Category Archives: Neoliberalism

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

A summary of one thread within this excellent book….

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

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

The Nature and Extent of Global Educational Corporatism

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

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

The Corporate takeover of New York City’s Schools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The WEF report makes several other recommendations:

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

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

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

Potential Problems with Increasing Educational Corporatism

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

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

Bibliography 

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

DFES (2013): Digital Technology in Schools. http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/teachingandlearning/curriculum/a00201823/digital-technology-in-schools accessed 16/01/2104, updated 18 October 2013. Archived at http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20130123124929/http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/teachingandlearning/curriculum/a00201823/digital-technology-in-schools

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

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

 

 

The Corporate Takeover of Education? Pearson’s Rapidly Expanding Control of UK Qualifications

Amidst the other aspects of the privatisation of education (Marketisation, Academies, Free Schools, Apprenticeships, Tuition Fees etc.) you may have missed this aspect!

Pearson PLC is a FTSE 100 company worth nearly £10 billion with sales of £4.9 billion and a £720 million profit in 2014, whose best-known subsidiary is Britain’s largest exam board, Edexcel, which generates a a profit of £60 million a year.

Over the last five years Pearson PLC has aggressively expanded its control of Britain’s qualifications and assessment market.

Between 2008/09 and 2012/13 its share of the GCSE market increased from 21% to 30%

Pearsons GCSE

 

Its share of ‘other qualifications’ has increased from 5% to 28%

Pearsons other table

Pearsons other

However, Pearson’s share of the smaller A level market decreased slightly from 25% to 23%.

Pearsons A level

Despite the shrinking in the A level market, taken together this means that Pearson PLC now sets the examination standards for almost 30% of qualifications undertaken in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (1).

NB – There is more expansion planned! In its 2014 annual report Pearson PLC clearly states a desire to further expand its role in the UK education further, by getting more involved in such areas as the development of blended and virtual schools (e.g. Connections Education); and schools improvement programmes (e.g. through the Pearson’s School Model), and the use of ICT is central to all of this (2), although to date progress in these other areas seems to have not been as rapid as with its takeover of the qualifications market.

(1)http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20141031163546/http://ofqual.gov.uk/standards/statistics/annual-qualification-market-report-england-wales-northern-ireland/

(2)https://www.pearson.com/ar2014.html

The rise of the yummy mummies, and why you shouldn’t tolerate them

The rise of the ‘yummy mummy': popular conservativism and the neoliberal maternal in contemporary British culture

Jo Littler

This is a brief post summarising (much of it paraphrased) the above article,  which analyses the rise of the ‘yummy mummy’ – I’m not a huge fan of cultural studies, but I like this…. It’s helped me understand why I’m so intolerant of them, and why I’m right to be.

What is the yummy mummy?

In short, she is a white, thirty something in a position of privilege, shoring up the boundaries against the other side of the social divide (so-called ‘pramfaces’).

The yummy mummy, as constructed through autobiographical celebrity guidebooks and ‘henlit’ novels espouses a girlish, high consuming maternal ideal as a site of hyper-individualised pyschological ‘maturity’. ‘Successful’ maternal femininity in this context is often articulated by rejecting ‘environmentally-conscious’ behaviour – disavows wider structures of social political and ecological dependency in order for its conservative fantasy of autonomous, individualising retreatism to be maintained.

Whilst the characteristics of the yummy mummy might appear as changeable as her clothing, most often the term is used to symbolise a type of mother who is sexually attractive and well groomed, and who knows the importance of spending time on herself. She is, according to Liz Fraser’s book ‘The Yummy Mummy’s Survival Guide’ (2006) ‘the ultimate modern woman: someone who does not identify with the traditional, dowdy image of motherhood… who knows her Gap from her Gucci’.

There are various blogs and websites maintained by women ready to embrace the term, and is frequently used to describe glamourous celebrity mothers – books by Myleen Klass and Melanie Sykes are two well known examples in the UK.

