Realsociology

Posts about Buddhism and Sociology

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Free Journal Articles!

Posted by Realsociology on 3rd November 2013

 

I like to keep up to date with current research, but not working in a university means I don’t anything like the access that bought-academics have.

No doubt there are ways of hacking into Athens systems and getting very broad access to all sorts of academic material for free. Unfortunately, while this is ethical (given that most publishers do absolutely nothing to justify the cost of their journals – all the intellectual labour is done for free don’t forget), this wouldn’t be legal, so I would not recommend this – There are however, a few ways you can get hold of journal articles for free….

The British Library – Of course you’ll need to be able to get up there, and you’ll have to register for a reader’s pass in advance – but this is a great way to get concentrated into some serious reading, given that’s pretty much all you can do in one of their reading rooms. The way to use the BL is to blitz it when you’ve got half a dozen or more expensive or otherwise innacessible texts to read. Personally I think it’s a great way to spend a Saturday. You also get free WiFi, and water (outside the reading rooms).

http://www.academia.edu/ – You have to open up a free account, but then you can search and download a whole range of presentations, books and journal articles. Some of these might be works in progress.

http://www.jstor.org/ – This is one for serious tightwads – the free account allows you to store up to 3 articles on your ‘bookshelf’ to read – Once two weeks have passed, you can store more. So you only get 3 articles for free every fortnight, but is’t better than nothing. There are also subscription options that allow you to download more stuff.

http://online.sagepub.com/ – Not normally free, but I mention this because at time of writing, they’d just ended a free trial period during which you could download most of their journals – keep an eye out for future trials, heavy on the sociology content.

Scribd.com – According to the blurb…. ‘On Scribd, readers can find everything from up-and-coming books by new authors, to court filings that have been making the news, to academic papers from scholars around the world. With a Scribd subscription, readers can have unlimited access to best-selling books and premium documents, and read them on any iOS and Android smart phone, tablet or desktop.’ OK It’s not free – last time I checked it was $8.99 a month, but you can always search for what’s there and then blitz-download…. As far as I remember I got ‘coming of age in second life’ and ‘fear of freedom’ from Scribd. NB although I do actually pay, I think you can get a lot of material for free, without subscribtion. Either way, it’s worth a mention here!

 

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A few of my favourite Buddhist stories

Posted by Realsociology on 26th October 2013

Below are a few stories and passages which illustrate some of the key aspects of Buddhism. These provide an immediate feeling for Buddhism (in no particular order), important since Buddhism stresses the importance of whole-being engagement and conscious practise rather than just mere intellectualism.

I’ve selected these stories because they’ve helped with my own understanding of the ‘spirit of Buddhism’,  and together they remind me of the following core aspects of Buddhism.

1. Buddhism is about compassion
2. Buddhism is about just being happy and at peace
3. Buddhism is about well-being, inner peace and stability
4. Buddhism is about being here, now and not running away from your problems
5. Buddhism is about paying attention to everything you do.
6. Buddhism is about realising the inconceivable
7. Buddhism is nothing special

(Two quick qualifying points: this is not meant to be an exhaustive list, and these texts do have overlapping themes so might illustrate many of the key ideas below.)

(1) Kusuda The Physician (from the sotry ‘stingy in teaching’)

A young physician in Tokyo named Kusuda met a college friend who had been studying Zen. The young doctor asked him what Zen was.

“I cannot tell you what it is,” the friend replied, “but one thing is certain. If you understand Zen, you will not be afraid to die.”

“That’s fine,” said Kusuda. “I will try it. Where can I find a teacher?”

“Go to the master Nan-in,” the friend told him.

So Kusuda went to call on Nan-in.

Nan-in said: “Zen is not a difficult task. If you are a physician, treat your patients with kindness. That is Zen.”

Kusuda visited Nan-in three times. Each time Nan-in told him the same thing. “A physician should not waste time around here. Go home and take care of your patients.”

