ExxonMobil is the world’s largest oil and gas corporation – its main ‘business lines’ involve producing a range of fuels for cars, planes and ships, as well the technologies surrounding the extraction and refining of these fuels.
ExxonMobil: Key Facts and Stats
Registered in Texas, USA.
Assets (2016) – $330 billion
Revenue (2016) – $218 billion
75 000 employees globally
The CEO from 2006 to 2016 was Rex Tillerson, until Donald Trump appointed him as the 69th Secretary of State, a position he formally took up in February 2017. Tillerson has a relatively modest Total Net Wealth of $245 million (although I simply CANNOT believe that’s an accurate figure.)
Criticisms of ExxonMobil
This video outlines a fairly basic criticism of Exxon’s dealings with the ruling family of Equatorial Guinea – which is the richest country in Africa in terms of GDP, but not in terms of social development, because although Exxon pump a lot of oil out of the country, pretty much all of the money from that oil revenue gets pumped into the hands of the ruling family. They’re so rich, that the Vice President (the president’s son) owns a $30 million dollar mansion in Malibu.
A second criticism of Exxon is that it could have effectively prevented climate change: its own internal memos show that the company proved the link between burning fossil fuels and global warming in the late 1970s, but then buried the research and instead funded climate change sceptics to spread doubt about man-made climate change, and cynically invested in areas such as the arctic which it thought global warming would open up for further oil extraction.
According to this Guardian article, Bill Mckibben argues that if only Exxon had been honest, we could have taken much early steps to avert global warming.
A summary of The End of Development: A Global History of Poverty and Prosperity, by Andrew Brooks (2017)
This blog post covers Part 1: Making the Modern World
Chapter 1: environmental determinism and early human history
The argument in this chapter is that nature (as in the natural environment) does not determine human society and culture, rather it is more accurate to talk of humans shaping nature, especially since the emergence of agricultural societies 12000 years ago.
From between 12-8000 years ago, agricultural societies emerged independently in 11 distinct places, and in each region, these societies domesticated crops and animals, thus adapting to and changing local environments in different ways.
Agricultural societies eventually came to dominate hunter gather societies because they are more resistant to environmental shocks, given their greater capacity to store food to see them through famine periods.
Early agricultural societies also allowed for the development of a specialized division of labour, and were organised along feudal lines, with a tiered hierarchy of ruling classes taking tribute from those working the land. Europe in the 15th century was only one such system among many historical antecedants.
Brooks rounds this chapter off by reminding us that Europe did not colonize the rest of the world because of some kind of manifest destiny based on a unique set of environmental and cultural advantages, there were plenty of other cultures existing around the world in the 15th century that had similar features to the European feudal system.
What Europe did have was an emerging capitalist system, it is this that sets it apart and explains its rise to globalpower from the 15th century onwards.
Chapter 2: colonizing the world
This chapter outlines a brief history of colonialism, starting with the early colonial projects of Spain and Portugal in the Americas, which provided the silver and gold which kick started the global capitalist economy.
Brooks goes on to outline European colonial expansion across the globe more generally, arguing that European big business, governments and religion all worked together to dominate The Americas, Asia and Africa – often exploiting existing power structures to establish rule: profit, politics, piety and patriarchy all played a role in reshaping the colonial world from 1992 to 1945.
Brooks breaks down the history of colonialism something like this:
1500 – 1650 – Spanish and Portuguese colonialism – which involved the extraction of gold and silver, which was used to finance wars against Islam and other European nations. Spain also borrowed heavily from Holland on the basis of expected future returns from its mines in Latin America. This led to the establishment of financial centers in Holland, and increasing wealth. Span eventually went into decline as its wars were unsuccessful and its colonial returns decreased
1650 – 1900 – Dutch and British colonialism – A newly rich Holland and Britain took over as the main colonial powers – state building was essential to this – a combination of political power and the granting of monopolies to the Dutch and British East India companies (for example) led to the increasing dominance of these two powers.
Brooks also outlines how slavery and the industrial revolution were crucial to the rise of these two powers, and includes a section on the famine in India to illustrate how brutal their colonial projects were.
