Lucien Goldmann – Class and Literature

Lucien Goldmann is a marxist theorist of the arts who argued that social class shapes the worldview of authors.

Lucien Goldmann is a Marxist theorist of the arts. He argued that great works of literature reflected the (sometimes contradictory) class positions of those who wrote them.

The Expression of Class WorldViews

In The Hidden God (1964) Goldmann developed a theory about the French writers Pascal and Racine.

He argued that the social class to which one belongs is the most important thing when it comes to the production of intellectual and creative works.

Humans in the ‘subject class’ need to spend most of their time devoted to physical survival while those in the ‘dominant class’ need to spend their time maintaining that dominance.

Class thus tends to be the most influential factor in shaping people’s world views and thus their creative and intellectual output!

Goldmann argued that most people only have a dim perception of class consciousness, but a few exceptional individuals are class conscious and able to express this clearly.

Pascal and Racine

Goldmann believed that Pascal and Racine were two such ‘exceptional individuals’ who were aware of their class consciousness, both of whom belonged to a social class which Goldman referred to as the ‘Noblesse de Robe’ in 17th century France.

The Noblesse de Robe consisted of legal and administrative professionals who were employed by the state, which was partially controlled by the monarchy.

These individuals thus had a conflicted worldview which partially reflected the authoritarian traditions of the monarchy but also the more rational ‘new bourgeoise’ worldview associated with their professions.

The contradiction between these two world views comes through in the tragedies that Pascal and Racine wrote, which tended to focus on how it was impossible to succeed in the rational world and to please God at the same time.

In the words of Goldmann the central theme of the Noblesse’s tragedies was:

“that everything that God demands is impossible in the eyes of the world, and that everything that is possible when we follow the rules of this world ceases to exist when the eye of God lights upon it”

Evaluation of Goldmann

On the positive side Lucien Goldmann’s analysis is more subtle than Berger’s who simply argues that art reflects ruling class ideology.

At least in Goldmann’s theory the authors are conscious actors expressing their own class consciousness.

Criticisms of Goldmann

  1. He may overemphasise the role of class in shaping the worldview of authors. For Feminist, for example, gender is more important in this, as is ethnicity and the experience (or lack of) of colonialism.
  2. Even if class is the prominent influencer of art, other factors such as gender probably play a role too!
  3. Goldmann assumes that a social class can possess a clear ideology, express that ideology and that there is one clear interpretation of this one ideology. Poststructuralists argue that there are multiple interpretations of multiple realities.

John Berger

John Berger was a marxist cultural thinker who argued that art reflects ruling class ideology.

John Berger was an artist, novelist, cultural thinker and art critic who developed a Marxist inspired theory of art.

His best known work is ‘Ways of Seeing’ (1972) in which he explored the ‘hidden ideologies’ in historical works of art.

Berger argued that art reflects the political and economic system in which it was produced and that “the art of any period tends to serve the ideological interests of the ruling class” (1)

Berger is an extremely influential Marxist critique of the arts who is also credited with introducing the concept of the Male Gaze to visual analysis.

John Berger in 2009

Berger: Art and Ruling Class Ideology

Oil painting was the dominant medium for painters between 1500 to 1900.

The ruling classes were more able to impose their view of the world through art simply because oil paintings were expensive and they had the money to commission them.

Berger argued that oil paintings had unique properties that made them especially suitable for portraying ruling class ideology during the Renaissance years and into modernity.

These were the years of emergence of Capitalism when acquiring private property and earning money through trade were becoming increasingly central to the world-view of the ruling class, and most oil paintings during 1500-1900 were concerned with depicting the accumulation of such wealth and property, reflecting the interests of the ruling classes during that period.

Oil paints were particularly suited to making what they depicted seem tangible, or ‘real’ because of the texture, depth and lustre of the medium.

The depiction of wealth in oil paintings changed as modernity developed.

