Wednesday, 8 December 2010
Wednesday, 24 November 2010
Today, in London and other parts of the UK, students are holding protestant against the proposed tripling of tuition fees in our universities; the cuts to government funding of universities that effectively mean that university teaching will only be paid for by student fees, and the cuts to bursaries to school children to encourage them to stay in education past the age of 16. First, as an academic, as somebody who spent more time than most as a student, and a member of staff at a UK university, I applaud and celebrate the willingness and enthusiasm of students to stand up for their rights, for the rights of a future generation of students, and for the principle of education for all.
Nick Clegg, as he tries desperately to scramble out of a cowardly volte-face, has said that before we protest, we should listen to his proposal, which “make[s] higher education open to everyone". Even if this is true- and I don’t think it is- it certainly won’t make Britain a fairer or more equal society. The removal of EMA- payments to young people from socio-economically deprived areas aged 16-18- to encourage them to stay in school are paid because historically these young people had to contribute to household incomes as soon as they were old enough to work. In a time of recession, with increasing rates of unemployment, the need for young people to start contributing to households will once more become a pressing issue (not to mention that for some young people this pressure has never went away). Without qualifications, these young people will be directed into low-paid, low-opportunity jobs, reifying existing class inequalities and destroying the potential for upward mobility. They certainly won’t be going to university- because they won’t have the qualifications to do so.
The proposal for tuition fees is that every student will pay fees of £9000pa, but that they will be given loans to do so- so the fact they don’t need cash up front should not act as a discouragement to people from any background. What’s more, it is argued that these fees will also be used to help provide bursaries for those from low-income backgrounds to ensure that these young people don’t get left behind. But, if he thinks that the potential of leaving university with around £50,000 in debt (by the time we add loans to live on) won’t put people off going to university, then he must be living on another planet. That is just a breath-taking amount of debt to be saddled with.
Even if he is right- and students from all backgrounds are willing to take the hit, the long-term social consequences are not being considered. As somebody with only a measly £13,000 in student debt, I only started earning enough to make repayments THIS YEAR- 7 years after my u/grad degree finished. I now get £100 a month deducted from my wage- the best part of which goes towards interest payments- with no signs of when that will stop (ok I could do the math, but it ain't any time soon). It is effectively a graduate tax that I will pay for the best part of my working-life, or until academia becomes significantly better-paid (ROFL). This will be the same for all future generations of students- only the amount of debt they will be trying to pay back will be significantly higher.
So, big deal you say. It’ll just be like paying income tax, or national insurance. Except, that income tax and national insurance are paid for by everyone. Student tax will only paid for by a few- and by that I don’t just mean students- but by a small proportion of students. Students with rich parents will have their fees paid by mum and dad, ensuring that they will not be saddled with debt for the rest of their lives. This means that they will have more money to buy bigger houses, fancier cars, and then of course, a bit more cash if they want to send their kids to private schools. They will also have extra money each month to save towards paying their children’s university fees- ensuring that they too will start life debt free. This will reinforce social boundaries, because better resourced children tend to do better in life- money breeds money.
It will also cause a retraction in the number and types of people going on to graduate degrees. Because without state funding, the fees for Masters and PhDs will have to go up too- and these aren’t covered by student loans- or really any type of loan. So, like now, people will have to find the money to pay for these degrees themselves- but whereas finding £3000 for a Masters (especially part-time) is achievable for many middle-class people, fees of £9000 or £10,000 will price most people out of the market. As a result, only the very richest will continue in education, ensuring that the top and best paid jobs will only go to the rich, and academia will once more be the playground of the social elite (with all the implications for equality and democracy in research models and findings).
What this decision does is entrench class divisions. It removes the social mobility inherent in the idea of education for all- in the claims of this government that they wish to promote ‘equality of opportunity’. Even if- and it’s a big if- paying for university will open up more places at universities (really, has anybody done the maths on this?), it will not make British society fairer or more equal.
Thursday, 18 November 2010
Tuesday, 16 November 2010
Except ‘we’ doesn’t mean everybody, does it? No, it means those who would have to use legal aid to get justice- aka the poor, or even just ‘the not enormously wealthy’. The rich on the other hand are still free to sue each other- and also the poor- with impunity. This is nothing more than the removal of justice from those without money; it is a fundamental infringement on any claim that we are a democratic, equal society. And, in that vein, I don’t think it is too dramatic to call this both disgusting and even immoral. In a week where we are supposed to be celebrating Armistice Day and where – as I heard on the radio- one veteran noted that we are supposed to stop and remember our freedom and liberties, we see our own government taking away those same freedoms and liberties. Because justice is the centrepiece of any claim to being a democratic nation.
