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Should we be Concerned about the Gender Pay Gap at the BBC?

The BBC recently revealed the salaries of stars earning more than £150,000, and two-thirds of them are male, only a third female. So the very high income earner male-female ratio at the BBC is 2:1.

BBC gender pay gap

Where the highest incomes are concerned, there is an enormous disparity between the highest earning male and the highest earning female: Chris Evans is the top-paid male, earning between £2.2m and £2.25m, while Claudia Winkleman is the highest-paid female celebrity, earning between £450,000 and £500,000.

A recent edition of Radio 4’s Moral Maze explored some of the moral arguments for and against this pay gap, focusing on the following questions:

  1. Do these pay inequalities, between elite men and women at the BBC, actually tell us anything about gender pay differentials in wider society? Or is this sample of very high earning celebrities just so unique that it tells us nothing at all?
  2. Why do women earn less than men? To what extent is the biological fact that women are the child-bearers explain the differences? To what extent is it sexism in wider culture?
  3. What more could or should companies, government and society reasonably do about gender disparities?
  4. Finally, is viewing society through the prism of gender an unhealthy obsession and an unhelpful distraction from the job of tackling wider inequalities in wealth, health and education?

In case you’ve never listened to it, the format of the moral maze consists of a panel who e start off by briefly presenting their views on topic under discussion, and then listening to evidence from a number of witnesses and critically questioning them, before summing up their views at the end of the show. 

Michael Buerk
Michael Buerk – old, white, male, privately educated and host of the BBC’s Moral Maze

I thought it was useful to provide a detailed account of this episode of the moral maze because it includes summary of views of some of Britain’s best known contemporary Feminists and their critics on the issue of the pay-gap in the UK, an issue which is obviously highly relevant across the A level sociology syllabus. 

It’s also probably quicker to read this rather than listen to the pod cast, and I thought it’d be useful to link it up too. 

A summary of the views of the four person panel

Priest and Guardian pundit Giles Fraser – thinks that the fact that BBC appears to value men more than women is a moral outrage

Claire Fox, from the Institute of Ideas – describes Giles Fraser’s moral position as ‘tone deaf’ arguing that it’s ludicrous for a very high income earning women to see themselves as victims of Patriarchy, even if men in similar positions earn more them. She also says she finds it insulting to the memory of what fighting for women’s rights was all about.

Mona Siddiqui, Professor of Islamic and Inter-Religious Studies at Edinburgh University – disagrees argues that we should be comparing ‘like for like’ – if men and women are in a similar environment, they should be receiving the same pay and those women are right to fight for it.

Historian and Blogger Tim Stanley – elite celebrity presenters are all grotesquely overpaid and this issue is a distraction from the e world and serious violence women face in other parts of the world and the UK, and also some of the systemic problems facing young men today.

The Four Witnesses

The Witnesses are Emily Hill, Nikki Van De Gaag, Sophie Walker and Dr Joanna Williams – below I summarise their views on the gender pay gap at the BBC and more widely in the UK, along with their responses to the various questions asked of them by the panelists. 

Dr Joanna Williams

Dr Williams is author of Women Versus Feminism: Why We All Need Liberating from the Gender Wars

  • women versus feminismShe argues that the pay of 96 elite people tells us very little about the issues of pay and inequality in wider society, because these 96 people are not doing jobs in which the pay is determined by standardised promotion and pay-scale procedures
  • She also points out that they are doing jobs which are not comparable – even where presenters co-present on the same show, one of them might well be doing additional presenting work elsewhere which could explain their higher pay.
  • The moral outrage over the gender pay gap at the BBC misses the point because the gender pay gap overall in the UK is at an all time low.

Giles Fraser responds to the above by suggesting that, irrespective of what’s going on in the wider society, where women are paid less for men in comparable jobs, this is a basic moral outrage. In response Williams says:

  • The real moral outrage is that other workers at the BBC (male and female alike) such as cleaners, editors, even producers, are earning so much less than these 96 ultra high-income earners.
  • These wealthy women have more in common with their wealthy male colleague and the focus on the ‘elite gender pay-gap’ is a distraction from the wider issue of social class.
  • She finds it nauseating that these elite women are calling for equal pay at the BBC, and claiming to do this for ‘all women – a campaign to equalize elite pay is going to nothing to help women lower down the pay scale – because at minimum wage level, there is no gender pay-gap.

Giles Fraser criticizes this view because it sounds like it’s blaming the victims of unequal pay. 

Mona Siddiqui tries to make the point that what is going on at the top of the BBC does in fact reflect a problem found in workplaces across Britain – which is that if women don’t kick up a fuss about it, they will be paid less than men. In response to this Williams says:

  • The average pay gap at the BBC is 10% compared to 18% in the country as a whole, suggesting the BBC is actually a relatively good on equal pay where gender is concerned.
  • Where you look at men and women in comparable ‘ordinary’ jobs, the gender pay gap is practically zero.
  • Women in their 20s earn more than men in their 20s.

Mona Siddiqui wonders what we’re aiming for in all of this – do we want equal pay by gender, or a world of work in which women race ahead of men, in which case we just end up with another pay-gap issue. In response Williams says:

  • the real issue is social class – people at the bottom need to be paid more
  • by focusing on the gender pay gap, we distract attention away from the real problem in society which is pay inequality more broadly – and to get better pay, women in lower paid jobs need to work alongside their male colleagues.

Sophie Walker 

Sophie Walker is leader of the Women’s Equality Party and argues that:

  • What’s interesting about the BBC Explodes the myth that if women try harder they can have equal pay. This list demonstrates that even the wealthiest, white, privileged  women are still paid less men, and if they’re being paid less
  • One of the main aspects of the pay gap is occupational segregation which starts with boys and girls in school making gendered subject choices -because we teach boys that they are good at science and engineering and we value and pay those jobs highly; while we teach girls that they are good at caring and teaching and we value and pay those jobs lesson.
  • The ‘care burden’ within family life falls disproportionately on women – women in their 20s may well earn more than men, but later on in their working lives, women pay a ‘motherhood penalty’ – within 12 years of having children women’s pay is about 30% lower than the men they work with.

Tim Stanley rejects Sophie Walker’s analysis arguing that the pay gap is generational and is disappearing for the young. He cites a recent report by the Resolution Foundation found that the gender pay gap baby boomers is 16%, among women born between 1981 and 2005, it is 5%, and for women in their early 20s, the pay gap doesn’t exist, in fact women in this age bracket earn more than men. He also points out that women outperforming men in education, especially at university.

Ultimately, the two talk at cross purposes – they disagree about how we should be comparing men and women – Tim Stanley wants to take generations as the base for comparison and measure the pay gap by comparing what the same aged men and women earn doing the same jobs, while Sophie Walker wants to make a broader comparison, factoring in use the ‘typical jobs’ men and women do and the even how the social roles men and women fill influence the amount they earn.

Another reason they talk at cross purposes is that Stanley just sticks to the stats on pay for men and women in their 20s, Walker is imagining what’s likely to happen to the pay gap in later life, based on past evidence. 

Claire Fox – asks if focusing on 96 elite women isn’t a distraction away from the the more significant problem of social class inequalities. Sophie Walker responds by saying that:

  • The advantage of looking at inequalities through the lens of gender shows that all women, of all classes, are underpaid compared to men.
  • She also argues that exploring class through the lens of gender is an effective way of analyzing pay injustice in society.
  • She also points out that there are different reasons for the pay gap at different class levels – for example at the top end, it’s maybe something to do with how men and women are treated differently by their agents; while at the bottom end, the fact that we have nurses (a female dominated profession) reliant on food banks is more to do with us not valuing women’s caring roles highly enough.

Claire Fox now turns to the question of why women earn less than men. She asks whether Sophie Walker thinks women are deliberately treated like second class citizens in today’s labour market. Walker suggests there isn’t conscious bias, but the following things might explain the pay gap:

  • Unconscious bias by white men who, when looking for the best candidate for a job, end up choosing not the best candidate.
  • Structural barriers, particularly lack of access to decent child care.
  • Ultimately Walker argues that such gender stereotypes and structural barriers harm men just as much as women, by effectively denying men the opportunity to spend quality time with their children – so closing the gender pay gap should benefit both men and women.

Emily Hill

Emily Hill is the commissioning editor of the spectator and responsible for an article entitled ‘The end of Feminism‘.

  • End of FeminismShe starts off by pointing out that she may have wrote that article, but someone else was responsible for the title, and that she does actually regard herself as a feminist.
  • Emily Hill subscribes to kind of Feminism developed by Germaine Greer and Camille Paglia
  • She has however have a problem with some younger, trendy columnists who have changed the agenda of feminism.
  • She suggests that what used to fight for equality and freedom has now become a fight for censorship and special treatment.
  • Women have won key battles such as they are doing better in school and university, and when they grow up she believes they will earn equal to men.
  • She does not believe that women today are victims of Patriarchy, which is thanks to previous Feminists having fought to overcome this.

Mona Siddiqui thinks the above view only applies to middle class white women, and women lower down the social class ladder are still victims of Patriarchy. 

Giles Fraser backs up the idea that women are still disadvantaged through ‘everyday sexism’ – such as waiters handing the bill to men rather than women as default, and such things as harassment on the street, and especially social media abuse.

  • Emily Hill’s response to this is that women just need to get over these things, and she seems to be suggesting that these aren’t really systematic structural barriers to women’s progress.
  • Women need to stand up to men harassing them, and tell them to ‘F off’, knee them in the balls or just simply tell them their not taking it.
  • She suggests young women read Feminism and recommends looking at Germaine Greer putting down Norman Mailler.
  • In response to the view that women are more likely to get abused on social media, she cites research which suggests men are just as likely to suffer abuse, and stands against censorship, suggesting that satirizing offensive comments is the best way to deal with them.

