Has Education in the U.K. become more Personalised…?

Personalised learning means listening to student’s needs and tailoring teaching and learning to meet those needs.

Personalised learning involves putting individual students at the centre of the learning experience, listening to their voices, understanding their individual strengths and limitations and tailoring teaching and learning strategies to their individual needs. It also involves working with them to help them realise their full potential and allowing students an element of choice in what they study through flexible learning pathways, which may entail schools working in partnership with institutions outsides of the school.

A useful analogy to help understand the concept of personalised learning is to contrast it to the world of production.

Personalised learning is the equivalent of making bespoke products according to what the individual consumer wants, in contrast to ‘standard education’ which is like mass production – taking a one sized fits all approach by teaching all students the same thing in the same way (like Chalk and Talk).

Personalised Learning in education policy

Personalised Education became a formal part of education policy in 2004 under the the New Labour Government.

At that time the DfES defined personalisation of learning as “a highly structured and responsive approach to each child’s and young person’s learning, in order that all are able to progress, achieve and participate. It means strengthening the link between learning and teaching by engaging pupils – and their parents – as partners in learning (1)

While the above definition is a fairly typical example of government speak – in that it doesn’t really say anything the DfES did at least further identify five key components of personalised learning which give some more specific details of what the policy might look like in practice:

  1. Assessment for Learning – teachers knowing the strengths and limitations of individual students.
  2. Teaching and learning strategies that build on the individual needs of students – for example learning being appropriately paced and stretching those students who need it.
  3. Curriculum choice – flexible learning pathways which encourage students to take responsibility of their own learning.
  4. The whole school taking a student centred approach, taking student voices seriously.
  5. Strong partnership beyond the school – involving local communities and institutions.

Personalised learning is a reaction against the kind of standardised education that many associated with the ‘bog standard’ comprehensives of the 1960s – in which students were required to largely sit there and listen to the teacher, taking notes, with very little in the way of creativity or interactivity occurring.

NB this kind of ‘bog standard education’ didn’t necessarily happen in every Comprehensive school, and it may be something of a stereotype, but at least this image serves the function of showing what personalised learning isn’t!

What does personalised learning look like…?

Ideally it will start with teachers finding out as much as they can about the individual and working alongside them to find a suitable learning pathway.

Another aspect is helping students figure out what their end-goals are (usually cast in terms of career aspirations) and helping them study the right subjects to set them up for their future goals.

It also involves finding out how students learn the most effectively and designing tasks for them to work on that are gong to suit their learning style, part of this will involve encouraging them to work in groups or individually, and most likely a mixture of both depending on the subjects.

In reality the capacity for schools to personalise learning is limited (see below) by available staff and the curriculum demands (schools are still required to be exam factories) so the personalisation of learning may well be reduced to:

  • occasional guided independent study lessons, days or maybe weeks during the year.
  • students working with teachers to draw up personalised learning plans for independent study which are reviewed only once or twice a term.
  • Some lessons maybe more ‘personalised’ with the the teacher acting as a ‘facilitator’ most of the time and students largely getting on with their own project work. You are most likely to see this in post-16 education and in creative subjects such as art and music technology.

Limitations to personalised learning

Firstly there is the fact of the national curriculum and the demand on schools to get students GCSE grades – obviously personalisation isn’t to go as far as to allowing students to simply learn guitar or pain for 6 hours a day 5 days a week, so ‘personalisation’ is limited by the requirement that students have to study English, Maths and the other core subjects.

Secondly there is the limitation of teachers’ time – the higher the ratio of students to teachers the less personalised learning is going to be. Teachers have to get through a certain amount of content and most of the time PowerPoints and group work where all students are focused on the same topic are quicker than allowing students to spend time exploring their own ‘learning pathways’.

Thirdly, schools are required to encourage students to work together, and so while a students might personally prefer to just work entirely on their own, if they are in school, this probably won’t be allowed to happen most of the time – they are going to be in a classroom working with other students.

A 2016 article from Education Week points out that the available research on personalised learning initiatives isn’t robust enough to prove that personalised learning is effective.

