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Sociological Perspectives on the Environment Protests in London

Thousands of protestors have been engaging in various acts of civil disobedience to protest the British government’s lack of action over climate change.

The week’s protests culminated in up to 6000 people blocking bridges causing significant traffic disruption as well as some of them gluing their hands to the department of the environment’s building.

The protestors say they are doing this because they’ve tried everything else to get the government to take effective action on climate change, but to no avail, and this seems to be something of a last resort!

To find out more you can read this news article here.

Relevance to A-level sociology 

The people who took part in these protests will almost certainly identify themselves as ‘global citizens’ taking part in a global social movement to being about positive social change. It’s a nice illustration of people engaging in life-Politics (Anthony Giddens’ concept) – it’s highly likely that if you’re committed enough to engage in this level of civil disobedience for the sake of the planet, then you probably live your life in an environmentally friendly way.

These protests and the people who took part in them are most definitely not ‘postmodern‘ – they clearly believe in ‘the truth’ of climate change as outlined by the United Nations, so it’s a nice reminder that not everything about British society is ‘post modern’, this is very much more ‘late modern’ – people coming together to effect what they perceive as positive social change.

It’s also a good example of Giddens’ theory that in the context of globalisation, nation states are too small to solve big problems such as climate change – and this is possibly why so many governments have been ‘dragging their feet’ over taking steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions…. they can use the fact that ‘they are just one nation among 200’ to not do anything.

Of course, it’s also a straightforward example of positive cultural (and kind of political) globalisation.

If you’re an optimist you could interpret these events through a Functionalist lens – it’s possible that these people are showing us the ‘morality of the future’ – they actually identify explicitly with the Civil Rights activists of the 1960s.

Finally, I think this is an example of secondary green crime…. a crime (the public order offences which led to several arrests) emerging out of a conflict over the environment. it may not be because this concept is not explained very clearly in the A-level text books!

 

 

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Who are the alt-right?

The Unite the Right Ralley in Charlotsville back in August 2017 was attended by various right wing groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, Skin heads, Neo-Nazis and various Militias, but the most newly formed in attendance, the so-called ‘alt right’, a disparate group of clean cut, smartly dressed, young white men, the latest ‘wave’ of white U.S. white nationalists who are unafraid to express their racist views.

The alt-right is an eclectic, decentralized movement of extreme-conservative, who want a white-only ethno-state: they mainly operate online, via forums such as Reddit and 4chan, sharing memes which support Donald Trump and Hitler, as well as those disparaging Barrack Obama.

But who are these young men, and how do they develop their racist views?

This article in the Washington Post is based on interviews with six young men, tracing their trajectories as members of the alt-right. The following themes stand out:

  1. Many self-radicalised on the internet, finding others with similar views, and they went through stages of meeting others at local and regional meetings and gradually learnt not be ashamed of their racist views.
  2. Thought most members don’t blame impersonal economic factors, many feel that there are no jobs for white people any more – they go to Walmart and McDonalds and see mainly ethnic minorities working in such places.
  3. There are also deeper ‘structural reasons’ – the decline of factor jobs, and the feeling of being left behind, having had the ladder kicked away, and feelings of loneliness and alienation.

NB – these are just the stand-out factors, there are also middle-class people in the movement.

The Charlotsville Rally represented a culmination of a movement that’s been brewing for years online, many drove hundreds, some thousands of miles to get there, possibly emboldened by Donald Trump, they came armed for violence, and of course were met by it.

Whatever you think of the alt-right, the underlying causes which have given rise to it, and the communications networks which maintain it aren’t going anywhere, so I think we can expect this to be a potent force in US politics for years to come.

NB – It reminds me of the kind of white nationalism expressed by the BNP, but just a step-up!