Just Stop Oil – A Sociological Analysis

Just stop oil are challenging people to rethink what their values are in global context, but are coming up against governmental and corporate power structures which are pro fossil fuel.

Just Stop Oil is a UK based coalition of groups with the aim of getting the government to stop all new licences for exploring and developing fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas.

Just Stop Oil draws on evidence from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which suggests if the global community doesn’t take action to radically and rapidly reducing its fossil fuel use within the next few years then climate change could be irreversible, meaning today’s children will face a calamitous future of global warming, sea level rise and extreme weather events.

The group has an overtly political focus, and a very specific focus – to get the government to disallow companies to exploit new fossil fuel reserves, and their tactics are very radical involving non violent direct action.

Just Stop Oil’s Tactics

Just Sop Oil uses Non Violent Direction Action to disrupt social activity in England and other countries, in order to draw attention to the urgent need to address the climate crisis.

The group made headlines in the UK in early November by climbing motorway gantries and stopping traffic for hours on end around the M25 and other places – if people enter gantries the police are legally obliged to remove them for their own safety, which requires traffic to be stopped.

The video below gives you an insight into the rational behind these tactics from the words of one of the activists

Just Stop Oil also made headline news back in October 2022 when activists threw soup over Van Gogh’s sunflowers.

The reason for choosing to attack art is to make people question what they value – if people are getting angry over vandalising a work of art, why aren’t they getting angry over governments allowing corporations and lazy individuals to vandalise the ecosystem which art depends on too?

Applying sociology to Just Stop Oil

There are lots of concepts you can apply to the Just Stop Oil campaigns, especially value consensus (or lack of it), indivdualisation, the Marxist perspective on global power structures, and Durkheim’s ideas about deviance and social change.

Value Consensus (or lack of it)

Just stop oil explicitly call on people to rethink what they value, as you can see from the FAQ on their site about ‘why soup over art’ – the whole point of that is to get people to think about why they care more about art than the climate, if they are getting angry about just the art rather than the climate.

You can also see it in this twitter exchange – the person replying to the individualised mother is challenging her to change her values and act on them, like she has done and like the U.N. is calling on people to do.

However the fact that so few people seem to care about the climate crisis and just go on doing their own thing and polluting suggests we are a long way off value consensus over the need to reduce our fossil fuel usage.

In short, Functionalist theory just doesn’t seem to apply here!

Individualisation

The tweet above reminds me of Bauman’s concept of individualisation – we live in a society where individuals are increasingly tasked with finding solutions to their own problems, rather than relying on society to do it for them.

In the above case we see a woman ‘managing’ her ordinary life in a very individualised way – she has a car to transport her kids around and is trying to plan to avoid disruption – which in itself is very efficient and organised.

However any sense of her using the train to care about the environment clearly isn’t on her agenda – and it isn’t on most people’s agendas either as they are too busy trying to just survive on a day to day basis.

There’s a strong possibility that governmental action may well be needed to reduce global emissions – if people aren’t forced to use less fossil fuels most of them will choose to carry on using them for the sake of convenience as any sense of ‘care for society’ has largely disappeared in our individualised age.

Marxist theories of global power structures

The fact that insufficient government action has been taken over climate change to prevent catastrophe by 2050 (according to climate scientists) suggests that they are on the side of the oil and gas companies.

In the case of the UK this is very much obvious – two of our largest companies are Shell and BP and the government isn’t even prepared to tax the current enormous profits they are making on high energy prices.

It seems to be that it’s very much the climate coalition versus the governments plus the oil corporations, and the later two are still putting short term profits before long term sustainability, which suggests that Marxism may well still be relevant today!

The Social Construction of Crime

Just a quick one – the High Court put out an injunction against anyone blockading motorways and other roads in certain parts of the UK.

This means that instead of just being charged with public nuisance offences which only really carry minor punishments anyone blockading a motorway as part of Just Stop Oil’s campaign can now be charged with contempt of court which carries longer jail sentences and unlimited fines!

It’s a great example of how an act can be made ‘more criminal’ by the simple act of a court.

Durkheims’ theory of social change

If you read through Just Stop Oil’s website and listen to the voices in these videos it’s clear that Just Stop Oil activists position themselves as being at the moral forefront of positive social change, in the same vein as civil rights activists in the 1960s.

Durkheim said that deviance in society is necessary in order for social change to take place and that ‘today’s deviance may well be tomorrow’s norm’.

Perhaps these committed activists have the value-system of the future – perhaps in 40 years time we will look back and think these were pioneers of a greener future when it is the norm to live more sustainably?

Another way Durkheim’s theory may be relevant in the future depends on how these activists are punished – if they are given very harsh punishments this could be an attempt by the courts to enforce social regulation through sending out a message.

Just Stop Oil – Relevance to A-level Sociology conclusions

This case study is most relevant to the Power and Politics option, but few students study that module, but this material is still a good example of deviance and so for most people will be relevant to the crime and deviance module.

also relevant to the global development module as this is clearly a global movement!

Lucien Goldmann – Class and Literature

Lucien Goldmann is a marxist theorist of the arts who argued that social class shapes the worldview of authors.

Lucien Goldmann is a Marxist theorist of the arts. He argued that great works of literature reflected the (sometimes contradictory) class positions of those who wrote them.

The Expression of Class WorldViews

In The Hidden God (1964) Goldmann developed a theory about the French writers Pascal and Racine.

He argued that the social class to which one belongs is the most important thing when it comes to the production of intellectual and creative works.

Humans in the ‘subject class’ need to spend most of their time devoted to physical survival while those in the ‘dominant class’ need to spend their time maintaining that dominance.

Class thus tends to be the most influential factor in shaping people’s world views and thus their creative and intellectual output!

Goldmann argued that most people only have a dim perception of class consciousness, but a few exceptional individuals are class conscious and able to express this clearly.

Pascal and Racine

Goldmann believed that Pascal and Racine were two such ‘exceptional individuals’ who were aware of their class consciousness, both of whom belonged to a social class which Goldman referred to as the ‘Noblesse de Robe’ in 17th century France.

The Noblesse de Robe consisted of legal and administrative professionals who were employed by the state, which was partially controlled by the monarchy.

These individuals thus had a conflicted worldview which partially reflected the authoritarian traditions of the monarchy but also the more rational ‘new bourgeoise’ worldview associated with their professions.

