Category Archives: Social Stratification

Meritocracy: neoliberalism’s fig leaf?

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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)

Yet despite the political conviction supporting the meritocracy, according to the most recent “State of the Nation” report written by the government’s Nation Social Mobility and Child Commission:

“The most talented in our society are not getting equal opportunities to access the top, which is disproportionately dominated by the most advantaged”

And;

“Top employers recruit from an average of only 20 out of >115 universities”. (Shephard 2014)

Littler (2013) argues it is not;

“Merely a coincidence that the common idea that we live, or should live, in a meritocratic age co-exists with a pronounced lack of social mobility and the continuation of vested hereditary economic interests.” (p53)

This is because within the discourse of inequality the concept of meritocracy has been appropriated and shaped by neo-liberal ideology. For Foucault (2010), neoliberalism’s project is “the overall exercise of political power modelled on the principles of a market economy” (p131). Moreover, “the only ‘true’ aims of social policy for neoliberalism can be economic growth and privatisation; thus the multiplication of the ‘enterprise’ form within the social body” (p148). Neo-liberals want us to believe if we are sufficiently empowered, incentivised and aspirational we can and should transform or transcend our class of conditions. The responsibility to act and the blame for failure falls upon the individual. As the elite top 1% experience compound growth in their incomes:

“Entrepreneurialism and celebrity rags-to-riches tales become highlighted, or rendered ‘luminous’, they become publicly visible opportunities to ‘escape’ an otherwise entrenched position of social subordination”. (Littler 2013, p55)

So, meritocracy has transformed from a satirical device for highlighting increasing inequality to become the moral justification for neoliberalism while politicians claim to address inequality but, in effect, they only tinker with its mechanisms.

@huwcdavies

Allen, A., 2011. Michael Young’s The Rise of the Meritocracy: A Philosophical Critique. British Journal of Educational Studies, 59(4), pp.367–382. Available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00071005.2011.582852 [Accessed December 17, 2014].

Clegg, N., 2012. Nick Clegg’s Social Mobility Speech in Full. Politics.co.uk.

Foucault, M., 1978. The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978-1979. On Neo-Liberal Governmentality, Palgrave Macmillan.

Littler, J., 2013. Meritocracy as Plutocracy: The Marketising of “Equality” Under Neoliberalism. New Formations, 80(1), pp.52–72. Available at: http://openurl.ingenta.com/content/xref?genre=article&issn=0950-2378&volume=80&issue=1&spage=52 [Accessed December 17, 2014].

Shephard, G., 2014. State of the Nation 2014: Social Mobility and Child Poverty in Great Britain Report Summary October 2014. , (October).

Young, M., 1970. The Rise of the Meritocracy, 1870-2033: an Essay on Education and Equality, Penguin.

 

 

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…)

Legacies of The War on Poverty: A chat with Jill Quadagno on the 20th anniversary of The Color of Welfare

Jill Quadagno The Color of Welfare: How Racism Undermined The War on Poverty Eminent Scholar Florida State University

Jill Quadagno
The Color of Welfare: How Racism Undermined The War on Poverty
Eminent Scholar
Florida State University

In 1994 Jill Quadagno published The Color of Welfare: How Racism Undermined the War on Poverty.  To celebrate the 20th anniversary of this highly influential text, Dr. Quadagno did a series of media interviews two days.  She also graciously sat down with me for an informal chat about what she believes to be the lasting outcome of The War on Poverty. (more…)

“No one likes being reduced to their genitals!” Positive discrimination, diversity and symbolic capital

www.tinyography.com/

www.tinyography.com/

“Scarlett?”

My PhD compatriot, Jens* leans over to me, a glint in his eye and a bemused smile on his face that makes it difficult to work out whether this will be a joke, a statement, or something to deliberately challenge me. Past history tells me probably a combination of all three, but lets see.

“Can I ask you a question, before you go?” (I am just on my way out of the PhD office** we share, coat on, mug washed, ready).

He continues; “I know you are something of an expert on the subject…”

Oh here we go. This means one of two conversation topics are about to be raised: headhunting, or gender. Which means gender is about to be raised. I put on my metaphorical*** ‘Will Dispense Pertinent Gender-Related Critical Analysis For Food” T-shirt, and wait.

