From Pilgrim to Tourist – Or A Short History of Identity, Zygmunt Bauman

If the modern problem of identity was how to construct an identity, the postmodern problem of identity is how to avoid fixation and keep the options open. If the catchword of modernity was creation, the catchword of postmodernity is recycling.

The main identity-bound anxiety of modern times was the worry about durability; it is concern with commitment-avoidance today.

The photograph was the medium of modernity, all set in bound books with yellowing pages, the video-tape the medium of postmodernity – today’s recording only exists until something deemed more significant emerges to replace it.

Modernity built in steel and concrete, postmodernity in biodegradable plastic.

Identity as such is a modern invention – it is the name given to the escape sought from uncertainty, from the modern ‘problem’ of freedom of choice which arises with social change, and of not knowing for certain where one fits in to the order of things; the modern ‘quest’ for identity is a response to the inability of people to clearly project who they are to others so that we may all ‘go on’.

Identity is always a process, a critical projection (typically?) into the future  – it is an assertive attempt to escape from the experience of under-determination, or free-floatingness , of disembeddnsess, which is the ‘natural’ condition of modernity.

Identity in modernity is presented as an individual task, but there are experts to guide us as to what identities are possible to achieve – experts such as teachers and counsellors, who are supposed to be more knowledgeable about the task of identity construction.

Modern life as pilgrimage

Modernity gave the pilgrim a new prominence and a novel twist.

For pilgrims through time,  the truth is elsewhere, always some distance away. Wherever the pilgrim is now is not where he ought to be, not where he dreams of being. The glory of the future debases the present.

The pilgrim is not interested in the city, the houses tempt him to rest, he is happier on the streets, for they lead him to his destination. However, even these are perceived as a series of traps which may lead him from his path. The pilgrim feels homeless in the city.

The desert is the place for the pilgrim, who seeks a hermetic way of life away from the distractions of city life, away from duties and obligations. The desert, unlike the city, was a land not yet sliced into places, a place of self-creation, which is not possible when one is ‘in place’ in the city, which calls upon the individual to be certain ways (through the commitments of family and polis).

You do not go into the desert to find identity, but to lose it, to become ‘god like’.

The Protestants changed this by becoming ‘inner-worldly pilgrims’ – they invented the way of embarking on pilgrimage without leaving home and of leaving home without becoming homeless. In the post-Reformation city of modernity, the desert started on the other side of the door.

The protestant worked hard to make the dessert come to him – through impersonality, coldness, emptiness – protestants expressed a desire to see the outside world as null, lacking in value, of nothingness waiting to become something.

In such a land, commonly called modern society, pilgrimage is no longer a choice, pilgrimage is no longer heroic or saintly, it is what one does of necessity, to avoid being lost in the desert; to invest in walking with a purpose while wandering the land with no destination.

The desert world of modernity is meaningless, the bringing-in of meaning is ‘identity builiding’ – the pilgrim and the dessert-like world he walks acquire their meaning together. Both processes must go on because there is a distance between the goal (the meaning of the world and the future identity of the pilgrim) and the present moment (the station of the walking and the identity of the wanderer.)

Both meaning and identity can exist only as projects. Dissatisfaction with the present compared to the ideal-future and delaying gratification to realise greater pleasure in that future are fundamental features of the modern-identity building project, as is marking and measuring one’s progress towards one’s goal through time.

Time is generally perceived as something through which one progress, in a linear fashion, and modern pilgrims generally had trust in a clearly identified future state (however fantastical) – and saving for the future was  a central strategy of future oriented identity-building.

Pilgrims had a stake in the solidity of the world they walked, a kind of world in which one can tell life as a continuous story – moving towards fulfilment – The world of pilgrims, of identity-builders must be orderly, determined, predictable, but most of all it must be one in which one can make engravings in the sand so that past travels are kept and preserved.

The world inhospitable to pilgrims

The world is not hospitable to pilgrims any more. The pilgrims lost their battle by winning it: by turning the social into a dessert, ultimately a windy place where it is as easy to erase footprints as it is to make them.

It soon transpired that the real problem was not how to make identity, but how to preserve it – in a dessert, it is easy to blaze a trail, but difficult to make it stick.

As Cristopher Lasch points out identity refers to both persons and to things, and we now live in a world of disposable objects, and in such a world identities can be adopted and discarded like a change of clothes.

In the life-game of postmodern consumers the rules of the game keep changing in the course of playing. The sensible strategy is to keep each game short, and ‘live one day at a time’, depicting each day as a series of emergencies.

To keep the game short means to be wary of long term commitments, not to control the future, but to refuse to mortgage it. In short, to cut the present off at both ends, to abolish time and live in a continuous present. Fitness takes over from health – the capacity to move where the action is rather than coming up to a standard and remaining ‘unscathed’; and the snag is to no longer construct an identity, but to stop it from becoming fixed.

The hub of postmodern life strategy is not identity building, but avoidance of fixation.

There are no hooks on which we can hang our identity – jobs for life have gone, and we live in the era of personal relationships. Values become cherished for maximal impact, and this means short and sharp, because attention has become a scarce commodity.

The overall result is the fragmentation of time into episodes. In this world, saving and delaying gratification make no sense, getting pleasure now is rational.

In this world, the stroller, the tourist, the vagabond and the player become the key identities, all of these have their origins before postmodernity, but each comes to be practiced by the mainstream rather than being marginal in postmodernity.

In the postmodern chorus they all sing, sometimes in harmony, but more often with cacophony the result.

The stroller

In modernity this is Walter Benjamin’s flaneur – strolling among crowds of strangers in a city, and being in the crowd, but not of the crowd, taking in those strangers as ‘surfaces’ so that what one sees exhausts what they are, and above all seeing and knowing them episodically – each episode having no past and no consequence. The distinction between appearance and reality matter not. The stroller had all the pleasures of modern life, without all the torments.

