The Arrest of Andrew Tate

Andrew Tate is the poster boy for toxic masculinity – why did he get so popular in 2022 and why was he arrested?

Andrew Tate, the self-styled King of Toxic Masculinity was arrested in Romania on 29th December 2022 and is currently in being held in jail pending possible charges for human trafficking, rape and forcing women into pornography against their will.

Tate subscribes to an incredibly toxic brand of masculinity which holds that men are superior to women, and the main markers of successful masculinity are how much wealth a man has and how successful men are with women. He also believes that ‘strength rules’ – the only valid arguments are those that can be won with violence, and he has no time for weaker or poorer men – he doesn’t believe that depression is real and regards anyone who is poorer than him as not worth knowing.

He has a stated preference for sleeping with teenagers because ‘he can leave more of a mark on them’, despite the fact that he his very critical of women who are sexually promiscuous.

He has a penchant for radical freedom and conspicuous consumption and it was the later that triggered his recent arrest.

He took it upon himself to troll Greta Thunberg on Twitter…. goading her about how many gas-guzzling cars he owned.

Great’s response was one of the most popular tweets in 2022 and promoted a video response from the egoist Tate in which he had Pizza delivered and asked that ‘they not be recycled’.

The only problem with that was the Romanian authorities managed to figure out where Tate was staying because of the brands on those Pizza boxes and within just a few hours his house was raided and he is now under arrest, along with his brother and two Romanian nationals for allegedly sex-trafficking women to Romania.

A hideous individual, finally brought down by his own arrogant ego, hopefully!

Who is Andrew Tate?

Andrew Tate was a relatively little known figure until August 2022 when he managed to gain huge visibility on social media thanks to an army of followers who edited and re-posted his content using his name as a hashtag, successfully gaming especially TikTok’s content-ranking algorithm.

He was born on an estate in Luton, so he is British, and is an ex kickboxer who won international titles, he is also a chess-master. He gained some notoriety in 2016 when he was booted out of Big Brother after video footage emerged of him beating a woman with the buckle of a belt – he claims it was consensual but we don’t know this for certain.

He earns his money mainly through online pornography. He ’employs’ mainly Eastern European women to do cam shows and he takes a cut, claiming that at its hight his ’empire’ consisted of 75 women in five locations brining in $500 000 a month.

He moved to Romania a few years ago claiming that 40% of the reason for this was that it was easier for him to evade rape charges in that country.

Andrew Tate’s Toxic Masculinity

Andrew Tate is an anti-feminist who consciously defines himself as a misogynist. He has previously stated in online content that women are men’s property, that women should be controlled by men and that women’s best defence against rape is to not put themselves in risky situations. He believes that women who go out and get drunk are themselves responsible for being raped.

He regards women as inferior to men in every respect, having stated that all they want to do is post pictures of themselves on instagram to gain attention, and has questioned why women are allowed to drive.

He thinks contemporary masculinity is threatened by women’s equality and the feminist movement and runs a web site called ‘Hustlers University’ which claims to help men be more successful in life, ‘helping’ them to earn more money and be more successful with beautiful women.

A lot of this so-called help involves encouraging men to themselves adopt his own brand of toxic-masculinity which means not accepting women’s equality with men and has men firmly in control of women, and he has even suggested than male violence against women is acceptable to keep them under male control.

Andrew Tate – Why is he so popular?

Tate has been peddling his toxic messages for several years and has been banned from Twitter, YouTube and Facebook.

However, despite being cancelled he has become one of the most well-known social media influencers, with his popularity peaking in August 2022 when his name was searched more times than Kim Kardashian or Donald Trump.

There have been more than 12 billion views under his hashtag, TikTok being the platform guilty of giving him the most airtime.

Andrew Tate is popular because of at least three factors:

  1. He has encouraged his followers to edit and repost his videos using his name as a hashtag – effectively he created a trend storm which successfully gamified social media algorithms, especially on TikTok
  2. His content is presented in an entertaining way and it is shocking – so people tend to watch to the end, something which social media sites reward with higher rankings.
  3. Unlike with Pick up artist culture he has a broader appeal – he is talking al ALL men, whether they have jobs or are in relationships, not just the single unemployed ‘losers.
  4. He has become a kind of poster-boy for cancel-culture – despite being cancelled he has been invited onto chat shows and been the subject of newspaper articles, which has all helped to raise his profile, perversely.

The problem with Andrew Tate’s Toxic Masculinity

Tate talks about violence against women in such a flippant way that there’s a danger he’s helping to normalise violence against women.