Yummy mummys tend to think of themselves as exemplary successful individuals who are making the most of their lives and through their high-consumption lifestyles they demonstrate to the rest of us that it is possible to ‘have it all’ – the children, the job and the looks. Truly, they are (in their heads) the ultimate modern women.

However, just as with the yuppie, or the new man, the emergence of the yummy mummy can also be read as indivative of an underlying social crisis, in which case her emergence can tell us about how ideas of feminity and parenting are changing and about the times in which we are living….

Sexualisation

Most obviously the yummy mummy positions the mother as a sexually desirable being. This is a substantial cultural shift – previously, mothers had been perceived as asexual.

For generations, patriarchal norms had typically constructed women as either Madonnas or Whores – either asexual Sacred Virgins or sexual beings deserving of brutalisation (hence witches being burnt at the stake) – It was precisely this myth of the asexual female which second wave Feminists such as Germaine Greer, Ann Oakly and Kate Millet criticised, (although little was said by any of them about the constructued asexuality of mothers in paprticular).

A brief history of motherhood in western cultures looks something life this (from Woodward 1997)

  • The 1950s domestic goddess – groomed yet chaste
  • The 1970s oppressed housewife – made-up and miserable
  • The 1980s working mother – powerful and besuited

Given this history, the yummy mummy’s positioing as desirable and sexually active might be regarded as emancipatory because now mothers themselves are encouraged to look hot, however, there are other ways of intererepting the yummy mummy – as outlined below…

A) As expressing a very limited (traditional) femininity and sexuality

Littler points to three limitations with the yummy mummy’s sexuality

Firstly, certain aspects of performance come to be expected – mothers are not just allowed to express their sexuality but are expected to express a particular kind of sexuality. Treatments like facials, for example, are now advised as necessary and routine. As minor UK celebrity (I love this description) Melanie Sykes tells us….

‘Being a gorgeous mum just takes a bit of imagination and more planning than it did before, but you  really have no exuse for sinking into frumption and blaming it on parenthood’

It is harder to imagine a clearer expression that this of how the onus, no matter the extent of resources or income, is on a self-governing subject to regulate herself. Such urgings are part of a wider canvas of neoliberal responsibilising through self-fashioning. In this context the yummy-mummy is an aspirational figure, with the specifics of how to become her outlined in various guidebooks suchaas The Fabulous Mum’s Handbook.

Second, sexuality is delimited because the preferred model of femininity is ultra-feminine – well-groomed, wearing fashionable clothes and being very slim. In other words, this is the extension of a fashion and beauty complext to the post-pregnant body.

Even the ‘slummy mummy’ still aspires to the yumm-mummy, the former being a Bridget-Jones type of mother – Still accepting the ideal, but endearing through her failure to live up to it. Both types (according to Mcrobbie) share in common a rejection of Feminism.

Third, the yummy mummy is more of a desired than a desiring object, although unlike with the pornoised MILF, there is something eerily infantile about the yummy mummy construction – part of the identity inolves a coming down to the level of the child and depoliticsing yourself, suggesting you are incapable of dealing with political issues, rather all you can do is consume.

(B) The yummy mummy as neoliberal agent (a social class based analysis)

In the UK there are generally two routes to motherhood, and there is now a signficant gulf between working class younger mothers who are demonised and middle class mothers in their 30s who are the ideal, and it is from this later type that the yummy mummy emerges.

The yummy-mummy is basically a high-consuming, stay at home mum drawn from the top 10% of society.  She does not think about the wider social context which affects all mothers, because she does not have to, and rather than doing politics she retreats from public life and and focuses on a very delimitted range of concerns – deciding what consumer-oriented activities her and her child should engage in. The message of the yummy mummy is clear – you have the power to solve your own problems, and the solution to these problems is conusme more – no need to get political.

The problem with this is that the very visiable yummy mummy construction ignores completely the wider structural context of motherhood and parenting….

