Tag Archives: Bauman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Britain – A nation of caravanners?

 

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?

My Life Analysed – The madness of my mortgage

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…..

 

 

Leftist analysis with your large cappuccinno?

I heard on twitter that the riots might be coming to my local town tonight – or was it the neighbouring town?

Now I’m sure I’m not the only person to be in this situation right now – I’m pretty sure there are rumours about riots tonight in many towns around the country – but I was moved me to take a wander into my local town – not something I do likely because, trust me, my local town is a regular shithole, and today things were different –

The town centre, while still a regular shithole, was the quietest I have ever seen it, and there was a distinct air of a moral panic – On the way into the town centre I overheard at least three conversations about riots and the same topic was all the rage in the shops I went into.

In Wilkinson’s – which was guarded by two security guys – the woman in front of me in the queue asked the check out guy if he’d seen any trouble – just a few groups of youths wandering about he replied (surprising that, in the school holidays) – she them voiced some vacuous daily mail type condemnation of the rioters and walked off. Somewhat disheartened, I paid for my bags of Haribo (seriously – I bought them with the thought of throwing them to/ at the potential rioters across police lines – teaching has taught me that teenagers have a near universal appreciation of Haribo – sometimes I worry about myself) and wandered over to the coffee shop.

I’d just ordered my usual large cappuccino to go – when the woman in front of me asked the question ‘why are they rioting’? – And then an odd thing then happened – strangers started talking to eachother – discussing politics right there – in the queue for coffee – I decided to wade in with some leftist analysis to counter some of the comments that came forth – amongst them – ‘they’re just out of control’ ‘they’re just sick’ and ‘we should block the internet’ ‘ why haven’t we got any water cannons?’ .

I was firstly able to point out the irony of asking ‘why people are rioting’ and then suggesting we shut down the internet – that being the most reliable way of getting informed analysis of ‘why people are rioting’ – they seemed to get that idea!

Secondly I was able to counter the ‘they don’t want to work arguement’ by pointing out that 1. there really are very few job opportunities in pockets of London – with over 50 applicants for every job in some places, and I even mentioned the fact that Capitalism creates wealth partly by destroying jobs – then briefly explained why – they got that too.

Finally I managed to counter an ‘I don’t believe you can blame inequality line’ by drawing on Bauman’s latest piece on the riots and consumerism and was able to convey his landmine analogy to illustrate the fact that when a society creates pockets of inequality – it’s like laying landmines – of course not all of them will be set off – but some of them inevitably will be – simplistic I know – but it got the leftist message across nicely, I thought.

So there you go folks, one unintended positive benefit of the riots is that people are actually talking to eachother – after my latest coffee-queue experience  I’m left (no really I am!) with the distinct  feeling that the riots could lead to more people asking ‘why are those kids doing it’ and at presently I think there’s a kind of anomic, vacuum of inexplicability that right wing analysis just isn’t filling to people’s satisfaction. There really is potential to move people to the left – to the left.

Then again, perhaps I’m just feeling optimistic because of all the caffeine I’ve just just shoved into my system….

Ed Miliband – Influenced by Zygmunt Bauman?

Much to my delight I just stumbled across this article in the Guardian. Turns out that the new labour leader Ed Miliband is good friends with Bauman! I feel like I should have known this before somehow… Some good news on which to end the week!

All I’ve done below is cut and paste a few highlights – it’s late sorry!

Bauman and Milliband – the relationship

Bauman says he was “encouraged by Miliband’s first speech as leader to the Labour party conference, saying that it offered a chance to “resurrect” the left on a moral basis.

“Particularly promising for me was Ed’s vision of community. His sensitivity to the plight of the underdog, his awareness that the quality of society and the cohesion of community need to be measured not by totals and averages but by the wellbeing of the weakest sections,” says Bauman. “There seems to be a chance that under his leadership Labour will rediscover its own ground and recover its own feet.”

Bauman and the Milibands have history. Ed’s father, Ralph, and Bauman became close friends in the 1950s when both spent time at the London School of Economics (LSE). Both were leftwing sociologists of Polish-Jewish descent.

Ralph Miliband’s decision in 1972 to join the politics department at Leeds university, where Bauman taught sociology, that proved pivotal to their relationship. Bauman’s house in Leeds became a regular stop for the Miliband boys. Ed and David grew up watching the two academics discuss the future of the left.

A useful, very brief summary of Bauman’s basic world view –

Underlying his theory is the idea that systems make individuals, not the other way round. He says it does not matter whether one is dealing with Communism or consumerism, states want to control their public and reproduce their elites. But in place of totalitarian rule, western society looks to scare and entice by manufacturing public panics and seducing people with shopping. Bauman’s work today focuses on this transition to a nation of consumers, unconsciously disciplined to work endlessly. Those who do not conform, says Bauman, become labelled “human waste” and written off as flawed members of society.

And what is Sociology according to Bauman?

“The task for sociology is to come to the help of the individual. We have to be in service of freedom. It is something we have lost sight of,” he says.

While I’m on the Bauman theme – here a couple of good posts from the Global Sociology Blog on Bauman – one on the economic crisis – a nice short summary, and the other on ‘liquid fear’