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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Unqualified Teachers: Why Our Young People Deserve Better

UNQUALIFIED TEACHERS

According to shadow education secretary Tristam Hunt, there are currently 17,100 unqualified teachers, teaching more than 400,000 of our children, in state funded schools. I was one of them. In 2007, burnt out from years working in the care sector, I decided it was time for a change. I needed some hope – to feel I was making a difference. I responded to an advert for a job as a Lesson Cover Supervisor in a local secondary school in my hometown. I was unsure of exactly what that entailed, but I toddled along to the interview bright eyed and bushy tailed. A Lesson Cover Supervisor is a member of staff employed by the school to cover lessons in the event of absence of teaching staff. Cover work will be set for them and they will not be expected to do any planning or marking. It seemed simple enough. When they asked me at the interview if I would be interested in also doing some teaching I replied ‘of course!’ with naïve enthusiasm, wanting to appear keen. I was delighted to discover I got the job but what followed was one of the most challenging years of my life (no mean feet having worked for ten years in the care sector with adults with enduring mental health problems, severe learning difficulties and challenging behaviour, and drug and alcohol addiction).

Having not set foot in a classroom since the day I left school, thirteen years before, I immediately began teaching English and Religious Education. The classes I was given were only years 7 and 8, cute little 11 – 13 year olds. Surely they can’t be too difficult, I thought. The Dalai Lama’s quote ‘if you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito,’ has never been so pertinent. Try thirty of them. Despite the fact that I was desperate to succeed, they could smell my fear and inexperience from twenty paces and they ran rings around me. (more…)

Will the LGBTQ Community Ever Become Ubiquitous?

Demonstration,_with_Gay_Liberation_Front_Banner

(Source:http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:LGBT_rights#mediaviewer/File:Demonstration,_with_Gay_Liberation_Front_Banner.jpg, via Wikimedia Commons)

During the trials of Eric Garner, Michael Brown and others, my Facebook newsfeed was filled with a barrage of status updates about the refusal to indict the officers: I had “friends” standing behind the police officers and the law, and “friends” who were in line with protestors and the families of the victims. For the majority of the press coverage, I stayed quiet and did not take a side: but the time has come for the silence to be broken. I stand in solidarity with the families of the victims and the protestors. Although I do not have a J.D., I do realize institutionalized racism when it is played out.
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The Queer Life: Surrounding Myself in Queer Culture and Queer Spaces

The_Rainbow_Flag,_GLBT_Pride

Over the past few months, I have been deep in the throes of my thesis- conducting, transcribing, coding, and analyzing interviews- on homonationalism and scripting of student identities in study abroad. While my findings are still very preliminary, there has been a series of answers that have really stuck with me regarding “queer culture” and “queer space.” If you read my post about what homonormativity is, then you know that it involves the depoliticization and privatization of sexuality, while all in the name of heteronormativity. In this new norm, then, where is queer space? Is there a queer politics? Should there be a queer life?

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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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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) (more…)

“It’s the family, stupid”

nursery-rhymes-3This week I am teaching framing, the rhetorical construction of social issues.  My students learn the most popular framing strategies and how to recognize them.  Even though I explain, provide examples, counter examples and practice exercises to impart this concept, it’s difficult.  I get it.   It’s also important so semester after semester, year after year I continue to teach framing to undergraduate sociology majors. However, last week President Obama lobbed the simplest and clearest example of framing in his speech on affordable, universal daycare at the University of Kansas.  He very clearly and emphatically said, “It is time we stop treating child care as a side issue or a women’s issue.  This is a family issue.”  And there it was, my perfect framing example presented in stark contrast to the faulty frame that leaves women embattled after 40 years still struggling for equal pay, abortion access, excellent child care, maternity leave, and justice in the legal system – we framed the issues as women’s issues.  Face palm. (more…)

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…)