And he’s not just anti-women – he is well networked with alt right – Alex Jones, Nigel Farage, Tommy Robinson, so his views align with their’s to an extent, and he’s a massive anti-environmentalist.

He basically has no social conscience at all.

Pretty much anyone under the age of 30 has heard of Andre-Tate, and he is very popular with young men, with teachers reporting increasing numbers of young boys mimicking him.

How to deal with Andrew Tate?

It’s impossible to ignore this guy as he is so visible on social media, but it’s also difficult to know how to deal with him.

A starting point would be to have more discussions around masculinity with young men, especially offline, because otherwise we are just leaving it to this guy and others like him to fill that void.

It’s also a wake up call about how little social media companies care about the content they display – yes he was cancelled, at least formally, but this didn’t stop him being able to game the search algorithms to remain one of the most visible and toxic personalities of 2022.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This material is most relevant to Feminism as part of A-level sociology – it reminds us that Feminism still has a lot to guard against.

It is also relevant to the sociology of the media, in terms of the power of spamming to keep even cancelled content visible.

If you want to find out more I recommend this Guardian Podcast.

The increasing cost of Christmas

25% of people say they can’t afford the Christmas they want in 2022, double the number from 2021.

The cost of Christmas is up by around 20% in 2022, and almost 40% say the cost of Christmas makes the event too stressful, but despite these woes, 70% say that ‘cancelling Christmas is not an option’.

These are some findings from a recent YouGov survey and in this post I consider how all of this might be relevant to sociology!

How much does the average person spend on Christmas…?

The average person in Britain plans to spend £642 on Christmas in 2022, which is down only slightly on 2021 when the average person spent £670. (These are Mean, not median averages).

However given inflation, people will be getting a lot less for their money this year even though the reduction in raw expenditure isn’t that significant!. According to The Guardian the cost of our various Christmas expenditures – mainly presents, food and, for some, travel have risen by more than 20% this year compared to 2021….

This basically means everyone’s going to be having one less slice of turkey, maybe a couple of less potatoes, and, worst of all, fewer pigs in blankets (yes, things really are THAT bad!)

25% of people can’t afford the Christmas they want

Given that the cost of Christmas has risen sharply it’s not surprising that the number of people saying they cannot afford the Christmas they want has doubled to 25%.

This proportion sounds about right based on the poverty stats: about 20% of the UK population are in relative poverty and I imagine most of the people responding positively to that question are going to come from this 20%.

Of course not all of them will, several people on low incomes budget for Christmas by saving all year round, and some of those responses will be more middle-income families having to cut down on their usual more affluent Christmas.

I do find it interesting that 75% are happy enough with their finances to be able to afford the Christmas they want, suggesting that people aren’t that sucked into the consumerist hype – the average figure of £650 seems to be adequate.

Maybe that’s a fail for the Christmas hype-machine, further suggesting that people aren’t as passive as you might think?!?

40% say Christmas is too Stressful

This is depressing – a significant minority of the population find the event too stressful because of the money…

This means that maybe that the veneer of Christmas is something of a lie, while underneath at the micro-level there’s a lot of suffering going on.

Value Consensus around Christmas?

Besides the increasing cost of Christmas and the increasing numbers of people feeling stressed about it and going into debt to fund it, nearly 70% of Britons say that ‘cancelling Christmas is not an option’

And it’s very rare these days that you get that many people to agree on anything, and so celebrating Christmas is maybe one of the few points of value consensus that we have.

Or is this value consensus at the level of society? Christmas is one of the few periods of the year where we all get to retreat from the world of work and society and spend some time with our families, so maybe here Britain is saying ‘we value being able to retreat to our private households’, so one could interpret this as being anti-social.

Signposting

This is really just a bit of annual Christmas fun with statistics!

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Sociological Perspectives on the December Strikes…

1.3 million workers are making just demands for better pay and conditions, but the neoliberal government is against them

Over one million workers across numerous sectors are going on Strike from December 2022 and into 2023.

Their main demands of the strikers are for better working conditions to make public services better and safer for everyone who uses them, and also for fairer pay to enable them to afford their basic human needs.

Who is going on strike?

There are workers going on strike from several unions in December 2022- January 2023

  • The Teacher’s union
  • The nurses union
  • ambulance workers
  • The RMT
  • buses
  • highway workers
  • Postal Workers
  • Boarder Force/ Driving InstructorS
  • University staff.