In the postmodern world, the stroller is the playful consumer, who doesn’t need to deal with ‘reality’. Shopping malls are the domain of the stroller – while you can shop while you stroll. Here people believe they are making decisions, but in fact they are being manipulated by the mall-designers. Malls are also safe-spaces, where undesirables are screened out.

Originally malls were merely physical, now all of this is intensified in teleshopping, in the private domain.

The vagabond

The vagabond was the bane of early modernity, being master-less, out of control. Modernity could not bear the vagabond because he had no set destination, each place he stops, he knows not how long he will stay. It is easy to control the pilgrim because of his self-determination, but not the vagabond.

Wherever the vagabond goes he is a stranger, he can never be native, he is always out of place.

In modernity the settled were many, the vagabonds few, postmodernity reverses the ratio as now there are few ‘settled places’ left – jobs, skills, relationships, all offer no chance of being rooted.

The tourist

Like the vagabond, the tourist is always on the move and always in the place but never of it, but there are seminal differences.

Firstly, the tourist moves on purpose, to seek new experiences. They want to immerse themselves in the strange and the bizarre, but they do so in a safe way, in a package-deal sort of way. The tourists world is structured by aesthetic criteria. Unlike the vagabond, who has a rougher ride.

Secondly, the tourist has a home, the vagabond does not. The problem, however, for the tourist, is that as the touristic mode of life becomes dominant, it becomes less and less clear where home actually is, and homesickness sets in – home lingers both as an uncanny mix of shelter and prison.

The player

In play there is neither inevitability nor accident, nothing is fully predictable or controllable, and yet nothing is totally immutable or irrevocable either.

In play there is nothing but a series of moves, and time in the world-as-play is divided into a succession of games, each self-enclosed. For the player, each game must have an end, it must be possible to leave it with no consequences once it has been completed, leave no mental scars.

The point of the game is to win, and this leaves no room for compassion, commiseration .or cooperation.

The mark of a postmodern adult is to embrace the game wholeheartedly, like children do.

Related Posts 

Modernity and Postmodernity

Postmodernity and Postmodernism

Advertisements
Posted in Book summaries, Culture and Identity | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Outline and explain two reasons why trade does not always promote development (10)

One reason is that poorer countries tend to export low-value primary products such as agricultural goods, while richer countries export higher value goods.

Frank (1971) argues this is a legacy of colonialism during which rich countries made their colonies specialize in exporting one primary product such as sugar or cotton back to the ‘mother land’. After independence, developing societies were over-dependent on exporting these primary commodities, which typically have a very low market-value.

Examples include The Ivory Coast in West Africa – 33% dependent on cocoa beans; Kenya (in East Africa) which is about 30% dependent on two primary products – tea and cut flowers.

This type of trade does not necessarily promote development because the declining value of such commodities means developing nations need to export more and more every year just to stay in the same place. This has been described as ‘running up the downward escalator’.

____

A second reason why trade doesn’t work for development is that the global capitalist system depends on inequality

Emanuel Wallerstein argued that the world capitalist system is characterised by an international division of labour consisting of a structured set of relations between three types of capitalist zone:

    • The core, or developed countries control world trade and exploit the rest of the world.
    • The semi-peripheral zone includes countries like China or Brazil – which manufacture produces
  • The peripheral countries at the bottom, mainly in Africa, which provide the raw materials such as cash crops to the core and semi periphery.

Companies in the core countries need to keep prices of end-products as low as possible in order keep up demand, so they pay as little as possible for the raw materials and manufacturing. In short, the development of the west in terms of cheap, consumer goods depends on the poverty of the periphery and relative poverty of semi-periphery.

However, this may not always prevent trade working for development – countries can be upwardly or downwardly mobile in the world system. Many countries, such as the BRIC nations have moved up from being peripheral countries to semi-peripheral countries, and some (e.g. South Korea) can now be regarded as core countries.

_____

Thirdly, a lack of regulation at both global and national levels means that workers have few protections in developing countries and thus don’t benefit from trade.

Many workers are exploited with low wages in sweat shops, which means workers don’t earn enough money to pay for social development such as education or health; Bangladesh is a good example of a country in which poor health and safety regulations result in high deaths.

Other Corporations such as Shell extracting oil in Nigeria burn gas flares and have leaky oil pipes which destroys the environment and leads to women miscarrying, which actually pushes the development of some areas backwards.

Dependency Theory argues that Nation States compete in a ‘race to the bottom’ to attract Transnational Corporations (and extract materials/ produce goods to trade) through having the least regulations.

Posted in A level sociology exam practice, Aid, trade and debt, Exams and revision advice | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Modernisation Theory Applied to Gender Inequality

Modernisation Theory blames internal cultural factors for women’s subordination in the developing world. It is argued that some traditional cultures, and especially the religious ideas that underpin the values, norms, institutions and customs of the developing world, ascribe status on the basis of gender. In practise, this means that males are accorded patriarchal control and dominance over a range of female activities and, consequently, women have little status in developing societies.

Modernisation theorists note that gender equality is generally greater in more developed countries and believe that there is relationship between modernisation, economic growth and greater gender equality. The World Bank appears to be a strong proponent of this view today.

Extract from a recent World Bank report on Globalisation, Economic Growth and Gender Equality

Trade openness and the spread of information and communication technologies (ICTs) have increased women’s access to economic opportunities and in some cases increased their wages relative to men’s. Growth in exports, together with a decline in the importance of physical strength and a rise in the importance of cognitive skills, has increased the demand for female labour. ICT has also increased access to markets among female farmers and entrepreneurs by easing time and mobility constraints.