Nikki van der Gaag

Nikki van der Gaag is Director of Gender Justice at Oxfam and author of No Nonsense Feminism: Why the World Still Needs the F Word.

  • Van der Gaag starts off by arguing that even in the UK structural discrimination against women still exists.

Claire Fox asks Van der Gaag what she thinks of the view that contemporary Feminism is ‘victim feminism’ – casting women as hapless, hopeless and in need of protection. Fox has a problem with the kind of Feminism that suggests that women in particular can’t cope with offensive words and ideas and demands that women have ‘safe spaces’ from offensive ideas and which no platforms (or censors) ideas they find offensive – she argues this kind of Feminism constructs women as people who simply can’t cope. 

Fox suggests that when women in the west say they need protecting from offensive words in order to protect their mental health, this trivialises the much more serious problems some women in the west face, and which many women in developing countries face – such as being victims of violence and being treated like second class citizens. 

  • In response Van der Gaag suggests that Claire Fox is the one trivialising  mental illness, pointing out that women suffer severe abuse online, such as death threats (Even female MPs) and the effects on mental health are very real.

Giles Fraser now simply asks whether Van der Gaag thinks the disparity between men and women is a product of nature or nurture. 

  • Van der Gaag responds by pointing him in the direction of two books – one by Cordelia Fine – Delusions of Gender and the other by Lise Elliot – Pink Brain Blue Brain
  • Together these two books suggest that about 95% of gender differences are explained by nurture, the other 5% by nature.

Reflecting on the 5% of natural differences Giles Fraser asks to what extent the biological fact of women being the child bearers explains gender disparities. Van Der Gaag responds by basically saying it’s got very little to do with it. 

  • The problem women are still expected all over the world to do unpaid work on top of their paid work, and this is an issue all over the world including in the UK.
  • The solution is to value unpaid work as much as paid work, to redistribute it so that men do more unpaid work (which is happening with the younger generation), and to reduce the unpaid care, which machines can help with.

In Summary 

Either the gender pay gap at the BBC is symptomatic of wider gender disparities in British society, or it’s a nauseating distraction. 

For Mona Siddiqui the real issue is how do we see women in terms of what value they bring to the work place?

Claire Fox finds the whole issue distasteful because the BBC gender pay gap took over some of the more socially relevant issues that we should be discussion – we should really be thinking about social class inequalities, not pay inequality between men and women at the BBC.

Giles Fraser thinks that The BBC gender pay gap touches a nerve because firstly we don’t think that people should earn that much, and secondly, we also find the idea of gender inequality unfair – the two things together – class and gender inequality offend our British idea of justice, and we can care about both at the same time (it is not a binary issue).

Tim Stanley reiterates his point that the gender pay gap in wider society is no longer really an issue – he argues that our whole take on it is 40 years old: male bosses no longer deliberately discriminate against women and technology has changed the nature of work, giving women more opportunities which they are taking.

Claire Fox points out that what no longer happens is that patriarchal bosses say ‘you’re going to have a baby, see you later’, but was does happen is that women take time off work when they have babies and go back to work part-time and lose income because of this.  The problem is that there is not enough child care provision for working people, and given that women are the primary child carers this disadvantages them more than men where pay is concerned.

She also argues that overstating the gender pay gap is not helpful, what we should be doing is focusing on positive solutions to overcoming it.

Mona Siddiqui points out that prejudice may play a role – in that male bosses are reluctant to hire women in their early 30s because of the increased possibility of them having children in the near future, and the ‘hassle’ this will cause.

Giles Fraser suggests that the stereotypical representations of men and women in higher and lower paid jobs remains a problem for parents bringing up children.

There’s general support for Emily Hill’s view that thanks to Feminism, there have been huge gains in gender equality, and for the fact that contemporary Feminists blackballing people like Germaine Greer is a problem.

The last word goes to Giles Fraser who suggests that ‘power looks after itself’ and so we cannot be complacent.

 

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Changing Education Paradigms

In this TED talk, Sir Ken Robinson argues that our current educational systems are still based on a industrial paradigm of education – education is increasingly standardised and about conformity, and kids, who are living in the most stimulating age in history, fail to see the point of going to school, which is about ‘finding the right answers to pass the tests’ rather than about stimulating divergent thinking.

One of our major solutions to the plague of distracted kids (alienated by a system the don’t identify with) is to medicate them to get them through school, whereas what really needs to change is the system itself – we need a paradigm shift, rather than mere reform.

Current Education systems are not fit for the future 

Every country on earth is in the process of reforming its education system. There are two reasons for this:

  • The first is economic – countries are trying to figure out how to prepare children for work when we simply don’t know what work will look like in the future.
  • The second is cultural – countries are trying to figure out how to pass on their ‘cultural genes’ while at the same time having to respond to globalisation.

The problem with current processes of educational reform is that we are trying to tackle the future by doing what we did in the past and we are alienating millions of kids in the process, who simply can’t see the point of going to school.

When generation X when to school, we were motivated by a particular story: that if we worked hard and got good grades, we could get to college, get a degree and get a good job. Today’s children do not believe this, and they are right not to: getting a degree means you will probably get a better job, but is no longer guaranteed to get you a decent job!

The education system is rooted in an industrial paradigm 

The problem with the current education system is that it was conceived in the cultural context of the Enlightenment and the economic context of the industrial revolution. It emerged in the nineteenth century, which was the first time which compulsory public education, freely available to all and paid for by taxes was established.

The Modern education system was originally founded on an ‘us and them’ mentality as many thinkers in the 19th century seriously believed that ordinary street kids could not cope with it, and it is also founded on an Enlightenment concept of the mind – which favours a knowledge of the classics and deductive reasoning, what we might call ‘academic knowledge’.

The system thus divides people into ‘smart people’ (academics) and ‘non-smart people’ (non-academics) and while this has been great for some, most people have not benefited from this system, in fact Ken Robinson argues that the main effect is that it has caused chaos.

We medicate our kids to get them through education

Statistics on prescriptions for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) suggest that America is suffering from an ADHD epidemic – we are drugging our kids with Ritalin as a matter of routine. However, Robinson suggests that this cannot be an epidemic as the rates of prescription vary from West to East – they are much higher in the East of America, which suggests that this is a fictitious epidemic – it’s the system that’s choosing to medicate a ‘problem’ which is only a problem because the system has labelled it thus.

What’s really happening is that our kids are living through the most information rich age in history – they are bombarded with information from many sources through T.V. and the Internet – they are in a way, hyper-stimulated, and yet our response is to punish them for getting distracted from ‘boring stuff’ in school.

Robinson suggests that it is no coincidence that the incidents of prescriptions for ADHD corresponds closely to the rise in standardised testing.

The increasing use of drugs such as Ritalin to medicate kids means that we are effectively getting our kids through school by anaesthetising them.

The school system is run for the benefit of industry, and in many senses along industrial lines, mirroring a factory system of production in at least the following ways:

  1. Ringing bells
  2. Separate facilities
  3. Specialised subjects
  4. We still educate children by batches (‘as if the most important thing about them is the date of their manufacture’).

Increasingly education is about conformity, and you see is in the growth of standardised curricula and standardised testing. The current paradigm is mainly to do with standardisation, and we need to shift the paradigm and go in the other direction.

factory-model-education.jpg
The factory model of education

The education system kills creativity 

There was a great study done recently on divergent thinking. Divergent thinking is an essential capacity for creative thinking – it is the ability to see lots of possible ways of interpreting and answering a question; to think laterally and to see many possible answers, not just one.

An example of this simply to give someone a paper clip and to get them to think of as many different uses for the paper clip as possible – someone whose good at this will be able to think of hundreds of uses for the paper clip by imagining that it can be all sorts of sizes and made out of all sorts of different materials.

Cites a Longitudinal study (taken from a book called ‘Break Point and Beyond) in which Kindergarten children were tested on their ability to think divergently, and 98% of them scored at ‘genius level’; the same children were retested at ages 8-10, but only 50% of them scored at genius level, and again at 13-15, where hardly any of them scored at genius level.

This study shows two things: firstly, we all have the inherent capacity for divergent thinking and secondly it deteriorates as children get older.

Now lots of things happen to these kids as they grow up, but the most important thing is that they have become educated – they’ve spent 10 years being told ‘that there’s one answer and it’s at the back, and don’t look and don’t copy’.

The problem we have is that the industrial-capitalist mode of education is deep in the gene-pool of the education system, it is an educational paradigm which will be hard to shift.

Shifting the Education Paradigm

We need to do the following to shift the industrial-capitalist education paradigm:

Firstly, destroy the myth that there is a divide between academic and non academic subjects, and between the abstract and the theoretical.

Secondly, recognize that most great learning takes place in groups – collaboration is the stuff of growth, rather than individualising people which separates them from their natural learning environment.

Finally, we need to change the habitual ways of thinking of those within the education system and the habitats which they occupy.

Relevance to A-Level Sociology 

This can be used to criticise New Right approaches to education, as well as New Labour, The Coalition and the present Tory government – because all of them have kept in place the basic regime of testing introduced in 1988.

There’s also something of a link here to Bowles and Gintis’ Correspondence Principle – in which the Hidden Curriculum mirrors the work place, because the system is still based an industrial model.

Robinson seems to be suggesting we have a more post-modern approach to education – freeing schools and teachers up so they can encourage more creativity in the classroom rather than being constrained by the tyranny of standardised testing.

