Zygmunt Bauman’s Liquid Modernity – A Summary of Chapter One

Postmodern MarxismA brief summary of Zygmunt Bauman’s Liquid Modernity, chapter one. A level sociology labels Bauman as a postmodern Marxist.

Chapter One – Emancipation

The chapter begins with Marcuse’s complaint (writing in the 1970s) that most people don’t see the need to be liberated from society, and of those that do, relatively few are prepared to take action towards liberation, and most of those have little idea of how a more liberated future might be different to our current situation. 

Next Bauman outlines his conception of liberation, noting that ‘to feel free means to experience no hindrance, obstacle, resistance or any other impediment to the moves intended or desired’. He then argues, following Schopenhauer, that feeling free from constraint means finding a balance between one’s wishes (or imagination) and the stubborn indifference of the world to one’s intentions. This balance might be achieved in two ways – through either expanding one’s capacity to act or through limiting one’s desires (imagination).

Distinguishing between these two strategies of emancipation makes possible the distinction between subjective freedom (to do with how one perceives the ‘limits’ to one’s freedom), and objective freedom (pertaining to one’s capacity to actually act). This highlights the fact that people may not be objectively free but feel free because they either fail to realise they are not free, or, more worryingly for Bauman, because they dislike the idea of freedom given the hardships that come along with that freedom, which brings him onto the ‘mixed blessings of freedom’. 

(P18) The mixed blessings of freedom

This section begins with an episode from the Odyssey in which Odysseus manages to trap a sailor who had been turned into a hog by Circe. Odysseus (through the use of a magical herb) manages to release the sailor from his bewitchment. However, the released sailor, Elpenoros, is far from grateful and complains:

So you are back you busybody? Again you want to nag and pester us, to expose our bodies to dangers and force our hearts to take ever new decisions? I was so happy, I could wallow in the mud and bask in the sunshine, I could gobble and grunt and squeak, and be free from doubts… Why did you come? To fling me back into the hateful life I led before?’

Bauman now poses two questions (NB this isn’t that clear from the writing!) – firstly, why has freedom been slow to arrive? Secondly, when freedom does arrive, why is it so often seen as a curse?

Bauman explores one type of answer to the first question, which is that men are not ready for freedom. These types of answer tend to be accompanied by either pity for the men duped out of their freedom or anger at the masses unwilling to take up their liberty. Such answers are also accompanied by attempts to explain why men do not perceive the need to be free, with the blame being laid variously at a modern culture which replaces ‘having’ with ‘being’; the embourgeoisement of the underdog, or a culture industry which makes us thirst for entertainment rather than spiritual fulfillment.

A possible answer to the second question (the answer that Elpenoros would have given) is that men are not prepared to face liberty because of the hardships it brings. This type of answer criticises libertarian notions of Freedom such as those outlined by the likes of Charles Murray in which happiness is related to individual resourcefulness. Murray argues that what fills an event with satisfaction is that ‘I’ did it, but this is flawed, Bauman points out, because being thrown back on one’s own resources also portends a paralysing fear of risk and failure without the right to appeal and seek redress.

On a personal note, I would generally agree with this critique of libertarian notions of freedom. The thought of working on projects such as moving house, or clearing my allotment,or, on a larger scale, building an eco-village are much less daunting, and actually only made possible with the co-operation of others.

Bauman now draws on the legacy of Hobbes and Durkheim to argue that we are right to be sceptical about the benefits of libertarian notions of freedom. He seems to sympathetic with the Durkheimian idea that a degree of social coercion is actually an emancipatory force. To quote Durkheim:

The individual submits to society and this submission is the condition of his liberation. For man freedom consists of deliverance from blind, unthinking physical forces; he achieves this by opposing against them the great and intelligent force of society, under whose protection he shelters. By putting himself under the wing of society, he makes himself also, to a certain extent, dependent upon it, But this is a liberating dependence, there is no contradiction in this.’

In other words, there is no way to achieve freedom other than to submit to the norms of society – the individual needs society to be free. Total freedom from society means a perpetual agony of indecision and uncertainty about the will of those around you, whereas patterns and routines condensed by social pressures give us road markings, inform us how to act, and give us a sense of certainty in this life.

Bauman now outlines arguments which support the view that an element of routine is necessary, citing Fromm’s notion that we need certainty, Richard Sennet’s notion of character, and Giddens’ concept of habit.

Having established that the individual needs social norms, some sense of routine to ground himself, Bauman rounds of this section by introducing one of the central problems of living in a postmodern society – that such norms and routines are much less stable than they once were. Citing Deleuze and Guatari’s and Alain Touraine’s ideas he points out that the time has come when we no longer have a social definition of the self, and individuals are expected to define themselves in terms of their own psychological specifity and not society or universal principles.

The individual has already been granted all of the freedoms he could have ever dreamed of, and that our social institutions are more than willing to cede the worries of self-definition to individuals, while universal principles which might guide our lives are hard to find.

Bauman rounds off this section by suggesting that Marcuse’s pining for communitarianism is outdated because there is no social aspect in which we can re-route the individual, all that is left is the psychologist’s couch and motel beds. The individual has become disembedded and there is nowhere to re-embed.

(p22) The fortuities and changing fortunes of critique

Bauman’s main point here is that our society is still hospitable to critique, but the focus of critique has shifted from criticising society and positing viable ways of changing that society to  criticising ourselves and our life-politics. Today, we are reflexive beings who constantly question what we are doing and express dissatisfaction with various aspects of our lives.

The problem is that at the same time as us becoming more self-critical, we have lost control over the agenda which shapes our life-politics. Our reflexivity is shallow, it does not extend in any meaningful sense to our having control over the system in which we are embedded.

Bauman now provides a ‘caravan park’ analogy to describe the way we tend to interact with society today. According to Bauman, we are mostly content to limit our concerns to what goes on in our own individual caravans, and we only want to engage with other caravan dwellers occasionally and in a non-committal manner, reserving the right to up and leave when we choose. We only ever complain about the caravan park when certain services break down, such as the electricity or water supply, otherwise we are happy to let it run itself, without feeling any need to to commit to it, or question the way it is run.

This is very different to the type of social engagement that was the norm when Adorno developed his critical theory. At that time, Bauman suggests, many more people treated society as if it were their house, and acted within it as if they were permanent residents who could, if necessary, alter the structure of that house.

Moving onto one of the central themes in Bauman’s work, he now argues that this changing mood of critical engagement with society (or lack of it) is because of the shift from heavy to light modernity which has resulted in a profound transformation of public space and, more generally, in the fashion in which the modern society works and perpetuates itself.

Bauman notes that heavy modernity was endemically pregnant with the possibility of totalitarianism – the threat of an enforced homogeneity, the enemy of contingency, variety and ambiguity. The principal icons of the era were the fordist factory, with its simple routines, and bureaucracy, in which identities and social bonds meant nothing. The methods of control in this period were the panopticon, Big Brother and the Gulag. It was in this period of history that the dystopias of Orwell and Huxley made sense to people (which they no longer do) and that the defense of individual autonomy and creativity against such things as mass culture offered by critical theory appealed to a wide body of citizens.

However, in liquid modernity, we are no longer constrained by industry, bureaucracy and the panopticon, and Orwell’s dystopia no longer seems possible. Liquid Modern society, however, is no less modern than it was 100 years ago, because it is still obsessed with modernising, with creative destruction… with phasing out, cutting out, merging, downsizing, dismantling, becoming more productive or competitive, and, just as with heavy modernity, fulfillment is always somewhere in the future.

But two things make the Liquid Modern Era different to the Heavy Modern Era: –

Firstly, the end of the idea of perfectibility: we no longer believe that there will be an end to the process of modernisation – it has become a perpetual process.

Secondly, we are now expected to find individual solutions to our problems. Gone is the idea that reason applied to social organisation can improve our lives, gone is the ideal of the just society. No longer are we to solve our problems collectively through Politics (with a capital P), but it is put upon the individual to look to themselves to solve their life-problems, or to improve themselves.

(p30) The Individual in Combat with The Citizen

Bauman starts off with something of a homage to Norbert Elias (and fair play, History of Manners was a terrific read!) for shifting the dualist sociological discourse of self-society to one which focuses on a ‘society of individuals.’

Casting members as individuals is the trade mark of modern society and this casting is an activity re-enacted daily. Modern society exists in its incessant activity of ‘individualising’. To put it in a nutshell, individualisation consists of transforming human identity from a given into a task and charging actors with the responsibility for performing that task and for the consequences (also the side effects) of their actions.

Bauman now points to another difference between heavy and liquid modernity. In the period of ‘heavy modernity’, having been disembedded from previous social-locations, people sought to re-embed themselves in society, through, for example, identifying as a member of a stable social class. By contrast, in today’s modernising society, we have no stable beds for re-embedding, we just have musical chairs, and so people are constantly on the move. In the liquid modern world, there is no end of the road, nowhere for us to ‘re-embed’.