Women have moved out of agriculture and into manufacturing and particularly services. These changes have taken place across all countries, but female (and male) employment in the manufacturing and services has grown faster in developing than developed countries, reflecting broader changes in the global distribution of production and labour. In Mexico, for example, female employment in manufacturing grew from 12 percent in 1960 to 17 percent in 2008, with 10 times more women in 2008 than in 1960.

International peer pressure has also led more countries than ever to ratify treaties against discrimination, while growing media exposure and consumers’ demands for better treatment of workers has pushed multinationals toward fairer wages and better working conditions for women.

Increased access to information, primarily through wider exposure to television and the Internet, allows countries to learn about life and social mores in other places—knowledge that can change perceptions and ultimately promote adoption of more egalitarian attitudes. Increased economic empowerment for women can reinforce this process by promoting changes in gender roles and allowing newly empowered women to influence time allocation, shift relative power within the household, and exercise agency more broadly.

Countries with a comparative advantage in the production of female labour-intensive goods have lower fertility rates and, to a lesser extent, higher female labour force participation and educational attainment. For instance, moving from low female-intensity in exports (bottom quarter of the distribution) to high intensity (top quarter) lowers fertility by as much as 0.21 births per woman, or about 10 percent of the global total fertility rate.

Globalisation could also influence existing gender roles and norms, ultimately promoting more egalitarian views: women turned income earners may be able to leverage their new position to change gender roles in their households by influencing the allocation of time and resources among house- hold members, shifting relative power within the households, and more broadly exercising stronger agency. In fact, women appear to gain more control over their income by working in export-oriented activities, although the impact on well-being and agency is more positive for women working in manufacturing and away from their male relatives than for those work- ing in agriculture. Women in factories feel their status has improved.

Women in work also marry and have their first baby later than other women of similar socioeconomic status and to have better quality housing and access to modern infrastructure. They also report greater self-esteem and decision-making capacity, with benefits extending to other family members.

Beyond the economic sphere, increased access to information, primarily through higher exposure to television and the Internet, has also ex- posed many in developing countries to the roles women play in other parts of the world, which may affect gender roles and outcomes (chapter 4). For instance, in Brazil, a country where soap opera watching is ubiquitous and cuts across social classes, the presence of the Globo signal (a television channel that offers many popular Brazilian soap operas) has led to lower fertility, measured as the number of live births for women ages 15–49.

Similarly, evidence from rural India suggests that gender attitudes among villagers changed with cable television. Women with access to cable were less likely than others to express a son preference or to report that it is acceptable for a husband to beat his wife.

Interestingly, and somewhat contrary to standard notions about gender roles and women’s agency in the household, the evidence discussed here suggests that under some circumstances exposure to information can induce large and fast change. In Bangladesh, the employment of hundreds of thousands of women in the ready-made garment industry feminized the urban public space, creating more gender-equitable norms for women’s public mobility and access to public institutions. In the process, Bangladeshi women had to redefine and negotiate the terms of purdah, typically reinterpreting it as a state of mind in contrast to its customary expression as physical absence from the public space, modest clothing, and quiet demeanour.

Source – http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTWDR2012/Resources/7778105-1299699968583/7786210-1315936222006/chapter-6.pdf

Posted in Global Development | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Moral Panic About Boys ‘Underachievement’ in Education

Researchers in the Gender and Education Association take a critical feminist approach to the issue of boys’ underachievement.

moral panic boys education.png

A news headline from 2016 – Is this just a ‘moral panic’?

 

They argue that boys’ underachievement has long been a feature of the UK education system, but it has recently become a ‘moral panic’ (In 1996, the UK’s Chief Inspector of Schools called it “one of the most disturbing problems facing the education system”) which has arisen because of the following three reasons:

  • First, deindustrialisation in the UK has led to the decline of traditional manufacturing jobs, and so there are fewer jobs available for those with few or no educational qualifications. As a result, young working-class men who leave school with relatively few qualifications have now become a ‘problem’.
  • Second, feminism has had an impact on girls’ education and career aspirations, and so women are advancing into technical and professional jobs which were previously male dominated.
  • Third, examination performance is increasingly central to policy, with Britain ranked against other countries, and failing students matter more.

They argue that focusing on boys’ underachievement is a problem because:

  • It ignores other differences between young people, particularly of ethnicity and class, which actually have a far greater affect on results.
  • Since girls are on top, there’s no space to tackle the problems that girls have in education. including teenage pregnancy, sexualisation and bullying in friendship groups.

Finally, they point out that some of the strategies adopted to deal with the ‘problem with boys’ are unlikely to work:

  • For example, there has been a big push to recruit more male teachers, particularly in primary schools, to act as role models for their male pupils. Yet research shows that the gender of the teacher has no effect on how well boys achieve in school.
  • Similarly, to solve the gender gap in reading policymakers have suggested giving boys adventure stories and factual books. But research shows that boys have a more positive attitude to reading when all pupils are encouraged to read as wide a range of books as possible.
Posted in Education | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Global Gender Inequalities – A Statistical Overview

Gender Inequalities in Employment

For every dollar earned by men, women earn 70-90 cents.

Women are less likely to work than men – Globally in 2015 about three quarters of men and half of women participate in the labour force. Women’s labour force participation rates are the lowest in Northern Africa, Western Asia and Southern Asia (at 30 per cent or lower).

When women are employed, they are typically paid less and have less financial and social security than men. Women are more likely than men to be in vulnerable jobs — characterized by inadequate earnings, low productivity and substandard working conditions — especially in Western Asia and Northern Africa. In Western Asia, Southern Asia and Northern Africa, women hold less than 10 per cent of top-level positions.

When all work – paid and unpaid – is considered, women work longer hours than men. Women in developing countries spend 7 hours and 9 minutes per day on paid and unpaid work, while men spend 6 hours and 16 minutes per day. In developed countries, women spend 6 hours 45 minutes per day on paid and unpaid work while men spend 6 hours and 12 minutes per day.

Gender Inequalities in Education

The past two decades have witnessed remarkable progress in participation in education. Enrollment of children in primary education is at present nearly universal. The gender gap has narrowed, and in some regions girls tend to perform better in school than boys and progress in a more timely manner.

However, the following gender disparities in education remain:

  • 31 million of an estimated 58 million children of primary school age are girls (more than 50% girls)
  • 87 per cent of young women compared to 92 per cent of young men have basic reading and writing skills. However, at older age, the gender gap in literacy shows marked disparities against women, two thirds of the world’s illiterate adults are women.
  • The proportion of women graduating in the fields of science (1 in 14, compared to 1 in 9 men graduates) and engineering (1 in 20, compared to 1 in 5 men graduates) remain low in poor and rich countries alike. Women are more likely to graduate in the fields related to education (1 in 6, compared to 1 in 10 men graduates), health and welfare (1 in 7, compared to 1 in 15 men graduates), and humanities and the arts (1 in 9, compared to 1 in 13 men graduates).
  • There is unequal access to universities especially in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia. In these regions, only 67 and 76 girls per 100 boys, respectively, are enrolled in tertiary education. Completion rates also tend to be lower among women than men. Poverty is the main cause of unequal access to education, particularly for girls of secondary-school age.

Gender Inequalities in Health

Women in developing countries suffer from….

  • Poor Maternal Health (support during pregnancy) – As we saw in the topic on health and education, maternity services are often very underfunded, leading to hundreds of thousands of unnecessary female deaths as a result of pregnancy and child birth every year.
  • Lack of reproductive rights – Women also lack reproductive rights. They often do not have the power to decide whether to have children, when to have them and how many they should have. They are often prevented from making rational decisions about contraception and abortion. Men often make all of these decisions and women are strongly encouraged to see their status as being bound up with being a mother.

 Gender Inequalities in the Experience of Overt Violence

Around the world, women are more likely to be…

  • Victims of Violence and Rape – Globally 1/3 women have experience domestic violence, only 53 countries have laws against marital rape.
  • Missing: More than 100 million women are missing from the world’s population – a result of discrimination against women and girls, including female infanticide.
  • At risk from FGM – An estimated 3 million girls are estimated to be at risk of female genital mutilation/cutting each year.
  • Girls are more likely to be forced into marriage: More than 60 million girls worldwide are forced into marriage before the age of 18. Almost half of women aged 20 to 24 in Southern Asia and two fifths in sub-Saharan Africa were married before age 18. The reason this matters is because in sub‐Saharan Africa, only 46 per cent of married women earned any cash labour income in the past 12 months, compared to 75 per cent of married men

Gender Inequalities in Politics

  • Between 1995 and 2014, the share of women in parliament, on a global level, increased from 11 per cent to 22 per cent — a gain of 73 per cent, but far short of gender parity.

Sources

Most of the above information is taken from the sources below…

The World’s Women: Trends and Statistics (United Nations)

The Global Gender Gap Report (Video link) (Rankings)

WomanKind

 

Posted in Sex and gender | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Five Reasons Women Don’t Get Promoted

Paula PrincipleFive reasons why women are less likely to get promoted than men include discrimination, caring responsibilities, lack of vertical networks, lack of self-confidence and ‘positive choice’ – at least according to Professor Tom Schuller in his recent book ‘The Paula Principle: How and Why Women Work Below Their Level of Confidence‘.

The context of this research is that there are now nearly two women for every man in UK universities, which suggests increasing levels of competence among women compared to men, but this is not the case in the world of work – the rate at which women are catching up to men in the world of work (as measured by the pay-gap for example), and especially in the higher ranks of the professions, is not as rapid as it should be based on the relatively high numbers of female graduates.

Five reasons women are less likely to get promoted than men

  1. Discrimination – both overt and covert – here prof. Schuller reminds us that people are likely to employ people who are ‘like them’, and in most cases it’s men doing the employing to higher positions.
  2. Caring responsibilities – women are more likely to go part-time to care for children and increasingly for their elderly parents. here prof. Schuller points out that there is this tendency to see only full time workers as being ‘serious about their careers’.
  3. Lack of vertical networks – men tend to network more with people above them.
  4. Lack of self-confidence – women are more likely to feel they can’t move up the career ladder, whereas men just ‘go for it’.
  5. ‘Positive Choice’ – women are more likely to make a positive choice to stay employed below their level of competence. They simply make the rational decision that they are earning enough and are fulfilled enough where they are, and don’t believe the increased stress of moving up the career ladder to a job they won’t necessarily enjoy would be worth the extra money.

So which factor is the most important?

Tom Schuller suggests this will be dependent both on the sector, the employer, and the individual, but he would never say that it’s purely the fault of an individual woman for failing to get a promotion.

The above summary is based on a Women’s Hour interview with Tom Schuller, broadcast on Radio 4, Saturday 18th March.

Posted in Feminism, Sex and gender | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Sociological Perspectives on Advertising

A brief summary of pages of 27-32 of Joel Stillerman’s ‘Sociology of Consumption’: The Effects of Advertising and Branding on Consumers (with comments!).

The theories covered in this section include:

The Manipulation Thesis

(1) This originated with Adorno and Horkheimer’s essay ‘the culture industry’ which was inspired by their observations of 1930s Hollywood and the way the Nazis used propaganda.