Now, I now know that there will be common complaints that we are too litigious and we are wasting money on nonsense suits- but the reality is that England has always been litigious. In 1640, two Westminister Courts alone dealt with 28,000 cases in one year (and remember there are more courts both in London and across the rest of the country), when the population of England was only about 4 million. Forms of legal aid- whether from the Church, the State or from employers and patrons- were available across this period. The ability- and the also the choice to- participate in the legal system was a marker of the public’s recognition of the centrality of the exercise of justice to good governance and increasingly democratic society. Indeed, a lot might be said about the way in which the increased impartiality, independence and legal sophistication of the court system progressed simultaneously to the growth of parliamentary power and civil society. Access to justice through the courts is as central to democracy as access to the vote.
Saturday, 13 November 2010
This week the Con-Dem’s have announced that the long-term unemployed will be forced to work by putting them on 30 hour a week placements. The work under discussion is labelled ‘manual work’ and includes ‘gardening’ and ‘litter-clearing’. Those who do not show up will have their benefits cut.
This decision is, of course, hugely controversial for lots of reasons- but it is a fascinating decision from a party who claims to want small government and limited public services. The Con-Dems are certainly not the first people to come up with this idea- the Americans did during the Depression of the 1930s; the Germans tried it around the same time and again more recently; the French did it after WW2. It still continues in many ‘Third World’ countries today. And, in every single case, the cost of running the programmes so outweighed any benefit to society, or to the unemployed themselves, that they became unsustainable. For good or bad, it is cheaper to let the unemployed sit in their houses on benefit than to make them work for those benefits- that is the historical reality.
And, so the question then arises, why does a government who is trying to massively cut costs- who is making people unemployed left, right and centre- want to plough huge amounts of money into such a programme? Do they seriously think that no one has thought about this before? One might presume it is because they have never read a history book. (Perhaps if they hadn’t so dramatically cut spending to universities, they could have asked an expert for their advice. As it is, we are waiting for our invitation to cut grass for free).
Given the types of work that the unemployed will be directed into that is being spouted by the government, it also raises huge issues about the ethics of such a programme. Why is it ok to make our grass-cutters (paid at minimum wage) unemployed, and then ask them to come back and do the same job for less than minimum wage now that they are on benefits? This is the very definition of exploitation. Today, modern volunteering good practice recommends that volunteers should not do the work of a paid employee for this very reason. Volunteering roles can support those in paid position; they can run projects that would not be feasible without volunteers- but they should not be used as unpaid labour or as a way to save money. This is believed to be exploitative and unethical.
Now it is very unlikely given historical precedent that a scheme that forces the unemployed to work will save anybody money- but, the question should still be asked- how is it morally justifiable to replace paid workers with the forced labour of those working- if not ‘for free’- at least, not on the same terms as paid labour? How can they justify taking away people’s jobs- claiming that they were not necessary or a drain on the economy- if our poorest and most vulnerable are going to be forced to do those same jobs? How will you feel when your job is taken away and then given to somebody else- or worse back to you, for less money and more stigma? And, we might even ask, how is it ethical to ask our unemployed to work in any form for less than minimum wage? The reason benefit is set so low is because we are not asking our unemployed to work. If they are out doing a job that a person in other circumstances would be paid at least minimum wage to do, why are they not entitled to that same reward?
And, if we are going to start paying them an ethical wage for their labour, why are we cutting public service jobs in the first place?
Local Preston MP Mark Hendrick said he was pleased the council had "reverted to common sense". "I thought daft political correctness had gone out of the window but obviously it's still out there," the Labour MP added. "They were clearly men - they were not wearing skirts."
Ah, yes. No skirts; clearly a man then?
Wednesday, 3 November 2010
'Someone who is working as a postman should not subsidise those who go on to become millionaires.'
So, postmen's taxes shouldn't subsidise students paying for university education- but it's perfectly ok for their physical labour - paid at not much above minimum wage- to subsidise the capitalist system that allows people to become millionaires in the first-place?