It’s also important to realise that increasing inequality was an important aspect of Colonialism – obviously between Europe and poorer parts of the world, but there were also some colonies which were more prosperous (such as Australia) and also, within the the mother countries and colonies, this period of history led to increasing inequality.
The chapter rounds of by pointing out that from 1900, the base of world power is already starting to shift from European centers to America.
Chapter Three: American Colonialism
This chapter starts with the ‘rise and fall of Detroit‘ which illustrates how industrial capitalism led to huge economic growth in America from the late 19th century to the 1960s, only to decline once industrial production moved abroad.
Brooks now argues that, following US Independence in 1776, American capitalists essentially focused on colonising the homeland rather than overseas territories, as there was so much land and so many resources within America – typically treating native Americans as non-people, who ended up in reservations.
There was some expansion overseas during the 19th and early 20th centuries – most notably with establishment of the Panama canal, but the ideology of American isolationism prevented this from happening.
It was effectively WW1 which led America to become to the world’s global hegemon – through lending money to the Allies, it built up huge economic dominance, which only grew as Europe was thrown into turmoil during WW2, following which America rose to dominance as the country which would seek to ‘develop’ the rest of the world, which is the focus of part two of the book….. (to be updated later)
The history of Detroit, USA from 1900 to the present day present offers an interesting case study in the benefits of industrial modernity in the early 20th century, and the problems caused by modernity’s decline from the 1960s.
Detroit underwent a rapid process of industrialization in the early part of the 20th century, which led to enormous prosperity and wealth being generated which was, by and large, shared by the majority of the city’s population. Detroit is synonymous with Henry Ford, and the particular model of industrial-capitalism which he basically invented – mechanized production and decent wages and benefits for his workers.
However, the second half the century saw Detroit spiral into a decline of de-industrialization, state-bankruptcy, inequality, and social unrest.
The Rise of Detroit: Industrialization from the 1900s to the 1950s
In its hey day, Detroit represents one of the most successful case studies in Industrialization in world history. The case of Detroit helps us to understand why Modernization Theorists in the 1940s and 50s were so keen on exporting Capitalist-Industrialization as a model of development for other countries: basically industrialization brought about many positive developments and so it seemed logical to export it.
By the late 19th century Detroit’s industry included leading shipbuilding, pharmaceutical and railway businesses. Detroit was successful because it was strategically located near to natural resources and markets via railroads and steamboats, and from the mid 19th century there was no place that better represented American progress and power.
Detroit was the Motor city that helped drive the United States forward, and the most well-known company which was based there was the Ford Motor Company – in 1932, its Rouge River industrial complex was the largest integrated factory in the world, with its own docks, railway lines, power station and plant, and over 100 000 workers, and 120 miles of conveyor belt.
Raw materials including iron ore and coal arrived by barge and rail and completed for Model Bs rolled off the end of the vertically integrated production lines.
In 1932 Henry Ford’s son commissioned the famous Mexican artist Diego Rivera to paint scenes of the nearby Ford factories, which can today be viewed in the Detroit Institute of Art. Rivera’s murals captured the heat, energy and dynamism of the factories, but also the political and social tensions of time. Rivera was a communist, while Ford was a staunch opponent of labour organisations, and Rivera’s murals show workers working in harmony with machines, but also hint at the struggles between management and employees, which would become much more marked in the following decades.
Through industrialization, both the human bodies of the workers and the landscape came to serve the needs of industrial capital, and women and men experienced this in very different ways, with men working in the factories, and women, by and large, staying at home, restricted to the private sphere.
The Ford family grew incredibly wealthy through their mastery of technology and production lines and their extraction of surplus value from the labour of workers. Mass production was perfected by Ford – his famous Model T was launched in 1900, and by 1918, half of all cars in America were Model Ts.
Ford not only transformed the economic organisation of society, he also helped transformed its social organisation – he invested much of his profit into social welfare – by establishing an art institute and the Henry Ford Hospital, for example, while the relatively high wages he paid to his workers helped them to increase their consumption and enjoy new leisure opportunities, helping to forge a new consumer culture. This compromise between capital and labour is known as Fordism.
