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Sociological Perspectives on Identity

Identity LawlerA summary of Michel Foucault’s work on identity, deviance and normality, governmentality, subjectification and technologies of the self, taken from Steph Lawler’s ‘Identity’ (2014) – also includes Nikolas Rose’s development of Foucault’s work.

If there’s one central idea in this chapter (IMO) it’s this – ‘In today’s society, we have little choice but to be tied into a project of the self in which the self becomes something to be worked on – and it is in this way that power works through us.’

Becoming ourselves: governing and/ through identities

In the contemporary West it is hard to avoid the idea that the self is a project to be worked on. We see this everywhere, but especially in self-help books, therapy, the various experts promising to guide us through different stages of our lives and, of course, in the media: in chat-shows and ‘make-over’ programmes for example.

All of this is presented as freeing, as if working on the self involves freeing us of the oppressive influences of others.

What Nikolas Rose calls the ‘norm of autonomy’ has become an orthodoxy in many discussions about identity – but we should consider the argument that when we are incited to be ‘free’, we are then the most enmeshed in in the workings of power – the relationship of the self to itself within a contemporary project of self-actualisation, self-awareness and self-improvement has become a norm which ties us to relentless self-scrutiny, in which we watch ourselves for signs of deviancy and wrong doing.

We can only perceive such a project of the self as being about autonomy if we perceive power as a repressive and denying force.

An alternative perspective, associated with Michel Foucault, envisages power as a force which works positively through our desires and our selves, which sees categories of subject as produced through forms of knowledge.

(A legitimate question to ask would be why are we so obsessed with the idea of individual autonomy when we live such complex, interdependent lives.)

Power/ knowledge

MIchel Foucault
Michel Foucault – ‘Power Produces Truths’

The Enlightenment view = ‘knowledge is power’ – if we obtain knowledge this will free us from the workings of power. This assumes a true self which lies outside or beyond power and self-knowledge, realised through reason.

Foucault – opposes the view that knowledge is power – one of the ways in which power works is through producing ‘truths’ about the world. These truths come to seem obvious, necessary and self-evident, they form part of the coherence of the social world and place the self within it.

Foucault argues that there has been a gradual shift in the uses and forms of power in the last 150 years in the West –

From juridical, or law-like power – which uses the language of rights and obligations.

To forms of normalising, or regulatory power – which uses the language of health, normality and self-fulfilment.

Juridical power says ‘obey me or you will be punished’, regulatory power says ‘obey me so that you can be happy’. This is a form of power which doesn’t rely on coercion, but one in which we scrutinise and regulate ourselves, the self comes to act on itself.

For Foucault, power is at its most powerful when it is its least repressive – power works not just though denying but through offering ways of being and pleasure.

As Tom Inglis puts it – ‘power announces truth’ – its truths are forged on the basis of knowledge, but this refers not to knowledge about a set of facts but rather to what might be termed ways of knowing, or in Foucauldian terms discourse.

Discourses define what can be said and thought, and how these things can be said and thought. – they are verbal or non-verbal ways of organising the world, creating ways of conceptualising that are seen as axiomatically obvious – they are epistemological enforcers (Said, 1991). (I guess they’re sort of like paradigms!)

An example of a discourse today is to understand present emotional problems as stemming from a troubled childhood, rather than because you’ve been cursed by a witch-doctor – the later would just not be taken seriously, it is outside of the discourse of understanding negative emotions.

Discourse differs to the concept of ideology because ideology presupposes a real which is beyond ideology which the ideology obscures – to speak of discourses is to speak of the knowledges which produce the truth. Foucault, in fact talks of the politics of truth.

What this line of questioning opens up is the possibility that who we and who other people are is an effect of what we know ourselves and others to be, that it is discourses which have produced categories of person and that this is how we understand ourselves.

Making people up

A good example of how categories of people are produced can be found in the way many Westerners think about sexuality – many people don’t just think of sex as something they do, they think of sex as something they are.

Foucault argues that this way of brining together sexuality and identity is relatively recent. In the 19th century, same-sex relations occurred, but there was no special consideration given to ‘being homosexual’.

It was throughout the 20th century, along with the new pseudo-science of Sexology in which people categorised the minutiae of sexual activity, that the category of the homosexual became created as a subject, and thus the identity of the homosexual was produced (or you might say, invented/ constructed). Alongside this, the category of heterosexual also needed to be produced, because homosexuality has no meaning without it.

These new categories of knowledge in fact produced what they aimed to describe – categories of person.

Foucault wants to challenge the ‘sexual liberation’ discourse – especially the idea that new apparent sexual freedoms bring with them an absence of power and control. With increased interest in sexuality in the 20th century came new forms of scrutiny as more experts emerged – and while the invention of sexual subjects has clearly been liberating for some, it has also become a means whereby we increasingly scrutinise ourselves for signs of abnormality and unhealthiness.

This legacy goes beyond sexual identity to extend into every area of our lives and our identities.

Technologies of the self

One way in which power works is through categorising people in terms through which they come to understand themselves – in this sense subjectivities are created in regimes of knowledge and power.

In explaining the relationship of the self to itself, Foucault uses the term subjectification. There are two meanings of the word subject – subject to someone else through control and dependence and tied to one’s own identity by a conscience or self-knowledge. Both meanings suggest a form of power which subjugates and makes subject to, according to Foucault.

Through subjectification, people become tied to specific identities, they become subjects, but they also become subject-ed to the rules and norms engendered by a set of knowledges about these identities.

We have little choice but to be tied into a project of the self in which the self becomes something to be worked on – and it is in this way that power works through us.

We are subjected subjects across many forms of identity – parent, worker, citizen, for example, all of which demand a level of scrutiny to maintain. The way government works today is through establishing normal-abnormal categories along these various dimensions of identity and then people employ technologies of the self in order to stay within the boundaries of normality (usually) – (the struggle is to keep up, or stay ahead, if you like!)

