According to in the Economist, we are engaged in a pointless academic arms race, with more and more students going to university, while the benefits to them, and to wider society become harder to concern. Degrees are now so common place, that they don’t really mean very much, but employers still use them as a means of screening applicants, and many fields that didn’t used to require a degree, now do (take recruitment as an example).
There is also a problem that many students who start degree courses do not complete their studies… across the developed world, fully 30% of students who start a degree drop out without graduating, a problem which has a significant financial cost when each year of study costs £10K.
Maybe students would be better off spending their money to boost their ‘micro-credentials’ by doing short courses which mean more to employers… IT courses for example?
Firstly, he cites the increasing number of people who achieve degrees compared to 50 years ago – Today’s degree, in some ways, is like like the old high school diploma.
Secondly, he cites evidence of ‘degree inflation’ in many sectors. For example 25 percent of people employed as insurance clerks have a BA, but twice that percentage of insurance-clerk job ads require one. Among executive secretaries and executive assistants, 19 percent of job-holders have degrees, but 65 percent of job postings mandate them
Secondly, despite the increasing number of people with degrees and the increasing requirement to have one to get your foot in the door, almost 40% of U.S. employers report difficulties in finding graduates with the right skills, which means (somewhat ironically) that many of the above degrees are useless in actually preparing people for work.
Slayback argues (pretty convincingly I think) that a degree is no longer sufficient to guarantee you a job; he also suggests that it may not actually be worth doing one (and in terms of getting you ready for work, I think he’s right, but not necessarily so in terms of the intrinsic worth of the uni experience and knowledge gained).
According to Slayback, in order to be successful, graduates need to get better at signalling their skills through social media, rather than relying on the simple fact that they’ve got a degree to so that for them. He even goes so far as to suggest that the internet itself is actually undermining the value of a degree.
He gives the example of a young man who connected with him on Linked In, and through a Google search, managed to get an insight into what he’d actually achieved, which made the fact that he didn’t have a degree irrelevant.
Personally I think Slayback has a point about the virtues of social media in signalling your skills – if you’re looking to go into a sector that requires you to produce content in any form, them it’s an obvious idea to have a social media platform where you show off that content, through which you can demonstrate your skills.
I’m not so convinced that it’s worth risking not doing a degree, maybe you’re better off doing one, but from day one thinking about how to leverage every essay you write or every project you do into something that you can use in the future to make you more employable…. two birds with one stone and all that….
I’ve been considering strategies for saving money recently, in an attempt to retire early, and got a bit carried away researching/ reading about freeganism – fascinating subculture/ network/ however your want to characterise it…
Freeganism – A Basic Definition
‘Freegans are people who employ alternative strategies for living based on limited participation in the conventional economy and minimal consumption of resources.’ (freegan.info – the first Google return for ‘freegan’ besides Wikipedia).
Pure freeganism involves meeting one’s needs without money, which is typically achieved through a combination of a number of strategies such as:
Renunciation – Simply doing without
Scavenging – Living of food and goods which have been thrown away, dumpster diving being a practice closely associated with freeganism
Recycling and ‘Upcycling’ – re-purposing other people’s waste
Repairing – Making goods last longer
Foraging – making use of what nature provides for free
Skilling up – Growing your own and making goods – here the movement links to city farms.
Bartering – exchanging goods or skills
Sharing – sharing resources, and space – It’s important to emphasise that many freegans don’t perceive themselves as free-loaders – Some freegans are part of organisations such as Food not Bombs and do unpaid work to salvage thrown away food and cook it in order to give it away.
Squatting – is often the preferred housing strategy
According to Michelle Coyne (2008) freeganism emerged from a complex social history, having its roots in anarcho-punk culture of the 1970s which challenged Corporate Capitalism, and today there still seems to be strong links between the few visible aspects of freeganism and an anti-capitalism, anti-corporate and especially anti-consumption ethic. Most freegans seem to eschew the idea of spending 40+ hours a week working for money in order to consume hard and then waste hard and prefer to engage in more meaningful unpaid labour in order to meet their needs in a more environmentally conscious way and reduce their impact on the planet. There are thus strong links between freeganism, anarchism and the modern environmental movement.
In the absence of money freegans rely heavily on social networks, and either other people’s generosity or superfluity in order to get by. They also have to invest a considerable amount of time meeting their basic needs through scavenging and networking, which is something they have more of than the average in-work person. NB – It is important to emphasise again that most freegans do not see themselves as freeloaders, although this is often a critique leveled at the movement, rather they perceive themselves as re-framing and re-balancing the concept of work as something which should be more diverse, more humanly connected and less dehumanising than something you just do for money.
What’s So Different about Freeganism?
While I do so love my typologies, I think it’s more useful to focus on the commonalities of these freegans – It’s not just the commitment to money-free living which distinguishes them from the mainstream, the following are recurring themes within the freeganism/ money free living movement
Lamenting the de-personalising effects of money exchange – freegans prefer either gift-economics or barter and reliance of personalised networks to meet their needs.