The basic idea is that advertising manipulates consumers into buying goods. Mass entertainment is produced in a similar way as mass produced auto-mobiles and other products. Adorno and Horkheimer viewed advertising as standardised, artless and manipulative. Products offered people cheap thrills which provided them with compensatory pleasures after a day at a dissatisfying job. Playing to consumers’ emotional vulnerability, music, film and advertising offered instant gratification without true satisfaction while helping them to tolerate unacceptable working conditions.

In short, the culture industry was a form mass manipulation which helped to keep the working masses happy in order to discourage them from protesting about poor wages and working conditions.

A long line of scholars has followed this basic idea – through with different foci –

(2) Kenneth Galbraith argued advertising played the same function of manipulation but rather than seducing the masses into political apathy served the function of convincing shoppers to buy new goods and keep industry profitable.

(3) Jean Baudrillard argues advertising helps businesses solve the ‘realisation problem’ – namely how to sell the increasing number of goods which are produced as Capitalism ‘evolves’. However, Baudrillard accords advertising a more central role in changing our culture. He argues that rather than focussing on the functional properties of a good advertising articulates their emotional or symbolic properties, thereby unleashing an endless process of consumption that has lost its connection to exchange and only reflects a symbolic system which classifies goods into different categories.

Furthermore, goods are no longer appealing because of their individual properties, consumers only recognise them as part of a particular style: in a particular living room set, combined with certain objects and colour combinations for example.

As a result, for Baudrillard, advertising has overtaken our culture and we are trapped in a world of symbols and the incessant need to consume.

(4) More recent analysis focuses on the emotional aspect of advertising – how advertising attempts to link particular emotions and sex to certain products (e.g. Zukin 04 and Smart 10)

(5) Other analysis focuses on how society is increasingly organised around consumption rather than work and thus individuals are expected to consume at a certain level or else face rejection by their peers (Bauman 2007).

Comments

I’M broadly sympathetic to Manipulation Theory in that I believe we can distinguish between ‘basic’ and ‘false’ needs and the primary function of advertising is to manipulate people into buying shit they don’t simply need.

Taking all of the above together I think the primary function of advertising is that it reinforces a world-view in which it’s it’s normal to shop, it’s normal to consume at a historically high level, it’s normal to link happy states to products (or rather sets of products in Baudrillard”s case), it’s normal to construct your very identity using consumption, and it’s normal to spend a lot of time alone and with others, engaged in consumption.

In short the effect of advertising is to convince us that consuming is a normal part of everyday life which should not be questioned, and we are right to assume that shopping as a strategy can provide us with individual and collective emotional fulfilment as human beings.

However, I don’t actually think advertising is necessary to a high consumption society – the various reasons outlined in this post explain the emergence of a high consumption society – we’d probably consume at similarly historically high levels without advertising – advertising exists because of surplus production – broadcast by producers to get our attention amidst a whole load of other producers churning out what is essentially the same shit-we-don’t need.

The other bit of manipulation theory I agree with is that advertising has a sort of ideological function – it masks the truth of its existence and the truth about unnecessary consumption which is as follows

(a) Advertising primarily exists to help the capitalist class sell the shit they produce.

(b) Despite what advertising tells us about this or that shit we really don’t need any of it.

(c) If we ‘buy into’ the messages of the advertisers (which are a bunch of lies) we’re being stupid/ shallow

(d) In the case of Bauman – if we pursue happiness through consumerism, we’re probably going to end up being miserable in the long run.

(e) We don’t freely choose to consume, we are buffeted into it by social and economic pressures (meaningless work, pestering kids (who have been manipulated by advertisers), busy-hurried lives, the strange desire to stand-out) and the causes of these pressures-to-consume need to be put under investigation but the very act of consuming at a high level prevents us from doing so, and advertising helps in this.

(f) There are more effective ways to pursue happiness which aren’t about consumption – producing things, and ‘sprituality’ being the two most obvious.

‘Active Theories of Consumption’

Having outlined the above five aspects of Manipulation Theory, Stillerman now turns to more active approaches.

(1) Other scholars have criticised the manipulation thesis. Douglas and Isherwood (1996) argue that goods are a ‘communication system’ and that most of our consumption is ritualistic. There are essentially three reasons we consume

Firstly – we consume to remain connected with others and stay involved in the ‘information system’.

Secondly – people can also find their place within the group and mark of stages in the life cycle through engaging in consumption rituals.

Thirdly – consumption is also about boundary maintenance – the wealthy try to monopolise certain events and goods, the middle class try to gain access to them and the working classes try to maintain their consumption at a certain level.

COMMENT – All of this is true – we consume actively, BUT – the frame within which we consume has changed radically over the last few decades – the pace of consumption and overall level of consumption have increased, and so (inevitable) has the amount of choosing people have to do – as a result, we are devoting more and more time to keeping up with consuming… Take the average cost of weddings, houses and raising children increasing for example. Also, people may well consume actively in various ‘neo-tribes’ but the fact that this is the norm, also means more time has to be devoted to consumption – THUS society has made us into consumers, this is the thing I find most interesting, focussing on HOW people consume once they have been made into consumers just isn’t interesting….!

(2) Colin Campbell (2005) rejects the manipulation thesis for two reasons – first, he argues that this thesis distinguishes ‘needs’ from ‘desires’ but there is no easy way to know what ‘basic needs’ are because needs are always cultural defined in all societies (No they are not – food, water, shelter, clothing for warmth, security, this is straight up post-modern BS). Second, he argues that advertising tries to appeal to consumers in order to convince them to make a purchase, rather than manipulating them. (OK – I accept the fact that consumer are more active, but I’d like to see Cambell distinguish between the act of manipulation and appeal).

(3) Slater (1997) rejects the idea that consumers are cultural dopes, and argues that they buy products in response to their own individual or cultural needs and dispositions.

