our students on a daily basis at our sixth form college!)

There are so many areas of life in which we now need to be more competent and Bauman now lists the type of things we can shop around for such as job skills; numerous aspects of advice to do with relationships; how to save money; how to cook (cheer’s Jamie); and how to use our time more efficiently (the discourse of time-management is probably the one I find the most irritating.)

Bauman now distinguishes between ‘need’, ‘desire’ and ‘the wish’ to describe how the nature of consumption has changed. He suggests that consumerism has for a long time been more than about just satisfying needs, but has been (for many decades) about satisfying consumers’ self-generated desires. Bauman casts needs as having some kind of objective basis, while desire is subjective, and required considerable resources to be employed by producers to generate. Desire, however, although flightier and shorter-lived than needs had specific objects as its focus, and it was at least rooted in something, but today consumerism has moved beyond this – it is now focused on what Bauman calls ‘the wish’ – which is much more gaseous and spontaneous and rooted in fantasy rather than reality.

To ‘elucidate’ the difference between the desire and the wish –

Desire – is fluid and expandable, based on half-illicit liaisons with fickle and plastic dreams of the authenticity of an ‘inner self’ waiting to be expressed. The facilitation of desire is founded upon comparison, vanity, envy and the ‘need’ for self-approbation.

The Wish – completes the liberation of of the pleasure principle, purging and disposing of the last residues of the ‘reality principle’ impediments… Nothing underlies the immediacy of the wish. The purpose is casual, unexpected and spontaneous. It has a dream like quality of both expressing and fulfilling a wish, and like all wishes, is insincere and childish.

(p76) The Consumer’s Body

The seminal difference between post-modern and modern society is that post-modern society engages its members primarily as consumers rather than producers.

Life organised around the producer’s role tends to be normatively regulated… There are bottoms lines outlining what one needs to survive as a producer, and there are realistic upper limits to ambition which one ‘s peers will make sure are kept within. The major concern in a society of producers is then that of conformity, of settling securely between the upper and lower limits.

‘Life organised around consumption, on the other hand, must do without norms: it is guided by seduction, ever rising desires and volatile wishes – no longer by normative regulation’ – Luxuries make little sense in the society of consumers because the point is to turn today’s luxuries into tomorrows necessities, and to take the waiting out wanting. There is no norm to transform luxuries into needs, and thus the major concern in a consumer society is that of adequacy, or being ever ready to rise to the opportunity as it comes, to be able to respond to new desires as they arise, and get more out of new consumer experiences.

Health was the standard of modern society, while fitness is the standard in the society of consumers.

Health implies coming up to a normative standard that is required to do the work required of you in a society. Being fit, on the other hand requires having a flexible, adaptable body, it means being ready for new, testing experiences. Whereas health is about sticking to the norms, fitness is about smashing through those norms to set (temporarily) new ones.

‘Life organised around fitness. promises a lot of victorious skirmishes but never the final victory. There is no final goal in the pursuit of health. The pursuit of fitness is the state of perpetual self-scrutiny, self-reproach and also self-deprivation, and so continuous anxiety.

The consequences of a society organised around ‘fitness’

  1. Ever new states of the body become the target for medical intervention

  2. second the idea of disease (dis ease) becomes blurred. It is no longer a one off by a perpetual fight.

  3. Finally the meaning of a healthy life never stands still!

(p80) Shopping as a rite of exorcism

This never ending quest calls upon the consumer to be active in their pursuit of maintaining their health. Being healthy does not require abstinence, rather it requires ever more shopping around and staying on top of the latest ‘health trends’.

Common interpretations of shopping around are that this activity is a manifestation of dormant materialistic and hedonistic instincts, but another part, and a necessary complement of all such explanations is that the shopping compulsion-turned-into-addiction is an uphill struggle against acute, nerve-breaking uncertainty and the annoying, stultifying feeling of insecurity.

