Realsociology

For committed sociology, against neoliberalism

Sociology on TV – The 1970s

Posted by Realsociology on September 29, 2013

The first in this four part series took a relatively in-depth look at the very early years of the 1970s, examining the cultural shifts taking place in the context of Britain’s adaptation to a globalising economy.

I don’t teach it, but I imagine the show will be extremely useful for the SCLY1 culture and identity module.

The show starts with Heath’s success in getting Britain into Europe and uses this as context to chart the growth of UK consumer culture – pointing out that the number of people holidaying abroad doubled in ten years to the early 1960s.

There is also a good deal of coverage of shifting gender identities – as new masculinities become increasingly acceptable following the stardom of The likes of T Rex and Bowie. This spread across glass lines and there’s lots of nice images of working class lads with long hair accompanying this.

The show also deals with the influx of 25000 Asian Ugandans and their extraordinary efforts to get themselves jobs after arriving in the UK having lost everything to Amin’s regime. This is contrasted to the ‘send them back’ marches in the East of London

The episode finishes with Heath’s humiliation following the 1972 miner’s strike… The later being cast as an indication of Britain shifting right – the miners after all were simply demanding higher wages after a decade of wage stagnation so they could afford more than ‘a few pints at the weekend’ and actually take part in the UK’s new consumer dream

I think the show I watched was a relatively politically neutral historical analysis, although I’m not sure because it was hard to disentangle thought from the nostalgia – next week’ll be even worse as episode two will be dealing with my birth year – 1973 – And momentous though this event was somehow I think the show might kick off with something else…!?

Related blogs

By the show’s presenter – http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/tv/2012/04/the-70s.shtml

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Posted in Changing Britain, Sociology on TV, Sociology Songs | Tagged: , | No Comments »

Britain – A nation of caravanners?

Posted by Realsociology on September 28, 2013

 

I’ve been re-reading Zygmunt Bauman’s Liquid Modernity this weekend – I thought the following ‘caravan park’ passage so fitting as an analogy for British society that it was worth reproducing…. (pages 23-4)

 

The socially disengaged?

The socially disengaged?

‘The kind of ‘hospitality to critique’ characteristic of modern society in its present form may be likened to the pattern of a caravan site. The place is open to everyone with his or own caravan and enough money to pay the rent. Guests come and go, none of them takes much interest in how the site is run, providing the customers have been allocated plots big enough to park the caravans, the electric sockets and water taps are in good order and noise the owners of the caravans parked nearby do not make too much noise.

Drivers bring to the site their own homes equipped with all the appliances they need for their stay, which at any rate they intend to be short. Each driver has his or her own itinerary and time schedule. What the drivers want from the site’s managers is not much more (but no less either) than to be left alone and not interfered with. In exchange, they promise not to challenge the managers’ authority and to pay the rent when due.

Since they pay, they also demand. They tend to be quite adamant when arguing for their rights to the promised servics but otherwise want to go their own ways and would be angry if they were not allowed to do so. On occassion, they may clamour for better service; if they are outspoken, vociferous and resolute enough they may even get it. on occassion, they may find the managers’ promises not kept, the caravanners may complain and demand their due – but it won’t occur to them to question and renegotiate the managerial philosophy of the site, much less to take over the responsibility of running the place. They may, at the utmost, make a mental note never to use the site again and not to recommend it to their friends.

When they leave, the site remains much the same as it was before their arrival, unaffected by past campers and waiting for others to come; though if some complaints go on being lodged by successive cohorts of caravanners, the services provided may be modified to prevent repetitive discontents from being voiced again in the future’

Bauman contrasts this analogy to the era in which Adorno and Horkheimer developed their critical theory, pointing out their critical engagement with society took on the model of a household – they spoke (this is my interpretation now…. ) as if they were part of a shared household and had the right to redecorate it, and to make structural alterations.

Society (by which I think he means people in general, it’s not clear) used to accomodate the old ‘producer style critiques’ of Adorno and Horkheimer,  but now people only tend to listen to ‘consumer-style critiques’ as modelled in the caravan site analogy.

The challenge facing critical theory, according to Bauman, is to convince all those caravanners out there to ‘come back home’ to society. I sent a pingback to The Caravaning Club….. that should start the ball rolling, unless they define it as harassment?

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My Life Analysed – The madness of my mortgage

Posted by Realsociology on September 25, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Inequality updates – UK Focus

Posted by Realsociology on September 22, 2013

While the recent recession and ‘recovery’ have meant economic hardship and uncertainty for the majority, the VERY rich have got relatively richer.

Before looking at things sociologically (looking at the bigger picture) I’d just llike to say THANKS AGAIN TO THE BBC* for another excellent example of narrow-reporting which fosters false consciousness – This item reminds us that the levels of income inequality have fallen – if we compare the top fifth with the bottom fith of households over the last year.