Psy knowledge, expertise and authority

Psy knowledges includes such disciplines as medicine, psychiatry, psychology and pedagogy, which produce ‘truths’ about the self and its relation to others. These have gained ascendancy in the West, especially since these knowledges have escaped the boundaries of academia and inform a whole of host of professional practices (social work and teaching for example) and our daily lives through such things as chat-shows and gossip magazines.

Nikolas Rose argues that it is hard to conceive of person-hood today without reference to ‘psy.’

Psy governs through using regulatory or normalising power – not working in spite of our desires, but through them – and generating specific kinds of desire in the first place.

This process started about 150 years ago through the development of ‘technologies of responsibilisation’ – when the home became perceived as the counterweight to the state, new experts in the fields of medicine and education emerged to regulate private life – and these experts govern through making assertions about the way we should act as subjects, which go largely unquestioned.

Over the years subjects have come to understand themselves as people who should be morally responsible for their own actions by monitoring the minutiae of daily-life – two examples of how this is achieved in the context of education are the teaching of English literature in schools and more recently circle time – both of which encourage the development of a self-reflecting, moral, responsibilised subject.

The norm of autonomy and the scrutiny of the soul

Rose argues that we now live in a psychotherapeutic society in which the self is understood as an inner state, to be sought out, understood, and actualised. This doesn’t so much manifest itself as narcissism, but is rather something we are stuck with – most of us can’t imagine attempting to understand ourselves without the discourses of psy.

Therapy has now become the norm for many areas of social life – that is reflecting on inner states is seen to be a cure for all sorts of social ills. Rose’s task is show how this therapeutic culture which stresses autonomy actually ties us more closely to the workings of power.

Foucault suggested that abnormal and normal manifestations of sex became axes around which people’s behaviour could be judged – Rose has broadened this out – now it is not normality which is the goal, but rather autonomy, and he applies this to much more than the sexual dimension of identities.

We live in an era where dependency now means pathology – but the path to autonomy means adhering to the strictures of psy expertise and watching and monitoring ourselves more closely.

Rose argues that there are four principle sets of concern around the goal of autonomy:

  1. A subjectification of work – work is understood as significant in terms of identity
  2. A pyschologisation of the mundane – life events such as marriages and births are seen as having a potentially transformative role in life.
  3. A therapeutics of fininitude – chapters in our life ending are now seen as times of potential danger but also possibility for personal growth.
  4. A neurotisation of social intercourse – social ills have come to be understood in terms of problems stemming from the ways we interact with others.

Across these four dimensions, we see the production of a particular kind of self – ideally autonomous, self-actualising, exercising choice, and a project to be worked on.

For Rose, in a therapeutised culture, social ills become personal problems to be worked on. We are not necessarily free, because we are now obliged to live our lives as projects.

The state of the therapeutic

States still exercise regulatory, normalising power through the deployment of expertise. This is most notable in expert knowledge surrounding the child.

The state takes a special interest in producing the right kind of citizen – citizens who believe themselves to be free and who believe there are equal opportunities. This is primarily done through exploiting the desire of parents to be ‘good parents’, especially mothers. For example:

– parents are enjoined to turn learning into play

– they should evoke reason and rightness

– states employ numerous professionals which subject parenting to scrutiny

Parents are encouraged to engender a sense of autonomy in their children, but this autonomy is a myth – the belief that children can do anything will not reduce structural barriers to their achieving certain goals in life.

The state also retains its ability to use coercive measures, though these are rarely deployed, such as:

– parenting orders

– parenting contracts

– ASBOs

– Those who are subjected to these things fall into the category of ‘failed parent’ (or ‘failed human’) and if people are subject to these things, the failures are understood as their own or their parents’ fault, not because of social ills. The discourses of psy rest on these categories of exclusion.

Resisting these discourses is not straightforward – Foucault offers no straightforward method, other than to constantly question the desirability and legitimacy of such categories.

Evaluations of this perspective

The strength of this perspective lies in highlighting the myth of individual autonomy and the fact that your ‘identity’ isn’t really your own – you are a product of social categories, which in turn are products of power relations.

One problem is that this perspective cannot explain why people make such intense investments in their selves.

Lawler finishes the chapter by recommending Barry Smart’s ‘Michel Foucault’ (1985) and Michele Barret’s ‘The Politics of Truth: From Marx to Foucault’ (1991) as good introductions to Foucault’s work.

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Giddens – The Trajectory of the Self

A Summary of chapter three of Anthony Giddens’ Modernity and Self-Identity

Self-identity, history, modernity

Drawing on a therapeutic text – ‘Self-Therapy’ by Janette Rainwater – Giddens selects ten features which are distinctive about the search for self-identity in the late modern age:

  1. The self is seen as a reflexive project for which the indivdual is responsible. Self-understanding is relegated to the more inclusive and fundamental aim of rebuilding a more rewarding sense of identity

  2. The self forms a trajectory of development from the the past to the anticipated future. The lifespan rather than external events is in the foreground, the later are cast as either fortuitous or throwing up barriers which need to be overcome.

  3. Reflexivity becomes continuous – the individual continuously asks the question ‘what am I doing in this moment, and what can I do to change?’ In this, reflexivity belongs to the reflexive historicity of modernity.

  4. The narrative of the self is made explicit – in the keeping of an autobiography – which requires continual creative input.

  5. Self-actualisation implies the control of time – essentially, the establishing of zones of time which have only remote connections with external temporal orders. Holding a dialogue with time is the very basis of self-realisation, and using the ever-present moment to direct one’s future life course is essential.

  6. The reflexivity of the self extends to the body. Awareness of the body is central to the grasping of the moment. The point here is to establish a differentiated self, not to disolve the ego.

  7. Self-actualisation is understood as a balance between opportunity and risk. The individual has to be prepared to take on greater levels of risk than is normal – to change is to risk things getting worse

  8. The moral thread of self-atualisation is one of authenticity… Personal growth depends on conquering emotional blocks and tensions that prevent us from understanding ourself – recover or repeat old habits is the mantra

  9. The life course is seen as a series of ‘passages’. All such transitions involve losss.

  10. The line of development of the self is internally referential – it is the creation of a personal belief system by which someone changes – one’s first loyalty is to oneself.