(4) DeCerteau (1984), Fiske (2000) and Miller (1987) also argue that consumers are more active – they use goods in their own ways, often appropriate goods and creatively recontextualise the meanings of them in ways which are specific to their own live (this sounds like Transformationalism and cultural hybridity in Globalisation), and some of these consumption practices are forms of resistance against advertisers.

(5) Other scholars emphasise the liberating aspects of consumption, arguing that because shopping and and consumption were not traditionally coded as masculine, these became the domain of women and women gained status, satisfaction and a degree of freedom by becoming skilful consumers.

Comment – I fully accept that people make active choices when it comes to consumption – however, to reiterate the above point – It is society which has made us into consumers, focussing on HOW people consume once they have been made into consumers sort of misses the point – As far as I’m concerned, for the majority of people, consumerism is a pathetic strategy toward ‘agency’ – agency within a sub-optimal framework, which is based on false promises and false hope of realising happiness and satisfation.

Beyond the Active Passive Debate

Recent scholarship has moved ‘beyond’ (sideways?) debates about whether individuals are active or passive in relation to advertising.

(1) Leiss (2005) argues that advertisers study society, recycle existing beliefs and practices and broadcast those ideas back to society. The importance of advertising lies in the fact that it has become integrated into our culture and affects how we view ourselves.

(2) Finally Holt and Holt and Cameron (2010) argue that advertising reconfigures existing beliefs and practices in a way that resolves psychological needs for specific groups of consumers, which arise because of social and economic challenges they face.

Advertisers create adverts based on profiling certain groups and try to strike a chord with them – advertising recycles existing cultural practices in a manner that resolves psychological distress and uncertainty among people within these groups.

Leiss and Holt and Cameron all argue that we should understand advertising as the product of a dialogue between creative professionals and specific social groups.

Once again to reiterate the above, advertising may well help people resolve psychological crises they’ve developed because of having alienating jobs and busy-hurried lives, but the consumption that one’s encouraged to do in order to resolved such psychological distress is only ever going to offer short-term release, a quick fix if you like.

Overall I think all of these active theories of advertising which (a) fail to contextualise its function within the broader social and economic context (alienating/ insecure/ liquid) and (b) fail to recognise the fundamentally false nature of advertising’s promises to alleviate the suffering induced by this social and economic context are ultimately incomplete theories (and probably derived from people with career-histories in advertising!)

Posted in Pot Luck | Leave a comment

Industrialisation and Development

What is Industrialisation?

Industrialisation is where a country moves from an economy dominated by agricultural output and employment to one dominated by manufacturing. This will usually involve the establishment of factories in which things are produced in a rationally organized (efficient) manner. Below we look at perspectives on ‘industrialisation’ as a means of development.

Quick brainstorm to illustrate how reliant we are on industrialisation – Think of all the products you have come into contact with today. Make a list of everything that you think was made in a factory somewhere and anything that was ‘hand-made’

Industrialisation should promote economic and social development in the following ways.

  1. Industrialisation means a country can produce a wider range of higher value goods – both for sale at home and for export abroad….
  2. Industrialisation encourages the emergence of other businesses to meet the needs of factories – coal mining to provide power for example.
  3. Industrialisation eventually means a country will be less dependent on manufactured imports from abroad
  4. Industrialisation requires workers – who will be paid wages – which gives them more money and stimulates demand in the economy and further economic and social development
  5. Industrialisation requires an educated workforce (at least some workers – management – need to be educated) which encourages the government to invest in education.
  6. Industrialisation leads to urbanisation – as workers flock to factories to find work….

Arguments for the view that industrialisation leads to development

Modernisation Theory

Modernisation Theorists argue that Industrialisation lead to the West developing and this is what developing countries should do. In the 1950s and 60s, Modernisation Theorists suggested that the West should provide assistance in the form of Official Development Aid to developing countries – providing them with an initial injection of capital and expertise to enable them to build factories and power stations (hydro-electric dams were particularly favoured),  and infrastructure to kick start industrialisation. Another form of ‘industrial development’ achieved with help from the west involved providing tractors and pesticides to ‘industrialise agriculture’ – which involved the setting up of large scale farms which could produce food more efficiently than numerous subsistence small holdings.

Supporting evidence for Modernisation Theory

There are a couple of examples of countries which have successfully (at least partially) industrialised with the support of Official Development Aid from the West – the most obvious examples being Indonesia, Botswana and to a lesser extent India.

Criticisms of the idea that industrialisation results in development

Dependency Theory and Industrialisation

Dependency Theorists (Classical Marxists) argue that Industrialisation is crucial for ‘independent development’ – but it is just as crucial that developing countries control the process of industrialisation, not the West.

Supporting evidence for Dependency Theory

This was the position adopted by Russia in the 1920s and 30s, China in the 1960s – where two communist governments controlled the industrialisation process. Even though tens of millions died during these respective periods of forced industrialisation, today these two countries make up 2/4 of  the BRIC nations.

World Systems Theory and Industrialisation – Not every country can industrialise in the Global Capitalist System

Emmanuel Wallerstein argues that countries only industrialise if it benefits the West and that it isn’t in the interests of the West for every country to industrialise and grow economically.

Wallerstein sees the World Economy as being is split into 3 main regions –

The Core – Who consume high tech ‘end products’ such as cars, computers, processed foods, holidays (planes) – these are also ‘post-industrial’ service economies – mainly Europe, America, some of Asia and parts of Latin America.

The Semi- Periphery – The ‘industrialising, sweat-shop manufacturing areas – who turn raw materials into the high end products that the ‘top billion consume’ – Most of Asia and Latin America.