It was not clear to Kusuda how such teaching could remove the fear of death*. So on the forth visit he complained: “My friend told me that when one learns Zen one loses his fear of death. Each time I come here you tell me to take care of my patients. I know that much. If that is your so-called Zen, I am not going to visit you any more.”

Nan-in smiled and patted the doctor. “I have been too strict with you. Let me give you a koan.” He presented Kusuda with Joshu’s Mu to work over, which is the first mind-enlightening problem in the book called ‘The Gateless Gate’.

Kusuda pondered this problem of Mu (No-Thing) for two years. At length he thought he had reached certainty of mind. But his teacher commented: “You are not in yet.”
Kusuda continued in concentration for another year and a half. His mind became placid. Problems dissolved. No-Thing became the truth. He served his patients well and, without even knowing it, he was free from concern of life and death.

When he next visited Nan-in, his old teacher just smiled

(http://www.ashidakim.com/zenkoans/17stingyinteaching.html)

Commentary part one

Kusuda’s ‘access’ ‘no-thing was staring him in the face every day -  all he needed to do was to ‘lose himself’ in the practise of treating his patients with compassion. This short story should serve as a reminder that many of us, in fact, have ample opportunity to practise compassion in our day to day lives. Of course contemplation of Mu may have helped, but the point is, Kusuda was not living a robe wearing monk, initiated into any special sect, his life was nothing special’. In other words, there is no ‘great secret’ to Zen Buddhism. Developing the genuine intention of kindness is sufficient to release yourself from the fear of death  (*fear of death is one of the basic forms of suffering, one of the basic elements of our ordinary mundane existence).

Commentary part two

The importance of compassion is most commonly emphasised in The Tibetan Buddhist tradition, expressed below by The Dalai Llama:

‘Mental states such as kindness and compassion are definitely very positive. They are very useful… I would regard a compassionate, warm, kind-hearted person as healthy. If you maintain a feeling of compassion, loving kindness, then something automatically opens your inner door… You’ll find that all human beings are just like you, as you are able to relate to them much more easily. That gives you a spirit of friendship. Then there’s less need to hide things, and as a result, feelings of fear, self doubt and insecurity are automatically dispelled… I think that cultivating positive mental states like kindness and compassion definitely leads to better psychological health and happiness.’

Cutler, H. and The Dalai Lama, 1999 (p28)

(2) Take my Hand -  A Poem by Thich Nhat Hanh

Take my hand.
We will walk.
We will only walk.
We will enjoy our walk,
without thinking of arriving anywhere.
Walk peacefully.
Walk happily.
Our walk is a peace walk.
Our walk is a happiness walk.

Thich Nhat Hanh (2011)

Commentary

The simplicity of this poem speaks volumes. It is a perfect reminder that Buddhism is about peaceful contentment with whatever it is you find yourself doing, in this case walking:

Walk for the sake of walking, walk peacefully, walk happily, and do so in peaceful companionship with others. Walk, just walk.

(3) Matthieu Ricard’s ‘ocean analogy’

About five minutes in Ricard says…..

‘Well being is not just a pleasurable sensation, it is a deep sense of serenity and fulfilment: a state that underlies all emotional states, and pervades all the joys and sorrows which can come one’s way.  Look at the waves coming at the shore. When you are at the bottom of the wave you hit the bottom, you hit the solid rock, when you are surfing on the top you are all elated, so you go from elation to depression, there’s no depth. Now if you look at the high sea, there might be a beautiful calm ocean like a mirror, there might be storms, but the depth of the ocean is still there, unchanged.’

http://www.ted.com/talks/matthieu_ricard_on_the_habits_of_happiness.html

Commentary

Here, Matthieu Ricard (2004) contrasts the analogy of waves breaking on a shore to the calmness of the deeper ocean to distinguish western notions of happiness from Buddhist notions. Ricard characterises the western notion of happiness as involving ‘doing something pleasurable’ which is analogous to surfing on the crest of a wave, but at other less-pleasurable times, we might be having our heads smashed against a rock onthe shore-line. Whereas in Buddhism, we are striving to develop a characteristic of mind that is more like the deeper ocean rather than the shoreline. Although there are still peaks and troughs of waves, out in the deep, the depths remain undisturbed. It is this deep and stable peace that we are striving for in Buddhism, a stable condition of mind that pervades and enables us to endure all emotional states, all the joys and sorrows that come one’s way.