This context is that neoliberal policies have reduced support for working mothers make it very hard for most mothers to stay at home for any length of time outside a year’s paid maternity leave – Working conditions remain very unflexible and radically unfriendly to families. On top of this there is still an expectation that the mother will be the ‘foundation parent’ (NB recent changes to paternity leave may help change this). This makes it very hard for parents (and especially women) to combine work and soical care in equitable and supportive fashion –

As a result the majority of mothers (say 90%) simply do not have the resources to be yummy mummys, only (say 10% do), and it is these 10% who get the air-time and get to publish books and tell the other 90% what they should be worrying about.

Thus in sociological terms the yummy mummy is a neoliberal agent whose function is to encourage individualisation and responsibilisation on the part of all mothers and to demonise mothers who are working class, in any way political and/ or do not subscribe to a tradtionally feminine (infantalised) sexuality.

C) – Finally, the yummy mummy is inherently anti-environmental

She is basically a pro-corporate consumer, and she has wider agency in encouraging and driving consumerism. In many contemporary novels, high end consumers are often contrasted against frugual-consumer mothers who are cast as freaks and social misfits.

It is not hard to see why the yummy-mummy is anti-environmental when you think that environmentalism is overtly political whereas the YM is high-consumption, individualistic and narcissistice.

In conclusion

This article has helped me understand my own high degree of irritation at yummy mummys and thier brats disturbing my peace and quiet in coffee shops around Reigate. Before reading this I was somewhat concerned that I should find this so annoying.

Now, however, I realise that I haven’t just been being irritated by the mums their brats, it must have been my unarticuclated subconscious telling me that these people are the shallow, selfish, narcissistic agents of neoliberalism.

In short, my peace in those coffee shops was being disturbed by the agents of everything that’s wrong with global politics, not to mention the reproduction of it at the level of the life-world.

TTIP – Putting Profit before People

The government is about to sign up to a treaty which will would allow companies like Sports Direct (just a random example) to sue a future government for increasing the minimum wage, if introducing such a policy damaged corporate profits.

The treaty’s called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – And it’s seems to be primarily about shafting the 300 or so million citizens of European countries so that Transnational Corporations can make even more profit.

CORP

 

Having clicked around a few web sites which try to summarise what the TTIP is, I think I’ve done a better job below – down to just FIVE KEY POINTS… (Handily for anyone studying Global Development, this also reads like a ‘what is neoliberalism’ check llist).

1. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a free trade treaty currently being negotiated – in secret – between the European Union and the USA.

2.  The main goal of TTIP is to remove regulatory ‘barriers’ which restrict the potential profits to be made by transnational corporations on both sides of the  Atlantic.

3. These ‘barriers’ are basically social and environmental protections currently enforced through the laws of various nation states within Europe and include the following:

  • labour rights (e.g. Minimum wages, holiday pay, public sector pensions)
  • food safety rules (including restrictions on GMOs),
  • regulations on the use of toxic chemicals
  • digital privacy laws
  • new banking safeguards introduced to prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis.

4.  TTIP also seeks to create new markets by opening up public services  to competition from transnational corporations, threatening to introduce a further wave of privatizations in key sectors, health and education.

5. Most worrying of all, TTIP seeks to grant foreign investors a new right to sue sovereign governments in front of ad hoc arbitration tribunals for loss of profits resulting from public policy decisions.

So here we go again – a further wave of neoliberalisation, given that it looks like many Nation States in Europe are about to agree to a set of international rules which put Corporate profits before the well-being of their citizens.

Of course you’ve probably never heard of this treaty, it’s firmly off the news agenda, even though, right now, your democratic rights are being undermined and this treaty will almost certainly mean that you are worse off in the future in terms of your labour rights, environmental protection, and quality of public services.

