Evaluating the idea of ‘underachieving’ ethnic minority pupils

It would seem that the notion of ethnic minorities underachieving is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. If you look at the stats below, with the exception of Gypsy Roma children, ‘white British’ children are outperformed by the majority of ethnic minority groups, and for those groups who lag behind, the difference is small.

It’s also worth noting that for those groups who were drastically underachieving in 2008/09 compared to the national average, have seen rapid improvement in the last five years, especially black Caribbean children. If this trend continues, we could see white children at the bottom of the ethnic league tables by 2020.

 

ethnicity and achievement

What all of this means is that all of that material about teacher Racism  that you have to trawl through in the text books is probably by now mostly irrelevant, except for the fact that you now have to criticise the hell out of it.

The question is now really one of why do most minority students do better.

This brief post from The Guardian is a good starting point to find the answer to this question – in which one London school teacher explains why he thinks London schools with a higher proportion of ethnic minority students tend to do better…

“It comes down to the parents’ influence. Students who’ve arrived as migrants recently are generally coming from a place where education is valued for education’s sake. Where I teach now, in a rural area, we’ve got a very homogenous set of students, all from similar backgrounds – generation after generation quite happily in a steady state where they’re not forced to improve. If you compare that with a parent and children coming over from a country where there isn’t as much opportunity, they do really have to try, and that’s a parent-led ideal that gets fed into the student. I met so many students from African and Asian countries that really wanted to learn.

“But that sort of ambition can have a positive impact on other pupils too. If there’s someone who’s a really enthusiastic learner, it’s a teacher’s job to seize on that opportunity and use it to generate an atmosphere in the classroom, and it does rub off.”

Related Posts 

Explaining differential achievement by ethnicity – the role of cultural factors

Ode to My Chocolate Muffins

 

At the risk of sending my bounce rate stratospheric (and lord knows it’s bad enough already) I just needed to do a post on my recent resounding baking success with my latest batch of dark chocolate muffins. Also it’s nice to have  a break from all things Sociological once in a while.

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Ignore the saw, I was using it for something related, given the interconnectedness of all things, but not immediately related to anything chocolaty or muffiny in the less immediate mundane conceptual world.

I adapted this recipe combining the following ingredients, with approximate costs

  • 200g dark chocolate, melted – .70
  • 75g unsweetened cocoa powder – .80
  • 325g self-raising flour- 0.30
  • 100g light brown soft sugar -0.20
  • 30 grams dark brown sugar – 0.10
  • Two table spoons of honey – 0.15
  • One table spoon marmelade -0.05
  • 365ml milk – 0.15
  • 100ml vegetable oil -0.10
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder – 0.05
  • 2 eggs -0.20
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract – 0.20
  • Mixed spice (hideously out of date, but it still seams to be OK) 0.05.

Same procedure as in the link above. Bake for about 25-30 mins.

Total cost comes in at about 0.25 pence per muffin. Not that much cheaper than a box of four from Sainsburys, but significantly superior, and about six times cheaper than what you’d pay in a coffee shop. Not to mention the sheer joy of the process, I love baking (career-baking runs in my family apparently so it must be in the genes), the overwhelming sense of satisfaction, AND I got to regress to childhood and lick not one, but TWO bowls. NB – Note the fact that you don’t need muffin cases, so long as you grease the muffin tins

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The lighting in the picture doesn’t do them justice, but oh man, are they good! Oh simple pleasures. I’m one happy and fatter man after these.

Five Strategies to Help You Stop Shopping

If you like this sort of thing then check out my book (only $0.99) – Early Retirement Strategies for The Average Income Earner

I’ve developed a few money saving strategies viz shopping in order to help me reduce my spending – These are as follows:

1. Only allowing myself to shop once every 6 weeks, with the exception of food shopping which I now to once a week.
2. Constructing lists of things I’m going to try and live without for 2015/16 (which I’ll review annually) and also an ‘allowed to buy in 2015′ list.
3. Only food shopping once a week (rather than buying online and dropping in twice a week) – somewhat unexpectedly this has saved me about £50 a month so far this year.
4. Trying to have more non spending than spending days in the year.
5. Keeping track of everything I spend on a daily basis in an excel spreadsheet, analysing this once a month and publishing an overall review of spending once every six months.

The point of all this is because I think it’s more conducive to overall quality of life to not work hard-consume hard, and then work for 40 years. I think it’s better to work hard for 20 years, not consume and then semi-retire at 50 and do constructive non-consumerist things, as outlined here – My early retirement strategy. Anyway – more details on my 5 strategies to help you stop shopping.