(4) That’s Not Your Door

In Zen monasteries you must pay constant attention to what you are doing. All your activities are prescribed, and they’re carried out in deliberate stillness. After a time, this can get to you (as it did to one particular zen student) who went to see the master and said.

‘I can’t take this any more, I want out’

The master said ‘O.K, then leave’

As he started for the door the teacher said ‘that’s not your door’

Oh! Sorry.’ The startled fellow looked around and spotted a second door. As he headed for it the teacher said ‘That’s not your door’

‘Oh!’ He looked around for another door. He could see that behind the teacher was a little door normally used by the teacher’s attendant. As he headed for that door the teacher screamed at him ‘That’s not your door!’

Totally bewildered and exasperated, the poor fellow said. ‘What do you mean? There’s no other door! You told me I could leave, but there’s no door I can leave by!’

”If there’s no door you can leave by,’ said the teacher ‘then sit down’.

Hagan, S (1999, 34-5)

Commentary

Wherever you go, there you are. We’re always here, Examine your life and you’ll see this is the case. The master’s ‘sit down’ means to start paying attention to what’s actually going on, rather than running away from it. Right here, and right now, whatever it is you are experiencing, that is the thing to pay attention to. That is Buddhism, plain and simple.

(5) Every Minute Zen

Zen students are with their masters at least two years before they presume to teach others. Nan-in was visited by Tenno, who, having passed his apprenticeship, had become a teacher. The day happened to be rainy, so Tenno wore wooden clogs and carried an umbrella. After greeting him Nan-in remarked: “I suppose you left your wooden clogs in the vestibule. I want to know if your umbrella is on the right or left side of the clogs.”

Tenno, confused, had no instant answer. He realized that he was unable to carry his Zen every minute. He became Nan-in’s pupil, and he studied six more years to accomplish his every-minute Zen.

http://www.101zenstories.com/index.php?story=35

Commentary

Buddhism is about paying attention when you are in formal meditation, you must pay attention in day to day life, to whatever it is you are doing, even the most mundane and ‘in-between’ activities. In fact, paying attention to the ‘in-between bits can be very useful practise, given that they actually make up several minutes, sometimes hours in our day. The Venerable Soto recommends paying attention to opening and closing doors, given this is one of those times when we are most likely to be thinking of something else (i.e. what is through the door); Thich Nhat Hanh once made a ‘pact with a staircase’ and every time he now climbs or descends stairs he is careful to do so mindfully.

(6) The Flower Sermon

One problem with any discussion about the nature of Enlightenment is that Enlightenment is something which transcends conceptualisation, and thus the actual experience of it cannot be expressed in words.  This is illustrated in the The Flower Sutra, within the Zen tradition which stresses wordless insight more than most other types of Buddhism.

Toward the end of his life, the Buddha took his disciples to a quiet pond for instruction. As they had done so many times before, the Buddha’s followers sat in a small circle around him, and waited for the teaching. But this time the Buddha had no words. He reached into the muck and pulled up a lotus flower. And he held it silently before them, its roots dripping mud and water. The disciples were greatly confused. Buddha quietly displayed the lotus to each of them. In turn, the disciples did their best to expound upon the meaning of the flower: what it symbollized, and how it fit into the body of Buddha’s teaching. When at last the Buddha came to his follower Mahakasyapa, the disciple suddenly understood. He smiled and began to laugh. Buddha handed the lotus to Mahakasyapa and began to speak.