Is this a general strike?

No. A general strike is when industrial action is co-ordinated across several unions in solidarity. At the moment, while many individual unions are striking they are no co-ordinating these strikes.

Why are workers going on strike…?

The main reason for striking is that ordinary hard working public sector workers want to receive fair pay for the services they provide, and by ‘fair’ we mean a wage that is at least sufficient to pay for housing, food, utilities, transport and other basic needs rather than nurses having to go into debt and/ or rely on food banks to survive.

Real term pay has decreased by 20% since 2010 because of a decade of below inflation public sector pay rises as part of the Tory’s ongoing austerity policies.

But these strikes aren’t just about wages for the workers, they are also about working conditions and the wages being sufficient to attract enough workers to fill vacancies so that current workers aren’t overstretched. For example there are currently 47 000 unfilled nursing roles in the NHS – the pay isn’t enough to attract people into those roles, but current workers have to do overtime to cover those roles or just ‘work harder’.

The RCN says thousands of “burned out, underpaid nursing staff” have left the profession in the past 12 months.

And the fact that organisations like the NHS are understaffed means working conditions aren’t safe, THAT’s a pretty decent to strike for better conditions – these people actually care about the quality of work they provide and they can’t provide quality if they are stretched beyond capacity due to the wages being so low one in six vacancies are empty!

The longer term context of these strikes is twelve years of austerity politics from the Tories – most public sector workers have suffered a real terms pay cut (when factoring in inflation) of 20% since 2010, meaning they are a lot poorer now than they were twelve years ago. So basically, blame the Tories.

Public sector pay hans’t kept pace with private sector pay, so fairness is also about helping public sector workers catch up

Think about the kind of of people who are striking here too – nurses and teachers – these people go into a vocation, many of them dedicate their lives to it and they genuinely want to make YOUR LIFE and your children’s lives better – just pay them!

Then of course there is the Pandemic – it wasn’t so long ago that especially nurses, but also teachers were in the front-line of keeping the country going during Lockdowns, with nurses exposing themselves to Covid-19, some literally dying or seeing colleagues die as a result and now we can’t even give them a pay-rise in line with inflation.

How many people support the strikes?

It depends on who is striking.

60% of the public would support nurses striking, and a majority supports fire fighters, supermarket workers and doctors, with 50% supporting teachers.

However, people are very much against barristers, civil servants, university staff and train drivers going on strike!

People also support the nurses strike

Arguments against striking

The government says it can’t afford to pay workers because it’s broke but it found enough money recently to pay pensioners 10% more – and that’s ALL pensioners, even the rich ones.

But NB – the Tories may say they now don’t have enough money, but consider the fact that Liz Trus’ mini-budget wiped £30 billion off the economy – there’s your pay-deal for all public sector workers right there!

So there may not be enough money but that’s because a combination of sheer incompetence and choosing to fund pensions over workers.

Media bias against strike action

If you can be bothered to wait for the advertising-slowed sluggish right-wing biased fest that is the Daily Mail online to load up you will immediately see the usual anti-social justice vitriol against the strikes.

Besides referring to Mick Lynch as ‘Grinch Lynch’ the other dead giveaway is immediately focussing on how the strikes will inconvenience you – clearly to the Daily Mail it’s more important that wealthy people get their Christmas cards delivered on time rather than the ordinary hardworking mail workers who deliver them receive decent pay and conditions for their service.

Applying Sociology to the strikes

This strike action is a fantastic example of how four decades of neoliberal economic policy have failed ordinary hard working people. If policy had been more about reinvesting back into public services, part of which would have meant pay rises in line with inflation, these socially just strikes would not be necessary.

The government’s reaction in not agreeing to the 1.3 million strikers’ totally reasonable requests also reminds us of the continued relevance of Marxism – with a political elite who recently tanked the economy with their fickle min-budget now refusing to enact a social policy which benefits ordinary hard working people.

Sources

The Daily Mirror (November 2022): Why are Nurses Striking?

BBC: Rishi Sunak working on ‘tough new strike laws‘.

The Guardian – Strike Statistics

Just Stop Oil – A Sociological Analysis

Just stop oil are challenging people to rethink what their values are in global context, but are coming up against governmental and corporate power structures which are pro fossil fuel.

Just Stop Oil is a UK based coalition of groups with the aim of getting the government to stop all new licences for exploring and developing fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas.