The contradiction between these two world views comes through in the tragedies that Pascal and Racine wrote, which tended to focus on how it was impossible to succeed in the rational world and to please God at the same time.

In the words of Goldmann the central theme of the Noblesse’s tragedies was:

“that everything that God demands is impossible in the eyes of the world, and that everything that is possible when we follow the rules of this world ceases to exist when the eye of God lights upon it”

Evaluation of Goldmann

On the positive side Lucien Goldmann’s analysis is more subtle than Berger’s who simply argues that art reflects ruling class ideology.

At least in Goldmann’s theory the authors are conscious actors expressing their own class consciousness.

Criticisms of Goldmann

  1. He may overemphasise the role of class in shaping the worldview of authors. For Feminist, for example, gender is more important in this, as is ethnicity and the experience (or lack of) of colonialism.
  2. Even if class is the prominent influencer of art, other factors such as gender probably play a role too!
  3. Goldmann assumes that a social class can possess a clear ideology, express that ideology and that there is one clear interpretation of this one ideology. Poststructuralists argue that there are multiple interpretations of multiple realities.

Academies in England and Wales

Academies were first introduced under New Labour in the year 2000 to drive up standards and improve equality of opportunity. However academies under the coalition and the new Tories have been more about creating a quasi market in education.

Academy schools are state funded schools which are independent of Local Education Authorities (LEAs), unlike ‘community schools’ which are subject to more Local Education Authority control and receive their funding from them.

Academies receive their funding directly from the government and have the freedom to manage their own budgets, fire and hire staff, set their own daily timetable and term dates and do not have to follow the national curriculum.

Every academy is required to be part of an academy trust (AT), which is a charity and company limited by guarantee. They can seek additional funding from companies, philanthropists, charities or religious organisations, and are non-profit organisations.

They were first introduced under the New Labour Government in the late 1990s and have gradually replaced schools managed by Local Education authorities.

Some academies are run as part of a multi-academy trust (MATs) such as Harris-Academies where several schools are run under one centralised management structure.

Most of the early academies chose to become academies, but some have been forced to convert away from LEA control to academies following an ‘in need of improvement’ grading by OFSTED, many of these converter academies having to choose an MAT to manage them.

Like community (LEA) schools academies are inspected by OFSTED and follow the same nationally imposed rules regarded exclusions and Special Educational Needs provision.

Types of Academy

There are three main types of academy schools: sponsored, converter and free schools.

Sponsored Academies

Sponsored academies were the first type of academy, established under New Labour in the year 2000. They are typically underperforming schools which have failed an OFSTED inspection and have been required to move away from LEA control and become academies.

In the early days sponsors were businesses, philanthropists, charities or religious organisations but today well established successful academies or MATs can be sponsors and take over failing schools.

Converter Academies

These are already existing schools under Local Education Authority control which have voluntarily chosen to become academies.

There are certain advantages to a school becoming an academy – more control over its affairs and the fact that they save on 15% VAT on goods and services which they don’t pay, unlike LEA schools.

Converter academies are the main type of academy today and account for 2/3rds of existing academies.

Free Schools

Free Schools are newly created schools which are run as academies.

Free Schools were introduced under the Coalition Government in 2011 and are typically established by local interest groups who want a better standard of education for their children.

So far they have been established by groups of parents, teachers, charities, businesses and faith groups.

A History of Academies

City Academies were first introduced in the year 2000 under New Labour and then saw a rapid expansion under both the Coalition (2010-2015) and Tory governments (2015 to present day).

Academies under New Labour

Academies were first launched as ‘city academies’ in 2000 under the New Labour (1997 to 2010) government, and Lord Adonis, then education advisor to the Labour government, is credited with their establishment.

Most early academies were ‘sponsored academies’ – they were failing LEA schools in deprived urban areas which were shut down and then re-opened under new management as academies and in the early 2000s huge amounts of capital funding was injected into these early academies.

In 2002 the prefix ‘city’ was removed to allow schools in non urban areas to join the academies programme.

The rationale behind academies was that they would raise educational standards through increasing diversity and choice and encouraging competition between schools – and they are thus an expansion of the ‘marketisation’ of education introduced by the previous Tory government.

Early academies were founded and governed by sponsors including businesses, charities and universities, with funding initially capped at £2 million per school. (This cap was lifted in 2009).

New Labour’s early academies had a greater intake of Free School Meals students and the hope was that by making them independent of LEA control and introducing private sponsorship they would encourage a culture of high aspirations among students and thus break the cycle of deprivation.

This focus on combining marketisation and social justice concerned is very characteristic of the third way ethos which lay behind many of New Labour’s policies.

Mossbourne Community Academy

An example of a successful early academy is Mossbourne Academy in Hackney, which was opened in 2004 with a capital budget of £23 million being spent on shiny new school buildings.

Mossbourne Academy students lining up before lessons

The first headmaster of Mossbourne Academy was (now) Sir Michael Wilshaw, who went on to become the chief inspector for OFSTED. He instigated a regime of high expectations of all students with strict rules about not only attendance and punctuality but also strict dress code.

Teachers were required to work long hours as were students deemed to be in need of extra help to reach their target grades with additional after school lessons and Saturday lessons part of the weekly regime for those who required them.

The school also set up a range of extra curricular activities emulating private schools such as a debating and rowing club – increasing access to cultural capital for those students who took up these opportunties.

Mossbourne was extremely successful in getting its students excellent grades but there is a question mark over how much of this was down to the extreme amount of initial funding injected into this flagship academy project.

By 2006 there were 46 academies established, half of these in London, which had capital and operating costs of £1.3 billion.

By 2010 there were 203 Academies up and running.

Academies under the Coalition

The Coalition identified academies as one of their main education policies for simultaneously raising standards and improving equality of educational opportunity by narrowing the achievement gap.

The Coalition government pursued the setting up of academies even more enthusiastically than the previous New Labour government, their aim being to make it the norm for all state schools to be academies, rather than just for failing schools and schools in deprived areas as had been the case previously.

The new Coalition Education Secretary Michael Gove wrote to all head teachers in 2010 informing them that all secondary and primary schools would be invited to convert to secondary school status, and schools with and OUTSTANDING status from OFSTED would be fast tracked through the process of conversion.

In 2011 the academy conversion process was extended to all schools doing well, and other schools not classified as doing well good convert to academies if they joined already existing academy chains which were doing well.