Co-creation within social networks – being money free means meeting needs through reliance of social networks, which can mean closer connections with people.
Freedom from money as promoting individual freedom – being free of money obviously frees you from the need to engage in paid work, and many freegans also seem to relish the freedom to set their own day to day timetables and to travel as they please. There is the potential for this to contradict the point above.
Ecologism – An essential aspect of many money-free strategies is meeting your own needs from the natural environment – through foraging and grow your own, freegans thus tend to be green-leaning.
Anti-Consumption and anti-waste – freeganism is very much the anti-thesis of the rapid turnover of goods within a consumer culture, and dumpster diving to reclaim (mainly food) waste is a recurring theme in freeganism videos on YouTube.
A critique of the exploitative logic of corporate capitalism. I don’t think it would be appropriate to label freeganism anti-capitalist, because so many of its practices seem to depend on it, but there is an undercurrent of critique of global corporations and a distinct preference for localism.
I include the ‘antis’ at the end because I get the impression that freeganism and money-free living are more about positive social change rather than protesting unjust economic systems.
How Many Freegans are there in the UK?
It’s hard to say for certain. Given the links between freeganism and left-green politics it is possible that there are thousands of freegans living off-grid in both urban and rural areas.
There certainly aren’t that many examples of freeganism in the UK online. A Google search for ‘Freeganism + UK’ suggests that there are a lot more people writing about freeganism, and/ or writing about their short-term experiments with freeganism then there are actual committed freegans writing about themselves. (Searched February 13 2016).
The top 17 of the top 20 search returns are for newspaper articles from either local, national or special interest sites and only 3 are links to actual freegan sites – one of which (search return number 1) seems to be the major info source for freeganism globally – ‘Freegan.info’. The second specific site is ‘Freegan.org.uk’ – and this only has limited information, with no information under any its main site headings, and the third return is for a blog called Dumpster Dinners which was last updated in February 2013.
In addition to the above – the following site (http://www.meetup.com/London-Freegans/) was founded November 2014 and has 229 members (Accessed 13/02/15), with 8 meet ups to date (although the most recent was in Calais). However, there is very little discussion, and as with the Google search – 3/5 posts on the discussion board are asking for people to be the subjects of journalistic investigations.
The UK Hippy Forum further suggests a dearth of online discussion – this thread is mainly devoted to dumpster diving and mostly seems to point to the limited opportunities for doing it.
Finally I’ve managed to source 11 videos on YouTube (playlist) which focus on Freeganism between 2008-2015 – which I think each cover different groups around the UK. NB the streamed-interview with Mark Boyle is very interesting.
The most visible manifestation of freeganism online is the Freecycle Network – which currently consists of 604 Groups spread across the UK, with 4,439,508 members. Unfortunately this tells us next to nothing about the actual number of moneyless or nearly moneyless Freegans in the country.
Freeganism’s connections to other movements
The practice of freeganism is common to a broad range of philosophies and movements, such as various forms of religious asceticism, monastic orders, various forms of anarchism, radical ecologism, and the homesteading/ Permaculture and off-grid living networks.
It’s likely that all of these will have some members who are living with very little money, and any true attempt to assess the scope of moneyless living in the UK would include an analysis of these. Such related networks include. Unfortunately this kind of breadth analysis isn’t something I’m in a position to do at the moment.
Criticisms and Limitations of Freeganism
The waste-reclamation aspect of freeganism has been rightly criticised for being dependent on the surpluses of Capitalism, but this is something of a moot criticism given that two of the above examples at least are actively involved in creating alternative gift-economies to meet human needs through a totally different paradigm. Whether these are realistic or not I’m not in a position to comment on.
A second criticism is that free-economics might work for basic needs such as food and clothes, but Freecycle’s not exactly inundated with skilled trades and professional people offering their services for free, which raises the question of how generalisable it is across different sectors of the economy.
A third criticism is the fact that freeganism is too radical a lifestyle for it to ever have mass appeal, so it’s potential for social change is limited, but this is at least partly countered by the breadth of the movement allowing for small-steps to be taken for those who can’t go through with total commitment.
A final criticism is that this does seem to be a very white, middle class movement – engaged in by people in developed societies, many of whom have the safety net of social welfare to fall back on. It’s a very romantic vision of ‘not poverty’, the reality of moneyless living around the globe, where the state isn’t paying for the roads or other infrastructure, isn’t so pretty.
Useful Sources of Information on Freeganism and Moneyless Living
The average person in the UK will spend 19.6% of their total waking hours at work.
The average person in the U.K. will spend 19.6% of their total waking hours at work based on a life expectancy of 79.05 years. Based on a 50 year full-time working life they will spend 29.4% of their waking hours during their working life at work.
NB – I’ve limited my definition of work to mean ‘paid employment’!
What percentage of your life will you spend at work?
If you work for the entirety of your adult life until pensionable age in the UK then you will be engaged in some form of paid employment from the age of 18 years to of age to 68 years of age, which is an equivalent of 50 years of paid-employment.