Oil paintings had always portrayed items of value, but in early periods these items were usually linked to the glorifying God. However, as capitalism developed paintings focussed increasingly on portraying the wealth and power of the ruling class, effectively suggesting that money was more important than religion.

Another change was that older works portrayed wealth as a symbol of a fixed social or divine order, reflecting the traditional nature of religious power structures, while oil paintings during modernity portrayed wealth as something more dynamic and linked to the successes of the individuals who had acquired it.

Interestingly many of the works commissioned by the wealthy elites during modernity were of poor quality, or ‘hack work’ as Berger calls it.

This was because it was more important to the elites to have their art showing off their wealth in the way that they wanted rather than for them to have high quality works.

In short there were many more mediocre artists prepared to ‘paint to demand’ than there were excellent artists prepared to do so! So even here the market influences the quality of work that is produced.

The Portrayal of the Ruling Class in Art

Landscape paintings portrayed the property of the rich, and sometimes the property owners insisted on being in the landscapes themselves, to demonstrate that it was them who owned the land.

Berger uses the example of Mr and Mrs Andrews by Gainsborough (circa 1748 to 9). In this landscape painting the husband and wife are in the foreground and Berger argues that their ‘proprietary attitude to what surrounds them is visible in their stance and their expression’.

Mr and Mrs Andrews by Gainsborough

Other still-life paintings during modernity portrayed expensive furnishings in houses and tables laden with exotic foods as symbols of wealth. Animals were also featured, but not animals in the wild, rather domesticated livestock with a rare pedigree, so that their monetary value was clear.

The Portrayal of the Lower classes in Art

Paintings representing the lower classes were also popular among the ruling classes.

A common theme in portrayals of the lower classes was that of the common people being drunk and debauched in taverns which suggested they were immoral, feckless and lazy.

Such portrayals served to foster a kind of ‘myth of meritocracy’ – the idea that the poor were to blame for their own poverty because they preferred to drink and party rather than to work hard, while it was the hardworking who prospered and thus deserved their wealth.

And of course it was the ruling classes who saw themselves as hard working and deserving the wealth displayed in their own paintings of themselves.

NB – it’s worth noting the following difference:

  • the ruling classes controlled what went into the paintings of themselves that they commissioned.
  • the working classes had no control over this – artists drew them without any input from them.

Some artists break free of Ruling Class Ideology

While most works of art reflect ruling class ideology, Berger accepts that some artists break free from such ideological constraints.

One example of someone who did this is the artist Rembrandt.

Berger points to an early painting of Rembrandts: Self-Portrait with Saskia (circa 1635) in which Rembrandt is painting within ‘ruling class ideology’ – the painting depicts himself showing off his wife as a form of property, a symbol of this own wealth and success.

However, 30 years later when he produces ‘self-portrait of an old man’ (circa 1664) in this painting he just sitting on his own in a sombre and reflective mood with no symbols of wealth depicted.

In Berger’s interpretation of Rembrandt’s journey he has undergone a struggle over the course of his life to throw off the shackles of ruling class ideology and succeeded in producing a piece of art that is more authentic.

Evaluation of Berger’s theory of art

John Berger’s work has been extremely influential, with Ways of Seeing being described as ‘revolutionary‘.

Berger’s work has become a standard edition to cultural studies and history of art courses the world over and he is responsible for encouraging students and anyone else who reads his work to think critically about the role of power and money in influencing art and culture.

Even if you you do not entirely agree with Berger’s analysis, at the very least you should appreciate the fact that he is encouraging us to ask critical questions about the processes which lie behind the production of art.

It is possible that his analysis isn’t that systematic and thus alternative interpretations maybe just as valid. For example do the expressions of the Andrews really demonstrate that they own the land in the background…? Does Rembrandt’s old man portrait really show that he’s been through a life-time of personal struggle to break free from ruling class ideology, or is he just showing that he’s ‘old and sad’…?