Having established what individualisation is, Bauman now goes on to make three further points –

  1. In the age of liquid modernity the option to escape individualisation and to refuse to participate is not on the agenda -Individualisation is not a choice – to refuse to participate in the game is not an option.

  2. In the Liquid Modern society, how one lives becomes a biographical solution to systemic contradictions – risks and contradictions go on being socially produced; it is just the duty and the necessity to cope with them which are being individualised.

  3. A gap is growing between individuality as fate and the ability for genuine self-assertion. The self-assertive capacity of men and women falls short of what genuine self-constitution would require..

Bauman now distinguishes between the citizen and the person – the former seeks their well-being in the city (read ‘society’), while the later is unconcerned with collective well-being. and basically makes the argument that part of individualisation is the ending of citizenship.

Another unfortunate aspect of the Liquid Modern era is that, rather than being used to discuss public issues, public space is brimming with private problems – where people’s individual problems and their individualised biographical solutions are discussed, without any consideration of the social conditions which gave rise to those problems.

Bauman rounds off this section by pointing out that in today’s society, the chances of being re-embedded are thin, and this means that new communities are wandering and fragile, and he alludes to the fact that newly-emerging networks with low commitment are not sufficient to empower individuals.

 He ends with a rather bleak quote from Beck ‘On the Mortality of Industrial Society’… ‘

What emerges from the fading social norms is naked, frightened aggressive ego, in search of love and help. In the search for itself and an affectionate sociality, it easily gets lost in the jungle of the self.. Someone who is poking around in the fog of his or her own self is no longer capable of noticing that this isoloation, this solitary confinement of the ego’ is a mass sentence’.

(p38) The Plight of Critical Theory in the Society of Individuals

The modernising impulse means the compulsive critique of reality, and the privatisation of that impulse means compulsive self-critique, and perpetual self-disaffection. It means that we look harder and harder at how we can improve ourselves.

I’m in two minds about what to make of Bauman’s idea of perpetual disaffection – On the one hand I’m impressed by the sympathy for the basic plight of the individual – it is, after all, an experience of the perpetual suffering that accompanies the human condition; on the other hand I’m concerned that what Bauman’s going to try and argue later on is that this disaffection will disappear once individuals gain some greater degree of control over the process of their self determination. In Buddhism, the fact the individual seeks to self-determine in the first place is the source of the disaffection, so this won’t be remedied through merely reinventing one’s relations with one’s social context (although this is part of the process in Buddhism – through right livelihood) – this disaffection is probably better seen as individuals en mass realising their true nature – and this needs a deeper solution, which will combine the various factors found in the Noble Eightfold Path.

The problem with this is that there are no ‘biographical solutions’ to systemic contradictions – except for imaginary ones, and as a result, there is a need for us to collectively hang our fears on something – and so we scapegoat ‘strangers’, and go along with moral panics, it is these kind of fears which fill the public space voided of properly public concerns.

The job of critical theory is now to repopulate the public sphere – to bring back politics with a capital P – to bring back the two groups of actors who have retreated from it – The person and the elite.

People do not engage because they see the public sphere as merely a space in which to private troubles without making any ‘public connections’. The elite meanwhile now exist in ‘outer space’ and remain for the most part invisible, their favourite strategic principles being escape, avoidance and disengagement.

The job of critical theory is to figure out how to empower individuals so they have some level of control over the resources which they require for genuine self-determination.

(p41) Critical Theory Revisited

Bauman starts with a section devoted to Adorno’s view that the act of thinking is itself freedom, but that any attempt to give thoughts a market value threatens the genuine value of thought.

He then talks about the tension between ‘the cleanliness of pure philosophy’ – drawing on the notion of the withdrawn intellectual contemplating life and refining systems of thought and the problem of then applying the ‘truths’ found to the ‘dirty business’ of getting involved with the world of politics as one attempts to enact one’s ideas. He essentially argues that thought in isolation from society is useless – In order for it to have any value at all, thought has to be applied to society.

Bauman concludes this section by pointing out that the unfortunate corollary of this is that whatever truths come to power will inevitably be tainted by those in power.

(p48) A critique of life-politics

In this summative section Bauman points out again that it is up the individual as an isolated actor to themselves find individualised solutions to social problems… He points to a range social situations, from us being called upon to adapt to neoliberal flexibalisation at work, to our efforts in seeking romance, and he rounds of my reminding us that any search for liberation today requires more not less public sphere, so any critical theory today must start from a critique of life-politics – a critique of the paucity of individualised solutions to systemic contradictions.

Zygmunt Bauman

Part Two – Individuality

Part Three – Time/ Space

Part Four – Work

Part Five – Community

Bibliography

Bauman, Z (2000) Liquid Modernity, Polity Press.

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Why Nations Fail: A Summary

Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty (2013) by D. Acemoglu and J.A. Robinson

why nations failOverall Summary

Developed countries are wealthy because of ‘inclusive economic institutions’ – Basically a combination of the state and the free market in which:

  1. The state creates incentives for people to invest and innovate through guaranteeing private property rights and enforcing contract law.
  2. The state enables investment and growth through providing education and infrastructure..
  3. The state is controlled by its citizens, rather than monopolised by a small elite. Crucially, there needs to be a democratic principle at work in which people in politics establish institutions and laws which work for the majority of people, rather than just working to benefit the rich.
  4. The state also needs to maintain a monopoly on violence.

 

In contrast to those countries which develop ‘inclusive economic institutions’ which encourage development, the authors suggest the opposite ‘extractive economic institutions’ (think corrupt dictator and his clique stashing money into a Swiss bank account) can generate growth in the short-term, but in the long term result in poverty.

They also suggest that there has been ‘a vicious circle’ at work in many underdeveloped countries over the last three to four centuries: Extractive institutions were first established by a colonial power (typically built on already existing internal extractive institutions), which, on independence, became even more extractive under postcolonial rulers, which in turn lead to civil war as competing factions fought for control over the extractive institutions – which then led to a decent into chaos and failed states. The authors see little hope for such countries.

In contrast, developing countries such as the US and the UK have benefited from three to four centuries of a virtuous circle in which institutions have become gradually more inclusive, which has created increasing incentives for entrepreneurs and economic growth.

The authors come to this conclusion through a number of comparative studies of countries which are in close geographical proximity to each other such as

  • Mexico/ America
  • South/ North Korea
  • Botswana/ Zimbabwe

They argue that the crucial difference between these pairs of countries is the institutional infrastructures which have been established through the last few decades/ centuries, and it is this that explains their relative development/ underdevelopment.

The gist of the book is, handily enough, covered in the intro and chapter one….

Introduction

Countries such as Egypt are poor becuase they have been ruled by a narrow elite that have organised society for their own benefit at the expense of the vast mass of people. (This also applies to North Korea, Sierra Leonne, Zimbabwe)

Countries such as Great Britain and The United States are wealthy because their citizens overthrew the elites who controlled power and created a society where political rights were much more broadly distributed, where the government was accountable and responsive to its citzens and where the great mass of people could take advantage of economic opportunties. (This also applies to Japan and Botswana).

Chapter one – so close and yet so different

Starts with a comparison of the two sides of Nogales, half of which lies in Arizona, in the US, the other half in Mexico.

Nogales inequality

In the Arizonan half the average income is $30 000 U.S dollars, the majority of adults are high school graduates, the roads are paved, there is law and order, most live until over 65. In the Southern half, the average income is three times less and everything else is similarly worse.

The authors point out that the difference cannot be because of environment or culture, it must be because of politics and economic opportuntities.

They also argue that in order to understand the difference, you need to go right back to early Colonialism in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Mexico was the first to be colonised, under a system of slavery and extraction. In the 15th century, the Spanish basically used already existing systems of slavery to their own benefit and extracted mountains of gold and silver, leaving a legacy of elite-governance and a dearth of politcal rights for the majority.

In North America, settled by mainly the English 100 years later, the absence of slavery amongst indiginous populations and much lower population densities meant that slave systems simply would not work, although this didn’t stop them trying for the first twenty years or so. Eventually, however, the orginal settler company (The Virginia company) back in England realised the only way colonialism was going to work was to provide incentives for the settlers – So they offered them land in return for work. It was this that set the basis for the democratic constitution and congress of the US, which then went on to create problems for the English government.

The rest of chapter goes on to argue that the next 300 years of history are crucial to understanding why the US is now so wealthy, and why most of Latin America is so poor.

America has had 300 years of political stability, where poltical institutions control economic institutions, at least to an extent (the authors cite the breaking up of the Microsoft Monopoly as an example) broadly making them work for everyone. Other factors such as the patent system, credit systems, and education provide opportunities for anyone to make it rich and enjoy the benefits of the wealth.

