Could this year’s general election finally shake up UK politics?

By AnthonyBurgess (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The new year had hardly begun, and the politicians were off. Just as people were reluctantly returning to work on 5 January, both Labour and the Conservatives struck out with their first bits of electioneering in what is going to be a very long campaign indeed. Ed Miliband argued that only Labour could save the NHS, and the conservatives hit back with a ‘dodgy’ they say is proof that Labour have too many spending commitments and would, if elected, ruin the economy. You can’t trust Labour with the economy, and you can’t trust the Tories with the NHS. We’ve heard these attack lines before in the last few months, years, decades even. In fact they are probably about as old as I am. It appears the parties aren’t going to deviate away from them as we approach the general election in May – so far, so predictable. But looming in the distance are some outcomes which are anything but predictable, and could have major implications for the future of British politics after May. (more…)

Robert Tressell’s Gasometers and the Commodification of the Environment

Image from permaculturenews.org

Last year I reread one of my favourite books, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, By Robert Tressell. I first read it a few years ago after one of my undergraduate lecturers, Dr Andy Thorpe at the University of Portsmouth, recommended it. I went back to it last year because it was the 100-year anniversary of its posthumous publication and, though it is an account of working class life at the turn of the 20th century in Mugsborough, an aptly named fictional British town, to me, it is as pertinent today as it ever was. One particular passage stands out to me; that of gasometers: Tressell’s imagined machines that could take the air from the world and charge those who wish to breath it for the privilege. (more…)

There is No Alternative

*Here is an essay I wrote in 2010 during my undergraduate degree. I have posted it along with my blog this week as it deals with some of the points raised, particularly the idea that society can only exist as a capitalist system. I am aware of its flaws, inaccuracies and limitations (and as I noted in a previous blog, I wouldn’t recommend quoting it!), but I decided to publish it unedited and as I originally submitted it (apart from a few glaring typos). I have done this because, when I look back on the process of writing it, I see this essay as a personal turning point, where I began to see things differently to how I had before (even if it is by no means perfect). The title of the essay ‘There is No Alternative: Critically Evaluate the View that U.S. Capitalism is the Only Viable Economic and Political Option was set as the assessment for a course on Global Political Economy by Dr Paul McVeigh at the University of Portsmouth. (more…)

Into the Woods to Grandmother’s House: Justifying Plot Twists through Heteronormativity

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On Christmas, my family decided to spend some time at the movies watching the newly released movie Into the Woods, a movie rendition of Stephen Sondheim’s infamous operetta/musical by the same name.  The musical begins with an original story involving a childless baker and his wife and their quest to begin a family, though cursed by a witch for stealing magic beans from her garden. The show intertwines the plots of several fairy tales by Brothers Grimm  such as Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, and Rapunzel, among others and follows them to explore the consequences of the characters’ wishes and quests: a classic “Be careful what you wish for” story.

Now, while I typically enjoy musicals as I grew up a kid on the stage myself, I couldn’t help but think sociologically about various plot twists and how certain unfortunate circumstances were justified and rectified through rules of heteronormativity and, arguably, homonationalism.  Granted, previous research has discussed almost ad nauseum about the heteronormativity of Disney movies, I was shocked at how theatre, a common place for queering and challenging concepts of reality and normality, still abided by heteronormative and homonormative rules.

**Please note: there are movie “spoilers” in this post.

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Bulletproof Coffee (and the Spirit of Contemporary Capitalism)

Bulletproof Coffee Pic

At a health food café in central London, I recently drank my first ‘Bulletproof Coffee,’  a surprisingly ingestible blend of espresso, butter and coconut oil which has a texture not dissimilar to yak butter tea. To be precise, Bulletproof® Coffee ought to be made with a blend of grass-fed butter, Upgraded™ coconut oil (from upgradedself.com) and low-toxin Bulletproof® Upgraded™ Coffee Beans. And it is indeed no coincidence that Bulletproof Coffee tastes a little like yak butter tea. Dave Asprey, the ‘Bulletproof Executive’ was struck with the inspiration he needed to develop the drink during a yak butter tea break on a climb of Tibet’s Mount Kailash. As for why I found it in a health food café – and why all the concern with the quality and composition of the ingredients? Well, Bulletproof Coffee enthusiasts overlap significantly with fans of the ‘paleo diet,‘ which is designed to imitate as far as possible the pre-neolithic dietary ecology to which our hunter-gatherer ancestors were adapted.

There is indeed some good anthropological evidence showing that diets of contemporary hunter-gatherers – including those that are high in animal fats – reduce the risk of chronic ‘diseases of civilization’ like diabetes and cardiovascular disease. There are however equally good reasons to question the notion that we and our food species ended our evolutionary relationship before the neolithic revolution. (And using studies of contemporary hunter-gatherer populations to make claims about ‘paleo’ lifestyles can easily slip into ahistorical retellings of what Adam Kuper terms the myth of primitive society.)  So what really intrigues (and frankly disturbs) me about Bulletproof Coffee is precisely the extent to which it comes wrapped up in a discourse that you might term ‘paleo-primitivism.’ In telling the story of Bulletproof Coffee’s origins, Dave Asprey marries his enthusiasm for the paleo diet with a depiction of Sherpas as ‘ubermen’ or ‘a race of Bulletproof genetic freaks.’ Asprey’s fascination with both yak butter tea and the genetics of the Tibetan ‘ubermen’ is presented on his website in terms of his interest in biohacking. The biohacking discourse surrounding Bulletproof Coffee seems to reveal quite neatly something about the idea of the ‘hacker’ that Brett Scott recently discussed in a piece for STIR Magazine. The figure of the hacker exemplifies collective possibilities for creative and mischievous subversion of contemporary capitalist organization – but it can also reflect an avowedly individualistic, masculine libertarian drive towards self-empowerment through those same stifling structures. (more…)