“What can be said I have said to you,” smiled the Buddha, “and what cannot be said, I have given to Mahakashyapa.”

Mahakashyapa became Buddha’s successor from that day forward.

(http://www.katinkahesselink.net/tibet/flower-sermon.htm)

Commentary (by Zen Master Bon Haeng)

The Buddha was teaching about the essential nature of reality, an essence not separate from the everyday. It’s the essence we can experience of any and every thing, of every moment. It is just “thus!” Sometimes it’s called “thusness.” This experience is truly indescribable. It doesn’t need to be described because there’s nothing lacking. No words are needed and no words are adequate. This is a taste of “thusness,”…. You could say it’s the essence of life or of awareness, expressed in breath and consciousness and time and you all as one complete perfect moment.

(http://www.kwanumzen.org/2011/please-come-back/)

(7) Nothing Special – From Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki

If you continue this simple practice (zazen), you will obtain some wonderful power Before you attain it, it is something wonderful, but after you attain it, it is nothing special. Strictly speaking, for a human being there is no other practice than this practice. Zen practice is the direct expression of our true nature.

While you are continuing this practice, week after week, year after year your experience will become deeper and deeper, your experience will cover everything you do in your everyday life.. The most important thing is to forget alll gaining ideas, all dualistic ideas. In other words, just practixe zazen in a certain posture. Do not think about anything. Just remain on your cushion without expecting anything. The eventually you will resume your own true nature. That is to say, your own true nature resumes itself.

Suzuki, S, 1998 (pp46-48)

Commentary

Shunryu Suzuki single-handedly brought Zen to the West, and his life and words he emphasised the utter simplicity of Zen practice. Sitting in quiet meditation, giving yourself to your breath, just sitting there, is the core practise in Zen Buddhism. The problem with just sitting there is that it is too easy to fall into the habit of ‘trying to get somewhere’ or ‘praising yourself for getting it right’ or ‘imagining luminescent states’ which, actually, is differing to just sitting there. However, Enlightenment is both wonderful and nothing special, which is different to sitting there thinking how special the inexperience is.

Hence why, as outlined in the very first section of his book (and his only book), just to take this posture (properly) and focus on the breath (attentively) and just sit there, without any gaining thought, this is all you need to do and not-do, this is the conclusion of Buddhism.

Bibliography

Hagan, S (1999) Buddhism Plain and Simple, London: Penguin

Howard C. Cutler and His Holiness The Dalai Lama, (1999) The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living. Mobius.

Ricard, M, (2007) Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill, Atlantic Books

Suzuki, S (1998) Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind, New York: Weatherhill

Thich Nhat Hanh (2011) The Long Road Turns To Joy: A Guide To Walking Meditation, Parallex Press, Berkeley, California.

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Who are you? (Laughter)

Posted by Realsociology on 5th October 2013

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Posts

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

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

Summary of Zygmunt Bauman’s Liquid Modernity – Chapter One

Posted by Realsociology on 1st October 2013

 

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 strategeis to empancipation 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. Odyssues (through the use of a maginal herb) manages to release the sailor from his betwitchment. 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 fulfilment.

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 Charle’s 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 Durkehim to argue that we are right to be sceptical 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 oppossing 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 contradition 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 condenscend by social pressures give us roadmarkings, inform us how to act, give us a sense of certainty in this life.

Bauman now outlines arguements which support the view that an element of routine is necessary, citing Fromm’s notion that we need certainy, 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 pyschological 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 instiutions 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 reembed.

(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 disatisfaction 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 embdded.

There is a parellel here between the individual in a state of constant disaffection with the Buddhist notion of the indivudal 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 occassionally 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 engagenment 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, vareity 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 pantopticon, 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, bureacracy 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 fulfilment 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 lilves, 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 tolook 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 tade mark of modern soceity 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-constiution 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 arguement that part of individualisation is the ending of citizenship

Another unforunate 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 impluse means compulsive self-critique, and perpetual self-disafection. It means that we look harder and harder at how we can improve ourselves.