People shop because they want security, they want certainty, but it is not in the final product they seek security, it is in the very act of shopping, of picking and choosing itself.

(p82) Free to shop – Or so it seems

People think they cannot own the world fully enough, but it appears to them that other people’s lives are fuller than theirs. Distance blurs reality, and other people’s lives seems like works of art, and so we try to make our lives appear as works of art too.

That work of art which we want to mould out of the friable stuff of life is called ‘identity’. Whenever we speak of identity, there is at the back of our minds a faint image of harmony, logic, consistency, all those things which the flow of our experience seems – to our perpetual despair – so grossly and abominably to lack. The search for identity is the ongoing struggle to arrest or slow down the flow, to solidify the fluid, to give form to the formless. We struggle to deny or at least to cover up the awesome fluidity just below the thin wrapping of the form; we try to avert our eyes from sights which they cannot pierce or take in. Yet far from slowing the flow, let alone stopping it, identities are more like the spots of crust hardening time and again before they have time to cool and set. So there is need for another trial, and another – and they can be attempted only by clinging desperately to things solid and tangible and thus promising duration…. In the words of Deleuze and Guattari: ‘Desire constantly couples continuous flow and partial objects that are by nature fragmentary and fragmented.’

Today our identities are volatile, and because of this we increasingly see the ability to shop around in the supermarket of identities and hold it as long as I desire as desirable.

The experienced, lived identity can only be held together with the adhesive of fantasy… and fashion fits the bill here especially well… just the right stuff, at it provides ways of exploring limits without commitment to action. The ultimate freedom is the freedom to have an identity, to be different, with a nod and wink to the idea that we are all playing the game, but because this game requires us to buy into things, we need stuff to express our identities, we are not really free.

And in today’s world the fashions we use to identify ourselves have built in obsolescence, and so we are required to keep on top of things- more effort. (Lasch) As a result we have moved from a Panotopicon to a Synopticon – where spectacles take the place of observers without losing any of the disciplinary power of their predecessor. NB the few used to watch the many, now the many watch the few. This appears in the guise of freewill but it is really not!

In society we and celebrities and experts, we all construct and present fake identities – but sometimes we see interviews (possible on chat shows) which aim to get to the ‘real person’ – this is equally as nonsense, this is a myth…..

In our society notions of authenticity and inauthenticity are moot, because what is more important is the ability to choose, to be on the move, and in such a society.

There are consequences of living in such a society – on the one had there is the uncertainty and anxiety, on the other your ability to shop around depends on your local in society, which is especially bad for the poor, because in a synoptic society of shopping/watching addicts, the poor cannot avert their eyes.

(89) Divided we shop

In a consumer society with an ever faster turnaround of products -each product’s appeal is shorter-lived, this is more of a problem for the poor who cannot afford to keep up with consumer trends, less of a problem for the wealthy. Being wealthy also means you are more able to avoid the negative consequences of your consumption.

He now uses Gidden’s concepts of plastic sexuality, confluent love and the pure relationship to illustrate this – these fluid forms of relationships, when they come to an end, are clearly going to have some who come out of them better than than others, especially where children are involved.

To sum up – the mobility and flexibility of identification which characterises the shopping around type of life are not so much vehicles of emancipation as the instruments of the redistribution of freedom. They are for that reason mixed blessings.

Comments to follow…

 

Posted in Capitalism, Changing Britain, Postmodernism, Sociological Theory | 1 Comment »

My Life Analysed – The madness of my mortgage

Posted by Realsociology on 25th September 2013

I bought 25% of my lovely brand new, 2 bedroom flat in Surrey about 4 years ago now, and in that time I’ve saved £22000  ready to buy it outright. A recent valuation ‘valued’ the flat @ £190 000, so when I buy outright I will need to borrow about £120 000 to buy the 75% I don’t own, which, added to the roughly £20 000 I still owe on the bit I already own will mean an overall mortgage of £140 000….