If you want to sign a petition to get Vince Cable to fix or scrap the deal then click here

This post is mainly summarised from this nice document – TTIP – A Charter for Deregulation, an Attack on Jobs and an End to Democracy

Work in Low Pay, No Pay Britain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The World Wealth Report 2013

 

The World Wealth Report reports on trends in the wealth of HNWIs – Or High Net Wealth Individuals. These are individuals with $1million or more in investable assets. You have to sign up to be able to download the report, but its free. (Thankyee for the crust kind sirs, doffs cap…) 

Between 2011-12, the richest 12 million people in the world gained an extra 4.2 trillion dollars of wealth between them – Their total wealth is now $46.2 billion, up from $42 billion in 2011. Thats a tidy $350 000 each extra on average, and according to the predictions below that trend is set to continue…

wealth1

Of course it gets bleaker… the averages above disguise the fact that the richest Ultra High Net Wealth Individuals increased their overal wealth more than the mere ‘millionnaires next door’… the proportional increases may well be the same, but of course a 10% gain on $50 million means you gain more than if you’d gained 10% on a mere $1 million.

wealth4

 

And bleaker… The richest 12 million may have got 10% richer on average, but this is on the back of a mere 2.2% GDP growth rate, so their wealth is growing nearly five times the rate of real global wealth (although somehow I’m sure that’s not a fair comparison?!)

wealth5

 

And even bleaker… according to the World Bank’s GNI data (not the same as wealth I know) –  GNI only increased from around 70 to 71.4 trillion dollars, which is less than 1%, so most of this wealth increse doesn’t seem to be rooted in the production of tangible goods and services.

No doubt there are different ways of interpreting what this data actually means, comments welcome!

 

In case you prefer a word-based summary – the 2013 report notes the following…

  • Between 2011 to 2012 The world’s HNWI population increased by 9.2% to reach 12.0 million, after remaining flat in 2011.
  • In the same period, The aggregate investable wealth increased 10.0% to US$46.2 trillion, after declining slightly in 2011.
  • ƒHNWI wealth in 2012 represented a new level of strength, going well past the historical high of US$42.7 trillion set in 2010.
  • Relatively stronger growth rates in higher wealth bands4 (US$5 million or more) led the growth of overall investable wealth globally.
  • All of this is despite a decline in the rate of world GDP growth to 2.2% last year.

 

 

Summary of Zygmunt Bauman’s Liquid Modernity – Chapter One

 

Chapter One – Emancipation

168787The chapter begins with Marcuse’s complaint that, by the mid 1970s, most people didn’t see the need to be liberated from society, fewer were prepared to act on that wish, and in any case no one was certain how that liberation might differ from the then current social situation.

Next Bauman outlines his conception of liberation, noting that ‘to feel free means to experience no hindrance, obstacle, resistance or any other impediment to the moves intended or desired’. He then argues, following Schopenhauer, that feeling free from constraint means reaching a balancing act between one’s wishes (or imagination) and the stubborn indifference of the world to one’s intentions. This balance might be achieved in two ways – through either expanding one’s capacity to act or through limiting one’s desires (imagination).

Distinguishing between these two strategies to emancipation makes possible the distinction between subjective (to do with how one perceives the ‘limits’ to one’s freedom), and objective freedom (pertaining to one’s capacity to actually act). This highlights the fact that people may not be objectively free but feel free because they either fail to realise they are not free, or, more worryingly in Bauman’s mind, because they dislike the idea of freedom given the hardships that come along with that freedom, which brings him onto the ‘mixed blessings of freedom’…

(P18) The mixed blessings of freedom

This section begins with an episode from the Odyssey in which Odysseus manages to trap a sailor who had been turned into a hog by Circe. Odysseus (through the use of a magical herb) manages to release the sailor from his bewitchment. However, the released sailor, Elpenoros, is far from greatful who complains

‘So you are back you busybody? Again you want to nag and pester us, to expose our bodies to dangers and force our hearts to take ever new decisions? I was so happy, I could wallow in the mud and bask in the sunshine, I could gobble and grunt and squeak, and be free from doubts… Why did you come? To fling me back into the hateful life I led before?’

Bauman now poses two questions (NB this isn’t that clear from the writing!) – Firstly, why has freedom been slow to arrive? Secondly why, when freedom does arrive, is it so often seen as a curse?