In the 20th century, Detroit became a booming metropolis. The Ford Factory was only the largest of 125 motor factories in the city in the early 20th century, and there were many other industries to. The population of Detroit soared from under 80 000 in 1870 to over 1.5 million in 1930, making it the fourth largest city in America at that time.
The assembly lines and the rhythms of work gave new arrivals a purpose and set in motion a relentless movement towards modernity and progress. Mass production would lead mass employment and in turn enable mass consumption. Detroit was the world’s greatest working-class city in the most prosperous nation on earth. The automotive industry and the giants such as Ford and General Motors and Chrysler that dominated Detroit were what California’s Silicon Valley and the tech monopolies of Apple, Google and Twitter are to today’s era of smartphones, software and social media.
The Great depression of the 1930s struck a devastating blow as automobile sales fell rapidly, but the city was revitalized by the Second World War as car factories were rebooted to produce tanks and planes for the US military and its allies. Detroit became the ‘arsenal of democracy’.
Following victory the whole American economy was booming and a second great period of Fordism surged forwards as mass automobile ownership spread across the United States. Great chrome Cadillacs and luxury Lincolns sailed off the production lines in the 1950s like polished ocean cruisers….
However, from the late 1960s onward, a combination of the growth of industrial competition from abroad and underlying social and ethnic tensions in Detroit would lead the city into a spiral of de-industrial decline…..
The Decline of Detroit
Beneath the gloss of mass consumption Detroit always hid inequalities.
On July 23 1967 police busted an illegal after-hours salon in a black neighborhood. 85 people were arrested and tempers rose between the detainees and the officers. A five day riot ensued which was quashed by 17000 police, national guard and troops resulting in over 7000 arrests.
Black people were expressing their resentment over limited housing and economic opportunities and a history of racial discrimination and violence. Detroit increasingly became a black majority city as the white working classes moved to the suburbs (80 000 left in 1968 alone), leaving Detroit city in a decline of mass unemployment and rising crime.
A downward spiral continued into the 1970s as American manufacturers faced increasing competition from abroad and moved production to cheaper locations to cut cost, leaving further unemployment in their wake.
Detroit city further suffered because remaining managers and workers moved out to the suburbs or smaller towns just outside of the city – because tax revenue was heavily reliant on property taxes, Detroit city lost a considerable amount of its tax revenue, while the administrative centers around Detroit were well funded by the relatively well off workers who had moved to them. Detroit became a divided city – with wealthy, well funded suburbs and a declining, underfunded central city authority with massive social problems.
The 2007/08 financial crisis shook the auto industry to its core – but companies such as Chrysler and General Motors were bailed out by the Federal government, and have since recovered – Across metro Detroit half a million people still work in manufacturing, 130 000 in the auto industry, and they earn 75% above the state average salary.
Detroit city, on the other hand, did not fare so well during the financial crisis and in 2013 underwent the largest municipal bankruptcy in US history.
To emphasize the inequality in Detroit:
In Livingstone county, which is 96% white, the median household income is $73000
In Detroit City, which is 82.7% black, the median household income is $26, 000 and nearly 40% of people live in poverty.
Detroit south of the 8 Mile boundary – made famous by Eminem’s 8 Mile movie, is considered to have one of the highest murder rates in the country, and there are over 100 000 empty properties.
There are some positive development projects going on in Detroit, but the stark difference between rich and poor in the wider region is plain for any observer to see.
Lessons from Detroit
Detroit is important because it is a signal case for what is happening in many industrialized countries around the world – across the rust belt in America and mirrored in Southern European countries and northern England as well.
It reminds us that impoverishment is not just limited to the global south.
Modified from Andrew Brooks (2017) The End of Development (I’d classify this as alefty take on development!)
Here a few visual updates and links which highlight the extent of class inequality in the UK today…
1.In Education… 3 year olds from the richest fifth of households are twice as likely to be ‘school ready’ than 3 year olds from the poorest fifth of households
2, by health – This is a nice, if dated article which reminds us that Based on 2007-2009 mortality rates, a man aged 65 could expect to live another 17.6 years and a woman aged 65 another 20.2 years. This graphic demonstrates that men and women from routine manual backgrounds are twice as likely to die before the age of 64 than those from professional backgrounds(my title is clearer than that in the picture!)