    The next question Giddens asks is how can we connect up these ten features of self-identity to the institutional transformations characteristic of the late-modern world? (Well, he is a sociologist, after all!)

Lifestyle and Life Plans

Therapy is a response to the backdrop to the existential terrain of late modern life which consists of the following features:

  • it is reflexively organised

  • it is permeated by abstract systems

  • the reordering of time and space has realigned the global and the local.

All of this has resulted in the primacy of lifestyle – A lifestyle may be defined as a more or less integrated set of practices which an individual embraces because they give material form to a particular narrative of self-identity. A lifestyle implies a plurality of choices – it is something which is adopted rather than handed down (and should not merely be conflated with consumerism in this instance).

(NB Giddens also says that we do not all have complete freedom of choice over our lifestyles – we are restricted by work, and by class etc… and moreover, the lifestyle pattern we choose limits what we can do if we wish to maintain an authentic narrative of the self.) (NBB – If you’re an A level sociology student, a recent podcast by the AQA criticises Giddens for not saying what I’ve he’s just said in this book that he wrote, thus that particular podcast is wrong.)

The plurality of choices which confronts the individual in this derives from several influences:

  1. We live in a post-traditional order, the signposts offered by tradition are now blank.

  2. We have a pluralisation of lifeworlds – the millieu to which we are exposed are much more diverse.

  3. Experts do not agree, so there is no longer a certain source of knowledge.

  4. The prevalance of mediated experiences – the collage effect of the media – we have new communities and shed loads of new possibilities

Life planning becomes essential in the above social context – life planning is an attempt to ‘colonise the future’ under conditions of social uncertainty – teenagers who ‘drift around’ today are increasingly going against the norm!

Two things in particular change in this context – (1) The Pure Relationship comes to be crucial to the reflexive project of the self and (2) the body becomes subject of ever greater levels of personal control – both become attempts by the individual to sustain a ‘narrative of the self‘.

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Mary Berry’s Cultural Capital and Gregg Wallace’s Love of Sociology

Mary Berry’s recent comments against deep fat fryers and Jaffa cake dunking could be interpreted (using Bourdieu) as an example of the unconscious process through which the middle classes assert and maintain their superiority by defining working class practices as ‘bad taste’ and ‘unhealthy’.

mary berry
Mary Berry – Inflicting ‘silent harms’ against the working class every time she bakes a cake?

Gregg Wallace picked up on this with his comments about Berry’s attack on fried food as an attack on the British way of life, in fact, from a Bourdieuean (if that’s even a word?) perspective  this is only really an unconscious attack against a working class way of life, part of the usual day to day process through which the middle classes (such as Berry) assert their arbitrary tastes (the ones they grew up with) as ‘normal’ ‘healthy’ or just ‘right’ against working class dispositions which are simultaneously defined as ‘abnormal’ ‘unhealthy’ or just ‘wrong’.

Mary Berry is here demonstrating a sociological concept called ‘cultural capital‘ – a simplified definition of which is the skills and knowledges a group uses to define itself as superior and thus gain or maintain advantage (more status, power, wealth) in society’.  A lot of sociological research has focused on how the middle classes are able to use their cultural capital to give their children and advantage in the education system, and simultaneously disadvantage working class children, but I think it applies quite nicely to the world of food, dining and health too.

As Steph Lawler (2014) says, in her excellent introductory text on the sociology of identity…

‘One of the ways class works is through marking identities as ‘wrong’ or ‘right’, pathological or healthy, normal or abnormal, and classed identities are part of the stakes in class politics – working class people don’t know the right things, they don’t value the right things, they don’t look right and they don’t act right, while the middle classes silently pass as normal.’ 

Class divisions and distinctions have not disappeared, class has not ceased to be a meaningful frame for analysis, instead it has become an absent presence – it circulates socially while being unnamed.

As Bourdieu has demonstrated ‘taste’ is now one of the primary means through which class is configured – that which is tasteful is seen as middle class, and vice-versa for ‘vulgar’ working class taste – the problem here is that there is nothing natural about taste – it is simply what the middle class say it is.

Expressions of disgust at working-class existence remain rife among middle class commentators and middle classness relies on the expulsion and exclusion of (what is held to be) working classness.

Where does this sense of disgust come from?

Bourdieu argued that the public bourgeoisie (mainly journalists and academics, and social commentators), those who are low in economic capital, but high in cultural capital, use their voices to express contempt for the working classes, and at the same time position their middle class selves against them.

So from this perspective, Berry herself must feel low in status compared to the ‘proper rich’, and makes up for this sense of status-frustration by defining her ‘good manners’ as superior.

This is ultimately all about power, about the broader practice of the middle classes trying to position themselves above the working classes by defining them as inferior along the axis of taste.

However, the fact that all of this is social in origin, and the fact that power is operating here is obscured, because

  • part of this process of constructing middle-classness (converting cultural capital into symbolic capital) involves using knowledge itself
  • because the cultural capital is marked as ‘normal’ the fact that it is classed at all is obscured.
  • the competencies and knowledges associated with the middle class are not generally seen as social mechanisms because they are believed to be part of the self, and thus class is not seen as an objective position but it becomes configured into ‘who we are’.

Mary Berry and Individualisation (?)

Another process which Berry is engaged in is that of individualisation – the cultural capital dimension of class is social in origin and circulation, but part of that circulation involves sending out the message that these tastes are all down to the individual – thus if someone has ‘superior’ ‘middle class’ tastes they believe they have chosen this, and vice versa for those with vulgar working-class tastes – they are invited by the middle classes to feel a sense of shame about this and to blame themselves for their own inferiority.