Strategy One – On only shopping once every six weeks

Once every six weeks, or thereabouts – that’s my new shopping strategy. The plan is to do one shopping trip/ online purchasing ‘binge’ on the first day of every school holiday, and the reasoning behind this is to stop compulsive shopping and be more in control of my finances. If I want something in the six week build-up, I’ll just put it on a list and then buy it on one of the 7 days I’m now allowing myself to do shopping (I’ve added one in to the end of the summer holiday, given that this is a six week period). This applies not only to shopping but also to browsing and choosing (idle surfing) so this should not only save me money, but time and exposure to advertising.

Strategy Two – Lists I’ve constructed to help me reduce my consumption

The Hold out until 2016/ 2017 list

These are things that I would normally buy because they need replacing (just due to ordinary wear and tear), but I’m trying not to for a year. The longer I can make something last the fewer of them I’ll have to buy throughout my lifetime. Instead of purchasing, I’m going to try and ‘repair put up with’ until it becomes economically irrational to do so.

Also, what I’ve just learnt from populating this list is that there’s very little I actually want/ need anyways!

Hold out until 2016

  • New day to day bag for work/ walking
  • All shoes except for running shoes.
  • New work trousers
  • New arm band for musical device
  • Headphones
  • Books (I’ve got a significant unread pile)
  • Ipad

Hold out until 2017 or later

  • All running gear except for trainers
  • Posh gloves
  • Work shoes (Docs)
  • Lap Top
  • New Winter Jacket the waterproofing on mine’s going
  • New Garmin Forerunner (I can’t see it lasting that much longer)

The just do without List

Things I want but I’m just going to try and live without for a longer time. These are just a list of wants I’ve had for a long time. Here I’ll try and find alternatives, or just do without. If I stumble on a windfall, I might buy these!

  • Replacement Polar heart rate monitor
  • Swanky coffee machine
  • Posh netting for fruit cage

The allowed to buy in 2015 allowed list

New things or replacement items I will probably allow myself to my. Most of these are already overdue

  • Two new pairs of Asics – £100
  • 6 new shirts for work – £40
  • Pair of Jeans – £20
  • Trip to the dentists – £20
  • Trousers for Summer – £20
  • Fleece-top for spring/ autumn – £50
  • Fleece Jacket – £80
  • Propagator (ideally home-made) – £30?
  • Paint to redecorate bedroom/ hall and living room – £40
  • Fruit trees and bushes (*2) NB – Bought in Feb – £100
  • Bike servicing – £50
  • Flask – £10

Total = £460

Of course I will eventually buy a lot of this stuff, but an early retirement strategy works on the basis of saving NOW – this means more capital accumulation in the long term. What was it Warren Buffet said.. A dollar spent now is several dollars forgone in the future, or something along those lines.

Strategy Three  – Only Food Shopping Once a week

This one was unexpected – but limiting myself to shopping in Sainsburys only once a week (instead of doing an online shop once every two-three months and then nipping in twice a week) seems to be saving me a small fortune – £50 month?!

I’ve also started cooking more cheaply, although not uber-frugally. I might even allow myself the luxury of doing a recipe post at some point. For now I’ll just give a big thumbs up to Dhal and Chapatis (how easy are they!); home made pizza; and vegetable stew (swede is compulsory) with pearl barley – three wonderfully cheap and delicious meals, which are bit of hassle to make but are just FAB!

Strategy four – Aiming for more non-spending days than spending days.

This is another strategy I just sort of stumbled on – It prevents me from that kind of idle spending which I used to do compulsively – Nipping out for coffees, or nipping to the shop for munchies – A few quid here and there a few times a week can (and has in the past) easily mount up to £40-50 a month, or £500/ year. Looked at another way, this could mount up to £20K over 40 years – Or nearly a year’s worth of earnings on the median salary, just because of ill-discipline.

This strategy also has the added bonus of making shopping days quite unique experiences. Something to actually look forward and be in conscious control of, rather than something you just passively do without really thinking about it. In fact, I’m not even sure that I’d categorise most shopping as ‘intentional action’. I think I’ll stop there, I’m starting to think hateful thoughts about shoppers, not very Buddhist!

NB – I am slightly behind – so March is going to be an uber-frugal month. I’d always planned it that way anwyays.

feb jan

Strategy Five – Keeping track of everything I spend on a day to day basis:

I’m just at the end of month two – I published the first month here. February has actually been quite similar, despite spending £100 on fruit trees and bushes. This is good discipline, But I won’t be publishing anymore until June, just because it gives a more representative and hence valid indicator of overall spending patterns.

 

Using qualitative data to evaluate how material deprivation effects children in the UK

 

This post follows on from this one – The extent of material deprivation in the UK.

One of the things you need to look at for the AS Education module is the extent to which material deprivation is responsible for educational underachievement. While statistics give you an overview of the extent of poverty, and a little bit of information of the kind of things poor people can’t afford, they don’t give you much a feeling of what it’s like to actually live in poverty.