By contrast in Latin America (Mexico), up until the 1990s most countries saw political turmoil and a series of dicatorships where a series of small elites ruled for their own benefit. This instability has lead to the rise of monopoly power, and it acts as a disincentive for anyone to try and do well and become rich (the next dictator might just take all your money away), also lack of finance and education prevents competition anyway.

Crucially, historical good fortune appears to be central to explaining why a country is rich now, so figuring out how a current poor country can develop is not that straight forward if a culture of monopoly, corruption and lack of political rights are the norm…..

Chapter three – the making of prosperity and poverty

This chapter contrasts North and South Korea, divided along the 38th parellel after world war two. In the late 1940s these had similar levels of development, today, however, their economies have diverged.

South Korea has living standards 10 times higher than North Korea, the former being similar to Portugal, the later similar to sub-saharan African countries. People in North Korea also live ten years less than those in South Korea.

North and South Korea at Night
North and South Korea at Night

The differences cannot be explained by anything other than institutions.

In the South, private property and markets were encouraged (albeit by dictators initially) and thus investment and economic growth were encouraged. At the same time, the government invested in education and new industries took advantage of a better educated population.

In North Korea, privated property and markets were banned, and a centrally planned economy instigated. This simply led to stagnation.

Extractive and Inclusive economic instiutions

Countries differ in their economic success becasue of their different institutions – the rules influencing how the economy works and the incentives that motivate people. Crucial is private property rights – which needs to be backed by the state…. In South Korea, people know that they will be rewarded for their efforts, in North Korea, there is no incentive to innovate and invest because the state will expropriate the benefits of any such initiatives.

In order to develop a society needs to have ‘inclusive economic institutions’ – A state that guarantees prosperity for the massess – Such a state provides a degree of infrastructure that is necessary for economic growth – for example enforcing private property rights, contract rights for all, not just a minority, and providing education and physical infrastructure such as roads. Private enterprise uses and needs such institutions.

What doesn’t work for development is extractive insitutions – where the state is used to extract wealth from one subset of the population to another…. Such as slave and colonial systems (and the Tories in the UK today?)

Engines of Prospertity

Education for the masses is crucial for innovation in an advanced technological world – This is what all developed nations have, and what many undeveloped nations lack. Education needs to be well financed and parents need to have the incentive to send their kids to school.

Inclusive and extractive political institutions

A state needs to be inclusive for economic growth to occur – that is, it needs to both be chosen by its citizens and have a centralized control over legitimate violence.

Extractive political and economic insituttions tend to support eachother (which then means the masses don’t support them…. there is disincentive!)

Why not always choose prosperity?

The simple fact is that where technological change is the engine of economic growth, this means social change, and with change there are winners and losers… Thus existing elites may resist changes that make institutions more inclusive even if this means greater prosperity for all, because it will mean less prosperity for them. (Think industrial revolutions in Europe).

The long agony of the Congo

The Congo has not developed since independence because it has not been in the interests of the ruling elite to build a centralised state which includes all voices, or in their interests to use the state to provide public services which will benefit the masses – instead the institutions remain extractive.

As an independent polity, Congo experienced almost unbroken economic decline and poverty under the rule of Jospeh Mobutu between 1965 and 1997. Mobutu created a set of highly extractive economic insitutions. The citizens were impoverished but Mobutu and the elite around him (known as the Grosses Legumes or The Big Vegetables) became fabulously wealthy. Mobutu built himself a palace at his birthplace, Gbadolite, with an ariport large enough to land a supersonic Concord jet, a plane he frequently rented from Air France for travel to Europe. In Europe he bought castles and owned large tracts of the Belgian capital Brussels.

The simple truth is that if Mobutu had introduced more inclusive economic institutions he would not have been as rich.

Growth under extractive institutions

Growth can occur under extractive instiuttions – as in Russia and South Korea at first and China today but this is unlikely to be sustained unless both economic and political insitutions become inclusive.

Chapter twelve – the vicious circle

The authors paint the vicious circle as starting off with extractive institutions established by a colonial power (which builds on previous extractive institutions), which, on leaving, becomes even more extractive under corrupt post-colonial rulers, which in turn leads to civil war as competing factions fight for control over the extractive instittions – which then leads to a decent into chaos!

1914 - British Colonies in Red
1914 – British Colonies in Red

Or in more detail… The British Colonial Authorities built extractive instititions which many post independence African politicians were only too happy to continue in order to enrich themselves. This happened in countries such as Sierra Leone, Ghana, Kenya and Zambia. The postcolonial rulers used their wealth to build personalised security forces which were answerable to them and also to rig elections – money thus became essential to maintain power, with only those who have money able to maintain power. This creates incentives among the opposition to depose the existing leaders in order to gain power and wealth themselves, and to protect themselves from being killed off by the said existing leaders. The point here is that power has become an end in itself rather than as a means to developing a country.

This is best illustrated through the example of Sierra Leone –

All of the West African nation of Sierra Leone became a British colony in 1896. The British identified important rulers and and gave them a new title – paramount chief. In Eastern Sierra Leone, for example, they encountered Suluku, a powerful warrior king, who was made Paramount Chief Suluku.

In 1898 the British tried levying a hut tax of five shillings, which resulted in a civil war known as the hut tax rebellion. It started in the north, but was strongest and lasted longest in the South.

In 1904, the British stopped construction of a railway line from Freetown to the North East and instead diverted it south, to Bo, in Mendeland, to give them quick access to put down this rebellion.

When Sierra Leone became independent in 1961 the British handed power to to the SLPP, which attracted support from the South, and in 1967 this party lost the election to the opposition party, the APC which drew support from the North.

Though the railway line was initially established to rule SL, by 1967, its role was economic – it allowed transportation of the country’s exports – coffee, cocoa, and diamonds, which came mostly from Mendeland in the south.

The then leader of the APC, Siaka Stevens, who drew his political support from the north, ripped up the railway line and sold off the track and rolling stock in order to weaken the oppostion in the south and consolidate his political power. This decimated the SL economy, but when it came to a choice between consolidating power and economic growth, the consolidation of power won out. Today, you can’t take the train to Bo anymore.

There is continuity between Colonial rule and Steven’s government – both extracted wealth from the people.

The Colonial rulers did this through agricultural marketing boards – farmers had to sell their goods to these boards, which typically paid much less than the market price (impovershing farmers and enriching the elite). When Stevens took power, he kept these marketing boards in place, but it got worse – under colonial rule, the colonialists extracted about 50% of the value of agricultral products, under Stevens, the rate of extracting rose to 90%.

Along with marketing boards, the old system of Paramount Chiefs remain in place today…. They control local politics at the village level, and local land rights and taxation – Paramount chiefs are elected, but only members of the ruling house can stand – and in 2005 the victor was Sheku Fasuluka, King Suluku’s great, great grandson.

The combination of these two institutions means there is very little incentive for farmers to increase productivity – because they have insecure land rights due to the paramount chief system and are the victim of extractive insitutions in the form of the marketing boards.

Thirdly, there was the control of the diamond mines – The British essentially set up a monopoloy for the entire country and handed it to DeBeers in 1936, and shortly after independence, Stevens simply nationalised this arrangement, through which he effectively personally controlled 51% of the diamonds in SL.

Stevens used his vast fortune to buy political influence and to set up his own private security forces – the ISU (known locally as the ‘I Shoot You’ and the Special Security Division – known as Siaka Steven’s Dogs).

All of this set the scene for the brutal civil war, outlined below….

Chapter 13 – Why Nations Fail Today

In the year 2000 Zimbabwe held a national lottery for everyone who had kept more than 5000 Zimbabwean dollars in their bank account (following a period of hyperinflation). The fact that it was Robert Mugabe who won this lottery just goes to show the extent of his control over Zimbabwe’s institutions and just how extractive those institutions had become.

mugabe corruption zimbabwe

The most common reasons nations fail today is because they have extractive institutions – and Zimbabwe illustrates the economic and social consequences of these…. By 2008 its per capita income was half that when it gained its independence, and 2009 the unemployment rate stood at 94%.

The roots of the political and economic instiututions lie in the colonial period. Orginally apartheid institutions were establised for a white elite to extract wealth from the country, but when Zimbabwe gained its indendence, these institutions were simply maintained by Mugabe. Eventually (because of lack of inclusivity) his support waned until by the year 2000 he had to find further resources to buy political support – so he expropriated the farms owned by white people and when that wasn’t enough he printed money, which led to massive hyperinflation.

Nations fail today because their extractive institutions do not create the incentives to save, invest and innovate. In many cases politicians stifle economic activity because this threatens their power base (the economic elite) – as in Argentina, Colombia and Egypt. In the cases of Zimbabwe and Sierra Leone this led to total state failure and economic stagnation. The countries in which this has happened include…

  • Angola
  • Cameroon
  • Chad
  • DRC
  • Haiti
  • Liberia
  • Nepal
  • Sierra Leone
  • Sudan
  • Zimbabwe

And the civil war, mass displacement, famines and epidemics that accompany them… in terms of development many of these countries are poorer today than they were in the 1960s.