Limitations of Ken Robinson’s Perspective

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bandura, Ross and Ross (1961) – The Imitative Aggressive Experiment 

This classic example of a laboratory experiment suggests that children learn aggressive behaviour through observation – it is relevant to the Crime and Deviance module, and lends support to the idea that exposure to violence at home (or in the media) can increase aggressive and possibly violent behaviour in real life.

Bandura-bobo-doll-experiment

Bandura, Ross and Ross (1961) aimed to find out if children learnt aggressive behaviour by observing adults acting in an aggressive manner.

Their sample consisted of 36 boys and 36 girls from the Stanford University Nursery School aged between 3 to 6 years old.

Stage one – making some of the children watch violence 

In this stage of the experiment, children were divided into three groups of 24 (12 boys and 12 girls in each group), and then individually put through one of the following three processes. 

  • The first group of children watched an adult actor behaving aggressively towards a toy called a ‘Bobo doll’. The adults attacked the Bobo doll in a distinctive manner – they used a hammer in some cases, and in others threw the doll in the air and shouted “Pow, Boom”.
  • The second group  were exposed to a non-aggressive adult actor who played in a quiet and subdued manner for 10 minutes (playing with a tinker toy set and ignoring the bobo-doll).
  • The final group were used as a control group and not exposed to any model at all.

Stage two – frustrating the children and observing their reactions

The children were then taken to a room full of nice of toys, but told that they were not allowed to play with them, in order to ‘frustrate them’, and then taken onto another room full of toys which consisted of a number of ‘ordinary toys’, as well as a ‘bobo doll’ and a hammer. Children were given a period of time to play with these toys while being observed through a two way mirror.

The idea here was to see if those children who had witnessed the aggressive behaviour towards the doll were more likely to behave aggressively towards it themselves.

Findings 

To cut a long story short, the children who had previously seen the adults acting aggressively towards the bobo doll were more likely to behave aggressively towards to the bobo doll in stage two of the experiment.

A further interesting finding is that boys were more likely to act aggressively than girls.

The findings support Bandura’s ‘social learning theory’ –  that is, children learn social behaviour such as aggression through the process of observation – through watching the behaviour of another person.

Evaluation

Strengths of the bobo-doll experiment 

  • Variables were well controlled, so it effectively established cause and effect relationships (see the link below for more details)
  • It has good reliability – standardised procedures mean it is easy to repeat.

Limitations of this laboratory experiment

  • This study has very low ecological validity – this is a very artificial form of ‘violence’ – an adult using a hammer on a doll (rather than a human) is nothing like the kind of real life aggressive behaviour a child might be exposed to, thus can we generalise these findings to wider social life?
  • Cumberbatch (1990) found that children who had not played with a Bobo Doll before were five times as likely to imitate the aggressive behaviour than those who were familiar with it; he claims that the novelty value of the doll makes it more likely that children will imitate the behaviour.
  • The effects of exposure to aggression were measured immediately, this experiment tells us nothing about the long-term effects of a single exposure to aggressive behaviour.
  • There are ethical problems with the study – exposing the children to aggressive behaviour and ‘frustrating them’ may have resulted in long term harm to their well-being.

Related Posts 

Laboratory Experiments – advantages and disadvantages

Milgram’s Obedience Experiment – is the other ‘classic’ psychology experiment which usually gets wheeled out for use in sociology.

Further Sources 

This post from Simply Psychology offers a much more detailed account of Bandura’s Imitative Aggressive experiment – NB if you’re an A-level sociology student, you don’t really need to know that much detail for this experiment, this link is just for further reading.

You might also like this video which summarises the Bobo Doll Experiment – although bewarned, it’s a bit cringeworthy

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The Illusion of the Equality of Opportunity

Marxist sociologists Bowles and Gintis argue that capitalist societies are not meritocratic. Against Functionalists, they argue that it is not the amount of ability and effort an individual puts into their education that determines how well they do, but rather their class background.

The simple reality is that being born into a middle class family means that middle class children benefit from material and cultural capital which give them an advantage in both school, and in the job application process, which gives them an unfair advantage compared to working class children.

However, the education system disguises this fact by spreading the ‘myth of meritocracy‘ – the idea that it is solely the ability and effort of the individual which determines the qualifications and the job they get, rather than their class background, and thus individuals end up blaming themselves for their failures rather than inequality of opportunity in the education system.

Intelligence, Educational Attainment and Meritocracy

Bowles and Gintis base their argument on an analysis of the relationship between intelligence (measured by IQ), educational attainment and occupational reward. They argue that IQ accounts for only a small part of educational attainment.

Bowles Gintis Myth Meritocracy

They examined a sample of individuals with a wide range of IQs and within this sample, they found a wide variation of educational attainment within that sample and concluded that there was hardly any relationship between the two variables.

Bowles and Gintis found a direct relationship between class background and educational achievement – the higher and individual’s class background, the higher their level of educational achievement.

So how do we explain the fact that individuals with higher IQs tend to have higher qualifications? they explain this as a by-product of length of stay in education – the longer an individual stays in education, they more their IQ develops. However, it is still family background which mainly determines educational attainment.

Bowles and Gintis also apply a similar analysis to the relationship between occupational reward and IQ – again, in their sample of average IQ individuals, there was a wide variety of incomes, which suggested there was no significant relationship between IQ and income.

As with educational success, what explains high income is family background – the combination of an individual’s class, gender and ethnicity are much better predictors of someone’s income rather than their IQ – educational qualifications are of much more value to the white, middle class male, than to the black, working class female.

Bowles and Gintis conclude that ‘education reproduces inequality by justifying privilege and attributing poverty to personal failure’. The education system effectively disguises the fact that economic success runs in the family, and that privilege breeds privilege. Bowles and Gintis thus reject the functionalist view that education is a meritocracy.

Related Posts 

The other major contribution Bowles and Gintis made to the sociology of education was their work on the hidden curriculum and the correspondence principle.

This is a summary post of the Marxist perspective on education which includes a briefer version of what’s in this post, and the one in the link above.

Paul Willis’ ‘Learning to Labour’ is often used to criticize the determinism found in Bowles and Gintis.

Sources used to write this post 

Haralmabos and Holborn (2013) Sociology Themes and Perspectives

 

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Ethnic Segregation in Oldham

In December 2016 Dame Louise Carey published a study into social integration and found that ‘high levels of social and economic isolation in some places, and cultural and religious practices in communities…. run contrary to British values and sometimes our laws’. Casey also found that, by faith, the Muslim population has the highest number and proportion of people aged 16 and over who cannot speak English.

ethnic divide Britain.jpg

According to a study published in 2016, Oldham has one of the highest concentrations of Muslims in the UK, but is one of the most segregated places in Britain, but just how segregated is Oldham? In 2017, Sarfraz Manzoor visited Oldham to find out just what ethnic segregation looks like today and how much potential for change there is. (Below is a summary of an article published in The Week, 24 June 2017.)

The Ethnic Divide in Oldham

Safraz spends some time with Imran, who runs a general store in Goldwick, part of Oldham that has one of the highest concentrations of Muslims in the country. He finds that every single on of the customers in Imran’s store is Asian, and Imran himself says that ”we are not mixed in – we don’t integrate. We don’t do it and it’s wrong’, and he also says that “if a white person were to walk down the street in the local area,  I swear nine out of ten people would crane their neck to at them.”

The Muslim community in Goldwick has its origins in Pakistan and Bangladesh and some of the outdated attitudes and traditions from over there have been imported into this country – some women are expected to walk yards behind their husbands and some men only take their wive’s out twice a year, on their birthdays and anniversaries.

Many members of the Pakistani community actually view Pakistan as ‘their country’, because that’s where their parents came from, a sense of identity reinforced by visits back to Pakistan, which is often the only other country in the world they’ve been to besides Britain.

The Fatima Women’s Association is about a four minute walk from Imran’s store where Manzoor meets with a dozen Pakistani and Bangladeshi women who are learning English. They are among 100 such women who attend thrice weekly English language lessons funded by BBC children in need.

fatima-womens-society-1.png
The Fatima Women’s Association

The problem with this initiative is that some of the women interviewed only want to learn English so that they don’t have to use an interpreter when, for example they go to the doctor, they don’t actually want their children to fully integrate with British society because there is deep apprehension, bordering on fear, of what English culture is and how it may damage their families –  they think English culture is drinking, partying, boyfriends, sex and tolerating things that are not allowed in Islam.

Not one of the women has a white friend and they limit their children’s freedom in similar ways, encouraging them to stick to Asian friends only so that they do not lose their culture.

Reasons to Be Hopeful 

While the above appears to paint a bleak picture of a high degree of ethnic segregation, there are reasons to be hopeful…

Firstly, even amongst the people Manzoor spoke to, stereotypes about white culture were being challenged, chiefly by those who worked with white people, suggesting barriers can be broken down.

Secondly, the degree of segregation found in Oldham is rare. Professor Eric Kaufmann, professor of politics and Birkbeck College, notes that 80% of the wards of Britain are 90% white, and what appears to be happening is that Asians are increasingly moving out of Asian only enclaves and moving to super-diverse areas. It appears that multicultural Hackney is more our future than segregated Goldwick.

Finally, there is the case study of Manzoor himself – who recognised a lot of Goldwick in his own upbringing, but himself ended up marrying a white woman and bringing up mixed race kids.

Initiatives to Increase Ethnic Integration 

A number of things are suggested which might promote integration 

  1. Providing more opportunities for minority women, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds
  2. Providing cross-cultural activities – such as shared cooking events.
  3. Setting up a buddy-system for women learning English as a second language
  4. Making schools more ethnically mixed, even establishing quotas
  5. Doing the same through the National Citizen Service.