Fast tracked schools were required to support at least one weaker school, the idea being that better schools would partner with weaker schools and help them improve.

The Coalition also continued with ‘forced academisation’, in June 2011 the government announced that it would be forcing the weakest 200 schools to become academies, under new management, typically an already existing well-performing academy or academy trust.

The 2010 academies act also made it a requirement for all new schools to be either academies or free schools (see below) – this prevented the Local Education Authorities from setting up new schools.

Michael Gove also introduced legislation which allowed for the establishment of Free Schools – entirely new academies which allowed teachers, parents or religious groups (for example) to set up a new school in their own area if they were not satisfied with local provision. By the end of the Coalition government 254 Free Schools had been opened.

All through the five years of the coalition government the academies programme continued at a rapid pace – by the end of the New Labour government in 2010 there were 203 academies, and within nine months of the coalition this had doubled to 442 academies.

By the time of the general election in 2015 there were just over 5000 academies in England and Wales, which was 40% of all secondary schools.

The rapid rise of academies during the Coalition is down to two factors primarily:

  1. The streamlined application process made it a lot faster to convert
  2. There were financial benefits to becoming academies – independent control of budgets (rather than LEA control) made finances easier to manage and there was additional central funding available, all during a time of austerity which made converting very appaling.

West and Baily (2013) have suggested that while New Labour saw academies as a way of solving the problem of failing schools the Coalition used setting them up en masse to enact system wide change towards a more marketised education system.

Academies since 2015

When the Tories came to Power in 2015 David Cameron’s stated aim was to achieve full academisation, that is he wanted ALL schools to become academies.

A 2016 white paper proposed that all schools had to start converting to academies by 2020 and that any that hadn’t would be instructed to do so by 2022, the idea being that the Local Education Authorities would have no role in management education by 2022.

However, there was resistance to this forced academisation, especially by primary schools which were doing well and were reluctant to hand over control to relatively new Multi Academy Trusts and these plans were relaxed and the government focused its efforts on ‘encouraging’ LEA schools to convert voluntarily rather than forcing them.

Even so the number of academies continued to increase rapidly under the Tory government and by 2020 the number of academies had risen to over 9000, an increase of around 1000 per year, and most of these converter academies.

There are also new national structures in place now to regulate academies:

  • The Education and Skills Funding Agency regulates funding
  • The Schools Commissioners Group made up of eight regional commissioners for schools monitors academies in their regions.

The growth of Academies in England and Wales

The total number of academies in England and Wales has grown rapidly since 2010, although the rate of growth has slowed in more recent years.

  • In 2009 to 2010 there were a total of 133 academies
  • By 2019/ 2020 there were a total of 9200 academies

The total number of academies increased by 5% between 2018/2019 to 2019/2020, but this figure would have been lowered because of the impact of Covid, as schools focused on dealing with safe re-opening and helping pupils catch up rather than converting to academy status.

Growth of academies in England and Wales 2009 to 2020

Key for the above table:

  • Dark blue = sponsored academies
  • Light blue = converter academies
  • Mid blue (smallest) = Free Schools.

There are more secondary than primary academies…

  • In 2020 78% of secondary schools were academies, 22% where LEA run schools
  • This compares to 36% of primary schools being academies, 54% remain under LEA control.

Multi Academy Trusts

Source: FFL datalabs

The number of schools in MATs has increased since 2018, with the largest increase being for schools in trusts with 6-10 schools, with 25% of schools being in trusts of 6-10 schools.

Approximately:

  • 15% of schools are single schools
  • 40% are in small trusts of 2-9 schools
  • 25% are in large trusts of 10-19 schools
  • 20% are in very large trusts of 20+ schools

The average number of schools in a trust has increased from 5 to 7 schools in the last four years to 2022 and the largest trust today has 75 schools in it.

Evaluations of Academies

There has been criticism of how far New Labour’s early academies managed to break the cycle of deprivation (Gorand 2009, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, 2008)

Under the coalition the Local Education Authority system of provision of schooling was dismantled – this involved democratically elected bodies planning appropriate educational provision for a local area. This has now been replaced with a greater diversity of provision, increased competition between schools and greater involvement of non-elected officials (sponsors) in how local schooling is run (Walford 2014)

As a result there is now a lack of accountability to the local communities in which academies exist because there is no LEA control.

Funding arrangements for academies are agreed between the secretary of state and the management company of the academy – this means there is no ‘democratic oversight’ of funding arrangements – sponsors are effectively operating outside of the democratic process (Ward and Eden (2009).

While the government speaks of ‘diversity and choice’ another way of looking at this is that they have created a fragmented education system – when there is no local planning for provision you get overlap and inefficiencies, especially where Free Schools are concerned!

Multi Academy Trusts vary in their degrees of competence, and for those schools which are still under LEA control, they may be better off remaining so, BUT LEAs now get much less funding because so much of it has been siphoned off to the academy trusts, so they may not be able to offer as much support in the future.

In short, it’s possible that academisation has gone so far and now LEAs are so weakened that full academisation is possibly now inevitable.

Signposting and Relevance to A-Level Sociology

This material is primarily relevant to the education aspect of the AQA’s A-Level Sociology specification.

Sources/ References

Barlett and Burton (2021): Introduction to Education Studies, fifth edition

Academy Schools Sector in England Consolidated Annual Report and Accounts For the year ended 31 August 2020, HC 851

Education Data Lab – stats on academies in England and Wales.

Politics.co.uk on Academies – a useful summary of some of the Key Facts about academies.

Lockdowns harmed child language development

10% more children now need extra help with their language skills because of lockdowns.

The Number of year 1 students who need extra support with their speech and language skills in school has increased as a result of lockdown according to some BBC analysis conducted on government data in November 2022.

The number of 5 and 6 year olds receiving speech and language support in their first year of primary school increased by 10% in 2021-22 compared to 2020-21…

This was the cohort of children who started reception in the previous year and so had their schooling massively disrupted by the government’s lockdown policies, their chosen response to the Covid-19 Pandemic.

This kind of increase cannot be attributed to an increase in the child population or an increase in detection rates of students needing this kind of support, rather it reflects the harmful effects lockdowns had on some students.

The charity Speech and Language UK point to Lockdown as the cause of this regression in child development, suggesting that Lockdowns resulted in students missing being isolated and socialising less, thus losing opportunities to practice and develop their speech and communication skills.