Even though Berger devoted some time to how women are portrayed as being owned and controlled by men in Ways of Seeing he has been criticised for not giving female analysts more of a central role in discussing this.

Sources/ find out more

Brtannica: John Berger

This post was adapted from Haralambos and Holborn(2013) Sociology Themes and Perspectives 8th Edition.

John Beger image.

Mr and Mrs Andrews

Signposting

This material is primarily relevant to those studying the Culture and Identity option within A-level Sociology.

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The bombing of the Dover Refugee Centre: An Act of Terrorism….?

The plight of migrants coming to the UK in boats has been highlighted this week with the bombing of an immigration centre by a pensioner who then went on to kill himself.

The article above by The Guardian raises the question of why the police aren’t treating this attack as an act of terrorism, as it certainly seems like it is.

For an act to be classed as a terrorist act there needs to be proof that there is political motive behind it, and given that the man drove from Buckinghamshire and seemingly deliberately targeted an immigration centre in Dover, this seems to be a violent statement against migration and against asylum seekers more generally.

This act may yet be classified as terrorist once the police complete a search of the man’s house, but it strikes me that had this been, for example, a person that looked like a Muslim throwing petrol bombs at a church, that would probably be labelled as a terrorist act immediately.

Why such extreme acts against an immigration centre…?

This act is probably a protest against the recent rapid increase in migrants coming to the UK in boats from France.

There is some underlying data that shows this kind of migrant crossing has increased rapidly in recent years…

Over the last two years there really has been a RAPID increase…

  • 10 000 in 2020
  • 30 000 in 2021 (a trebling)
  • 40 000 so far in 2022.

Historically the UK has relatively low asylum applications compared to some other European countries…..

Asylum Statistics UK

And assuming that all of those people coming to the UK by boat are going to go on and claim asylum, and these are just the people arriving by boat (rather than other means) this probably means the UK is going to see a marked increase in the number of Asylum claims in 2022, bringing it closer to Germany and France for example.

But of course this doesn’t justify violence against Asylum seekers in the form of petrol bombing migration centres.

We have to keep in mind that asylum seekers are themselves victims already – victims of persecution in their own country, victims quite simply of being born on the wrong side of the global divide and they are just trying to escape to a better life.

Why this violence against asylum seekers …?

Sensationalist reporting of there being ‘an invasion’ of refugees desperately trying to get the UK doesn’t help matters, and neither does the Home Secretary using the same emotive language.

Such discourse and portrayals of refugees only helps to demonise them and maybe helps to encourage people to engage in violent acts against them, because such rhetoric makes people think they are in the right to act against refugees.

There’s also the fact that it takes so long to process asylum claims that huge numbers of people are waiting to claim asylum and in a state of limbo… still in the statistics because they are not processed. If they were processed faster they could integrate more quickly into Britain, get jobs and there would be no problem!

However in the eyes of many immigrants themselves are a problem of course – racism is still rife in the UK and migrants are a handy scapegoat for our current cost of living crisis – someone to target someone to point to and say ‘no money for them, get rid of them, we can’t afford them’.

A brief Marxist analysis of violence against refugees…

  • Global capitalism causes global inequalities and conflict which causes crises
  • Refugees flee various crises caused by Capitalism
  • Some of them come to Britain
  • Poor people in Britain who are themselves victims of being on the wrong side of the internal inequalities caused by Capitalism blame the migrants for making their lives worse by taking up more national resources.
  • Egged on by right wing political opportunists such as Nigel Farage.

Rather what needs to happen is the many victims of the world need to come together and realise they have solidarity and work together to make the world a better place and maybe get rid of the structural inequalities that make the world such an unstable place!

The Bombing of Migration Centres: Final Thoughts…

The number of refugees probably isn’t going to go down in coming years so maybe we need to think more constructively about how refugees and asylum seekers could be useful to us – we do apparently have labour shortages in some sectors of the economy and we are facing an ageing population – most asylum seekers are young men who could help solve both of these social problems if they were just processed through the system more quickly!