A children’s crusade…

This section outlines the causes of the civil war in Sierra Leone. The authors put this down to decades of extractive institutions by the tyrannical APC government (the economy was collapsing by 1985, and they use the example of the TV transmitter being sold by the minister of information in 1987 and in 1989 the country’s main radio antena collapsed, ceasing radio transmissions.) By this point, the army had been dispanded because of the ruling elite feared it might overthrow them, which meant by the time Charles Taylor’s RPF crossed the boarder in 1991 there was no one there to stop them…. And then that brutal and chaotic civil war carried on for a decade – in which competing factions competed over resources in order to keep fighting each other – diamonds/ children (soldiers) and weapons.

Charles Taylor
Charles Taylor

So in summary, the historical precendent of the SL civil war is extractive institutions… the hollowing out the state to the point that was incapable of fending off rebels.

The authors now go on to outline three other countries which have suffered from different types of extractive institutions – Colombia, Argentina and Egypt, and then Uzbekistan…. a country languishing under the absolutism of a single family and the cronies surrounding them, with an economy based on the forced labour of children….

Child Cotton Labourers in Uzbekistan
Child Cotton Labourers in Uzbekistan

Cotton accounts for 45% of the exports of Uzbekistan. When the country was created in 1991, its first and still only president Islam Karimov, divided up the land among farmers, but each was required to devote at least 35% of their land to cotton, a valuable export crop. However, because the farmers themselves receive only a fraction of the world market price of the crop, they had no incentive to maintain, let alone invest in, cotton harvesting machinery.

No matter, however, because the country has turned to children to harvest the cotton, and every September-November the schools are emptied of approx. 2.7 million schoolchildren. Teachers, instead of being instructors, become labour recruiters.

Each child is required to pick between 20-60KG a day, depending on age, and the lucky ones who live close to their allocated farms can walk or bus to work, but the unlucky ones have to sleep over in sheds, with no toilets or wash facilities. And it’s BYO food.

While the market price for cotton was $1.40 in 2006, the children were paid somewhere in the region of $0.01 per kilo.

All of this has come to pass because Karimov has established a regime where opposition is repressed and there is no free media or NGOs allowed.

Why do nations fail?

What all of the countries loooked at in the book have in common is that they have an elite who have designed economic instiututions in order to enrich themselves and perpetuate their power at the expense of the vast majority of people in society.

Despite differences the bigger picture is that in each of these countries extractive political institutions that have created extractive economic insitutions which transfer wealth and power toward the elite.

The solution is to transform the extractive institutions into inclusive ones…

Chapter fourteen – breaking the mould

This chapter looks at three case studies – Botswana, The South of America, and China, which all managed to move from, or negotiate their way around (in the case of Botswana) extractive to inclusive political institutions which encouraged econonomic development.

Of particular interest to me is the case of Botswana – which today has the same level of development as some Eastern European countries, despite being as poor as most of the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa in the 1960s (at which time there were less than 100 graduates in the entire country).

What’s especially interesting about Botswana is that in that particular region of Africa a broadly inclusive political system was in existence pre-colonialsm – in the sense that any individual could rise up to become head of one the various different chiefdoms in the region, and so chiefdom was not hereditory, it was meritocratic, and someone could only be chief with the will of the people. Thus the principal of ruling with the will of the people, and on behalf of the people had been established for generations.

Another factor which promoted development was the fact that the English weren’t particularly interested in Botswana. In fact in the 1890s, three Twsana chiefs visited England and negotiated with the government to be part of a British Protectorate (different to a colony) – In return for protecting the region against Rhode’s South African expansionary policies (the guy who colonised Zimbabwe and Zambia, and look how they turned out!) all Enlgand wanted was enough land to build a railway in order to open up the intererior. For this the Twsana were pretty much left alone, crucially unextracted and without interefering institutions which had been set up to allow the extraction to take place.

Also signficant is that, following Colonialism and the discovery of diamonds, the Tswana chiefs passed a law that all diamond wealth was to be national property, rather than giving the rights to individuals or Corporations (like neoliberals would claim should be done, and like what happened in Sierra Leone). The effect of this was masses of public money which was then used to pay for public services. Hence development……

Something else emphasised in this chapter is that in all three cases certain key actors made important decisions at crucial junctures in the country’s history (when an existing leader died, such as Mao, creating a power vaccum, or when Independence was gained in Botswana) – The decisions taken at these crucial points in history in these countries involved either fighting the power of entrenched elites (as in China) or establishing laws which would prevent political corruption (like nationalising the diamond supplies in Botswana) – it was these decisions, in contrast to decisions in countries like Sierra Leone where a national railline was sold off to benefit an elite, which led to economic development.

Chapter 15 – understanding prosperity and poverty

The most interesting section of this concerns the predictive power of the theory – which is limited given the role of agency and contingency in said theory. However, the authors do predict that…

America and Europe are likely to get even richer than countries in most of the rest of the world, because these are the most inclusive institutions (I’d beg to differ given Tory Policy). Nations that have undergone no signficant state centralisation such as Afghanistan, Somalia and Haiti are unlikely to witness any development. Some Latin American countries are set two grow – most noteably Brazil, Chile Mexico as are some African countries – Tanzania and Ethiopia for example. Growth will not be sustained in China.

The irresistible charm of authoritarian growth…..

This section reminds us that modernisation theory is flawed – economic growth (more Mcdonalds as Thomas Friedman might put it) does not necessarily lead to to more inclusive political institutions.

Plenty of repressive regimes have pursued and achieve very rapid economic growth in the last 60 years – Germany, for example, Russia, and China.

This chapter also deals with what probably won’t work in terms of development… Firstly, any attempt at engineering policy changes such as those attempted by neoliberalisation throughout the 1980s and 90s – Because if a country is politically corrupt, they just subvert the policy changes – Privatisation happens, but the people winning the contracts are the brothers of the ministers for example, or the country says it implements a policy but they just carries on as normal!

You can’t engineer prosperity

…because the actors within developing countries are constrained by their institutions, and if these are extractive then any programmes designed to engineer change will ultimately result in further extraction.

This is true of two approaches to foreign aid preferred by the West – both the neoliberal ‘restructure your economy’ type approach and the micro-economic approach which focuses on specific institutions.

The failure of foreign aid

As above, any aid money going into a country with extractive institutions will ultimately end up being extracted. The authors do argue, however, that even if only 20% of aid money reaches its ultimate destination then it’s worth it!

What works….?

The chapter and book round off by going back to the English and US revolutions which resulted in institutions becoming more inclusive – what is required for development is a plurality of voices demanding to be heard by government and actually being heard. This cannot be imposed from above, but seems to have to become from below.

In this sense, any attempt to engineer growth and provide aid seem pointless – the only things that make any sense are programmes oriented towards empowerment and making sure media is free because the later fosters the former.

Thoughts and comments….

Positives

The comparative analysis of countries and territories in close geographical proximity does seem to rule out the role of environmental and cultural factors in explaning divergent patterns of development, leaving only political and economic institutions.

It fully recognises the importance of the legacy of extraction identified by dependency theory, however, it also puts more emphasis on the already existing extractive institutions which the early colonisers extracted and it recognises the continuation of extraction post-colinalism, acknowledging the fact that corrupt elites also play a role.

This seems to deny the validity of neoliberal theory – the state seems to be crucial in helping development, and the absence of the state seems to be crucial in explaining the descent into chaos and civil war.

This isn’t a deterministic theory – it stresses the importance of agency and contingency at crucial historical junctures.

Limitations

This is  quite a generalist analysis – ‘extractive’ and ‘inclusive’ institutions are very general, broad terms, and there’s lots of variation possible within these voluminous concepts.

The book only draws on a relatively few case studies – and lacks the statistical rigour of, for example,  Paul Collier’s Bottom Billion Theory.

The book doesn’t seem to deal with the globalised context of the nation state today within a ‘world system’ – There is no mention (as far as I can see) of the role which TNCs, trade rules, the World Bank might play in allowing a global elite (rather than nationalised elites) to extract regions of the world.

As a final word, what’s maybe most timely (or not timely?) about the book is its suggestion that some kind of political infrastructure which allows a plurality of voices to be heard and wealth to be distributed so it benefits all is crucial to development – it’s time more of us started asking how we might do this at a global, rather than a national level.

Further Reading

The blog based around the book

Giddens – Modernity and Self Identity Chapter Two

A brief summary of Anthony Giddens’ Modernity and Self Identity – chapter two – in which he focuses on the psychological aspects of identity

Chapter 2 – The Self – Ontological Security and Existential Anxiety.

An account of self-identity should be based on a stratified model of the psychological make-up of the individual.

(Following Wittgenstein) to be human is to know what one is doing. Reflexive awareness is characteristic of all human action, and most people when asked can give a discursive account of why they are doing what they are doing.