Manzoor concludes the article by suggesting that the key to greater integration is to build a society in which everyone feels like it is their home, which in turn will require white culture to stop blaming all Muslims when there are fundamentalist terror attacks, and Muslims need to stop retreating into victimhood when anyone suggests there may be issues within their culture which need confronting.

 

 

 

 

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Sociology of Education – Good Resources

Useful sources of quantitative and qualitative data for teaching and learning about the sociology of education… with a focus on the United Kingdom. The point of this post is to provide a range of links to resources and ‘hub sites’ which are updated on a regular basis.

This page will be gradually populated with more links as I get the time to update it! Last update April 2018! 

Best Hub Sites (IMO)

The Institute for Education (IOE) – 25% of research into the UK education system takes place through the IOE. The link just above takes you to their research page where you can access details of a range of research on pretty much every aspect of education within in the UK.

institute for education

The Sutton Trust – established in 1997 the Sutton Trust’s main aim is to improve social mobility through evidence based research, programmes and advocacy. Most of its thorough, mixed-methods research is focused on the causes, consequences and experience of inequality of education opportunity.

Quantitative Sources of Data on Education

Official Statistics

Education and Training Statistics for the UK, Department for Education (link to 2016 Publication) – this document provides ‘the basic’ information on the UK education system – the number of schools, teachers, qualifications, basic info about levels of attainment and education expenditure. Published annually in November.

School Workforce in England – covers teacher numbers and pupil-teacher ratios in primary and secondary schools in England and Wales. Published annually in June.

Special Education Needs in England – details of children with special education needs, by type of need, and broken down by school type and gender (statistics derived from the ‘schools census’).

Participation in Education, Training and Employment by 16-18 year olds in England – produced by the DFS focusing on 16-18 education and training.

Other statistical sources of information about education

Education Datalabs – In their own words they are  ‘a group of expert analysts who produce independent research on education policy and practice’. The main pages (and thus the main topics under investigation) are devoted to school accountability, exams and assessment, pupil demographics, admissions, post-16 education and teacher careers.

Education Datalabs provides a number of excellent infographics on many of the above topics, and seems to be committed to open source research – they make their data and code available so that others can develop their research. BIG THUMBS UP for this site!

Education Infographics – A hub site for lots of useful infographics summarising stats on numerous aspects of education, especially the future of elearning.

The Association of Colleges produces a useful document of infographics focusing on colleges –‘Key Further Education Statistics’

Qualitative Sources of Data on Education

Some of the sources below also draw on and generate quantitative data, but to mind they mainly focus on using and generating qualitative data. 

TED Talks on Education – There seems to be something of a consensus within the TED community that education systems around the world are broken, and that the concepts of education and school need re-imagining somehow. The link just above takes you to ten talks from different speakers which all re-imagine school in some way… there’s lots to think about here, and plenty to criticise too.

Youth Employment UK – An organisation set up to help tackle youth unemployment in the UK. They work mainly with 14-24 year olds and aim to give every young person a voice. They produce their own research on what young people think about how well education is preparing them for work, and link to the latest research on youth employment produced by other, similar agencies.

 

 

 

 

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Bauman’s ‘The Individualised Society’ – A Summary of the Preface

It may sound odd doing a summary of a preface, but there is a lot of heavy stuff in here….

According to Bauman ‘Sociology can help us link our individual decisions and actions to the deeper cause of our troubles and fears – to the way we live, to the conditions under which we act, to the socially drawn limits of our ambition and imagination.’

This book just does this by exploring how Individualisation has become our fate, and by reminding us that if our anxieties are to be addressed, they must be addressed collectively, true to their social, not individual nature.

Lives Told and Stories Lived – An Overture

Bauman begins with Ernest Becker’s denial of death in which Becker suggests that society is ‘a living myth of the significance of human life, a defiant creation of meaning’ and that ‘Everything man does in his symbolic world is an attempt to deny his grotesque fate’ (his eventual death).

He now goes back to Durkheim and argues that connecting oneself to society does not liberate the individual from nature, rather it liberates one from having to think about one’s nature and that genuine freedom comes from exorcising the spectre of mortality (which is ever present when close to nature) by linking oneself to (a more complex) society. It is through society that one tastes immortality – you become part of something which was there before you were born, and which will continue after you die.

(At the individual level) knowledge of mortality triggers the desire for transcendence – and this takes two forms – either the desire to leave something behind, a lasting trace of yourself, or the desire to live gloriously now. There is an energy (?) in this desire which society feeds off – it capitalises on this desire by providing credible objects of satisfaction which individuals then spend time pursuing.

The problem with the economy of death transcendence, as with all economies, is that the strategies on offer are scarce – and so there must be limits to how resources can be used. The main purpose of a life strategy (which involve the search for meaning) is to avoid the realisation of the truth of one’s own mortality, and given that all the various life- strategies fall short of this ultimate need-satisfaction it is impossible to call one strategy correct or incorrect.

Two consequences happen as a result.. Firstly, there is the continuous invention of new life-strategies – industries are forever coming up with new strategies for death-denial. Secondly some people are able to captalise on the energy of the quest of death-denial and this is where we get cultural capital and hierarchy from.

So to date Bauman seems to be suggesting that there is a psychological need to escape facing up to our own mortality, and this is where society comes from. However because any life-strategy we adopt in the attempt to escape death is doomed to failure because all such strategies merely mask the truth of our own mortality which lurks in the background. Because of this, in truth, all such strategies are equally as valid (or equally as invalid) as each other. At the social level this then results in two things – a continues stream of new and improved life-strategies on offer to us from industry and secondly the emergence of cultural capital as those who are able to do so define their own life-strategies as superior which is where hierarchy comes from (and I guess this claiming of mythical superiority is also part and parcel of certain life-strategies of death-denial).

Pause for breath…. Bauman now goes on to say that…

However, just because all life-strategies are far from the truth of death-denial, this does not mean that all miss the targets by the same margin.

Some life-strategies on offer are the result of what Bauman calls ‘surplus manipulation’ of the desire to deny death.  These are at their most vicious when they are biographical solutions to systemic contradictions (following Beck) and rest on the fake-premise that self-inadequacy is the root cause of one’s anxiety and that the individual needs to look to themselves to solve this.

The result of this is the denial of a collective solution to one’s problems and the lonely struggle with a task which many lack the resources to perform alone which in turn leads to The result is self-censure, self-disparagement, and violence and torture against one’s own body.

I think the logic at work here is (a) Society is an invention which helps us deny death, however (b) in the post-modern age society falls apart – we find it harder and/ or it is less-rational to forge the kind of lasting bonds which will help us collectively deny-death (or strive for immortality to put in a positive phraseology) this results in (c) anxious individuals who are then (d) told by certain people in society (the elite – see below) that they need to find biographical solutions towards immortality (this is the surplus manipulation bit) but in reality this is impossible and so (e) this results in them killing or harming their social selves or actual physical bodies.

Bauman seems to be saying that, in the post-modern age some people, free of society, are thrown back on themselves, their true nature, and can’t handle it, they cannot deny-death alone, and so they kill themselves.

Bauman then goes on to say….

If we look at the whole life-story’ most of are simply not able to practice agency (articulation) – we are not free to simply construct of one set of relations out of another or redefine the context in which life is created. We may be able to do this in the realm of fashion or culture more generally, but not so with all aspects of of our lives.

To rephrases Marx – ‘People make their lives but not under conditions of their choice.’ It may be that we are all story tellers today, we all exercise reflexivity, but life is a game in which the rules of the game, the content of the pack and the way they are shuffled is not examined, rarely talked about.

The problem is that the individualisation narrative seems to assume that everything we do in our whole life is a matter of the choices we have made. This is, in fact, a narrative that only works for the elite who do have lots of choice – they have resources and are mobile and can use opportunities in today’s mobile age to their advantage.

This narrative, in fact, works for the elite, it is ideological – if everyone thinks everything is open to choice and their fate is their fault, this becomes a nice control mechanism – you don’t need panopticons when people are always trying trying trying and choosing choosing choosing.

Furthermore, what is often precluded in the individualised age are strategies which involve acting together to change the broader social conditions, which just further perpetuates the problem.

In other words if we wish to reduce human suffering and allow individuals the opportunity to get back to collectively denying their own death (or constructing their immortality) then people need to feel as if they can constitute society, at the moment the ideology of the biographical narrative serves to prevent people from realising this.

This book seems to aim to be a contribution towards bringing about greater genuine articulation (so it’s a shame you need to be educated well beyond graduate level to appreciate it)…..

As Bauman says towards the end of the chapter… ‘Genuine articulation is a human right but perform the task and the exercise the right in full we need all the assistance we can get – and sociologists can help in this by recording and mapping the crucial parts of the web of interconnections and dependencies which are kept hidden or stay invisible from the point of individual experience. Sociology is itself a story – but the message of Sociology is that there are more ways of living a life than is suggested by the stories which each one of us tells.’

Overall Comment

Very interesting to see Bauman starting with Becker – although he doesn’t seem to go back to him at the end of the section, so I really think he’s pushing the boat out a bit too far in terms of how much he tries to include in this introductory paragraph. It doesn’t hold together that well, and you have to read things into it to an extent to complete it, maybe that’s the point?

I’m not comfortable with the idea that society denying-death is OK because it is rational, and that our goal should be to get back to a situation where individuals are free to construct society and thereby get back to affirming themselves and thus denying their own death. This just strikes me as the equivalent of papering over the cracks of a deeper human suffering which The Buddha realised 3000 years ago.

There’s probably an interesting Buddhist response to this – but I’ll post that up when it emerges, which isn’t now, unless someone else gets there first. 

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Summary of Zygmunt Bauman’s ‘The Individualised Society’ (part 1/3)

Chapter One  – The Rise and Fall of Labour

This chapter explains that the decline of the labour movement is due the extraterritorial power of Capital.