Based on the best deal available (with The Post Officce according to Money Supermarket) if I take this mortgage out over a 15 year* period, I will pay £44 000 in interest, meaning I will pay back a total of about £184 000. Based on my take home pay which is just over £2400/ month, or about £29000/ year, this equates to about nearly six years of my life.

The only ‘rational’ response to this situation is one of anger. Anger at the fact that in this social system where land ownership is concentrated in the hands of the few and where a handful of financial institutions are given the right to generate money and thus interest out of thin air, I end up giving away 5 years of my life in order to make profit for the propertied elite and a further 1 or more years to pay the rentiers.

If I were given a quarter of an acre of land, some tools (which I could borrow not own), some people to work with occassionally, and the odd bit of expertise for the techy stuff, and I could build my own place for less than £10 000 – and do it in six months – so less than a year of total work-money-time.

Instead of this, however, restricted by Britain’s archaic planning regulations and the near certainty of not being gifted a quarter of an acre in a Tory heartland, I’m forced into a situation in which the only means** whereby I can meet my basic human needs results in my giving a further 5 years of my time to pay the profits of the various institutions surrounding the construction and financing of my flat – the original landowners, the construction company and the financiers.

Given all of this, I think people should not see ‘getting on the property ladder’ as something to be celebrated, not when our efforts to climb it are fast followed by the shaft-pole of capital.
To go a bit Baumanesque on this, housing is a basic human need, but the housing market in the UK is, I believe, a great example of one of those parts of the system that most of us have very little control over, and we are forced into accepting an extremely inefficient individualised solution to meeting this basic need – Renting in insecure accomodation for the first decade of our adult lives while we scrimp enough for a deposit, and then paying a hugely inflated sum when we finally purchase the property.

We never even imagine that we can change this system – And for many of us we think we’ve  ’won’ when we ‘play hard ball and get 10k off the asking price, or we might feel smugly satisfied when we ‘save’ a few grand from shoppping around for a good mortage deal, failing to face up to the fact that a few grand is nothing compared to the £100K in interest we’re facing over the next two decades.

Having settled into our mortgage repayment schedule, our house then becomes part of our ontological security, and we go about filling it with our identity-markers to further make ourselves secure….We forget about the fact that this object which ties us to the system more so than any other object only does so if we allow those with more power than us to leech years of our lives from us.

What is really grim about this situation is that although the house, that locus of ultra-individualised privatism offers a very insecure security because the same system that ties us into the 25 year mortgage is also the same system that can generate both high unemployment in the interest of short term profits or high interest rates in the interest of long-term (relative) stability, not to mention the current issue with inflation.

Someone remind me again while I’m going along with this>>>????**Actually I am being somewhat melodramatic, there are alternatives… As I’ll outline later.

*Over the more standard 25 year term,  I would pay back £84 000 in interest – brining my total life-work up to about 7.5 years…..

 

 

Posted in Capitalism, My 'life' | No Comments »

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

Posted by Realsociology on 2nd July 2013

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


Summary

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

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

Why does choice lead to anxiety?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brief comment -

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

Posted in Capitalism, Changing Britain, My 'life', Neoliberalism, Postmodernism, Sociological Theory, Sociology on TV | 2 Comments »

Three Myths of The Young Apprentice

Posted by Realsociology on 19th December 2012

The Young Apprentice is one of the very few programmes I make a point of watching. What’s odd is that I enjoy it even though it spreads three messages that I have a real problem with -

  • Firslty, it gives the impression that there is opportunity out there if ‘you only work hard enough’, when in reality the current crisis means it’s actually very tough to start up a small business or find employment, especially for young people.
  • Secondly, the show spreads the myth of meritocracy – We are typically presented with a range of candidates from all manner of social classes, gender and ethnic backgrounds suggesting equal opps, but in real life class privilege etc. still conspire to subvert genuine talent’s rise to the top.
  • Thirdly the show suggests that making a profit is more important than doing something socially useful, an idea I find odious,

To explore these message one  at a time…

Problematic Message One – Even though we’re in ‘tough economic times’ there’s still opportunity if you work hard enough.