(more…)

Mothering on the Margins: legislating first environments and the demand for maternal accountability

 

Photo by: Gabriel Flores Romero Found on: Flickr Creative Commons http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/legalcode

Photo by: Gabriel Flores Romero
Found on: Flickr Creative Commons
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/legalcode

 

“You put me in charge of Medicaid…”, the vice president of Arizona’s Republican Party and former state senator, Russell Pearce quipped on his weekly radio broadcast The Russell Pearce Show “the first thing I’d do is get Norplant, birth-control implants or tubal ligations”.  Medicaid is a program designed to provide health-related services for people who cannot afford healthcare in the private sector.  As Amanda Kennedy of Sociology Lens points out vividly here, “being valued as a parent is a white privilege…” and I would add, class privilege. (more…)

Is England’s World Cup failure symptomatic of Capitalism’s malfunction?

The Premiership Trophy

Football is England’s national sport. It’s played in every city, town and school in the country. The English Premier League is the richest league in the world. For millions of English fans who contribute this wealth, watching football either live or on TV is effectively a costly tax on their devotion to their club. Why then does England lose to smaller nations with fewer players and less money to invest in talent? (more…)

The Internet of Things: some implications for sociology

Source: http://recode.net/2014/01/10/what-your-internet-of-things-is-saying-about-you-comic/

Source: http://recode.net/2014/01/10/what-your-internet-of-things-is-saying-about-you-comic/

This week BBC News asked “can wearable tech make us more productive?”  The news package covered a research project which has the broader purpose of investigating impact of wearable connected tech on every aspect of our lives. The umbrella term that (albeit loosely) confederates connected technology is the ‘Internet of Things’. Its advocates believe the Internet of Things is one of the most compelling ideas of the twenty first century.  The original definition of the Internet of Things referred to inanimate objects that had an electronic product code so they could be inventoried. Now, thanks to IPv6 (which provides 3.4×1038 addresses on the Internet), as utility (or the market) demands it, all our everyday objects such as TVs, microwave ovens and cars can be allocated an address on the Internet and offer the potential to transmit and receive digital data. However, an IP address is not a prerequisite of the Internet of Things. The term can also refer to devices that have the potential to produce digital data for the Internet. This includes technologies of the ‘quantified self’, such as the GPS enabled sports watch I use for example. (more…)

Removing the homeless from the streets

800px-Clochards_célestes_-_San_Francisco

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The New York City Rescue Mission recently posted a video on their website of a social experiment examining whether or not a person would recognize his/her own family member dressed to appear homeless. To no surprise, the test subjects did not recognize their family member as they walked past them on the street. Watching the powerful video not only puts homelessness into perspective for those individuals who did not recognize their own family, but also raises questions for all of us as to whether we pay attention to the homeless. In the United States the homeless are often associated with negative connotations. Our constructed realities of the homeless consist of dirty, lazy individuals who are likely drunk, on drugs, and/or mentally ill who commits crime to survive. These negative meanings attached to have serious consequences for how we should respond to the homeless, typically guiding punitive policies that interweave narratives of homeless persons and public health issues (Amster, 2003). The associated negative connotations with the homeless provide the public with a basis to remove the homeless from public space in the name of safety. (more…)

The School-to-Prison Pipeline and the Minority Educational Gap

Retrieved from Getty images.

Retrieved from Getty images.

In a recent Sociology Lens post, Markus Gerke detailed the problem associated with President Obama’s rhetoric of individual responsibility for increasing opportunities for Latino and Black men. One component to President Obama’s initiative is to increase educational opportunities for these populations and Gerke correctly notes that the focus on individual responsibility ignores the structural barriers that limit these populations. Research suggests that a major factor in the educational achievement gap is the presence of the school-to-prison pipeline and the punishment of minority students at greater rates than white students. A recent report by the U.S. Department of Education notes that 5 percent of white students in the United States are suspended compared to 16 percent of black students.  Furthermore, researchers have documented racial disparities in school punishment for over 40 years with African-Americans accounting for 34 percent of suspensions nationwide, despite making up only 17 percent of the population (Browne, 2003).

(more…)

Holiday Giving: The role of Charity in Capitalism

Black Friday shoppers at WalMart

Black Friday shoppers at WalMart

The holiday season is officially upon us as thousands of individuals woke up early on this Black Friday to score the best deals of the season. This time of year brings joy to the hearts of many, but also exposes one of the greatest contradictions in American society. Along with the excitement of holiday shopping and purchasing a 50 inch TV for half-price, this time of year is also supposed to be about giving. From Thanksgiving through Christmas more people volunteer and donate food and/or money than any other time of year. In 2012, to combat the popularity of consumption during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, more and more people are participating in Giving Tuesday (the day after Cyber Monday), a day to give to those in need. While we can certainly see the merits and benefits of giving a toy to a child who has none or a coat to someone who is cold, we should also ask ourselves why charity is needed in the first place and why charity is so intimately linked with consumption. (more…)