To get a feeling for day to day challenges of living in poverty you need more qualitative sources, and ‘thankfully’ we are blessed with a number of recent documentaries which look at the experience of living with material deprivation in the UK.

Watch the documentary sources below and then answer the questions/ contribute to the discussions below. The videos have all been selected because they focus on material deprivation and education in some way.

Source One – Poor Kids (BBC – 2011) – Mainly focusing on younger children

 

Growing up Poor (2013) – Focusing on three teenage girls – ‘caught between poverty and an uncertain future’

 

Poverty – Britain’s Hungry Children (Channel 4 Report, 2013) – Cites research drawn from 2500 food diaries kept by children in the UK – Some of whom live on less than half of the recommended calories. Also highlights the importance of lunch clubs to feed hungry children.

Finally watch this video – This shows you a case study of one girl from a poor background who actually made it into the best school in the area, against the odds. It’s a bit slow, but later on it gives an insight into the struggle her mum faces to raise enough cash to meet the ‘hidden costs’ of education (she has to resort to a ‘pay day loan’).

 

Questions/ tasks for discussion:

Q1: Draw an ‘ageline’ (like a timeline, I may have just invented the word) showing how material deprivation affects 3 year olds to 18 year olds in different ways.

Q2: From a broadly Marxist Perspective, the effects of material deprivation on children are structural, or objective if you like. Being brought up in poverty and having a poorer diet, and living in lower quality housing effectively cause poor children to do less well in education. This means that, all other (non material) things being equal (same school, same intelligence, same motivation etc) a poor kid will always do worse than a rich kid. Do you agree? Be prepared to explain your answer.

The extent of material deprivation in the UK (teaching tech test)

One of the things you have to consider as part of the Education module in AS Sociology is the extent to which material deprivation is responsible for differential educational achievement (mainly) by social class. This concept is also relevant to the A2 crime module, and one of the most important in Sociology in general, so it’s worth a post (and an opportunity to mess around with some new-to-me online learning software called Wallwisher).

Material deprivation* refers to the inability to afford basic resources and services such as sufficient food and heating. The government’s material deprivation rate measures the proportion of the population that cannot afford at least four of the following items:

  1. To pay their rent, mortgage, utility bills or loan repayments,
  2. To keep their home adequately warm,
  3. To face unexpected financial expenses,
  4. To eat meat or protein regularly,
  5. To go on holiday for a week once a year,
  6. A television set,
  7. A washing machine,
  8. A car,
  9. A telephone.

As can be seen from the statistics below, the number of people suffering from ‘severe’ material deprivation has remained stable in recent years, but the numbers of people struggling to pay for holidays and meet emergency expenses has increased. Percentage of population unable to afford items, UK 2005-2011

I thought it might be interesting to see the extent of material deprivation among students/ readers (NB this is just a test poll for now!)

Question – Suggest one way in which material deprivation may have a negative impact on educational achievement

You might find it easier to click on this link and visit the web page direct

Something Extra… *A fuller definition is provided by the The OECD which defines Material deprivation as ‘the inability for individuals or households to afford those consumption goods and activities that are typical in a society at a given point in time, irrespective of people’s preferences with respect to these items.’ It’s work noting at this point that this is a relative rather than an absolute measurement of poverty.

Gender and Education – Evaluating the Role of Out of School Factors (draft one)

One of the out of school factors which could explain why girls do better than boys in education is that girls have higher aspirations than boys.  Here’s some recent research which supports this while also suggesting that the relationship between gender and aspiration is also strongly influenced by social class background.

The data below’s taken from  The British Household Panel Survey and is based on a sample of nearly 5000 10-15 year olds. This research found (among other things!) that that boys are less likely than girls to aspire to go to college / university across all ethnic groups. The numbers are especially divergent for the white ethnic group – 57% (boys) and 74% (girls).

Gender and aspiration

However, when you break things down by social class background (NB this is analysis!) things look more differentiated – Basically, boys from professional class backgrounds aspire to university, but those from all other social class backgrounds generally do not, while girls from all social class backgrounds seem to aspire to go to university.

gender class and aspiration

To put it bluntly (OK crudely) what these statistical comparisons suggest is that working class boys don’t generally aspire to go to university, whereas working class girls do.

Strengths of this data

Nice easy comparisons – As evidenced in the perty charts.

You can use it as broad supporting evidence of girls aspirations being higher than boys, with an ‘analysis twist’

Limitations of this data 

Of course the above statistics (this is a classic limitation of quantitative data) tell you nothing about why working class boys but not working class girls do not aspire to go to university. It could be due to parental attitudes filtering down differently to girls than boys, or it may be other factors which have nothing to do with socialisation. These stats don’t actually tell us!

