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Eight Reasons Why We Should All be Marxists

The third of three posts on Marxism for A2 Sociological Perspectives – Arguments and evidence for the continued relevance of Marxism 

Contemporary Marxists argues that Marxist analysis is still relevant to an understanding of modern society. A considerable amount of contemporary Marxist thought focuses on how Capitalism has become globalised and emphasises the injustices of the global capitalist system; another strand of contemporary Marxist theory focuses on how the values of capitalism (in the form of ‘neo-liberal hegemony’) have penetrated Western culture to the detriment of us all.

You might like to think about what Marxist concepts are illustrated by these cartoons

  1. Some Sociologists argue that a class based analysis of global society is still relevant.

Leslie Sklaire argues that recent decades have seen the emergence of a ‘Transnational Capitalist Class’. These are the leaders of global corporations, certain politicians and their bureaucrats who control billions of dollars of assets and financial flows. They wield their power through undemocratic international economic institutions such as the World Bank, The International Monetary Fund and the G20. These institutions were established after World War Two to help co-ordinate the expanding global economy and facilitate redevelopment after the war. However, many left wing theorists such as Joseph Stiglitz argue that since the 1970s these institutions have forced dozens of developing countries to adopt neo-liberal economic policies. Neo-Liberal policies include such things as privatising public services, cutting taxes and regulating industry less, thus allowing Transnational Corporations to open sweat shops, pollute local areas, and take all the profits away without giving very much back. The basic idea here is that the global economy is run by Corporations and Politicians for the benefit of Corporations and their high powered political supporters (One of whom is ‘Gideon’ Osborn)

  1. There is considerable evidence that exploitation still lies at the heart of the Capitalist system.

Corporations are frequently criticised for exploiting workers and the environment – through sweatshop labour and pollution, where they can get away with it. Some of the most obvious examples include Shell and oil pollution in Nigeria; Coke’s legacy of draining water local water supplies in India to produce Coke, which results in drought in local areas and Apple’s use of sweatshops in China to produce the ipad.

  1. There is some evidence that those with economic power still have disproportionate influence over the superstructure.

Marxist Theory is still relevant because…. There is some evidence that those with economic power still have disproportionate influence over the superstructure.

I should just point out that the point of this post is to provide soundbites that you can use in an exam (or an arguement with a Tory supporter of the neo-liberal state apparatus) rather than a comprehensive or balanced account of evidence for or against (the variety of) Marxist theory.

Evidence of Elite control over the government

By far the best example of state putting the interests of Capital before the interests of the majority of people is how the government has responded to the present ‘economic crisis’. 

Simply put, the state is making the poor pay for the economic problems caused by the Transnational Capitalist Class. The average guy on the street is getting poorer while the rich are still getting richer! Consider also the recent case of Ireland, where the minimum wage is being cut by one euro, VAT is being increase, and public sector jobs axed, while Corporation Tax remains at an incredibly low 12.5%  

Getting back to the cuts in Britain, this is no surprise if you actually look at the characteristics of those who make up the cabinet and the wider Tory Party; you actually find that many of them are themselves extremely wealthy. The prime minister, deputy prime minister and Chancellor are all millionaires – They are the Transnational Capitalist Class – and they are hardly likely to hurt themselves.

Evidence of Elite control over the Criminal Justice System

Another example of the elite class having control over the superstructure lies in the differential treatment of white collar crime and street crime. Even though White Collar Crime costs more to the economy than street crime, White Collar Criminals are still less likely to get punished. According to Tombs and Whyte, this is partly because the government invests fewer resources into investigating fraud and health and safety crimes (the types of crime Corporations are most likely to be guilty of) than it does into working class street crime.

Evidence of Elite Control over the mainstream Media

Greg Philo argues that it is simply crazy it is that the agenda in the media is about ‘what services should the government cut’ rather than ’should we tax the wealthy or make cuts.[1] Philo points[2] out that there are other solutions to the current economic crisis – there is enough property wealth in the country – we could just take it off them, but the government is making the average man on the street pay instead. In his film, 

Evidence of Elite Control of the Education system

Evidence for elite control of the education system lies in the fact that if you are wealthy, you can buy your children a private education, which gives them a much greater chance of getting into a top university and high getting a highly paid, prestigious job.  The statistics make for extremely uncomfortable reading… Intelligent children from the 20% of richest homes in England are seven times more likely to attend a high-ranking university than intelligent children from the poorest 40%’.Looked at another way, of 80,000 15-year-olds who’d been on free school meals in 2002, only 45 had made it to Oxbridge- compared to the high-end private Westminster school which averages 82 successful applicants every year.[3]

People from upper middle class, public school backgrounds dominate every economic sector except those – such as sport and hard science – in which only raw ability counts. Through networking, confidence, unpaid internships, most importantly through our attendance at the top universities, we run the media, politics, the civil service, the arts, the City, law, medicine, big business, the armed forces, even, in many cases, the protest movements challenging these powers. The Milburn report, published last year, shows that 45% of top civil servants, 53% of top journalists, 32% of MPs, 70% of finance directors and 75% of judges come from the 7% of the population who went to private schools.’[4]

  1. There is evidence that we are still under ideological control – but we don’t realise it.

Antonio Gramsci, A humanist Marxist writing in the early twentieth century first pointed out that what he called ‘Hegemonic Control’ plays an ever important role in advanced Capitalist societies. Hegemonic control occurs when the intellectual and moral leadership provided by the dominant class provides the fundamental outlook for the whole of society.

Greg Philo points to one very good recent example of this in recent years – the fact that we are so willing to accept cuts to public services when the richest ten percent of the country own so much wealth that if we just took one fifth of their wealth we would clear the national deficit, yet this idea doesn’t not even appear in the media. Agenda Setting has removed it and so we do not even consider it.

  1. Capitalism is kept going by creating ‘false needs’

Successful companies today spend billions on advertising campaigns to convince us that we need the products that they make. Looked at objectively much of what we buy we don’t need, yet the Capitalist class invests billions convincing us to buy things that we do not need.

Worse that ideological control – More generally, numerous Sociologists such as Richard Wilkinson and David Garland point out that the more unequal a country, and the more a country has adopted neo-liberal policies – the higher the prison population. It would appear that the closer a country is to ‘pure capitalism’ the more punitive the elite class is.

  1. Alienation and Commodity Fetishism

We in west have become so obsessed with consumer culture that we end up defining ourselves through the products we consume, and how we ‘pick and mix them’ (this means fashion, holidays, houses, cars, mobile phones). From a Marxist point of view this is incredibly shallow – Marx believed that we are only fully human when we are fully engaged with the political and economic processes of our society. From the Marxist point of view, Capitalism just encourages us to be childlike and define ourselves through our styles and our hobbies and to forget about politics and economics. In the truest sense we are alienated from our productive base while our identities become more and more dependent on material goods.

  1. David Harvey argues that economic crises are inherent to the Capitalist system and that in recent years these crises have become more severe and more frequent.

Harvey argues that any sane person should join an anti-capitalist movement because the root problems of Capitalism are the same as they were in Marx’s day – click here for his analysis of the problems of Modern Capitalism

  1. Capitalist exploitation is so bad in some parts of the world that there is vehement resistance to it – especially in Latin America – President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, for example, perceives himself as an anti-Capitalist, as do many people of Latin America. The Zapatistas in Mexico is another good example and the World Development Movement also has Marxist undertones.

  • See the first 20 mins or so of John Pilger’s ‘War on Democracy’ to here Hugo Chavez talk in Marxist terms – on stream

  1. Although you don’t see it in the media there are tens of thousands of people who call themselves Communists and who sympathise with Marxism and the wider anti-capitalist movement. Left Wing criticisms and the anti-capitalist movement are still very much alive today.

Related Posts

The Traditional Marxist Perspective on Society – Eight Key Ideas

Eight Criticisms of Traditional Marxism

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Sensationalisation of Crime in the Media

The selection of dramas below is a good illustration of just how much the media sensationalises crime –

Media and Crime

Crime drama seems to make up huge percentage of the BBC’s output – and all of the recent dramas above focus on the most horrific crimes – kidnapping and murder seem to be the most popular. Many of these dramas also have multiple victims – Happy Valley had about five – in one quiet region of Northern England, in the space of the few weeks the series was set over.

Just a quick post as I wanted something in place to introduce media and crime when we do the topic early next Academic year.

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How Many Likes Does it Take?

I just typed in ‘how many likes does it take to be satisfied’ into Google and got the responses below (second picture) – although just as interesting are the auto-complete options which cropped up.

how many likes

likes

I guess we live in a virtual world where many more people are asking themselves how to get more likes, without asking themselves whether this will make them satisfied or not?

I KNOW there are plenty more ways you can phrase the question, and of course the above responses may be difference because of my own search history (although whey the Ask Men link came up is beyond me), but intuitively this seems to be an obvious limit to reflexivity in an an online age – asking how to get more likes is more common than reflecting on whether this is a worthy goal in the first place.

For some reasons I’m reminded of Habermas’ theory of communicative action – and those three basic types of question we can ask of each other (and ourselves) – (1) Is something effective, (2) is something true (i.e. what does it actually mean) and (3) is something good. When it comes to the economy of likes, I guess most people are stuck in that pragmatic domain. When it comes to likes – how many people stop to reflect on what a ‘like’ actually means, and whether seeking more of them is a worthwhile act in itself, and how (more?) many people have just unconsciously based part of their self-esteem on gathering likes and limit themselves to the pragmatic question of how to get more of them?

Now there’s a research agenda to stick in your pipe and smoke!

And of course I do appreciate the irony of the media here.

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Twitter Users by Occupation and Social Class

The middle classes and especially those in creative industries are more likely to be on twitter, but finding this out is more difficult than you might think, at least according to some recent research:

Who Tweets?: Deriving the Demographic Characteristics of Age, Occupation and Social Class from Twitter User Meta-Data

This post is a brief summary of the methods and findings of the above.

Introduction/ Context/ Big Data

90% of the world’s data has been generated in the past 2 years and the trend is apparently exponential, the key challenges of harnessing this data (known as the 5Vs: volume,veracity, velocity, variety and value) are not so easily overcome.

The primary criticism of such data is that it is there to be collected and analysed before the question is asked and, because of this, the data required to answer the research question may not be available with important information such as demographic characteristics being absent.

The sheer volume of data and its constant, flowing, locomotive nature provides an opportunity to take the ‘pulse of the world’ every second of the day rather than relying on punctiform and time-consuming terrestrial methods such as surveys. Only 1% of Twitter users in the UK amounts to around 150,000 users. Even a tiny kernel of ‘useful’ data can still amount to a sample bigger than some of the UK’s largest sample surveys

However, social media data sources are often considered to be ‘data-light’ as there is a paucity of demographic information on individual content producers.

Yet, as Savage and Burrows argue, sociology needs to respond to the emergence of these new data sources and investigate the ways in which they inform us of the social world. One response to this has been the development of using ‘signatures’ in social media as proxies for real world events and individual characteristics

This paper builds on this work conducted at the Collaborative Online Social Media Observatory (COSMOS),through proposing methods and processes for estimating two demographic variables: age and occupation (with associated class).

How Do Twitter Users Vary by Occupation and Social Class – Methods

The researchers used a sample 32, 032 twitter profiles collected by COSMOS, relying on the entry in the ‘profile’ box to uncover occupation and class background.

They took the occupation with the most number of words as the primary occupation, and, if multiple occupations are listed, they took the first occupation as the primary occupation.

They then randomly selected 1,000 cases out of the 32,032 to which an occupation was assigned and three expert coders visually inspected the results of 1000 twitter profiles in anticipation of inaccuracies and errors.

They found that 241 (so 24%) had been misclassified, with a high level of inter-rater reliability.

The main problems of identification stemmed from the multiple meanings of many words related to occupations, Hobbies, and with obscure occupations. For example, people might refer to themselves as a ‘Doctor Who fan’ or a ‘Dancer trapped in a software engineer’s body’.

So what is the class background of twitter users?

The table below shows you three different data sets – the class backgrounds as automatically derived from the entire COSMOS sample of profiles, the class background of the 32 000 sample the researcher used and the class backgrounds of the 1000 that were visually verified by the three expert coders (for comments on the differences see ‘validity problems’ below).

journal.pone.0115545.g001

There is a clear over representation of NS-SEC 2 occupations in the data compared with the general UK population which may be explained by the confusion between occupations and hobbies and/or the use of Twitter to promote oneself or one’s work. NS-SEC 2 is where occupations such as ‘artist’, ‘singer’, ‘coach’, ‘dancer’ and ‘actor’ are located and the utility of the tool for identifying occupation for this group is further exacerbated by the fact that this is by far the most populous group for Twitter users and the largest group in the general UK population by 10% points. Alternatively, if the occupation of these individuals has been correctly classified then we can observe that they are over represented on Twitter by a factor of two when using Census data as a baseline measure.

Occupations such as ‘teacher’, ‘manager’ and ‘councillor’ are not likely to be hobbies but there is an unusually high representation of creative occupations which could also be pursued as leisure interests with 4% of people in the dataset claiming to be an ‘actor’, 3.5% an ‘artist’ and 3.5% a ‘writer’. An alternative explanation is that Twitter is used by people who work in the creative industries as a promotional tool.

Validity problems with the social-class demographics of twitter data

Interestingly, the researchers rejected the idea that people would just outright lie about their occupations noting that ‘previous research [has] indicated that identity-play and the adoption of alternative personas was often short-lived, with ‘real’ users’ identities becoming dominant in prolonged interactions. The exponential uptake of the Internet,beyond this particular group of early adopters,was accompanied with a shift in the presentation of self online resulting in a reduction in online identity-play’.

The COSMOS engine does automatically identify occupation, but it identifies occupation inaccurately – and the degree of inaccuracy varies with social class background. The researchers note:

‘unmodified occupation identification tool appears to be effective and accurate for NS-SEC groups in which occupational titles are unambiguous such as professions and skilled trades (NS-SEC 1,3,4 and 5). Where job titles are less clear or are synonymous with alternative activities (NS-SEC 2, 6 and7) the requirement for human validation becomes apparent as the context of the occupational term must betaken into account such as the difference between “I’m a dancer in a ballet company”and “I’m a dancer trapped in the body of a software engineer’.

