Sociological Perspectives on HS2

Sociological perspectives on HS2 – functionalism, marxism, interactionism, feminism and post-late modernism.

The conservative cabinet recently gave approval for the full HS2 rail line to be built, linking London to Birmingham, and later to Manchester and Leeds.

The estimated cost will be £100 billion, meaning the final cost will probably be nearer $200 billion. I know we live in a supposedly postmodern age, but the one certain thing is that private construction companies will find a way to go well over their budget when working on major public infrastructure projects.

I got to thinking what the green light for this project suggests about different sociological perspectives.

Functionalism and HS2

At a very basic level, you could argue this is a ‘functional’ project as it’s improving different connectivity across England, and supporters point to the economic benefits this project will bring to the economy: jobs in the short term and then more business (supposedly) to the North in the long term.

It’s also a very modernist project: it’s big, bold and done at the level of the nation state, and it’s about promoting economic growth.

Marxism and HS2

Marxists tend to argue that government policies which benefit the wealthy are more likely to get the go ahead than those that benefit the poor. Call be a Marxist cynic, but when I heard of a new high speed rail line between London and the North being built my first thought was ‘well that’ll be nice for city commuters’, now the can all cash in their 1M homes in the SE and buy a much larger home up north and a Monday -Thursday flat in London.

We could also be critical of this project in terms of the North-South divide – a lot of people in the North would rather we spent £200 billion over the next five-ten years on improving travel infrastructure just in the North.

A super fast rail line to a few cities up North isn’t going to benefit that many people (other than city commuters) if you can’t then get anywhere else because the local roads are still congested and the local public transport links are irrational?

I can’t imagine this project benefiting anyone in the bottom sixth of society, the kind of people who generally can’t afford to travel.

Feminism and HS2

I can’t see that much relevance in applying Feminism other than to mention that this project does seem to be very much a boys thing. I’m sure every single person I’ve seen talking in favour of it is a man.

I have, however, seen lots of women protesting against it, at various local sites where the rail is going to uproot local communities and destroy local woodlands.

Interactionism and HS2

I don’t think we can understand why this project is going ahead without taking into account the symbolic meaning of it for Boris Johnson and Brexit.

This isn’t just a physical infrastructure project, giving HS2 the green light at this point in British history is also a sign that ‘Britain can go it alone’, that ‘Britain’s building for the future’, that Britains ‘gearing up for business’ – and a whole load of other slogans are no doubt going to be attached to this by the political class for the next decade.

And it’s also a nice little personal legacy for the PM himself.

Postmodernism/ Late Modernism and HS2

On the surface there’s nothing postmodern about it this project – it’s very modern and ‘national’, however if you look into what companies are involved with constructing, and in the future running HS2, this will no doubt be a global effort.

HS2 is also a symbol of divisions in our late modern society – with half the population being against it, the other half being for it. This is hardly promoting value consensus!

One also has wonder whether building better travel connections ‘for business’ makes sense when work is changing so it’s more remote, with more people working from home.

It’s also a reminder of the challenges of politics in a Late Modern age – we simply don’t know whether this will end up being a good investment, but in the context of uncertainty politicians just have to make decisions and stick to them!

In conclusion

I’m sure HS2 is primarily being built so Boris Johnsons’s city buddies can have a better quality of life, it’ll make it feasible for them to buy a nice house up north and a flat in London and then do the Monday to Thursday commute, then go have a nice long weekend up North.

So if you’re looking for an investment, buy a house in Birmingham, Manchester or Leeds now! This isn’t financial advice!

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