Signposting and Relevance to A-Level Sociology

Events such as this bombing are a painful reminder that we are a long way from value consensus in our society, and they are also a reminder that there are many other conflict zones in the world besides Ukraine.

They remind us that Britain is forced to constantly react to global forces outside of its control.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Tories allow the Corporations to Keep their Profits

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

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

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

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

The most likely situation is that MOST of our

New Fracking and Oil Exploration Licenses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marxism Applied to Topics in A-level Sociology

The easiest way for students to prepare for the Theory and Methods parts of the A-Level Sociology Paper 1 and Paper 3 exams is to revise how Marxism applies to the different topic areas usually taught as part of the specification – typically the Family, Education, Religion and Crime and Deviance.

For an overview of these two papers please see my ‘exams advice page’.

This post is a summary of how Marxism applies to these topic areas.

Research Methods Implications

  • Scientific Marxism – The purpose of research is to find out more about the laws of Capitalism to see when revolution is ripe
  • Requires a Cross National Macro-Approach to social research focusing on economics and how the economy affects society
  • Humanistic Marxism – Research can be more varied, focusing on highlighting social injustices in order to make people more critical of Capitalism (Not value free!)

Marxism applied to the family

  • Capitalism, Private Property and The Family
  • The family as a safe haven

More at the Marxist Perspective on the Family.

Marxism and Education

  • The ideological state apparatus
  • Reproduction/ Legitimation of class inequality
  • Correspondence Principle
  • Cultural Capital

More at the Marxist Perspective on Education.

Dependency Theory

  • Colonialism and Slavery
  • The Modern World System
  • Unfair trade rules
  • TNC exploitation

More at Dependency Theory .

Marxism applied to Crime and Deviance

  • Private Property and Crime
  • The costs of Corporate Crime
  • Selective Law Enforcement
  • Criminogenic Capitalism (‘Dog Eat Dog“ Society)

For more see The Marxist Perspective on Crime and Deviance.

Marxism – more advanced theory

Using what Marxists say about the above topic areas is just one way to approach a theory question on Marxism, another way is to use the work of specific Marxists such as Althusser and Gramsci, and of course Marx himself. These ideas are outlined in this revision post: Marxism A-level Sociology Revision Notes.

For more links to Marxist theory please see my Theory and Methods page for A2 Sociology.

P and O’s Sacking of 800 Workers – Broad Support for the Marxist Perspective on Globalisation?

P and O Ferries recently sacked 800 UK workers by video conference call. Workers were literally told in a video call from the boss of P and O, lasting less than 5 minutes and with no prior warning, that their employment was being terminated with immediate effect.

You can watch the boss of P and O sacking the 800 workers in the video below (note is old white maleness, typical profile!)

The 800 UK workers, all having been paid minimum wage have been replaced with primarily overseas workers from countries such as India, allegedly being paid as little as £1.80 an hour, employed via a third party, meaning they are agency workers rather than being employed directly by P and O.

Some of the sacked workers had been with the company for several years, a few for over a decade, suddenly made unemployed, and the replacement agency workers were shipped in by bus on the same day, some of them having been put up in a hotel the night before.

Relevance to A-level Sociology

This is a sad example of how global companies such as DP WORLD (The parent company of P and O) can simply sack more expensive workers and hire cheaper workers from other countries when their profits take a hit, as has been the case since the Covid Pandemic led to a drastic decrease in revenues for travel companies.

This kind of action is probably easier for ferry companies who can choose to register (‘flag’) their boats in a number of countries, and thus effectively pick the legislation which they want their employment laws to fall under.

Clearly P and Os legal advisors had informed the company that they could sack these British workers with immediate effect, even though British Labour laws they need to consult with Unions BEFORE sacking so many workers, which they hadn’t done.