The statistics above back up what teachers and speech and language therapists have been saying for more than a year now.

Primary school teachers have reported increases in the number of primary school pupils starting the year with poor communication skills, some of them pointing to objects rather than saying what they are because they are too anxious about getting the words wrong.

One thing that can help schools to help students catch up is the Nuffield Foundation’s Early Language Intervention Programme

However, this is already full for the current academic year and it seems to involve learning on Learning Support Assistants to help students catch up, just adding more to their work load.

Signposting/ Relevance to A-Level Sociology

More students starting school with poor speech and communication skills reminds me of Bernstein’s concept of restricted speech code which is a form of cultural deprivation.

This is worrying for these students because recent research from Leon Fenstein has found that if a student starts out school with poor language skills it is usually very difficult for them to catch up and he found a correlation with having poor speech at age three and lower income in later life, which sounds very much like what we have here.

It’s most likely that those students who have been hardest hit by the government lockdowns are from lower class, poorer households as it is generally these households who lack the cultural capital to help their children develop those early language skills.

While the government has committed to spending £180 million on early years development, this doesn’t sound like it’s going to be a sufficient amount of money to help ALL the students who need it.

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John Berger

John Berger was a marxist cultural thinker who argued that art reflects ruling class ideology.

John Berger was an artist, novelist, cultural thinker and art critic who developed a Marxist inspired theory of art.

His best known work is ‘Ways of Seeing’ (1972) in which he explored the ‘hidden ideologies’ in historical works of art.

Berger argued that art reflects the political and economic system in which it was produced and that “the art of any period tends to serve the ideological interests of the ruling class” (1)

Berger is an extremely influential Marxist critique of the arts who is also credited with introducing the concept of the Male Gaze to visual analysis.

John Berger in 2009

Berger: Art and Ruling Class Ideology

Oil painting was the dominant medium for painters between 1500 to 1900.

The ruling classes were more able to impose their view of the world through art simply because oil paintings were expensive and they had the money to commission them.

Berger argued that oil paintings had unique properties that made them especially suitable for portraying ruling class ideology during the Renaissance years and into modernity.

These were the years of emergence of Capitalism when acquiring private property and earning money through trade were becoming increasingly central to the world-view of the ruling class, and most oil paintings during 1500-1900 were concerned with depicting the accumulation of such wealth and property, reflecting the interests of the ruling classes during that period.

Oil paints were particularly suited to making what they depicted seem tangible, or ‘real’ because of the texture, depth and lustre of the medium.

The depiction of wealth in oil paintings changed as modernity developed.

Oil paintings had always portrayed items of value, but in early periods these items were usually linked to the glorifying God. However, as capitalism developed paintings focussed increasingly on portraying the wealth and power of the ruling class, effectively suggesting that money was more important than religion.

Another change was that older works portrayed wealth as a symbol of a fixed social or divine order, reflecting the traditional nature of religious power structures, while oil paintings during modernity portrayed wealth as something more dynamic and linked to the successes of the individuals who had acquired it.

Interestingly many of the works commissioned by the wealthy elites during modernity were of poor quality, or ‘hack work’ as Berger calls it.

This was because it was more important to the elites to have their art showing off their wealth in the way that they wanted rather than for them to have high quality works.

In short there were many more mediocre artists prepared to ‘paint to demand’ than there were excellent artists prepared to do so! So even here the market influences the quality of work that is produced.

The Portrayal of the Ruling Class in Art

Landscape paintings portrayed the property of the rich, and sometimes the property owners insisted on being in the landscapes themselves, to demonstrate that it was them who owned the land.

Berger uses the example of Mr and Mrs Andrews by Gainsborough (circa 1748 to 9). In this landscape painting the husband and wife are in the foreground and Berger argues that their ‘proprietary attitude to what surrounds them is visible in their stance and their expression’.

Mr and Mrs Andrews by Gainsborough

Other still-life paintings during modernity portrayed expensive furnishings in houses and tables laden with exotic foods as symbols of wealth. Animals were also featured, but not animals in the wild, rather domesticated livestock with a rare pedigree, so that their monetary value was clear.

The Portrayal of the Lower classes in Art

Paintings representing the lower classes were also popular among the ruling classes.

A common theme in portrayals of the lower classes was that of the common people being drunk and debauched in taverns which suggested they were immoral, feckless and lazy.

Such portrayals served to foster a kind of ‘myth of meritocracy’ – the idea that the poor were to blame for their own poverty because they preferred to drink and party rather than to work hard, while it was the hardworking who prospered and thus deserved their wealth.

And of course it was the ruling classes who saw themselves as hard working and deserving the wealth displayed in their own paintings of themselves.

NB – it’s worth noting the following difference:

  • the ruling classes controlled what went into the paintings of themselves that they commissioned.
  • the working classes had no control over this – artists drew them without any input from them.

Some artists break free of Ruling Class Ideology

While most works of art reflect ruling class ideology, Berger accepts that some artists break free from such ideological constraints.

One example of someone who did this is the artist Rembrandt.

Berger points to an early painting of Rembrandts: Self-Portrait with Saskia (circa 1635) in which Rembrandt is painting within ‘ruling class ideology’ – the painting depicts himself showing off his wife as a form of property, a symbol of this own wealth and success.

However, 30 years later when he produces ‘self-portrait of an old man’ (circa 1664) in this painting he just sitting on his own in a sombre and reflective mood with no symbols of wealth depicted.

In Berger’s interpretation of Rembrandt’s journey he has undergone a struggle over the course of his life to throw off the shackles of ruling class ideology and succeeded in producing a piece of art that is more authentic.

Evaluation of Berger’s theory of art

John Berger’s work has been extremely influential, with Ways of Seeing being described as ‘revolutionary‘.

Berger’s work has become a standard edition to cultural studies and history of art courses the world over and he is responsible for encouraging students and anyone else who reads his work to think critically about the role of power and money in influencing art and culture.

Even if you you do not entirely agree with Berger’s analysis, at the very least you should appreciate the fact that he is encouraging us to ask critical questions about the processes which lie behind the production of art.

It is possible that his analysis isn’t that systematic and thus alternative interpretations maybe just as valid. For example do the expressions of the Andrews really demonstrate that they own the land in the background…? Does Rembrandt’s old man portrait really show that he’s been through a life-time of personal struggle to break free from ruling class ideology, or is he just showing that he’s ‘old and sad’…?