The industrial revolution led to labour being uprooted from its age old link to nature and then becoming tied to capital in commodity form, thus it could be bought and exchanged. In the era of heavy modernity, where profit derived from Fordist/ Taylorist big scale heavy production, capital and labour were dependent on each other for their well-being and reproduction because they were rooted in place,  hence the historic power of unions and the welfare state. It was in everyone’s interests to keep labour in good condition.

All of the above gave rise to a long-term (and collective?) mentality– as illustrated in collective bargaining through unions and also through the fact that pretty much all nineteenth century thinkers thought that there would be an end point to constant change, even if the means and ends to reach that end point differed.

All that has changed now – we have moved from a long term mentality to a short term one. The features of work today are as follows:

  • Short term contracts – partners no longer intend to stay long in each others company.
  • Flexibility – work is like a high achieving sport (following Geert van der Laan) – the people in it work very hard, but fewer of us actually compete.
  • Working life is saturated with uncertainty – the nature of work is that anyone can be sacked at short notice with no warning signs, and the logic of promotions are less apparent.

Such uncertainties are a powerful indivdualising force – when work is like a campsite (not a home) there is little incentive to take an interest in the organisation, and thus solidarity is lost. We find ourselves in a time of weak ties (Grannoveter) or fleeting associations (Sennet).

This disengagement between capital and labour is not one-sided – Capital has set itself loose from from its dependency on labour, its reproduction and growth have become by and large independent of the duration of any particular local engagement with labour. Extraterritorial capital is not yet completely free of local ties – it still has to deal with governments but, paradoxically, the only way for governments to attract Capital is to convince it that it is free to move away – and to give it what it requires.

Speed of Movement (following Crozier) now seems to be the main stratifier in the hierarchy of domination – ideas are now more profitable than production, and ideas are had only once, not reproduced a thousand times, and when it comes to making ideas profitable the objects of competition are consumers not producers, and this is now Capital’s primary relation – thus the ‘holding power’ of the local labour force is weakened.

Thus (following Robert Reich) we now have four categories of economic activity –

  1. Symbol manipulators – For example those involved in the knowledge economy and marketers.
  2. Those who work to reproduce labour – Mainly teachers.
  3. Those who work in personal services – A whole range of things from Estate Agents to Hairdressers.
  4. Routine labourers – low skilled people who make things – these are the lowest paid and have the least secure obs because they expendable and they know it!

Following Peyrefitte, Bauman now characterises Modernity as an attempt to build confidence and trust – in oneself, in others and in institutions – Modernity did this and work was its primary vehicle – there was trust in the general frame – now this is gone – when de-layering and downsizing is the norm, people no longer invest in it – they would rather trust (e.g.) the fleeting stock market than the collective bargaining power of unions.

Pierre Bourdieu links the decline of politics and collective action to people’s inability to get a hold on the present (because without a hold on the present, we cannot get a grip on the future). This is especially true of today’s mass labourers who are tied to the local while capital is extraterritorial –  means they are apriori in an inferior position – when they cannot control capital, why would they engage with politics?

It is the passage from heavy to light modernity that provides the context for the decline of the labour movement. Other explanations are insufficient.

Summary/ commentary/ questions

In the postmodern era Capital has (and requires) more freedom of movement than in the modern era. The primary reason for this is the growth of consumer markets – rapidly changing tastes mean people buying and throwing away at a faster pace, and to keep up with this Capital needs to be able to shift itself around faster – free to drop old ideas and production practices as they become unfashionable or unprofitable.

As a result workers mass-labourers are powerless – they are rooted to place, as are national governments – both can only compete in a race to the bottom to try and make things as attractive as possible to globally mobile capital.

For such workers, their efforts are in vein – they are expendable and they know it, hence they are less likely to join unions and less likely to get involved in politics – neither of these make any sense when they don’t have a grip on the present – when they do not have any purchase on security of livelihood.

Speed of movement seems to be the main differentiating factor in the post-modern society.

NB – There are some workers who do OK out of these arrangements, mainly the ‘symbol manipulators’ but these have to be extremely adaptable to survive in the era of globally mobile capital!

Q: This could be an untestable theory? How does one measure the ‘mobility of Capital’ and its effects on employment?

Chapter Two – Local Orders, Global Chaos

Order is a situation where you can predict the probability of something happening. Some things are probable, some unlikely. Order suggests a degree of predictability, and it is order which gives rise to the confidence that you can engage in an action knowing what the outcome is likely to be – order boils down to the manipulating the probabilities of events.

The opposite of order is chaos – or a situation where there is always a 50-50 chance of any two events happening.

The manipulating of events and the production of order out of chaos is what culture does on a daily basis.  We speak of a cultural crisis if the order of culture is breached too often.

Culture also differentiates. This is because order is created by categorising, setting boundaries – Difference is the result of this order building activity

However, in every culture there are those who transgress boundaries, who do not fit, those who are ambivalent, and such ambivalences are unlikely to disappear because in reality no attempt to classify the complexities of the world are ever going to be able to accommodate the actual complexity of the world, and hence the more culture or order there is, the more ambivalence.

Culture may well be an attempt to distance chaos by creating order but the result is ambivalence (a self-defeating process!).

Because of their unsavoury yet intimate connections with the state of uncertainty,  the impurity of classifications, the haziness of borderline and the porousness of borders are constant sources of fear and aggression, and these are inseparable from order-making and order-guarding exertions (33)

Order is also important in the global power struggle – Imposing order onto others is one way of gaining power. The more routine and predictable one’s life is, the more order, the less power. Order is something the powerless suffer and which the powerful impose, whereas they themselves (the elite) are relatively free to move as they please.

The above logic is at work in globalisation – Globalisation is a world disorder – It is presented to us as chaotic (a genesis discourse) rather than predictable (a Joshua Discourse) and order is an index of powerlessness. The new global power structure is operated by the opposition between mobility and sedentariness, contingency and routine, rarity and density of constraints. Globalisation may be termed ‘the revenge of the nomads’.

Escape and volatility rather than ominous presence (like bureaucracy and the panopticon) are now the means of power. Normative regulation (which was costly) is no longer necessary in the age of flexibility – what keeps the precariat in check today is their vulnerability – They race to the bottom in an attempt to attract ultra mobile capital, aided in this by state policies of precariatisation. It is irrational for them to mobilise collectively because if they do capital will just take flight.

In terms of knowledge, space matters much less than it did in the past, and according to Paul Virillio, it doesn’t matter at all. In the age of instantaneous global communications, local knowledges which are based on face to face interactions and gatherings have much less authority. We get our information through cyberspace, and thus actual space matters less. However, for those doomed to be local, this is felt as powerlessness.

The elite used to accumulate things, now they discard them and have to be comfortable dwelling in chaos. Bill Gates is the archetype – constantly striving to produce new things in act of creative destruction. Chaos is thus no longer a burden in the culture of the elite, who experience it as play, but this is a curse for those lower down the order, who would wish to slow down the changes that are imposed on them as a result of the elites’ creative destruction.

Those who can afford it live in time, those who cannot live in space. For the former space does not matter, while for the later they struggle hard to make it matter.

Summary/ Comment/ Questions

Culture is an attempt to create order out of chaos – and in doing so it sets rules/ norms/ boundaries. However, this is a self-defeating process, because the result of order building is ambivalence – the more a culture becomes obsessed with order building, the more differentiation occurs, and the more scope for the established boundaries being transgressed.

Order is important in the global power struggle – the ability to impose order on others is a mark of power, to subject them to a routine, to limit them, while the ability to avoid having order imposed on you, to be free, is also a mark of power. Having order imposed is something the weak have done to them.

However, the elite no longer have to be present to impose order – they manage to do this by being free-floating – it is volatility which keeps people individualised and thus powerless and doomed to be local. (Limited to only certain types of freedom, but not the freedom to construct a more stable society).

Furthermore, local knowledges facilitated by face to face communications are undermined by global communications networks. This further undermines the ability of the precariate to act collectively.

Those who can afford it live in time, those who do not live in space.

Question – Doesn’t this somewhat overlook Glocalism – especially Permacultural elements of the green movement – albeit extremely fringe?

Chapter Three – Freedom and Security: The Unfinished Story of a Tempestuous Union

Starts with Freud – In order to be happy man must fulfil his desires (individual freedom) but he exchanges these in ‘civilisation’ for security, so that he can be free from the suffering of his own body, other men, and nature. Security is gained when the impulses are tamed and replaced with order in the form of culture which imposes compulsive (habitual) action on individuals. However this compulsive action restricts our freedom, and human life is a situation in which the urge for freedom constantly battles against the damn put up by culture.

In other words, there is a trade-off between the need for freedom and the need for security – we need both, but to get one we have to sacrifice the other, and the sacrifice of either results in suffering. It follows that happiness can only ever be a fleeting thing as we flit between too much freedom or too much security, and finding the best-trade off is an ongoing process.

Between the Devil and The Deep Blue Sea.

Alain Ehrenberg suggests that rather than unhappiness stemming from man’s inability to live up to cultural ideals, it is rather then absence of any clear ideals which results in a not knowing how to act, this is the source of mental depression – and not knowing how to act rationally in particular. This is the malady of our post-modern times.

Impotence and inadequacy are the diseases of our late modern, post modern times. It is not the fear of non-conformity but the fear of not being able to conform, not transgression but boundlessness which are our problems. (Unlike in modern times, big brother is gone and there are numerous Joneses who couldn’t care less about our quests for our ‘true selves’).

This is freedom, but the cost is insecurity, unsafety and uncertainty (Unsicherheit) – We have the freedom to act but we cannot know whether our actions will have the desired result, yet we do know that we will bare the costs for bad decisions.