Bauman explores one possible answer to the first question, which is that men are not ready for freedom. These types of answer tend to be accompanied by either pity for the men duped out of their freedom or anger at the masses unwilling to take up their liberty. Such answers are also accompanied by attempts to explain why men do not perceive the need to be free, with the blame being laid variously (by other commentators) at a modern culture which replaces ‘having’ with ‘being'; the embourgeoisement of the underdog, or a culture industry which makes us thirst for entertainment rather than spiritual fulfillment.

A possible answer to the second question (the answer that Elpenoros would have given) is that men are not prepared to face liberty because of the hardships it brings. This type of answer criticises libertarian notions of Freedom such as those outlined by the likes of Charles Murray in which happiness is related to individual resourcefulness. Murray argues that what fills an event with satisfaction is that ‘I’ did it, but this is flawed, Bauman points out, because being thrown back on one’s own resources also portends a paralysing fear of risk and failure without the right to appeal and seek redress.

On a personal note, I would generally agree with this critique of libertarian notions of freedom. The thought of working on projects such as moving house, or clearing my allotment,or, on a larger scale, building an eco-village are much less daunting, and actually only made possible with the co-operation of others.

Bauman now draws on the legacy of Hobbes and Durkheim to argue that we are right to be skeptical about the benefits of libertarian notions of freedom. He seems to sympathetic with the Durkheimian idea that a degree of social coercion is actually an emancipatory force. To quote Durkheim:

‘The individual submits to society and this submission is the condition of his liberation. For man freedom consists of deliverance from blind, unthinking physical forces; he achieves this by opposing against them the great and intelligent force of society, under whose protection he shelters. By putting himself under the wing of society, he makes himself also, to a certain extent, dependent upon it, But this is a liberating dependence, there is no contradiction in this.’

In other words, there is no other way to achieve freedom other than to submit to the norms of society – the individual needs society to be free. Total freedom from society means a perpetual agony of indecision and uncertainty about the will of those around you, whereas patterns and routines condensed by social pressures give us road markings, inform us how to act, give us a sense of certainty in this life.

Bauman now outlines arguments which support the view that an element of routine is necessary, citing Fromm’s notion that we need certainty, Richard Sennet’s notion of character, and Gidden’s concept of habit.

Having established that the individual needs some sense of norms, some sense of routine to ground himself, Bauman rounds of this section by introducing one of the central problems of living in a post-modern society – that such norms and routines are much less stable than they once were. Citing Deleuze and Guatari’s and Alain Touraine’s ideas he points out that the time has come when we no longer have a social definition of the self, and individuals are expected to define themselves in terms of their own psychological specifity and not society or universal principles.

The individual has already been granted all of the freedoms he could have ever dreamed of, and that our social institutions are more than willing to cede the worries of self-definition to individuals, while universal principles which might guide our lives are hard to find.

Bauman rounds off this section by suggesting that Marcuse’s pining for communitarianism is outdated because there is no social aspect in which we can re-route the individual, all that is left is the psychologist’s couch and motel beds. The individual has become disembedded and there is nowhere to re-embed.

(p22) The fortuities and changing fortunes of critique

Bauman’s main point here is that our society is still hospitable to critique, but the focus of critique has shifted from criticising society and positing viable ways of changing that society to ourselves and our life-politics. Today, we are reflexive beings who constantly question what we are doing and express dissatisfaction with various aspects of our lives.

The problem is that at the same time as us becoming more self-critical, we have lost control over the agenda which shapes our life-politics. Our reflexivity is shallow, it does not extend in any meaningful sense to our having control over the system in which we are embedded.

There is a parallel here between the individual in a state of constant disaffection with the Buddhist notion of the individual being in a constant state of Dukkha, the feeling that something is just not quite right with one’s self. The difference in the two conceptions, however, is that in Bauman’s conception of the self, the disaffection emerges because of the individual’s social disembeddedness, while in Buddhism, it is part of the human condition itself, a universal personal experience that emerges because of the delusion of the true nature of non-self

Bauman now provides a ‘caravan park’ analogy to describe the way we tend to interact with society today. According to Bauman, we are mostly content to limit our concerns to what goes on in our own individual caravans, and we only want to engage with other caravan dwellers occasionally and in a non-commital manner, reserving the right to up and leave when we choose. We only ever complain about the caravan park when certain services break down, such as the electricity or water supply, otherwise we are happy to let it run itself, without feeling any need to to commit to it, or question the way it is run the way it is. (I like this analogy so much, I reproduced the full version in a recent post – one or two earlier from this).