NOW do you think Mary Berry is such a sweet lady? – From this Bourdeuian perspective, in reality she’s the evil arbitrator of cultural capital, inflicting the hidden damages of class on  deep-frying, jaffa-cake dunking working class people all over the country, well, mostly up north.

If this all sounds like it’s making a mountain out of a mole-hill, that’s precisely the point of the post because what doesn’t seem like a big deal really is… this is precisely how class divisions are perpetuated in contemporary society…

‘What we read as objective class divisions are produced and maintained by the middle class in the minutiae of everyday practice, as judgements of culture are put into effect’ (Skeggs, 2004, 118, again taken from Lawler).

On this final point, Sennet and Cobb (1977) famously observed that class inflicts hidden injuries – in terms of the ridicule, shaming, silence and self-scrutiny which go along with a position of pathology.

I thus felt it my professional duty to point Gregg Wallace in the direction of Bourdieu in order to help him defend our working class position against such subtle injuries.

There’s nothing wrong with eating fried food, dunking biscuits, or anything else which may not be middle class, but if one lets such things pass in silence, such practices have a tendency to being internalised as wrong and thus silently annihilated.

And P.S. It’s official – Gregg Wallace loves Sociology.

Gregg Wallace Loves Sociology

NB – I’m not suggesting that this type of analysis is in any way correct, it’s merely an example of how you might interpret recent events using a Bourdieuean (is that a word?) framework.

Related Posts 

Cultural Capital (focusing on its application to educational achievement)

You might also want to have another look at some of those make-over programmes – surely this is just a case of middle class ‘experts’ empowering themselves through shaming the distasteful working classes?

Middle Class Identity – A Summary of a chapter of Steph Lawler’s book on class and identity

 

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Sociology in the News (2)

Application of sociology to a few recent news events.

1. The Death of the Duke of Westminster

Following the death of his father, the new Duke of Westminster has inherited a £9 bn fortune – making him the third richest person in Britain. This is clearly relevant to sociology in lots of ways –

Firstly, it’s a stark reminder of the staggering extent of inequality between the very wealthiest and the rest of us. If you want to fire up a sense of injustice – keep in mind that this wealth is unearned, this guy did absolutely nothing to earn it and thus in  no way deserves it by any stretch of anyone’s imagination. He now owns ‘half of London’ – people with properties in Mayfair will now be paying ‘ground rent’ to the Duke – just because there’s a law in place which says they have to pay him ground rent. (What was that Chambliss said about capitalism, private property and the law?)

Secondly, it’s a reminder that the law effectively applies differently to the rich compared to the rest of us – If the duke had  paid the standard 40% UK inheritance tax on his new unearned wealth, that would have given the British tax coffers a £3.5 bn boost – but instead the wealth is held in various trust funds, so the new Duke in effect paid 0% tax.

Thirdly, there’s the not insignificant fact of his sisters – the male Duke was third born, he get’s the wealth, not his two older sisters.

2. Reflections on Neoliberalism

Martin Jacque’s article on the death of neoliberalism is effectively a round up of recent news events and a convincing analysis of how they suggest that neoliberalism is no longer hegemonic (even citing Gramsci) and is actually in its death throws. (A brief introduction to neoliberalism here).

The author argues that there is a growing number of people and organisations actively seeking political solutions to neoliberal hypergloablism – that is the free movement of capital around the world. He cites the following (some are quite obvious examples others less so) as evidence –

  • Most importantly, neoliberalism has stopped bringing economic growth – we are still feeling the slowdown from the last crisis almost 10 years later.
  • Joint most importantly – the consequences of neoliberalism’s biggest failing – increasing inequality are becoming more and more evident.
  • Donald Trump’s increased political influence – he’s basically an anti-neoliberal economic nationalist
  • the vote for BREXIT
  • Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity
  • 48% of Americans now identify as working class, it was only 33% in 2000
  • The popularity of left-wing economists such as Pickerty, Ha-Joon Chang and Krugman (excuse spelling)

Jacques also notes that we don’t actually know what the alternative is yet, and the conservatives seem to be oblivious to it, but there is mounting evidence that neoliberalism as usual isn’t working.

3. The Olympics

Obviously anyone with any sense doesn’t define sport as newsworthy, but the mainstream media does and there’s been a real love-in with the Olympics over the past three weeks. Or to be more specific, the elitist upper-middle class media’s had a real love-in with the disproportionately privately-schooled Team GB.

Digging behind the rather shallow obsession with winning and league tables the Olympics actually offers us not only a painful reminder of the UK’s class divide, but also a nice illustration of the relevance of Giddens’ structuration theory – see ‘A Sociological Analysis of The Olympics’ for a few thoughts.

Meanwhile, the working classes remain sat on their sofas, eating crisps, getting fatter, being northern and just plain wrong. I’m fairly sure ITV’s switch off for an hour won’t make any difference.

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Sociological Analysis of The Olympics

The British media love The Olympics, especially when ‘Team GB’ are so successful, but there’s a lot more to individual or even team success than just the individual athletes…Team GB’s success actually illustrates the relevance of Anthony Giddens’ concept of structuration, as well as the damaging effects of class-divide in the UK (despite ‘our’ success)

The Olympics and Structuration Theory 

(NB this is applying what Giddens’ actually meant by structuration, not how the concept has been over-simplified to the point of misrepresentation in every A level text book).

Structuration refers to the fact that structures enable individual action and are necessary to empower people, or necessary for people to realise their talents, or for people to ‘shine’ as individuals – there are several ways you can put it, and the concept stands against the postmodern ideas that there is no social structure any more and individuals are totally free agents).

While it obviously takes a lot of individual effort to be an Olympic athletes, there seemed to also be quite a lot of recognition of the fact that there is a lot of ‘structures’ in place behind these individual success – for example:

  • Lottery funding
  • The team of experts behind the athletes – coaches, physios, nutritionists
  • The years of planning, training and discipline building up to the Olympics

The idea that Olympic success is merely a story of individual success is clearly nonsense, and we could take the above further – in order for there to be an Olympics at all we need to have at least the following in place:

  • Nation States (or similar groupings which mean something to people)
  • Billion dollar infrastructure such as stadiums
  • A global communications network.