HOWEVER…. If we look at how the incomes of the top one percent and top ten percent compare to other slices of the population further down the social-class spectrum, a picture of INCREASING INCOME INEQUALITY IN THE UK EMERGES

This article from The Guardian summarises the situation -

The super-rich – the top 1% of earners – now pocket 10p in every pound of income paid in Britain, while the poorest half of the population take home only 18p of every pound between them, according to a report published this week by the Resolution Foundation thinktank, which reveals the widening gap between those at the very top and the rest of society.

Inequality has grown sharply over the past 15 years, according to Resolution’s analysis: the top 1% of earners have seen their slice of the pie increase from 7% in the mid-1990s to 10% today, while the bottom half have seen their share drop from 19% to 18%.

This post from the Guerilla Policy Network offers a nice summary of the lates UN Human Development Report which highlights the following facts -

  • The UK’s poorest 40% share in just 14.6% of the national wealth – the only country performing worse was Russia (96)
  • The richest 20% have incomes more than ten times as high as the bottom 20%, this is the same as Nigeria, and worse than Ghana and the Ivory Coast, and twice as bad as Sri Lanka and Ethiopia (96)
  • As inequality in the UK has risen, intergenerational mobility (children ‘doing better’ than their parents) has also declined (2013 p36)
  • The majority of working people have had little or no wage increases in recent decades, while the top earners have seen substantial increases (2013 p22)

For those of you who prefer Infographics to illustrate inequality, here is one from the equality trust (love their work – ‘gis a job!)

income-inequality-uk-2

*(Seriously, thankyou, without you, BBC, teaching concepts such as ideological control, agenda setting, and false consciousness is just so easy.)

Posted in Agenda Setting, Changing Britain, Wealth and Income Inequality | Tagged: , , , | No Comments »

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

Posted by Realsociology on July 2, 2013

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


Summary

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

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

Why does choice lead to anxiety?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brief comment -

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

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

Andrew McAfee – The Future of Jobs (summary)

Posted by Realsociology on July 1, 2013

In this TED video, Andrew McAfee makes some predictions about the future of jobs.

 
His overarching prediction is that very soon, technological advancements will result in fewer people doing jobs in the following sectors.
• Driving
• Customer server reps and trouble shooters
• People working in warehouses.
He does point out that people have been predicting mass technological unemployment for about 200 years, but this time it’s different because today’s machines are acquiring new skills such as being able to listen and speak.
Our future world, what he calls the new machine age, is one in which there is more technology and fewer jobs. He argues that this is a good thing because…
1. This allows us to continue the trend towards increasing productivity and lower prices.
2. Once androids are doing the work, we are freed from drudge labour,

McAfee is optimistic about the future. He argues that when more people are freed by technology, this allows us to imagine a totally different society – One in which entrepreneurs, financiers, and artists etc. come to together to imagine alternative futures. He even goes as far as to say that he agrees with the following words of Freeman Dyson….. ‘technology is a gift of God. After the gift of life, it is perhaps the greatest of God’s gifts. It is the mother of civilisation, of the arts and of the sciences.
He then poses the question: What could possibly go wrong?
Firstly, he says that the economic contradiction between increasing returns to capital and decreasing returns to labour that accompanies technological revolution still hasn’t been resolved – this is the same problem as Henry Ford realised a century ago – that decreasing wages means less demand, which is ultimately bad news for capital.
Secondly, he points to the social problems might emerge as we live in an increasingly polarised society in which more people are ejected out of the affluent middle classes. To do this, he invents two typical workers, Bill and Ted. Bill has no college education and is either employed in blue collar or low level white collar work, while Ted is college educated and works in a higher end professional job.

Through a series of graphs (that remind me of The Spirit Level), we are now shown that while Ted has maintained his social position in most respects after the first, Bill now faces a bleak future of increased marginalisation from the increasing wealth being generated…
1. He earns considerably less,
2. He is far more likely to be unemployed,
3. He is less likely to see his children go on to be upwardly socially mobile,
4. He is much more likely to go to jail.
5. He is less likely to vote.
This trend, of blue collar jobs disappearing is not likely to abate any time soon, because it is precisely such blue collar jobs that are under threat from new developments in technology.
One proposed solution to this is a guaranteed national income, which, he points out is far from being limited to Socialism, was in fact championed by the likes of Hayek, Freedman and Nixon.
He rounds of by saying that his biggest fear is that we could face a future in which we have glittering technologies embedded in shabby societies, supported by an economy which generates inequality rather than opportunity.
However, McAfee doesn’t think that this will happen because of growing awareness of the true nature (the ‘plain facts’) of the problems that we face and that this will result in a future of new technologies being used to allow greater numbers of people access abundance.

Posted in Changing Britain, Globalisation, Sociology on TV | Tagged: | No Comments »

Single parents and poverty

Posted by Realsociology on June 28, 2013

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I was particularly interested in the middle section of this infographic which compares the life chances of children of dual-parent households with those of children from single parent households – while controlling for household income. It suggests that there is a rather strong correlation between single-parent households and an increased likelihood of their children falling into low income jobs in the future…

For the top income bracket, for example, children whose parents are in the top third of income earners are almost twice as likely as children from dual-parent households in the same parental income bracket to end up in lower-tier income jobs themselves.