The Digital Counter-Revolution blog criticises the concept of personalised learning as being focused on individual academic achievement. In practice a lot of personalised learning has turned into a helping students how to maximise their grades.

in this sense all personalised learning is doing is making individual students compete more with each other, it isn’t about helping them think more critically or about being more creative or just about being better people – it is just a response to the pressures of marketisation and a competitive Higher Education and labour market.

Has Learning in the U.K. become more personalised?

Mainstream education as a whole has become more ‘postmodern’, but the tend has been very slight and mainly on the fringes of the mainstream education.

For the most part our education system remains very ‘modern’ with it being 95% focused on teaching the national curriculum and getting students through standardised exams.

I think the same thing is true for personalisation which is part of the very gradual and slight/ fringe move towards postmodernity, given that individualism, diversity and relativism are a key ideas within postmodernism.

So YES mainstream education in the U.K. has become more personalised, but personally I’d say most schools pay lip-service to this personalisation, with students having little real choice over what they study until post-GCSEs (they are not allowed to ditch English and Maths for example and have to resit it post-16 if they fail it at GCSE level).

Signposting

This material is mainly relevant to the education topic within A-level Sociology.

To return to the homepage – revisesociology.com

Sources

(1) Complex Needs – Personalised Learning Policy

Arguments for Polyamory….

Polyamory (having more than one long-term intimate sexual partner) is increasing in popularity in the UK, and it has many advantages compared to committing to monogamy, at least according to Ana Kirova, CEO of the FEELD app – which helps people interested in Polyamory find others with similar interests.

This interesting topic, very relevant to the families and households topic was explored recently on an edition of ‘Positive Thinking‘ BBC on Radio Four.

What is Polyamory?

Polyamory literally means ‘many loves’ and engaging in a Polyamorous relationship is certainly a challenge to the standard monogamous relationship with the idea of committing to one sexual parter at a time.

Ana Kirova who is herself polyamorous defines polyamory as an ‘Ethical non-monogamous’ relationship in which more than two people make up a ‘polycule’ (excuse spelling) – everyone within the polycule consents to everything everyone else is doing.

She describes polyamory as an open and explorative relationship which has at its core the concept of ‘Dynamic Consent’ – Communication is essential in this ‘contemporary’ form of polyamory – there has to be regular ‘checking in’ sessions to make sure that everyone is oK.

As an example of a Polyamorous relationship you might have two couples, and each couple is for most of the month a regular couple (even with children in some cases) but maybe once or twice a month they just swap partners.

Of course there are many other possible variations – the more people involved the more complex obtaining dynamic consent is going to be.

Kirova describes regular monogamous relationships as ‘static’ whereas Polyamorous relationships allow people to explore their sexualities and identities more fully than being committed to just one person.

Jealousy is an obvious problem that can arise with this type of relationship, but Ana says with her and her partner this was an early stage problem which they worked through and after that it was all fine, it’s just a matter of working through it!

Who is into Polyamory and why is it growing?

Anecdotally younger people in their 20s are most likely to adopt this type of relationship.

Ana Kirova suggests this is because younger people grew up with the internent which exposed them to a wider range of identities and possibilities.

The empowerment of women and LGBTQ plus people has also had a massive impact, as the later especially have had to redefine what a ‘good relationship’ looks for them.

35% on the Feeld App identify as different to heterosexual and most are in the 20 to 30 age bracket.

Evaluating Polyamory

The show had three ‘experts’ in to discuss Polyamory…..

  • Pam Spur – psychologist and relationship expert
  • Anita Cassidy – embraced a polyamorous life style, life coach 38
  • Andrew G Marshall- marriage therapist.

Together they made the following evaluative points:

Monogamy seems to work best for most people – there are many supposed advantageous of Monogamy which stand in contrast: Monogamy is…

  • More stable
  • More Secure
  • Easy to legislate
  • Religiously sanctioned.

HOWEVER, there is no suggestion from Ana that Monogamy isn’t an option, one of the panelists, herself polyamorous, was going through a phase of being ‘consciously monogamous’ while her parter had a ‘play partner’ he met up with once a month.