Just Stop Oil draws on evidence from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which suggests if the global community doesn’t take action to radically and rapidly reducing its fossil fuel use within the next few years then climate change could be irreversible, meaning today’s children will face a calamitous future of global warming, sea level rise and extreme weather events.

The group has an overtly political focus, and a very specific focus – to get the government to disallow companies to exploit new fossil fuel reserves, and their tactics are very radical involving non violent direct action.

Just Stop Oil’s Tactics

Just Sop Oil uses Non Violent Direction Action to disrupt social activity in England and other countries, in order to draw attention to the urgent need to address the climate crisis.

The group made headlines in the UK in early November by climbing motorway gantries and stopping traffic for hours on end around the M25 and other places – if people enter gantries the police are legally obliged to remove them for their own safety, which requires traffic to be stopped.

The video below gives you an insight into the rational behind these tactics from the words of one of the activists

Just Stop Oil also made headline news back in October 2022 when activists threw soup over Van Gogh’s sunflowers.

The reason for choosing to attack art is to make people question what they value – if people are getting angry over vandalising a work of art, why aren’t they getting angry over governments allowing corporations and lazy individuals to vandalise the ecosystem which art depends on too?

Applying sociology to Just Stop Oil

There are lots of concepts you can apply to the Just Stop Oil campaigns, especially value consensus (or lack of it), indivdualisation, the Marxist perspective on global power structures, and Durkheim’s ideas about deviance and social change.

Value Consensus (or lack of it)

Just stop oil explicitly call on people to rethink what they value, as you can see from the FAQ on their site about ‘why soup over art’ – the whole point of that is to get people to think about why they care more about art than the climate, if they are getting angry about just the art rather than the climate.

You can also see it in this twitter exchange – the person replying to the individualised mother is challenging her to change her values and act on them, like she has done and like the U.N. is calling on people to do.

However the fact that so few people seem to care about the climate crisis and just go on doing their own thing and polluting suggests we are a long way off value consensus over the need to reduce our fossil fuel usage.

In short, Functionalist theory just doesn’t seem to apply here!

Individualisation

The tweet above reminds me of Bauman’s concept of individualisation – we live in a society where individuals are increasingly tasked with finding solutions to their own problems, rather than relying on society to do it for them.

In the above case we see a woman ‘managing’ her ordinary life in a very individualised way – she has a car to transport her kids around and is trying to plan to avoid disruption – which in itself is very efficient and organised.

However any sense of her using the train to care about the environment clearly isn’t on her agenda – and it isn’t on most people’s agendas either as they are too busy trying to just survive on a day to day basis.

There’s a strong possibility that governmental action may well be needed to reduce global emissions – if people aren’t forced to use less fossil fuels most of them will choose to carry on using them for the sake of convenience as any sense of ‘care for society’ has largely disappeared in our individualised age.

Marxist theories of global power structures

The fact that insufficient government action has been taken over climate change to prevent catastrophe by 2050 (according to climate scientists) suggests that they are on the side of the oil and gas companies.

In the case of the UK this is very much obvious – two of our largest companies are Shell and BP and the government isn’t even prepared to tax the current enormous profits they are making on high energy prices.

It seems to be that it’s very much the climate coalition versus the governments plus the oil corporations, and the later two are still putting short term profits before long term sustainability, which suggests that Marxism may well still be relevant today!

The Social Construction of Crime

Just a quick one – the High Court put out an injunction against anyone blockading motorways and other roads in certain parts of the UK.

This means that instead of just being charged with public nuisance offences which only really carry minor punishments anyone blockading a motorway as part of Just Stop Oil’s campaign can now be charged with contempt of court which carries longer jail sentences and unlimited fines!

It’s a great example of how an act can be made ‘more criminal’ by the simple act of a court.

Durkheims’ theory of social change

If you read through Just Stop Oil’s website and listen to the voices in these videos it’s clear that Just Stop Oil activists position themselves as being at the moral forefront of positive social change, in the same vein as civil rights activists in the 1960s.

Durkheim said that deviance in society is necessary in order for social change to take place and that ‘today’s deviance may well be tomorrow’s norm’.

Perhaps these committed activists have the value-system of the future – perhaps in 40 years time we will look back and think these were pioneers of a greener future when it is the norm to live more sustainably?

Another way Durkheim’s theory may be relevant in the future depends on how these activists are punished – if they are given very harsh punishments this could be an attempt by the courts to enforce social regulation through sending out a message.