I’m in two minds about what to make of Baumans idea of perpetual disafection – 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 disafection wil 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 disafection, so this diisafection 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 disafection is probably better seen as individuals en masse realising their true nature – and this disafection 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 imaginery 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 manking 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 ‘truthes’ 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 corolloray of this is that whatever truthes 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 problmes… 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 crique of the paucity of individualised solutions to systemic contraditions.

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

And 3,2,1 drag – that’s a wrap!

Bibliography

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

 

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Three Myths of The Young Apprentice

Posted by Realsociology on 19th December 2012

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

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

To explore these message one  at a time…

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

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

Approximate earnings per day for five tasks in the young apprentice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Max – Defo the right candidate to go in week 1

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

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

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

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

Problem Message Three – Profit is more important than social utility

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

Basically just crap – The Wetsuit Kimono

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

/

The Young Apprentice – Find out More

The BBC – The Young Apprentice 2012

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

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

Unreality TV – Has several posts on the Young Apprentice

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

Cultural Deprivation’s the Devil

Posted by Realsociology on 3rd May 2012

Oh the comforts of revision – I finally get to really hand over to the students and spend my prep time creating these cartoons – becoming something of a yearly ritual now – In this one a Green devil like creature explains how cultural deprivation affects educational achievement.

Please note the cunning use of the PEEEL essay writing technique – In relation to the question ‘Assess the Extent to Which it’s Home Based Cultural Factors that Explain Social Class Based Differences in Educational Achievement’ (20)

Point

Explain

Elaborate

Evaluate (the baby bear does this)

Link – OK the link is sort of the next point – and so it may continue, if it weren’t for World of Warcraft (or Facebook, twitter, driving theory tests, the apprentice, fake tan disasters, boyfriends…. I mean I could go on….)

 

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Shard Hacking – Challenging Surveillance Society?

Posted by Realsociology on 10th April 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why I really ran the Brighton Half Marathon

Posted by Realsociology on 26th February 2012

A big thanks to everyone who sponsored me for the Brighton Half Marathon I ran last Sunday, but a week on and I’m wondering what, exactly, this event had to do with charity.

Don’t get me wrong, I do think the charity I ran for (Water- Aid) is a worthwhile charity, doing good and saving lives, but I’ve got to be honest and admit that I didn’t primarily run this race for charity, I did it for myself, and the charity issue was very much a secondary after thought.

Seriously, I love running, and when I was planning my ‘race-calender’ for early 2012 a few months back, the Brighton half stood out as a conveniently timed, accessible (no changes on the train!), flat course that was perfect for my first half marathon, a step up from the handful of 10ks  I enjoyed in 2011.  I would have run it anyway, but just before I paid my entry fee I decided to double check the charity options – and water aid offered a free place for a minimum sponsorship of £250. Perfect!

Firstly, this fitted in nicely with the module I teach in Global Development – nice synergy, something to get the students interested and make me look like a generally nice guy….

And I did find that being the guy that runs for charity gives you positive social status and an easy focus of conversation at work for a few weeks – A bit like the ‘holiday conversation’ – you get to interact conversationally without having to go into too much depth – and both of you have a generally positive experience – I mean only the most cynical political radicals are suspicious of charity (in retrospect this probably goes some way to explaining why I didn’t actually get to the £500 total I pushed for – too many of the people I asked for cash fall into that category).

I had a great time in the six weeks or so before the event – raising cash for water aid by literally doing nothing else other than sending emails, tweeting and Facebooking, checking my emails telling me ‘Great News, you’ve just been sponsored and then logging onto my ‘Virgin Money Giving’ page to witness the rise and rise of my total donations, and then a few quick exchanges with some old friends.