They seemed to agree that ‘Toxic relationship normality’ is a problem – having a concept of ‘normal’ can be harmful. IF we all think we have no choice but to stick with a monogamous relationship this might just lead to more abuse and affairs within that relationship. This inks to the dark side of family life uncovered by Feminists.

Furthermore, children may be better off with their parents NOT sticking to a dead monogomous relationship…

Kirova for example says her parents had fallen out of love after 20 or 30 years, and they were unhappy because they didn’t know how to live a life apart. She says she had stability but with parents who were not their best selves, and possibly having the option of polyamory may be better all round.

So what’s she’s saying is that it’s maybe even better for children to learn relatively early on that it’s OK to leave a monogamous relationship behind if it’s not working and find someone else, or more than one ‘someone’ else!

Loving more than one person – jealousy…. many people just can’t get one over it, it can be pathological. HOWEVER, maybe it’s better to learn from it than run away from jealousy, and with Polyandry that’s something you’re going to have to do.

NB there is maybe a problem that you will get a lot of bored people using the app – Polyamory isn’t an easy way out of a failing relationship!

Relevance to A-Level Sociology

The programme was clearly pro-Polyamory and seems most in line with the concept of the negotiated Family associated with Late Modernism.

It’s doubtful whether the New Right would agree with the concept of Polyamory, but they’d maybe have a difficult time arguing against it when monogamy is seen as an option and there’s little evidence of people being harmed by Polyamory!

Positive Thinking – BBC Radio 4.

Has Lockdown lead to more subcultures?

Recent independent research conducted during Lockdown has found that 56% of people report that they are part of a ‘subgroup’.

The research was conducted by ‘The Nursery‘ and consisted of a phone survey of 1800 adults. The most popular subculture types reported were:

  • Gaming
  • Religious groups (not mainstream religions)
  • Hippy
  • Spirituality
  • Political movements
  • Restrictive diets (e.g. paleo, vegan etc)
  • Punk
  • Bikers
  • Goth
  • Role-play gaming

The most common motive for joining a subculture was a ‘sense of belonging’, with 75% of respondents saying membership of their subculture was an important aspect of their identity.

Gaming is the largest genre of subculture, with 20% of respondents saying they had started gaming during lockdown, and new religious subcultures such as Wicca (3% of people) are also increasingly popular.

Can we really really call something so mainstream a ‘subculture’?

Relevance to A-level Sociology

This is an important update for subcultural theories of ‘deviance‘. IF we accept the definition of the above types of subculture (such as gaming cultures) as subcultures, then being part of a subculture is now normal, as 56% say they are part of one, and thus being part of a subculture is no longer deviant.

This seems to offer support for postmodern theories of subculture and society – Britain’s social make-up now consists of people fragmented into groups who choose to subscribe to a subculture/ group that gives their life meaning (almost 50% of respondents cited creativity as an important aspect of their subcultural membership)

This research also shows how far we’ve come from the early days of subcultural theory in the 1950s – such as Albert Cohen’s Status Frustration theory, and how irrelevant that is to understanding our diverse, consumer oriented postmodern subcultures.

It’s unlikely that 56% of the population join subcultures due to status frustration!

Then again, that particular theory wasn’t trying to explain subcultures such as those in the above research, and it may still be relevant in explaining why people join more deviant subcultures?

Please click here to return to the homepage – ReviseSociology.com

The postmodernist model of audience effects

Postmodernists argue that the media is an integral part of postmodern society. Individuals actively use the media to construct their identities, and there is a sense of playfulness, creativity and unpredictability about how they go about doing this.

Postmodernists criticise other theories of audience effects, especially the Hypodermic Syringe model for assuming that audiences are homogenous (the same) and any models which assume there is such a thing as one dominant or preferred reading of media messages, such as the reception analysis model.postmodernism-media-effects.png

A diverse and active audience

Individuals read media in a diverse variety of ways, and how they read media content depends on a range of factors, including the entirety of an individual’s prior life experiences. Audiences can also change the way the interpret media content over time and make multiple readings of the same content simultaneously.