Just Stop Oil – Relevance to A-level Sociology conclusions

This case study is most relevant to the Power and Politics option, but few students study that module, but this material is still a good example of deviance and so for most people will be relevant to the crime and deviance module.

also relevant to the global development module as this is clearly a global movement!

Liz Truss’ Energy Price Cap Will Benefit the Rich more than the Poor

State hand-outs for TNCs and more support for the rich – this is neoliberalism on steroids!

The New British Prime Minister, Liz Truss, recently announced her plans to help families and households through the current cost of living crisis.

The main policy to be introduced is an energy price cap which limits the average amount each household will pay capped at £2500.

NB this policy doesn’t mean that every household will pay a maximum of £2500 , that figure is the ‘easy to understand’ figure based on what the new price-per-unit of energy that OFGEM has to work with will be, which will mean an average house going forwards will be paying £2500 on energy until October 2023 (those calculations based on how much energy an average household has been using historically).

Of course if one ‘average household’ keeps the heating up at a toasty 25 degrees all winter they will still be paying more for energy than a similar household which keeps its thermostat at a more reasonable 18 degrees.

And so larger houses will be paying more than £2500, smaller houses and flats probably less than £2500.

HOWEVER, the cap on the unit-of-energy price still benefits the rich more than the poor, and. one simple chart from The Guardian shows how…

According to the figures above the following types of household save the following amounts per year with Truss’ new energy policy…

  • Detached houses save £1400
  • Semi-detached save £1150
  • Mid terraced save £950
  • Purpose built flats save £650

And as a general rule it is the wealthier and higher income earners who live in detached houses, while it’s the working and lower classes who live in mid terraced and flats.

So what we see here is that this Tory Policy saves the average wealthy household £750 a year more than the average poorer household.

This becomes clear when we see just HOW MUCH the richest households spend on energy, which was revealed in a recent 2022 report: A ‘Variable Energy Price Cap’ to Help Solve the Cost-of-Living Crisis by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research…

As you can see from the above the richest households spend almost twice as much on energy as the poorest households, which means any uniform energy price cap will benefit them proportionately more.

This is one of the reasons why the above report proposes a more nuanced policy approach of a variable cap and energy prices increasing the more households use, which would help the poor more compared to the rich and make the wealthier households contribute more to dealing with rising energy prices.

According to Bloomberg the current Tory policy could cost tax payers as much as £130 billion over two years, which is a CHOICE by a TORY to make the people pay rather than energy companies who are likely to make sufficient profit to be able to pay for the ENTIRE increase themselves and STILL make a decent profit on top!

The Tories allow the Corporations to Keep their Profits

According to UK Treasury figures Energy firms are expected to make an additional ‘unexpected’ £170 billion in profits over the next two years due to the increase in energy prices.

One policy the government could have pursued to tackle rising energy prices is thus to use a windfall tax on the two major UK energy corporations – Even just a 10% tax on £170 billion would raise £17 billion to help weather the storm.

However Liz Truss is part of the same Transnational Elite as the international energy companies. She used to work for Shell and she accepted a £100 000 donation from BP towards her leadership campaign.

And now she is repaying them by guaranteeing to allow them to keep ALL of their profits from this crisis, be effectively using tax payers money to pay them everything above the price cap for at least another year.

The most likely situation is that MOST of our

New Fracking and Oil Exploration Licenses

A more longer term policy (or lack of it) is to issue several new licences to allow firms to drill and frack for oil and natural gas in the North Sea and (probably) poorer parts of the United Kingdom.

Given Liz Truss’ pro-corporate and light regulation stance it’s unlikely these licenses will come with terms which see the profits from such resources go back to the people – far more likely is light regulation, low tax and profit extraction to distant lands.

Liz Truss’ Energy Policy – Relevance to A-level sociology

Probably the best fit for this material is within the Global Development module or the Theories part of Theory and Methods.

This policy is very much neoliberal – she is not taxing large corporations and giving out new licences for corporations to suck out our natural resources (NB we don’t have details, but I’m anticipating very lax regulation here).

We might even call this hyper neoliberalism – Truss is proposing a straight transfer of tax payer funds to Corporations – naked and visible and no effort to hide it, usually with pro-privatisation policies this is obscured, but not here.

Meanwhile her energy cap does little to help the poorest and more, proportionally to help the richest.

It’s also worth going back and reading Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine – that seems to apply here – we have a crisis and the right wing use it to pass even more wealth to the rich…

So this evidence also suggests support for the Marxist view that the government, ultimately (or at least in its current form) works in the interests of the elites and Transnational Corporations.