Even though Berger devoted some time to how women are portrayed as being owned and controlled by men in Ways of Seeing he has been criticised for not giving female analysts more of a central role in discussing this.

Sources/ find out more

Brtannica: John Berger

This post was adapted from Haralambos and Holborn(2013) Sociology Themes and Perspectives 8th Edition.

John Beger image.

Mr and Mrs Andrews

Signposting

This material is primarily relevant to those studying the Culture and Identity option within A-level Sociology.

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Marxism and Culture

Culture is what distinguishes humans from animals, but under Capitalism culture becomes a tool of the elite used to repress the masses. However, there is capacity for individuals to rise above false consciousness and usher in communism which is where the spontaneous production of culture can happen under free conditions.

Marx argued that human labour was integral to an individual’s sense of identity and the wider culture of a society.

In the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts Marx argued that it was work, or consciously transforming nature, which distinguished humans from animals, and it was through the creative process of work that man came to recognised himself as human.

For Marx the ideal-state of society was one in which individuals freely organised themselves into groups and collectively engaged in work, intentionally and consciously using their labour power to meet their own physical and aesthetic needs.

In fact for Marx, the origins of culture lie in the capacity of men to collectively organise and consciously produce things, especially those things which are over and above what individuals need to survive.

The material conditions and social relations of a society shape culture to an extent – in Marx’s view there is an ideal state he calls communism which is where there is no private property and under these material conditions man is the most free to use his labour power to express his humanity to its fullest extent.

Under such ‘ideal conditions’ the cultures which emerge are (in my interpretation of Marx) just spontaneous human cultures, as ‘good’ as it gets.

However under the unequal material conditions of class stratified societies, it is the culture of elite class which emerges as the dominant one which in turn becomes a tool to oppress the minority who live in a state of unfreedom and false consciousness.

Alienation and Culture

According to Marx, the ideal-state for humanity is that they live in social conditions which allow them the freedom to fulfil their material needs and aesthetic desires through the creative process of creating things using their imagination.

However, historically the emergence of the concept of Private Property and the accumulation of this property by a few gave rise to Capitalism. Under capitalism a handful of people own and control the means of production which means the majority do not own them which thus means the masses cease to exist in a state of freedom.

Under capitalism the majority lose their freedom to organise their own labour, instead they end up having to work for those who own the means of production, in places such as factories, in order to survive, and they thus lose control over their creative-productive process, and also their very sense of humanity and culture. It was this condition which Marx referred to as Alienation.

So for Marx, the ideal state is that human culture emerges through the individuals freely engaging in productive activities, but the emergence of Private Property and Capitalist inequalities distorts this process, alienating the masses because they are no longer free to organise create their own cultures through their own productive processes.

Culture as Ruling Class Ideology

Marx argued that in class-stratified societies the dominant culture came from the ruling class…..

“The ideas of the ruling class are, in every age, the ruling ideas… the dominant ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas.”

In Capitalist societies the dominant class was the Bourgeoisie (the owners of the mans of production) and they used their economic power to shape the dominant culture (norms and values) in capitalist society in the 19th century.

We see this especially in Marx’s ideas about the role of religion in society – Christianity in the 19th century was mainly a conservative force which encouraged the poor to know their place in society, respect authority, work hard and seek their rewards in heaven.

Hence Marx saw culture as part of the superstructure of society – with (for example) religious ideas helping to maintain a system of norms and values (a culture) which benefitted existing elites by preventing the spreading of more revolutionary ideas and thus keeping the existing unequal material relations in place.

Some later Marxists such as Adorno applied Marx’s theory to how the mass media works along similar lines in modern societies – with the media effectively keeping the massive passive and stupid and preventing social change.

However even Marx and Engels themselves admitted that the material infrastructure does not entirely determine culture, there is room for some alternative cultures to emerge besides the dominant culture.

Culture as a Reflection of Class Differences

One interpretation of Marx and Engels’ perspective on culture in relation to social class is that different classes will have different cultures, because culture reflects the material conditions in which people live, and there are material differences between social classes.

However Engels himself recognised that aspects of culture could transcend class origins, at least in the sphere of literature where some writers were concerned.

Using the example of Goethe Engles noted that he both celebrated German culture, which reflected his comfortable middle class origins, but he was also clearly disgusted by the wretchedness of his surroundings.

Thus Engels argues that while literature and other forms of art do generally reflect the class origins of those producing them, there is the capacity for individuals to break free of false consciousness and perceive social injustices.

This capacity for individuals and their cultural products to break free of their material conditions is in fact essential for Marx and Engels’ theory of social change to work.

The end point for Marxist Theory is the transition from Capitalism to Communism via revolution, and for that to happen the working classes need to break free from their chains, and to do that they have to break free of false consciousness and be able to see ruling class ideology as false.

Signposting and related posts

This material in this post is relevant to the Culture and Identity module, usually taught as part of the first year of study for AQA’s sociology specification.

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The bombing of the Dover Refugee Centre: An Act of Terrorism….?

The plight of migrants coming to the UK in boats has been highlighted this week with the bombing of an immigration centre by a pensioner who then went on to kill himself.

The article above by The Guardian raises the question of why the police aren’t treating this attack as an act of terrorism, as it certainly seems like it is.

For an act to be classed as a terrorist act there needs to be proof that there is political motive behind it, and given that the man drove from Buckinghamshire and seemingly deliberately targeted an immigration centre in Dover, this seems to be a violent statement against migration and against asylum seekers more generally.

This act may yet be classified as terrorist once the police complete a search of the man’s house, but it strikes me that had this been, for example, a person that looked like a Muslim throwing petrol bombs at a church, that would probably be labelled as a terrorist act immediately.

Why such extreme acts against an immigration centre…?

This act is probably a protest against the recent rapid increase in migrants coming to the UK in boats from France.

There is some underlying data that shows this kind of migrant crossing has increased rapidly in recent years…

Over the last two years there really has been a RAPID increase…

  • 10 000 in 2020
  • 30 000 in 2021 (a trebling)
  • 40 000 so far in 2022.

Historically the UK has relatively low asylum applications compared to some other European countries…..

Asylum Statistics UK

And assuming that all of those people coming to the UK by boat are going to go on and claim asylum, and these are just the people arriving by boat (rather than other means) this probably means the UK is going to see a marked increase in the number of Asylum claims in 2022, bringing it closer to Germany and France for example.