If we take the average amount of hours worked per week, which was 36.5 hours February to May 2022 according to the Average actual weekly hours of work for full-time workers (seasonally adjusted) (1) then you will work a total of 85 775 hours in the course of your working life (based on a rough calculation of 36.5 hours *(52-5 = 47 weeks to take account of holidays)*50 years).
NB I used the February to May statistics because there has been a trend of increasing weekly hours since the end of the lockdowns during the Pandemic. The figures for summer-autumn 2022 are slightly lower, but the trend is up so I went with the highest post-pandemic figures for working hours.
Expressed as terms of a percentage of your life, this 36.5 hours a week spent working is equivalent to.
12.4% of your total time over the course of a 79.05 year period (based on the average projected life expectancy of 79.05 for people born in the year 2005 according to a Google search for ‘Life expectancy UK’, accessed 27/11/2022).
18.6% of your total time during the course of a 50 year working-life period.
19.6% of your total waking hours over a 76 year lifespan, assuming 8 hours of sleep a night.
29.4% of your total waking hours over a 50 year working-life period assuming 8 hours of sleep a night
50% of your total waking hours during any given working day.
How to spend less time at work
Of course the above amount of time actually spent working will vary depending on a variety of factors, not least on your income and expenditure, but also on the generosity of your parents, any inheritance you might receive, returns on investments, and any time you spend on benefits, but the most crucial variable (or combination of variables) which determines how many hours you are going to work over the course of your life is, for most people, the amount of income you earn in relation to your expenditure.
In short, the less you spend in relation to your income, then the less income you need, and the fewer hours, days, weeks, months and years (whichever is the least painful way of counting it!) you will need to work.
The maths behind this (thanks to Jacob Lund Fisker) is actually surprisingly simple – If you take home £20 000 a year, spend £18 000 and save £2000, then it will take you 9 years to save up enough to live for a year (£2000 *9 = £18000).
If you can inverse this ratio, and save £18 000 a year and get used to living off only £2000 then if you work for one year you will have saved enough to live for another 9 years.
If you look at this over the course of a working life, if you can keep the first scenario up (saving £2000/ year) then over 45 years you would save enough to live off for five years, meaning you could retire 5 years earlier, at 62 years of age. In the second example, you could work for 5 years and then retire on your savings at the age of 23, albeit on a lower income.
The first ‘hypothetical’ example is pretty close to the norm in the UK today. In 2012-13 the average personal annual income after tax for the 50th percentile income-earner was £18 700, while the average annual expenditure for the middle quintile of single person households in 2013 was £16016, leaving a potential savings capacity of approximately £2700 a year for those of middling income and expenditure. (based on the ONS survey of personal income and Equivalised income.)
The second example above is, for most of us, going to remain hypothetical because it is just too extreme. However, consider the half way situation – If, on an average annual take-home salary of £20 000 you can learn to live off £10 000 a year and save £10 000 – you could potentially only work for 25 years…. meaning you could retire at age 43.
We work less today than in 2016
I first wrote this post in 2016, when I was extremely disappointed with the results returned when I typed the question above into Google – so I thought I’d do the calculations myself.
Back in 2016 the stats below applied which were based on the annual survey of hours and earnings, when the total amount of working hours were 39.2 hours, or 92 120 hours over 50 years.
Back in 2016 this 39.2 hours a week spent working was equivalent to.
14% of total time over the course of a 76 year period (based on the average then projected life expectancy of 76 for people born in the year 2000 according to the ONS’s National Life Tables for the United Kingdom.)
23.3% of total time during the course of a 50 year working-life period
21% of total waking hours over a 76 year lifespan, assuming 8 hours of sleep a night.
35% of total waking hours over a 50 year working-life period assuming 8 hours of sleep a night.
So TLDR is that we’ve seen a reduction of working hours fro 35% of waking hours over 50 years to 29.4%
Back then I produced this infographic (updated for 2022 above!)
Below are six strategies that some people are currently employing (excuse the pun) to ‘earn money’ or simply get by in life which don’t involve doing paid-work for someone else, let alone requiring a degree.
Disclaimer – NB I don’t in any way recommend that you do any of these things, they are merely examples of things some people do, which should prompt discussion about whether doing a degree or an apprenticeship is worth it, relative to these alternative options.
1 – Learn to live without money
Two good examples include Mark Boyle: The Moneyless Man and Dan Suelo: The Man who Lived Without Money
2 – Perpetual travelling
The most obvious way to travel perpetually, at least in Europe, is to buy a van. It’s not that difficult – for inspiration have a look at Mike Hudson’s blog Van Dog Traveller – he quit his job in 2013, spent five months converting a van (for cheap) and has been travelling around Europe, including a quick jaunt to Morocco, ever since.
For advice on how to convert vans, check out Campervan Life which has lots of examples of people who have converted vans, and live in vans full-time. If you’re worried about how to earn money or live cheaply, all of that is covered on the above two sites, it’s generally part of the whole perpetual-traveller scene.