This event is a sad reminder of Zygmunt Bauman’s quote that ‘when the rich pursue their goals, the poor pay the price’ – in this case the company is trying to save money to maintain its profitability and so it sacks more highly paid workers in the UK (although ferry employees aren’t particularly highly paid) and then employs poorer people to do exactly the same jobs, meanwhile the British tax payer is left to foot the bill of these newly unemployed people.

I doubt very much if the newly employed Ferry workers will have employment conditions anywhere near as good as the sacked British workers.

This seems to suggest that Marxism is still relevant today, offering broad support for the Marxist view of globalisation – that global companies can operate between countries, seeking to take advantage of those with the slackest labour laws, and in this case it’s clearly Britain with it’s relatively high standards of protection for workers that has lost out!

To what extent is the family a willing unit of consumption?

Evaluating the Marxist view of the family and false needs

Contemporary Marxists argue that one of the main functions of the family in capitalist societies is to act as a ‘unit of consumption’ – the family unit is supposed to buy the products necessary to keep capitalism going.

Key to understanding this theory is the idea of ‘false needs’ – which in Marxist theory are perceived ‘needs’ created by the capitalist system, rather than our ‘real needs’.

‘Real needs’ are basic material things such as food, shelter, clothing, but we might also include transport, health, education and general welfare.

‘False needs’ arise because of the demands of the capitalist system, rather than what we as individuals need. They include such things as the need for distraction or anything else we ‘need’ to make life bearable in an unfair system,  anything we might buy to give off a sense of our social status, and anything we buy or do to give ourselves or our children an edge in an artificially unequal world.  We could also include many of the products we buy out of fear, or out the need to make ourselves safe, if that fear is engineered by the capitalist system to keep the population under control.

This post has been written as part of an evaluation of The Marxist Perspective on the Family, part of the families and households module within A-level sociology.

False needs and the family

It is possible to think of many examples of families making purchases and consuming stuff which could fall into the category of false needs, which ultimately serves the needs of the capitalist system. Examples could include:

  • Purchases parents make just keep their kids quiet and simply give themselves time to manage their lives, given that parents do not have enough time at home because they both must work in a Capitalist system. This could include toys and subscriptions to media entertainment packages.
  • Purchase parents make to give their children an advantage in education. In Marxist theory education reproduces class inequality, primarily because the middle classes can buy their kids a better education.
  • Purchases parents make to give their family a sense of status to the outside world – this could be for the family as a whole, such as a better car, or parents giving in to the demands for kids to have the latest status clothes or phone.  
  • Products bought to keep kids ‘safe’, which could be mainly for younger children.
  • A lot of the above will be exacerbated by ‘built in obsolescence’ of many products.

Evidence of the Family perpetuating false needs

This section looks at possible evidence that families purchase ‘shit they don’t need’, giving into false needs, rather than consumption based on real needs.

Some places we might look for evidence include:

  • Case studies of high consumption families, but how representative are they?
  • Stats on advertising expenditure aimed at families and their effectiveness.
  • Stats on family expenditure – trends in how much parents spend on children. and what do parents actually buy?
  • Pester Power – how often do parents give in to their kids nagging?
  • Counter studies – what does an example of a family living in ‘real consciousness’ look like?!?

Keep in mind that there are limitations with all of the evidence below and you can always use your own brain-thing to find your own examples!

My Super Sweet 16

Shows such as ‘My Super Sweet 16’ probably show us the most extreme examples of parents willingly meeting their children’s false needs. An excellent analysis of this is provided my the most excellent Charlie Brooker in the clip below (5.30 mins on)

The problem with such case studies is they are maybe not that representative of families in America, let alone in the UK!?!

According to the FintechTimes children receive almost £20 a month in pocket money, sometimes for doing chores.