It follows that of all the models of audience effects, the postmodernist model sees the audience as the most active.

No such thing as an ‘underlying’ reality

Finally, postmodernists also argue that the media is constitutive of people’s realities – there is no deeper reality underneath media representations, media representations are no less real than non-media reality (if indeed there is such a thing!). It is thus meaningless to say that the media has an ‘effect’ on audiences as to make such a claim assumes that media representations and the audience are two different things, in postmodernism they are not, they are one and the same.

The postmodern perspective on globalisation and popular culture

Postmodernists see the media as central to globalisation and emphasise the positive effects media globalisation has on society.

Before reading this post you might like to review the concepts of postmodernity and postmodernism and globalisation.

More individual choice

The globalisation of the media means that people are now more aware of hundreds of diverse cultures all over the world, and this gives them more inspiration to break with their own local traditions and live the lives they choose to.

There are also many more consumption opportunities: more choice of films, music, travel opportunities and of course global products.

The boundary between high and popular culture has also blurred: some classical music artists have sought out popular audiences for example, making high culture more accessible to the masses.

Finally, there are more opportunities for individuals to express themselves via social media.

The rejection of metanarratives

Postmodernists argue that media saturation means there are now an incredibly diverse array of voices and opinions online.

This challenges traditional ‘metanarratives’ – or any viewpoint which holds that there is one truth – as is found with traditional religions, political ideologies such as Marxism and science.

As a result of media saturation, people are now more sceptical of the ‘truth claims’ of experts, which means it is harder for those with power to manipulate people because ‘they know better’.

Participatory culture

Audiences are now more involved with the creation of media content, so the global media space is now more participatory than old style one-way media.

Many people create and upload their own content to platforms such as YouTube, or write blogs, or spend time maintaining their social media profiles.

Audiences also contribute by sharing and critiquing other people’s content on social media.

The globalisation of protest

New media has been used effectively to fight oppression.

Spencer-Thomas (2008) conducted an analysis of protests against military violence in Burma – he found that in 1998 very little media attention was received, but that by 2007, once Smart Phones had penetrated the country, widespread global media coverage of the protests was achieved.

Some political campaigners have also used Twitter and Facebook to fight oppression – during the Arab Spring for example. Another example is the use of Facebook by Saudi women campaigning for the right to drive.

Cultural hybridity

Thompson (1995) argues that global media products are modified by local cultures which results in various new hydbrid forms. Bollywood is a good example of this.

Fyre… the biggest festival that never happened

The Fyre Festival of 2017 is a great example of a ‘postmodern’ event…. an unfortunate coming together of consumerism, hyperreality, and hyper-individualised identity-obsessed millennials.

In case you missed the furore, you can get a feel for what happened just by watching this trailer on Netflix – which describes the event as a being billed as a luxury music festival on a paradise island, which went spectacularly wrong in the hands of a cocky entrepreneur..

Fyre festival.png

The organisers of the Fyre Festival spent a fortune publicising the campaign on social media. They basically hired ten of the world’s best-known super models and spent a weekend filming them hanging out sipping cocktails on luxury yachts moored off the island where the Festival was due to take place. They then paid social media ‘influencers’ a fortune to publicise the festival. Kendall Jenner was apparently paid $250 000 for making just one post about it, but she was only one influencer among many…

Screen Shot 2019-02-06 at 08.33.44.png

The various posts soon went viral, and 10, 000 tickets (which cost a minimum of several thousand dollars each) sold out within 48 hours to wealthy millennials who thought they’d be getting three days of luxury jet-set partying in the Bahamas.

However, when the first wave of festival attendees arrived, they found that their accommodation wasn’t condos and super-yachts, it was repurposed emergency dome tents, usually used in disaster situations, and instead of gourmet food they ended up being served bread and cheese in plastic tubs, as this viral tweet told the world:

Screen Shot 2019-02-06 at 08.29.22.png

In fact it was that exact tweet that convinced the organisers to admit they’d failed and then just cancel the festival: any remaining incoming flights were cancelled, and the unfortunates who had already arrived had to make their own way back to the mainland.