Individually we stand, individually I fall.

Following Norbert Elias’ book title ‘The society of individuals’ – society consists of two forces locked in a battle of freedom and domination – society shaping the individuality of its members, and the individuals forming society out of their actions while pursuing strategies plausible and feasible within the socially woven web of their dependencies.

However, it is important to note that the process of individualisation is different today from modern times.

In modern times class divisions arose out of different access to the resources required to self-assert – The working classes lacked the means to do so and turned to collectivism to assert themselves, while the middle classes were able to be more individualistic – yet they generally responded to being disembedded through attempts to re-embed.

However, individualisation today is a fate and not a choice. In the land of individual freedom of choice the option to escape individualisation and not participate are not on the agenda. We are told that if we fail it is our fault, and we must find biographical solutions to problems which are socially created.

There is a difference between the self-asserting and self-sustaining individual and the individualised individual.

Can there be politics in the individualised society?

The Self-Assertive ability of men falls short of what genuine self-assertion would require – the choices we are free to make are generally trivial.

There are two consequences of individualisation for politics – Individuals by decree do not seek to solve their problems collectively, they just look to others for advice about how to cope with their problems (e.g. chat shows), and they tend to to view committing to acting with others as too limiting on their own freedom. Individuals by decree do not see engaging in public life as a duty, they tend to see it as an investment and only do so when they can get something back, and as a result the only thing individuals by decree tend to ask of society is minimal – to protect their bodies from danger and to protect their property rights.

Hence why networks are the new norm in the postmodern society – which consist of shallow connections (weak ties) as they are easy to access and easy to leave. As a result, in the individualised society the individual is not really a citizen because they have invested so little of themselves in that society.

Togetherness, individual style

The gap between the right of self assertion and the ability to influence the social settings which render such self-assertion feasible or unrealistic seems to be the biggest contradiction of second modernity, and we would do well to tackle this collectively.

Short termism and selfishness are rational responses to a precarious world – We have all been hit by global economic forces over which we (or seemingly no one else) has control, or we know someone who has (downsizing etc.) and so the rational response to this is to look to oneself, not invest in collectivism. No one seems to be discussing the fact that this uncertain world is human made, and that what we are dealing with is the ‘the political economy of uncertainty’.

The root of the problem is the flight of power from politics – capital is extraterritorial and politics remains rooted to space – and the political solutions to the problems mobile capital creates is yet more freedom for capital – because there is no global institution that is capable of doing the job of regulating it. No one seems to have any solutions!

When individals accept their impotence en masse (following Cornelius Castoriadis) – society becomes heteronomous – pushed rather than guided, plankton like, drifting, it is like people on a ship who have abandoned any attempt at steering the vessel, and so at the end of the modern advernture with a self-governing, autonomous human world, we enter the era of mass confromity

Making the individualised society safe for democracy

Democracy is an anarchic force – one best recognises democracy when it is complaining about not being democratic enough. Democracy is a constant battle to find the right balance between freedom and security. For most of modernity the fight has been for more freedom, now we need to focus more on security. However, the biggest danger of all is that we call off the fight to get the balance right by opting out of the social process (and engage with society only as indivduals).

What is to be done? We need global instituitons to limit the flow of capital, at the state level – basic income. However, a bigger question is who is to do it?

Summary, Comment and Questions

I think Bauman is trying to say too much in this section – It’s much easier to understand some of what he says by cutting out about a third of it and reording it….

Capital is freefloating and the average person’s job is more precarious, and there are no global or national institutions capabable of controlling International Capital (power, says Bauman, has departed from politics). Because of this, people see no point people getting involved in politics, and thus we no longer seek collective solutions to social problems and we only ask society to do the bare minimum for us.

In short, structural changes in the nature of Capitalism have altered the way we perceive politics – we now see it as pointless and thus we are no longer contributing to the construction of our society.

Instead, we seek biographical (personal) solutions to these systemic problems – . Rather than getting involved in long-haul politics, we limit our range of vision, our range of options to choosing how to better surviving or cope in this precarious world – we spend our time re-training, or improving our C.V.  (marketing) to make us more employable or promotable, for example. (Bauman says that selfishness and shortermism are a rational response to a precarious world). We are spured on by our efforts because we know that if we fail in our efforts we will be held responsible for the the consequences of our inability to keep ourselves employable.

The key thing here is that this limited range of choices we are choosing between is forced on us – we haven’t actively decided to not engage with society as political beings, the social structure has changed in such a way that politcs is now (objectively?) pointless, and we don’t know how to fix it, thus we narrow our range of vision to focussing on that narrow range of events we think we can control, and doing so, Capital becomes freer, and so our lives become even more unstable.

This is why Bauman says…. The gap between self-assertion and the ability to affect the social settings which make that assertion realistic (which is required for ‘genuine self-assertion’ ) is the biggest contradiction of second modernity.This is because what we are currently witnessing is individualisation by fate which falls well short of genuine self-determination – In general the choices we are free to make are relatively trivial.

Comment

Firstly, Interestingly, this theory does not depend on there being a false consciousness  – whether we fail to see that there are systemic contradictions which are causing this need to continually update ourselves to keep ourselves employable or whether we see it but simply cannot see any alternative is moot – the point is the important thing is whether or not we perceive the systemic contradictions, we KNOW that if we do not try we will be held responsible for our failure by society, and it is this ‘responsibilisation’ which is compelling us to keep on keeping on.

Secondly, I guess this links back to why Bauman perceives the decline of the Welfare State is so bad, because it’s very existence assumes that it is not our own fault that we sometimes might suddently find ourselves unemployed.

Chapter Four – Modernity and Clarity – The Story of a Failed Romance.

When reason tells us that the world is an uncertain place, indecision of the will is the result. Ambivalence is a mixing of the doubts of reason and this indecision of the will.

The more my freedom grows in terms of the greater the range of future possibilities, then the less grip on the present I have. The less freedom I have, the greater my grip on the present.

In considering freedom we need to consider the difference between the range of viable possibilities on offer, which possibilities I wish to achieve and my ability to achieve them. If the volume of possibilities exceeds the capacity of the will then restlessness and anxiety are the result, but if I lack the means to attain a possibility I desire then withdrawal is the result.

Freedom, Ambivalence and Scepticism seem to go together.

After a few pages outlining the historical development of sceptisism in philosophy, Bauman points out that modern sceptics were pretty much universally obsessed with order building, as exemplified in the popularity of order building – Modernity was fundamentally a legislative process.

The mission of modernity was (in Freudian terms) was to restrain the pleasure principle with the reality principle, or (in Durkheimian terms) to socialise the individual so that they would never want what they couldn’t achieve  and would want to do what was socially useful – real freedom meant to live like a slave (to one’s desires), society’s job was to get people to agree to acceptable freedoms and duties. In short, Modernity was about cutting the ‘I want’ down to the ‘I can’. Restricting people’s desires was the way Modernity dealt with the problem of ambivalence.

Or to sum up – The modern project was about society determining what freedoms were possible and then legislating and socialising so that people internalised these legitimate wants. Here we can see the origins of modernity’s totalitarian tendencies.

Two things in retrospect – this project has failed, and it has been abandoned. One reason this battle with ambivalence failed because the powers of creative destruction and the individual’s desires played second fiddle to the ‘objective’ constraints imposed on them.

Today it is desire itself which fuels social change – Needs creation seems to be the main thing which Capitalism does (following Bourdieu). The way we integrate into society is as consumers – and we can only integrate if our wants constantly exceed our current level of satisfaction. (The only exception to this is the underclass, but they are the minority – their wants are managed, limited).

(p68) The permanent disharmony between wants and the ability to achieve them is for the postmodern era functional – hence why we have a high degree of ambivalence in identity formation, social integration and systemic reproduction.

Today the market requires ambivalence and we are free to enjoy its wares, but we are unfree to avoid the consequences (downsizing etc.) because the only solutions on offer to help us deal with the downsides of the free market are market-solutions.

A second reason why modernity failed to tackle ambivalence is because modernity was always local, and it resulted in many localities with different solutions to ambivalence. Hence why we have neotribalisms and fundamentalism – these aim to heal the pain of ambivalence by cutting down choices – but the nature of these responses is that they are unpredictable.

The 300 year war against ambivalence is not over, it has just changed its form – it is no longer carried out by conscript armies but by guerrilla units which erratically erupt occasionally between the brightly lit consumer malls.

Summary, Commentary and Questions

When we have too much freedom, ambivalence is the result (ambivalence is a mixture of the doubts of reason (uncertainty over the probability of events) and the resulting indecision)

Modernity attempted to reduce ambivalence by order building – society determined what freedoms were necessary and desirable and then socialised people into thinking in this way – restricting their freedom, replacing the ‘I want’ with the ‘I can’. People’s desires came second to the social.

With consumer-capitalism, however, things are now reversed. Needs creation is the main thing Capitalism now does – profitability requires us to desire things, and once we have those things to tire of them quickly and desire new things. Fuelling Individual desire lies at the heart of modern Capitalism.

However, there is a growing gap between our growing (unfulfilled) desires and our ability to achieve them, and this creates ambivalence, which today is functional for Capitalism.

There is nothing in mainstream society that offers us an escape from this, nothing that offers us structure and certainty and a limt to our desires – at the level of social integration, we integrate as consumers, at the level of identity construction we must make choices based on consumption, and at the level of societal reproduction, this requires people to be consumers. The message is clear – you are free to consume, free to make a choices.

However, we are not free to escape from this because the only solutions to our confused state of having too much choice are market-solutions. This is why Bauman said we are compelled to make these choices, forced into making more and more choices by a system that requires us to make choices.