The social conventions which are produced and reproduced through social interaction are reflexively monitored by individuals. However, much of what allows us to ‘go on’ with our daily lives is carried on at the level of practical consciousness – this is non-conscious, bound up with the taken-for-granted routines of daily life. We do not ‘keep in mind’ most of what we do most of the time, we just act in ways because they are conventional, we do not question many of our social conventions.

Ontological Security and Trust

Following Garfinkel, we interact in accordance with a number of conventions which essentially bracket out existential questions and allow us to ‘go on’ – we bracket out questions about the nature of time, space, continuity, identity and the self, which are fragile constructs, because if we were to subject the premises of our day to day assumptions about our attitudes to such things to philosophical enquiry, we would find that such ideas lack stable foundation.

Practical consciousness, with its day to day routines, help bracket out existential questions so that we are freed from a level of anxiety and so that we may ‘go on’ with life. We need to invest a level of trust in these routines so that we may be free from anxiety and are actually capable of living in the world. Trust involves both an emotional as well as a cognitive commitment to certain forms of practical consciousness.

Following Kierkegaard – dread and anxiety are a fundamental part of the human condition, and we need to develop a sense of trust in something in order to ‘go on’. Developing trust in routines is fundamentally tied up with the interpersonal organisation of time and space.

Giddens now switches to the development of personality in infants – he seems to be arguing that infants need to develop a ‘protective cocoon’ which is basically a bracketing out of all the things that could harm the security of the individual, which is provided by the caregiver in the early stages of life – in this sense the protective cocoon is an unreality. As well as needing the security of the protective cocoon, infants also need to be creative enough to develop an independent sense of self, a sense of space between themselves and caregiver.

Anxiety and Social Organisation

Acquiring routines and learning how to act are constitutive of an emotional acceptance of the reality of the external world, and are a pre-requisite of developing self-identity. We all develop routines for the sake of our ontological security.

Anxiety has to be understood in relation to the overall security system the individual develops. Its roots lie in the separation of the infant from the caregiver. Anxiety is a natural part of life and much of what we do can be seen as developing coping mechanisms to overcome anxiety – such as civil indifference in public spaces, and the various rituals associated with day to day life in public spaces.

Existential Questions

To be ontologically secure is to possess, on the level of the unconscious and practical consciousness, ‘answers’ to fundamental existential questions.

Anxiety stems from human liberty. Freedom is not a given characteristic of the human individual, but derives from the acquisition of of an ontological understanding of external reality and personal identity. The autonomy which human beings acquire derives from their capacity to be familiar with events outside of their immediate settings – anxiety (following Kierkegaard) is ‘the possibility of freedom’.

There are four existential questions which the individual must answer (not cognitively, but through being in the world, at the level of practical consciousness and the unconscious). These are questions to do with:

  • Existence and being

  • Finitude and human life

  • The experience of others

  • the continuity of self-identity.

It is the later which I’ll go into here:

What exactly is self-identity? It is not something that is just given, but something that has to be routinely created and sustained in the reflexive activities of the individual…. Self-Identity is the self as reflexively understood by the person in terms of her or his biography.

It is easiest to analyse SI by looking at cases where an individual’s identity has been fractured (following Laing) – where individuals either lack a consistent feeling of biographical continuity, or are paralysed in terms of practical action because of an external environment full of changes (experiencing an inner deadness) or feel a lack of trust in their own self integrity.

A normal sense of self-identity has all three of the above – a sense of biographical continuity, a protective cocoon of practical consciousness which ‘filters out’ several options of how to be in the world and finally there is sufficient self-regard to sustain a sense of the self as ‘alive’ –a feeling of being in control of things in the object-world, at least to a certain extent.

Self-identity is reliant upon the capacity to keep a particular narrative going, and presupposes the other elements of ontological security. Self-Identity is both fragile and robust and the form and content of keeping a narrative going differs enormously in late modern society.

Body and Self

The self is embodied, and in contemporary society the body is of particular importance in keeping a self-narrative going – such that we have developed regimes of control, most notably diets.

Motivation (Shame)

Shame is anxiety about the integrity of the narrative through which one sustains a coherent biography. Shame (or rather its avoidance) takes over from guilt as the primary ‘motivator’ in late-modern society – Shame is to do with integrity of the self, guilt is to do with wrong doing.

Shame derives when we cannot live up to the vision of the ideal self – when we fail to achieve our goals, but also when trust is violated and we have to go back to those fundamental questions such as ‘where do I belong’ or ‘who am I’?

Pride (of which narcissism is the extreme expression) is the opposite of shame, and derives when we have a lack of worthwhile ideals to pursue.

Giddens: Modernity and Self-Identity – Introduction and Chapter One (A Summary)

modernity and self identityAnthony Giddens is one of the world’s leading sociologists and one of the main critics of Postmodern thought – and should be taught as part of the second year A level Sociology module in Theory and Methods. Below is a summary of one of his major works – Modernity and Self-Identity (the introduction and chapter one). 

Introduction – An Overview of the Whole Book –

Modernity is more complex and interconnected than ever before and modern institutions are more dynamic than at any previous point in history – at both an institutional level and in terms of how they impact on the individual and intimate life.

In modernity there is an increasing interconnection between two extremes – the global and personal dispositions (extensionality and intentionality).

The new mechanisms of self-identity shape and are shaped by the institutions of modernity and Sociology is a fundamental part of the institutional reflexivity of modernity.

There is a basic dialectic between modern institutions which encourage the repression of ‘living out’ existential questions in day to day life and the emergence of life-politics which seeks to manifest them.

Late Modernity has the following characteristics:

  • It is more intensely reflexive.

  • There has been a profound reorganisation of time and space – disembedding mechanisms change the nature of day to day social life.

  • It institutionalises radical doubt – all knowledge takes the form of a hypothesis – claims which may be true are always potentially open for revision such that the self has to be continuously (re-) made amidst a puzzling array of possibilities.

  • In circumstances of uncertainty and multiple choice the notions of risk and trust become central. Trust is necessary to form a protective cocoon so that we may ‘go on’ with our day to day life. Risk is also central – in modernity the future is continuously drawn into the present by means of the reflexive organisation of knowledge environments. Modernity makes some areas of life safer, but also opens up new risks.

  • The influence of distant happenings on proximate events become more and more common place – the media is common place and is what binds us together in this (against hyperreality).

  • Because of all of the above ‘lifestyle’ becomes central – reflexively organised life planning becomes a central feature of the structuring of self-identity, which normally presumes a consideration of risks as filtered through contact with expert knowledge.

  • The Pure Relationship is the main type of relationship.

  • Re-skilling becomes central to life.

  • The construction and control of the body becomes central.

  • Science, technology and expertise play a more fundamental role in the ‘sequestration of experience’. The overall thrust of modern institutions is to create settings of action ordered in terms of modernity’s own dynamics and severed from external criteria’ – as a result action becomes severed from existential questions.

  • Mechanisms of shame rather than guilt come to the fore in late modernity. Narcissism and personal meaninglessness become the main problems of self-development – ”authenticity’ is frequently devoid of any moral anchoring.

  • Yet the repression of existential questions is not complete – and life politics emerges in response.

  • Baudrillard confuses the pervasive impact of mediated experience with the internal referentiality of the social systems of modernity – these systems become largely autonomous and determined by their own constitutive influences.

  • The construction of self identity does not float free – class and other divisions can be partially defined through differential access to opportunities for self-actualisation.

GIddens Late Modernity

Chapter One – The Contours of High Modernity

Starts with the example of divorce to illustrate the gist of the chapter.

The experience of intimate life is not separate from social life. High modernity demands that we continually remake ourselves, and so it is with many relationships – as evidenced in the persistent high divorce rate, which is simply a consequence of the ‘pure relationship’ being the main type of relationship today.

Divorce is not necessarily a tragedy – for some it is an opportunity to further develop themselves, while for others they retreat into a resigned numbness. To make a ‘success’ out of divorce, one has to mourn it, accept that the marriage is ended, and move on!

Modernity: Some general considerations:

Modernity has the following features –

  1. It is industrial – social relations are rooted in the widespread use of material power and machinery in production processes.

  2. It is capitalist – we live in a system of commodity production which involves both competitive product markets and the commodification of labour power.

  3. There are significant institutions of surveillance – the supervisory control of subject populations – both visible and in terms of the use of information to coordinate social activities.

  4. We live in the context of the industrialisation of war – modernity has ushered in a context of ‘total war’ – the potential destructive power of weaponry, most obviously nuclear arms, is immense.

Modernity produces certain distinct social forms – most obviously the nation state, or a system of nation states, which follow coordinated policies or plans on a global scale – nation states permit and entail concentrated reflexive monitoring.

Modernity is also characterised by extreme dynamism – the current world is a runaway world – the pace, scope and profoundness of changes is significantly greater than any time before.