OK Maybe this will come across as a little sad that I’ve done this, but if you calculate the profit per head per task and then divide by 2, you get the ‘day rate’ per candidate. The figures look something like this…

Approximate earnings per day for five tasks in the young apprentice

Task Platinum Odyssey Average per team Average per candiadate Average per candidate per day
Clothes 453 330 391 65 32.5
Cook Books* 7500 800 4150 754 377
Sandwiches 316 91 204 45 22.5
Kids Club** 11000 470 5735 1433 716.5
Womad 370 (sales) 283 (sales) 327 109 54.5
Average per candidate per day 240

*This of course assumes that all books are sold and that candidates receive £1 per book, which I think is a realistic estimate as to royalties on the type of books they produced.

* and ** These two ‘big profit tasks’ of course don’t actually take into account the costs of hiring the following

  • Half a day with the chefs to make the recipes/ half a day with the publishers
  • Half a day with the experts to help with the ideas generation of the kids club, or the costs of the materials for the demonstrations

Also neither of these projects are actually realistic in terms of your average teenager being able to start up such business because of the quality of the ‘laid on contacts’ with industry insiders, and the social desirability of purchasing a young apprentice product of course.

Given the above it might actually make more sense to look at the three ‘realistic’ business a teenager might set up – and for these the results are much worse.

Task Platinum Odyssey Average per team Average per candiadate Average per candidate per day
Clothes 453 330 391 65 32.5
Sandwiches 316 91 204 45 22.5
Womad 370 (sales) 283 (sales) 327 109 54.5
Average per candidate per day 36.50

If this is what the eleven brightest young people in the country can do (plus one hot-housed posh kid with inflated GCSEs) then Socialism help the rest of them is all I can say

Max – Defo the right candidate to go in week 1

Misleading Message Two - In the world of business it doesn’t matter what your class or ethnic background or your gender identity there’s a level playing field. OK I accept that in the apprentice the working classes seem to come good – In fact if anything Lord Sugar seems to have a deep suspicion of the posh – very probably because he’s ended up working with a lot of talent-less individuals who have risen up the ranks because of contacts rather than well, err talent.

In the real world of business what happens is that you need a leg up to be able to get yourself established – this will either mean money from your parents or an internship – often networked into, and in which you work for nothing for some months or even years. For evidence see below…

In addition to this if you’re a female looking to break into business, OK things are changing – but check out these stats from a previous blog of mine

All of this doesn’t stop me finding the apprentice hugely entertaining, I just hope a few people read this and think again about some of the potentially misleading messages it puts out….

Problem Message Three – Profit is more important than social utility

The contestants really have been asked to produce crap this year haven’t they?

Basically just crap – The Wetsuit Kimono

In episode 1, the task was to resell old clothes, which otherwise would have probably gone towards making money for  charity but instead ends up with either the BBC or Alan Sugar or the candidates (Actually I’ve no idea where the money ends up TBH!).  You could in fact argue that taking from charity results in negative social utility.

Episode two saw the candidates producing cook books – With one team producing a student cook book and the other a book which, in a total throwback to the 1980s, ended up with the title ‘the professional woman’. Whatever spin you put on a new cook book – the fact that there are are over 60 000 cookery books currently available on Amazon does suggest we don’t really need any more.

Episode three was all about sourcing a list of ten items for the very inclusive (NOT) Royal Opera House – Sugar putting the youth to work for the benefit of elite (kind of like apprenticeships and workfare).

Episode four revolved around the teams putting on a themed afternoon tea experience and sell them at a Stately Home – resulting in a ’1940s’ theme and a ‘Mad Hatter’s’ theme – both of which I think we can agree are frankly pretty naff.