Incidentally, living in a van may sound like it’s an extreme strategy for saving money, and possibly only for top-knot sporting, fire-juggling, surfing dudes like Mike above, and you’d be forgiven for making this mistake given that one of the first search returns for ‘living in a van uk’ takes you to a forum called ‘UK HIPPY‘, but there are even members of the relatively conservative caravan club who have lived in their caravans long-term, combining this with either owning a small no-frills apartment, or house-sitting.
If the above example’s a bit too local and not adventurous enough for you, then why not try sailing around the world and documenting it on YouTube like one Australian couple’s currently doing on ‘La Vagabonde’
Somehow they’ve managed to convince almost 1000 people to subscribe to them through Patreon (see below) and are currently earning $6790 per video uploaded, and they post one a week, which gives them a cool $20K a month to sail on, or around $250 000 a year.
They even take this piss a bit – one of her videos is of her on a week’s yoga retreat in Bali, while the boat’s in dry dock somewhere in Australia.
Downsides to perpetual travelling
It does require some initial seed money to buy your van or boat.
Most ordinary people will have to find some way of making money as they travel – see below for ideas
Making money through documenting your travels may only be an option if you’re insanely attractive. Research has revealed that approximately 80% of people who follow travel blogs do so because they want to perv on the authors, not because they’re interested in their travels, although there’s no actual evidence to back this up.
3 – POOSHing and WWOOFing
ThePOOSH is an exchange site through which you can volunteer your labour to help people self-build their eco-projects around the globe, in exchange for free lodging (which will probably be camping) and food. Many of these projects are ‘low-impact’ design and don’t take a lot of skill to build – so you shouldn’t be any more out of your depth than the people building them.
Expect to be cutting, sawing, pounding (earth into tyres), stirring, plastering, and probably doing a lot of lugging about too. You’ll probably find thePOOSH Facebook page easier to browse rather than the web-site, which is a bit ‘not very professional’, but that’s forgiveable given that this is such a niche DIY exchange.
If the hard-labour involved with physical construction is too much for you, then ThePOOSH’s big sister network WWOOF (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) Might be more your cup of tea. WWOOF says of itself….
‘WWOOF UK holds a list of organic farms, gardens and smallholdings, all offering food and accommodation in exchange for practical help on their land. WWOOF is an exchange – you volunteer your help in exchange for food, accommodation and an opportunity to learn about organic agriculture. As a WWOOFer, you can expect to work a reasonable number of hours – between 20 and 35 hours in a week is suggested. In order to volunteer on WWOOF host farms in the UK you must become a member of WWOOF UK. Membership lasts for 1 year.’
Downsides to POOSHing and WWOOFing
You need to be reasonably fit. I did have this down as an option for when I finish my current 20 year career break from life and resume living in a few years, but the older I get, the less-appealing the idea of hard physical labour seems.
Of course you don’t actually earn any money from this, you’re just working for board, and you’re reliant on your hosts to actually feed and house you properly.
From a leftist (Marxist) perspective, this voluntary work is somewhere on the softer side of the slave-labour spectrum, but that doesn’t seem to bother most members of the green movement – especially couples in their late 40s who have managed to accumulate sufficient capital to buy a small holding or some land and go and ‘live the dream’, but if you can put up with that, this does offer you a free way of life, assuming you get fed enough.
4 – Lifestyle Vlogging
LIfestyle vloggers Zoella and Alfie come across as a painfully ordinary **, and neither of them have anything of value to say about anything important. Thankfully for them there are millions of people around the world who are similarly shallow and lacking in imagination, and so they’ve managed to make a fortune by simply documenting their vacuous lives as consumers, which their similar-vanilla-fans seem to enjoy.
Case in point – in the video below (posted less than a week ago from time of writing and with over 600, 000 views already – which represents some serious coin in YouTube terms) Zoella and Alfie go and do some watersports.
The point here however is not to criticise the lack of content, the point is to point out that if this pair of completely average vanilla vloggers can make a living through not really doing anything very much, why not give it a go yourself before you try actually earning your money?
If the idea of making money by exposing your vacuousness makes you uncomfortable, then you could always develop a vlog or blog as a marketing tool and produce a series of blogs or vlogs which have an actual, worthwhile focus, by providing useful information to people and/ or selling goods and services. Of course here we’re moving away from ‘alternatives’ to careers, and more into the ordinary realms of setting up your own business – but I thought it’s worth including, because it’s still not the same as working for someone else.
Look on YouTube – there are plenty of people who have set up as personal trainers, or food writers, or life-coaches who are making money out of blogging about something they’re interested in.
One of my favourite ‘alternative lifestyle’ vloggers that does have something worthwhile to say is Jesse Grimes – who is currently building his own house, and ‘Permaculturing’ an acre of land in Montana. If you want to get into vlogging, maybe think about doing something of some value like he does….?
It’s very unlikely you’ll earn enough money survive by producing a Zoella lifestyle vlog in which you simply document yourself playing at life.
If you do become successful, not only are you exposing your vacuousness to the world, you’ll also attract haters and sufficient numbers of people will think you’ve forgone your right to privacy to make your life a misery.