Questions for discussion 

  • Summarize the relationship between social class, gender and educational aspiration
  • Suggest one reason for the above relationship

Extension Question – This information was relatively easy to find, it’s quite easy to understand, directly relevant to the AS Sociology syllabus and gives you some easy analysis points – how many of the new (forthcoming) AS text books would you expect to find this information in?

 

 

On Not watching TV and Meditating Instead (a lifestyle experiment)

 

The Dalai Lama of Tibet practices meditation four hours a day, the same length of time the average American spends watching TV. Now it’s obvious I’m not the Dalai Lama, and I’m reasonably certain I’m not his reincarnation born 40 odd years too early either, but like the DL I have recently tried to cut down my TV use and meditate more instead, although it’s taken me some time to commit to it properly.

Halfway through Le Tour 2014 I unplugged my TV and put it in the office, promising myself I would break my habits of watching TV over dinner and indulging in the occasional bout of idle channel hopping, but I pretty quickly just got into the routine of watching whatever on iPlayer or 4OD on the iPad or laptop.

On Sunday 4th January, however, I finally committed to watching no TV for a week, and I’m still abstaining. With the two exceptions of watching the final four minutes of The Dead Poet’s Society (don’t ask) and about eight minutes of a classic episode of ‘Why Don’t You’ on YouTube (again, don’t ask!) I have managed to be TV free at home ever since.

At the same time I also started to severely restrict the use of anything involving a screen. This means spending as little time in front of them as possible, and limiting the number of screens and ‘windows’ I expose myself to in any one period. Ideally, I try and limit myself to reading one book/ website at a time and writing into one Open Office Document at a time (like this!), rather than flitting backwards and forwards between multiple sources.

Also on the 4th January, I made a commitment to the following ‘evening disciplines’ –

  1. Leave work promptly – 16.45 at the very latest (I start at 7.45).
  2. Run or do circuits most days after work. (Although in fairness I did this anyway)
  3. Spend about half an hour tidying and cleaning every evening except Friday and Sunday (I even have a roster for certain rooms on certain days.
  4. Meditate for 40 minutes immediately following tidying.
  5. Do ‘soft meditation’ for 40 minutes before going to bed at 21.30 at the latest.
  6. Do a minimum of 4*40 meditation sessions on Saturdays and Sundays.*

This typically leaves me with 30 mins to an hour to do something else in the evenings, with plenty more time at the weekends.

After just two weeks, and they weren’t the easiest of weeks at work either, I’ve noticed the following benefits of not watching TV and meditating instead.

  1. I’m sleeping much more soundly. I’ve never actually had (ever!) a problem sleeping, but this last week my sleep has been even more sound. Sound is a good word to describe it actually, as would be ‘denser’, ‘heavier’, more intense, more complete, oh hang on, maybe ‘deeper’ is the word I’m looking for.
  2. My outlook on life has slowed down – I feel more centred, more stable, calmer, more in-control.
  3. Interestingly, although I only have a scant hour to cram in some ‘me-time’ I’d say I’ve been more productive in those hours than compared to double the amount of time without the meditation (I can see why the corporate world is into this mindfulness stuff, just don’t mention Right Livelihood!).
  4. On those few occasions I have gone online, I find myself more irritated by the whole experience – I am much more aware of and intolerant of the sheer amount of advertising, the explicit purpose of which is to distract me from what it is I am actually doing.

To conclude…

Technically speaking this isn’t a very good experiment because I’ve changed three variables at once (The amount of TV/ Internet Use and meditation) BUT in practical terms given that the former two are the antithesis of the later, I don’t think the benefits would have accrued as much if I hadn’t replaced the former two with the later: meditation (and mindfulness) require a calm mind, TV and the internet encourage a hyperactive mind. It may well be that had I maintained my habitual usage of TV and just increased my meditation hours (in which case I’d have to sleep less, so that wouldn’t work experimentally either), the effect of meditation would merely be to calm down the increased hyperactivity in my mind caused by media-indulgence. So it’s naff as an experiment, but it works!

In short, try it, stop watching TV etc. and start meditating instead.

*This may sound like a lot of hours – If you’re new to meditating, this much may be too much so you might need to spend a few years building up to it. I’ve been meditating for 20 years on and off, more seriously for about eight years after I spent a year taking formal Zen classes (after which I realised I didn’t need the formality), and I’m fairly sure that two-three hours a day is as much as is useful to me at the moment (by useful I mean conducive to promoting mindfulness in daily life). If you’re new to meditation, less may be more. Also, go to classes if you’re new to it!

 

Early Retirement Extreme Update 1 – January/ February 2015.