Relevance of this to Sociology

The Fyre Festival seems like the quintessential postmodern event: t’s basically consumerism meets hyperreality.

Effectively a bunch of rich millennials paid a fortune to attend an event on the basis of a fiction spread via social media, and then found out it was a fiction when they arrived in physical reality.

At root, it’s logic of good old conspicuous consumption which drives the event: the point of the millennials going wasn’t for them just to enjoy the bands and the vibe, the point was the show off the exclusivity – to demonstrate to their other friends that they’d made it, that they had enough money to burn on this luxury, pioneering island festival.

This even also illustrates hyperreality – the event was sold on the basis of a fiction created over one weekend, and the images created their lodged themselves in thousands of people’s heads: they thought they’d be getting a festival plus a luxury island vibe, but hardly any of them checked the reality: there was never enough space on the island to actually fit 10K people and the necessary infrastructure, and islands can also be pretty uncomfortable places – sand, humidity and mosquitos. But no, the hyperreal image is what stuck with the vast majority, rather than the thought of thinking about whether such an event was actually feasible in reality, which it obviously wasn’t!

The Fyre Festival is also a powerful reminder of the increasing power which advertisers and influencers have in our lives. Brands are set to pay influencers $6.5 billion in 2019…. Perhaps it’s time to regulate them a bit more?!?

I guess it’s also worth noting that the organiser, Billy McFarland, is now serving 6 years in jail for fraud, so this is one example against the ‘Marxist’ view of crime: here’s a member of the elite class (NOT the super-elite) getting served justice.

Oh, and analysis aside, it’s hugely entertaining, I mean: do I feel sorry for these rich kids, not in the least!

Find out more…

The Netflix documentary is well worth a watch, and it’d make a great end of year movie!

Sources 

The Week, 2nd February 2019

Why are there more women in the New Age Movement than men>?

Woodhead (2007) suggested women are more attracted to New Age Movements because they experience double alienation in the family…. they family fails to give them a sense of occupational identity, and they feel dissatisfied with their limited role as housewife and caregiver. New age movements offer a chance for self-exploration and can provide women with a sense of identity and self worth. (However this position has been criticized – forthcoming post).

For example, some elements of the New age encourage women to express their ‘authentic’ selves, rather than trying to reinforce their traditional socially constructed female roles as mothers and housewives.

However, at the same time, the New Age ALSO celebrates many positive aspects of femininity, such as subjective experiences, intuition and emotion, and this may also appeal to women much more than men.

The New Age movement may appeal especially to middle class women, stay at home mums, who have the time and the money to be able access the rather expensive and various New Age therapies; and the new age is partly about health and healing.

Finally, there is also the fact that New Age Movement is mainly run by women, who primarily seem to market their products and services to other women.

Criticisms of the above theories

  1. The New Age Movement is tiny, very few people and thus very few people show any interest in it!
  2. If women did join the new age movement because of double alienation, then most women should be working class, but they are not, most women are middle class.
  3. Most of the activities engaged in do not provide a sense of coherent identity, making up for dissatisfaction with life in general: seriously, how is a couple of yoga classes a week going to do this?

 

 

 

 

Limitations of ‘Traditional Gender Role Theory’ in explaining why women are more religious than men

Women’s higher levels of religiosity could be due to different age profiles: women live longer than men, and older people are more religious than younger people.

Also, it doesn’t explain the higher levels of religiosity among women who don’t accept traditional feminine roles. Most members of the New Age Movement are female, and very few accept traditional, hegemonic prescriptions of femininity.

 

 

Posmodernity and the New Age

Paul Heelas (1996) points out that the New Age Movement seems to have much in common with postmodernism:

  1. It seems to involve de-differentiation and de-traditionalisation. De-differentiation involves a breakdown of traditional categories, such as that between high and low culture. The New Age movement seems to be doing something similar with its fusion of traditional and popular religious beliefs. The New Age Movement also rejects the authority of the established church, with its belief that spirituality is within, and that it is up to each individual to find their own path to inner truth.
  2. The New Age Movement accepts relativism – there are diverse paths to spiritual fulfillment, and no one authority has a monopoly on truth, which fits in with postmodernism’s rejection of metanarratives.
  3. The spiritual shopping approach of the New Age seems to correspond with the centrality of consumer culture to postmodern societies.
  4. Like postmodernism, The New Age movement is, at least to an extent, about individuality and identity, focused on individual experience.
  5. Finally, there is the simple fact that both postmodernism and the New Age Movement emphasise the onset of a ‘new era’.

