Thursday, 19 May 2011

The Acceptance of Class Inequality: Part 3

Section 2: Recognition and Rationalisation

2.1 Recognition

The legitimisation of relations of domination depends on a combination of naturalisation of inequalities, as in the case of gender and the appearance of fairness, at least in matters which do not threaten dominance” (2005: 49).

Therefore as Sayer has argued, inequality is naturalised and reinforced through the notion of fairness, which is a condition evocative of a class based meritocracy. Fairness is intrinsic to how individuals treat on another and in the development of a moral landscape in which one can be judged upon a presupposed set of beliefs surrounding what is considered a good or bad act. Moreover, as contemporary capitalist society is seemingly preoccupied with merit and reward based systems of exchange, then greater amounts of fairness – quantified fairness – are distributed to those deemed worthy under the system. Although fairness and indeed its very definition can be culturally specific, such a definition lies in the individuals or groups comprehension of the term. Fairness is not in any way a universal construct and even if the politician, the teacher, the academic professes it to be so they attempting to set the borders of morality and negating the will of the domination. Morality is subject to the ruling hegemonies of the time and accepted behaviour (acts interpreted through the specific laws and unwritten laws of a society) comes to define the individual. From a Marxist perspective, “cultural and intellectual activities do not merely operate as functions of economic changes but compromise an arena of social struggle, of domination and resistance. Therefore the struggle of ideas is a crucial part in the general pattern of struggle (1979: 185). In respect to class inequalities, it is in the generalisation of moral thought in which one finds an acceptance of a structured hierarchy. This is one of the reasons why capitalism is so affective in its execution of representative worth, a combination of social status derived from birth and an agreed levelling of effort; agreed by society in its unprofessed ambivalence to domination.

Recognition is a primary requirement of an individual or group in order that its wellbeing and functionality remain intact within society. The refusal of recognition can lead to psychological damage (Taylor, 1994) and prevent people from “participating on par with others in social interaction” (1999: 34). As for class inequality, the under recognition of individuals or groups, coinciding with attempts by neo-liberals to legitimise the subject (Phillips, 1999) has led to a retreat from the discussion of class struggle and pushed it towards other forms of oppression and discrimination as a tactic of diluting the issue and redistributing concern. In contemporary society recognition has shifted from that of a class struggle to struggles relating to cultural differences, rebranded as movements (Oberschall, 1993). Whether movement or struggle, the parties involved demand respect, moral worthiness and the valuing of culture; in terms of class, an affirmation of culture through the injustice of being poor. Although as Ralph Miliband has identified historically a substantial part of the working class (more so in Britain and the US) have “supported bourgeois and conservative parties rather than the ones on the Left” (1989: 57). This seems rather self-defeating when involved within a struggle, where one’s objective is either to escape or abolish their class positioning rather than affirming it (Coole, 1996). The act of voting on the Right by the disadvantaged may have derived from an opportunistic mind-set attended to capitalistic democracy. Indeed for one to rise from the lower classes, to be upwardly mobile, the opportunity to grasp at the feed of those at the top overwhelms the individual. This is not to say that greed or excess are the driving force in the consciousness of a proportion of the working class but in accepting that one’s social positioning is of lower class orientation, one has a greater space of aspiration in which to achieve the goal of the capitalist; a categorisation not far from what Bourdieu recognised as the petite-bourgeois (1984:14).

As recognition is considered of great importance by many observers of social class – the recognition of recognition – it becomes a great tool in the assessment of political affiliation. As Sayer sates, “localised conditions for recognition can also be partly met in highly unequal societies, and indeed can degenerate into forms of recognition or misrecognition involving ‘othering’” (2005: 54). The act of ‘othering’ not only occurs in the differentiation between classes but is also apparent within individual classes, as with the example of the working class conservative voter (WCCV). This particular group, in accepting inequality as a defining aspect of their constitution as a member of lower-class society, could easily be said to of sold out the poor progressive Left and although recognition may rain from above, due in some aspects to the effort of ‘escaping deprivation’, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will move sideways. The respect and self-esteem required to satisfy the needs of recognition may derive from self-actualised recognition and those from the same class group, as a sense of pride, pride achieved through striving to become someone better. As Sayer points out, “adequate recognition... demands freely given acts as well as freely given words. Putting these points together we can see that nothing that a subordinate says or does towards the dominant can match the recognition in words and deeds that an equal can give” (2005: 56). So what for the right-wing working class, the petite-middle-class (PMC)? If their aspiration matches their pride and they are to consider their worth in equal terms to the bourgeois, they are firstly seeking to abolish the relations of domination as are those on the Left and secondly, attempting to reduce the Hegelian notion of the master/slave relationship (ibid.). The PMC have diverged from the class struggle, instead of acting to remove the borders of class they maintain class in an effort to rise above it so that they have achieved mobility over others (members of their own class group nonetheless); a superiority complex born of pseudo-opportunistic hegemony.