 

It’s now been six months since I realised I could realistically (semi-) retire by the time I’m 51, and ambitiously by 48. I’ve saved a bit of cash in that time, but TBH I’ve only just got into the swing of the early-retirement drive since the start of this year, 2015, so this isn’t so much of an update, rather a starting-point statement of where I’m at, a base from which to compare in the future.

I’ve now started (since January 3rd) to keep a record of everything I buy in various categories, with the intention that this will inspire me to spend less and save more. It worked a treat in January, but that’s probably because (a) it’s still a complete novelty and (b) I haven’t actually needed to buy anything of significant value.

At the moment my data’s only in Open Office, I might move it online laters.

January 2015 Early-Retirement Extreme Update

Reminder of Long Term Financial Goals –

  • Be mortgage free in 7-10 years (£138k outstanding)
  • Pay over £1000 a month towards the mortgage (15 year term) with a mind to either using savings or ‘trading down’ to pay off early.
  • Save an absolute minimum of £250/ month in additional funds (=£30K after 10 years, without accumulations). Ideally this figure will be significantly higher.
  • Find additional income streams to boost the above figure. Target = £20K in five years.
  • Save £200 a month towards a ‘land fund’ – eventually to be used to purchase a van and land on which to establish a forest garden.
  • Continue paying into the Teacher Pension Scheme.

January Update 1 – ‘Spending days compared to non-spending days’

I figure that I need to internalise not consuming – to this end I’ve started keeping a record of everything I buy and (roughly) how much it costs me. One of the interesting things that’s emerged is that there are several days during which I spend nothing and my non-spending days just over the 50% mark! This is now a new goal for 2015 – simply to clock up more non-spending than spending days.

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January Update 2 – Total expenditure excluding mortgage = £725 pounds

NB – Transport was £000.

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January Update 3 – Expenditure including mortgage

  • Frivolities = beer/ coffee/ subscriptions/ transport, (because I only really use transport for ents).
  • Necessities = council tax, services, food, ‘stuff’ (because I’m not a frivolous materialist consumer).
  • Property = mortgage repayments + service charge.

Untitled2

Ratio of expenditure to income including mortgage – 30%
Ratio of expenditure to income excluding mortgage – 71%

Summary 

If I can keep this up for another 11 years, then I can basically move to full retirement – but this is premised on the following:

  1. Having a Teacher’s pension which kicks in at 60 (most of it anyway), meaning by the time I’m 51 (or thereabouts) I’ll have enough saved to simply see me through for 9 years.
  2. Continuing my very low consumption – After property my expenses come to around £600. I really don’t see why anyone needs to spend much more than this.

So – that’s me formerly started and outed on the ERE mission, bring it on!

Related Links

Early Retirement Strategies for the Average Income Earner (itunes)

A Summary of Zygmunt Bauman’s ‘The Individualised Society’, Part Two – The Way We Think

 

Part Two – The Way We Think

Chapter Seven – Critique – Privatised and Disarmed

More than anything else so far this chapter represents a nice summary of some of Bauman’s major ideas.

What is wrong with our society is that it has stopped questioning itself. We are reflexive but it is a limited reflexivity which focuses on our own personal circumstance, or own strategies for navigating through life, but this reflexivity does not extend to looking at the conditions which determine or limit the kinds of strategies available to us.

There is criticism of society, but its nature has changed because the way ‘citizens’ engage with society is different – we now treat it like a caravan park rather than a shared residence – we expect most other people to keep their distance, and for minor changes to be made for our convenience, we no longer approach society like a house (or somewhere where we feel at home) –  in which we all share a lot a more in common and need to muck along together in order to get by. The later offers the chance for genuine autonomy and self-constituion, the former does not.

The causes of this change are deep rooted, to do with the transformation of public space, and the way in which society works and how it is perpetuated – summarised in the shift from heavy/ system society to a liquid/ network society.

The heavy modern society was one of Fordism and Panopticons and with the threat of Big Brother – and critique was aimed at liberating the individual from totalitarianism. This is no longer the case. We are still modern in the sense that creative destruction lies at the heart of our society, but two things have changed – firstly, the disappearnce of the idea of there being an end point, and secondly the disappearnce of the notion of the just society – that we can legislate our way through change – now adapting to changes has been privatised – it is up to the individual to find a way using his own resources.

Commentary – So Bauman is saying now that society is based on constant and rapid change  we are forced to continually adapt – we are told this is freedom, but it is not because we are compelled to choose, we have to make choices, and we are not free to not make choices (at least if we want to integrate into society in the normal ways rather than retreating from it, which, as Bauman mentions eleswhere, is a mere reaction to globally mobile capital rather than genuine autonomy). Moreover, we no longer have control over our society, because our globalised society is shaped from above by extraterritorial forces of Capital, and so we narrow our agency to small-things – such as building our CV or constructing our identity. In both of these things we settle for being consumers – we use the products provided by the market to differentiate ourselves, and we integrate a the level of society with other people as consumers based on these limited, apolitical, non-autonomous, individualised biographies. And bleakly, at the end of the day, limiting our reflexivity to identity construction via consmumption perpetuates our powerlessness viz political economy. 

All second modernity means is that experts dump their contradictions at the feet of individuals and leave them to make the choice – to seek biographical solutions to systemic contraditions – the problem is there are very few that are adequate, especially when you do not have the resources.

We live in the age of small change, not big government, and in the age of TINA – but individuals are individuals by decree, not de facto, and they lack the resources for genuine self constitution (which would require them to have some kind of control over their political economy). 

The privatisation of critique means constant self-critique – but because none of the strategies on offer are up to the task we also end up with scapegoats – various groups to blame our troubles on – what we need to do instead is to get back to Politics – and to translate private troubles into public issues and seek collective solutions to these.

This is difficult when the public realm has been colonised by private affairs – and the task of critical theory is now to reclaim this space, to repoliticise private concerns and public issues.  The task of politics today is to reconnect the abyss beetween the individual de jure and the individual de facto.

Further comment

(I’m mashing this up with bits from elsewhere) Whatever we do as individualised individuals is never enough (most of us at least) to guarantee us some kind of security and/or get everything we want (Capitalism in fact depends on this) – but we do not blame the system for this, we blame ourselves, because we have internalised to such an extent the message of individualism – mainly through TINA (this looks like a dig at Giddens’ 3rd Way) but also because the public realm has become colonised by private affairs – basically the media does not talk about politics, and if it does so, it does so through the lense of indivdualisation.

As a result rather than criticising society, we have constant self critique – rather than social critique – and if we fail we end up blaming ourselves, or others for their failure. However, we also have scapegoats emerging – most obviously the Underclass.

The solution is to reclaim Politics at the level of the Agora.

Questions/ tasks students could consider

Locate some examples of TV shows and websites which focus on privatised critique (hint- BB3 an C4 are good places to start!)

Locate some social-scapegoats and analyse the media discourse surrounding themselves

Locate some groups which are atempting to reclaim Politics. 

 

Chapter Eight – Progress – The Same and Different.

Having a grip on progress means having a grip on the present – it is little to do with the future. The problem is that today (following Bordieu) we have little grip on the present. These are the reasons…

  1. Not knowing who is going to steer us through postmodern times – the old power bases are gone – the Fordist Factory is uprooted, the political domain powerless, we are in the age of free-floating capital. It is as if we are all on a plane, but the pilots have left the cockpit.
  2. The absence of a vision of the good society – Economic Liberalism and Marxism are both dead, this is probably a good thing given the tendency of metanarrataive to the tendency for metanarratives to end in genocides.

Progress today is ongoing – constant improvement without an end – and it is privatised – it is up to us to lift ourselves up and get out of those elements of social life which we do not like.

However, because we live in a world of universal flexibility, Unsicherheit is everywhere, and thus very few people have a grip on (the ability to control) their present – and this means the goal of long term progress is hard to establish for most.

Instead, short termism seems to be the norm – coping, adapting, surviving is what most people do!

Life becomes episodic as a result.

Commentary

Finally an easily understandable essay – a classic statement of progress in relation to modernity and postmodernity – Once again we could point to the Green Movement as a counter-exmaple fo this, but for most people I think the notion of ‘progress’ has become individualised and short-term.

Here he goes a bit further than previously – not only does Unischerheit individualise, it also changes the way we percieve the future and time in the present. Life has become short term and episodic This is an idea which Bauman develops in future books – suggesting that many of us no longer operate in ‘linear time’ but rather in ‘pointilist time’ – life has become a series of uncrelated episodes not really joined together by a coherent narrative – following, as I understand it, Erikson’s Tyranny of the Moment.

Unischerheit caused by free-floating capital and the declining power of the Nation State  flux, this individalises so we are left to construct biographical solutions to system contradictions, but so fluxy is the flux that it even changes our relationship to time – we are left in pointlist time, and so find it difficult to even construct an individualised biography – because doing so requires some purchase on the present, which we don’t have.

If this is correct hen we may in the future come to redefine ‘success’ ‘utopia’ ‘the good life’ or even ‘normality’ as the ability to construct a coherent (individualised) narrative of the self – even if that self is thoroughly depoliticised. In fact, through the CV building activities I’ve witnessed where I work, this could already be happening. In the realm of the social, Facebook is the other example.

In short we are forced to constructed biographies and then we become dependent on the system (CV industry and Facebook -etc.) to help us navigate our way through a Pointilist world. All of the time of course, we are thoroughly depoliticised in the process.