As with travel blogging, you probably have to be insanely attractive, or insanely unattractive, or extreme in some sort of way to ‘earn’ a living through vlogging.
5. Matched betting
Matched betting is legal, tax-free and not actually gambling. It takes a while to get your head around it, but it is possible to make £500 risk-free in a month, although you do need a few hundred quid ‘seed money’ to start out. You might end up making less than that, but with a little bit of time each day (20 mins is sufficient) you should be able to earn at least £100 a month, and with practice more.
The Matched Betting Blog (run by a guy who is making around £8K a year doing this) defines ‘Matched betting as ‘a simple betting strategy that enables us to take advantage of bookmaker’s offers and incentives. We simply place a bet at a bookmaker and then bet against the same outcome at a betting exchange. By covering all possible outcomes, we make guaranteed risk-free profits regardless of the result.’
Oddsmonkey is a good place to get started – there are five free guides which will show you how to make an estimated £45 in under an hour, and after that, you will need to pay £15 a month in a subscription fee.
Matched-betting isn’t for everyone – some of the downsides are:
You need to double-check every bet you make and lay – one small slip could cost you tens or hundreds of pounds and wipe out your ‘earnings for a whole week’
You need a few hundred quid to start off – you need to open several betting accounts – maybe dozens to make the most of every offer, and because so much money is floating around, you need hundreds in ‘betting capital’ to make things tick over smoothly.
There is the risk of ‘gubbing’ – having your account frozen by bookmakers – they keep tabs on people – and if all you’re betting on is the special free bet offers, they’ll close you down – hence you need to make ‘mug bets’ to cover your trail (all of this is covered on the two web sites above)
It’s little bit seedy!
6 – Create something and crowdsource funding through Kickstarter or Patreon
Kickstarter is basically about selling your project to people before it’s completed.
As a creator, you outline what your project is, put together a short promotional video and some blurb illustrating what the project is about, decide how much funding you require to see your project through, and offer rewards to backers who will pledge different amounts of money to get various levels of reward which they’ll receive when your project is completed.
In the example above, the creator’s rewards (which are listed further down his Kickstarter page include a ‘Facebook’ shout-out for $5, a download of the movie for $10 and then upwards. As you can see, at almost $40K he hasn’t done too badly…
Patreon is similar to Kickstarter, but rather than people paying you once you’ve finished one massive project, with Patreon, people agree to provide ongoing funding for the smaller-scale things you’re already creating (so Patreon’s funding per song, Kickstarter, funding by album)
Patreon says of itself…
For creators, Patreon is a way to get paid for creating the things you’re already creating (webcomics, videos, songs, whatevs). Fans pledge a few bucks per month OR per thing you release, and then you get paid every month, or every time you release something new (whether it’s on SoundCloud, YouTube, your own website, or anywhere).
For patrons, Patreon is a way to pay your favorite creators for making the stuff you love. Instead of literally throwing money at your screen (trust us, that doesn’t work), you can now pledge a few bucks per thing that a creator makes. For example, if you pledge $2 per video, and the creator releases 3 videos in February, then your card gets charged a total of $6 that month. This means the creator gets paid regularly (every time she releases something new), and you become a bonafide, real-life patron of the arts
Conclusions – Should you do a degree and/ or pursue a regular career, or do something different instead?
I wouldn’t dismiss the idea of pursuing a career (I’ve actually found my own personal career in teaching A level Sociology quite rewarding), or doing a degree (I’ve got 3 of them), in fact I’d recommend either, when and if the time’s right for you. If that time isn’t now, why not leave it a while and pursue one or more of the above alternatives for a while?
There are of course various other alternatives to a regular career which you could consider, and if I’ve got time I’ll bash out another post covering the pros and cons of options such as becoming a monk or marrying the money/ becoming a prostitute.
*When I were a lad things were easy: after I’d finished my A levels and my Dad justifiably booted me out the house shortly afterwards, I spent 3 months doing farm-work, 3 months homeless and begging and then a further 18 months in a house but on the doll, mostly tossing about chilling, juggling (I got quite good) and reading, before starting a degree in Anthropology and American Studies a full 2 years and 3 months after my A levels had finished.
The problem these days is that you’ll never compete with agricultural workers from Eastern Europe for fruit picking jobs (and fruit-picking sucks); and the state and people in general aren’t quite as generous, which rules out the doll and begging as viable alternatives, so you’d need to be more somewhat more creative to avoid doing either a degree or getting a job for a couple of years or more.
** In fact they’re not normal – Zoella at least was privately educated, which means she comes from the wealthiest 7% of households – which probably goes some way to explaining why she had the confidence and time to start vlogging in the first place – the private school gave her the confidence, and daddy (probably, more likely than mummy) would have paid for the stuff crucial to her style of vlogging. If she’d have been poorer, she would have had to have spend more time working for a living, and less time making pointless videos. I don’t know about Alfie’s background, I can’t be bothered to research it.