In episode five the candidates were required to develop a new kids club in order to attract investors who would potentially buy licenses. I will at this point concede that this venture does, finally, have some kind of genuine social utility – for parents at least.

The product of the most creative young business minds in the UK

Episode six saw the teams developing a new brand of hair spray and hair gel – Possibly the very epitome of products that lack any genuine social use value

In the penultimate episode candidates disturbed the ‘peace and love’ of the Womad festival to sell a combination of a cardboard box toilet and an umbrella seat on the one hand and onesies and camping washing machines on the other. Actually maybe these are even more useless than the hair products?

So of the seven episodes, there is only one potential product or service that has any genuine social utility, and that only for parents wealthy enough to pay for their kids’ extra curricular activities.

/

The Young Apprentice – Find out More

The BBC – The Young Apprentice 2012

Digital Spy has quite a nice overview of what’s been going on

Sabotage Times – Is Lord Sugar really looking for a new carer?

Unreality TV – Has several posts on the Young Apprentice

Posted in Agenda Setting, Capitalism, Sociology on TV, Things I like | No Comments »

Call centres – The New Dark Satanic Mills?

Posted by Realsociology on 17th January 2012

Check out this job posting from Reed Employment Services

‘Spanish plus another language Customer Service Executive- Edinburgh £14,000 – Working 40 hours per week based in Sighthill, Edinburgh Our client is a market leading outsource contact centre who provides an array of sophisticated customer management solutions to major international companies around the world, primarily in the communications, financial services, healthcare, technology’

It may sound pretty swish – but this is basically an advert for a job in a call centre – and you only earn £14, 400 – which puts you below the government’s poverty line (not to mention the fact that you have to be bilingual!)  
 
If you believe Mark Serwotka of the Public Services Union- Call Centres are among the worst employment sectors in the UK – he in fact phrased the title of this post. The extract below, based on interviews with call centre workers, and taken from Owen Jone’s Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class illustrates some of the miseries of working in a call centre -

 

By the look on his face, he's run out of 'toilet time'

There are nearly a million people working in call centres, and the number is going up every year.

‘Call centres are a very regimented environment,’ says John McInally, a trade unionist leading efforts to unionize call centre workers. ‘Its rows of desks with people sitting with headphones. There’s loads of people in the room, but they’re seperate units. They’re encouraged not to talk, share experiences, and so on…. The minute you get in the door, your moveemnts are regulated by the computer…. We’ve likened the conditions to those you’d have seen in mills or factories at the end of nineteenth century.’ Think that’s an exaggeration? Then consider the fact that, in some call centres, workers have to put their hands up to go to the toilet and computers dictate the time and duration of breaks, with no flexibility whatosever. Employees are under constant monitoring and surveillance, driving up stress levels.

Many call centre workers have told McInally that the whole experience is ‘very dehumanising’. People talk about being treated like robots. Everything is regulated by machines.’ The working lives of many operators consist of reading through the same script over and over again. According to the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, increasing numbers of call centre workers are being referred to speech therapists because they are losing their voices. The cause? Working long hours with little opportunity to even have a drink of water.

It's actually almost impossible to find 'real' pictures of call centres

That’s one reason why the sickness rate in class centres is nearly twice the national average, The other is deep alienation from the work….. annual staff turnover is around a quarter of the workforce. And, like so much of the new working class, the salaries of call centre workers are poor. A trainee can expect £12 500, while the higher-grade operates are on an average of just £16 000.

Twenty-eight year olf Carl Leishman has been a call centre worker in Durham for eight year. He works bruising twelve-hour shits, three days on a three days off. At his pervious job, stiff targets had to be met. Four per cent of his working hours were set aside for needs like going to the toilet or getting a drink. ‘You’d get ratings at the end of each month, and if you’d gone above those percentages then your rating would drop, affecting what bonuses and pay rises you were getting.’ Carl didn’t need to go the to toilet too often – ‘whereas some other people, like pregnant women, could really struggle to stick to that.’