How has Covid-19 Changed our Work and Home Lives?

During the Pandemic our ordinary lives and norms were suspended because of government mandated rules enforcing Lockdowns and other protective measures agains the spread of the virus.

And it is precisely when our ordinary daily lives are disrupted or suspended that social norms are illuminated, and the Pandemic highlighted some of these, such as our reliance on technology (digital platforms) and gender relations within the household.

Furthermore, the social polices developed in response to the Covid-19 Pandemic reproduced already existing inequalities and power relations.

All of this is according to Will Davis, Professor of Political Economy at GoldSmith’s University, who featured in a recent Thinking Allowed Podcast

Davis argues that the Pandemic shows us the power of the Nation State – what it can achieve when there is political will to spend money (and neoliberalism as usual is suspended!) – as evidenced in the ‘Covid Secure Housing’ scheme – all of a sudden, homelessness was almost eradicated, because it was deemed necessary to get people off the streets.

However for the most part the government’s policy approach during the Pandemic was one of ‘rentier nationalism’ – further blurring the boundaries between the public and private sector by giving generous contracts to companies in managing the Pandemic.

One such example was awarding SERCO the track and trace contract, and there are many more.

This policy, according to Davis was a continuation of several decades of post-neoliberal policies in which the role of the State is to ensure that those with assets can make a profit out of them – this is true for people with houses and for companies too.

It’s worth noting that this isn’t neoliberalism which is more global and free-market, it is the State having more of a role – and in fact this was the case with the political response to the Pandemic which was less global and more national according to Davis – as evidenced in ‘Vaccine nationalism’.

Inequality in the experience of Covid-19

Davis suggests we went through a ‘crisis of space’ during Lockdown with the home the chief weapon in combatting the spread of the virus.

He notes that for those with larger homes and spare rooms, Lockdown was relatively easy, and the wealthy were more able to spend money on technology to transition to home working, for example.

Property prices even increase during the Pandemic, further benefitting the rich!

Meanwhile the poor had a much worse time, and in extreme circumstances where there was overcrowding in multifamily households with share bathrooms, it was even impossible to isolate in family bubbles, meaning higher rates of infections.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is a useful update of some very contemporary sociology illustrating how inequalities are relevant to understanding our responses to Covid-19.

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Will we See an Upswing in America’s Social Capital?

Social trust in America is at all time lows, but can this be reversed?

The Covid-19 Pandemic, and Capitol-Hill Insurrection following President Biden’s election victory seem to indicate that America is more socially disconnected and politically divided than ever.

In Bowling Alone (1995), Robert Putnam famously argued that levels of trust and social capital had been declining in American society since the 1960s and recent events seem to suggest that this trend has just continued towards new lows.

Social capital refers to the amount of connections we have outside of the family and work – Bowling alone being a metaphor the decreasing amount of shared social activities people engaged in.

A strongly related concept is Trust, which is something the PEW research centre measures regularly, and the latest stats suggest very low levels of trust among younger people in particular in America:

However, despite this 60 year decline, there is hope that we can turn this around and move to a more connected society again.

in Recent publication by Robert Putnam: The UpSwing he investigated the levels of social capital in America over a longer time frame, more than a century in this case, using four indicators to measure social capital…

  • Political polarisation – how wide apart our political opinions and voting patterns are
  • Economic inequality – how big is the gap between the richest and poorest
  • Social isolation – how much interaction is there outside of the family and work
  • cultural intolerance – to what extent to we accept cultural diversity?

Back at the turn of the century, in 1900 social capital (measured by the above four indicators) had been as low as it is today, but around 1910, the American society turned a corner and began an ‘upswing’. They started to move towards a society which was more connected, more economically equal and more focussed on what brought them together rather than on what divided them.

Back in the early 20th century there was a big focus on social darwinism, most people believed in ‘individual salvation’, but this was replaced gradually with the idea of social obligation to others, and in this upswing, increasing social capital came first at the grass roots, last in Washington.

So maybe if they’ve done it before, The United States can learn lessons from the past and once again start to move towards being a more connected society?

Problems with the last upswing

Putnam suggests that that old ‘we’ was a racist – it didn’t extend to non-whites and the rise of individualism from the 1960s coincides with the rise of Civil Rights and the backlash against this.

So there was a lot of ‘agreeing about things’ and ‘working together’ at the grass-roots level, but there was also an underbelly of racism which resulted in a gradual increase in more visible individualism and social division.