This is very different to the type of social engagement that was the norm when Adorno developed his critical theory. At that time, Bauman suggests, many more people treated society as if it were their house, and they the house-dwellers and, feeling as if it were their house, they acted within it as if they were permanent residents who could, if necessary, alter the structure of that house.

Moving onto one of the central themes in Bauman’s work, he now argues that this changing mood of critical engagement with society (or lack of it) is because of the shift from heavy to light modernity which has resulted in a profound transformation of public space and, more generally, in the fashion in which the modern society works and perpetuates itself.

Bauman notes that Heavy modernity was endemically pregnant with the possibility of totalitarianism – the threat of an enforced homogeneity, the enemy of contingency, variety and ambiguity. The principal icons of the era were the Fordist factory, with its simple routines, and bureaucracy, in which identities and social bonds meant nothing. The methods of control in this period were the panopticon, Big Brother and the Gulag. It was in this period of history that the dystopias of Orwell and Huxley made sense to people (which they do not any longer) and that the defense of individual autonomy and creativity against such things as mass culture offered by critical theory appealed to a wide body of citizens.

However, in Liquid Modernity, we are no longer constrained by industry, bureaucracy and the panopticon, no longer does Orwell’s dystopia seem possible. Liquid Modern society, however, is no less modern than it was 100 years ago, because it is still obsessed with modernising, with creative destruction… with phasing out, cutting out, merging, downsizing, dismantling, becoming more productive or competitive, and something else which is continuous with heavy modernity is that fulfillment is always somewhere in the future

But two things make the Liquid Modern Era different to the Heavy Modern Era: –

Firstly, there is the end of the idea of perfectibility. We no longer believe that there will be an end to the process of modernisation – it has become a perpetual process.

Secondly, we are now expected to find individual solutions to our problems. Gone is the idea that reason applied to social organisation can improve our lives, 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 the individual to look to themselves to solve their life-problems, or to improve themselves.

(p30) The Individual in Combat with The Citizen

Bauman starts off with something of a homage to Norbert Elias (and fair play, History of Manners was a terrific read!) for shifting the dualist sociological discourse of self-society to one which focuses on a ‘society of individuals.’

Casting members as individuals is the trade mark of modern society and this casting is an activity re-enacted daily. Modern society exists in its incessant activity of ‘individualising’. To put it in a nutshell, individualisation consists of transforming human identity from a given into a task and charging actors with the responsibility for performing that task and for the consequences (also the side effects) of their actions.

Bauman now points to another difference between heavy and liquid modernity. In the period of ‘heavy modernity’, having been disembedded from previous social-locations, people sought to re-embed themselves in society, through, for example, identifying as a member of a stable social class. By contrast, in today’s modernising society, we have no stable beds for re-embedding, we just have musical chairs, and so people are constantly on the move. In the liquid modern world, there is no end of the road, nowhere for us to ‘re-embed’.

Having established what individualisation is, Bauman now goes on to make three further points –

  1. In the age of liquid modernity the option to escape individualisation and to refuse to participate is not on the agenda -Individualisation is not a choice – to refuse to participate in the game is not an option.

  2. In the Liquid Modern society, how one lives becomes a biographical solution to systemic 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.

  3. A gap is growing between individuality as fate and the ability for genuine self-assertion. The self-assertive capacity of men and women falls short of what genuine self-constitution would require..

Bauman now distinguishes between the citizen and the person – the former seeks their well-being in the city (read ‘society’), while the later is unconcerned with collective well-being. and basically makes the argument that part of individualisation is the ending of citizenship

Another unfortunate aspect of the Liquid Modern era is that, rather than being used to discuss public issues, public space is brimming with private problems – where people’s individual problems and their individualised biographical solutions are discussed, without any consideration of the social conditions which gave rise to those problems.