But of course this doesn’t justify violence against Asylum seekers in the form of petrol bombing migration centres.

We have to keep in mind that asylum seekers are themselves victims already – victims of persecution in their own country, victims quite simply of being born on the wrong side of the global divide and they are just trying to escape to a better life.

Why this violence against asylum seekers …?

Sensationalist reporting of there being ‘an invasion’ of refugees desperately trying to get the UK doesn’t help matters, and neither does the Home Secretary using the same emotive language.

Such discourse and portrayals of refugees only helps to demonise them and maybe helps to encourage people to engage in violent acts against them, because such rhetoric makes people think they are in the right to act against refugees.

There’s also the fact that it takes so long to process asylum claims that huge numbers of people are waiting to claim asylum and in a state of limbo… still in the statistics because they are not processed. If they were processed faster they could integrate more quickly into Britain, get jobs and there would be no problem!

However in the eyes of many immigrants themselves are a problem of course – racism is still rife in the UK and migrants are a handy scapegoat for our current cost of living crisis – someone to target someone to point to and say ‘no money for them, get rid of them, we can’t afford them’.

A brief Marxist analysis of violence against refugees…

  • Global capitalism causes global inequalities and conflict which causes crises
  • Refugees flee various crises caused by Capitalism
  • Some of them come to Britain
  • Poor people in Britain who are themselves victims of being on the wrong side of the internal inequalities caused by Capitalism blame the migrants for making their lives worse by taking up more national resources.
  • Egged on by right wing political opportunists such as Nigel Farage.

Rather what needs to happen is the many victims of the world need to come together and realise they have solidarity and work together to make the world a better place and maybe get rid of the structural inequalities that make the world such an unstable place!

The Bombing of Migration Centres: Final Thoughts…

The number of refugees probably isn’t going to go down in coming years so maybe we need to think more constructively about how refugees and asylum seekers could be useful to us – we do apparently have labour shortages in some sectors of the economy and we are facing an ageing population – most asylum seekers are young men who could help solve both of these social problems if they were just processed through the system more quickly!

Signposting and Relevance to A-Level Sociology

Events such as this bombing are a painful reminder that we are a long way from value consensus in our society, and they are also a reminder that there are many other conflict zones in the world besides Ukraine.

They remind us that Britain is forced to constantly react to global forces outside of its control.

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The Neoliberal Perspective on Education

Neoliberalism holds that education systems should be run according to free market principles. Neoliberals believe that education should be privatised both endogenously and exogenously, parents and students given more choice and voice and they also advocate for more top down surveillance and performance management.

Neoliberalism has been the dominant economic ideology shaping social policy in Britain and many other countries since the early 1980s.

This post outlines four key ideas associated with a neoliberal view of education including:

  1. Competition between schools (‘endogenous’ privatisation)
  2. External (exogenous) privatisation of education
  3. Choice and voice for parents and pupils
  4. Surveillance of teachers and top down performance management.

Neoliberalism has influenced education in Britain since the New Right were in power from 1979 to 1997, during New Labour (1997 to 2010) and since the Coalition and Conservative reign which started in 2010 and continues to this day with the recent coronation of the unelected multimillionaire and darling of the neoliberal global economic elite Rishi Sunak.

While neoliberal ideas have transformed education in Britain over the last 40 years, although we are nowhere near having a pure free-market system in education system, and many neoliberal ideas have been ‘restrained’ by more social democratic (left wing) thinking.

Endogenous Privatisation

Endogenous privatisation is where public sector organisations are made to work in a more business like way by creating ‘quasi-market systems’.

The main policy which introduced endogenous privatisation in England and Wales was the 1988 Education Reform Act, enacted by the New Right government under Thatcher who was strongly influenced by Neoliberal ideas.

The Reform Act introduced League Tables and gave parents choice over what school to send their children to. Schools then had to compete for pupils as funding was linked to how many pupils they attracted (known as formula funding).

The problem with this type of endogenous privatisation was that it led to cream skimming and polarisation:

The best performing school in league tables were oversubscribed and skimmed off the higher ability students, the worst schools had to just take the lower ability students that were not chosen by the best schools. This resulted in the better performing schools getting better and the lower performing schools getting worse (polarisation).

Another problem was that in the late 1980s and early 1990s the better schools would exclude any students who were naughty to keep their results high.

Successive education policies up until the present day have had to ‘tweak’ the above competitive education system to try and stop schools from excluding weaker students and to encourage a wider range of schools to take on lower ability students.

Two ways they have done this is to modify League Tables so they now show ‘value added’ – what a school adds to a student’s ability based on where they started, rather than ‘pure grades’, and they’ve linked funding to how long a student stays in school to try and cut down on exclusions.

The Pupil Premium also encouraged schools to take on higher numbers of disadvantaged students who typically have lower academic performance by linking more funding to those students.

Exogenous Privatisation

Exogenous privatisation is privatisation from the outside through new providers – it where private companies take over services which had previously been run by the public sector.

Exogenous privatisation was advanced mainly under the New Labour government (1997 to 2010) and the Coalition and Tory government and has been a gradual process which continues to this day.

An example of exogenous privatisation in education is Connexions career services taking over career advice from schools. Careers advice had previously been done in-schools through in-house careers advisors who were on the payroll of the schools and thus the state. Today more and more schools ‘outsource’ their careers services to connexions which is a privately run company which operates for a profit.

Another example is companies such as Pearsons playing a more central role in producing text books and running GCSE and A-level exams.

Exogenous Privatisation isn’t purely a free-market activity as it doesn’t involve parents and pupils paying money directly to companies like Connexions and Pearsons. Rather, it is where the government takes tax payers money and gives it to these companies rather than the government employing people directly and paying them to run these services.

The theory is that companies can run aspects of educational services more efficiently than the government.

Increased choice for Parents

Given parents choice is necessary for there to be an education market. Parents need to be able to choose which schools to send their children too in order for schools to compete for pupils.

The general idea is that increased competition will incentivise schools to raise standards.

But New Labour and the New Conservatives (from 2010) have also been pushing an increase in both diversity of school provision and personalisation of learning, which both reflect a move towards a late-modern consumer culture within education.

Increasing school diversity

Two main policies have increased school diversity – the introduction of academies in the late 1990s under New Labour and then the introduction of Free Schools under the Coalition Government.