The peculiar character of modernity consists in the following:

Firstly the separation of time and space and the emptying out of time and space – the clock being the most obvious manifestation which presumed deeply structured changes in the tissue of everyday life, which were universalising, on a global scale. This is a dialectical process – the severance of time from space allows for new formations – such as the ‘use of history to make history’ – as in the significance of the year 2000, just because it was the year 2000.

Secondly the disembedding of social institutions – the lifting out of social relations from local contexts. There are two main ways this occurs – through symbolic tokens (such as money) and expert systems (therapists) and each of these permeate every aspect of late-modern life, and both depend on trust. Trust, a leap of faith is essential – because in a disembedded system we cannot know everything. Risk is also part of this.

Institutional reflexivity is the third feature of late modernity – the regularised use of knowledge about circumstances of social life as a constitutive element in its organisation and transformation.

The local, the global and the transformation of day-to-day-life

There is a dialectic between Modernity’s universalising efforts and the actual consequences: In the attempt to know and predict everything, in fact competing knowledge systems have emerged, and there is no way of knowing with any certainty which is correct, thus uncertainty lies at the heart of daily life.

The mediation of experience

Today, virtually all experience is mediated, but this does not result in post-modern fragmentation – in fact mediation is precisely what unifies all of us – pre-modern life is what was truly fragmented. We are now all painfully and persistently aware of the various modern problems which we cannot escape.

The Existential Parameters of High Modernity

The Future is the driving force of high modernity – or rather the attempt to colonise it based on the use of knowledge. We do this in the context of risk – We are all confronted with uncertainty because the rise of competing expert systems just makes us more uncertain. Expert knowledge has failed to make the world more predictable.

Why Modernity and Personal Identity?

Because never before has there been a time when so many people have been unified into the demands to reflexively make themselves – it is the institutional context of modernity which makes this possible – Globalisation, and abstract systems demand that we engage in self-construction, and therapy becomes central to this.

Anthony GIddens
Anthony Giddens

Related Posts 

Modernity and Self Identity – Chapter Two Summary

Giddens’ Modernity and Self Identity – summarised in 14 bullet points

Some introductory questions on Giddens’ Sociological Thought – to get students thinking (dangerous, I know)

Theory.Org has a useful outline of Giddens’ thought

What is Sociology? (Bauman and May)

What is Sociology

Below is an extended summary adapted from Bauman and May’s (2001) work ‘Thinking Sociologically’ which to my mind remains one of the best introductions to Sociology there is!

What is Sociology?

Sociology is a disciplined practice with its own set of questions for approaching the study of society and social relations. It is important for understanding ourselves, each other, and the social environments in which we live.

In search of Distinction

As well as being disciplined set of practices, it also represents a considerable body of knowledge that has been accumulated over the course of history…. it is a site of constant flux with newcomers adding new ideas and studies.

Sociology has the following similarities with ‘cognate’ disciplines such as anthropology, psychology and history –

  • They aim to collect relevant facts and to check them for validity and reliability

  • They aim to present information in a clear and unambiguous way

  • They aim to make clear propositions which are free of contradictions and stand up against the evidence.

‘Sociology is distinguished from other disciplines through viewing human actions as elements of wider figurations: that is, of a non-random assembly of actors locked together in a web of mutual dependency.

Individual actors come into view of sociological study in terms of being members or partners in a network of interdependency. The central questions of Sociology concern how the types of social relations and societies that we inhabit relate to how we see each other, ourselves and our knowledge, actions and their consequences.

Thinking Sociologically also opens up the possibility for thinking about the same world in different ways.

Sociology and Common Sense

Thinking Sociologically is also distinguished by its relationship with so called ‘common sense’. This is because the objects of study of Sociology ( the family, education, media, and so on) are tightly bound up with our ordinary day-to-day routines, and thus everybody already has common sense understandings of these things.

However, in common-sense understanding, we tend to only see these things in terms of our own individual, private, experiences, we rarely pause and ask questions about the social-settings in which we live our lives. ‘Sociological thinking asks us to ‘step back’ and to ask ‘how do our individual biographies intertwine with the history we share with other human beings’.

It is important to draw a boundary between common sense and sociology, and Bauman and May see four ways this can be achieved:

  1. Sociology, unlike common sense, subjects itself to ‘rigorous rules of responsible speech’ – Sociology tries to confine itself to statements that can be baked up by reliable, valid and representative evidence which others can verify, rather than making untested propositions.

  2. Sociology aims to ‘broaden horizons’ and to examine individual biographies in the context of wider social processes. In this sense Sociology encourages people to lift themselves above the level of their daily concerns and see what we share in common with others, and what these commonalities have to do with our particular historical social context.

  3. Sociology is not about understanding things from the individual’s perspective – it stands against the view that someone’s biography is purely down to their own motives, efforts and intentional action. Thinking Sociologically is to make sense of the world through looking at the manifold webs of human dependency.

  4. Sociology involves examining ordinary life in a more fully conscious way – and going through a process of defamiliarisation – looking at society in new ways and realising that ‘this is not the only way we could do things’ – this will not be to everyone’s liking, especially those who benefit from existing social relations.

It involves constantly examining the knowledge we have of selves and others – this is an ongoing process. If we open ourselves up to this processes then it should have the following benefits –

  • It should make us more tolerant of diversity
  • It should render flexible that which may have been oppressive
  • It should make individuals more effective agents of social change – realising that society does act as a restraining force in many ways should enable the individual to direct their efforts more effectively at making changes. (A nice quote here – ‘Sociology stands in praise of the individual, but not individualism’)
  • It should enhance social solidarity – as it makes us realise that many of our private troubles are shared by several (possibly billions) of other people.

Action, Identity and Understanding in Everyday Life

‘Possessing feelings of being free and unfree at the same time is one of the most confusing issues that gives rise to feelings of ambivalence and frustration, as well as creativity and innovation.

You could now choose to carry on reading this, or abandon it and do something else. The ability to make conscious decisions is an exercise of your freedom.

Choice, Freedom and Living with Others

Our choices are not, of course, always the product of conscious decisions, many are habitual.

We are often told that we are responsible for our decisions and their outcomes – the way Unemployment is talked about is a good example of this – the discourse surrounding unemployment is very much one of ‘if you try hard enough you can get a job’. However, if one lives in an area of high unemployment and cannot afford to move, this is simply not the case.

There is thus a difference between one’s ability to reskill and look for a job and the actual capability of making one’s desires manifest in reality (actually getting a job). We are limited by the following things (sticking to the unemployment example):

  • Scarcity – there may be a lack of jobs available

  • Material constraints – we may lack the money to be able to broaden the area in which we search for work.

  • Cultural Constraints – we may live in a sexist/ racist/ classist/ homophobic area – and thus not be able to get a job because of prejudiced views held by employers

  • Our accumulated experiences as part of a particular group – our own norms and values may limit the range of possibilities open to us – we may not feel comfortable interacting with people who we perceive are very different to us.

How we act and see ourselves is informed by the expectations of the groups to which we belong – we are born into various groups (e.g. class/ gender/ ethnicity) and we have no choice over this – these groups give us a set of norms and values which both give us skills which can use to be creative (and express our freedom) but they also constrain us in certain ways.

First – there are ideas about what goals are worth pursuing

Second – there is the matter of how we should pursue these goals

Third – we are expected to identify with certain people and against others – those who might assist and prevent us from meeting expectations one and two.

Being part of a group assumes a huge amount of unconscious knowledge – a ”natural attitude” to do with the minutiae of every day life – from how we dress, to how we speak and our more general value-set. We learn this ‘natural attitude’ through growing up with others, and we generally don’t question the norms and values that we are socialised into, as revealed by the ethnomethodology of Harold Garfinkel.

Oneself with Another: Sociological Perspectives

For Mead ‘who’ we are is not something we are born with, but something we acquire through time, through interaction with others. In order to understand how this occurs, Mead divided our sense of self into two parts – the ‘I’ and the ‘Me’ – the ‘I’ is best thought of as a conversation that takes place within ourselves where we use language to think of ourselves as a whole, the ‘Me’ on the other hand refers to how we organise the expectations of groups within our actions.

To my mind this is better understood as follows:

The ‘I’ – is the internal dialogue you have with yourself about who you are. ‘I’ is your stream of consciousness’

The ‘Me’ is the various ‘social selves’ or ‘roles’ you need to play in day to life and the norms and values you have to make that self conform to. ‘Me’ is the self as others see you.

Our reflexive character is built up by treating ourselves as objects of our own actions as they are understood through the responses of others.

Following Paul Ricoeur, in the course of the acquisition of self-identity we ask questions of ourselves and the first reflexive question of selfhood is ‘who am I’? Here we first experience the contradiction between our inner desires and what we feel obliged to do because of the presence of significant others and their expectations of us.