His employers have a no-hang-up policy, even if the customer is swearing or being aggressive. ‘You’ll see quite often on the floor people in tears at the way people have spoken to them,’ he says. It is a job that can have consequences for your health, too. ‘Your throat gets incredibly dry. There are people I’ve known for years whose throats have gone from doing it. A lady I used to work with had to actually leave because her voice was just completely shot.’

At the core of his experience at work is the lack of control over what he does.  ‘We’re set in rows, which I hate, to be honest. It can sometimes feel very much like a chicken factory as though you don’t have too much control over what you’re doing: ‘This is the way your doing things, and that’s it, deal with it, because that’s the way it is, don’t think too much outside the box… you don’t need to think much for yourself.

Carl’s salary is just £14 400 a year.

 

Related Posts and Issues

The rise of the call centre worker is indicative of the rise of the ‘New Working Class’ - people employed in the service sector, often on low pay, and increasingly in temporary and part-time conditions (often suffering underemployment) -

The PCS campaigns for better conditions for Call Centre Workers and has put together this Call Centre’s Charter

If anyone’s got time to read it – this looks like a great PhD from 2010 - LIFE IN A NORTHERN TOWN: CALL CENTRES, LABOUR MARKETS & IDENTITY IN POST-INDUSTRIAL MIDDLESBROUGH ANTHONY LLOYD

Posted in Capitalism, Changing Britain, Research Methods | No Comments »

The (wealthy) Chinese are coming

Posted by Realsociology on 7th January 2012

You probably noticed that the Chinese have been in town for the Christmas sales  - indicative of the fact that Chinese ‘retail tourism’ to the UK – has increased massively in the last half a decade. Further evidence of this is found in the following stats (mainly taken from this article)  -

  • Both UK visitor numbers and spend are up 50 per cent in the past three years
  • China accounted for a 109 000 visits to the UK in 2010 – and Visit Britain, a firm dealing with Chinese tourism to the UK is targetting 300 000 Chinese visit by 2020.
  • Chinese holiday shopping now accounts for 15% of all foreign uk sales
  • Retail spending by the Chinese has risen from £30m in 2007 to over £300m just three years later, according to Nigel Dasler at Global Blue, a financial services firm.

Behind these figures lies China’s phenomenal economic growth – which slowed to 9.1% in 2011 and is predicted to overtake the U.S as the world’s largest economy by 2027

However, when you look @ China’s GDP per capita figures – things get grimmer – the average is currently $2500 per capita compared to $36 100 for the UK (NON PPP stats!) – So it’s not as if the majority of the Chinese population are enjoying the increase in China’s wealth.

The increase in Chinese Tourism is coming from the growth of the middle classes in China, but more importantly where headline grabbing expenditures of ‘£1000 a head per visit in Harrods’ are concerend is the increase in number of dollar millionaires in mainland China – which is nearly 10 per cent higher in a year, to 960,000 (a small overall percentage in a population of 1.3 billion)

The headlines about Chinese shoppers saving the day for Western retailers don’t remind you of the increasing inequality in China – the income of the top 10 percent of the richest Chinese was 23 times that of the bottom 10 percent in the country in 2007, as compared with 1998, when the gap was only 7.3 times. China has a gini coefficient of 4.7.

It’s also interesting to note how this compares with increasing inequality in the UK – we now have a gini coefficient of 4.0 – greater than at any point in the last 30 years.

So if you look behind these headline stats, you get a much fuller picture of the nature of globalisation – yes China is growing, yes Britain is stagnating – but it’s only some Chinese that are getting rich enough to take part in globalised consumption – while their peers get relatively poorer – and the same is true of Britain – the rich are doing very nicely for themselves – while most of the rest of us -  get relatively poorer – increasingly lacking the capacity to take part in truley globalised consumption.

Posted in Capitalism, Globalisation | No Comments »