Academies increased diversity by getting a much wider range of companies involved with running schools. England and Wales now have dozens of academies and academy chains, and well over 50% of secondary schools are now academies.

Free Schools took diversity and choice to a new level – any group of parents, charity, organisation can apply to run a free school and as long as they come up with a viable model and there is demand they will be approved.

There are currently over 500 Free Schools in the United Kingdom, offering able parents the most choice they’ve ever had in running their own school.

Increased personalisation of learning

Teachers are now expected to tailor their teaching to individual students. You see this most obviously in independent learning plans and learning agreements and periodic reviews of progress with individual students.

Top Down Performance Management

A final aspect of neoliberal education policy is top down management which involves more surveillance of teachers and pupils.

Many academies are huge chains with one ‘super head’ at the top, some on salaries of hundreds of thousands of pounds. The super head is effectively the CEO of the academy chain and he or she monitors the performance of all the schools in that chain.

And the heads of individual schools monitor the performance of their staff within their own schools.

If one school within the chain is underperforming, the management may well be sacked and a new manager/ headmaster shipped in, possibly from another school in the chain.

All of this has meant increased surveillance of schools, teachers, pupils, so that regular assessments of progress can be made by those at the top and suitable interventions made to tackle underperforming schools and individuals.

Taking over of failing schools

One aspect of increased surveillance is that schools deemed to be failing or even ‘acceptable’ in OFSTED reports are subject to forced acadamisation. This was a big thing under the Coalition government from 2010.

This meant that failing or acceptable LEA schools (funded through local government) were handed over to existing academy chains to be run by them, and to have their budgets managed by the academy chain rather than the local authority.

Signposting and Related Posts

The requirement to learn the neoliberal perspective on education was introduced to the education topic within the AQA A-level sociology specification in 2015.

Neoliberalism is closely related to the New Right, and I think it’s accurate to say that the former informed the later, but Neoliberalism is broader than the New Right, so it is NOT CORRECT to say they are the same thing, as you will find to be the case in the 2016 edition of Haralambos.

However, for the sake of the mid-level sociology student aiming for a C or B grade, you can probably mix the two up and treat them as the same in any essay question on the New Right and/ or Neoliberalism and still get a B grade (you could probably even get an A grade) for the essay as there is considerable overlap between the two!

If you’re interested in reading my take on the difference read this post: The New Right and Neoliberalism: An Introduction.

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Sources

This post is a further summary of The Neoliberal Approach to Education Reform which is itself a summary of Stephen Ball’s (2013) The Education Debate.

Culture: Functionalist Perspectives

Functionalists Durkheim and Mauss argued that social structures shaped human cultures. Aboriginal societies with simple structures had simpler (‘primitive’) cultural classification systems, industrial societies had more complex cultures.

Writing primarily in the late 19th century, Functionalists such as Mauss and Durkheim subscribed to an evolutionary view of culture and developed theories about how cultures changed as societies ‘evolved’ (as they saw it).

Functionalists have theorised extensively about ‘culture as a social system of norms and values’, but their theories of ‘the arts’ are much less developed than their theories about societal cultures more generally.

Primitive Classification

Primitive Classification was a book (1963 English language, first published in 1903) written by Emile Durkheim and Marcel Mauss in which they theorised about how human culture first developed.

They argued that human culture is only possible once humans develop the capacity to distinguish between things and classify them.

When a child is first born, it does not have the capacity to classify things, rather the newborn child merely experiences a continuous flow of experiences that merge into one another. At this point culture is not possible as there is no distinguishing clearly between things and thus no classification system can be developed.

As the child develops its ability to classify things evolves so that it can order things with higher levels of complexity. Functionalists apply a similar idea to how cultures get more complex as societies get more complex.

The Origin of Classification Systems

Durkheim and Mauss theorised that cultural classification systems came from the differentiated structure of society. As they saw it, social structures were based upon divisions between social groups and the cultural classification systems of a society reflected the number of social divisions in the social structure.

Durkheim and Mauss developed this theory based on examining existing anthropological evidence on the social structures and cultures of Australian Aboriginal peoples, who they believed had the most primitive societies.

The Port Mackay aboriginals were divided into two broad social groups known as moieties. These were called the Youngaroo and the Woobaroo, and their cultural classification system also divided everything in the natural and social world into two groups.

For example, alligators and the sun were classified as Youngaroos while kangaroos and the moon were classified as Woobaroos.

The Wakelbura of Queensland had a more complex social structure which was divided into four groups: There were two moieties – the Mallera and Wutaru, and then each of these was further subdivided into two marriage groups:

  • Mallera moiety: Kurgila and Banbey marriage groups
  • Wutaru moiety – Wongu and Obu marriage groups.

The Wakelbura cultural classification system reflected this four way subdivision structure – everything was first classified into one of two primary categories and then further classified into a sub category.

Interestingly this could be quite restricted: what one could eat was determined by one’s sub-classification – the Banbey were only allowed to eat certain types of food, for example, and forbidden from other food types which people in other moiety-marriage groups were allowed to eat.

Complex Classification Systems

As the complexity of social structures increases so does the complexity of cultural classification systems.

For Durkheim and Mauss, the pinnacle of societal evolution was modern industrial civilisations which they saw as having the most complex social structures based on a very complex division of labour, and it was these complex social relations which lay the foundations for a complex cultural classification system which incorporates a scientific world view.

Social Relations then Cultural Classifications

Durkheim and Mauss speak out against Biological determinism:

“The first logical categories were social categories; the first classes of things were classes of men” (Durkheim and Mauss 1903).

They are against the view that any underlying logical relations between things form the basis of social relations – social relations come first, then classification systems and from this our worldview or culture.

Religion and Classification

Durkheim later developed the theory of the evolution of classification systems by applying it to religion in society.

In The Elementary Forms of Religious life (first published in 1912) Durkheim argued that religion is based on a basic division of the world into Sacred and Profane.

Durkheim argued that totemic religions in ‘primitive’ societies formed the basis of a shared collective conscience (like a shared culture) based on what he called mechanical solidarity (or high levels of similarity).

Durkheim argued that while the totem did classify people into different groups, it also emphasised that they were part of the same ‘spiritual whole’ – totemic religions viewed togetherness and whole society solidarity as more important than social differences.