The Periphery – These are the poorer countries and regions who export raw materials (most of Africa but also huge swathes of Asia and some of Latin America) to the semi-periphery, who then make the products that the Core consumes.

The last half century has witnessed much of Asia and Latin America industrialise because this has benefitted the core – we can afford cheap manufactured goods because of cheap labour. However, our present model of high-consumption also requires cheap raw materials – for example minerals for mobile phones and computers, cheap cotton for clothes, and cheap grains for meat – and these will only stay cheap if the countries in the periphery stay peripheral – i.e. we require them to stay stuck at the bottom as non- industrialised exporters of cheap raw materials.

Further to this most advanced western nations are now post-industrial – only about 10% of jobs in the UK are now in the industrial-manufacturing sector. As a result, we now have more jobs in the service sector and still massive unemployment and social problems in the de-industrialised north.

 

People Centred Development – Countries don’t need Industrialisation to be socially developed

People Centred Development theory argues that the whole idea of industrialization being essential to development is very Eurocentric – this is how most Europe developed and thus modernization theorists assume that every other underdeveloped country now needs to do the same.

The two case studies of Bhutan and Anuta both remind us that Industrialisation is not the only path to development. Both of these countries have not industrialized and both populations have very good standards of living when measured by the HDI and more subjective measures of happiness. Having said this, both of these countries make use of goods that have been produced by industrialized countries.

Posted in Industrialisation and urbanisation | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Neoliberalism and the Production of Subjectivity

This is a brief summary of Jason Read’s: A Genealogy of Homo-Economicus: Neoliberalism and the Production of Subjectivity (2009)

Introduction

Neoliberalism represents a fundamental shift in ideology – firstly, it is not generated from the state, but from the quotidian experience of buying and selling commodities from the market, which is then extended across other social spaces, “the marketplace of ideas,” to become an image of society. Secondly, it is an ideology that refers not only to the political realm, to an ideal of the state, but to the entirety of human existence. It claims to present not an ideal, but a reality.

 

A critical examination of neoliberalism must address this transformation of its discursive deployment, as a new understanding of human nature and social existence rather than a political program.

 

Homo Economicus: The Subject of Neoliberalism

 

Foucault – the difference between liberalism and neoliberalism – according to Foucault neoliberalism extends the process of making economic activity a general matrix of social and political relations; the sphere of economics expands, and more and more things are understood through a simple means-ends, cost-benefit analysis.

 

 

Another difference between liberalism and neoliberalism is that neoliberalism takes as its focus not exchange but competition. Competition necessitates a constant intervention on the part of the state, not on the market, but on the conditions of the market.

 

Foucault also takes the neoliberal ideal to be a new regime of truth, and a new way in which people are made subjects: homo economicus is fundamentally different subject, structured by different motivations and governed by different principles, than homo juridicus, or the legal subject of the state. Neoliberalism constitutes a new mode of “governmentality,” a manner, or a mentality, in which people are governed and govern themselves.

 

The operative terms of this governmentality are no longer rights and laws but interest, investment and competition.

 

As a mode of governmentality, neoliberalism operates on interests, desires, and aspirations rather than through rights and obligations; neoliberal governmentality follows a general trajectory of intensification. This trajectory follows a fundamental paradox; as power becomes less restrictive, less corporeal, it also becomes more intense, saturating the field of actions, and possible actions.

 

Neoliberalism has created individualised individuals, companies of one – the needs of Corporations to be free from expensive commitments and to have ever greater numbers of ‘flexible satellites’ has resulted in workers not seeing themselves as existing in solidarity, but as individuals who need to invest in their future, through constantly updating their skills.

 

The worker has become “human capital”. Salary or wages become the revenue that is earned on an initial investment, an investment in one’s skills or abilities – As Foucault writes summarizing this point of view: “Homo economicus is an entrepreneur, an entrepreneur of himself.”

 

As Thomas Lemke argues, neoliberalism is a political project that attempts to create a social reality that it suggests already exists, stating that competition is the basis of social relations while fostering those same relations.

 

Foucault offers us a different interpretation of the relationship between labour and capital. Marx saw labour as being exploited by capital in the process of production, whereas neoliberals redefine the two terms and the relation between them: the capitalist is redefined as an entrepreneur, and labour becomes human capital – capital emerges from labour.

 

(However, for Foucault) As Christian Laval argues, in neoliberalism all actions are seen to conform to the fundamental economic ideas of self-interest, of greatest benefit for least possible cost. This extends to all areas of society – It is not the structure of the economy that is extended across society but the subject of economic thinking, its implicit anthropology.

 

Towards a criticism of neoliberalism

 

Marx tended to see labour as being turned into a cog in the machine, and this was the major way labour ended up working for capital. However, Marx raised the possibility in the Grundrisse, that other human potentialities might be subsumed under capital – and this is where we are at now….

 

Capital no longer simply exploits labour, understood as the physical capacity to transform objects, but puts to work the capacities to create and communicate that traverse social relations. This subsumption involves not only the formation of what Marx referred to as a specifically capitalist mode of production, but also the incorporation of all subjective potential, the capacity to communicate, to feel, to create, to think, into productive powers for capital.

 

For Negri… as production moves from the closed space of the factory to become distributed across all of social space, encompassing all spheres of cultural and social existence, neoliberalism presents an image of society as a market, effacing production altogether and neoliberal power works by dispersing bodies and individuals through privatization and isolation.

