Category Archives: Political, Economic and Urban Sociology

The Division of Society into Two Classes Transforms into the Sexual Differentiation of Space

1024px-Flickr_-_NewsPhoto!_-_Marxisme_festival_Amsterdam

(Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Marxism#/media/File:Flickr_-_NewsPhoto!_-_Marxisme_festival_Amsterdam.jpg)

The economist Karl Marx believed for society to change, there was a need for an uprising, and an overthrowing of the ruling class; the bourgeoisie. To Marx, no person would truly be free unless this rebellion would occur. Marx is known for his theories about the economy, workers, and social life. One concept, of his, that appeals to my attention is the division of society into two classes. However, what Marx failed to realize, was by this division, he, essentially, enabled a space to create gendered spaces; or, what I will label a sexual differentiation of space. (more…)

The UK Election: How to lose friends (and still influence people)

DON’T DROP IT! By Wikipedia Loves Art participant “VeronikaB” [CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Roy Jenkins famously described Tony Blair’s task in getting Labour into power in 1997 as “like a man carrying a priceless Ming vase across a highly polished floor”. This has now become something of a truism of electioneering. According to this view, winning power is about damage-limitation, about not messing up, and it implies a strategy of ‘triangulation’ – co-opting voters from other parties whilst keeping your own voters onside. It implies a certain lack of ambition, trying to carry as many disparate sections of the electorate with you, limiting embarrassment to oneself and limiting offence caused to others. (more…)

Offshoring and Forgetting – the dark side of Globalisation

By VerTego at en.wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

On paper, it had all the makings of a perfect scandal – tax evasion aided by a household-name bank, the prime minister dishing out jobs to his City friends, bankers dishing out parcels of untraceable banknotes to account holders in Zurich. But, somehow, the story of HSBC’s Swiss banking arm’s ‘dodgy’ dealings let the genie out of the lamp ever-so-briefly, only for it to be sucked it again in no time at all. That particular scandal of money and politics passed after a few days’ headlines, only for another one to replace it.

So what happened there? Are we so used to the 1% taking advantage of us that it’s no longer news-worthy? Are we becoming so ADHD as media-consumers that journalists have to give us a fresh fix of hate and outrage every few days? Or, as Charlie Brooker argues, are financial news stories just a bit dull? (more…)

The Digital Collapse of Distance, and a Terrestrial Pulling-Apart

Satellite Earth Image

It can be pretty difficult, sometimes, to justify your commitment to ‘ethnographic’ methods. Partly, perhaps, because most people don’t quite know what being ethnographic means. But also because ‘being ethnographic’ is often devalued by the very people with whom British social scientists are increasingly encouraged to engage as part of the ‘Impact’ agenda. I do not think I am alone among doctoral students in having struggled to explain to the ‘technical’ and policy experts I encountered during my research quite what ethnography is, and why anyone would bother with it – or listen to someone who had. Soundbites from Bronislaw Malinowski (whose Argonauts of the Western Pacific and Coral Gardens and their Magic constitute the ultimate methodological reference point for many anthropologists)[1] such as ‘ethnography is about researching from “the native’s point of view” and attending to the “imponderabilia of everyday life”’ are (in addition to sounding uncomfortably dated) unlikely to convince someone who is not already on board. Ethnography quite simply produces ‘data’ (or, more appropriately, ‘narratives’) that are not formalized enough for the tastes of many who occupy powerful positions in business, development and government (but see this for an alternative view). Unless, of course, you accept, with Edward Said (and more recently David Price) that ethnography – and the ‘area expertise’ derived from its practice – is implicated in both earlier colonial, and contemporary American, military expansion. So what (if any) kind of relationship might there be between the type of knowledge produced by ethnography, and the wider power structures in which a researcher operates?

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Why are we obsessed with what teens are doing on social media?

Source: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/polis/files/2011/08/FBteen.jpg

Source: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/polis/files/2011/08/FBteen.jpg

‘They’, we are told, are prime movers we can observe to spot future trends; like rejecting Facebook. ‘They’ have too much agency because they are doing something problematic or exotic: different to ‘us’. For example, sexting or hacking. Or ‘they’ have too little agency because they are addicted, being brainwashed or radicalised by the Internet. ‘They’ are teenagers. We are not similarly fixated by other social groups in this way. What lies behind our obsession with teenagers online? (more…)

Electioneering, Facebook-style.

By Flohuels (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

What do you think was the most-discussed topic on Facebook in the UK last year? The World Cup? Cat videos? Ice buckets? The Kardashians? Sociology Lens?… Amazingly, it’s none of those. It was, according to someone who ought to know, Elizabeth Linder – Facebook’s Politics & Government Specialist for Europe – Politics. (more…)

Breaking the Nuclear Taboo

Britain’s Trident nuclear submarines are back in the headlines. After a mass march in central London on January 24th, following the Commons debate on scrapping Trident when David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and a shocking 250 other MPs caused a scandal after not even turning up to vote, this long-dormant issue has grabbed the country’s attention. Nukes are now the hot topic of conversation in kitchens, offices and factories across the land, and will surely be a key factor in how people vote in the general election in May…

…and…

…Wake Up!

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TTIP and Model Politicians

From Corporate Europe Observatory (http://corporateeurope.org/international-trade/2014/07/who-lobbies-most-ttip)

From Corporate Europe Observatory (http://corporateeurope.org/international-trade/2014/07/who-lobbies-most-ttip)

Many Sociology Lens readers will by now have heard of ‘TTIP,’ the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership currently being negotiated between the EU and the US. The TTIP negotiations are the direct outcome of a transatlantic High-Level Working Group on Jobs and Growth established in 2011, and the latest in a string of attempts to create an EU-US free trade zone that date back to the early 1990s. Thus far the two issues garnering the most media attention around TTIP have been the lack of transparency surrounding negotiations, and the proposed inclusion of ‘Investor State Dispute Settlement’ (ISDS) provisions in the Partnership. Regarding the transparency issue, when even supportive Members of the European Parliament such as Maria Eleni Koppa complained that they were ‘totally in the dark’ about the negotiations, there were calls for the negotiating mandate to be declassified – precipitating UK Trade Minister Lord Livingston’s curious claim that this was ‘unnecessary’ since the document had already been ‘leaked’ online. But it is in regard to ISDS that the TTIP battle lines are being drawn in earnest.

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What’s the meaning of meritocracy in today’s politics?

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Meritocracy: a universally available golden escalator to a life of high status and luxury?

 

When Young (1970) conceived of the meritocracy it was a satirical device to draw attention to a possible dystopian future where everyone is stratified in concrete by their I.Q.: the sub-optimal intelligent condemned to a meaningless existence. The meaning of meritocracy has evolved (Allen 2011) to become a discursive device. Politicians from all major parties now clamour for the moral high ground by claiming making society more meritocratic is their political raison d’etre. The Deputy Prime Minister, for example said exactly that; “It’s the reason I do this job” (Clegg, 2012). Indeed meritocracy’s conceptual power is far reaching:

“Meritocracy as an abstract ideal is also a measure of progress, where more advanced societies are held to be those that are more meritocratic. They make fewer decisions based on prejudice and extend opportunity further. Meritocracy is sometimes used as a measure of corruption, where corrupt societies or corrupt institutions are thought to be those that disobey the formula: merit = ability + effort. Meritocratic societies are open and fair, non-meritocratic ones are obscure and underhand. Justice, social cohesion, progress, fairness and transparency, these are the timeless ideas upon which meritocracy is presumed to rest.” (Allen 2011, p2) (more…)

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…)