Putnam also points out that ‘too much we can be bad’ As in the 1950s…. with McCarthyism and too much conformity.

So is there hope for a more connected America?

The Pandemic has shown us that there are some things which cannot be tackled if you just focus on your self, which may spur America towards a more socially connected future.

HOWEVER, the issue of Race in America is huge, and it’s hard to see just how this going to be resolve itself into a ‘diverse-we’ from the current situation.

And the sheer level of economic inequality can’t help things either.

I’m kind of left wondering if this isn’t an old-man Putnam just trying to be optimistic in his old age and at least give the next generation some kind of (false?) hope that life might get better?

Signposting and Sources

This post should be of interest to students studying Functionalist Theory as part of the Theory and Methods module in the second year of A-level sociology.

To my mind it can best be used as a criticism of the concept that society’s today are characterised by social integration. Despite Putnam’s optimism I’m not convinced the USA will now start to move towards more social integration.

This is a summary of this Thinking Allowed Podcast.

Robert D Putnam is the Malkin Research Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University

Social Exclusion in British Tennis

So we’ve got a new Wimbledon Champion in waiting in the form of Emma Radacanu – but don’t get too excited, she doesn’t break the trend of the English Middle Class Norm. .

For a start, Radacanu grew up and started playing tennis in Canada, where social class is much less entrenched, and in any case her mother (Chinese) and farther (Romanian), neither of whom are from Britain originally, and both of whom work in Finance, are firmly part of the global middle class, who just happen to be resident in Britain ATM.

So she just carries on the middle-class tradition in British Tennis…. all the way back as far as I can remember until Tim Henman who was quintissentially middle class – home counties, dad a solicitor, privately educated, own tennis court in his back garden.

No, it seems that elite tennis just isn’t for the working classes.

There’s an interesting study from 2008 that explored why this is: Social Exclusion in British Tennis: A History of Privilege and Prejudice.

It explores the history using a literature review and ethnography in one local tennis club, and it’s the later I find the most interesting.

The author found that members of the club would enforce a set of social norms beyond playing the game that worked to exclude non established members – for example it was frowned upon to not have a drink after a game, but in the bar established members rarely spoke to newer members.

Appropriate etiquette was also a big deal, meaning appropriate middle class norms of behaviour.

It’s noted that the grass courts were kept open for any member and their children to be able to play on during the summer, but these were heavily policed by senior middle class women, and children had the lowest status in the club, they were hardly encouraged to play.

The ethnography doesn’t extend to professional tennis, which may well be class-neutral, but the point is, tennis clubs are one of the few means whereby people without their own tennis courts at home are going to be able to get into tennis, and this local tennis club blocked ordinary children from being able to do this.

The primary function of this club seemed to be for middle class women to exercise their power and status over others, through ignoring and excluding those they deemed to be inferior, which was pretty much anyone not like them.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is quite useful for illustrating aspects of cultural capital theory and yet another reminder of how social class permeates so many aspects of British life.

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16-24 year olds hit hardest by Coronavirus Pandemic

How has coronavirus affected the young?

The government’s response to the Coronavirus Pandemic primarily focused on protecting the very old, who have the highest chance of dying with (although not necessarily from) Covid-19 if they catch it.

However, the drastic lock down strategy introduced back in March 2020, which closed all schools in England and Wales as well as many work places for several months has left children ad young adults ‘scarred for life’ according to many experts within SAGE (The Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies), as summarised in this Guardian article.

Children have been negatively impacted through their schools being closed for 4 months, with some being hit further by local lockdowns more recently in September and October.

While schools did put in place online learning programmes, the quality of these varied from school to school and many children have been left 6 months behind with their learning, having now to catch up.

Then there’s the damage done to children’s social development – with their not being able to go out for 4 months and socialise face to face, and the added stress and uncertainty of just being subject to the ‘covid-climate’ in Britain (it hasn’t exactly been a fun or easy going year has it?!?).

If there’s any truth in Sue Palmer’s theory about toxic childhood, keeping children indoors for extended periods most definitely wouldn’t have done their mental health any good, which is something the SAGE experts are particularly concerned about!

While it might seem that 16 and 18 year olds who sat exams in 2020 got of relatively lightly because of their school predicted grades being inflated, let’s not forget that this would have been stressful and unpleasant for many of them, and we’ve now also got about 10% of these students enrolled on A-level programmes or degrees their probably not qualified to do because of their inflated grades, so there’s probably going to be higher failure rates and drop-out rates to come later this year.