Do you want to know another way of making society fairer- higher rates of income tax for top earners and higher rates of corporation tax- because the real question is what entitles a rich few to be millionaires when such wealth is paid for by the labour and the purchasing power of a poor majority?
Thursday, 7 October 2010
Tuesday, 21 September 2010
Sirs, I am angry.
Wednesday, 11 August 2010
Okay, it's only a baby- but I went away on a research trip and came back to this- so proud!
Broccolli too- when do I get to harvest them?
This is almost as satisfying as blaming the patriarchy, but is good for your stress levels.
Tuesday, 13 July 2010
Saturday, 19 June 2010
So, what determined social position if the mind was an open potential, able to be shaped to be anything at all? Increasingly in the eighteenth century, the body became the determining factor in social position. Sexual difference, race, and physical features became the outward markers that determined the appropriate education that should be given to the mind that the body housed. If it was important that women played a particular social role and so received a particular education, then we could decide who ‘women’ were based on their genitals. In this sense, the mind was shaped to the body- and the mind who didn’t realise it was female just needed more discipline or education.
This theory developed in two, not necessarily compatible ways, in the nineteenth century. First, there was the rise of psychology where people’s whose minds did not behave appropriately to their allocated social role could be studied, and ideally re-educated to match their biological characteristics and social expectation. Therefore, for example, someone who felt that their allocated gender did not match their sense of identity, or who was attracted to someone of the same sex, could be labelled ‘mentally ill’, and retrained. And, if the mind was a blank slate- an open potential, then why not? (This model continues into the present, although increasingly we put limits on when the mind stops being adaptable (age, 2, 3 ,7, 26 never).)
Second, the emphasis on the body as determining factor in shaping identity meant that physical characteristics became increasingly seen to determine a person’s potential. This led to the rise in pseudo-sciences like phrenology, where the shape of a person’s head could be used to determine their personality- or physical profiling, where criminality and deviance could be determined by measuring the body or the distance between the eyes. Far from opening up potential then, the move to the biological began to root social characteristics in the body, limiting the potential of the mind to be educated in particular ways. Women's bodies then could be endangered by too much education, with university education leading to an inability to conceive children.
In a 21st century context, the static nature of the mind starts to loom larger in the nurture/ nature debate, and increasingly, instead of ‘fixing’ the mind when we experience problems with our bodily appearance or identity, we shape the body. If we sense that our genitals look wrong, our breasts are too small, our stomach too lumpy, many of us no longer sit through hours of therapy trying to come to accept our bodies, but instead go the gym, on a diet or under the knife. We encourage this approach in our increasing obsession with obesity, body sculpting, and fitness, and also how we think about food. Whereas dieting used to be about training your mind, we now think about hormones, sugar levels, foods that release energy all day and keep you feeling full. We think about ways to satiate the body while remaining healthy. It is no longer the recalcitrant mind, but the recalcitrant body that must be re-educated and kept well. We make significantly more links between mind and body, so that poor mental health, like depression, is about hormones, not (just) emotions.
In a sense then, rather than the mind being a tabula rasa, it is the body (at least as much as the mind) which is the empty canvass in the modern world, waiting to be educated or trained into shape. Yet at the same time, we retain a sense of 'biological determinism', but one that focuses on the centrality of the mind, rather than body, to self. And, what are the implications of these new ways of thinking for modern feminism? What happens to the traditional critique of cosmetic surgery- where ‘big boobs’ were viewed as conformity to patriarchal standards- when cosmetic surgery is also what gives people a sense of unity between mind and body? When we become less sure about adapting the mind (where we would have traditionally suggested retraining women to love their small breasts), and give more emphasis to ‘fixing’ the body to meet mental expectations of self. Where is the line between acceptable and unacceptable bodily adaptations, between poor mental health and the recalcitrant body? Where is the place of disability and race politics in this discussion- where bodily perfection has a dangerous tendency to lean towards conformity to particular forms of beauty and body shape, towards sameness and not diversity? And, what does it mean that technology can allow some people to adapt their bodies, but not others?
Sunday, 2 May 2010
Thursday, 8 April 2010
Sunday, 4 April 2010
From an alternative perspective, it is also worth considering that the Royal Court- from which the monarch governed the state- was actually part of the private household of the monarch. Separate buildings for ‘public’ or ‘state’ functions were only beginning to be thought of in this period- and most were related to the operation of trade (like Guildhalls). In practice, elite households in particular could double as ‘public’ buildings with their large halls or courtyards being used to hold markets, public meetings and demonstrations.
