The first in this four part series took a relatively in-depth look at the very early years of the 1970s, examining the cultural shifts taking place in the context of Britain’s adaptation to a globalising economy.
I don’t teach it, but I imagine the show will be extremely useful for the SCLY1 culture and identity module.
The show starts with Heath’s success in getting Britain into Europe and uses this as context to chart the growth of UK consumer culture – pointing out that the number of people holidaying abroad doubled in ten years to the early 1960s.
There is also a good deal of coverage of shifting gender identities – as new masculinities become increasingly acceptable following the stardom of The likes of T Rex and Bowie. This spread across glass lines and there’s lots of nice images of working class lads with long hair accompanying this.
The show also deals with the influx of 25000 Asian Ugandans and their extraordinary efforts to get themselves jobs after arriving in the UK having lost everything to Amin’s regime. This is contrasted to the ‘send them back’ marches in the East of London
The episode finishes with Heath’s humiliation following the 1972 miner’s strike… The later being cast as an indication of Britain shifting right – the miners after all were simply demanding higher wages after a decade of wage stagnation so they could afford more than ‘a few pints at the weekend’ and actually take part in the UK’s new consumer dream
I think the show I watched was a relatively politically neutral historical analysis, although I’m not sure because it was hard to disentangle thought from the nostalgia – next week’ll be even worse as episode two will be dealing with my birth year – 1973 – And momentous though this event was somehow I think the show might kick off with something else…!?
By the show’s presenter – http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/tv/2012/04/the-70s.shtml
In this RSA Animate, Professor Renata Salecl explores the paralysing anxiety and dissatisfaction surrounding limitless choice
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
It can lead to feelings of anxiety
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!
In this TED video, Andrew McAfee makes some predictions about the future of jobs.
His overarching prediction is that very soon, technological advancements will result in fewer people doing jobs in the following sectors.
• Customer server reps and trouble shooters
• People working in warehouses.
He does point out that people have been predicting mass technological unemployment for about 200 years, but this time it’s different because today’s machines are acquiring new skills such as being able to listen and speak.
Our future world, what he calls the new machine age, is one in which there is more technology and fewer jobs. He argues that this is a good thing because…
1. This allows us to continue the trend towards increasing productivity and lower prices.
2. Once androids are doing the work, we are freed from drudge labour,
McAfee is optimistic about the future. He argues that when more people are freed by technology, this allows us to imagine a totally different society – One in which entrepreneurs, financiers, and artists etc. come to together to imagine alternative futures. He even goes as far as to say that he agrees with the following words of Freeman Dyson….. ‘technology is a gift of God. After the gift of life, it is perhaps the greatest of God’s gifts. It is the mother of civilisation, of the arts and of the sciences.
He then poses the question: What could possibly go wrong? Firstly, he says that the economic contradiction between increasing returns to capital and decreasing returns to labour that accompanies technological revolution still hasn’t been resolved – this is the same problem as Henry Ford realised a century ago – that decreasing wages means less demand, which is ultimately bad news for capital. Secondly, he points to the social problems might emerge as we live in an increasingly polarised society in which more people are ejected out of the affluent middle classes. To do this, he invents two typical workers, Bill and Ted. Bill has no college education and is either employed in blue collar or low level white collar work, while Ted is college educated and works in a higher end professional job.
Through a series of graphs (that remind me of The Spirit Level), we are now shown that while Ted has maintained his social position in most respects after the first, Bill now faces a bleak future of increased marginalisation from the increasing wealth being generated…
1. He earns considerably less,
2. He is far more likely to be unemployed,
3. He is less likely to see his children go on to be upwardly socially mobile,
4. He is much more likely to go to jail.
5. He is less likely to vote.
This trend, of blue collar jobs disappearing is not likely to abate any time soon, because it is precisely such blue collar jobs that are under threat from new developments in technology.
One proposed solution to this is a guaranteed national income, which, he points out is far from being limited to Socialism, was in fact championed by the likes of Hayek, Freedman and Nixon.
He rounds of by saying that his biggest fear is that we could face a future in which we have glittering technologies embedded in shabby societies, supported by an economy which generates inequality rather than opportunity.