Is it worth spending £30, 000 or more and three years of your life doing a degree?
If we limit our analysis to purely financial considerations and if we focus on ‘median earnings’ – then yes, on average, it is definitely still worth doing a degree: graduates currently earn about £8K a year more on average than non graduates (graduate labour market statistics 2015)
However, the gap between the earnings of graduates and non-gradates is closing – in 2005 graduates earned about 55% more than non graduates, while in 2015 they only earned 45% more.
If this trend continues, then a degree will be worthless by 2045, at least if we measure the value of a degree purely in economic terms.
A recent YouGov survey (May 2017) found that only 61% of students felt that their degree was worth the money, so possible this is evidence that what students feel is coming into line with the more objective financial trends above…
Of course there’s a whole load of other factors you need to consider to answer the above question fully! But I wanted to keep this post focused on just one dimension.
What reading should you do in order to prepare for studying an undergraduate degree in Sociology? This post recommends some introductory reading that you might like to do over the summer to get ahead before commencing the first year of your degree in sociology, or related discipline.
I also explore some of the differences between A-level and degree level sociology at the end of the post…
Good introductory text books for studying an undergraduate degree in sociology
You should read at least the introductory chapter to one of the text books below (preferably the one recommended by the university you most want to go to), to give yourself an idea of the core themes in degree level Sociology.
The two books below are on Globalisation, one of the most important concepts which Sociology deals with, and they are written by two of the leading Sociologists in the world today, at least they were until Bauman died in January 2017 (RIP!)
Podcasts/ Videos and blogs – to you keep up to date with contemporary sociology
You won’t be able to keep up with everything, so for the area of Sociology you are most interested in – search for that topic on any of the forums below…
‘Thinking Allowed’ on Radio 4 – This is a weekly 30 minute sociology Podcast, which typically covers two pieces of research from two different Sociologists. Their archive is excellent.
‘TED’ talks are interdisciplinary but there is a lot of Sociology in here if you search – TED talks are 20 minutes long, but you can nearly always skip the first few minutes. NB – The most popular TED talk is Ken Robinson’s ‘How Schools Kill Creativity’
The London School of Economics blog is more specifically political/ economic/ sociological than either of the above sites, but has some good updates on Sociological research.
Bristol is ranked number two for sociology in the U.K. Below I reproduce the University of Bristol’s recommended introductory reading list for its various core introductory courses for 2018, which are the bold headings below.
The Sociological Imagination
Z Bauman and T May, 2001, Thinking Sociologically, Oxford: Blackwell.
R Jenkins, 2002, Foundations of Sociology, Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.
N Abercrombie, 2004, Sociology, Cambridge: Polity.
Key Social Thinkers
Calhoun, C., Classical Sociological Theory
Craib, I., Classical Social Theory
Fevre, R., and Bancroft, A., Dead White Men and Other Important People: sociology’s big ideas
Giddens, A., Capitalism And Modern Social Theory
McIntosh, I., Classical Sociological Theory: a reader
McLennan., G. Story of Sociology
Ritzer, G., Classical ‘Sociological Theory
Social Inequalities and Divisions
Geoff Payne (ed), 2000, Social Divisions Basingstoke: Palgrave
Castles, Stephen, and Miller, Mark J. 2009. The Age of Migration: International Population Movements in the Modern World. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Cohen, Robin, and Kennedy, Paul. 2007. Global Sociology. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Lash, Scott, and Lury, Celia. 2007. Global Culture Industries: The Mediation of Things. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Martell, Luke. 2010. The Sociology of Globalization. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Massey, Douglas S., Arango, Joaquin, and Hugo, Graeme. 2005. Worlds in Motion: Understanding International Migration at the End of the Millennium. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
An Introduction to the Sociology of Culture
Bennett, A. (2005) Culture and Everyday Life London: Sage Publications
Gray, A. and Mc Guigan, J. (eds) Studying Culture: an Introductory Reader London: Edward Arnold.
Hesmondhalgh, D. (2007) The Cultural Industries (second edition) London: Sage Publications.
Jenkins, H. (2006) Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide New York University Press
Strinati, D. (2004) An Introduction to Theories of Popular Culture (second edition) London: Routledge.
Devine, F., Heath, S. (1999) Sociological Research Methods in Context. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Gilbert, N. (ed.) (2001) Researching Social Life (2nd edition). London: Sage.
May, T. (2001) Social Research. Issues, Methods and Process (3rd Edition). Maidenhead: Open University Press.
Robson, C. (2002) Real World Research (2nd Edition). Oxford: Blackwell.
Ruane, J.M. (2005) Essentials of Research Methods. Oxford: Blackwell.
Seale C.F. (ed.) (2004) (2nd edition) Researching Society and Culture. London: Sage.
What’s the difference between studying sociology at ‘A’ Level and studying sociology at ‘degree’ level?
In terms of content – Sociology is a lot more diverse at degree level than at ‘A’ Level – Sociologists research very diverse topics and universities have more freedom to set the modules which they teach than at A level. Degree content will thus vary with the specialisms of the staff, and varies enormously from university to university – some universities will be more focused on politics and social policy, and others more on the media and the study of culture, for example.