Questions

What would count as resistence to this system? Possibly groups like Adbusters that seem happy with Pointlilism but just aim to perpetually subvert, but then again are they self-constuting? Again, maybe the radical greens.

Chapter Nine – Uses of Poverty

We live a world of growing inter and intrasocietal inequality, this is the gravest problem we face. Much has been said about this, but little has been done to arrest it. This chapter questions the frame in which we address the problem and explores some possible solutions.

When we discuss poverty we only discuss the economic dimensions – we do not discuss the following….

‘the prescence of the large army of the poor and the widely publicised egregiousness of their condition… offsets the otherwise repelling and revolting effects of the consumer’s life lived in the shadow of perpetual uncertainty. The more destiute and dehumanised the poor of the world and the poor in the next street are shown and seen to be, they better they play that role in the drama which they did not script and did not audition for….The poor today are the collective other of the frightened consumers, the modern day hell which induces the average person to carry on working-consuming. What one learns is that the fate of certainty in poverty is worse than daily dealing with the uncertainties of working life, while focussing on their depravity rather than their deprivation enables anger to be chanelled to them (like burning effigies).’

The problem is that there are fewer and fewer jobs – there is a crisis of unemployment – capitalism does not need that many people to be in work, it is that simple!

This is a serious problme because beyond providing income, work, or livelihood, employment is the activity on which genuine, progressive self-assertion rests, and in the era of flexibilsation, this is lost – This is our probllem, without stable work we have a mass existential crisis.

Our crisis is caused by the political economy of uncertainty – global capital moves around dismantling order – to which neoliberal nation states capituaulate by competing in a race to the bottom, through the processeses of dregulation and further privatisation. Today capital maintains power not by legislation but by destabilising – by leaving behind privatised individuals who lack the capacity to organise effectively. Crippling uncertainty is the latest tool of globally mobile capital.

What we need is for politics to catch up with the power of capital. We need to challenge capital (especially finance capital) based on a concept of the common good.

Can nation states rise to the challenge? Basically no, their problem is that they are inward looking, doomed to be local. Following Alain Gesh – what we need is a New Internationalism, and to date there are few agencies doing this – Mostly the large NGOs but then the solidarity they garner is sporadic.

Commentary

By now it is becoming clear that for Bauman the biggest challenge facing humanity is that of how to regulate international Capitalism – again, drawing on what he has said elsewhere –

Tasks – Find out some of the worst examples of harms done by ‘Capital Flight’ – This shouldn’t be too difficult! Research into some of the proposed solution (beyond the Robin Hood Tax!)

Chapter Ten – Education: Under, For and In Spite of Modernity…

What is functional in education today is not the knowledge we learn, not learning to learning, but learning to unlearn the habits we have learned. In the postmodern world, with no fixed frame of references, forgetting is the key skill.

Universities do not fit the postmdodern era –

They offer a model of learning in which there is a clear body of knowledge to be learned, passed down by authorities, which does not fit a world in which there are knowledges and no clear authorities, but huge cultural relativities.

Knowledge has now become radically democratised – in the age of the internet – and episodised – rather than it being linear.

In the age of flexibilised working, quick training and re-training courses fit better.

A university education does not make economic sense.

The kind of long-term linear, structured learning they offer only makes sense within the time of eternity or the time of progress – modernity put paid to the former, postmodernity to the later.

The intellectual authority of the unviersity, and of academics has been undermined by the mass media – Intellectual authority use to be measured by the number of people who would come to listen to a person, then the number of books sold, but now it is the amount of air time someone gets – and here Dallas has more importance than Philosophy. In the era of the media public attention is scarce and notoriety the main currency – maximium impact then immediately forgetting is the name of the game – the kind of long search for truth you find in universities will not hold the public’s attention – so academic knowledge will not make it into the public domain.

Finally, the claim that scientific and technological knowledge is superior is open to question following Foucault and Beck.

So what do universities do – they can either subject themselves to market forces – and compete – letting the market judge what is socially useful knowledge – or they can withdraw into ivory towers – both change fundamentally the role of the university – (note the later is not autonomy, it is irrelevance.)

The future of the university lies in mutlivocality – the task of pilosophers of education is how to plan for this when there is no one central authority and how to incorporate open-ended knowledges into the process.

No Comment, other than to say I am wondering how long teaching has a profession?

Chapter Eleven – Identity in the globalising world.

In the mid 1990s the issue of identity became immensley popular in the social sciences – this chapter explores why.

(142) ‘Anxiety and audacity, fear and courage, despair and hope  are born together. But the proportion in which they are mixed depends on the resources in one’s possession. Owners of foolproof vessels and skilled navigators view the sea as the site of exciting adventure, those condemned to unsound and hazardous dinghies would rather hide behind breakwaters and think of sailing with trepidation. Fears and joys emanating from the instability of things are distrbuted highly unequally.