According to their research, nine year olds are already well versed in the habit of saving to buy expensive consumer items, as this top chart of products shows:

Whether you regard this as evidence of ‘false needs’ being established from a young age is debatable. Some of the products would fall well within the ‘false need’s category – the Play Station and Slime for example, but others seem quite educational – lego and books seeming to be high up the priority list!

A third of parents say Pester Power has made them take on debt

Corporations know that children Pester parents for toys they want, and so a good deal of advertising has historically been targeted at children. Some recent research from 2018 suggests that a third of parents have given into pester power to the extent that they’ve bought something on credit, just to stop their children nagging.

Parental Expenditure on Education

The average UK parental expenditure on education is almost £25K a year, and that’s over and above the free education provided by the State. Most of this will be by middle class parents trying to give their children an advantage.

Counter Evidence

Don’t forget to look for counter-evidence too – you might want to look up recent restrictions on the power of companies to advertise to children (reducing pester power) or look for examples of ‘frugal families’.

Criticisms of the Marxist view on the family as a unit of consumption

Are parents really in false consciousness, do they really have ‘false’ needs. ?

To what extent are parents under false consciousness and buying ‘shit they don’t need’ for their families and their children, rather than buying stuff because they have made a rational decision?

Some of the safety products for babies may well come under this category – maybe this is a genuine need – maybe it is better to spend £400 on a super safe buggy rather than relying on your parent’s hand me downs?

Individuals might have more false needs than families

I’m also not convinced that the family in particular is the most significant unit of consumption – young adults not yet in families are perfectly capable of buying ‘shit they don’t need’ themselves in their 20s and 30s, and it’s debatable whether their relative expenditure on ‘false need’ type items will be higher when they have families in their 30s 40s and 50s?

A Marxist-Feminist response to covid-19

A Marxist-Feminist response to covid-19 demands that the political response to the pandemic puts people, and especially essential-service workers, before the interests of capital.

Below I summarise an article from Spectre, a Marxist-Feminist journal, based in the United States, which outlines seven ways we should be responding to the pandemic.

I’ve re-worded some of the material to make it a bit simpler to understand, as it is written in typcically ‘Marxist’ language/ Hopefully I haven’t changed the meaning too much in translation

Better funding for life-making institutions

Social reproduction services such as the health care services and education have been undermined by years of cuts. The crisis has shown us how essential these are, and so we should maintain them at a higher level of funding going forwards.

Better pay for essential service workers

We need to recognize the real value of nurses, care workers, cleaners and the people who do the basic work of society. They need better pay and conditions

Bail out people, not corporations

The article suggests that some CEOs are sacking people while keeping their high salaries, we need to make sure bail-out money doesn’t go to the shareholders of companies who have cut jobs

Open borders, close prisons

This is the most contentious to my mind – but they remind us that migrants and prisoners are probably some of the most effected people in all of this – the former because their livelihoods are decimated with border closures, the latter because they are forced to be inside in crowded conditions.

Stand in solidarity against domestic violence

Governments need to make sure domestic violence services are funded appropriately to meet the spike in DV since coronavirus

Use solidarity against capital

Ordinary people all over the world are stepping up and voluntarily making sure their neighbours and the vulnerable are getting what they need during this crisis. The governments need to follow their lead in provided assistance – help the people, but take the lead from the people, based on need.

Use solidarity to change society

This moment can be the moment when the left push forward with a pro-people, anti-capitalist agenda, it needs to be dynamic and global.

A few thoughts on the above

IMO there’s little to disagree with in the above statements with maybe the exception of the borders/ prisons point.

I like the idea of building on the voluntary work and renewed (or just new?) respect key workers now have in the eyes of general public to really push forward an economic recovery agenda that emphasizes rebuilding society based on basic individual needs, a recovery which puts health, care, education, essential services at the center.

It will be interesting to see if this is going to be the case!

A Marxist-Feminist Analysis of Coronavirus

I read a very interesting article called in Dissent online magazine which seems to be a ‘Marxist-Feminist‘ analysis of the Coronavirus.