There are movements which offer alternatives to consumerism – Fundamentalisms and Neotribalisms – but these do not offer the possiblity for systemic reproduction because they tend to be local, and are thus only ‘guerilla movements’ between the brightly lit shopping malls which perpetuate ambivalence at the levels of the system and the lifeworld in general.

Commentary

Again I think Bauman here is extremely verbose – He’s basically saying that the system requires that we keep on buying and discarding, buying and discarding at ever faster rates and so we are sort of forced into making consumer choices. This ‘built in obsolence’ is the very basis of the system and it destabilises us, bewilders us, makes us uncertain of what we should be doing and uncertain of who we are.

I think Bauman maybe ignores elemts of the green movement and the anti-consumerist movement – these have the potential to resocialise people into constraining their desires on the basis of a global ethics of responsibility for the other, and do, in fact, specifically focus on how the local and the global intersect.

Chapter Five – Am I my brother’s keeper?

The concept of the welfare state has changed from being a safety net to a springboard. Its success is judged by the extent to which it renders itself unnecessary – by getting people back into work. The unspoken assumption behind this is that dependence is something which is to be ashamed of – ‘decent people’ simply do not entertain the idea of being on welfare.

According to Levinas, our starting point should be ethics – I am my brothers keeper, because his well-being hinges on what I do and refrain from doing. He is dependent on me. To question this dependence by asking the question ‘Am I my brother’s keeper’, asking for reasons why I should care, is to stop being a moral being, because morality hinges on (internalising?) this crucial dependent relationship.

The need of the other and taking responsibility for meeting that need is the cornerstone of ethics according to Levinas. This has been the basis of the Judaeo-Christian form for a long time, and the idea underpinned the welfare state, but this idea is now well and truly under attack.

The welfare state came into being because of a conflation of factors – simultaneously a result of ethical intentions, labour movement struggle, and the need to diffuse political tensions, but also because it was in the interest of both labour and capital. Both industry and the state benefited from having a reserve army of labour – because profit was derived from the number of people employed and state-power was derived from the size of the reserve national-army.

However, the nature of unemployment has changed today – They are not a reserve army of labour because downsizing means they are unlikely to be recalled by industry, and they have no social function – they are not needed for work and they are not useful as consumers – because the products they need are low profit and they cannot afford anything else. Hence the recasting of them as the underclass – society would be better off without them, so best to forget them! Free floating capital has no need to keep local-underclasses nourished. To illustrate this Bauman draws on Beck’s ‘The Brave New World of Work’ – only 1 in 2 Europeans have regular, full-time employment.

We hear nothing of people’s lives turned around by social security,  but we hear a lot about the minority of welfare scroungers. The underclass in popular imagination is demonised.

Why? Because the life of the average worker is fraught with uncertainty and anxiety – as is the consumer lifestyle he adopts — Ordinary life in short is miserable – Cynically the creating of an underclass whose lot looks miserable and who we can look down on – a life even worse than our own – makes us a little less miserable. However, they do get some stability – in the form of welfare cheques and it is this that the average flexible worker perceives – rather than their suffering on account of their not being able to access the many opportunities on offer. This also means the prospects for solidarity with the poor are slim. To the average person, the welfare state gets no support.

Because there is no rational economic reason for the welfare state, we should go back and make the ethical argument for it….. I am my brothers keeper, we are all dependent on each other and a society should be measured by its weakest link.

What moral duty implies is inherently ambivalent – it requires constant communication, it is not open to measurability (bureaucracy etc.) – It is always asking the question what is best for that person, what do they need, without me becoming a mere tool of that person, and how do we negotiate around things when our ideas about what is good comes into conflict with theirs.

To sum up – there is no rational reason to support the welfare state, but the ethical argument does not depend on rationality – it is its own starting point – It is better to live for other other, it is better to stand in misery rather than to be indifferent – even if this does not make a society more profitable. This should be the starting point!

I don’t think this needs any translating, for once just summarising it once makes it understandable.

Chapter Six – United in Difference

Many aspects of modern living contribute to a feeling of uncertainty – the feeling that the world in which we live, and the future is uncontrollable, and thus frightening – Thus we live today in a culture of ambient fear (following Doel and Clarke).

The things which contribute to this are as follows:

  1.  The capacity of the nation state to put things in order, to classify things and set the future has dramatically declined since the collapse of communism (this is basically the collapse of metanarratives applied to politics). Moreover the rest of the world does not look to the ‘civilisational centre’ (the developed world) for guidance any more. The main relation between the two seems to be that the rich supply weapons to facilitate numerous tribal conflicts – The New Barbarism might be an apt way to describe globalisation.
  2. Universal deregulation – the tearing up of all other freedoms other than those granted to capital – so that everything else gets subjected to the irrationality of market forces. The freedom of capital benefits from weak states – this is a new world disorder. The vast majority lose out in this process – inequality increases but it is not only the marginalised who are harmed, very few of us feel secure in our homes or our jobs – human rights do not extend to the right to a job, the right to social secuirty, or the right to dignity.
  3. The self-woven safety net of the family and the community, based on people connections and indigenous knowledges (connections for the sake of connections, with long term commitments) have been severely weakened – at this level of social integration we are increasingly dependent on technologies and the market, and so such bonds reflect the uncertainties inherent to these things. Also, we increasingly cast the other as sources of pleasure, asking what we can get from them, rather than what we can do for them.  4. Culture is soft and indeterminate – human connections are cast into successive encounters and Human identities are fragmented, a series of masks. Rather than our identity being like us building a house, it is rather that we put up a series of pre-fabricated buildings, tear one down and then put up another. The fragments of life do not necessarily relate to the other fragments… In our culture the art of forgetting is more useful than remembering.

These are some, not all of the features of postmodern life which result in uncertainty – anxiety.

Modern cities are places of perpetual strangers – Strangers are by definition messy, they do not fit in with your system of order – and thus cities are patchwork places in which no one will feel comfortable everywhere. The chief stratifier in the modern city is the extent to which you have freedom of movement – the extent to which you can avoid the areas you don’t want to go into and get to the areas where you do want to get to. In other words, city dwellers are stratified by the extent to which they can ignore the presence of strangers.

For the better off the messiness of strangers can be avoided – For those in the suburbs, strangers are an occasional pleasure when they want to interact with them, and those who provide services for them. For the poor, however, dealing with strangers cannot be avoided, and they are experienced as a threat to their sense of orderliness. They live in areas where they are not able to choose, and lack the money to escape, so they vent their frustrations in other ways – everything from racism to riots for example. Following Cohen, people feel as if they are losing their sense of home because of the stranger (but the strangers are not the real cause of course, they are just a symptom).

Bauman now proposes  that specific forms of postmodern violence stem from the privatisation, deregulation and decentralisation of identity problems – the dismantling of collective institutions through which people can come together means people no longer discuss what the root causes of their shared identitity problems might be.

We have an opportunity here – of bringing to a conclusion the disembedding work of modernity – now the individual has been set free, we can move beyond nationalism and tribalism and rethink what it means to live as humanity – and here the rights of the stranger are fundamental. This will be an involved process… the sole universal guiding principle should be the right to choose one’s identity as the sole universality of the citizen/ human – we should celebrate this,and then work on how unity might be achieved with this new diversity. However, there is also ample scope for the balkanisation of politics and tribalism as a response.

We tend to see strangers as either exotic pleasure sources or as exaggerated threats… and this in turn stems from polarisation of wealth and life chances, but also of the capacity for genuine individuality… until we sort this out the detoxification of strangers and a move forwards to genuine new global concepts of citizenship are a long way off.

Commentary

I guess it’s passages like this that demonstrate Bauman’s Late rather than Post-modern attitude to a postmodern world – there is still hope for the future!

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What are the Most Useful Indicators of Development?

There are hundreds of economic, political and social indicators of development, ranging from ‘Hard’ economic indicators such as Gross National Income (and all its variations), to various poverty and economic inequality indicators, to the Sustainable Development Goals, which focus much more on social indicators of development such as education and health, all the way down to much more subjective development indicators such as happiness.

In this blog post I consider what the most useful indicators of development are for students of A level sociology, studying the excellent module in global development.

I’ve thus selected the indicators below to try and represent:

  • the most commonly used indicators collected by some of the major development institutions, both multilateral agencies such as the World Bank, as well as NGOS.
  • The indicators you need to know for the ‘indicators of development topic – most obviously GNP, the HDI and the MDGs.
  • Other indicators which are useful to know for different sub-topics within the global development course (health, education, gender, conflict, the environment etc…)

Taken together these indicators should provide enough breadth of measurements to gain a very good (for A level standards) insight into the level of development of a country, without resulting in information overload and mental meltdown…

Most of the above indicators below have been developed and are monitored by either the World Bank or the United Nations, but I’ve also included others, such as the Global Peace Index, which are collated by other agencies, so as to broaden out the data sou

The indicators I consider in more detail below are as follows.

  1. Total nominal Gross Domestic Product
  2. Gross National Income per capita (PPP)
  3. The percentage of people living on less than $1.25 a day
  4. The percentage of people living below the poverty line within a country.
  5. The unemployment rate.
  6. The Human Development Index score
  7. Progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (overlaps with many other aspects)
  8. School enrollment ratios
  9. PISA educational achievement rankings
  10. Percentage of population in tertiary education.
  11. The infant mortality rate.
  12. Healthy life expectancy
  13. The gender inequality index
  14. The global peace index
  15. Total military expenditure
  16. Carbon Dioxide emissions
  17. The corruption index
  18. The Happiness Index.

NB – As with many other posts on this site, this is a work in progress, to be gradually updated as and when I get a chance!