The idea of identity as an unfinished project and that individuality is a product of society is by now a trivial truth but what needs to be stated more often is that our society also depends on how the process of individuation is framed and responded to.

The notion that we have to become what we are has been around for a long time, the renewed focus on this is because of the radical disembeddedness of postmodern life – the places we might embed ourselves into are shifting – If we are running, the finishing line keeps moving, the lanes change and the track itself shifts.

The task of identity now is not that of a pilgrim – knowing where he is going, and figuring out the best way to get there but of a vagbond, not knowing where to go…. The task of identity is to make a choice and then defend the frame you construct from being erroded, which it might well be.

Eriksen said that the identity crisis of adolesents end when one feels one has a grip on oneself – when one has developed a sense of sameness and continuity. This view has aged – today we live in era when a constant identity crisis is the norm – in a world where things shift – having a continuous identity means to shut off options, it restricts one’s freedom too much – and so people prefer light identities – fluid connections which involve non-binding commitments – so that they may move on quickly. The postmodern subject has to be flexible, so when you reach your goal, you are not yourself!

The power of global capital has escaped inditutional politics, and in response people have retreated into the narrow, local concerns of life politics rather than Politics — These are self-perpetuating – and it is in this context that the growing interest in life-politics needs to be scrutinised.

P150 – Cristopher Lasch — Quoteable — In the age of precarity where we have no grip over global capital we retreat into that which does not matter – but people kid themselves – thus we get into therapies, the wisdom of the east, jogging… These are things which do not matter, and away from things that do matter but about which nothing can be done.

In all of the above ways, we retreat from what really matters (which is figuring out how to control global capital, and how to get on in an increasingly diverse world).

Today we use the word community to refer to fleeting connections, but it is not real community we are forging… and in doing so we also put up boundaries, and we create pegs on which to hang our fears.

The process of identitification as it stands lubricates the wheels of globalisation – The fact that we retreat from Politics allows Capital even more freedom.

Commentary

This is basically something I have thought for a long time – Cultural studies is simply irrelvant as are many studies on identity, indeed the whole focus on postmodern identities – absolutely pointless – espeically when not grounded in the constext of political economy.

Nice little summary this – Globally mobile Capital makes us retreat from Politics and into the realm of identity construction and the formation of communities based on weak ties (which are not weak communities on which Sociology focuses – but focussing on these and ‘telling their stories’ can tell us nothing.

I guess what’s interesting about the end bit is that Bauman’s suggesting that Sociology should be focussing more on the alternatives – how we control globally mobile Capital – it should have a Political agenda rather than focussing on what is immediately obvious (which is just identity-fluff). Useful for teaching value freedom this!

Chapter Twelve  – Faith and Instant Gratification

Starts with Seneca –  In his dialogue ‘On Happy Life – he notes that the problem facing those who seek the pleasures of instant gratification is that the pleasures fade quickly – thus there is no lasting happiness in such a strategy. He also noted that the kind of people who seek such pleasures care not for the past, present or future.

What in Seneca’s time was limited to a few people is today the case at the social level – The past offers us no guidance in the present, which is out of our control and the future seems full of hazards – hence more of us escape into the short-lived pleasures of instant-gratification.

It is unclear whether a long-term investment will be useful to us in the future – assets all to easily may become hinderances, and so times are hard for faith/trust/ commitment.

I’m not actually sure Bauman means when he says ‘assets’ – this doesn’t seem to apply to property, for example? Perhaps he means investments in ‘consumer commodities’, or in education?

The primary reason for this is the flexibilised nature of work – soon market demand will be met by 1/3rd of the population – unemployment and thus precariousness is structural.

Also, in the realms of consumption, we have learnt to see products as things we buy for short-term use, not long-lived.

In such a situation it makes sense to seek only temporary commitments with others, no investment in lasting relationships, because we know not what the future will bring. We tend to see relationships as things to be consumed, rather than produced (dating sites a such a great example of this!). Relationships are more likely to last until further notice – when they stop providing gratification, rather than being worked through.

Uncertainty and episodic lives tend to go hand in hand – it is unclear which is cause and which is effect.

An important aspect of faith is to invest in something which lasts longer than an individual human life – This used to be the family, but the typical family today may be made and unmade several times in the course of one’s life.

There is little else that we can look to to provide lasting values to commit to… And until we do something about the looming threat of insecurity this is unlikely to be the case.

Comment

I wonder if some people now regard their social media profiles as symbols of their immortality? Where you gather together photos and comments with you at the centre,  rendering the need to make a more serious investment in anything even less necessary!

A hyperreflexive blog focussing on critical sociology, infographics, Buddhism and extreme early retirement