The article’s called ‘Social Reproduction and the Pandemic, and consists of a Q and A session with Tithi Bhattacharya, a professor of history at Purdue university and co-author of a book: Feminism for the 99%, which hints pretty strongly at her left-leaning and Feminist views!

Tithi Bhattacharya

I’ve included a summary below, but if you’d like to read the whole thing yourself, then I’ve included a link below.

Social repdoduction theory

Bhattacharya is a ‘social reproduction theorist’ – social reproduction theory sees the real source of wealth and value in our society as coming from human labour associated with ‘social reproduction activities’.

Social reproduction activities are those required for making and maintaing life, such as producing food, education, maintaing health, transportation, caring for people and various ‘domestic chores’ such as cleaning. The institutions associated with such ‘life making’ activities are the health-care sector, education and public transport. Typical ‘life-making’ jobs inlcude nursing, teaching, caring, and cleaning, sectors dominated by female workers.

Bhattacharya suggests that the capitalist system does not value ‘life-making activities’ because the capitalist system emphasises the importance of ‘thing-making’ and ‘profit-making’ rather than ‘life making’. Thus ‘life-making’ jobs such as nursing and teaching are undervalued and the workers poorly paid.

Social reproduction theory aims to analyse social events keeping in mind the fact that the really important work in society is ‘life-making work’, work currently done by women!

How Coronarvirus criticizes Capitalism

The coronavirus has been tragicially clarifying in two major ways:

It highlights that care work and life-making work are the really essential work of society – in lockdown we are keeping the essential services going such as nursing and refuse collection, no one is clamouring for stockbrokers or the leisure industry to be kept running.

It also highlights how incapable capitalism is when it comes to dealing with a crisis – once again we require the public sector to come to the rescue, the sector that’s been undermined by cuts for a decade.

Undervalued work

Many of the jobs in America that are on the essential services list (the ones that are allowed to stay open) are paid at minimum wage, or $10 an hour, and many workers have no paid sick time or health insurance.

One suggestion is for ‘pandemic pay’ – pay these workers more as they are now being called on to risk their lives.

The uneqal response in India

Bhattacharya also focuses on the unequal response to the virus in India (her home country) – there is a lot of poor migrant labour in India, and because of lockdown closing public transport, millions of such workers are now literally having to walk home hundreds of miles to their home villages.

Meanwhile the Indian government allowed wealthy middle class Indians stuck abroad to come home on special flights, despite the borders being closed to everyone else.

She goes on to suggest that capitalist governments in the global south might well use the virus as a means to clear out the slums of the unwanted, i.e. just let it kill a lot of people.

Coronavirus and the domestic sphere

Battacharya thinks that this is a positive time for us to reconnect with families, and we might even see a rebalancing of domestic labour with men doing more housework than usual, but she also reminds us that there will probably be a spike in domestic violence for those unfortunate enough to be caught in absuive relationships.

‘War-footing’ not an appropriate analogy…

Some really interesting thoughts on why the ‘war footing’ isn’t an appropriate analogy:

Firstly, we need to ramp-down production rather than ‘ramping it up’ (like we normally would in a war) – because we need to think of minimising the social contact through global supply lines.

Secondly, we need to redefine ‘troops’ – they are not soldiers, but our care-sector and essential service workers.

Coranavirus and climate change

An interesting final thought – we need to deal with climate change with the same sense of urgency as we are dealing with this pandemic!

Sources:

Marxism in Pictures

A selection of images to represent some of the main Functionalist concepts for A level sociology. Concepts covered include the organic analogy, socialisation, integration, regulation, anomie and more!