As with many infographs, this doesn’t seek to explain these statistics….

One thing to think about is the difference between day to day life in those two types of upper income household – Many of those upper income tier households would be able to afford to have one parent stay at home at least part-time, but for the single parent earning nearly 80k a year, which must mean a long-hours professional career in most cases and I can imagine the the child won’t be getting that much quality parenting in such cases.

Secondly, this might not be measuring the effects of single parents but the effects on a child of relationship breakdown (obviously the two tend to go hand in hand).

Finally, I’m uncomfortably aware of the patriarchal norms lurking behind these data – if having one stay at home parent is what’s behind the relative success of dual parent households, let’s face it, we all know it’s going to be the woman staying at home in 90% of cases, and in those single person households it will be the woman being the single parent in those cases and no doubt these stats will be uncritically wheeled out by the new right to support traditional ideas on the family

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Does Britain really have some of the highest paid teachers in the world?

Posted by Realsociology on June 27, 2013

According this article in the Torygraph - Britain has some of the highest paid teachers in the world.

To cite from the article, which draws on OECD data:

“Primary school teachers in England are among the youngest in the world but they still earn almost £4,000 more on average than their counterparts across the rest of the OECD.

The average salary for a primary teacher in the OECD countries was £24,690 in 2011, compared to £28,660 in England.

However, according to the think-tank’s latest study of education, teachers in English primary schools spent less time in class than their peers elsewhere.

The report found England’s primary teachers delivered 684 hours of lessons in 2011, significantly below the OECD average of 786 hours.”

No doubt Michael Gove will use this as part of his future agenda to cut teacher’s wages further (Let’s face it, it’s coming). In order to make his case he will have  to use this data uncrtically and without looking at the wider context of these figures, because if you do dig deeper (and this took me about 2 minutes), you come across these statistics -

“England has some of the highest class sizes in the developed world, beaten only by Mexico and Turkey, with an average of 26.1. That is a ratio of 19.8 students per teacher, compared to an OECD average of 15.7.” – This is from the Guardian - Depressingly, drawn from the same data as used in Torygraph article, which might lead anyone with a brain to think that this is an example of the Torygraph deliberately using data selectively for political ends.

In addition, neither of these articles mention explicitly that teachers in Britain may  have a tougher time than in other countries because they are dealing with higher levels of deprivation (we are one of the most unequal socities in Europe), having to meet the needs of learners from a diverse array of backgrouds (London is the most diverse city on earth), and having to cope with a test-obsessed marketised system, now resided over by a megalomaniac intent on bending the system to his own narrow minded personal agenda. (That would be Michael Gove btw).

Another problem with the article is its suggestion that ‘the fact that teachers on average are much younger in Britain than elsewhere makes the fact that they are paid so much even less justifiable’ – In reality a better interpretation might be – ‘teaching in Britain is especially demanding and thus relatively well paid. The fact that it is so demanding is the reason why teaching careers are relatively short and teachers are much younger in Britain than elsewhere.’

All in all I think UK teachers’ higher salaries are justified and that the Torygraph is best ignored.

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UK Tourism – Suggests globalisation is exaggerated?

Posted by Realsociology on June 26, 2013

 

According to World Bank data, more people visit abroad from the UK than from any other country other than China.

travel trends UK

 

The thing is, we don’t tend to travel that far from home!

tt2

 

According the ONS 2012 Travel Trends the number of visits abroad by UK residents was 56.5 million, broadly equivalent to one visit abroad per person per year (although no doubt the distribution is nowhere near equal!).

What’s interesting, however, is just how close to home most of these visits are:

  • Nearly 20 million, or 34% of all visits are to Spain or France
  • About 38 million visits, or about two thirds of total visits are to just 10 countries, made up 8 countries in Europe plus America and Turkey.
  • This means that just 20 million visits, which will be considerably less than one third of the UK population, venture to more exotic destinations, and many of those 20 million visits are likely to be ‘safe’ western-style hotels in countries such as Egypt.

Given all of this, I think it’s safe to say that tourism trends are more regional than truly global. True global travelers are very much the exception.

Posted in Global Development, Globalisation | Tagged: , , | No Comments »

Tourism Departures – An Indication of the Rise of the BRIC Nations?

Posted by Realsociology on June 24, 2013

I just knocked up this graph using World Bank data on tourism departures between 2003 – 2011 (which is very easy to do btw!)

 

Data from World Bank

 

It’s a nice illustration of the relative increase in the spending power of (some) people in the four BRIC nations in relation to the relative decline of spending power in the United Kingdom and the USA.

It also shows how much further ‘ahead’ China is compared to the other BRIC nations, as well as serving as a reminder of just how inward looking Americans are   – The same number visit abroad do from the UK, but their population is about six times the size of ours!

Posted in Global Development, Globalisation | Tagged: , | No Comments »