What are Transnational Corporations?

Introduction – Definition and Scale of TNCs

Transnational Corporations are businesses that operate across international borders, though most of them have their headquarters in the USA, Europe and Japan.

There were about 7000 TNCs operating in 1970, but the charity Christian Aid estimates that this figure has now increased to about 63, 000 with about 690, 000 subsidiaries which operate in almost every sector of the economy and almost every country in the world today.

The key characteristics of TNCs are:

  • They seek competitive advantaged and maximization of profits by constantly searching for the cheapest and most efficient production locations across the world
  • They have geographical flexibility – they can shift resources and operations to any location in the world
  • A substantial part of their workforce is located in the developing world, but often employed indirectly through subsidiaries.
  • TNC assets are distributed worldwide rather than focused in one or two countries – for example, 17 of the top 100 TNCs have 90% of their assets in a different country from their head office.

TNCs are economically very wealthy and thus potentially more powerful than many of the world’s nation states.

According to Forbes magazine, in 2013, 37 of the 100 largest economies in the world were run by TNCs rather than countries. For example, BP is bigger than Finland, while Chevron is bigger than Ireland, and the combined annual revenue of the 200 largest TNCs exceeded those of the GDP of the 182 nation states containing 80% of the world’s population.

Critics remind us that GDP and annual revenue measure different things, so these figures may not show actual differences in economic power, but this aside, the relative economic power of TNCs has grown in relation to nation states over the last few decades, and today TNCs wield much more economic power than they did in the past.

Fobel et al (1980) note that from the 1970s TNCs set about investing significantly in the developing world because of high labour costs and high levels of industrial conflict in the West, which reduced profits.  The investment was greatly helped by developing countries, which actively sought TNC investment by setting up special areas called Export Processing Zones, or Free-Trade Zones, in which TNCs were encouraged to build factories for export to the West.

Free Trade Zones offered incentives such as infrastructure provided by the government (transport links), few planning controls on building, and low taxation. There are now over 5000 free or export processing zones in the world today which employ over 43 million workers, the majority of which are based in China’s territories.

Sources

Chapman et al (2016) – A Level Sociology Student Book Two [Fourth Edition] Collins.

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Arguments for Transnational Corporations in Development

Modernisation theory saw TNCs as playing a positive role in helping societies to develop. Rostow (1971) saw the injection of capital as essential in the pre-conditions for take-off phase of development, and he thought TNC’s were one of the institutions which could help kick start the process of development by investing money, technology, and expertise that the host country did not possess.

It is neoliberals, however, who have historically been the real champions of TNCs as the most efficient institutions to kick-start and carry through development in poor countries. In neoliberal theory, economic success is proof of competence – the fact that TNCs have been making goods efficiently at a profit on a global scale for decades, if not centuries, mean that these are the institutions best placed to kick start economic growth in poor countries.

Neoliberals argue that the governments of developing countries need to pull down all barriers in order to create a ‘business-friendly’ environment in order to encourage inward investment from Transnational Corporations.

In Neoliberal theory, corporations will help a country develop in the long term by providing jobs and training. The money earned will be spent on goods and services at home and abroad creating more money to invest and (limited) tax revenue for further development.

A summary of the supposed benefits TNCs can bring to developing countries

  • TNCs bring in investment in terms of money, resources, technology and expertise, creating jobs often where local companies are unable to do so.
  • TNCs need trained workers and this should raise the aspirations of local people and encourage improvements in education
  • Jobs provide opportunities for women promoting gender equality.
  • Encourage international trade which could increase economic growth, access to overseas markets
  • All of the above means that wealth generated from TNC investment and production should eventually trickle down to the rest of the population.

The Role of the World Trade Organisation in International Development

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) is the body through which governments and businesses (mainly TNCs) negotiate the rules of trade, and settle trade disputes once these rules have been established.

The concept of the WTO first began with the 1947 the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) was signed by the Western powers to govern global trade and to reduce trade barriers between nations. In 1994, the WTO was set up to replace GATT, originally consisting of 126 members; it has since expanded to 164 member states currently.

wto

The WTO now has trade rules in place covering not only goods but also services such as telecommunications, banking and investment, transport, education, health and the environment.

The WTO is committed to the concept of free trade, believing that unlimited competition in the free market results in efficient production, innovation, cheap prices and the fastest possible rates of economic growth. They see government interference in markets as stifling businesses and being harmful to economic growth. WTO trade agreements and trade rules have thus tended to focus on reducing government intervention, such as the reduction of tariffs, subsidies and restrictions on imports.

However, critics argue that the WTO has hidden goals, and that it is really interested in helping rich countries and TNCs maintain their economic dominance. Chang (2010) for example has criticized the World Trade Organisation, arguing that its trade rules are unfair, and biased against developing countries. The WTO pressurizes poor countries to open up their economies immediately to western corporations and banks by abandoning tariffs (taxes) on western imports. However, the developed countries are still allowed to impose quotas on the imports of manufactured goods from poor countries, in order to protect their manufacturing industries.