Freud suggested that the whole process of self-development and the social organisation of human groups may be interpreted in the light of the need and the practical effort to tame sexual and aggressive instincts – but these instincts are never tamed, rather they are ‘repressed’.

The question of exactly how society tames individual instincts and balances these with obligations has been further theorised by the likes of Nancy Chodorow and Norbert Elias.

Socialisation, Significance and Action

The process of how our selves are formed and how instincts may or may not be suppressed is often given the name socialisation.

This is a complex process which involves assigning differential significance to expectations, and goes on from childhood through to adult life.

Making a selection from our environments means choosing reference groups against which we can measure or actions and find the standards to which we aspire.

We may, of course, aspire to be like groups apart from the ones we are born into, increasingly likely in the age of the mass media, where we are exposed to a range of potential groups which we might aspire to, but not actually be part of.

Socialisation is a never ending process which involves a constant rebalancing of freedoms and dependencies.

 

Giddens’ Modernity and Self Identity – in 14 bullet points

A brief post covering the relationship between self and society in late-modernity according to Anthony Giddens, covering concepts such as Globalisation, abstract systems, ontological security, manufactured risks, narcissism and fundamentalism.

This is very much my own reading of Giddens’ text – Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age.

Giddens Self Identity and Society

Gidden’s Key Ideas about Self and Society in the Late Modern Age (Taken from Modernity and Self Identity – And Against Post Modernism)

  1. There is a global structure – e.g. it’s Capitalist and Nation States remain powerful, but it’s dynamic, constantly changing, and not predictable.

  2. Institutions (political and economic) are ‘reflexive’ – they try to ‘steer’ events in the future in the light of existing and continually updating (imperfect) knowledge.

  3. There are significant global problems (manufactured risks) which we all face and none of us can escape – e.g. Global Warming. These are real, objectively existing problems, not hyperreal, and they bind us together, even if many of us fail to accept this.

  4. The increased pace of change and Uncertainty are a fundamental part of late-modernity.

  5. Globalisation penetrates our lifeworlds through abstract Systems (money, clock time, expert systems, especially science).

  6. The media is more important and influential in late-modern society, but Giddens rejects the concept of hyperreality – the main significance of the media is that it makes us more aware of diversity and of the fact that there are many different ways of living.

  7. In Late Modern (not Post-modern) Society, there is what Giddens calls a ‘duality of structure’ – social structures both empower us and constrain us (differentially, and broadly along the lines of class, gender and ethnicity, although not perfectly) – people are not just ‘free’ to do whatever they want – their freedom comes from existing structures – think of your typicaly fashion blogger on YouTube for example – you may think of them as ‘free’, but they are fundamentally dependent on global capitalism, a monetary system, and the infrastructure of media technology.

  8. In terms of the self – Identity is no longer a given – we no longer have a pre-existing identity based on our gender, class, family or locality, everything is open to questionand we are forced to contunally look at ourselves and continuously ask the question ‘who am I’ – identity becomes a task, something we must do for ourselves, and nearly every aspect of our lives becomes something we need to reflect on as a result.

  9. It is for this reason that we become concerned with constructing a ‘Narrative of Self’ – A coherent life story, so that we can convince ourselves that we have a stable identity through time. Constructing a self-identity takes a lot of time and effort.

  10. Therapy emerges as a new expert system to help people in the process of continual identity reconstruction – especially useful at epochal moments like divorce.

  11. The construction and expression of the self becomes the new norm – there are many ways we can do this – mainly through consumption (buying and doing stuff), through relationships, and through developing bodily regimes (health regimes).

  12. An unfortunate consequence of this focus on the self is the rise of Narcissism, with very few people asking moral and existential questions about existence.

  13. However, this process is dialectical and New Social Movements (e.g. the Green Movement) which do consider moral and existential issues – in which people attempt to incorporate moral and existential questions into the construction of their ‘political’ identities.

  14. Late Modernity produces various ‘Generic’ Types of Identity – The Narcissist, the Fundamentalist, both are extreme expressions of the same social system.

Related Posts

Giddens – Modernity and Self Identity – A summary of the introduction and chapter 1.

What is the purpose of Sociology according to Giddens? – A very brief summary

What is Sociology? (According to Giddens in Modernity and Self-Identity)

This is a rough outline of some of the purposes Sociology might be put to according to Giddens, gleaned from a reading of his ‘Modernity and Self-Identity 

  1. Doing research to inform the ongoing process of reflexive modernisation at an institutional level
  2. Doing research into how flexible structures and what extent these structures are used (used by) to either constrain or empower people
  3. Helping people to realise that they are still dependent on ‘structures’ and dispelling the ‘myth of total individual freedom’.
  4. Encouraging people to consider moral and existential issues when they engage in the construction of self-identities and thereby helping people be more effective agents in the ongoing (re) constitution of society.

Global Culture Industry by Lash and Lury, A Summary

In Global Culture Industry Lash and Lury argue that things have moved on since the days of Adorno and Horkheimer’s analysis of the culture industry and the Birmingham School’s critique:

‘we think that culture has taken on another, a different logic ,with transition from culture industry to global culture industry’.

‘What’s different was that in both 1945 and 1975 culture was superstructural, and resistance took place through ideology, representation and symbols, and people where confronted in their day to day lives with material objects from the economic infrastructure.’

‘Today (in 2005) cultural objects are everywhere – as information, communications, branded products, media products, financial and leisure services. Culture seeps out of the superstructure and comes to dominate both the economy and everyday life. Culture, which was previously a question of representation becomes thingified. In classical cultural industry, mediation was a question of representation, in global culture industry it is a mediation of things.’

Lash and Lury now outline seven basic differences between the days of the ‘culture industry’ (from at least 1950 to 1975) and today’s ‘global culture industry’

1. From identity to difference

  • The products (objects) of Adorno’s culture industry were determinant, in global culture industry they are indeterminate.

  • We have moved to a culture of circulation in which products circulate free from the intentions of their designers – products become transformed and thus value is added.

  • In culture industry, cultural products slotted its subjects into the nuclear family, thus reproducing capitalism, today global culture industry meets the reflexive individuals of informational capitalism (and is thus transformed).

  • Culture industry was about the production of identity, in global culture industry both production and consumption are about difference.

  • In culture industry, production took place in Fordist environments, in global culture industry it takes place in post-fordist and design intensive environments.

2. From commodity to brand

  • Commodities derive their value from their exchange value –their monetary value, their market value. Commodities are produced, they are all alike.

  • Brands only exist in relation to products and establish themselves across products. Their value is not determined by exchange value. Brands establish difference. A brand is a singularity, but an abstract singularity, your relationship to it matters.

  • Commodity production is labour intensive, brand production is design intensive.

  • Commodity is about use and exchange, brand is about sign-values and experience – about communication, it is ‘eventive’ (about doing and experiencing).

  • ‘Commodities work through a mechanistic principle of identity, brands through the animated production of difference, thus processes of invention are central to the brand’.

  • This is a regime of power which results in inequalities, disparities and deception rarely encountered in culture industry.

3. From representation to things

  • In culture industry, culture was commodified – mediation was predominantly through representation, but in global culture industry we have the mediation of things.

  • Today, media have become things they have use value and exchange value.

  • When media become things we don’t just read them, we do with them. EG sound in lifts, brands in branded spaces, movies becoming computer games.

  • Four products which are media become thing-like = Wallace and Grommt, Toy Story, Young British Artists and Trainspotting – these have intersected into daily life such that we can talk of ‘mediatization’, and ‘the industrialisation of culture’ (not just the commodification of culture) and we also have the culturification of media.

4. From the symbolic to the real

After a lengthy introduction based on the matrix Lash and Urry essentially say….

In the 1950s there was ‘harsh reality’ – work/ the street/ the family, in which people lived their lives, and ‘culture’ was experienced through sitting in front of the TV passively watching media products produced by other people, or may acting out these ‘escapist’ fantasies occasionally. Then we watched and interpreted culture.

Today, mediated culture (media products) are so fundamentally part of our lives, that they are inseparable from our day to day lived-reality – our family lives, our work and leisure time – reality (and the stuff of daily life) is invested with much more meaning – now we live (act out) through mediated culture, less passively just sitting and watching.

Or to give you the full version…

‘Horkheimer and Adorno’s classical culture industry worked through the symbolic, through daylight, the light of Enlightenment and other ideology, through the pleasure of the text, and of representation. Global culture industry is a descent of culture into the real: descent into the bowels, the brutality, the desert of the real. The real is more evolved than the symbolic. It is brutal, but a question less of body than of mind: bodies are merely energy sources for the mind’s real. The inner and under-ground space in which the human hacker-ships operate is the ‘service and waste systems of cities that once spanned hundreds of miles’ transmuted into ‘sewers’ at the turn of the twenty-first century. The real is brutal, a desert, a sewer, a waste-and-service system, below the subways, under the underground.’