Having said all this, it’s unlikely that the ‘minions’ behind the successful athletes will see any real recognition – the chances are that it’s the individual athletes who’s stories will be told and the individual athletes who will receive honours. Thus is the dominance of the discourse of individualism.

The Olympics as an illustration of the class divide in the UK

‘There are more British Olympians who have a horsey relative named Portia than there are Olympians from working class backgrounds.’

Just a  hypothesis for you -a reasonable one based on the actual social class stats on GB Olympians – According to the Independent you are more than four times more likely to be a top GB Olympian if you were privately educated – they made up 28% of the UK’s Olympic squad, while only making up 7% of the UK population as a whole – NB that 28% is up from 21% since the London Games.

This has a lot to do with private schools providing access not only to expensive elite sports such as rowing and dressage, but also providing higher quality coaching and facilities for the more accessible sports.

If you look at the medal tables, people from comprehensive schools do just as well (near enough, proportionally) compared to people from private schools, suggesting that when they get the opportunity, there is equality.

medals

It seems rational to suggest that if we could harness the full-talent pool of the United Kingdom by getting more of the 93% (non-independent) kids into the Olympics squad, then we’d win even more medals, rather than our nation being held-back by the elites?

NB – If you think this is bleak, then this pattern of independent school privilege is mirrored in both university entrance and access to the top professions such as medicine, journalism and law. Recent research from 2016 –

  • Three-quarters (74%) of the UK’s top judges went to a fee-paying school
  • Slightly more than half of leading print journalists and solicitors (51% each) attended fee-paying schools.

Of course you’re not told this in the mainstream media – the class inequality that probably limits our medal prospects and the same class inequality that probably makes our top professions less-dynamic (and certainly less-diverse) – which is probably a reflection of the fact that it is precisely those people (independently educated) who fail to report on such things – they tend to see their careers, and the Olympians’ success as mostly down to individual efforts and generally fail to tell us about the significance of structure and structuration.

P.S. I’m calling this post ‘Sociology in the News (2) – given that the Olympics dominated the news for half of August.

 

 

 

 

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Crime Prevention and Control Strategies

This summary sheet defines and gives examples of situational crime prevention, environmental crime prevention and social/ community crime prevention strategies

Situational Crime Prevention

  • Includes strategies which focus on the specific point at which potential victims and criminals come together, making it harder for the criminal to commit crime.

  • Examples include ‘target hardening’ – shutters, window locks, anti-climb paint and also CCTV and security guards. Also ‘designing out’ features which encourage criminality – e.g. sloping seats at bus stops.

  • Based on rational choice theory and Cohen and Felson’s ‘Routine Activities’ theory which state that much crime is opportunistic, and if you reduce the opportunities to commit crime, you reduce the crime rate.

  • Appealed to policy makers because target hardening is cheap and simple.

Evaluations of Situational Crime Prevention

  • The Port Authority Bus Terminal Building is an example where this worked.

  • Newburn (2013) points to an obvious link between improved car security measures and reduced car crime.

  • Ignores factors such as inequality and deprivation as causes of crime (Garland 2001).

  • Ignores the role of emotion and thrill as a cause of crime (Lyng 1990)

  • Only tackles opportunistic street crime – won’t work for DV, white collar crime, or state crime.

  • It creates divided ‘Fortress cities’ (Bauman).

  • It leads to crime displacement.

Environmental Crime Prevention

  • Includes formal and informal social control measures which try to clamp down on anti-social behaviour and prevent an area from deteriorating.

  • Emphasises the role of formal control measures (the police) much more than situational crime prevention theory.

  • Examples include Zero Tolerance Policing, ASBOs, curfews, street drinking bans, dispersal orders and the three strikes rule in America.

  • Based on Wilson and Kelling’s Broken Windows Theory – signs of physical disorder give off the message that there is low informal social control which attracts criminals and increases the crime rate.

Evaluations of Environmental Crime Prevention

  • The New York ‘Zero Tolerance’ study suggests that zero tolerance policies work to reduce crime.

  • HOWEVER, Levitt and Dubner in Freakonomics found that this correlation was coincidental – other factors were responsible for the decline in crime.

  • It is more expensive than situational crime prevention – it takes a lot of police to patrol an area and clamp down on anti-social behaviour.

  • Reiner (2015) argues that the police would be better deployed focusing on more serious crime hot spots rather than clamping down on minor forms of anti-social behaviour.

  • From an Interactionist perspective, giving more power to the police will just lead to more labelling and more criminal careers.

Social and Community Crime Prevention

  • Focus on individual offenders and the social context which encourages them to commit crime.

  • There are two broad approaches – Intervention, identifying groups and risk of committing crime and taking action to limit their offending, and Community – involving the local community in combating crime.

  • Farrington’s (1995) longitudinal research comparing offenders and non offenders found various ‘risk factors’ which correlated with crime – such as low education and parental conflict.

  • Intervention programmes based on the above have included pre-school programmes to help with attainment and parenting classes.

  • Examples of this working include the Perry School Project (USA) and the Troubled Families Initiative (UK).

Evaluations of social and community crime reduction

  • If done effectively, these are the most costly of all crime prevention measures.

  • HOWEVER, if done properly, community prevention measures can save hundreds of thousands of pounds, by ‘turning’ a potential criminal into an employed tax-payer.

  • Marxists argue that these policies may tackle deprivation but they do not tackle the underlying structural inequalities in the Capitalist system which are the root cause.

  • Such approaches target working class, inner city communities and do not tackle elite crime.

  • Michel Foucalt and David Garland interpret the these strategies as being about surveillance and control rather than real social change which prevents crime.

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Neoliberalism in India – The Consequences

neoliberalism IndiaA brief summary of part of Arundhati Roy’s ‘Capitalism: A Ghost Story’ – In which she explores some of the consequences of privatisation (part of neoliberalisation) in India.