4. Births outside of wedlock (not that I think the decline in marriage is a bad thing!, unlike the author of the post where I got the info!
The chart below shows the proportion of kids who are born outside marriage by social class in Britain. Its quite a short period of time, but you get the general idea. At the top, things haven’t changed much. At the bottom, having children inside marriage is not the norm, and increasingly rare.
The systematic domination of women by men in some or all of society’s spheres and institutions
Origins of the Concept
Ideas of male dominance have a very long history, with many religions presenting it as natural and necessary.
The first theoretical account of patriarchy is found in Engels theory of women’s subservience under capitalism. He argued that capitalism resulted in power being concentrated in the hands of fewer people which intensified the oppression of women as men passed on their wealth to their male heirs. (I’ve outline this theory in more detail in this post: the Marxist perspective on the family).
The main source of patriarchal theory stems from Feminism, which developed the concept in the 1960s, highlighting how the public-private divide and the norm of women being confined to the domestic sphere was the main source of male dominance and female oppression, highlighted by the famous Feminist slogan ‘the personal is the political’.
Subsequent Feminist theory and research explored how
Today, there is much disagreement over the concepts usefulness within the various different Feminist traditions (for the purposes of A-level sociology, typically divided up into Liberal, Marxist, Radical).
Meaning and Interpretation
The concept of Patriarchy forms the basis for radical forms of Feminism which has focused on how Patriarchy is reproduced in many different ways such as male violence against women, stereotypical representations in the media and even everyday sexism.
Sylvia Walby re-conceptualized Patriarchy in the 1990s, arguing that the concept failed to take account of increasing gender equality, but that it should still remain central to Feminist analysis, suggesting that there are six structures of patriarchy: Paid Work, Household Production, Culture, Sexuality, Violence and the State.
Walby also argued that analysis should distinguish between public and private forms of patriarchy.
The concept of patriarchy has been criticized from both outside and within Feminism.
The concept itself has been criticized as being too abstract: it is difficult to pin it down and find specific mechanisms through which it operates.
Many Feminists argue that Patriarchy exists in all cultures, and thus the concept itself is too general to be useful, as it fails to take account of how other factors such as class and ethnicity combine to oppress different women in different ways.
Black Feminists have criticized the (mainly) white radical Feminist critique of the family as patriarchal as many black women see the family as a bulwark against white racism in society.
Postmodern Feminism criticizes the concept as it rests on the binary distinction between men and women, the existence of which is open to question today.
Much contemporary research focuses on discourse and how language can reproduce patriarchy. For example Case and Lippard (2009) analysed jokes, arguing they can perpetuate patriarchal relations, although Feminists have developed their own ‘counter-jokes’ to combat these – they conclude that humor can act as a powerful ideological weapon.
The issue of why there are inequalities by ethnicity in the UK is a topic which runs all the way through the A level sociology syllabus. This post simply presents some sources which provide information on the extent of inequality in life chances by ethnicity in contemporary Britain.
As it stands, in 2017 it seems that:
ethnic minorities are less likely to be offered places at Britain’s top universities
ethnic minorities have higher rates of unemployment
ethnic minorities are more likely to be arrested, charged, prosecuted and imprisoned.
Ethnic minorities are less likely to be offered places at Britain’s top universities
Russel Group universities are less likely to provide ethnic minorities with offers of a place, even when grades and ‘facilitating subjects’ have been controlled for.
NB – It’s worth mentioning that the Russel Group universities, and Oxford University explain this away by saying that ethnic minority students are more likely to apply for more demanding courses for which they don’t necessarily have the grades, hence their higher rejection rate.
In January – March 2017 the unemployment rate was 4.1% for white people compared to 7.9% for people from a BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic) background.
There are significant variations by both specific ethnic and group and age: for example, Bangladeshi and Pakistani Britons have the highest unemployment rates relative to other ethnicity in all ages.