Along the same lines as Chang above, McKay argues that WTO trade rules have rigged the terms of global trade in favour of the West and consequently the WTO is a rich man’s club dominated by the neo-liberal philosophy of the developed, industrialised nations.

A second major criticism of the WTO is that it is notoriously undemocratic – decision making at the WTO is dominated by a small group of Western members, with representatives of developing countries being outnumbered by the representativeness of wealthier countries and TNCS, even though the majority of the world’s population lives in those poorer countries.  A consequence of this is that the WTO tends to see free-trade as more important than protecting workers rights or the environment.

This brief article from Forbes suggests various reasons why poor countries fail to get decent trade deals out of the WTO:

–They are seriously understaffed–at the extreme, some states have no permanent delegation in Geneva, or just one or two people who must also cover other international agencies in the city.

–Their experience of trade policy issues and multilateral negotiations is limited.

–Individually, and even collectively, few account for a significant share of any element in world trade.

Philippe Legrain (2002), former special advisor to the Director-General of the WTO has acknowledged four main criticisms of the WTO:

  • It does the bidding of TNCs
  • It undermines workers’ rights and environmental protection by encouraging a ‘race to the bottom’ between governments of developing countries competing for jobs and foreign investment.
  • It harms the poor
  • It destroys democracy by imposing its approach on the world secretly and without accountability. He argues that the WTO’s free trade rules have prioritised the interests of TNCs over democratic and human rights.

Further sources of criticisms

Sources 

Chapman et al (2016) – A Level Sociology Student Book Two [Fourth Edition] Collins.

Trends in Global Wealth Inequality and Poverty

Global wealth inequality is increasing, but how can we explain this, is this is a problem, and what could we do to make the world a more equal place?

Trends in Global Wealth Inequality and Poverty

world wealth 2016.png

According to the 2016 Global Wealth Report produced by Credit Suisse, wealth inequality in 2016, measured by the share of the wealthiest 1 percent and wealthiest 10 percent of adults, as compared to the rest of the world’s adult population, continues to rise.

While the bottom half collectively own less than 1 percent of total wealth, the wealthiest top 10 percent own 89 percent of all global assets.

NB – You need to look at the pyramid below carefully, what it shows (to compare the very top and bottom) is as follows:

  • The richest 33 million people (0.7% of the world’s population ) control $116 trillion, or 45.6% of the world’s wealth, or more than $1 million each
  • The poorest 3.5 billion people (73% of the world’s population) control only $6.1 trillion of wealth, or less than $10, 000 in wealth each.

global-wealth-pyramid

NB – Inequality is no longer simply a matter of poor people living in less developed countries and rich people living in more developed countries -there are plenty of millionaires in low and middle income countries – the report notes that ‘today, emerging nations are home to 18 percent of the world’s ultra-high net worth population. China alone accounts for 9 percent of the top decile of global wealth holders, which is well above France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom.’

However, this is hardly cause for celebrations, it simply means that not only is global inequality increasing across the world as a whole, but also within most countries in the world – there are billions of poor people living right alongside those millionaires in low income countries!

The infographic below, taken from the World Economic Forum Website (published 2015), displays global wealth inequality more simply, and it’s also easier to remember:the richest 1% control 50% of the world’s wealth, while the poorest 50% control less than 1%.

global-inequalities

Finally, to turn to trends in inequality over time, the chart below, also taken from the World Economic Forum website, shows how the global share of wealth controlled by the wealthiest 1% has increased from 45% to 50%, while the share of the ‘other 99%’ has decreased from 55% to 50%. (The chart below is derived from Oxfam’s 2016 Report: An Economy for the 1%?)

global-wealth-inequalities

Oxfam further notes that:

  • The wealth of the richest 62 people has risen by 45% in the five years since 2010 – that’s an increase of more than half a trillion dollars ($542bn), to $1.76 trillion.
  • Meanwhile, the wealth of the bottom half fell by just over a trillion dollars in the same period – a drop of 38%.
  • Since the turn of the century, the poorest half of the world’s population has received just 1% of the total increase in global wealth, while half of that increase has gone to the top 1%

Some Potential Problems with Statistics on Global Wealth Inequalities

  • Firstly, there are issues with reliability when tracking global inequality – different nations tally income and wealth in different ways, and some nations barely tally reliable stats at all
  • Secondly, you may have noticed that you get different figures depending on what groups your comparing – things look very different if you compare the top 1% to the rest, rather than comparing the top ten percent to the the bottom ten percent, or the top 50% to the bottom 50%. You might like to think about which is the most ‘valid’ comparison to give you a fair idea of global wealth inequalities (tough question!?)

Why has Wealth Inequality Increased?

What we are asking here, in short form is – how have the rich got so rich, and why have the poor lagged behind? In this section I summarise for changes which are correlated with increasing wealth inequality, all taken from the the Oxfam Report referred to above: Neoliberal economic policy; the global tax haven system, the growth of the financial sector and increasing returns to capital versus labour:

Neoliberal Economic Policy 

Neoliberal Economic and policy changes over the past 30 years – including deregulation, privatization, financial secrecy and globalization – have supercharged the ability of the rich and powerful to to further concentrate their wealth.

For example, companies working in oil, gas and other extractive industries are using their economic power in many different ways to secure their dominant position. They lobby to secure government subsidies – tax breaks – to prevent the emergence of green alternatives. In Brazil and Mexico, indigenous peoples are disproportionately affected by the destruction of their traditional lands when forests are eroded for mining or intensive large-scale farming. When privatized – as happened in Russia after the fall of communism for example – huge fortunes are generated overnight for a small group of individuals.

The Global Network of Tax Havens

A powerful example of an economic system that is rigged to work in the interests of the powerful is the global spider’s web of tax havens and the industry of tax avoidance, which has blossomed over recent decades. The system is maintained by a highly paid, industrious bevy of professionals in the private banking, legal, accounting and investment industries.

U S Companies tax havens.jpg

As taxes go unpaid due to widespread avoidance, this leads to cuts in vital public services and that governments increasingly rely on indirect taxation, like VAT, which falls disproportionately on the poorest people.

This global system of tax avoidance is sucking the life out of welfare states in the rich world. It also denies poor countries the resources they need to tackle poverty, put children in school and prevent their citizens dying from easily curable diseases.

Almost a third (30%) of rich Africans’ wealth – a total of $500bn – is held offshore in tax havens. It is estimated that this costs African countries $14bn a year in lost tax revenues. This is enough money to pay for healthcare that could save the lives of 4 million children and employ enough teachers to get every African child into school.

Tax avoidance is a problem that is rapidly getting worse and has rightly been described by the International Bar Association as an abuse of human rights and by the President of the World Bank as ‘a form of corruption that hurts the poor’.

Increasing Returns to Capital Versus Labour

One of the key trends underlying increasing wealth inequality is the increasing return to capital versus labour. In almost all rich countries and in most developing countries, the share of national income going to workers has been falling. This means workers are capturing less and less of the gains from growth. In contrast, the owners of capital have seen their capital consistently grow (through interest payments, dividends, or retained profits) faster than the rate the economy has been growing.

capital-and-labor

NB This article in The Economist challenges the idea that there are increasing returns to capital versus labour!

The Growth of the Financial Sector

The financial sector has grown most rapidly in recent decades, and a recent study by the OECD10 showed that countries with oversized financial sectors suffer from greater economic instability and higher inequality. Certainly, the public debt crisis caused by the financial crisis, bank bailouts and subsequent austerity policies has hurt the poorest people the most.

NB 1 -if you want more theoretical explanations of increasing inequality – look at Dependency Theory and World Systems Theory – much of this is applicable here. You might also like to look at ‘Why Nations Fail‘. 

NB2 – given that measuring inequality involves measuring relative wealth – that is what percentage share to the richest 10% control compared to other 90%, for example, then we’re necessarily looking at a zero sum game – If the richest 10% go from controlling 40% of the world’s wealth to 60% of the worlds wealth, then the amount of wealth controlled by the other 90% of the population must fall from a 60% share to a 40% share. 

Is Increasing Global Inequality a Problem for Humanity?

Neoliberals argue that increasing inequality isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the important thing is that even though the rich have got richer compared to the poor, the poor have also got richer, just not as rapidly as the rich and the middle.

poverty

However, Oxfam argues that growing economic inequality is bad for us all for the following reasons:

  • It undermines growth and social cohesion and the consequences for the world’s poorest people are particularly severe.
  • Had inequality within countries not grown since 2010, an extra 200 million people would have escaped poverty. That could have risen to 700 million had poor people benefited more than the rich from economic growth.
  • The International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently found that countries with higher income inequality also tend to have larger gaps between women and men in terms of health, education, labour market participation, and representation in institutions like parliaments.
  • The gender pay gap was also found to be higher in more unequal societies. It is worth noting that 53 of the world’s richest 62 people are men.
  • From and ecological point of view, there’s even more injustice: the poorest people live in areas most vulnerable to climate change, the poorest half of the global population are responsible for only around 10% of total global emissions.  The average footprint of the richest 1% globally could be as much as 175 times that of the poorest 10%.

What can we do to make the world a more equal place?

Oxfam notes that inequality is not inevitable. The current system did not come about by accident; it is the result of deliberate policy choices, of our leaders listening to the 1% and their supporters rather than acting in the interests of the majority. It is time to reject this broken economic model.

As a priority, Oxfam is calling on all world leaders to agree a global approach to end the era of tax havens

end-tax-havens

World leaders need to commit to a more effective approach to ending tax havens and harmful tax regimes, including non-preferential regimes. It is time to put an end to the race to the bottom in general corporate taxation. Ultimately, all governments – including developing countries on an equal footing – must agree to create a global tax body that includes all governments with the objective of ensuring that national tax systems do not have negative global implications.

In addition Oxfam is calling on leaders to take action to show they are on the side of the majority through doing the following:

  • Keep the influence of powerful elites in check: for example by reforming the regulatory environment, particularly around transparency in government; separating business from campaign financing; and introducing measures to close revolving doors between big business and government.
  • Share the tax burden fairly to level the playing field: by shifting the tax burden away from labour and consumption and towards wealth, capital and income from these assets; increasing transparency on tax incentives; and introducing national wealth taxes.
  • Pay workers a living wage and close the gap with executive rewards: by increasing minimum wages towards living wages; with transparency on pay ratios; and protecting workers’ rights to unionize and strikes.
  • Use progressive public spending to tackle inequality: by prioritizing policies, practice and spending that increase financing for free public health and education to fight poverty and inequality at a national level. Refrain from implementing unproven and unworkable market reforms to public health and education systems, and expand public sector rather than private sector delivery of essential services.

Selected Sources

Credit Suisse – The World Wealth Report (November 2016)

Oxfam – An Economy for the 1% (Jan 2016)

Inequality on the Rise? (2012)

Donald Trump’s Political Appointments – TNCs to shape U.S. Social Policy?

Trump’s political appointments seem to illustrate an extreme neoliberal approach to politics – those who are successful at business are being placed into senior positions in the U.S. political system which will allow them more power to shape domestic and foreign policy.

Trump’s Appointments – Transnational Corporations to Shape U.S. Social Policy  

According to a recent Guardian article on Donald Trump’s political appointments he ‘has so far nominated a number of billionaires, three Goldman Sachs bankers and the chief executive of the world’s largest oil firm to senior positions…. His team [has been] dubbed the “team of billionaires”.

Trump’s (neoliberal) argument for these appointments is that the accumulation of wealth is a sign of success and that having internationally successful business people in positions of power to negotiate (or renegotiate) trade-deals will benefit the U.S. economy and the the American people.

Two of Trumps appointments demonstrate this neoliberal approach (and its problems) perfectly: his appointment (still prospective at time of writing) of the CEO of Exxon-Mobile to Secretary of State and the appointment of Steve Mnuchin to the position of treasury secretary

It is the selection of Exxon’s chief executive, Rex Tillerson which has caused the most controversy. Tillerson has a close relationship with Vladimir Putin and some years ago agreed a joint venture with Russia to drill for oil in Siberia and the North Sea, however this venture was shelved following sanctions against Russia when it annexed Crimea. As secretary of state, Tillerson (who has $250 million of Exxon stock) will be leading discussions on whether the US should maintain sanctions against Russia.

According to this article from the Daily Kos, Tillerman’s appointment would be a disaster for business ethics…

‘Rex Tillerson is exactly the man you would expect a man who rose to the top of the oil industry to be. He has no evident morals or concerns about the world that supersede a paycheck. His respect for his own nation ends when there is a business deal to be made somewhere else.’

Trump’s pick for treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, is also a multimillionaire former Goldman Sachs banker who went on to be dubbed a “foreclosure king” for buying up distressed mortgages and evicting thousands of homeowners during the financial crisis.

Potential problems with Trump’s neoliberal agenda

  1. Increasing wealth and income inequality in the U.S. – With the transnational capitalist class now in direct control of U.S. domestic and foreign policy, there is every likelihood that the super rich will get richer while the income and wealth of the majority of U.S. citizens will stagnate or even go into reverse. Critics such as Warren (above) argue that Donald Trump has every intention of running Washington to benefit himself and his rich buddies”.
  2. Less respect for human rights globally. The appointment of Tillerson as Secretary of State and his close relations with the human-rights abuser Vladimir Putin suggests that the financial interests of the super-rich will trump (excuse the pun) issues such as respect for universal human rights – it’s more likely that the U.S. will turn a blind eye to dictators who trample on human rights, so long as there’s a profit to made for U.S. companies.
  3. More economic instability – The fact that Goldman Sachs executives now have greater say in shaping U.S. economic policy could mean more deregulation of financial markets and more instability in the global economy in the long run.
  4. Environmental decline – this is possibly the beginning of the end of life on planet earth as oil companies will almost certainly be given the green light to dig up the arctic.

Where can you use this in the A Level Sociology Course?

Unfortunately for those of you who haven’t been given the option of studying global development, this is just extension work, but if you are one of the fortunate few studying this most relevant and interesting topic – this info fits in as follows:

  • It’s a great example of current neoliberal policy (so neoliberalism is still very much relevant)
  • It demonstrates the increasing power of TNCs – yet how they need control over nation states to empower themselves.
  • It’s a great example of how the global super-class work – at a level above that of the nation state.

 

 

Capitalism, Globalisation and Crime

Ian Taylor, writing from a socialist perspective, argues that economic globalisation (basically the spread of Capitalism) has led to more crimes being committed by elites – crimes which go unnoticed in the West

In ‘The Political Economy of Crime’ (1998) Ian Taylor wrote about important changes in the world economy in recent years, many of which have accelerated since he wrote the book. Three of these are covered below: The problems of global finance and tax havens, the problem of Transnational Corporations and ‘Law Evasion’ and the problem of increasing inequality caused by globalisation.

Global Finance, Tax Havens and Tax Evasion

For Elites, the ability to move finance around the world with minimal control enables a whole range of financial crimes, from tax evasion and insider trading to defrauding transnational organisations such as the EU out of grant and subsidy money. According to one 2012 estimate, the Global Super Rich have $21 trillion dollars squirrelled away in offshore bank accounts which are evading tax.

The existence of tax havens, such as the Cayman Islands, also allows organised crime gangs to launder the profits from illegal activities such as drugs production and distribution, because of said lose controls over capital movements.

Transnational Corporations and Law Evasion

The last half a century has seen many Transnational Corporations shift their production to developing countries in search for greater profitability. One of the reasons they do this is because poorer countries tend to have fewer environmental regulations, and so corporations can pollute more freely in those countries. Not having to clean up your mess is good for profits.

TNCs often subcontract out their production processes to various local companies – subcontracting encourages the employment of people who are working illegally, because it is often cheaper to hire illegal immigrants because they are prepared to work for less. This often happens in clothing, food and building industries. Subcontractors break rules to cut costs in order to get and retain contracts in competitive industries and to maximise their profits.

The Case Study of Union Carbide in Bhopal, the biggest industrial accident in world history, illustrates the problem of law evasion and corporate irresponsibility perfectly. Union Carbide, an American owned multi-national company, set up a pesticide plant in Bhopal in order to take ad-vantage of the cheap labour in India. In 1984, the plant accidentally leaked deadly gas fumes into the surrounding atmosphere. The leakage resulted in over 3500 deaths and caused permanent injury to at least a further 25 000. Investigations have since revealed that the company set up this particular plant because pollution controls in India were less rigid than in the USA and the escape of gas was caused by inadequate safety procedures at the plant, making this a criminal case of negligence.

Campaigners say Bhopal has an unusually high incidence of children with birth defects and growth deficiency, as well as cancers, diabetes and other chronic illnesses. These are seen not only among survivors of the gas leak but among people born many years later, they say.

Twenty years ago Union Carbide paid $470m (£282m) in compensation to the Indian government, and in 2010 (26 years after the disaster) 8 people (all Indian) were sentenced for 2 years for their crimes of negligence. No one on the board of the company has faced criminal charges.

Examples of corporations which have caused social or environmental harm due to law evasion (moving to a poorer country to cut costs)

1. Apple (in China)

2. Shell (in Nigeria)

3. Primark (in Bangladesh)

Increasing Global Inequality and Crime

The staggering extent of global inequality is one of the major causes of International Crime. Wealth in the developed world increases demand for global goods and services, and poverty in the developing world creates supply of criminal products and services.

On the demand side – In developed countries and among the wealthier segments of the population in developing countries, consumer culture pressurizes people into buying more and more material items and to engage in more and more leisure pursuits – and there literally billions of consumers in the world: the sheer volume of consumers means there is enormous demand for a huge range of products. Most people want to get these products and services as cheaply as possible, and getting hold of things through the global black market is often the cheapest way to keep up with consumerist pressure – illegally imported cigarettes and alcohol are cheaper than their taxed legal alternatives, and sleeping with a trafficked prostitute in Estonia is cheaper than paying for one in the UK.

The demand for outright illegal products such as drugs, guns and human organs (in Europe at least) is much smaller, but simply given the high numbers of people involved in the global consumer market place, it only takes a tiny percentage of people to generate significant levels of demand for such products.

On the supply side – In poorer, developing countries, providing illegal goods for shipment to wealthier people can be more lucrative than producing something legally. In Columbia for example it is estimated that 20% of the population depend on the Cocaine trade, which is more profitable than growing coffee, while in Afghanistan growing opium poppies, the basis of heroine, has remained the country’s largest export and the main source of income for the population during three decades of conflict.

In other poor countries where the climate isn’t conducive to growing drugs for export to the west, other illegal opportunities can be attractive – such as selling your children into a life of prostitution or other forms of slavery through human trafficking networks.

A further effect of TNCs being mobile is that they have reduced job security of full time staff and this increases the amount of part time, temporary and insecure employment, which in turn breeds the conditions for criminality.

Postmodern and Late Modern Criminology

A Summary sheet covering post and late modern theories of crime – focusing on Jock Young’s ‘Vertigo of Late Modernity’, the cultural criminology of Katz and Lyng (edgework), and Foucault’s concept of discplinary power and the shift to control through surveillance. 

Post and Late Modern Theories of Crime

(PM/ LM Theories of Crime Control PART 1)

Introduction – Post/ Late Modern Society and changing crime

  • Post-Modern society refers to society since about the 1970s

  • Numerous social changes mean that both the nature of crime and the causes of crime are more complex

  • Some of the key social changes which influence criminal behaviour (and crime control) include

  • The rise of the consumer society – the norm of high consumption

  • globalisation, de-industrialisation and increasing instability and uncertainty

  • The fact that we live in a media-saturated society which celebrates celebrity-culture

  • The increase in individual-freedom (individualisation) and cultural diversity

  • Various technological changes, especially the increasing centrality of ICT.

  • This revision sheet (and the main class-notes) only look at sociologists who have developed new theories about the relationship between changes in post/ late modernity and changing crime.

  • Other areas of the course which could be included under postmodernism include gloablisation and crime, and aspects of the media and crime.

Jock Young – Late Modernity, Exclusion and Crime

  • The 1950s was a ‘golden age’ of full employment, cultural inclusion and low crime

  • Today, de-industrialisation has resulted in low-employment, instability, insecurity, uncertainty, social-fragmentation and high crime rates

  • Economic exclusion combined with the pressure to consume and be a celebrity result in anomie

  • Crime is a means of coping with this anomie – it offers us a ways not necessarily to get rich (like Merton says), but to ‘be somebody’, vent our frustrations, or simply escape.

  • As a result, crime gets more diverse, more spread out in society, and nastier (more extreme).

Cultural Criminology – Edgework

  • Developed by Katz and Lyng in the 1980s and 1990s

  • Criticises Rational Choice Theory – crime is not always rational, it is done for emotional reasons

  • Crime is increasingly about ‘edgework’ – flirting with the boundaries of the acceptable because it’s exciting, or thrilling.

  • This is very much part of living in a risk-society (Ulrich Beck)

Simon Winlow – Violent Night

  • Researched young working class men in Northern cities who regularly engaged in binge-drinking and violence at the weekends.

  • Found that their jobs were low-status and insecure, they offered them no sense of identity

  • Binge-drinking was a way to escape the boredom and low-status of work.

  • Fighting meant numerous things – it was about status, but also simply thrilling and exciting.

  • Offers broad support for both the theories above.

Surveillance and Crime Control

(PM/ LM Theories of Crime Control PART 2)

Michel Foucault – The Birth of the Prison and the rise of Surveillance

  • Punishment used to be violent, carried out on the body and it used to be done in public, now punishment is psychological, it expects people to change the way they think, and it is carried out in prisons, behind closed doors.

  • This reflects a shift from sovereign power to disciplinary power.

  • Sovereign power involved controlling people through the threat of force – people were punished severely and other people obeyed because they were afraid of the same punishment.

  • Disciplinary power now involves controlling people through surveillance and expecting people to change their own behaviour – prisoners are locked away and monitored, and change their own behaviour because they know they are being watched.

  • This logic of control now extends to everyone – even non-criminals – surveillance is now everywhere in society – it is not just criminals who are under surveillance by agents of social control, we are under surveillance from cradle to grave – school, work, pregnancy, child-birth, on the streets and roads, our health data.

  • Most people now obey the rules because they know they are being watched – they regulate their own behaviour for fear of becoming the wrong kind of person – a failing student, an unproductive worker, a bad mother, an obese-person, for example.

  • NB – This is quintessentially sociological – it is only in very recent human history that we have become so obsessed with monitoring every aspect of our daily-lives, and one of Foucault’s points is that this constant surveillance doesn’t necessarily improve our lives – there are both winners and losers.

Anthony Giddens’ Runaway World – A Summary

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There has been a considerable amount of research and theorising into globalisation and its consequences over the past decade, yet little of this has filtered down to students of A level Sociology. This article aims to address this by summarizing Anthony Giddens’ views on globalisation and its consequences for culture and identity in the West, focusing on the two core themes of risk and detraditionalisation. This article is written with the new AQA AS module in Culture and Identity in mind, and should be useful to any student who wishes to better understand how Globalisation affects daily life.

Giddens illustrates how  two consequences of Globalisation, namely the rise of a ‘risk consciousness’ and detraditionalisation,  undermine the ability of institutions such as the Nation State, the family and religion, to provide us with a sense of security and stability. These institutions are no longer able to offer us a clearly defined norms and values that tell us how we should act in society. This situation has far reaching consequences for how individuals experience daily life and for how they go about constructing their identities.

Globalisation, manufactured risks and risk consciousness

The title of Giddens’ accessible modern classic ‘Runaway World’ immediately suggests to the reader that he perceives globalisation as an unpredictable, destabilsing process. In Giddens’ own words: “We are the first generation to live in global society, whose contours we can as yet only dimly see. It is shaking up our existing ways of life, no matter where we happen to be. This is…. emerging in an anarchic, haphazard, fashion… it is not settled or secure, but fraught with anxieties, as well as scarred by deep divisions. Many of us feel in the grip of forces over which we have no control” (Giddens 2002).

One aspect of globalisation is the emergence of ‘manufactured risks’ which are man made, having arisen as a result of new technologies developed through advances in scientific knowledge. Many of these new technologies, such as nuclear and biotechnologies bring about risks which are truly global in scope. The Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, for example, resulted in nuclear fall out spreading thousands of miles to several countries, while the burning of fossil fuels in the United States may lead to flooding in Bangladesh.

According to Giddens, we have little experience of how to deal with these new threats as they have only been in existence for the last half a century. He argues that there is a “new riskiness to risk” in that these new technologies could have catastrophic consequences for humanity, yet we do not yet know all of the consequences associated with them. We cannot be certain, for example, of the possible effects that modifying the genetic structure of our basic food stuffs will have, and we do not know exactly how much of global warming is due to human influence.

Many of the above problems require international action, as well as co-coordinated local action; and in this context, Nation States appear ill equipped to deal with such global problems. In addition, in the context of imperfect knowledge, competing expert voices emerge, such as with the debate over whether Britain should build more nuclear power stations, or whether or not we should support Genetically Modified crops. As a result, the experts employed by politicians become just one voice amidst a field of experts citing different evidence that point to different courses of action.

Globalisation, Risk and Identity  

So what are the consequences of this situation for self identity? On the one hand, we have identity politics and on the other, we have apolitical apathy. Those who are concerned about the global problems mentioned above and who perceive the government as being ill equipped to deal with these new global risks, have gravitated towards New Social Movements such as the green movement. At the more radical end of these movements, one’s whole lifestyle, one’s whole being and identity is oriented towards addressing global problems, at the local and international level, through protesting globally and acting locally.

However, such radical action is only undertaken by the relative few, and many remain apathetic towards global risks. Political apathy can also be easily justified in the context of imperfect knowledge, in which no one can ever be certain of the full extent of these global risks.

Detraditionalisation

A second major theme of Giddens’ work is that of detraditionalisation. Giddens argues that “For someone following a traditional practice, questions don’t have to be asked about alternatives. Tradition provides a framework for action that can go largely unquestioned… tradition gives stability, and the ability to construct a self identity against a stable background.

Globalisation brings this to an end as local cultures and traditions are exposed to new cultures and ideas, which often means that traditional ways of acting come to be questioned. As a result of globalisation, societies and cultures go through a process of detraditionalisation, where day to day life becomes less and less informed by ‘tradition for the sake of tradition’.

A good example of an institution undergoing this process is marriage. Although the tradition of marriage remains, a couple is much less likely to get married simply for the sake of marriage, either  because it is ‘what people do, or what their parents did’. A typical couple today will discuss whether they should get married or not; they will think about whether it is right for them, and if they do decide to get married, they will then discuss where they should get married, and a whole range of other aspects associated with the marriage ceremony itself.

This theme of Detraditionalisation is to be found in many other areas of life. If we think back to the example of identity politics as expressed through New Social Movements, this tells us that traditional ways of political engagement are changing. Giddens also argues that globalisation has even lead to religions becoming detraditionalised, and there is plenty of evidence that he is right, as practices such as church attendance in Christianity and veiling in Islam appear to be more a matter of personal choice than of unquestioning adherence to tradition.

Cosmopolitanism and Democratisation

The positive side of detraditionalisation is the spread of what Giddens refers to as cosmopolitanism in which the individual is much less constrained by arbitrary tradition than in ‘traditional’ or pre-global societies. In a cosmopolitan society, the individual has much more freedom to reflect on already existing cultural practices such as those associated with marriage, religion and politics, and to choose which aspects of these cultural practices suit him or her.

As a result of this, culture becomes something that is more fluid, more open to debate and more open to adaptations by individuals than ever before in human history. Culture, according to Giddens, becomes more democratic as more people have more of a say in how culture will inform their lives.

Detraditionalisation and self identity

Detraditionalisation also has consequences for self-identity. According to Giddens “Where tradition lapses, and life-style choice prevails, self-identity has to be created and recreated on a more active basis than before.” Giddens further argues that individuals must engage in an ongoing process of reflecting upon their lives and adapting them in the light of new knowledge that arises in a rapidly changing, globalising world. This whole process of ongoing reflecting on one’s life and changing accordingly is known as reflexivity.

Reflexivity is necessary because many of our institutions no longer provide us with a clear set of pre-given norms and values. Modern relationships, including marriages, no longer come with a set of clear norms and values, duties and responsibilities, instead, these need to be negotiated. Similarly, for those that are religious, the ‘meaning of ‘being Christian’ or ‘being ‘Muslim’ is much more open to debate than ever before, and for those who want to get political, this is no longer limited to union membership, or party membership and voting in general and local elections, one has to choose between a whole range of political activism. The individual is faced today with a situation in which modern institutions no longer simply tell the individual how to act, or how to ‘be’, they no longer act as stabilizing forces that anchor individuals to society in clearly defined ways. Instead, we have to choose which aspects of tradition suit us, and be able to justify to others why we have made these choices.

Even once we have decided on what the rules of a relationship are, on what our religion means to us, or what kind of political action we should engage in, the rapid pace of social change, brought on by globalization means that we may well have to redefine our relationships and our religious and political identities over an over again. To give examples, a foreign firm relocating outside the United Kingdom may mean a career change, which could mean a renegotiation of the terms of a relationship; The recent decision of the government to build more nuclear power stations will lead many green activists to shift their political attentions to this issue, and the ongoing ‘threat of Islamic extremism’, exaggerated or not, has lead to a debate over the meaning of what it means to be British and Muslim.

Reflexivity, expert systems and therapy

Giddens argues that this constant need to adapt our identities in line with global changes has lead to the emergence of ‘expert systems’. These are found everywhere in British society, from the careers advisor, helping us to choose which degree is best suited to us, to the therapist and counselor, providing us assistance in the necessary task of continually reconstructing our identities.

The negative consequences of Globalisation and detraditionalisation

While Giddens is cautiously optimistic about the changes brought about by globalisation, in that he believes that global risks are something we can work together to deal with, and detraditionalisation opens up the possibility of a radical democratization of daily life, he does also point to two major problems.

The first of these is the increase in addiction in modern society. Today, people can develop recognized addictions to sex, food, gambling and even shopping. Giddens perceives this increase in addictions as being linked to detraditionalisation. In pre-global societies, stable traditions provided individuals with a link to the past, now this is gone, addiction is seen as an attempt by individuals to construct a coherent ‘narrative of the self’ through repetitive actions that provide comfort, thus linking actions today with actions to the past.

The second negative consequence of detraditionalisation is the rise of Fundamentalism, which Giddens sees as traditional practices that are defended by a blinkered commitment to ideologies and beliefs, and a resistance to engaging in dialogue about those views.

Evaluating  Giddens

Many contemporary critics, argue that Giddens’ view of contemporary societies is too optimistic.

Zygmunt Bauman essentially agrees with the fact that uncertainty in society requires most individuals to constantly engage in ‘identity construction’, but he also points out that the wealthy and powerful are the ones both creating and benefiting from an unstable, rapidly changing world, and that these people are much more able to defend themselves against the negative consequences of living in a runaway world.

Frank Furedi, who draws on Bauman,  argues that the expert systems that have emerged to assist us in the construction of our identities are not neutral institutions. He argues, amongst other things, that far from allowing individuals to be more autonomous actors, they actually encourage individuals to be dependent on expert advice.

I will summarise the work of these two contemporary critics of Giddens in a future article. Suffice to say for now that all three agree that Globalisation has far reaching consequences for the British society, culture and the ways in which we construct our identities.

You might also like…

A summary of Liquid Times by Zygmunt Bauman

Giddens’ Critique of Postmodernism – an uber-brief summary.

Bibliography

Giddens, Anthony (2002) Runaway World

Giddens, Anthony (1991) Modernity and Self Identity

Bauman, Zymunt (2007) Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty

Furedi, Frank (2004) Therapy Culture: Cultivating Vulnerability in an Uncertain Age.

Giddens’ Modernity and Self Identity – in 14 bullet points

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

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

Giddens Self Identity and Society

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Posts

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

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

Global Culture Industry by Lash and Lury, A Summary

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

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

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

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

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

1. From identity to difference

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

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

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

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

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

2. From commodity to brand

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. From representation to things

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

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

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

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

4. From the symbolic to the real

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

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

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

Or to give you the full version…

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

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

5. Things come alive: bio-power

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. From Extensive to Intensive

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

7. The rise of the virtual

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Two – Method: Ontology, Movement, Mapping

Introduction

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

Influences on their methods include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Methodology

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

The advantages of this are:

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

It avoids the opposition between the global and the local.

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

So how did they follow objects?

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

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

They went to many cities

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

They looked at secondary sources such as trades magazines

They photographed the objects

Methodology revisited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

However, they depart from SP in the following ways:

They are looking at virtual space rather than urban space.

They are following the spectacle rather than creating it

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

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

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

Comments – how useful is all of this?

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

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

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

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

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

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