Bauman rounds off this section by pointing out that in today’s society, the chances of being re-embedded are thin, and this means that new communities are wandering and fragile, and he alludes to the fact that newly-emerging networks with low commitment are not sufficient to empower individuals.

 He ends with a rather bleak quote from Beck ‘On the Mortality of Industrial Society’… ‘

What emerges from the fading social norms is naked, frightened aggressive ego, in search of love and help. In the search for itself and an affectionate sociality, it easily gets lost in the jungle of the self.. Someone who is poking around in the fog of his or her own self is no longer capable of noticing that this isoloation, this solitary confinement of the ego’ is a mass sentence’.

(p38) The Plight of Critical Theory in the Society of Individuals

The modernising impulse means the compulsive critique of reality, and the privatisation of that impulse means compulsive self-critique, and perpetual self-disaffection. It means that we look harder and harder at how we can improve ourselves.

I’m in two minds about what to make of Bauman’s idea of perpetual disaffection – On the one hand I’m impressed by the sympathy for the basic plight of the individual – it is, after all, an experience of the perpetual suffering that accompanies the human condition; on the other hand I’m concerned that what Bauman’s going to try and argue later on is that this disaffection will disappear once individuals gain some greater degree of control over the process of their self determination. In Buddhism, the fact the individual seeks to self-determine in the first place is the source of the disaffection, so this won’t be remedied through merely reinventing one’s relations with one’s social context (although this is part of the process in Buddhism – through right livelihood) – this disaffection is probably better seen as individuals en mass realising their true nature – and this needs a deeper solution, which will combine the various factors found in the Noble Eightfold Path.

The problem with this is that there are no ‘biographical solutions’ to systemic contradictions – except for imaginary ones, and as a result, there is a need for us to collectively hang our fears on something – and so we scapegoat ‘strangers’, and go along with moral panics, it is these kind of fears which fill the public space voided of properly public concerns.

The job of critical theory is now to repopulate the public sphere – to bring back politics with a capital P – to bring back the two groups of actors who have retreated from it – The person and the elite.

People do not engage because they see the public sphere as merely a space in which to private troubles without making any ‘public connections’. The elite meanwhile now exist in ‘outer space’ and remain for the most part invisible, their favourite strategic principles being escape, avoidance and disengagement.

The job of critical theory is to figure out how to empower individuals so they have some level of control over the resources which they require for genuine self-determination.

(p41) Critical Theory Revisited

Bauman starts with a section devoted to Adorno’s view that the act of thinking is itself freedom, but that any attempt to give thoughts a market value threatens the genuine value of thought.

He then talks about the tension between ‘the cleanliness of pure philosophy’ – drawing on the notion of the withdrawn intellectual contemplating life and refining systems of thought and the problem of then applying the ‘truths’ found to the ‘dirty business’ of getting involved with the world of politics as one attempts to enact one’s ideas. He essentially argues that thought in isolation from society is useless – In order for it to have any value at all, thought has to be applied to society.

Bauman concludes this section by pointing out that the unfortunate corollary of this is that whatever truths come to power will inevitably be tainted by those in power.

(p48) A critique of life-politics

In this summative section Bauman points out again that it is up the individual as an isolated actor to themselves find individualised solutions to social problems… He points to a range social situations, from us being called upon to adapt to neoliberal flexibalisation at work, to our efforts in seeking romance, and he rounds of my reminding us that any search for liberation today requires more not less public sphere, so any critical theory today must start from a critique of life-politics – a critique of the paucity of individualised solutions to systemic contradictions.

And 3,2,1 drag - that's a wrap.
And 3,2,1 drag – that’s a wrap!

Part Two – Individuality

Part Three – Time/ Space

Part Four – Work

Part Five – Community

Bibliography

Bauman, Z (2000) Liquid Modernity, Polity Press.

 

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

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


Summary

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

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

Why does choice lead to anxiety?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brief comment -

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