‘Global culture industry occupied the space of the symbolic: global culture industry the space of the real. Culture industry is Hollywood’s dream machine, global culture industry brute reality. Global culture industry deals in simulation, but these escape the symbolic, escape representation, and as intensity, as hyperreality, enter a real in which media become things. The symbolic is superstructural: it is a set of ideological and and cultural structures that interpellate subjects in order to reproduce the capitalist economy and the (Oedipal) nuclear family. The real is not superstructural; it is not even structural. The real is base. It is in excess of the symbolic. This excess is abjected, spewed out downward through exit-holes into the desert of the real. For Georges Bataille (2000), the abjected was Marx’s lumpenproletariat, who made no contribution to the reproduction of capital. To be abjected into th real was to be ejected – out of the bottom (Bataill’s ‘solar anus’ of the symbolic space of form into the informe, the formlessness of the real. Global culture industry operates in this space of the real. In the symbolic, signification works through structures to produce meaning. In the desert of the real, signification works through brute force and immediacy. Meaning is no longer hermeneutic; it is operational, as in computer games – that is, meaning is not interpretative; it is doing, it is impact.’

5. Things come alive: bio-power

  • ‘Adorno’s commodities are atomistic, the global culture industry’s singularities are monads’.

  • Atoms are simplistic, monads complex, atoms mechanistic, monads self-organising and reflexive.

  • The self-transforming and self-energising monads of global culture industry are not mechanistic, but vitalistic.

  • H and A’s culture industry is a locus of power, a power that works mechanistically, through external determination of subjects. In global culture industry, power works vitalistically. Vitalist power is bio-power (Foucault, 1976).

  • Mechanistic power works through the fixity of being, vitalist or bio-power works through becoming and movement. Thus power leaves structures and enters flows.

  • Mechano-power ensures the reproduction of capitalist relations, and it works through a principle of identity, bio-power works through production. It is chronically productive.

  • If reproduction is tied to identity, production is tied to difference. It does not stop subjects from producing difference.

6. From Extensive to Intensive

Basically, in global culture industry internal reality (intellect, meaning, emotions) become more intertwined with external reality (property).

7. The rise of the virtual

  • The brand experience is a feeling… the experience of intensity.

  • Brands may embrace a number of extensities, but they are themselves intensities.

  • Brands in this sense are virtuals. As virtuals, they may be actualised in any number of products. Yet the feeling, the brand experience is the same.

  • In semiologial terms, brands are icons, and they need not be attached to objects at all, and this is one way in which contemporary power works.

  • In global culture industry, not only the media scape but also the city scape takes on intensive qualities. Contemporary culture is event-culture, it involves doing.

  • The episteme of global culture industry is metaphysical materialism, based on the materiality of the monad, the reality, as in matrix, of mind. This is matter as multiplicity, matter not as identity but as difference.

So there you go – In short, a very convoluted way of saying that the media is more important to social and economic life than it was in the past, so much so that media, rather than being used merely to represent ‘deeper’, social and economic ‘reality’ has become an integral part of that reality.

Chapter Two – Method: Ontology, Movement, Mapping

Introduction

‘The method adopted from the start of this project was to ‘follow the objects’. We were self-consciously developing a sociology of the object.

Influences on their methods include:

First: The anthropology of material culture (eg Miller), especially the material culture of moving objects (eg Appadurai) ann Alfred Gell’s anthropology of art (who also influenced Miller).

Second: The sociology of science and technology – eg Latour, combined with ‘Media theory’ – especially Jean Baudrillard’s theory of the object and Paul Virilio’s analysis of vision and objects in movement.

None of the above thinkers see objects in mechanical or volumetric terms, not in positivist cause and effect terms, rather they see objects as a singularities.

Thirdly, taking seriously the notion of biography – following Gell, there should be an attempt to study the life-cycle, and to replicate the time-perspective of the actors, so in this case objects.

Fourthly – Gills Deleuze (which has probably triggered your BS detector, but bear with, bear with…) – basically focussing on surfaces and multiplicities, everything on the same level, with no notion of looking for ‘deeper causes’ behind what you see – seeing objects as interlinked with everything else and full of many potential trajectories. Not looking for causality behind the object, but focussing on the multiple potentialities of the object.

Fifthly, from economic sociology, Knorr Centina’s work on global microstructures – looking at how objects are oriented towards each other and thus animate global markets.

Methodology

The methodology of ‘following the object comes’ principally from Appaduri. This is basically looking at the biography of the object.

The advantages of this are:

It focusses on the object in movement, looking at the transitions, rather than the ‘structural causes’, which is too static

It avoids the opposition between the global and the local.

It allows for a radical defamiliarisation with the notion of persons.

So how did they follow objects?

In the book, the authors looked at a number of different objects (a concept which also includes events and movements) – such as the films (and marketing/ products surrounding) Toy Story and Trainspotting, and The Euro 96 football event, amongst other things.

They basically ‘ found out as much as possible about them over as much time and in as many spaces as possible’ and to ‘experience’ the object from as many points of view as possible, because objects can only be experienced from a point of view.

They went to many cities

They interview over 100 experts – from different sectors associated with the objects – such as marketing/ distribution and, of course, audiences.

They looked at secondary sources such as trades magazines

They photographed the objects

Methodology revisited

They claim their method is neither Positivist or Phenemonological – it is objectual.

‘Our method does not assume a distinction between media and society; our assumption is instead that we live in a media society’. They are studying a ‘mediascape’.

The research involves ‘getting ontological with things’ – moving with the objects, subject and object becoming as one, a singularity.

This is different to getting to know things in an epistemological, Kantian sense – they don’t assume the researcher has a value free stand point, and they want to avoid the instrumentalist, calculating approach to researching objects of Positivism.

Instead, the researcher descends into the same reality as the objects he is studying, and so there is only transition, flow..

‘The ontological gaze penetrates. As the object moves out of the epistemological space of extensity, it enters a space of discontinuity, fluidity and excess; it becomes ec-static as an intensity. So this kind of research involves getting ontological with things’.

They then go onto claim that not only are they non-Positivistic in their approach, they are not Phenomenological either – because, unlike Phenomenologists who believe consciousness is different from the things it perceives, as far as they are concerned subjects, objects and investigators are all involved as both perceivers and investigators, all are engaged in sense-making.

The subjects and objects (and investigators) are not beings but becomings, which are constantly moving in media space. The method they think should thus be employed is thus one of ‘mapping’, and their perferred cartographic method dovetails with situationist pyschogeography, which requires a mobile researcher.

However, they depart from SP in the following ways:

They are looking at virtual space rather than urban space.

They are following the spectacle rather than creating it

They are less concerned with the effects of spectacles on the psychology of individuals and more focussed on developing a geography of intensities.

They are aiming for a tactile mapping of singularities, a multi-modal proprioceptive mapping.

All of this is necessary because objects are unclear, indistinct and abstract, which at times become clear, distinct, and concrete.

Comments – how useful is all of this?

On the plus side, the book and the analytical framework demonstrate how complex global consumption has become, and it helps us to understand the appeal of consumption – when you buy a product, or an event, you are buying into a ‘mediascape’ with multiple connectivities, embedding yourself into a complex, global set of interrelationships seemingly unlimited potentialities. It’s also worth pausing to reflect that this is very much the norm these days, or if not the norm, very much what we desire.

According to Lash and Lury, when you consume you become singular with the objects, and there is nothing deeper than the surface reality, no deeper layer which is having a causal effect on individuals. Thus the focus of research is on the unfolding of this surface reality.

This is the weakness in this book – there simply is an underlying reality that is required for all of this to happen – there is a set of social norms which requires that you ‘do things’ and ‘keep doing things’ in order to demonstrate that you belong, and this requirement to perform is coercive – not only the sense that the felt-need to do things prevents you from doing other things, but also because if your consumption practices require you to spend money, most of us need a job to engage in such event-based consumption.

So in short, the underlying, deeper reality which I think is missing is that of broad social norm of expressive-performativity (I’ve yet to decide what I want to call it) linked to consmuption which requires one to earn a living. Thus one is ‘structured’ or ‘limited’ in one’s actions by the array of performative demands one acquiesces to and the amount of money one earns.

By contrast to ‘ordinary life in the mediascape’ I’d suggest there are certain ‘movements’ which reject a life strategy of buying into mediascapes – Early Retirement, Permaculture, Buddhism (yes, they do overlap) for example… all tend to be much more focused on face to face relations with much lower levels of consumption, and aim to be much less ‘eventive’.

I also think this type of research Lash and Lury do is a total waste of time. The rest of the book takes an incredibly in-depth look at some of the products/ events mentioned above. In the chapter on The Euro 96 football event for example all the researchers do is to describe the companies involved in branding and marketing the event and how they are interconnected. Yes it’s complex, yes mediascapes exist,  yes when people ‘buy into’ these events they are participating in complex global flows, but so what, so what? I just don’t get the point of doing this research, and I certainly don’t get the point of people doing any further research like this.