Thus in totemic societies a relatively simple system of religious classification reinforced ‘social solidarity’ at the societal level – there was very little specialised division of labour in totemic societies.

As society evolves the division of labour becomes more complex as job roles become more specialised (scientists/ engineers/ teachers/ politicians and so on) and collective conscience becomes less strong.

As a result modern industrial societies can encourage excessive individualism and anomie (a sense of normlessness), but individuals still need to rely on each other for society to carry on functioning.

In advanced industrial societies religious systems no longer automatically create a collective conscience (or shared culture) based on ‘mechanical solidarity’ – society evolves to produce specialist institutions which do this – such as professional associations and education (according to Durkheim).

For Durkheim maintaining a sense of shared culture in complex societies was an ongoing problem but one which must be addressed (and engineered through social policy) for societies to continue, which he believed was beneficial compared to societies collapsing through revolution.

Evaluations of the Functionalist Perspective on Culture

Durkheim and Mauss have been criticised because there is empirical evidence which doesn’t fit their theory. They simply ignore evidence which doesn’t fit.

For example Needham (1963) has pointed out that the Port Mackay aboriginals are actually further divided into two marriage clans and so on that basis should have a four-fold cultural classification system rather than the binary one they do have.

Durkheim has been criticise in general for over emphasising the importance of social structure in ‘determining’ cultural world views. His theory doesn’t account for the existence of deviant individuals or subcultures which exist in many societies, suggesting individuals have more agency than his theory allows for.

Signposting and Related Posts

This post was written primarily for A-level sociology students studying the Culture and Identity option as part of the AQA specification.

The most closely associated material relevant to this post is Durkheim’s perspective on religion.

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Sources/ Find out More

Adapted from Haralambos and Holborn (2013) Sociology Themes and Perspectives, edition 8.

Emile Durkheim and Marcel Mauss (1953) Primitive Classification, Routledge 201 edition.

Marxism applied to Rishi Sunak

Rishi Sunak, the choice of the Global Elite for British P.M..?

On Monday 24th October just under 200 Tory M.P.s decided Rishi-Sunak would be Britain’s new Prime-Minister.

This move seems to have ended the recent Tory psychodrama which saw Boris Johnson ousted, Liz Truss (herself voted in by an extreme minority of Tory party members) who then went on to crash the economy and then stepped down to leave the door open for Rishi, the only viable candidate left.

Rishi’s coronation seems to signify a temporary suspension of democracy in Britain – there is no way anyone can strain their analysis far enough to claim this is democratic – it’s the coronation of a multimillionaire by a party of millionaires.

This post explores the relevance of the marxist perspective to the coronation of Rishi Sunak.

Marxism applied to Rishi’s Coronation

Rishi Sunak is a member of the global elite and he is now British P.M. without having been elected.

Rishi may well be from East-African Asian heritage but his father was a Doctor and mother a Pharmacist and they paid for him to attend a private preparatory school and then to go on to Westminster College, which helped to hot-house him into Oxford University and and then a job with Goldman Sachs.

So while he thinks of himself as a self-made man this isn’t true – he is from a highly privileged background having benefitted from his parents’ material capital – they paid for him to have the best education and he leveraged this into the qualifications that eventually got him a job with an immoral global investment bank: Goldman Sachs.

The combined wealth of the Sunaks (Rishi and his wife, Akshata Murty), is £730 million, which means they are in Britains’ top 250 rich list.

It’s worth noting that Rishi Sunak’s wife is the daughter of an Indian billionaire, Narayana Murthy, who established a company called InfoSys which is worth around $75 billion.

NB note that Akshata Murty spells her surname different to her fathers, the most likely explanation of this being that she doesn’t want people to know she is an heiress and pretty much all of her success can be attributed to her father’s extreme wealth.

All of this means that Rishi Sunak is now one of the richest political leaders in the world – he is richer than every leader in functioning democracies but not quite as rich as many leaders in dictatorships and autocracies and whatever Britain should be classified now it isn’t a democracy any more.

The Global Elite Wanted Rishi all Along!

Rishi Sunak must be well known among the global economic elite with his marriage connections to one of the richest tech company founding billionaires in the world.

And he’s the perfect man for them to run Britain’s economy so that it can go on extracting wealth upwards from the ordinary people to the global elite for many years to come.

He is a young face that knows how to manage his media image, he is Britains’ first Asian Prime Minister which gives the feeling that this is progressive, he ticks a lot of ‘public acceptability’ boxes, but he is also part of the global elite, make no mistake.

Rishi knows, unlike Liz Truss, that the global elite have to play the long game in this extraction process. Britain went into massive debt during Covid and it simply can’t cut taxes in the short term – the ordinary people have to be made to pay for this first, Britain’s macro economic situation needs to be made sustainable as a priority and this may take many years to sort out.

International Capital clearly doesn’t want more tax cuts or Britain to be turned into a basket case of an economy as Liz Truss’ policies would have done. Rather it makes sense for Capital to be patient – keep tax relatively high, pay off the debt and then, after a few years, more tax cuts, more privatisation, more neoliberal extraction.

Liz Truss’ plan would would have meant too many tax cuts and then just cuts to public services -and there’s no profit for international capital in that. They’ve had it good from Britain, and there’s more profit for them to come in the next decades, nothing to be gained from policies which trash the British economy!

Rather what International Capital needs for maximum profit is a man like Rishi who will ensure Britain’s financial stability and then probably instil a GRADUAL programme of stealth privatisation of the health and education and maybe even policing sectors so that tax payers money can keep feeding the wealthy abroad, while the public suffer from subtly decreasing quality of public services.

What will Rishi Sunak’s Social Policies Look Like?

‘The Market’s have already decided he can’t cut taxes yet – so he’ll probably just stay with taxation as it is and look to make public service cuts where he can.

What I am expecting from this new Tory government is LOTS of privatisation of health and education – but through the public-private partnership model where more and more tax money gets siphoned off to global companies.

Don’t forget that Rishi has no commitment to Britain, he doesn’t even formally live in Britain, he’s got non-domicile status, him and his wife don’t even pay most of their tax here, they themselves don’t rely on public services either.

What other perspectives and concepts can you apply to Rishi’s Coronation…?

This post was primarily written from a Marxist perspective.

There are plenty of others but for me Marxism is the main one, it’s so relevant that I don’t want to divert attention away from it by putting in anything else!

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