“Deserving students” getting free tuition since 1955

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Last Friday, President Obama announced a proposal for tuition-free community college.  IF Obama’s plan is implemented it could save a full-time community college student an average of $3800 per year.  Students are required to “make steady progress” toward completing their program by registering at least part-time each semester and maintain a 2.5 GPA.  The federal government will split the costs with states by covering three quarters of tuition while the state picks up the remaining quarter.  If Obama’s plan is implemented, the US could join progressive nations such as Germany, Finland, France, Sweden, Norway and Brazil (among others) who offer tuition free higher education to their residents. (more…)

North Korea: Good news for people who like bad news

By Monico Chavez [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Name the first famous Korean that comes into your head. Unless you’re (a) Korean, (b) majoring in East-Asian studies or (c) showing off, you’ll probably say Kim Jong-Eun, the western media’s favourite Evil Dictator. Kim, like his father, makes it oh-so-easy for stories about him to quickly become clickbait. The dynastic backstory, brutal haircut, penchant for Dr. Evil-style Maoist tunics, countless silly titles, affection for basketball, Dennis Rodman and overeating – add in the very real nuclear ambitions, the forced labour camps and the numerous hyperbolic threats to North Korea’s enemies, then you have a character you couldn’t make up. Publicity-wise, Sony knew they were pushing on an open door when they commissioned The Interview, but I doubt that even they could foresee the series of events that have made the film their most downloaded release ever. (more…)

CONAIE Headquarters to be Shut Down: Indigenous Peoples of Ecuador Request International Support

Protestors gather outside the headquarters of CONAIE (The Confederation of Indigenous Nations of Ecuador) in Quito, Ecuador.

Protestors gather outside the CONAIE (Confederation of Indigenous Nations of Ecuador) in Quito, Ecuador.

Yesterday, in Quito, Ecuador, hundreds of Indigenous people from around the country, including those from the Amazon, the Sierra and the Coast, gathered outside the offices of CONAIE (the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador), in the north of the city, to continue the fight against a government plan to close the organisation’s headquarters. CONAIE is among the largest and longest standing Indigenous organisations in Ecuador, and its work focuses on defending the rights, territories, culture and lives of millions of Indigenous people who make up approximately 25% of the country’s population.

I am writing this blog post to encourage academics and activists from around the world to sign the open letter, drafted by CONAIE, in support of the organization and the indigenous peoples that it represents in their struggle to maintain control of the building, which is a key strategic part of the indigenous political community. (more…)

Most “Insert List Here” of 2014: Ratings and hierarchies

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http://thesocietypages.org/sociologylens/files/2008/11/feminist-fist.jpg

Happy new year! I hope that this year finds you with accepted publications, good grades, and time for sleep.

Each year, starting mid-December, begins the season for “ratings” and lists of the “best” and the”worst” moments, outfits, songs, movies, actors, or whatever you can put in a list of the previous year. As my Facebook feed quickly turns from photos and status updates to comical BuzzFeed lists, I came across one interesting list this year that I had not seen before: Mic.com’s “The 39 Most Iconic Feminist Moments of 2014.” Of course I quickly shared the article, primarily so I can refer to it later for this post, but it received no “likes” or “comments” on my Facebook (a page with relatively frequent activity). That may come as no surprise, as the word “Feminist” was voted by Time Magazine readers as the word to be banned in 2015, and other significant backlash against feminist ideals (see also Rachel Rademacher’s piece here about how we still need feminism). Rereading the list today, however, I am unsure how I feel about this list: mixed feelings about the rise in publicity of feminist ideals but also what qualifies as feminist and how we must rank them.

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The Ghost of Christmas Pressed for Time

Christmas Shopping, Regent Street

Christmas Shopping, Regent Street

 

In Payback, her reaction to the debt-fuelled financial crisis of 2007-08, Margaret Atwood rewrites Dickens’ Christmas Carol for the present day. She invites us to join ‘Scrooge Nouveau’ in his Tuscan villa, as he is visited by the Spirit of Earth Day Future. Scrooge Nouveau is confronted by two possible futures – one of ecological harmony and regular debt jubilees, the other unfolding in a lifeless desert where he sees himself fighting with other hungry survivors over the corpse of a house cat. Our modern-day miser finds himself doing desperate back-of-the-envelope calculations: should he invest in alternative energy and desalination plants, and so make a killing if the good future materializes, or corner the tinned food market and build himself a bunker in preparation for the bad? Atwood’s re-telling works as a neat parable of what Michael Hudson and Max Haiven take the contemporary financial services sector to be: a ‘pathologically self-obsessed form of economic planning.’ The financialization and securitization of our very life-cycle is reflected, as Jane Guyer observes, in the sector’s core products – its ‘student loans, 30-year mortgages, health insurance, and so on.’ The Christmas and New Year mediascape is likewise shot through with a pre-emptive financial futuricity. Flipping through British broadsheets this week will reveal festive ‘share tips for 2015‘ from the ‘best stock-pickers’ around. Monocle – essential reading for the transnational flâneur on the fly – has the ‘Forecast’ edition out too. In its pages we are introduced to the future of defense innovation, wearable medical technology, and even the science fiction scene – alongside the ‘politicians and entrepreneurs worth inviting out for a drink.’

Monocle’s anticipatory look at fashion and technology reflects an eminently financial temporality. It was, after all, the Wall Street fortune tellers of the early twentieth century who made the figure of the forecaster a recognizable and respectable one. There is, though, another way of experiencing time that may be foregrounded at this time of year. (more…)