This post aims to simplify some Marxist concepts by representing them as pictures and providing some brief definitions…

For more detailed posts on Marxism you might like any of the following:

Feminisms

Capitalism and Class Structure

Society is structured like a pyramid, those with capital at the top

Society’s Structure is made up of institutions

Bourgeoisie and Proletariat

Exploitation

Lies at the heart of the capitalist system according to Marx

Surplus Value

Alienation

Where workers feel detached from their work, not at home in the work place, not in control, thus ‘alienated’

Ideological Control

Institutions such as the media teach the masses to be passive and not criticize the injustices of the capitalist system

Communism

An economic system based on shared ownership of the means of production

Revolution

Necessary to achieve Communism according to Marx

Repressive state apparatus

State institutions which perform ‘obvious’ social control – such as the police and the army

Ideological state apparatus

Institutions of the state which achieve social control through controlling people’s minds – namely schools

Organic Intellectuals

Middle class individuals who will emerge to educate the masses to be more critical of capitalism, according to Gramsci

Commodity Fetishism

Where we value material objects (and money) more than people and social relations

False Needs

The desire for unnecessary products created by advertising. False needs are necessary to keep capitalism going 

Correspondence Principle

Where norms learnt in school prepare children for their future exploitation in work

Neo-colonialism

Where western global institutions make developing countries economically dependent on western countries

The reproduction of class inequality

Where inequalities between classes are carried on across the generations, as wealth and poverty get passed down

The Transnational Capitalist Class

The new global capitalist class – world political leaders, billionaire and heads of large companies etc.

Marxism in pictures final thoughts

Marxism is a pretty complex theory, and this post does ‘simplify to the extreme. For more in depth posts on Marxism, please follow the links on my Theory and Methods page!

Competition …. Win REVISE tokens!

Post a picture in the comments of a picture which you think represents a Marxist concept, along with a short (20-100 words) explanation of why it’s a relevant picture.

Prizes

Prizes will be awarded purely at my own sole discretion.

  • First prize – 50 REVISE
  • Second prize – 30 REVISE
  • Third prize – 15 REVISE
  • First ten entries all receive 2 REVISE each, just for entering!
  • If you submit a hand-drawn original work of art or photo as part of your entry I’ll gift you 10 REVISE!

I’m going to make this a 6 month rolling competition and these prizes are going to be awarded EVERY MONTH – from December 2019 until May 2020.

WTF are ‘REVISE’ tokens?

The REVISE token is ‘ReviseSociology.com’ token. It’s basically a crypto-currency I’ve conjured out of virtual space which you can use on the site.

REVISE tokens can be redeemed for money off my revision resources and revision Webinars, all for sale in my Sellfy shop.

You’ll need a Steem account to receive your REVISE tokens. Steem is a decentralised, censorship resistant cryptocurrency based social media platform. You can sign up here, or drop me an email if you’d like a free account. Once you’ve got an account, I can send you your tokens!

NB signing up is a bit of a mission, but I’m on Steem myself and can thoroughly recommend it. Unfortunately there isn’t a viable way for me to truly integrated this Word Press site and my Steem account, so at this stage this is all separate. Integration will hopefully come in the future.

It’s just a bit of fun at this stage!

Redeeming REVISE tokens

ATM this process isn’t automated (it would cost me a fortune to pay someone to integrate all of this!) but if you want to purchase something and you’ve got some REVISE, just contact me (on here, on Steem, or via mail), tell me what you want to purchase and I’ll sort out a discount based on how many REVISE you’ve got!

You’ll need a Steem account to send me back the REVISE tokens so I can issue you the discount voucher.

If you would like a FREE INSTANT steem account, drop me a line, I’ve got about 100 free accounts I can give away!

The redeemable value of the revise token is a % off your purchase. So if you have 50 Revise then you get 50% off the purchase price. If you have 10 revise tokens, you get 10% off the purchase price.

This is up to a maximum discount of 100% of the purchase price!

You can also buy (and sell!) REVISE tokens on steem-engine.

Good luck with the competition and all the technicalities and working out the math!

Please post your competition entries in the comments below!

 

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