Why the New Age is not Postmodern

Despite the above apparent similarities, Heelas argues that the New Age Movement is, in fact, not postmodern:

Heelas argues that while the New Age Movement rejects ‘cultural metanarratives’ (about changing society) it still has a strong ‘experiential meta narrative  at its core. New agers are united by a self-spirituality metanarrative which claims that if people just strive deeply enough, they will realise absolute truths which will will help them to improve their lives. Their metanarrative is ultimately one of a faith in a radical individualism.

Although there might be different paths to inner-wisdom, New Agers still feel themselves in a position to make value judgments about themselves and others based on these beliefs. They tend take their spiritual beliefs and practices very seriously, and distinguish them as sacred, apart form other areas of their lives. This is far from the frivolous play like attitude normally associated with postmodernism.

Finally, many New Age practices are actually quite old, rooted in ancient traditions. For example, astrology, tarot and even Buddhism and Taoism, while most psycho-therapeutic practices are rooted in modernity.

Ultimately Heelas argues that the New Age movement does not represent a clear break with the past.

 

Religious Pluralism: Evidence of Secularization?

Durkheim’s view of religion implied that a truly religious society could only have one religion in that society. In Durkheim’s analysis this was the situation in small-scale, Aboriginal societies, where every member of that society comes together at certain times in the year to engage in religious rituals. It was based on observations of such societies that Durkheim theorized that when worshiping religion, people were really worshiping society.

However, in more modern societies, especially postmodern societies, there is no one dominant religion: there are many religions, or a plurality of religions. Sociologists describe such a situation as religious pluralism.

According to Steve Bruce (2011) modernization and industrialization in Northern Europe and America brought with them social fragmentation, such that a plurality of different cultural and religious groups emerged. We see religious pluralism most obviously in the growth of sects and cults and in the increase in ethnic diversity of religion in societies.

Two process happen as a result of this: people find that their membership of their particular group or religion no longer binds them to society as a whole; and the state finds it difficult to formally support one ‘main religion’ without causing conflict.

Bruce thus argues that ‘strong religion’, which influences practically every areas of people’s lives: shaping their beliefs and practices cannot exist in a religiously plural society. Strong religion can only exist in isolated pockets, such as the Amish communities, but these have isolated themselves from society as a whole.

Religiously plural societies are thus characterized by ‘weak religion’ – which is a matter of personal choice and does not dominate every aspect of people’s lives. Weak religions accept that there is room for other religious belief systems and have little social impact.

Examples of weak religions include modern Protestantism, the ecumenical movement and New Ageism.

Arguments against increasing religious pluralism as evidence of secularization 

It is possible that religion is just changing to fit a postmodern society rather than it being in decline. Why does a society need to have one dominant religion for us to be able to say that religion is important?

It might be that diverse religions which preach tolerance of other religions are the only functional religions for a diverse postmodern society.

There are societies which have more than one religion where religious beliefs are still strong: for example Northern Ireland and Israel.

Sources/ Find out More 

Religions Pluralism – Wikipedia

Bauman’s Consuming Life A Summary – Chapter 2 – The Society of Consumers

Summary of chapter One 

A fairly lengthy, paraphrased summary with a few comments in italics

consuming life bauman.jpgIn consumer culture people behave ‘unreflexivly’ – without thinking about what they consider to be their life purpose and what they believe to be the right means of reaching it, without thinking about about what prompts them into action or escape, or about what they desire, what they fear and at what point fears and desires balance each other out

Nb – In defining consumers as unreflexive – that is, anyone who limits their conscious reflection to questions of what to consume- rather than focusing on the ‘deeper’ questions of life – Bauman seems to deny that such people have any sense of agency – they are not fully human. 