This difference is at least partially explained by the relatively high levels of unemployment among Pakistani and Bangladeshi females, which is significantly higher than male unemployment, a trend on found in these two ethnic groups.
Ethnic minorities are more likely to be charged for comparable offences
According to a recent study headed by David Lammy MP, ethnic minorities are more likely than white people to be arrested by the police, to be prosecuted by the CPS, and to be sentenced and jailed by judges and juries.
‘Disproportional outcomes were particularly noticeable in certain categories of offences. For every 100 white women handed custodial sentences at crown courts for drug offences, the report found, 227 black women were sentenced to custody. For black men, the figure is 141 for every 100 white men.’
NB – It’s particularly interesting to note the disparities in sentencing for black women, suggesting a truly massive ‘intersectionality effect’
This is just a brief ‘update post’ providing links to some recent statistical evidence on ethnic inequalities across a range of topics in A-level sociology.
You should always question the VALIDITY of these statistics – the drug offences stats, for example, do not tell us the severity of offence. It may just be that all of those black women were caught smuggling drugs whereas white women are more likely to be caught ‘merely’ dealing them… not inconceivable!
Also, even if you accept that the stats have at least some validity, you’ll need to dig even deeper to deeper to find out why these inequalities in life chances by ethnicity still exist!
In a memo published in August 2017 a (male) Google engineer suggested that gender inequality in the technology industry in general and Google in particular is not due to sexism, but due largely to biological differences between men and women.
The memo was called “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber” and the guy who wrote it was James Danmore. His short answer to the question ‘is Google sexist’ would be ‘no, in fact quite the opposite – Google subscribes to a leftist ideology and actually practices unfair authoritarian discrimination in favor of women over men’.
This memo is a great example of a New Right view on gender inequality – basically that men are naturally (biologically and psychologically) better suited to the demanding, analytical type of jobs that exist necessarily?) in a highly competitive tech industry.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai responded by saying that the memo suggested harmful gender stereotypes and sacked Danmore. Needless to say this whole incident has provoked a strong response from both the left and the right.
All I’m doing for now in this post is to summarise the key points of the work, to make it more accessible to students, as it’s an excellent example of a New Right point of view on gender roles. At some point I’ll get round to adding in some of the responses and criticisms of Danmore’s work.
Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber – A Summary of the Main Points
Danmore starts off the article by outlining (crudely) the difference between left and right ideologies, before suggesting that his list of possible biological causes of the gender gap (below) are ‘’non-biased”
It’s also worth mentioning that Danmore does qualify a lot of what he says, stating more than once that he doesn’t deny that sexism exists, he also states that there is considerable ‘biological overlap’ between men and women, so there are plenty of women who are biologically predisposed (as he would put it) towards techy jobs and leadership.
I’ve cut out quite a lot of the text, so as to just include the main arguments and evidence (there’s not much evidence cited) – anything in normal text is word for word from the original, anything italicised are my additions.
Possible non-bias causes of the gender gap in tech:
On average, men and women biologically differ in many ways. These differences aren’t just socially constructed because:
They’re universal across human cultures
They often have clear biological causes and links to prenatal testosterone
Biological males that were castrated at birth and raised as females often still identify and act like males
The underlying traits are highly heritable
They’re exactly what we would predict from an evolutionary psychology perspective
Note, I’m not saying that all men differ from all women in the following ways or that these differences are “just.” I’m simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership.
Many of these differences are small and there’s significant overlap between men and women, so you can’t say anything about an individual given these population level distributions.
Danmore includes the following diagrams to make his point:
Openness directed towards feelings and aesthetics rather than ideas.
Women generally also have a stronger interest in people rather than things, relative to men (also interpreted as empathizing vs. systemizing).
These two differences in part explain why women relatively prefer jobs in social or artistic areas. More men may like coding because it requires systemizing.
Extraversion expressed as gregariousness rather than assertiveness. Also, higher agreeableness. This leads to women generally having a harder time negotiating salary, asking for raises, speaking up, and leading.
Neuroticism (higher anxiety, lower stress tolerance) – This may contribute to the lower number of women in high stress jobs.