I also thoroughly enjoyed the positive affirmations of my identity – which can get kind of rare as you approach your 40s. Its nice to be known as someone that hasn’t let himself go – and is capable of posting times that would put most people in their 20s to shame (endurance running’s like that you know). Apparently men my age doing endurance events is something of a social phenomenon. Guilty – But when you look this good – who wouldn’t be.

More – I had a great time at the ‘training event’ laid on by water aid in mid January – free lunch, goodies, and a nice ego boost during the pacing exercise – I especially enjoyed a ’certain glance’ from the ludicrously attractive woman from studio 57 fronting the even – unfortunately said glance wasn’t suggesting she was interested (she most definitely wasn’t) – but it did say ‘you don’t need to be here you idiot this is for people not used to running’ (well I can never resist a Freebie).

The run day itself was good too – beautiful and sunny – nice atmosphere – good twitter conversations – enough free Lucozade to bathe in and lunch and beer afterwards – spot on!

So at the end of the day ‘I’ may well have raised a few hundred quid for water aid and a couple of dozen people may well not die of malaria as a result, but strictly speaking I’m sure I’ve benefited more – I mean, seriously, money cannot buy the advances in self-actualisation I’ve realised through running this half marathon for charity.

Having said all this – I still rate genuine charitable giving as one the most important acts people can engage in – so thanks to all who donated – for their sake, as well as mine. And if you didn’t sponsor me in the first instance because you are one of those ‘charity cynics’ – how about sponsoring me now for saying it like it is – by clicking here!

Related posts – (forthcoming)

  • Why we run
  • Why did you sponsor me?

 Related Posts

Why do so many people run marathons?

Clone of above and this

 ’Race for Life’ vs Movember

Sociological insight into ultras

Unecessarily Jargoned abstract about veteran running and ageing discourse – probably because the author doesn’t really have that much to actually say.

 A book – but focussing on women

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Top Ten resources for teaching International Development

Posted by Realsociology on 18th February 2012

Part 1

I start off with a few statistical sites and then move onto a few ‘qualitative sites’. 

1. The United Nations International Human Development Indicators - On this page of the UN’s international development site, you can see the HDI country rankings, get a link to the latest Human Development Report (last one published November 2011) and find 8 different visual tools that allow you to compare HDI data in different ways – For more info on what the HDI actually is then click here

2. World Bank Development Indicators – The World Bank produces stacks of data – their country profiles are especially accessible (Haiti’s on the link as an example). If you really want to experience information overload then you can search ‘by topic’ and by ‘indicator’ and get huge amounts of data – in table, map or graph format on literally hundreds of different measurements of development. Finally, the world bank also publish annual development reports and the Atlas of Development - maybe old school to go for books, but very tactile!

3. It might seem a bit cheeky including it as a seperate link – because a lot of info comes from the UN or the World Bank – but Google Public Data is an excellent way of showing students immediate comparisons of changes in a range of economic and social indicators of development in several countries – just search for the relevant indicator - you get fabulous ‘live data’ –  If, for example, you get the lines for ’DRC’ – then Bangladesh, then the UK, for example, the graph rescales itself, giving an immediate impression of how insigficant the former two’s GNI is compared to the UK’s!

4The CIA World Fact Book - remains one of the most authoritative overviews of ’265 world entities’ – mostly countries, under the various headings of ‘geography’, ‘people and society’, ‘economy’ and so on. Very accessible, and there is also a version available for your smart phone. I didn’t want to actually include it in its own right – but Wikipedia’s country profiles are pretty much a more accessible version of the CIA world fact book -check out this profile of Nigeria as an example

5. The World Watch Institute’s State of the World Report  - No list of development resources can ignore the issue of ‘sustainable development’ – and the World Watch Institute is devoted to the analysis of global environmental concerns. Its ‘flagship publication - ‘The State of the World’ - ‘remains the most authoritative “go-to” resource for those who understand the importance of nuturing a safe, just, and healthy global environment through policy and action.’