‘Trickle down hasn’t worked in India, but gush up certainly has’

The era of the privatisation of everything has made the Indian economy one of the fasted growing in the world and most of this wealth has gushed up to India’s Corporate Elite.

In India today, a nation of 1.2 billion people, one hundred people own assets equivalent to 25% of the GDP, while a 300 million strong middle class live among the ghosts of the 250 00 debt-ridden farmers who have killed themselves and the 800 million who have been impoverished and dispossessed and live on less than twenty Indian rupees a day.

The most egregious expression of this inequality is Antilla, a building on Altamount Road in Mumbai which belongs to India’s richest man Mukesh Ambanni. It is the most expensive dwelling ever built: it has 27 floors, including 6 for parking, 3 helipads, 600 servants and a 27 story vertical wall of grass. Ambanni is worth $20 billion dollars and his company, Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) has a market capitalisation of $47 billion.

Antilla Mumba

Ambanni’s RIL Corporation is one of a handful which run India, some of the others being Tata and Vedanta, the later of which are truly global in scope – Tata, for example, runs more than one hundred companies in 80 countries.

The consequence of this concentration of wealth, is an increase in corruption, or as Roy puts it – ‘As gush up continues, so more money flows through the institutions of government’. As an example, in 2011, a corrupt minister of communications and information undervalued 2G phone licences by $40 billion dollars, to the benefit of the telecommunications companies which now profit from them, effectively costing Indian taxpayers $40 billion of revenue.

How the Elite in India Benefit from Neoliberal Policies

The way this typically works is that a corrupt government official signs a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ (MoU) with a Corporation which privatises a chunk of publicly owned land, giving that corporation the right to use that land to establish a business – this either takes the form of mining the raw materials from under the land, or establishing a range of other projects such as Agribusinesses, Special Economic Zones, Dams, and even Formula One racing circuits.

Taxes are typically kept very low in these deals – often sow low in that local people see little of the financial benefit of the new business.

Chhattisgarh
Chhattisgarh

This is especially true were mining is concerned. In 2005, for example, the state governments of Chhattisgarh, Orissa, and Jharkhand signed hundreds of memorandums of understanding with private corporations, turning over trillions of dollars of bauxite, iron ore and other minerals for a pittance – royalties (effectively taxes) ranged from 0.5% to 7%, with the companies allowed to keep up to 99% of the revenue gained from these resources. (Allowing people like Ambanni to build their 27 story houses, rather than the money being used for food for the majority of the Indian population.)

In a third strand of Neoliberal policy, companies are subjected to very little regulation. It seems that they are allowed to develop their projects without protecting the environment or paying any compensation to people who are negatively affected by these projects, as indicated in the case study below:

Tata Steel in Chhattisgarh, North East India

Only days after the Chhattisgarh government signed an MoU with Tata Steel, a vigilante militia was established (known as the Salwa Judum). Organised by the state government and funded by Tata Steel the Salwa Judum initiated a ground clearance operation to eradicate the local forest peoples so Tata could set up its steel plant.

The Salwa Judum
The Salwa Judum

The Salwa Judum burned, raped and murdered its way through 600 local villages forcing 50 000 people into police camps and displacing a further 350 000. To keep these displaced persons in check, the government then deployed 200 000 paramilitary troops to the region to make sure that it remained a stable climate for investment and economic growth.

An Adivasi (local tribal group) protest
An Adivasi (local tribal group) protest

According to Roy the government has labelled these people ‘Maoist Rebels’, but in reality they are just displaced peoples.

Find out More

Corporate Watch – Stolen for Steel: Tata takes Tribal Land in India

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Sociology on TV – August 2016

A new monthly post outlining recent programmes relevant to Sociology on TV – most will be on the BBC as iPlayer’s what I mainly use to access televisual hyperreality.

Just one to kick off with – because I just watched it. This might well be the only programme and the only post too, this kind of thing’s got ‘summer project, no way I’ll keep this up when term starts’ written all the way through it.

Britain’s Hardest Workers: Inside the Low Wage Economy

Useful for showing the extent of inequality in Britain, and providing an insight into life in low-pay work. You could supplement this with Polly Toynbe’s ‘Hard Work’ which provides more in-sight through participant observation and interviews.

A documentary in which 20 workers compete against each other in some of Britain’s lowest wage jobs – after four hours in each job, the least productive workers get sent home. In the first episode the workers work as hotel cleaners and as waste-pickers (recycling paper).

This is actually quite an insightful documentary – the whole process is overseen by a manager who analyses performance data, which is benchmarked against industry averages – 24 minutes to clean a hotel room, 100KG of paper waste picked in an hour per person (roughly – actually I think that was right, sounds like a lot of paper) – so you get a decent look at what life is like in these jobs, and what people have to actually do for minimum wage.

Of course you get the usual life-stories from the various workers, but this in itself is quite interesting too – most of them seem to have suffered genuine hardship, in the form of coming from a deprived background or having lost a decent job – so they all seem to actually need a job. In other words, these aren’t your usual people – not the privileged middle classes

Which is unlike the presenter and the various journalists she interviews who provide no real insight into how we got into this mess in the first place.

So an odd one this – the bits I usually find interesting (the analysis) isn’t and the bits I usually fast-forward – the personal-stuff is more interesting.

 

 

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12 Facts about Gender Inequality

Evidence from Kat Banyard  (2010) The equality illusion– the truth about women and men today, Faber and Faber.

book-equality-illusion

Today it is normal for women to worry about their looks. Girls have starkly different relationships to their bodies than boys – they put greater emphasis on how attractive their bodies are to others – for boys physical prowess – what he can actually achieve is more important than looks. Banyard cites the following evidence to support her view that women are more concerned about their looks than men –

1. 1.5 million people in the UK have an eating disorder – 90% of them women and girls

2. A survey conducted by Dove of 3000 women found that 90% of them wanted to change some aspect of their body with body weight and shape being the main concern.