 

To put the problem in Foucault’s terms, what has disappeared in neoliberalism is the tactical polyvalence of discourse; everything is framed in terms of interests, freedoms and risks. As Wendy Brown argues, one can survey the quotidian effects or practices of governmentality in the manner in which individualized/market based solutions appear in lieu of collective political solutions: gated communities for concerns about security and safety; bottled water for concerns about water purity; and private schools (or vouchers) for failing public schools, all of which offer the opportunity for individuals to opt out rather than address political problems. Privatization is not just neoliberalism’s strategy for dealing with the public sector, what David Harvey calls accumulation by dispossession, but a consistent element of its particular form of governmentality, its ethos, everything becomes privatized, institutions, structures, issues, and problems that used to constitute the public.24 It is privatization all the way down.

 

As Foucault argues, neoliberalism operates less on actions, directly curtailing them, then on the condition and effects of actions, on the sense of possibility…. Competing ideas must address this!

Posted in Neoliberalism and The New Right | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Are Downshifters Resisting Neoliberalism?

This is a summary of Verdow: The subject who thinks economically? Comparative money subjectivities in neoliberal context

The findings below are based on a comparative study of the money values of 3 groups of Australian generation Xers -‘ordinary’ low and high income individuals and ‘downshifters’. The study is based on a sample of 41 interviewees from one region in Australia, using unstructured interviews with the question ‘what is the good life’ as a starting point.

The study looks at how neoliberalism it might shape subjective identity through the lens of money meanings, looking at respondents’ attitudes to money goals, money values, money boundaries and their relation to temporality. It shows that while ‘ordinary’ middle and low income participants’ subjectivities strongly reference lay (everyday) forms of neoliberalism, some aspects of downshifters’ money meanings proactively undermine them.

To couch this in more theoretical terms the study analyses the ‘particular manner of living’ (Read, 2009: 27) that participants narrate; or what Foucault (1997: 298) would call ‘the morality, the ethos, the practice of the self’ by which individuals regulate themselves.

Specific Findings

Key theories of neoliberalism are enacted through adult subjective money meanings of middle- and low-income groups in the following ways:

  1. Both value economic entrepreneurialism: having freedom, independence,self-reliance and the opportunity for consumer choice.
  2. Money is viewed as a form of personal security (from unpredictable life events, or anxiety)
  3. Participants emphasizeself-responsibility for the management and/or improvement of their circumstance. In line with Buchan (1997: 270), the values and goals of the middle- and low-income participants emphasize economic thinking as the ‘condition of moral health’. This is the subject who thinks economically, embroiled in a ‘manner of governing that is actualized in habits, perceptions and subjectivity’ (Read, 2009: 34).
  4. Economic ‘freedoms’ are envisaged as empowering projects for the middle-income participants, for the low-income participants they generate anxiety through the absence of a means to achieve them.
  5. Money use for the middle-income participants is limited to an intimate social sphere, including private use and extending to family and close friends, or whatBrown (2006: 42) names a citizenship of ‘self-care’. For the low-income participants – there is an imposed permeability to their money status; that they are part-owned by others. This dependence is experienced as stigma, or self-inadequacy.
  6. With respect to temporality, middle-income participants are confident of a clear linear future, including projects, goals and possibilities. Low-income participants emphasize the present, where, due to unachievable aspirations, future expectations are unclear and become anxiety generating.

Downshifter themes also present habits and perceptions that (in a few cases) fit with neoliberal tenets:

  1. Their emphasis on takingself-responsibility, and their agency around goals of health and personal growth (Joseph, 2013).
  2. The curtailing of collective transformation forneoliberal subjects (Read, 2009: 36) is also observed, in that there is no collective organization in their efforts towards behaviour transformation.

Notwithstanding these exceptions, downshifters in this study tend to challenge principles of neoliberalism.

  1. Downshifters’ money values demonstrate an activemoral rethinking of money priorities, demoting its value relative to quality of life and connectedness with others.
  2. Their goals are less material and they do not perceive a low income as a failure toself-regulate (Walker, 2011). Rather, downshifters emphasize quality and meaning in work, social contribution and personal and spiritual growth.
  3. Their money boundaries are permeable, as personal money is viewed as part of taking moral responsibility for a wider social sphere.
  4. Similarly, their confidence in the future is not economically oriented, and temporality tends to be non-linear. Their focus is on being adaptive and reflective in response to possibilities that life may, or may not, present to them.

Where theories and social critiques of neoliberalism state in variegated ways that its disciplinary power is near total (e.g. it is viewed as a ‘leviathan’ by Wacquant [2010: 211], which offers no ‘ameliorative outcome’ [Whitehead and Crawshaw, 2014: 24]), the downshifters offer an alternative possibility. Based on these terms, monetary values and goals are reoriented, and include taking responsibility for the other.

The downshifters’ subjectivity is transformed, but not in neoliberal terms of competition in order to maximize economic options and futures. Rather, their behaviour accounts for currencies of personal and social health, through strategies including working with and for others so that they, too, may experience social and economic opportunities for transformed futures.

This study demonstrates that neoliberalism does not psychologically govern everyone’s soul (Rose, 1990).

Qualifications

There is risk in romanticizing downshifter experiences, as if having a low income is preferable should the right attitude accompany it. Research shows that downshifters often have the ability to adapt to their low income because they can draw on a middle-income ‘tool kit’ of resources and networks.

Further research highlighting other ‘deviant’ cases, and in particular understanding their epistemological differences in terms of how they are resilient in the face of specific neoliberal subjectivities and agencies (Gershon, 2011: 138), would be an important contribution to this knowledge.

Also noteworthy is that the relationship between neoliberal money meanings and their effects on social relations captured by this data does not account for the presence of ‘relational work’ (e.g. see Zelizer, 2012; see also Block, 2012Tilly 1988), a salient dimension of the sociological study of money. Further study with a focus on participant money practices in the context of key relationships would provide greater depth to our understanding of how neoliberal subjectivities are embedded in specific social and relational practices

Posted in Neoliberalism and The New Right | Tagged , | Leave a comment