In this section Danmore cites two journal articles (all other links are not academic so I haven’t included them) to back up his views:
We always ask why we don’t see women in top leadership positions, but we never ask why we see so many men in these jobs.
These positions often require long, stressful hours that may not be worth it if you want a balanced and fulfilling life.
Status is the primary metric that men are judged on, pushing many men into these higher paying, less satisfying jobs for the status that they entail.
Note, the same forces that lead men into high pay/high stress jobs in tech and leadership cause men to take undesirable and dangerous jobs like coal mining, garbage collection, and firefighting, and suffer 93% of work-related deaths.
Danmore doesn’t cite any authoritative evidence to back up the views in this section.
The rest of the document
There are four further sections in the document in which Danmore covers:
Non-discriminatory ways to reduce the gender gap – actually he makes some pretty sensible suggestions here IMO, such as making work more collaborative.
A section on the harm of Google’s biases
A section on ‘why we’re blind’ – i.e. why we’re blind to the apparent ‘objective truth’ of the fact that men are leaders because they’re less neurotic etc.
A final section of suggestions – in which he basically suggests that we should be more tolerant of conservative views and not discriminate in ‘authoritarian ways’.
Being in poverty has a negative affect on an individual’s life chances. Being poor means you’ll struggle to make ends-meet, you’ll be stuck renting rather than buying your own house, you’ll probably be in stuck in a debt-cycle, your kids are more likely to fail their GCSEs, you’re more likely to a victim of crime, less likely to feel like you’ll belong, you’ll feel more miserable, and suffer more mental health problems during the course of your life. You’re also much less likely to save sufficient money towards your pension, but fortunately that won’t matter, because you’re also likely to die younger, so at least you won’t suffer for too many years in old-age.
This post explores some of the statistical evidence on the relationship between poverty and life chances, looking at a range of evidence collected by the office for national statistics and other agencies such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The point of this post is simply to provide an overview of the statistics, and offer something of a critique of the limitations of these statistics. I’ll also provide some links to useful sources which students can then use to explore the data further.
Most of the statistics in this post use a relative measurement of poverty based on the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s definition of a low income household which is defined as one which has income of 60% of the average income, roughly equivalent to £7500 for single person households and £11000/ year for two person, or couple households in 2014-15.
According to this measurement there were 13.5 million people, or 21% of the U.K. population living in low-income households in 2014/15 (1).
Life chances simply refers to your chances of achieving positive outcomes and avoiding negative outcomes throughout the course of your life – such as succeeding in education, being happy, or avoiding divorce, poor health and an early, painful death.
How poverty affects life chances – in six statistics
One – the poorest fifth are at least FIVE times as likely to be able to keep up with paying bills compared to the richest fifth
Almost half of all families with children in the poorest 20% find it ‘difficult to make ends meet’. A fifth are unable to keep up with bills.
This compares to 10% and approximately 3% respectively for the richest fifth of households.
Two – Housing: people renting are 3-4 times more likely to be in poverty than owner-occupiers
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation notes that ‘11% of owner-occupiers live in poverty after housing costs, over two in five (42 per cent) of all social rented sector tenants and over a third of private rented sector tenants (36 per cent) live in poverty (DWP, 2015b). The extent to which housing costs contribute to poverty levels is particularly acute in the private rented sector with poverty levels in this tenure doubling from 18 to 36 per cent when housing costs are taken into account.’
Rent accounts for at least a third of income for more than 70% of private renters in poverty.
Three – poor people are FOUR TIMES more likely to be in debt
Living in a ‘low income’ household (or being ‘in poverty’) is strongly correlated with being in debt – in 2014/15 20% of people in poverty were behind with a bill (excluding housing costs), compared to only 5% of households not in poverty.
Where a pupil’s family have claimed eligibility for free school meals in the School Census they are defined as eligible for Free school meal (FSM).
In 2016, 13.4% of pupils at the end of key stage 4 were eligible for free school meals, compared to 13.8% in 2015.
Pupils are defined as disadvantaged if they are known to have been eligible for free school meals in the past six years (from year 6 to year 11), if they are recorded as having been looked after for at least one day or if they are recorded as having been adopted from care.