Furthermore, the home was not conceptualised as a private space. Indeed, openness to the scrutiny of others was essential to social credit and social reputation. The household that had something to hide was clearly up to no good and should be treated with caution. In a world where cash was limited and access to goods depended on reputation, the transparency of the household was vital to its survival. The awareness of prying eyes was meant to enforce good order- both making sure the head of household kept control of his family and ensuring that he did not abuse his authority. It offered a system of checks and balances to the head of household’s power.
At the same time, the household was a fluid entity with a constant stream of changing servants, visitors, lodgers, travellers needing a bed for the night, belying any sense of a contained family unit. Even lower down the social scale where households were smaller, neighbourliness and patronage systems meant that homes were equally open to public scrutiny and to inspection by social superiors. Poor households could be even more socially diverse with lodgers and travellers common means of income and multiple families could live in the same household to save money. Most households also had an economic function meaning that they were not just homes but places of business with all the public functions that entailed.
In the eighteenth century, the concept of ‘privacy’ (which had started to filter through since the 16th century) became increasingly culturally important seen in the separation of servant and family quarters in wealthy homes; the invention of ‘public’ and ‘private’ rooms in family homes; and the eventual removal of the economic functions of the household off into separate buildings. Yet, it should be noted this was a long process that happened to different households at different rates and the importance of home-working today suggests it was never completed. Even in the Victorian period, where it might be argued that the ‘private’ home was in its heyday, it was recognised that the home had both private and public functions- not surprising in an era where visiting relatives for weeks at a time was fashionable.
For eighteenth-century philosophers on this subject, the key distinction between a public and private space was still not whether it was located in or out of the home- but its function. Therefore, public space was economic space- the workplace, rather than places outside the home. Even the world of politics was not initially thought of as ‘public’, although this idea was to arrive quickly when the concept of public became increasingly associated with power. Public space was where people exercised power; private space was without power.
Despite this complexity of meaning, the changing functions of the household did lead to its increased association with the ‘private’ in the early nineteenth century. Yet, this phenomenon did not happen in a vacuum- it was mirrored by the rise of the ‘state’. As the household became more private and the separation of home and work made it more difficult to monitor the behaviour of individuals through household hierarchy, the state was created to ensure social order. The state expanded with an increasingly large and elaborate civil service, a police force, a more formal court system and, by the twentieth century, state controlled welfare systems. This state apparatus was always interested in the workings of the home and the prying eye of the guid neighbour was replaced by the beady eye of the officious state worker.
And from a feminist perspective, it was vital that the state existed. While the functions of the household and social order had changed, the belief in the right for a patriarch to manage and discipline his household had not. Yet, without the prying eyes of the guid neighbour, who was to act as a check and balance of that power? Many of the initial debates and court cases that defined the rights of the state to interfere in home life were brought by women trying to protect themselves and their children from violent or controlling patriarchs. In a sense then, not only was the rise of the state a response to the changing functions and increased privacy of the household, but the invitation to the state to interfere in the operations of the household was both a demand of feminists and required for good social order.
The home then has never been a private space, exempt from the rules of social behaviour or the requirements of society. It is not and has never been the last stronghold against state interference. On the contrary, its ‘private’ nature is predicated on the existence of the state and the right for the state to interfere in its operation. The two cannot exist separately. In this sense, the privacy of the home is an illusion- if one held dear to us. This is particularly the case when you use your home in public ways- such as when you run a business from your home. Because at that stage (whether you realise it or not), any sense of your home as private is removed and its public functions (always present) are once more made explicit.
To argue then that your private rights to discriminate are founded on the privacy of the household is to misunderstand the place and role of the household and the state in society. The question then becomes whether your right to discriminate is greater than the right of other people not to be discriminated against. While discrimination actively hurts people- and so damages society- you being asked to curtail your discrimination does not hurt you. Given that the protection of its members is the first duty of the state, that the law finds in favour of the right not to be discriminated against is lawful, logical and good for everybody.
Saturday, 13 March 2010
Monday, 8 March 2010
Wednesday, 3 March 2010
Wednesday, 17 February 2010
Sunday, 17 January 2010
Tuesday, 12 January 2010