The society of consumers stands for a set of existential conditions under which the probability is high that most people will embrace the consumerist rather than any other culture, and obey its rules.

The ‘society of consumers’ is a kind of society which ‘interpellates’ its members primarily in their capacity as consumers. While doing that, ‘society’ expects to be heard, listened to and obeyed; it evaluates – rewards and penalizes – its members depending on the promptness and propriety of their response to the interpellation.

As a result, one’s ability to engage in consumerist performance has become the paramount stratifying factor and the principal criterion of inclusion in or exclusion from society, as well as guiding the distribution of social esteem and stigma, and shares in public attention.

(Following Frank Trentmann) This is historically unusual – for most of the modern period consumption was little discussed and when it was it was typically associated with eccentricity and wastefulness.

For the better part of modern history (that is, throughout the era of massive industrial plants and massive conscript armies), society ‘interpellated’ most of the male half of its members as primarily producers and soldiers, and almost all of the other (female) half as first and foremost their by-appointment purveyors of services.

It was the body of the would-be worker or soldier that counted most; their spirit, on the other hand, was to be silenced, numbed and thereby ‘deactivated’.

The society of consumers, on the other hand, focuses its training and coercing pressures on the management of the spirit – leaving the manage- meant of bodies to individually undertaken DIY labour, individually supervised and coordinated by spiritually trained and coerced individuals.

This coercive pressure is exerted on members of the society of consumers from their early childhood.. Following Daniel Thomas Cooke…

‘the battles waged over and around children’s consumer culture are no less than battles over the nature of the person and the scope of personhood in the context of the ever-expanding reach of commerce.’

The society of consumers does not recognize differences of age or gender (however counter-factually) and will not make allowances for either; nor does it (blatantly counter-factually) recognize class distinctions. From the geographic centres of the worldwide network of information highways to its furthest, however impoverished peripheries…

‘the poor are forced into a situation in which they either have to spend what little money or resources they have on senseless consumer objects rather than basic necessities in order to deflect total social humiliation or face the prospect of being teased and laughed at.’ (In Ekstrom et al, Elusive Consumption, 2004.)

However it is down to the individual to negotiate the staggering amount of info in order to make the right consumer decisions to avoid derision.
Since ‘social fitness’ is the responsibility of the individual, if people fail to make the right choices they are blamed (and thus constructed as ‘flawed consumers’) – we are taught to believe that there is nothing wrong with society, because there is plenty of choice, and so if people fail to succeed they are not deserving of care.

At least the above is the case if we are unreflexive viz our consumption habits.

Consumption is an investment in everything that matters for individual ‘social value’ and self-esteem, thus the crucial, perhaps the decisive purpose of consumption in the society of consumers is not the satisfaction of needs, desires and wants, but the commoditization or recommoditization of the consumer: raising the status of consumers themselves to that of sellable commodities.

If you wish to take part in society, you have to consume in this way – turning yourself into a commodity – this is a precondition which is non negotiable thus market relations are fundamental to the society of consumers, as is the calculating mindset which goes along with it.

I’m left wondering what Bauman would make of attempts to set up alternative, low impact cultures assisted by alternative financial avenues such as Kick Starter?