In 2016, 27.7% of pupils at the end of key stage 4 were disadvantaged, 0.4 percentage points higher than 2015 (27.3%).
There was a 12.2 and 12.6 attainment gap between ‘disadvantaged’ and ‘Free School Meals’ pupils respectively in 2016.
This truly horrific, and avoidable tragedy seems to be a perfect illustration of the downsides of neoliberal policies – deregulation, cutting public services (such as social housing) and outsourcing to private companies are the three cornerstones of neoliberal economic policy – and the conflation of these three things together seem to be directly responsible for the deaths in Grenfell Tower.
NB – This isn’t just me saying this, below is an approximate quote by Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, in a speech given on 24th June:
‘The Grenfell Tower fire was a ‘direct consequence of Tory attitudes towards social housing… they think they are second class citizens, and thus they got second class fire safety standards. It is also a direct consequence of outsourcing and of deregulation” (video from The Independent).
Five things which suggest Kensington Council put profits before safety…
I’ve taken the five pieces of evidence from a recent article in The Week : ‘The Grenfell Inferno: were profits put before safety’? (NB – as far as I can tell, this is only in the print copy of The Week, 24th June, Issue 1130).
One – The council ignored repeated warnings by Grenfell residents
Grenfell residents had repeatedly warned KCTMO that the building was unsafe:
rubbish blocking hallways was going uncollected
emergency lighting was inadequate
there was no fire escape (save the main stairs)
fire extinguishers weren’t being tested
repeated power surges had led to electrical appliances catching fire previously.
It was also claimed that on the night of the fire, the fire alarms failed.
Kensington and Chelsea council also have £274 million in reserves.
Amelia Gentlemen in The Guardian suggests that, in the context of the vast wealth in the borough, there is a strong suspicion that council officials ‘see social housing tenants, many of them immigrants, as a nuisance, occupying valuable land that could be sold off to developers at a vast profit’.
Three – The council outsourced the recent refurbishment of Grenfell Tower to a firm called Rydon, which has a track record of putting profits before safety.
Rydon, which made a pre-tax profit of £14 million last year, won the contract over the councils ‘preferred contractor’ by undercutting them, despite the fact that another council, Sutton council, had recently cancelled a five year repairs contract with Rydon becaue its performance fell short of requirements.
Rydon subcontracted out the Grenfell work to nine different companies, which raised ‘serious concerns about the quality of supervision and accountability’.
So it was Rydon that was the firm who would have agreed to install the non fire-proof cladding, rather than going for the fire-proof panels for an extra £5000.
Four – Deregulation has meant that landlords have managed to avoid acting on fire safety advice.
Retrofitting sprinklers (which would have cost £200 000) was one of the recommendations made after a fire at Lakanal House in south London in 2009 killed nine people, but lawmakers decided not to make this mandatory – they left it up to landlords and councils to do so on a voluntary basis, and few did.
Five – The incapable response by the council to the disaster
Despite an amazing voluntary response by the public, the ‘council was no where to be seen’ – even 24 hours after the fire, there was no centralised co-ordination from the council, no point of information about missing persons, and some residents were still sleeping rough 4 days later.
All of this suggests that the council see social housing tenants as second class citizens.
NB – the poor treatment is continuing several days later….According to The Guardian around 30 households were subsequently told by the council that they would have to move out their Holiday Inn accommodation because of previous bookings; some families have been asked to move several times.
The relevance of all of this to A-level sociology….
As I mentioned above, this tragedy can be used to illustrate downsides of neoliberal policies – deregulation, cutting public services (such as social housing) and outsourcing to private companies are the three cornerstones of neoliberal economic policy – and the conflation of these three things together seem to be directly responsible for the deaths in Grenfell Tower.
It’s also a useful reminder that poor people in rich (unequal) societies can be treated appallingly, suggesting that inequality is the main barrier to further social development in so called ‘developed’ countries like the United Kingdom.
I also think Bauman’s concept of ‘flawed consumers’ can be applied here – Bauman has long commented that capitalism produces ‘surplus people’ – those without the means to consume, and many of the Grenfell residents fit this category – and because they perform no useful function in a capitalist system (because they can’t buy that many things and keep profit flowing) these people are treated with contempt, as this case study clearly demonstrates.