6 The rough guides - Maybe not strictly deserving of being in at number three – but they are very engaging reads! Personally I’ve always loved lounging around, leafing through rough guides, planning journeys – and they’re a great way of giving students a hyperreal, romanticised image of all the countries they’ve never been to and probably, when it comes to most of the countries we look at in global development, will never go to!

7. The Guardian Poverty Matters Blog - Mostly excellent, short snappy posts focussing on a range of development issues – mainly focusses on Africa, health, aid and trade, but then again they are the biggest development issues facing Euro-donors! All students of international development should subscribe to its RSS feed.

8. New Internationalist: People, Ideas and Action for Social Justice – Campaigns for social and environmental justice worldwide, acting as a vehicle for unheard voices. They are non-profit co-operative and are probably most famous for their New Internationalist Magazine – and you may have also seen their ‘no-nonsence guides’ (which are excellent!). They also do an excellent blog (update daily) and have some good audio-visual sources.

9. The World Dev elopment Movement - The World Development Movement ‘ seeks to establish economic justice. This means the right of poor communities to determine their own path out of poverty, and an end to harmful policies which put profit before people and the environment.’

WDM produces research and campaigns on two main issues - climate debt and food speculation and they are not afraid to criticise Corporations, governments and even aid agencies where appropriate!

10. Oxfam – Must be the best known Development charity campaigning around the world to fight global poverty. Oxfam also has some good ‘teacher resources’ for a range of age groups.

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Sachs should pay their tax

Posted by Realsociology on 27th December 2011

Great Video by UKUNCUT – Storming a Tax Conference to thank Dave Hartnett for letting big companies off their tax bills.

 

Comedy aside, this is a very serious issue – A recent report by the Public Accounts Committee accused HMRC of having a ‘far too cosy’ relationship with big firms, which are treated more favorably by HMRC than other taxpayers. HMRC’s own figures suggest that claims the total owned may be £25.5billion. By contrast, families and small businesses are treated much more harshly and forced to pay up.

In total, the report says, HMRC is seeking to resolve more than 2,700 issues with the biggest companies, with a potential tax at stake of £25.5billion. The £25.5billion is HMRC’s own ‘ballpark estimate’ of the maximum potential tax liabilities of big businesses

The sum owed by corporate giants is the equivalent of £1,000 for every British family, or the equivalent of everyone in the UK paying an extra 6p on the basic rate of income tax.

The report singled out HMRC head Dave Hartnett for criticism over his dealings with Goldman. Goldman Sachs had cut its UK tax bill cut in 2010 after a privately negotiated deal with HMRC allowed it to avoid paying interest payments on £30million back taxes it owed.  

So what can the little guy do against this Corportacracy?

One thing UK Uncut are doing is to issue Formal legal proceedings against the Revenue and Customs (HMRC) on Thursday over allegations that it let the investment bank Goldman Sachs off paying up to £20m in outstanding tax.

The application for a judicial review, initiated by the campaign group UK Uncut Legal Action, will be lodged with the administrative court in London. The organisation has called for the government to crack down on tax avoidance by large corporations and the super-rich rather than pursue its “unnecessary austerity programme”.

Tim Street, director of UK Uncut Legal Action said: “There is overwhelming public support from unions, NGOs, MPs and thousands of ordinary people who want to see this dodgy tax deal challenged in the courts.

“It shows the deep level of outrage that people feel over state-sanctioned tax dodging by big business, while government destroys public services that ordinary people rely on, saying that there is no money.”

Street accused the government of “making a political choice to turn a blind eye” to what he views as a wider tax issue that costs the public purse £25bn a year and of “slashing public services and the support for the poorest instead of clamping down”.

If you want to help UKUNCUT in their legal challenge against Goldman Sachs – you can donate here

 

Posted in Things I like, Tory cuts | No Comments »