The researchers note that the next step is to further validate their methodology through establishing the ground-truth via ascertaining the occupation of tweeters through alternative means, such as social surveys (an on-going programme of work for the authors).

Comments

In some ways the findings are not surprising – that the middle class professionals and self-employed are over-represented on twitter, but if we are honest, we don’t know by how much, because of the factors mentioned above. It seems fairly likely that many of the people self-identifying on twitter as ‘actors’ and so on don’t do this as their main job, but we just can’t access this method by twitter alone.

Thus this research is a reminder that hyper reality is not more real than actual reality. In hyper-reality these people are actors, in actual reality, they are frustrated actors. This is an important distinction, and this alone could go some way to explaining why virtual worlds can be so much meaner than real-worlds.

This research also serves as a refreshing reminder of how traditional ‘terrestrial’ methods such as surveys are still required to ascertain the truth of the occupations and social class backgrounds of twitter users. As it stands if we left it to algorithms we’d end up with 25% of people bring incorrectly identified, which is a huge margin of error. If we leave these questions up to twitter, then we are left with a very misleading picture of ‘who tweets’ by social class background.

Having said this, it is quite possible for further rules to be developed and applied to algorithms which could increase the accuracy of automatic demographic data-mining.

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How Old are Twitter Users?

‘Who Tweets’ is an interesting piece of recent research which attempts to determine some basic demographic characteristics of Twitter users, relying on nothing but the data provided by the users themselves in their twitter profiles.

Based on a sample of 1470 twitter profiles* in which users clearly stated** their age, the authors of ‘Who Tweets’ found that 93.9% of twitter users were under the age of 35. The full age-profile of twitter users (according to the ‘Who Tweets’/ COSMOS data) compared to the actual age profile taken from the UK Census is below:

The age profiles of Twitter users - really?
The age profiles of Twitter users – really?

 

Compare this to the Ipsos MORI Tech Tracker report for the third quarter of 2014 (which the above research draws on) which used face to face interviews based on a quota sample of 1000 people.

Ages of twitter users according to a face to face Mori Poll
Ages of twitter users according to a face to face Mori Poll

Clearly this shows that only 67% of media users are under the age of 35, quite a discrepancy with the user-defined data!

The researchers note that:

‘We might… hypothesis that young people are more likely to profess their age in their profile data and that this would lead to an overestimation of the ‘youthfulness’ of the UK Twitter population. As this is a new and developing field we have no evidence to support this claim, but the following discussion and estimations should be treated cautiously.

Looking again at the results from the Technology Tracker study conducted by Ipsos MORI, nearly two thirds of Twitter users were under 35 years of age in Q3 of 2014 whereas our study clearly identifies 93.9% as being 35 or younger. There are two possible reasons for this. The first is that the older population is less likely to state their age on Twitter. The second is that the age distribution in the survey data is a function of sample bias (i.e. participants over the age of 35 in the survey were particularly tech-savvy). This discrepancy between elicited (traditional) and naturally occurring (new) forms of social data warrants further investigation…’

Comment 

This comparison clearly shows how we get some very different data on a very basic question (‘what is the age distribution of twitter users’?) depending on the methods we use, but which is more valid? The Ipsos face to face poll is done every quarter, and it persistently yields results which are nothing like COSMOS, and it’s unlikely that you’re going to get a persistent ‘tech savy’ selection bias in every sample of over 35 year olds, so does that mean it’s a more accurate reflection of the age profile of Twitter users?

Interestingly the Ipsos data shows a definite drift to older users over time, it’d be interesting to know if more recent COSMOS data reflects this. More interestingly, the whole point of COSMOS is to provided us with more up to date, ‘live’ information – so where is it?!? Sort of ironic that the latest public reporting is already 12 months behind good old Ipsos –

Age profiles of Twitter users in final quarter of 2015 according to MORI
Age profiles of Twitter users in final quarter of 2015 according to MORI

 

 

At the end of the day, I’m not going to be too harsh about the above ‘Who Tweets’ study, it is experimental, and many of the above projects are looking at the methodological limitations of this data.  It would just be nice if they, err, got on with it a bit… come on Sociology, catch up!

One thing I am reasonably certain about is that the above comparison certainly shows the continued importance of terrestrial methods if we want demographic data.

Of course, one simple way of checking the accuracy of the COSMOS data is simply to do a face to face survey and ask people what there age is and whether they state this in their Twitter profiles, then again I’m sure they’ve thought of that… maybe in 2018 we’ll get a report?

*drawn from the  Collaborative Online Social Media Observatory (COSMOS)

**there’s an interesting discussion of the rules applied to determine this in the ‘Who Tweets’ article.