Nominal Gross National Income

Nominal Gross National Income is the total economic value of domestic and foreign output by residents of a country.

It roughly works out like this: Gross National Income = (gross domestic product) + (factor incomes earned by foreign residents) – (income earned in the domestic economy by nonresidents).

Nominal Gross National Income rankings (2015)

  • 1st – USA = $17 trillion
  • 2nd –  China – $$10 trillion
  • 6th – UK = $2.8 trillion
  • 7th – India = $2.0 trillion

Nominal GNI is useful for giving you an idea of the ‘economic clout’ of a country compared to other countries. The real global power players (in terms of military expenditure) are all towards the top of this.

These figures, however, tell you very little about the quality of life in a country…. for that you need to divide the figure per head of population and factor in the cost of living in the country….

Gross National Income Per Capita (PPP)

Gross National Income Per Capita – is GNI divided by the population of a country, so it’s GNI per person.

(PPP) stands for Purchasing Power Parity – which alters the raw GNI per capita data to control for the different costs of living in a country, thus modifying the GNI figure in U.S. dollars to reflect what those dollars would actually buy given the different costs of living in different countries.

Gross National Income Per Capita (PPP) rankings (2013)

  • 1st – Qatar – $123 000
  • 11th – United States – $53 000
  • 23rd – Finland – $38 000
  • 27th – United Kingdom – $35 000
  • 126th – Nigeria – $5360
  • 127th – India – $5350
  • 185th – Democratic Republic of Congo – $680

More up to date data sources for various GNI stats:

GNI per capita (PPP) gives you a general idea of what the general economic standard of living is like for the average person in a country, however, there are serious limitations with this indicator – the main one being that it does not tell you how much of that income actually stays in a country, or how income is distributed. Quality of life will thus be a lot better for some people, and a lot worse for others than these gross statistics indicate.

The Percentage of People Living on Less than $1.25 a day

There are still around 800 million people around the world living on less than $1.25 a day (PPP), the figures for some of these countries are below:

  • The Democratic Republic of Congo (88%)
  • Bangladesh (47%)
  • India (26%)
  • China (6%)

Looking at absolute poverty statistics like this gives us a much fuller understanding of the lack of development in certain countries – in DRC, you can clearly see that poverty is endemic (absolute poverty is a significant problem in many Sub-Saharan African countries), and we can also see that absolute poverty is still a significant problem in India (mainly rural India) and while the 6% is quite low in China, this 6% represents 10s of millions of people, given the large overall population size.

Proportion of population living below the poverty line within a country

The UN sustainable development goals states that one of its aims (under goal 1) is to ‘reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions’. (Source – The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals)

The United Nations collects this data for countries will lower human development, but not for countries with high human development, and so here we are reliant on data from national governments or other agencies  – and the problem here is that different countries measure their ‘poverty line’ in different ways, so this means making cross national comparisons are difficult. Some sources are below:

Selected Stats on the Proportion of People Living Below the Country’s own poverty line:

  • Most low income countries with high absolute poverty rates register percentages of between 30-60% living below their own poverty lines.
  • The USA has 15% of its population living below its poverty line (a household income of around $24000 per annum)
  • The UK also has around 15% of its population living below its poverty line, although its line is higher than the US – around $30000.

So how useful is this ‘relative measure of poverty’ as an indicator of a country’s level of development?

  • They give us far more insight than the GNI per capita PPP figures, because they tell us about income distribution. Can you really call a rich country developed if 15% of its population aren’t earning enough of an income to fully participate in that society?
  • We also need them as an addition to the absolute figures of poverty – absolute poverty doesn’t exist in the wealthiest countries, but clearly relative poverty does.
  • HOWEVER, the differences in how relative poverty figures are calculated does make it difficult to make comparisons.
  • Also, some figures in the UN’s data just don’t seem believable – some ex-communist countries (such as Kazakhstan) report that only 5% of the population live below the country’s poverty line – either than line is extremely low or there’s maybe a little bit of mis-reporting going on?

The Human Development Index

The Human Development Index is compiled annually by the United Nations and gives countries a score based on GNI per capita, number of years of actual and expected schooling and life expectancy, or in the words of the UN itself – the HDI is ‘A composite index measuring average achievement in three basic dimensions of human development—a long and healthy life, knowledge and a decent standard of living.’

Selected Countries by Human Development Index rankings (2015)

  • 1st – Norway
  • 8th – United States
  • 14th – United Kingdom
  • 24th – Finland
  • 32nd – Qatar
  • 39th – Saudi Arabia
  • 55th – The United States
  • 56th – Saudi Arabia
  • 90th – China
  • India – 130th
  • 137th- Bhutan
  • 176th – DRC

For the strengths and limitations of the HID, please see my aptly titled post: ‘the strengths and limitations of the Human Development Index’.

Percentage of children enrolled in secondary school

The Gender Inequality Index

The United Nations defines the Gender Inequality Index as ‘A composite measure reflecting inequality in achievement between women and men in three dimensions: reproductive health, empowerment and the labour market’.

More specifically, it gives countries a score between 0-1 (similar to the HDI) based on:

  • The Maternal mortality ratio: Number of deaths due to pregnancy-related causes per 100,000 live births.
  • The Adolescent birth rate: Number of births to women ages 15–19 per 1,000 women ages 15–19.
  • Proportion of seats held by women in the national parliament expressed as percentage of total seats.
  • The proportion of the female population compared to the male population with at least some secondary education
  • The comparative Labour force participation rate for men and women.

2015 Gender inequality index rankings

Selected countries according to their rankings for the Gender Inequality Index

  • 1st – Slovenia
  • 11th – Finland
  • 39th – The United Kingdom
  • 55th – The United States
  • 56th – Saudi Arabia
  • 97the – Bhutan
  • 127 – Ghana
  • 130th – India

The obvious strength of this is that we get to compare the life chances of women in a country to those of men. What’s (maybe) surprising is that while there does appear to be a general correlation between high GNI per capita (PPP), high human development and low gender inequality, the correlation is not perfect: as is evidenced by the USA being just one place above Saudi Arabia and Ghana being just a few places above India, despite these two pairs of countries having quite divergent levels of ‘human development’.

Notes 

Composite Versus ‘Single Variable’ Indicators

Some of the indicators above are ‘composite’ indicators – which are formed when individual indicators are combined into a single index, giving countries a simplified score, such as the Human Development Index, the Gender Empowerment Index and the Global Peace Index; others are ‘single variable’ indicators – such as the Child Mortality Rate, which just measure one thing.

My reasons for considering both composite and single indicators of development are that while composite indicators crunch more data into a single figure, and thus allow you to make more ‘in-depth’ snap-shot comparisons, single numbers simply don’t give you a sense of the real difference between countries, so these are necessary to highlight the extent of the difference between countries in terms of economic, social and political development, or lack of it.

(1) of course, studying development comparatively may or may not, in itself be useful!

 

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Tony Sewell – explaining black boys’ underachievement

A few details of Sewell’s explanations for the relative underachievement of British Caribbean boys

Against people like David Gilborn, he argues that it’s ¨not  teacher Racism! He says there are ¨Multiple causes – Mainly out of school –

  • Lack of legitimate opportunities to get a good education!
  • Poverty
  • High proportion of single mother households
  • Cultural Deprivation –
  • Anti-school peer group pressure – gang culture
  • Poor schools – ethos of low expectation
  • Low teacher expectation (rather than racism) – linked to their knowledge about what’s going on outside of school ¨
  • All of this results in lack of self belief – an ‘Oxford’s not for me ‘attitude!

Sewell also says that black boys suffer from a  lack of social capital (contacts) He also, says, NB – it’s about class and gender as much as race!

Sewell’s argues that the solution to black boys underachievement is to provide them with strict schooling that demands high expectations and, as far as is possible, provide them with positive opportunities that middle class students get through their social and cultural capital that middle class students ; effectively he says that if we do this, then this should make up for the disadvantageous they underachieving boys face. Importantly, Sewell, does not seem to accept that disadvantage is an excuse for failure.

Sewell runs the ‘generating genius’ programme – aimed at improving the educational opportunities of disadvantaged students –

Details of Sewell’s  Experiment –  ‘Generating Genius Programme  -how to raise black boys’ achievement
The aim of generating genius was to get 25 black boys, all from failing schools, interested in science and engineering. Starting in 2006, at age 12-13, these boys spent three or more weeks of their summer vacation working alongside scientists at some of Britain’s top universities, such as Imperial College. Sewell claims that these boys got amazing GCSE results, and now that the first wave have had their university acceptances, at least 3 have made it into Oxford and Cambridge.

Sewell argued that Generating Genius worked because it established the right ethos and high expectations – which effectively combated the disadvantages that his students black boys faced – They also created a ‘science crew’ or a learning crew’ – imitating gang mentality (relevant for boys!) and exposing these children to universities at an early age – made them think ‘university is for me!’ and provided the contacts necessary to get them into those unis.

There are lots of limitations to this’ experiment’ – just a few include –

  1. Lacks representativeness – very small sample of ten boys!
  2. Lack of control of variables means we don’t actually know why the boys improved so much – was it due to the contacts, or did they try harder because this was a unique project and thus they felt ‘very special’? (a problem of reliability)
  3. Ignores white working class underachievement (worse than A-C working class!)
  4. Girls also excluded

I also wonder whether or not Sewell’s work really gets to the root of the problem – Class inequality! Summer schools for black boys funded by charities cannot compete with the advantages the upper middle classes give to their children by sending them to £16000/ year prep. Schools such as Sunningdale. Also, Even if you provide fair and equal opportunities for black boys surely Racism in wider society will still disadvantage them as a group compared to white boys?