Sociology lot more interdisciplinary at degree level– there is a lot more overlap between Sociology and other subjects such as Anthropology, Development Studies, Criminology, Psychology, and Social Policy. Most students studying Sociology actually combine it with something else.
You will need to do a lot more in-depth reading at degree level (this is the case in any social science, or humanities subject). You will typically need to read a minimum of one chapter from a book and one or two other sources which relate to this core reading. In total, this will mean at least 40 pages of reading per module per week, and you will probably be studying 4 modules at a time – so that means 160 pages per week – and you’ll need to add on more for the essays you’ll be doing.
You will need to know the knowledge in much more depth at degree level – you will be expected to read and summarise extracts of core-texts each week and be able to critically evaluate these texts in discussion and essays.
In terms of skills – you need show greater depth of critical awareness, analysis and evaluation, and be able to demonstrate all of these verbally and in writing, using evidence.
You need to more self-starting in terms of reading and writing essays – there is a lot less contact time at university.
Although your options in Sociology will vary enormously from uni to uni, pretty much all degree-courses will have compulsory modules in the following
Common Themes in most Sociology Degree Courses
Social Theory – Classical and Contemporary
You will also find options in the following areas in most university departments:
Dissertation option (which will be restricted by staff interests)
Two examples of Sociology departments to start you off
The University of Surrey – useful to know because it has reading lists attached to its courses (many universities don’t have these publically available)
The London School of Economics – useful to know even if you aren’t likely to get the grades due to its excellent public lecture programme and various blogs.
NB – There are another 99 universities which offer Sociology in the UK
So you’re 17 going on 18 and it seems like the end of A levels are ages away, but for some reason your damn tutors keep haranguing you about about preparing for your future career NOW. When it comes to career readiness, there is no such thing as enough, even if you are going to university and possibly putting off the final choice of your ‘career pathway’ for another three or four years, there are still things you can be doing NOW to make you more employable in the future.
You know the sort of thing…
First of all there’s the ‘online careers survey’ which asks you to tick a load of boxes about whether you’re a ‘team player’ or like to ‘work independently’, on the basis of which you’re given a whole load of possible career options, most of which probably won’t sound that exciting. (I think these surveys may lack some validity – my ideal-career doesn’t seem to match any combination of answers I’ve tried: ‘lounging around in bed ’til about 10.00 and then strolling into to town for a Cappuccino every day’ never seems to come up as a viable option).
Once you’ve chosen a career, it’s increasingly likely that you’ll have to do some sort of work experience in that general area, not only to prove that you’ve got a basic level of competency, but also to provide some evidence of commitment to this career-path. Alternatively, you might be lucky enough to have a part-time job in area you want to go into. I say lucky, but either option sounds pretty grim to me – the former will probably involve giving up some of that holiday time to work for nothing, which is a bit of a rub, while the later probably involves doing enough hours a week while at college to make balancing paid-work, college-work, family and social commitments something of a challenge.
Incidentally, if you’re putting this phase off by going to university, you may not escape it, given that we live in the age of the unpaid-internship, especially if you want to get into any of the higher-end professions such as journalism.
(What’s also interesting here is that it’s up to you to prove commitment to a career-path before you set out on it, while your employer, in this age of flexibilised labour, is unlikely to offer you the same.)
Thirdly, and finally for now, you need to build a C.V. – Assuming you’ve got a decent set of qualifications and some work experience, and know your name and address, the first half a page is easy enough, but then things can get difficult because filling in the rest of it requires you to have engaged in quite a few ‘C.V. Able activities. And if all you’ve done these past few years outside of school and college is flit between YouTube, twitter and Whatsapp, then you’d better get of your ass and go and join a gymnastics club, take up horse riding, volunteer with your local church, and apply for and WIN the young apprentice, even though you’re probably too old for that already.
Indeed, when it comes to work readiness, there is never such a thing as enough. This is because we live in an economically insecure world, and the cause of this insecurity is that global capital is freer today than ever to move around the globe to seek short-term profit and then uproot at a moment’s notice to seek greater profit elsewhere. As it stands there are no global institutions capable of controlling global capital (the Nation State is declining in power) and so this global economic context of ‘Flexibilised Capitalism’ is likely to remain.
What this means is that it isn’t just NOW that you can never do enough to get ready for your that future career (which you may not even be certain about yet), but that in the future you will constantly have to update yourself to keep pace with an ever-changing labour market. Below are a few of the key reasons why you have to spend so much time and effort making yourself employable, and why you will need to continue to do so in the future…
Firstly – ‘Technological Dislocation’ could be set to reduce the number of jobs available in the future. A recent post from The Economist summarises the situation thus….