3. One in four women has considered plastic surgery.

4. An analysis of animated cartoons shows that female characters are far more likely to be portrayed as physically attractive than male characters and those who are attractive are far more likely to be portrayed as intelligent, employed, happy, loving and involved in kissing and hugging.

5. In 2007 a survey of Brownies aged 7-10 were asked to describe ‘planet sad’ they spoke of it being inhabited by girls who were fat and bullied about their appearance.

6. A survey conducted in 2009 found that a quarter of girls thought it was more important to be beautiful than clever. – Youngpoll.com

7. The more mainstream media high school students watch,  the more they believe beauty is important according to the American Psychological Association.

8. The media furore over Susan Boyle was mainly because she didn’t conform to the female stereotype of beauty.

9. In 2009 the Bank of England held a seminar for its female employees called ‘dress for success’ – where they were informed, amongst other things, to ‘always wear make up’, there was no such equivalent for men

10. Some studies have shown that the more a girl monitors her appearance, the less satisfied she will be with her appearance.

11. Two thirds of women report having avoided activities such as going swimming or going to a party because they feel bad about their appearance while 16% of 15 -17 year olds have avoided going to school for the same reason.

12. One experiment found that female students performed worse in maths tests when wearing a swim suit compared to regular clothes while boy’s performance doesn’t decrease under the same conditions

Analysis – what Banyard actually thinks is wrong/ harmful about this situation…

‘The existence of a suffocating ideal of beauty has persisted and it has remained a gendered phenomenon. Women are judged on their ability to conform to a beauty ideal – there is a cultural pressure to manipulate their bodies to fit into a pre-existing ideal – to treat your body as an object that will be consumed by an observing public (This is known as objectification)

While some Feminists argue that the Feminine pursuit of beauty is simply a matter of choice – women freely choose to do it (Baumgardner) others (Jefferys) argue that the practise of beautification reflect and perpetuate gender inequalities – women put effort into displaying their femininity/ sexuality because they are relatively powerless – and those women that do engage in the practise of beautification perpetuate the idea that a woman’s value is in her beauty.

Millions of girls and women begin their days with beautification rituals because their sense of self hinges on the gaze of others. If your sense of self esteem depends on what you think others think of your appearance, can you really be said to have freedom of choice? Also, can you really say women are equal to men in this respect?

One of the reasons for the persistent problems of body image faced by females is that girls are taught from a very young age that their physical appearance is a reflection of their worth and value, and treated accordingly.

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Anthony Giddens’ Runaway World – A Summary

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There has been a considerable amount of research and theorising into globalisation and its consequences over the past decade, yet little of this has filtered down to students of A level Sociology. This article aims to address this by summarizing Anthony Giddens’ views on globalisation and its consequences for culture and identity in the West, focusing on the two core themes of risk and detraditionalisation. This article is written with the new AQA AS module in Culture and Identity in mind, and should be useful to any student who wishes to better understand how Globalisation affects daily life.

Giddens illustrates how  two consequences of Globalisation, namely the rise of a ‘risk consciousness’ and detraditionalisation,  undermine the ability of institutions such as the Nation State, the family and religion, to provide us with a sense of security and stability. These institutions are no longer able to offer us a clearly defined norms and values that tell us how we should act in society. This situation has far reaching consequences for how individuals experience daily life and for how they go about constructing their identities.

Globalisation, manufactured risks and risk consciousness

The title of Giddens’ accessible modern classic ‘Runaway World’ immediately suggests to the reader that he perceives globalisation as an unpredictable, destabilsing process. In Giddens’ own words: “We are the first generation to live in global society, whose contours we can as yet only dimly see. It is shaking up our existing ways of life, no matter where we happen to be. This is…. emerging in an anarchic, haphazard, fashion… it is not settled or secure, but fraught with anxieties, as well as scarred by deep divisions. Many of us feel in the grip of forces over which we have no control” (Giddens 2002).

One aspect of globalisation is the emergence of ‘manufactured risks’ which are man made, having arisen as a result of new technologies developed through advances in scientific knowledge. Many of these new technologies, such as nuclear and biotechnologies bring about risks which are truly global in scope. The Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, for example, resulted in nuclear fall out spreading thousands of miles to several countries, while the burning of fossil fuels in the United States may lead to flooding in Bangladesh.

According to Giddens, we have little experience of how to deal with these new threats as they have only been in existence for the last half a century. He argues that there is a “new riskiness to risk” in that these new technologies could have catastrophic consequences for humanity, yet we do not yet know all of the consequences associated with them. We cannot be certain, for example, of the possible effects that modifying the genetic structure of our basic food stuffs will have, and we do not know exactly how much of global warming is due to human influence.

Many of the above problems require international action, as well as co-coordinated local action; and in this context, Nation States appear ill equipped to deal with such global problems. In addition, in the context of imperfect knowledge, competing expert voices emerge, such as with the debate over whether Britain should build more nuclear power stations, or whether or not we should support Genetically Modified crops. As a result, the experts employed by politicians become just one voice amidst a field of experts citing different evidence that point to different courses of action.

Globalisation, Risk and Identity  

So what are the consequences of this situation for self identity? On the one hand, we have identity politics and on the other, we have apolitical apathy. Those who are concerned about the global problems mentioned above and who perceive the government as being ill equipped to deal with these new global risks, have gravitated towards New Social Movements such as the green movement. At the more radical end of these movements, one’s whole lifestyle, one’s whole being and identity is oriented towards addressing global problems, at the local and international level, through protesting globally and acting locally.

However, such radical action is only undertaken by the relative few, and many remain apathetic towards global risks. Political apathy can also be easily justified in the context of imperfect knowledge, in which no one can ever be certain of the full extent of these global risks.

Detraditionalisation

A second major theme of Giddens’ work is that of detraditionalisation. Giddens argues that “For someone following a traditional practice, questions don’t have to be asked about alternatives. Tradition provides a framework for action that can go largely unquestioned… tradition gives stability, and the ability to construct a self identity against a stable background.