Where young adults are concerned (18-24s) this age group has been most affected by the increase in unemployment in the wake of the Pandemic:

(The graphic shows 16-24s, but there aren’t that many under 18s in employment, so it’s mainly 18-24 year olds)

I guess this is because they are more likely to be working in the kinds of sectors which have been hit hardest by the virus – namely the hospitality sector, and while Furlough would have offered some protection, many hospitality sectors businesses are now starting to fold as consumers are just more reluctant to eat and drink out.

Looking at the longer term – if we have a recession, it’s likely to be younger people that suffer more as they struggle with the legacy of a disrupted education and fewer opportunities to get their first jobs.

Relevance to A-level sociology

Age stratification isn’t a major topic in most options, but perhaps it should be, as this is a great example of how the young seem to be suffering more than any other age group.

It certainly shows the limitations of the government’s capacity to deal with a crisis. Anthony Giddens famously said that Nation States are too small to deal with global problems – and here we have a government simply not having the resources to help everyone in society when faced with a global pandemic.

IF you think we need the government to help us through this mess, then this is a criticism of neoliberalism, which argues for less government.

However, you might just regard such reports as the one linked above by The Guardian as part of an exaggerated risk consciousness, and think that maybe young people haven’t been harmed at all by this crisis – maybe they are perfectly capable of being innovative and adapting to this crisis in new ways we haven’t even thought about yet?!?

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CoronaVirus: A very divisive virus?

The CoronaVirus seems to be dividing us

While our national response to CoronaVirus has been couched in terms of ‘working together to beat this’,  ‘solidarity’ and ‘social responsibility’, I don’t think our collective response to this virus can be characterised as ‘acting in solidarity’ or ‘enhancing social integration’.

Rather, I think the short- and long-term result of the Virus and our response to it is leading to more social fragmentation and division.

There is a lot of case study and statistical evidence you can use to back up this analysis:

In the initial phases of the ‘emergency response’ there was plenty of evidence of people not obeying the government advice of ‘social distancing’ – plenty of photos of people in buys Parks and crammed tube carriages for example, duly shared on twitter and other social media sites.  

Then there’s the most recent government’s orders that we should all stay indoors, with a handful of exceptions such as for exercise and food shopping, during which time we all need to keep 2 metres apart from each other.

You might interpret this as ‘solidarity’ – all ‘distancing together’, but TBH I don’t think we can characterize us NOT doing things as solidarity.  For the most part, people are staying indoors, isolated in their private life-worlds.

Yes, we can stay connected via social media and our Smart T.V.s, but this is a very selective kind of social interaction, we aren’t ‘rubbing up against’ people in public space anymore, at least not for the foreseeable future.  

What we are seeing are new norms about social interaction – people view each other as potential carriers of the virus and thus a potential threat to their own health.

Maybe there is a new kind of uniting against the social pariahs who do not social distance? This article outlines how there have been social media campaigns shaming people ‘not doing their bit by keeping their distance’…. But that strikes me as a very weak kind of solidarity, at about the same level as online petitions.

Then of course there’s the evidence of so many people just looking out for themselves – by stockpiling food, leaving the shelves empty for others!

The response the Virus is set to be even more divisive

Public sector workers (bizarrely) do quite well (at least for now) by keeping their pay, private sector workers get 80%, but the self-employed seemed to have been left to their own devices.

Those on lower incomes and in precarious employment are likely to suffer the most of course, as these do not have the funds to tied them over a reduction income in the short term and maybe further cuts to hours and pay in the long term as a recession is likely.

Meanwhile I have no doubt that there will be  a massive bail-out coming for the banks and Corporations, again, like in 2008.

All of this means that the young will probably pick up the tab as decreasing tax revenues and increasing government debt in future months will be managed by cuts to public services and probably pensions.

Finally, from a global perspective, I don’t imagine travelling abroad is going to be easy or welcomed by people in other countries – there may be more hostility towards tourists, let alone asylum seekers after this.

Final thoughts…

To make this sociologically relevant, I think CoronaVirus is a great example of an event that suggests Functionalist analysis is no longer relevant to understanding late-modern society.

TBH I’m not sure what perspectives are relevant to understanding this – I guess it’s an extreme example of how we manage Risk, so maybe Beck’s Risk Society thesis, maybe also Giddens – I think it was him who said Nation States were too small to tackle global problems, and this seems to be the case here!

Unless this current situation is the best we can do?

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