However, McAfee doesn’t think that this will happen because of growing awareness of the true nature (the ‘plain facts’) of the problems that we face and that this will result in a future of new technologies being used to allow greater numbers of people access abundance.
An excellent site for documentaries relevant to Sociology as well as just for general interest too. The site features mainly American and British documentaries, but there are also plenty from around the world too, all organised into useful categories such as ‘society’ and ‘economics’, with short summaries and embedded links to the videos if they are available online, which most are, although some have been removed due to copy right reasons, which can be frustrating. There are thousands of documentaries, all of which are hosted on other sites such as YouTube or Google video, but what makes this site so useful is the categorisation system – you can browse very easily by category
This site is designed to help sociology instructors incorporate videos into their classes. I t does have a somewhat American focus, but it is still very useable for many topics in Britain, most obviously if you teach global development
Each post consists of a brief summary of the relevant film or documentary and, if available a link to the film or short excerpt. Many of the entries are, in fact, short excerpts, which are fine for teaching many issues.
To give you an example of how up to date and potentially useful the site is – check out their globalisation category: there are about a dozen entries from 2012 alone.
TED stands for Technology, Education and Design, and some of these talks are ‘jaw dropping’ – which is actually one of the categories you can search via. Although the subject material ranges far beyond the scope of Sociology, there is much of Sociological relevance here – to find talks on specific topics use this tag page. They also have playlists – but many of these are just celebrities pointing to their ‘favourite talks’ so these lists probably won’t be that useful to most people.
4. – RSA Videos (Royal Sociological Association Videos)
Videos here are organised into three basic categories – Lectures/ discussions, RSA shorts (although these are a bit thin) and the excellent RSA animate videos which introduce fairly complex topics in 10 minute animations.
I really like the simplicity of the mission of the RSA – Which is to continually reinvent the Enlightenment project for the 21st century through developing and promoting new ways of thinking about human fulfilment and social progress. OK the site isn’t really for your average A level student, but the RSA is ‘real sociology’ as far as I’m concerned – It cuts across disciplines – looking at politics, society, economics and psychology, and if you ever need an example of a reflexive organisation – look no further than the RSA! Oh, it’s also British, so this biases the RSA up the rankings too. The RSA also has a YouTube channel where you can access the videos
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
Average per team
Average per candiadate
Average per candidate per day
Average per candidate per day
*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.
Average per team
Average per candiadate
Average per candidate per day
Average per candidate per day
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
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?
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.
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.
If that order doesn’t make any sense, get with the postmodern programme…
Video 1 – Easy – Clearly designed for A level students, with a very very nice example of ‘cultural hybridity’ at the end, courtesy of X-Factor
Video 2 – Although this is more difficult (but still important) it does quite a good job of explaining postmodnernism as the abandonment of the ‘truth claims’ of modernity, and Lyotard’s related idea of postmodernism as an ‘incredulity towards metanarratives’.
Video 3 – A Dude explains postmodernism – Bit more an artistic rather than a sociological tone – I especially like the section on youtube, which is very postmodern
Video 4 – Obtuse – More obscure, but I think this describes quite nicely the postmdoern experience in hyperreality.
A couple of my friends recently ran the London Marathon dressed as a Panto Horse – so I watched it to catch a glimpse of them – which I finally did, but I had to wait until right at the end of the BBC2 highlights show. As a result of keeping my eye on the BBC’s London Marathon for about 3 hours, I feel as if I have been used and abused.
I am a victim of the Corporate Branding of my public space. I honestly wanted to watch this event but I had no choice but to witness, in nearly every camera shot, the various Logos of the event sponsors – mainly Virgin, but others such as Adidas were in there too.
The London Marathon is a great event – I personally love running, and even I’m not that cynical (OK perhaps I am) about the money raised for charity and the ‘personal’ stories of some of the runners, but these tales seemed to take a back seat to the ‘Corporate event’ – from what I saw, the London Marathon is now primarily a vessel for Corporate advertisers to pollute our visual space with logos I do not wish to see: From the start, round every major landmark, right up to the trophy ceremonies where the corporate puppet-whores (the elite winners) adorned themselves in the logos of their sponsors.