‘Technological dislocation may create great problems for moderately skilled workers in the coming decades… innovation has speeded up a lot in the past few years and will continue at this pace, for three reasons: the exponential growth in computing power; the progressive digitisation of things that people work with, from maps to legal texts to spreadsheets; and the opportunities for innovators to combine an ever-growing stock of things, ideas and processes into ever more new products and services. Between them, these trends might continue to “hollow out” labour markets as more and more jobs requiring medium levels of skill are automated away.”
This is the first reason you have to increase your effort to be employable now and in the future – because not only are their fewer jobs and thus more competition, it is impossible to tell what jobs are going to disappear and what new opportunities may arise (which will require retraining) because of technological change.
Secondly, it is cheaper for employers to pay a smaller amount of employees for long hours (50-60 hours a week say) rather than to duplicate the costs of such things as training, holiday pay and pensions contributions by employing a larger workforce part-time.
This means you may well end up in a nice job that you want, but with no choice but to work hours that prevent you from having anything like a social life, let alone a family.
Thirdly, Capital today is more free-floating than ever, in other words it is free to leave this country at a moment’s (or no) notice if it can find labour cheaper somewhere else. This has already happened in the low-skilled manufacturing sector, but it could just as easily happen with higher skilled, techno and creative jobs, especially when much work today can be done in a virtual environment and the costs to Capital of uprooting and relocating are no where near as expensive when it doesn’t have to rebuild expensive ‘heavy’ factories. The chances are, if you end up being employed by a global company (or contracting yourself out to one) your job is likely to be increasingly insecure as the years ‘progress’ – given that you are competing with millions of other employees who are just as well qualified as you from lower-income countries.
Thus, in the future, be ready for periods of unemployment as your employer moves to countries with a cheaper source of labour leaving you to seek new employment (which is likely to get harder the older you get).
Fourthly, the primary source of profit for the Capitalist Class is to encourage consumers to consume more and more products and services at an ever faster rate – thus there is pressure for technologies, software, fashions etc. become obsolete at an ever faster rate, to have an ever shorter shelf-life – thus you are unlikely to be able to rest on your laurels – The software skills you learn in university may be obsolete when you start work, and that idea that made your company a fortune today will be superseded by someone else’s idea tomorrow, leaving you in the position to have to constantly update your knowledge and generate new ideas.
Yes, all in all, sorry to say it, but I’m glad I’m not 17, even though I had hair then. And I’m also glad I’ll be retired fairly soon, spending my days drinking my real ales, smoking ma cigars and, if they still exist, leisurely leafing through some ole school broadsheets.
Don’t like the sound of your flexibilised, insecure future – then what to do???
The mainstream starting-point strategy suggests that you should position yourself into the core of highly educated, highly skilled knowledge workers. This is the best way of guaranteeing yourself a high income and relatively secure employment (and if not secure at least well-paid enough to be able to endure short periods of unemployment between contracts).
The problem with this strategy is that it is only the extreme minority of people in the UK are going to be able to get skilled up to this level – What proportion of the population? 5%, maybe 10%? Certainly no more. And even for this top 5-10%, in a globalising ‘converging world’ where more and more people are educated up to degree level (especially in Asia) there is simply going to be more competition for these types of job, so the only way for this proportion is down.
By all means, try and land one of these jobs, but in the meantime, because you’ve got more chance of not getting a decent job than you have of getting one, you should also consider how you can minimise your dependence on money and thus dependence on a salary, because you may not end up having a choice in the matter.
Lifestyle vlogging seems like a very nice way to avoid earning a living – and a handful of popular vanilla vloggers (such as Zoella) are managing just that – simply by uploading videos of themselves consuming various items and having fun with their friends and pets.
Obviously I’d like to avoid earning a living too, but lacking the youth, beauty and sheer inanity to do so with any integrity I’ll have to settle for being interested in the rise of the vanilla vloggers from a Sociological point of view. What exactly are we to make of people who make money vlogging? Are they just insubstantial selves, or is there more to it than this?
To this end, the following passage from Giddens’ Modernity and Self Identity (page 190-191, I’ve just re-read it) seems to describe the type of self typically expressed by many of the vanilla vloggers out there….
‘In late modernity [there is a type of] self which evaporates into the variegated contexts of action, a response which Erich Fromm characterised as ‘authoritarian conformity‘. Fromm expresses this in the following way:
‘The individual ceases to be himself; he adopts entirely the kind of personality offered to him by cultural patterns; and he therefore becomes exactly as all others are and as they expect him to be….. this mechanism can be compared with the protective colouring some animals assume. They look so similar to their surroundings that they are hardly distinguishable from them’.
Having watched quite a few of these vlogs (albeit not in any systematic way – doing systematic content analysis on this content (lack of content) would drive me insane), I predominantly see what Fromm describes above – the latest fashion trends come out, they buy them, the latest restaurant or even opens, they go there, social mannerisms pertaining to masculinity change, they change the way they express their masculinity…. and so on…
At the end of the the day the depressing thing here isn’t the vanilla vloggers themselves , it’s the fact that they’ve got millions of followers, who either aspire to be like them, or worse, are currently churning out their own vanilla vlogs, failing to realise that they’re going nowhere because the market’s already saturated.