As a final note, a harsh question I’d like people to consider is simply this – how many people in the U.K. genuinely believe that the state should guarantee a decent standard of housing for everyone, even if that means spending a few billion extra pounds at the national level, which in turn would mean an increasing in taxes?
Clearly the Kensington council leader, and probably most of the Tory party, think the state should provide no or minimal help to the poor in the form of social housing, that’s one of the main strands of neoliberal thought, but how many of those people cheering for Jeremy Corbyn at Glastonbury really believe the state should pay more towards social housing, especially if that means your council tax bill going up?
I have this uncomfortable feeling that while it’s easy to come together and hate the Tories, if you probed public opinion a little deeper, there probably wouldn’t be that much support for increased spending on social welfare, or that much commitment to giving serious thought about how to implement policies to make capitalism work better for the poor, let alone how to replace it with a post-capitalist order.
Identifying media bias through content analysis is a key skill in sociology. The American media is often accused of having a right-wing bias which means they will present a pro-capitalist, pro-business world view as normal and desirable and promote a neoliberal policy agenda. (1)
Below I analyse one newspaper article (about why 66 million Americans have no savings at all) to illustrate how agenda setting, or what and what isn’t included in the article, results in a subtle right-wing, neoliberal bias.
OK – It looks like it might be a lefty topic, because it’s about the precarious financial life of the poorest sections of American society, but there’s no class-based analysis focusing on how it’s mainly low-paid and temporary jobs in the context of 30 years neoliberal economics resulting in productivity gains, but increasingly unequal national income distribution meaning the very rich get richer, while most of the rest of us, especially the poor, get relatively poorer.
Having alerted us to these ‘shocking statistics’ (oh those poor, poor Americans), we are then told that this low-savings rate is spread among all households –
‘the problem is hardly confined to the poor. Yes, more than half of all households with an annual income under $30,000 have no emergency savings. But fully one in six households with an annual income between $50,000 and $75,000 had no emergency savings either’.
The article then goes on to talk about how Gen Y is better at saving than Gen X – the tone of which seems to blame 40 to 60 somethings for having too high consumption levels and not saving enough… (‘if your damn kids can save, then why not you too’?) – here ignoring the following two important contextual facts:
(A) Gen Xrs were encouraged to consume in the context of a growing economy, then the neoliberal crash came in 2007, and here we are: hyper-precarity;
(B) OK Yes – Gen Yrs may appear to be better at saving, rather than avoiding debt, but why are they saving? I bet once you take out all of those saving to go travelling (and hence consuming) or saving for a mortgage (you now need a bigger deposit than your parents), you’d have similar rates of debt being racked up across the generations.
The article ends with the classic neoliberal trick of individualising the whole problem:
“The biggest barrier to saving is not being in the habit of saving,” says McBride. “You have to set some money aside with every paycheck.” Making it automatic can help, he advises. But no matter how you do it, start now.”
Ignoring the fact that for the typical person with no savings (mots of them are in low-paid jobs) there simply isn’t enough money left at the end of the week to put something extra by!
In summary: why don’t people save according to the narrow agenda of this right-wing, neoliberal article?
40-60 somethings got into the habit of consuming too much.
It’s a problem which effects all levels of income
20-30 somethings are much better at saving than their parents
Irresponsible parents need to learn from their kids and just save more….
What’s not considered/ emphasised
There are 10-15% of American households which are in no position to save for emergencies
This is because 30 years of neoliberal policies have created precarious and low-paid jobs, which has meant productivity gains, the gains from which have gone disproportionately to the top 1%.
Generation Yrs are shit-scared of their futures and so are more likely to save compared to their parents.
We need state-intervention to redistribute wealth away from the richest 1% and back to the lowest paid workers who actually created this wealth through their labour power.
(1) I didn’t intend to write this today, it just sort of happened, I was actually looking up stats on inequality in America, and I got quite annoyed when I read (and thought) about the content of this article.
Privacy & Cookies Policy
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.