Globalisation brings this to an end as local cultures and traditions are exposed to new cultures and ideas, which often means that traditional ways of acting come to be questioned. As a result of globalisation, societies and cultures go through a process of detraditionalisation, where day to day life becomes less and less informed by ‘tradition for the sake of tradition’.

A good example of an institution undergoing this process is marriage. Although the tradition of marriage remains, a couple is much less likely to get married simply for the sake of marriage, either  because it is ‘what people do, or what their parents did’. A typical couple today will discuss whether they should get married or not; they will think about whether it is right for them, and if they do decide to get married, they will then discuss where they should get married, and a whole range of other aspects associated with the marriage ceremony itself.

This theme of Detraditionalisation is to be found in many other areas of life. If we think back to the example of identity politics as expressed through New Social Movements, this tells us that traditional ways of political engagement are changing. Giddens also argues that globalisation has even lead to religions becoming detraditionalised, and there is plenty of evidence that he is right, as practices such as church attendance in Christianity and veiling in Islam appear to be more a matter of personal choice than of unquestioning adherence to tradition.

Cosmopolitanism and Democratisation

The positive side of detraditionalisation is the spread of what Giddens refers to as cosmopolitanism in which the individual is much less constrained by arbitrary tradition than in ‘traditional’ or pre-global societies. In a cosmopolitan society, the individual has much more freedom to reflect on already existing cultural practices such as those associated with marriage, religion and politics, and to choose which aspects of these cultural practices suit him or her.

As a result of this, culture becomes something that is more fluid, more open to debate and more open to adaptations by individuals than ever before in human history. Culture, according to Giddens, becomes more democratic as more people have more of a say in how culture will inform their lives.

Detraditionalisation and self identity

Detraditionalisation also has consequences for self-identity. According to Giddens “Where tradition lapses, and life-style choice prevails, self-identity has to be created and recreated on a more active basis than before.” Giddens further argues that individuals must engage in an ongoing process of reflecting upon their lives and adapting them in the light of new knowledge that arises in a rapidly changing, globalising world. This whole process of ongoing reflecting on one’s life and changing accordingly is known as reflexivity.

Reflexivity is necessary because many of our institutions no longer provide us with a clear set of pre-given norms and values. Modern relationships, including marriages, no longer come with a set of clear norms and values, duties and responsibilities, instead, these need to be negotiated. Similarly, for those that are religious, the ‘meaning of ‘being Christian’ or ‘being ‘Muslim’ is much more open to debate than ever before, and for those who want to get political, this is no longer limited to union membership, or party membership and voting in general and local elections, one has to choose between a whole range of political activism. The individual is faced today with a situation in which modern institutions no longer simply tell the individual how to act, or how to ‘be’, they no longer act as stabilizing forces that anchor individuals to society in clearly defined ways. Instead, we have to choose which aspects of tradition suit us, and be able to justify to others why we have made these choices.

Even once we have decided on what the rules of a relationship are, on what our religion means to us, or what kind of political action we should engage in, the rapid pace of social change, brought on by globalization means that we may well have to redefine our relationships and our religious and political identities over an over again. To give examples, a foreign firm relocating outside the United Kingdom may mean a career change, which could mean a renegotiation of the terms of a relationship; The recent decision of the government to build more nuclear power stations will lead many green activists to shift their political attentions to this issue, and the ongoing ‘threat of Islamic extremism’, exaggerated or not, has lead to a debate over the meaning of what it means to be British and Muslim.

Reflexivity, expert systems and therapy

Giddens argues that this constant need to adapt our identities in line with global changes has lead to the emergence of ‘expert systems’. These are found everywhere in British society, from the careers advisor, helping us to choose which degree is best suited to us, to the therapist and counselor, providing us assistance in the necessary task of continually reconstructing our identities.

The negative consequences of Globalisation and detraditionalisation

While Giddens is cautiously optimistic about the changes brought about by globalisation, in that he believes that global risks are something we can work together to deal with, and detraditionalisation opens up the possibility of a radical democratization of daily life, he does also point to two major problems.

The first of these is the increase in addiction in modern society. Today, people can develop recognized addictions to sex, food, gambling and even shopping. Giddens perceives this increase in addictions as being linked to detraditionalisation. In pre-global societies, stable traditions provided individuals with a link to the past, now this is gone, addiction is seen as an attempt by individuals to construct a coherent ‘narrative of the self’ through repetitive actions that provide comfort, thus linking actions today with actions to the past.

The second negative consequence of detraditionalisation is the rise of Fundamentalism, which Giddens sees as traditional practices that are defended by a blinkered commitment to ideologies and beliefs, and a resistance to engaging in dialogue about those views.

Evaluating  Giddens

Many contemporary critics, argue that Giddens’ view of contemporary societies is too optimistic.

Zygmunt Bauman essentially agrees with the fact that uncertainty in society requires most individuals to constantly engage in ‘identity construction’, but he also points out that the wealthy and powerful are the ones both creating and benefiting from an unstable, rapidly changing world, and that these people are much more able to defend themselves against the negative consequences of living in a runaway world.

Frank Furedi, who draws on Bauman,  argues that the expert systems that have emerged to assist us in the construction of our identities are not neutral institutions. He argues, amongst other things, that far from allowing individuals to be more autonomous actors, they actually encourage individuals to be dependent on expert advice.

I will summarise the work of these two contemporary critics of Giddens in a future article. Suffice to say for now that all three agree that Globalisation has far reaching consequences for the British society, culture and the ways in which we construct our identities.

You might also like…

A summary of Liquid Times by Zygmunt Bauman

Giddens’ Critique of Postmodernism – an uber-brief summary.

Bibliography

Giddens, Anthony (2002) Runaway World

Giddens, Anthony (1991) Modernity and Self Identity

Bauman, Zymunt (2007) Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty

Furedi, Frank (2004) Therapy Culture: Cultivating Vulnerability in an Uncertain Age.