Critics might say that all of the money spent on advertising is going to a good cause – And a lot of money is going to come from allowing Virgin etc. to advertise in the world’s best marathon, and last year the London Marathon company had a turnover of about £18 million and made a profit of £4 million – a significant chunk of which goes to charity. However, this is nothing compared to the £47 million which individual runners make for their own individual charities.
I’d much rather see the London Marathon company scale down the advertising and just about cover costs – let the runners run for charity rather than using Corporation’s advertising to generate a little bit extra.
If you’re sick of Corporate Logo Creep, I recommend reading, or at least looking at summaries of Naomi Klein’s ‘No Logo’ – it was written in 2000, but she really predicted this trend – the trend of Corporate branding progressively taking over more and more of our public space
Finally, my friends did actually break the world record for the fastest panto horse to complete a marathon, they’re raising money for help the hospices, why not donate here – Who knows, if the BBC had spent more time flagging up the people’s efforts to raise money for charity rather than panning in on celebrity and Corporate logos, they’d be closer to their target of £5000!
Oh, you could also boycott all Virgin products, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend ever going out at night and vandalising Corporate logos where ever you see them.
Hi – Decided I can do a useful (and easy) weekly blog flagging up what’s on TV this week that could be of sociological interest – For my own benefit, as well as that of others…. So here goes… These days of course you can always just search on iplayer for when the programme was!
Sunday (BBC News Channel) – Panorama – Billionaires behaving badly – looking at Glencore, possibly one of the world’s worst mining companies
Sunday (BBC2) – Indian Ocean with Simon Reeve – he goes to 3 south African countries – there might be something in here relevant to global development
Sunday (BBC2) – Ewan McGregor’s Cold Chain – following the Vaccine Trail – bound to be something relevant to the ‘biomedical intervention’ aspect of health and development, and I’ll grate my own eyeballs out if Gates doesn’t get a mention somewhere in this show.
Monday (BBC3) – A look at car crime, and the impacts of filming it and posting it online
Monday (BBC2) – This world – the story of the Norway Massacre
Tuesday (BBC3) – I woke up gay – pop – but about a straight rugby player who had a stroke and woke up gay. He’s now a hairdresser.
Tuesday (BBC1) – The Estate – not sure about this – looks like it might be interesting tho’
Wednesday BBC4 – Wild Swimming – Alice Roberts, the thinking man’s totty natural swimming in a bathing costume or a wet suit, not especially educational, but it can’t be bad!
Friday Channel 4 – Unreported World – in Afghanistan – cheery!
Man I smacked down my dinner tonight – Sometimes there’s just nothing like a good old plate of baked beans and eggs on toast – In fact a couple of times a week it’s the perfect evening meal (given that I generally eat my fruit and crudities at work) – Nutritious (being a veggie I need the huge amount of protein it provides), extremely cheap (which is good, as I intend to pay off my mortgage as quickly as possible to make sure the bank earns as little as possible for basically doing nothing), and it’s quick and I think delicious – as I said, I smacked it down, with only one lone bean stain on my shirt too – go me!
It’s also reasonably easy to make this meal ethical in the environmental sense of the word – free range eggs, home-made bread from locally grown flour, ditto for the butter, with beans being the only thing that you have to ship in – but organic and fair trade varieties exist and they come by sea not air – so all in all, not quite hardcore localism, but not bad either.
Just recently, I’ve developed a penchant for eating such wonderful nutritious, cheap, delicious, practical and ethical meals (in varying combinations of these criteria) and laughing at what I now regard as the morons of Masterchef, in which the contestants invest an enormous amount of time and effort and subject themselves to an enormous amount of stress to construct a meal that is just marginally ‘better’ in terms of flavour balance and texture than their competitors’ – I cannot think of a better illustration of the concept of ‘diminishing marginal utility’ – My meal took me 10 minutes to prepare. The finalists’ meals tonight will, I think, take them 2 hours, can one honestly say that their meal is 12 times nicer than mine plus all the additional stress?
Seriously now, my ‘Pan heated baked beans and d’huile olive fried eggs on crisped wholemeal bread, served with a cup of tea, bag still in’ really hit the spot – so I can’t imagine anything tasting 12 times nicer ; and I really can’t imagine anything tasting 48 times nicer – which is the amount of ‘utility’ that the chefs in last year’s professional Masterchef final would have had to have added to each of their individual courses when they spent eight hours each preparing one course for a Michelin starred restaurant.