Becoming and remaining a sellable commodity is the most potent motive of consumer concerns, even if it is usually latent and seldom conscious, let alone explicitly declared.
The society of consumers, with its compulsive and willing individualization places a magnified emphasis on the on the subject as the one who has the duty to make oneself something, and on the individual as being the one who is responsible if one fails.
NB – I guess to simplify one of Bauman’s basic points you could just say that we believe that we are responsible for own successes and failures in life only because that is what society tells us, and this isn’t necessarily true.
In the society of producers, society took on the role of a ‘collective Prometheus’ – it took responsibility for the product in exchange for the individual conforming to social norms. If you just ‘became’ what society asked of you’ that was enough – your Promethean challenge, and sense of of Promethean pride could thus be earned if you fulfilled your social role.
However, in the age of individualisation, now that society ‘doesn’t exist’ (TINA) just becoming what society wants is no longer an option – ( in the consumer society the point, the task, is to continually become something else).
Being born, having become something are now sources of ‘Promethean shame’ and the task of the individual is to perfect themselves – to become more than they are, and there is never an end to this process… life is a never ending struggle of becoming.
Because of this, being a member of the society of consumers is a daunting task, a never-ending and uphill struggle. The fear of failing to conform has been elbowed out by a fear of inadequacy, and consumer markets are eager to capitalize on that fear, and companies turning out consumer goods vie for the status of the most reliable guide and helper in their clients’ unending effort to rise to the challenge. They supply ‘the tools’, the instruments required by the individually performed job of ‘self-fabrication’.
However, following Gunder Anders, it is absurd to think of those tools as enabling an individual choice of purpose. These instruments are the crystallization of irresistible ‘necessity’ – which individuals must learn to obey, in order to be free. Cites teen fashion as an example.
I’d be interested in looking at the social construction of retirement in this… to what extent is retirement constructed as a time when we are expected to ‘consume hard’? Does all of this end then?


There are two versions of human history – That of life as a progression towards greater rationality and freedom, of which consumer choice is the latest ‘highest’ expression, the other is of the increasing colonisation of human life by commodity markets – the society of consumers is its zenith because humans are now obliged to interact with each other at the same level as the products they consume (as explained above) – they purchase products in order to maximise their own market-value and they have no choice but to do so.
NB – I get the impression that Bauman sides with the later version.
Markets today are sovereign, you only get political rights if you are able to consume – people such as the underclass and illegal immigrants (flawed consumers) are seen as having no rights in the popular imagination, and there is no authority they can appeal to because the state’s ability to draw the line between the included and the excluded has been eroded by the market – it now makes these decisions, and it has no tangible body that can be appealed to if people feel unfairly excluded.
In recent decades the state has shifted many of its functions sideways to the market such that the state has now become the arbiter of market demands, evidence in the centrality of economic measurements as the state’s primary indicators of its ‘success’.

The secret of every durable (successfully self-reproducing) social system is the recasting of its ‘functional prerequisites’ into behavioural motives of actors – the secret is making individuals wish to do what is needed for the system to reproduce itself.
In the modern period, this required an emphasis on deferred gratification – people committing to the idea of putting off pleasure now in order to reap the rewards in the future.
We also see in the general theories of the time – such as Freud’s reality principle and in Bentham’s panopticon – that the good society could only be constructed with the individual’s subordination to the society.
(However, such theories were themselves a product of the crisis of community – the very fact that people were thinking about community demonstrates that community is no longer ‘taken for granted’ as it was in traditional times, and because of this, it was already losing its power as a coercive force).
Much of the modern period thus involved nation states vying to restrict freedom of choice through panopticon style discipline and punish rule, but this was always cumbersome.

In the post-modern era (mistakenly conceived as a decivilising process) the civilising process takes the form of the ‘obligation to choose’ but this breeds little resistance because it is represented and conceived as freedom of choice.
People now are obliged to seek happiness and pleasure and this is lived through as an exercise of ‘freedom’ and self-assertion. Today it is as if the (individualised) pleasure principle has taken over the reality principle as the primary regulating force in society. (Reminds me of happiness is mandatory.)

When society confronts us (which it rarely does as a totality, these days) it does so in ways which make it easy for us to act as solitary consumers… (rather than in large collectivities). Bauman now gives several examples of this:

  • As mentioned earlier on in the chapter, this starts with childhood
  • At university, the new future-elite of consumers are socialised into the norm of living on credit (phase one)
  • At home we have TV dinners and fast food, which protect solitary consumers.
  • The primary acts of consumption are done in swarms – groups who come together for limited times with loose connections.
  • Elsewhere Bauman has also written about the nature of shopping malls, privatised public spaces of individualised consumption.
  • Even our post-modern ‘collective’ carnivalesque acts reinforce individualism – we come together in fringe moments to get our ‘collective’ fix and then go back to being individuals again .. ..

The chapter finishes with something about tax cuts to the rich and shifting taxation away from income to expenditure which doesn’t make much sense in the context of the chapter.

%d bloggers like this: