Ethnic Minority Pupils – No Longer ‘Underachieving’ ?

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

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

ethnicity and achievement

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

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

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

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

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

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The Island of Nauru – Development as Environmental Decline

The case study of Nauru illustrates the potential catastrophic consequences of pursuing economic growth without considering the ecological consequences. It may only be one island but Klein argues that the logic which hollowed out Nauru is the same logic which has driven the global economy for the last 400 years. 

Nauru.jpg

Nauru – Hollowed out due to phosphorous mining

The extract below is taken from Naomi Klein’s ‘This Changes Everything‘ (2014: Chapter Five  Beyond Extractivism)

Few places on earth embody the suicidal results of building our economies on polluting extraction more graphically than Nauru. Thanks to its mining of phosphate, Nauru has spent the last century disappearing from the inside out; now, thanks to our collective mining of fossil fuels, it is disappearing from the outside in.

For decades, the tiny South Pacific Island of Nauru, home to only 10 000 people, seemed to be an example of a developing country which was doing everything right.

During the 1970s and 80s, the island was periodically featured in press reports, as a place of almost obscene riches, much as Dubai is invoked today, and in the mid-80s Nauru was reported as having the highest GDP capita in the world.

All of this was due to the fact that Nauru was made up almost pure phosphate, a valuable fertiliser, which the Nauruans had been shipping to mainly Australia since they gained their independence in 1968.

Extraction had been going on long before, since 1900, carried out by a series of colonial rulers, who had a simple plan for Nauru once all the phosphate had been extracted – simply ship the islanders to another island. In other words, Nauru was developed in order to disappear – an acceptable (and largely invisible) sacrifice to make for the advancement of industrial agriculture.

When the Nauruans themselves took control of their country in 1968, they had hopes of reversing the hollowing out of their island. They put large chunks of their mining revenue into a trust fund, with the intention of winding down the mining operation and rehabilitating their island’s ecology. However, this long term plan failed as Nauru’s government received catastrophically bad investment advice and the countries mining wealth was squandered.

As a result, rather than being wound-down throughout the 70s and 80s the mining continued unabated and Nauruans benefited from the royalties which rolled in – one consequence was a radical change in diet as islanders came to eat large amounts of processed food (as one resident recalls – ‘during the golden era we didn’t cook, we at in restaurants) which resulted in Nauru becoming the fattest place on earth (today it has the highest levels of obesity and the highest levels of diabetes in the world). Another consequence of high levels of cash was high levels of corruption amongst public officials.

Another consequence was, of course, the hollowing out of the island – in the 1960s Nauru could still have passed as a pleasant tropical island, but the 1990s it was a hollow shell with a small strip around the edge where people lived.

Isolated in the Pacific, the island of Nauru, world's smallest republic, was once world's richest country because of phosphate resources. Nauru holds currently diabetes and obesity highest levels though weightlifting is the national sport. Following state

Machinery used to extract phosphorous from Nauru

Now the island faces a double bankruptcy – with 90% of the island depleted from mining it faces ecological bankruptcy and with a debt of at least $800 million it faces financial bankruptcy as well.

But this is not the end of Nauru’s problems – it now also faces rising sea levels and inland water shortages because of climate change.

This isn’t the end of the misery of Nauru – because in the past decade the island has become a dumping ground of another sort – In an effort to raise much needed revenue it has agreed to house an offshore detention centre for the government of Australia, in what has become known as ‘the Pacific Solution’. Australian navy and customs ships intercept boats of migrants, most from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan, and immediately fly them to Nauru where they languish in a detention centre, unsure of their status, sometimes up to five years.

Nauru detention centre.jpg

The detention centre for refugees on Nauru

Amnesty International has called the camp ‘cruel’ and ‘degrading’ and one journalist has likened it to a death factory because conditions are so bad that people have been driven to attempt suicide.

Nauru is only an extreme case – there are plenty of other examples which are similar, if not as bad…

Unfortunately for us, the logic which has led to such devastation and cruelty on Nauru is the same logic which has underpinned the last 400 years of ‘development’. This logic is the logic of ‘extractivism’ – a non-reciprocal, dominance based relationship with the earth, one of purely taking. The opposite is stewardship, which involves taking but also taking care that regeneration and future life continues.

Extractivism is also directly connected to the notion of sacrifice zones – places that, to the extractors, somehow don’t count and therefore can be poisoned, drained, or otherwise destroyed, for the supposed greater good of economic progress.

This extractivist thinking, unfortunately, lies behind not only the whole history of modernity and colonialism, and obviously neoliberalism, but also behind Socialism, including most of the recent leftist movements in Latin America, because despite their advances in bringing greater equality, national income is still heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Even the mainstream in the Green Movement are failing to challenge the extractivist model because they have come under the thrall of large-scale, big tech solutions to climate-change, rather than accepting as necessity that the earth requires us to consume less.

Pretty much the only ray of hope for a sustainable future according to Klein lies in the Scandinavian social-democratic models, which are going to take a globalised grass-roots movement to realise on an  international level.

Sources used to write this post:

Summarised from ‘Naomi Klein’s ‘This Changes Everything’ (2014)

 

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Is Sociology A Science?

This post contrasts the Positivist view that sociology can be an objective science with the Interpretivist view that we need an interpretive understanding of human action; it then looks at Bruno Latour’s view that scientific knowledge is socially constructed, Thomas Kuhn’s Paradigm critique of science, and Sayer’s Realist view of science based on the difference between open and closed system; finally it looks at postmodern views of science. 

What is a Science?

The Positivist Approach

  • Durkheim’s Suicide (1897) illustrates the positivist view of science. It is the most influential on sociology. Durkeim’s views are based on the following principles:
  • There are objective facts about the social world and they are expressed in statistics.
  • These facts are not influenced by the personal beliefs of the researcher.
  • Having collected stats, you should look for correlations which can reveal causal relationships
  • Durkheim believed human behaviour can be explained by external stimuli
  • By following this approach it is possible to uncover the laws of human behaviour
  • To be scientific, you should only study what you observe. It would be unscientific to study people’s emotions.
  • Durkheim’s approach is inductive – it involves starting with the evidence and then deriving theory.

Questioning Sociology as Scientific

Differences between society and the natural world

The three criticisms below hinge on the idea that the social world is fundamentally different to the natural, physical world

  • Social action theorists argue the social world is socially constructed
  • You cannot understand the world, or human action without understanding the meanings people attach to their actions
  • Some postmodernists argue you can only understand the world through language, thus there is no way to observe it directly.

Problems of prediction

  • People have consciousness, they judge situations and how to respond to them based on their life-histories, and personal opinions, which we cannot know objectively.
  • Thus if sociology aimed to make predictions, it would always be proved wrong.

Questioning the Objectivity of Science

The ‘objectivity’ of the natural sciences has increasingly been questioned. In the 1960s a branch of sociology called ‘science and technology studies’ emerged which argues From this perspective, David Bloor (1976) argued that it is a mistake to see science as something which is apart from the social world, it is itself shaped by a range of social factors.

From this point of view, we should study the processes through which scientific knowledge is constructed, rather than accepting the scientific method as apart from society and ‘superior’

Bruno Latour: Science as the ‘construction of versions of reality’

  • Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar (1979) studied the way scientists did their research. They found that they spent a lot of time trying to win research grants (rather than doing actual research) and there was little incentive to disprove ideas
  • Scientists tended to form networks in which many individuals were all engaged in a ‘fierce battle to construct reality’, which could involve inventing special machines just to prove a theory true. If an individual challenged the version of reality being produced, they could be dis-enrolled from the network.

Thomas Kuhn: Paradigms and Scientific Revolutions

  • Kuhn noted that we tend to see scientists as objective and neutral, and working together to refine scientific knowledge, which is generally seen as evolving gradually, as new evidence helps to refine and develop existing theories.
  • Kuhn disagreed with this, arguing that the evolution of scientific knowledge is limited by what he called ‘paradigms’. A paradigm is a basic world-view which provides a framework for thinking about the world. It includes basic assumptions about the nature of reality, which limit the kind of questions scientists ask in their research.
  • According to Kuhn, most scientists build their careers working within the dominant paradigm, effectively ignoring any evidence which doesn’t fit in with their general framework, and any scientist who tries to ask questions outside of the ‘dominant paradigm’ is marginalised, and not taken seriously.
  • However, ‘rogue scientists’ who look at the world differently do exist, and engage in alternative research, and when sufficient evidence builds up which contradicts already existing paradigms, a ‘paradigm shift’ occurs, in which the old paradigms are rejected, and a new dominant paradigm comes into force.
  • One example of this is the science surrounding climate change. According to Sutton (2015) some (marginal) scientists were finding evidence of a link between the burning of fossil fuels and a warming climate in the 1950s, but this was largely dismissed by the scientific community until the 1990s, but today this is widely accepted.
  • In summary Kuhn argued that scientific knowledge shifted in a series of ‘revolutions’ as new ‘paradigms’ came to replace old ‘paradigms’; he is also suggesting that science should not be seen as being characterised by consensus – rather there are a number of competing paradigms within science, and not all of them get taken seriously by those with power.
  • Kuhn has been criticised by Lakatos (1970) – he argues that modern science is much more open to testing new ideas today than it was in the past.

 Realist Views of Science and Open and Closed Systems

  • Sayer suggests that there are two types of science – those which operate in closed systems, such as physics and chemistry, and those which operate in open systems such as meteorology.
  • Closed systems have only a limited number of variables interacting, all of which can be controlled, which makes it possible to carry out laboratory experiments and for precise predictions to be made.
  • However, sciences such as meteorology operate in open systems, where you cannot control all of the variables. These sciences recognise unpredictability.
  • Meteorology is still scientific – there are still forecasting models based on observation which allows us to predict with some degree of certainty when certain weather events will happen, and these models can, and are being refined.
  • Moreover, open systems sciences are engaged in trying to find ‘underlying structures’ which cannot be directly observed, such as magnetic fields, which can interfere with weather patterns.
  • Sayer argues that sociology can be scientific in the way meteorology is scientific, but not scientific in the way physics or chemistry can be scientific:
  • Quantitative sociology, for example can reveal hidden structures (such as the class structure), and make broad predictions about what percentage of people from a lower class background will fail, compared to those from a middle class background, without being able to predict exactly who will fail, and without us being able to SEE that class structure directly.

Modernity, Postmodernity and Science

  • The scientific world view and the idea of scientific sociology evolved out of the enlightenment and modernity – the belief that there was ‘one truth’ and science could reveal it.
  • Postmodernists challenge the idea that science produces the truth about the natural world. For Rorty (1984) scientists have just replaced priests as the source of truth – we want experts to explain the world to us. However, there are still many unanswered questions about the nature of reality even with science.
  • Lyotard (1984) also criticises the view that science stands apart from the natural world. He argues that language shapes the way we think about the world, and while scientific language may open our eyes to some truths; it just closes our eyes to others.

Summary – Can Sociology Be Scientific?

  • Early positivists suggested that sociology should aim to be scientific – this has largely been rejected
  • Interpretivists reject this because they believe reality is social reality is different to natural reality – we need to understand meanings.
  • Moreover, many people such as Kuhn argue scientific knowledge is also socially constructed
  • Sayer believes there is a ‘half way house’ – we can still do quantitative ‘scientific sociology’ in an open systems ways – many people within sociology subscribe to this.
  • Postmodernists reject the view that we should be scientific in any way, this closes our minds.

Related Posts 

Positivism and Intereptivism – A Very Brief Overview

Positivism, Sociology and Social Research

Sources used to write this post include:

Chapman et al (2016) Sociology AQA A-Level Year 2 Student Book, Collins.

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Freeganism – Definition and Overview of the Movement

I’ve been considering strategies for saving money recently, in an attempt to retire early, and got a bit carried away researching/ reading about freeganism – fascinating subculture/ network/ however your want to characterise it…

Freeganism – A Basic Definition

‘Freegans are people who employ alternative strategies for living based on limited participation in the conventional economy and minimal consumption of resources.’ (freegan.info – the first Google return for ‘freegan’ besides Wikipedia).

Pure freeganism involves meeting one’s needs without money, which is typically achieved through a combination of a number of strategies such as:

  • Renunciation – Simply doing without

  • Scavenging – Living of food and goods which have been thrown away, dumpster diving being a practice closely associated with freeganism

  • Recycling and ‘Upcycling’ – re-purposing other people’s waste

  • Repairing – Making goods last longer

  • Foraging – making use of what nature provides for free

  • Skilling up – Growing your own and making goods – here the movement links to city farms.

  • Bartering – exchanging goods or skills

  • Sharing – sharing resources, and space – It’s important to emphasise that many freegans don’t perceive themselves as free-loaders – Some freegans are part of organisations such as Food not Bombs and do unpaid work to salvage thrown away food and cook it in order to give it away.

  • Squatting – is often the preferred housing strategy

According to Michelle Coyne (2008) freeganism emerged from a complex social history, having its roots in anarcho-punk culture of the 1970s which challenged Corporate Capitalism, and today there still seems to be strong links between the few visible aspects of freeganism and an anti-capitalism, anti-corporate and especially anti-consumption ethic. Most freegans seem to eschew the idea of spending 40+ hours a week working for money in order to consume hard and then waste hard and prefer to engage in more meaningful unpaid labour in order to meet their needs in a more environmentally conscious way and reduce their impact on the planet. There are thus strong links between freeganism, anarchism and the modern environmental movement.

In the absence of money freegans rely heavily on social networks, and either other people’s generosity or superfluity in order to get by. They also have to invest a considerable amount of time meeting their basic needs through scavenging and networking, which is something they have more of than the average in-work person. NB – It is important to emphasise again that most freegans do not see themselves as freeloaders, although this is often a critique leveled at the movement, rather they perceive themselves as re-framing and re-balancing the concept of work as something which should be more diverse, more humanly connected and less dehumanising than something you just do for money.

Four Examples of Freegans

It’s usually much easier to understand a concept through some examples – so here’s a non-exhaustive selection of four people who practice freeganism

Mark Boyle – The Moneyless Man

Britain’s highest profile freegan (at least in terms of Google search returns) is Mark Boyle who commenced a three-year money-free experiment on buy nothing day 2008. Reflecting on the experiment in a 2015 interview he says:

‘I lived in a caravan I found on Freecycle, and I kitted this out with a wood-burner made from an old gas bottle, which I fueled using wood I’d gather from the land around me. I cooked my simple fare outside, 365 days of the year, on a rocket stove…. I gathered up the unused apples from the surrounding area to make cider, and the campfire became my pub, around which friends would sing and dance and make music together. We became participants in life, not only consumers of it. To wash my clothes I used a plant called soapwort which I grow, and washed clothes in either an old sink or the river, where I also bathed. I brushed my teeth with toothpaste made from wild fennel seed and cuttlefish bone. I had a composting toilet and used discarded editions of The Daily Mail for toilet roll – a fine use for it.’

More details about the practicalities of living without money can be found in Mark’s book – The Moneyless Manifesto, along with the foundations of his critique of the money system and an explanation of his preference for economic systems based on gift exchange.

Before commencing his experiment, and indicating his broader commitment to gift-economics, Mark established a gift and skill sharing platform called Freeconomy, which has since merged with the similar site Sreetbank, where anyone can sign up and offer skills or stuff for free.

Since the money-free experiment Mark has co-founded the first moneyless pub. The Happy Pig is based on a Permaculture gift-based smallholding, An Teach Saor, soon to be offering free workshops, free education, free accommodation and of course, free alcohol. The pub was converted from an old pig shed and funded through a crowd souring campaign, so while not entirely money-free, it is still at least gift-based.

Dan Suelo, the man who lives without money

‘Easily the most famous homeless person in America’, Suelo has set up home in a cave in Arizona since he quit money in the year 2000. Although Suelo does the occasional critical blog about the system, and is something of a go-to man for advice about moneyless living, his lifestyle seems less politically motivated than Mark Boyle’s and he appears to be more of am individualist ‘free-spirit’. He says of himself:

I’ve been totally without cents since Autumn of 2000 (except for a couple months in 2001). I don’t use or accept money or conscious barter – don’t take food stamps or other government dole. My philosophy is to use only what is freely given or discarded & what is already present & already running (whether or not I existed). I don’t see money as evil or good: how can illusion be evil or good? But I don’t see heroin or meth as evil or good, either. Which is more addictive & debilitating, money or meth? Attachment to illusion makes you illusion, makes you not real. Attachment to illusion is called idolatry, called addiction. I simply got tired of acknowledging as real this most common world-wide belief called money! I simply got tired of being unreal. Money is one of those intriguing things that seems real & functional because 2 or more people believe it is real & functional!

https://sites.google.com/site/livingwithoutmoney/

Recent entries on his blog and Facebook page (which are sporadic because he relies on public libraries) refer to his having ‘fickle fun’ and the fact that he is a ‘mooch’. However, there is also something of a spiritualist side to the guy – he has recently given up his mooching in order to care for his ageing parents and previous blog posts talk about practising ‘deep sitting’ and his web site contains links to various religious ascetics who live for free without publicity.

Elf Pavlick

Elf Pavlik is much less high profile than the above two. He gave up money in 2009 after he had come back to Europe from San Francisco. In California he had been working for a highly competitive internet company that was mainly trying to compete with other companies, without really producing anything to make people happy. He decided he had enough of that and started living in nature for a while and he tried to give up money. He lives an urban lifestyle, relying on other people to feed him and give him a bed or some floor space, and relying on discarded clothes. He walks or cycles most places, but does occasionally take public transport, and wears a ‘no ticket’ label when he does, which explains that he lives without money. He does work with other people, but only on collaborative projects, preferring to co-create rather than somebody paying him and telling him what to do.

Twitter seems to be Elf’s social media domain of choice where he describes himself as living moneyless and stateless and links to hackers4peace, zerowaste, polyeconomy and (interestingly) the world peace game.

Carolien Hoogland

A more mainstream version of freeganism is Carolien Hoogland’s year without money which she undertook because she wanted to to be freer in the work she did. She spent sixth months planning her experiment and wrapped up her wallet on New Years Eve 2009-10 and commenced a year of money free living. She arranged barter arrangements with her local dance school, electricity company and local cafe – she got her goods/ services for free and did free-work for them in exchange. She also cooked once a week when friends would bring food to share. She found that her life was more social and connected than ever in her ‘economy of relationships’ which also gave her a feeling of existential security.

NB she wasn’t technically money free, she maintained health care, splurged on ice creams once for her friends, and she also lived with her partner, so I’m sure he paid for the rent etc, but I think this is worth mentioning because it’s probably more manageable for most people, but I’ve included this here because I really liked the idea of just getting in contact with companies and bartering with them, definitely outside the box.

There are more freegans the world over, but I think four examples are enough – they provide a feel for the breadth of the movement – Mark Boyle’s freeganism seems primarily inspired by his commitment to gift rather than money-exchange economics and has evolved into an emerging globally networked yet locally based gift-based Permaculture in Ireland (definitely the type I most closely identify with), while Elf’s is more of an urban hacker’s freeganism, and he seems to be working on building virtually networked freeganism, something I don’t know much about TBH. Despite his recent tribalism, Dan Suelo’s moneyless living seems more like an eclectic personal quest for spiritual and individual freedom, while Carolienne Hoogland’s is a much more mainstream barter-based Freeganism.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning https://moneyless.org/ – A site set up by two people who have lived partially freegan lives and contains lots of useful advice for anyone wanting to get into freeganism.

What’s So Different about Freeganism?

While I do so love my typologies, I think it’s more useful to focus on the commonalities of these freegans – It’s not just the commitment to money-free living which distinguishes them from the mainstream, the following are recurring themes within the freeganism/ money free living movement

  1. Lamenting the de-personalising effects of money exchange – freegans prefer either gift-economics or barter and reliance of personalised networks to meet their needs.

  2. Co-creation within social networks – being money free means meeting needs through reliance of social networks, which can mean closer connections with people.

  3. Freedom from money as promoting individual freedom – being free of money obviously frees you from the need to engage in paid work, and many freegans also seem to relish the freedom to set their own day to day timetables and to travel as they please. There is the potential for this to contradict the point above.

  4. Ecologism – An essential aspect of many money-free strategies is meeting your own needs from the natural environment – through foraging and grow your own, freegans thus tend to be green-leaning.

  5. Anti-Consumption and anti-waste – freeganism is very much the anti-thesis of the rapid turnover of goods within a consumer culture, and dumpster diving to reclaim (mainly food) waste is a recurring theme in freeganism videos on YouTube.

  6. A critique of the exploitative logic of corporate capitalism. I don’t think it would be appropriate to label freeganism anti-capitalist, because so many of its practices seem to depend on it, but there is an undercurrent of critique of global corporations and a distinct preference for localism.

I include the ‘antis’ at the end because I get the impression that freeganism and money-free living are more about positive social change rather than protesting unjust economic systems.

How Many Freegans are there in the UK?

It’s hard to say for certain. Given the links between freeganism and left-green politics it is possible that there are thousands of freegans living off-grid in both urban and rural areas.

There certainly aren’t that many examples of freeganism in the UK online. A Google search for ‘Freeganism + UK’ suggests that there are a lot more people writing about freeganism, and/ or writing about their short-term experiments with freeganism then there are actual committed freegans writing about themselves. (Searched February 13 2016).

The top 17 of the top 20 search returns are for newspaper articles from either local, national or special interest sites and only 3 are links to actual freegan sites – one of which (search return number 1) seems to be the major info source for freeganism globally – ‘Freegan.info’. The second specific site is ‘Freegan.org.uk’ – and this only has limited information, with no information under any its main site headings, and the third return is for a blog called Dumpster Dinners which was last updated in February 2013.

In addition to the above – the following site (http://www.meetup.com/London-Freegans/) was founded November 2014 and has 229 members (Accessed 13/02/15), with 8 meet ups to date (although the most recent was in Calais). However, there is very little discussion, and as with the Google search – 3/5 posts on the discussion board are asking for people to be the subjects of journalistic investigations.

The UK Hippy Forum further suggests a dearth of online discussion – this thread is mainly devoted to dumpster diving and mostly seems to point to the limited opportunities for doing it.

http://www.ukhippy.com/stuff/showthread.php/60741-freeganism

Freegans are a little more active on Facebook – the Dumpster Dive group has 133 members and some photos of successful raids – https://www.facebook.com/groups/UKDumpsterDive/?fref=ts – b

Finally I’ve managed to source 11 videos on YouTube (playlist) which focus on Freeganism between 2008-2015 – which I think each cover different groups around the UK. NB the streamed-interview with Mark Boyle is very interesting.

The most visible manifestation of freeganism online is the Freecycle Network – which currently consists of 604 Groups spread across the UK, with 4,439,508 members. Unfortunately this tells us next to nothing about the actual number of moneyless or nearly moneyless Freegans in the country.

Freeganism’s connections to other movements

The practice of freeganism is common to a broad range of philosophies and movements, such as various forms of religious asceticism, monastic orders, various forms of anarchism, radical ecologism, and the homesteading/ Permaculture and off-grid living networks.

It’s likely that all of these will have some members who are living with very little money, and any true attempt to assess the scope of moneyless living in the UK would include an analysis of these. Such related networks include. Unfortunately this kind of breadth analysis isn’t something I’m in a position to do at the moment.

Criticisms and Limitations of Freeganism

The waste-reclamation aspect of freeganism has been rightly criticised for being dependent on the surpluses of Capitalism, but this is something of a moot criticism given that two of the above examples at least are actively involved in creating alternative gift-economies to meet human needs through a totally different paradigm. Whether these are realistic or not I’m not in a position to comment on.

A second criticism is that free-economics might work for basic needs such as food and clothes, but Freecycle’s not exactly inundated with skilled trades and professional people offering their services for free, which raises the question of how generalisable it is across different sectors of the economy.

A third criticism is the fact that freeganism is too radical a lifestyle for it to ever have mass appeal, so it’s potential for social change is limited, but this is at least partly countered by the breadth of the movement allowing for small-steps to be taken for those who can’t go through with total commitment.

A final criticism is that this does seem to be a very white, middle class movement – engaged in by people in developed societies, many of whom have the safety net of social welfare to fall back on. It’s a very romantic vision of ‘not poverty’, the reality of moneyless living around the globe, where the state isn’t paying for the roads or other infrastructure, isn’t so pretty.

Useful Sources of Information on Freeganism and Moneyless Living

General Info Web Sites

http://freegan.info/ (strategies for sustainable living beyond capitalism)

http://freegan.org.uk/

https://dustbindinners.wordpress.com/

YouTube playlist – UK focus – in chronological order, more or less

Groups active in the UK

Meetups – http://www.meetup.com/London-Freegans/

The UK Hippy Forum – http://www.ukhippy.com/stuff/showthread.php/60741-freeganism

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/groups/UKDumpsterDive/?fref=ts

Individuals – Links above:

  • Mark Boyle
  • Dan Suelo
  • Elf Pavlik
  • Carolienne Hoogland

Academic articles and Books

Victoria C More (2011) Dumpster Diners: An Ethnographic Study of Freeganism

Alex V. Barnard (2011) ‘Waving the banana’ at capitalism: Political theater and social movement strategy among New York’s ‘freegan’ dumpster divers

Michelle Coyne (20008) From Production to Destruction to Recovery: Freeganism’s Redefinition of Food Value and Circulation

http://www.uiowa.edu/ijcs/production-destruction-recovery-freeganisms-redefinition-food-value-and-circulation

Jeff Ferrell (2006) Empire of Scrounge: Inside the Urban Underground of Dumpster Diving, Trash Picking, and Street Scavenging (Alternative Criminology)

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YouGov Surveys – What the World Thinks?

The YouGov website is a great source for finding examples of social surveys and results from survey data.

Quantitative Data

 

YouGov is company which collects mainly survey data on a wide range of topics from people all over the world, and publishes it’s findings on a daily basis.

On their intro page they say ‘YouGov is a community of 4 million people around the world who share their views…. w’ere pretty sure its the largest daily updated database of people’s habits and opinions in the world’ – in addition to the structured survey data, some people also comment on the findings of said data, so you get a more qualitative feel added into the mix.

The data is very easy to access – for example below are YouGov’s latest findings on attitudes towards the children of illegal immigrants:

attitudes-to-immigration-uk

 

You can see from the above that we are pretty intolerant of illegal immigrants as a nation, which is one of the advantages of survey data.

You can also ‘drill down’ into the data and find correlations between attitudes and politics/ gender/ age and social class. Below we see that older people are less tolerant than younger people:

young-people-attitudes-immigration

The advantages and disadvantages of social surveys 

The big strength of this site is that it’s very accessible – you can very easily get some quick ‘facts’ about what people think about a lot of different topics, and you can easily see the correlations between attitudes and other variables such as class and gender.

The information contained in the site is also good for illustrating the limitations of survey data – you don’t really get any depth or explanation of why people hold these views (not even with the comments, because relatively few people comment).

Finally, I really like the fact that you get to see the specific question asked, so you can always bung a particular question, or set of questions on Socrative to check out the reliability with your students!

Related Posts

The strengths and limitations of social surveys 

Positivism, Sociology and Social Research – Positivists like the survey method

 

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Stuff by Daniel Miller – A Summary

A summary of Stuff by the anthropologist Daniel Miller

stuff-daniel-millerThe premise of this book is that things make people as much as people make things. Following Bordieu, Miller argues that individuals learn to become members of society, not through formal education, but because they are inculcated into the general habits and dispositions of that society through the way they interact in their everyday practices, which is already pre-structured in the objects they find around them.

For example, in modern society, we grow up to think of cars as being a normal part of life not just because of the fact of cars themselves, because so much of our environment is shaped around cars (the layout of cities and houses for example), and thus few of us ever seriously question the place of the car in our society.

Miller is also at pains to point out that it is not just in more materialist cultures where stuff is important in framing people’s life experiences – things are just as important in those cultures which have many fewer material items – even in Aboriginal cultures stuff is intricately bound up with the the processes of human communication and the construction of self and society. (He is an Anthropologist after all!)

For Miller, the primary process in society is social interaction, or communication – and things are part of this process, not separate from it (things don’t precede and shape culture like crude Marxism suggests and things are not just made to perform functions that have been predetermined by previous generations) – hence the concept of ‘material culture’, things are intimately bound up with the processes of identity construction and boundary maintenance, in all cultures.

Following Hegel and to a lesser extent Marx, material culture develops (I think for Miller ‘evolve would be the wrong word) through a dialectical process that is contradictory, paradoxical ambiguous and full of doubt. The agentic process of ‘doing material culture’ is a means whereby some people empower themselves, but the process of making and using things can disempower others, and things themselves become objectified and (almost?) take on an agency of their own, developing a kind of power over us. In this later aspect of his theory of material culture Miller draws on Gofmann to argue that the real power of things lie in their ability to frame our view of the world – certain objects come to have power over us because we are so used to them – something which Miller refers to as the ‘humility of things’

So what you see in any material culture (which is all culture) is people using stuff to facilitate communication, and as a result some people become empowered, but at the same time, this stuff becomes objectified and constrains people in unanticipated ways – leading to a range of responses (people always have agency).

Miller gives the classic example of the Kula Ring (a classic example in anthropology which I won’t repeat here) -his point is that the goods in this trading ring don’t have to be traded, they are traded as a means to facilitate social communication – and some people get wealthy through participating – however, the fact that the trading rings exists means that anyone who doesn’t participate (and some people choose not to) risks being branded a witch.

Elsewhere he analyses the ‘normal’ clothing strategies in London as a blasé response to a material culture in which there is too much choice – London is one of the shopping capitals of the world for fashion, and yet look around the streets and so many people choose very similar looking clothes – (blues, blacks and greys!). Millers theory seems to be that fashion is used by some people to empower themselves (women in particular, although personally I don’t buy this, excuse the pun) – but the majority of us fashion appears as bewildering and so we revert to choosing not to choose by wearing very similar clothes to everyone else.

Elsewhere he focuses on housing – In modernist council housing, which was very much imposed on the poor, people feel a sense of alienation because it was built for them and has since become associated with a sense of drugs and crime – however, people try to undo this sense of alienation by decorating them – but mainly couples – because of a combination of woman providing the aesthetics and men providing the DIY – where singles live together, hardly any changes have been made.

He also says that he feels inferior to his own early 1900s house – because it is a period property which he feels he can never decorate appropriately – objects have agency in some way, power over the individual. Simply having a nice house doesn’t lead you to a utopic state he says.

In Conclusion – what I like about the book…

  1. Well, if you want depth you can’t really fault anthropological methods – the on the ground research, using Pobs and interviews over several months in each case does reveal the complex ways people use material objects in a variety of ways. These methods are useful in understanding how people use stuff!

  2. I also buy the whole material culture existing everywhere argument too – I think he’s correct to remind us that less material cultures are still material

  3. And, yes he’s right in that stuff can empower us – it is employed socially – part of the fabric of social life, and yes it does create opportunities for some and constrain others.

In conclusion – what I don’t like about the book…

I guess I’m uncomfortable about the fact that all of the above is where it stops – the point is to elucidate on a theory of material culture rooted in in-depth observations – there’s no real critical analysis – despite the fact Miller says he’s left-leaning at one point.

I’m especially uncomfortable with the chapter on housing – where he seems to be suggesting that couples in council housing have more material freedom in relation to their house than he does in his period property, and I don’t buy the idea that shopping is a means for people who are traditionally marginalised to empower themselves.

I think the whole study needs relating more to the amount of money people have – shopping for sure, is probably liberating for the wealthy, but is unlikely to be so for people who cannot afford to shop.

Also, I think we need more of an objective position on what liberation viz stuff actually means – if you can empower yourself with less stuff – such as a monk who has expert knowledge and perceived rights to access and interpret and manipulate scarce religious symbols, I think it’s fair to say you’re a lot more liberated than an uneducated 40 year old house wife who needs to spend £1500 a month on clothes to feel empowered, and is about to regret that pre-nup she signed because her high-income earning husband’s on the verge of upgrading to a younger model.

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Sylvia Walby’s Six Structures of Patiarchy

To Sylvia Walby, the concept of Patriarchy must remain central to a feminist understanding of society. She argues that there are six patriarchal structures which restrict women and maintain male domination – the existence of these structures restricts women’s freedom and life-chances compared to men. However, she does recognise that women of different class and ethnic backroads and different sexual orientations experience these structures in different ways.

 Walby also recognises that patriarchal structures can change and they can be affected by the actions of both men and women – and in more recent works she talks of ‘gender regimes’ rather than patriarchy to reflect this greater fluidity.

 Walbys’ Six structures of Patriarchy

Paid Work

Walby believes that paid employment remains a key structure for disadvantaging women in Britain. Today, men continue to dominate the best paid jobs and women are still paid less than men, and do more part-time work. Many women choose not to work, or work part-time because of poor job opportunities.

gender-pay-gap-uk

Household Production

According to Walby individual men still benefit from women’s unpaid labour. Women still do most of the housework and childcare. However easier divorce means women are not as trapped as the once were by marriage and some black feminists see family life as less exploitative than the labour market, where there is considerable racism.

gendered-division-of-labour

Culture

Walby believes that that the culture of Western societies has consistently distinguished between men and women and expected different behaviours from them, but the expected patterns of behaviour have changed. The key sign of femininity today is sexual attractiveness to men, and not just for younger women, but increasingly for older women.

male-gaze

Also, the increase in Pornography increases the freedom of men while threatening the freedom of women. To Walby, the ‘male gaze’, not that of women, is the viewpoint of pornography which encourages the degradation of women by men and promotes sexual violence.

Sexuality

Despite the sexual liberation of the 1960s, there is still a ‘sexual double standard’ in society – males condemn women who are sexually active as slags and those who are not as drags, which males with many sexual conquests are admired.

sexual double standard.png

Walby also argues that ’heterosexuality constitutes a patriarchal structure’ – there is more pressure today for women to be heterosexually active and to service males through marrying them.

Violence

Like many other Feminists Walby sees violence against women as a form of male control of women, which is still a problem for many women today, although she concedes that it is difficult to measure how much progress has been made in this area, because of validity problems where the stats are concerned.

domestic-violence-stats

The state

To Walby, the state is still patriarchal, racists and capitalist. She argues that there has been little attempt to improve women’s position in the public sphere and equal opportunities legislation is rarely enforced.

women-politics

 

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The Troubled Families Programme

The Troubled Families Programme is a good example of a New Right social policy aimed at tackling criminality by targeting the so called underclass, it basically involves local authority workers intervening in so called troubled families in order to get them to take responsibility for their behaviour.

troubled-families

The New Right claim we need to intervene in the lives of a few hundred thousand ‘troubled families’, but are there really that many ‘troubled families’?

Following the riots in 2011, a new government initiative, the Troubled Families Programme (TFP), was announced, which set out to ‘turn around’ the 120,000 most ‘troubled families’ in England by May 2015.

The second phase of the TFP is now underway, following the ‘successful’ completion of Phase 1. The ‘massive expansion’ of the programme, to include 400,000 more ‘troubled families’, with wider-ranging criteria for inclusion, was announced in July 2013, when only 1 per cent of ‘troubled families’ had been ‘turned around’.

The concept of ‘troubled families’ came into the public consciousness in the aftermath of the English riots in 2011. Structural factors, such as poverty and racial inequality and injustice, were eschewed as possible factors behind the riots in favour of an explanation of ‘pure criminality’. Rioters were, in Cameron’s words, ‘people with a twisted moral code, people with a complete absence of self- restraint’. The blame for the riots, in the governments’ eyes, was split between poor parenting and anti-social families, and an overly generous welfare system that encouraged delinquency

london-riots

The London Rioters – David Cameron claimed most of them were from ‘troubled families’

In December 2011, the TFP was launched to help realise Cameron’s ambition to ‘turn round’ the lives of the 120,000 ‘troubled families’

The TFP then, was a policy response designed to not just address the problems caused by ‘troubled families’, but to also completely change the way the state interacted with them. Local authorities were expected to deliver the programme using a ‘family intervention’ approach (DCLG, 2012a) which had been rolled out to 53 areas in England under the previous Labour government’s Respect agenda. This approach sees a single ‘persistent, assertive and challenging’ (ibid) key worker working intensively with the family ‘from the inside out’ to address their problems, encouraging them to take responsibility for their circumstances.

Definitions

‘Troubled families’ were officially defined as those who met three of the four following criteria:

  • Are involved in youth crime or anti-social behaviour
  • Have children who are regularly truanting or not in school
  • Have an adult on out of work benefits
  • Cause high costs to the taxpayer

Payment by Results

All 152 local authorities in England ‘signed up’ to take part in the TFP which was to be run on a Payment by Results basis, with local authorities paid an attachment fee for each ‘troubled family’ they worked with, and a further allocation of funding dependent on certain outcomes being met.

Families were deemed to have been ‘turned around’ if:

  1. Educational attendance improved above 85%, youth crime reduced by 33% and anti-social behaviour reduced by 60% across the family, or
  2. A family member moved off out-of-work benefits and into continuous employment for three or six months, depending on the benefits they were initially receiving (ibid)

Claims for ‘turning around’ ‘troubled families’ were submitted by local authorities on a quarterly basis.

In August 2014, further detail was announced on the expansion of the programme. The ‘new’ ‘troubled families’ were families that met two out of the following six criteria:

  • Parents and children involved in crime or anti-social behaviour
  • Children who have not been attending school regularly
  • Children who need help
  • Adults out of work or at risk of financial exclusion and young people at risk of worklessness
  • Families affected by domestic violence and abuse
  • Parents and children with a range of health problems

In May 2015, the government published figures that showed that local authorities had ‘turned around’ 99 per cent of ‘troubled families’. David Cameron called it a ‘real government success’.

troubled_families_progress

The government claims 99% of ‘troubled families’ lives have been ‘turned around’ – but both of these are extremely vague concepts!

Criticisms of the Troubled Families Programme

The Centre for Crime and Justice is very sceptical about the success-claims made by the government . They actually suggest 10 reasons why we should be suspicious of the 99% success rate, which they call a social policy impossibility, especially in an era of government cuts, but I’m going to focus on just two criticisms, which taken together seem to strongly suggest that the government is simply lying about the effectiveness of the TFP – I mean as in not just manipulating statistics, just literally lying.

Firstly – ‘Troubled Families’ are not actually that troubled

How ‘troublesome’ are ‘troubled families’?

In contrast to the image of ‘troubled families’ as ‘neighbours from hell’ where drug and alcohol addictions, crime and irresponsibility ‘cascade through generations’, an interim report from the national evaluation of the TFP (DCLG, 2014b) shows that in ‘troubled families’:

  • 85% ‘had no adults with a criminal offence in the previous six months
  • 97% had children with one or zero offences in the previous six months
  • 84% had children who were not permanently excluded from school
  • 26% had at least one adult in work
  • 93% had no adults clinically diagnosed as being dependent on alcohol

The only characteristics shared by the majority of ‘troubled families’ are that they are white, not in work, live in social housing and have at least one household member experiencing poor health, illness and/or a disability. Crime, anti-social behaviour and substance abuse, even at relatively low levels, are all characteristics which relate to small minorities of official ‘troubled families’.

Secondly, we don’t actually know if lives really been ‘turned around’?

When many ‘troubled families’ experience unemployment and poor health, and some of them also experience issues such as domestic violence, it is unclear to what extent their lives will have been ‘turned around’ by the programme.

Only 10 per cent of all ‘turned around’ families gained work and, as noted above, no detail is known about the quality or security of that work.

Changes to educational attendance and anti-social behaviour/crime levels within households accounted for around 90 per cent of the ‘turned around’ families, but government figures show that the majority of ‘troubled families’ had children who were already attending school and were not committing large amounts of crime or anti-social behaviour on entry into the programme.

Furthermore, we do not know how many ‘turned around’ families are still experiencing domestic violence, poor mental health or other issues such as poor quality or overcrowded housing, poverty or material deprivation, because this information has not been reported by the government.

Further problems with assessing the effectiveness of the TFP

Basically, we don’t have the data to make an accurate assessment, hence why I say above that the government must be lying when they claim a 99% success rate.

Also, at present we are also not aware of whether the families consider their lives to have been ‘turned around’ by their involvement with the programme, or whether their lives remained ‘turned around’ after the intensive support was withdrawn.

It should also be noted that many families will not know that they have been labelled as ‘troubled families’ because many local authorities choose not to inform them of this and use different names for their local programmes.

Further Reading

The main source used in this post was: Stephen Crossley, The Troubled Families Programme: the perfect social policy? – Briefing Paper – November 2015

In defence of the troubled families programme (Conservative Home)

More than £1bn has had little impact on ‘troubled families’ (The Guardian)

 

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Toxic Childhood – Sociology In the News!

toxic-childhoodSue Palmer’s (2006) book Toxic Childhood argued that children were being harmed by a combination of technological and social changes such as increasingly screen based lifestyles, a hyper-competitive education system, the decline of outdoor play and the commercialisation of childhood.

Palmer argued that changes to childhood resulted in harms such as higher obesity levels, reduced concentration spans, and increasing mental health problems.

This recent Guardian article (December 2016) demonstrates the continued relevance of this book and the concept of Toxic Childhood –

A group of 40 leading authors, educationalists and child-development experts is calling on the government to introduce national guidelines on the use of screens, amid concern about the impact on children’s physical and mental health. Among them are the author Philip Pullman, and the former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.

Philip Pullman At London Zoo

Pullman – I guess he’d rather children read his books than watched the movie versions!

The letter calls for the development of kindergarten-style education for three- to seven-year-olds, with emphasis on social and emotional development and outdoor play; and says guidelines on screen-based technology for children up to 12 should be drawn up by recognised authorities on child health and development.

It is 10 years since the group sent its first letter to the media (inspired by Palmer’s book), expressing concern about the way it believes children’s health and well-being. Since then, they say, obesity and mental health problems among young people approaching crisis levels.

Sue Palmer, the author of Toxic Childhood, is among the letter’s signatories, she argues that “Without concerted action, our children’s physical and mental health will continue to deteriorate, with long-term results for UK society that are frankly unthinkable.”

Palmer says there are just two essential ingredients if children are to survive and thrive whatever the future brings: love and play.

sue-palmer

Sue Palmer – Author of Toxic Childhood – ‘all children need is love and play’

However, not everyone subscribes to the doom-laden view of modern childhood and the “toxic” environment in which children are growing up. Recent studies have suggested that screen-based technology can encourage reading in boys from low-income families and that there may be a positive link between computer games and academic performance.

Then again, Whitney Houston reminds us that ‘children are the Future’, which pretty much proves Palmer right….

 

Related links

Toxic Childhood and Paranoid Parenting (the conflict view of childhood)

Sue Palmer.co.uk – used to be a great site on Toxic Childhood, but it’s currently under reconstruction (Dec 2016) – hopefully it’ll be just as straightforward when it resurfaces!

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Why workers aren’t benefiting from the automation of jobs…

The increasing automation of jobs could (should?) result in us all working less – but instead, most of us seem to working just as longer hours as ever, why is this – a little dose of Marxism actually goes a long way to explaining this…

Assembly-Robots_1.jpg

The automation of jobs – no longer limited to the manufacturing sector

What’s below is taken from the LSE blog (Jan 2015), written by David Spencer….

Technological progress has advanced continuously over the past century, pushing up productivity. But not all the gains in productivity have fed through to shorter work hours. At least in modern times, these gains have been used to increase the returns of the owners of capital, often at the cost of flatlining pay for workers.

The lack of progress in reducing time spent at work in modern capitalist economies reflects instead the influence of ideology as well as of power….

David Graeber makes the provocative claim that technology has advanced at the same time as what he calls “bullshit” or pointless jobs have multiplied. This is why we have not realised Keynes’ prediction that we’d all be working 15-hour weeks in the 21st century, as a result of technological progress.

Instead, we are living in a society where work gets created that is of no social value. The reason for this, according to Graeber, is the need of the ruling class to keep workers in work. While technology with the potential to reduce work time exists, the political challenge of a working population with time on its hands makes the ruling class unwilling to realise this potential. Working less, while feasible and desirable, is blocked by political factors.

infographicv4.jpg

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