Now I’m not suggesting that all of our meals consist of anything we can conveniently chuck together, I’m not suggesting that an ‘all in’ of bananas and Shepherd’s pie wouldn’t make me gag like the next man – there are clearly ‘good’ and ‘bad’ food combinations – but the level of ‘Foodism’ displayed in Masterchef is, I believe, actually the antithesis of a balanced, healthy, practical and wise attitude towards food, which I believe would encourage the following three principles (broadly inspired by Buddhism)
Firstly, when we cook and eat, we should do so with awareness, focussing on what we are doing, thus cooking and eating are both quiet, simple, meditative acts which are part of the daily routine of meditative awareness. The end result is simply not especially that important, it is the process that matters.
Secondly, the Buddhist way encourages compassion – so where food is concerned this means considering how the whole process of sourcing and cooking food effects others – and there is a very strong case that locally sourced, in season, raw food, has the least environmental impact and is thus the most ethical. Also, when there are 900 million people malnourished in the world – a real act of compassion might be to eat more simply so that others might eat more. Finally, a good example of ‘compassionate cooking’ comes from the Sikh practise of feeding masses of people at religious centres – the food tastes good, yes, but there is not the extreme attention paid to nuanced ‘perfection’ – food is made cheaply, relatively simple, and served to all.
Thirdly, happiness in Buddhism involves renunciation and restraint – so we shouldn’t be too attached to things – Buddhist monks eat once a day and get what there are given – OK too extreme for most of us, but not a bad model to aspire to – think about it – so what if the shop doesn’t have cheese sandwiches, just have egg – it really isn’t that big a deal. We will be happier, ultimately, if we learn to be less fussy – because this will allow us to be happier in a wider range of contexts and while expending less effort on getting what ‘I’ want. If we can be free from attachments – we are truly free.
Masterchef is often (although not necessarily) the antithesis of the above wise and pragmatic approach to food –
Firstly, you might think that cooking on Masterchef, being so involved, is a truly ‘meditative act’ in which they go on a journey and discover themselves – and no doubt our chefs are really engrossed in what they are doing – but the context of why they cook reveals a darker reality – nearly all of these chefs are cooking ‘as an act of self-expression’ – they cook food for others to consume hoping for a positive reaction – their very identity, sometimes career aspirations are tied up with this act – they cook because they want to be known as ‘the best cook in town’ – typically their cooking is an act of self-construction rather than a meditative vehicle for self-awareness.
Secondly, Masterchef style cooking isn’t about Compassion for others – it’s about feeding your close friends so they praise you – and as a general rule, there is no attention paid to ethics of sourcing of food. Vegetarianism is strictly off the agenda, and if any Vegans dared brave the show I fear they may end up being the main course.
The third reason why Masterchef might breed long term human misery is because it’s very essence revolves around encouraging us to attach our very being to the ‘experience of food’, so that we ‘live to eat’ rather than ‘eating to live’ – it encourages us to be more fussy about what we eat, basing notions of superiority around slight nuances of taste and texture. The end result of us coming to expect exacting and high standards of food is that, over time, we come to be more disappointed with what we now regard as acceptable food.
Fourthly and finally, Masterchef does not encourage a ‘calm and meditative’ approach to cooking – it is fraught and desperate as the contestants strive for perfection – judged by panels looking to find fault.
So call me a philistine – but surely we should resist (as no doubt many do) the messages about food put out by Masterchef (and a whole host of other ‘Foodie’ programmes out there!) because we are encouraged to use cooking as an act of self-construction rather than self-awareness, we are called upon to push all thoughts of ethics and broad-compassion to one side, we are called upon to be more discerning, more judgemental, more fussy and particular, and we are then encouraged to stress ourselves out trying to please others in the process of perpetuating all of this.
Far better to give it all up and just settle for basic, simple food, so if you ever come round to mine, you can expect as much. On the plus side, you’ll find that there’s not that much washing up to do following a meal of pan heated baked beans and d’huile olive fried eggs on crisped wholemeal bread, served with a cup of tea, bag still in’.
Some recent comments on Masterchef 2012 (The Professionals)