The struggle for recognition cannot be ignored by the dominant class. Attributing different groups with variable amounts of recognition is a way of driving competition for recognition itself as if it were ‘commodifiable’. Recognition in commodified form allows the dominant class to distribute it between certain groups as though it were merit. This is particularly applicable to markets, in that rates of pay for workers can be managed dependent upon adequate recognition and economical worth. Honneth acknowledges that “social esteem for a person or a group is so obviously correlated to the level of control over certain goods that only the acquisition of those goods can lead to the corresponding recognition” (1995: 166). Therefore one is rewarded in terms of capital gains based upon the levels of recognition that is the sum of social conditioning and merit, which is unequal over the class divide due to social conditioning being widely out of the control of the individual. Recognition within the bounds of capitalism may not be warranted and can be entirely the result of ‘luck’ the owner of great amounts of wealth may have done nothing to deserve recognition but receives it for the sake of social positioning. Obviously this process is appealing to the wealthy and manipulating the morality that subsequently affects the distribution of recognition is an effective way of maintaining control over the hierarchy that perpetuates inequality within a class based system. Sennett and Cobb (1972) have argued that the class system propagates a competition for dignity. A competition for dignity is even more stringent than recognition as dignity has a value which is seldom bought. Still, as the division of labour is unequal, precincts are placed on dignity; it is proportional to recognition while differing in levels of achievement. Dignity is also speculative in that it is reliant on the circumstances of the habitus, as Veblen (1953) argued, the wealthy do not procure wealth in order to consume goods evidently; they consume goods in order to exhibit their accumulation of wealth to others.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The Acceptance of Class Inequality: Part 2

1.2 Bourdieu and Political Affiliation

“Television has probably contributed as much as bribery to the degradation of civic virtue. It has invited and projected onto the political and intellectual stage a set of self-promoting personalities concerned above all to get themselves noticed and admired, in total contradiction with the values of unspectacular devotion to the collective interests which once characterised the civil servant or the activist” (1998: 4).

Bourdieu on occasion expresses distaste for the politician, the minister, the civil servant, denouncing their motivations as self-promoting or attention seeking. For ministers a demanding issue of the time is validated only when it has been made public – the media being a central protagonist in this process – and is reconciled and achieved through the want of the people. Additionally when a member of a political party elite is embodied within a scandal or form of large scale corruption, “it reveals the gap between professed values and real behaviour [which] is simply the extreme case of all the ordinary little 'weaknesses', the flaunting of luxury and the avid acceptance of material and symbolic privileges” (1998: 4). Within the political theatre all the actors are interchangeable in the sense that they can either be 'hero's' or 'villain’s', indeed one's political narrative may see them rise and fall from grace within numerous periods of their political time-line. If we are to consider politics as a game whereby representatives are elected to serve constituents, competing with one another (more so with those in opposition) then the players become so self-conceited to the extent that the competitive nature of politics is what drives their political careers, then the wider public or 'the people' are in a sense forgotten and ejected from the state. This can lead to the rejection of the state and an undermining of the public’s ability to make intellectual semi-political decisions, the people are asked of “no more than obligatory material contributions, and certainly no commitment, no enthusiasm” (1998: 4-5). The citizen is therefore alienated from the political arena; their ability to vote is used as a means to serve their own interests. This form of alienation not only removes the relationship between the state and the citizen but also forces divisions between individuals of different political standpoint (i.e. between left and right). Indeed this is where the issue of class arises in that the distribution of political point of view and associations lend to the identity of class positions; in the most general sense the poor lean left requiring improvements in social policy and financial aid, and the more affluent to the right calling for tax breaks/cuts and government involvement in and promotion of business and enterprise. Bourdieu asserts that the 'left handed' within society (1998:2) – those in professions such as teaching, social work and nursing – have been abandoned by the state and in fact the state has little concern over what the left hand does as long as it makes contributions, for example, in terms of tax’s.

The contracting of government services to private companies has been a recurring feature of governments since the 1980’s; the same excuse offered that the state can no longer afford to maintain high quality standard of public services. Bourdieu explains, “What is considered as a crisis of politics, [referring to the abandonment of the left-handed] antiparliamentarianism is in reality despair at the failure of the state as the guardian of public interests” (1998: 2). If then the concept of class inequalities is introduced to this perspective – although left and right handedness isn’t as absolute as belonging to a particular class i.e. working or middle –what one finds is a disparity between a class of rulers and a class of nurturers. The inequality between these two groups arises not only in economics and power relations but in the conditions of contrasting ideology and ultimately the moral obligations and objectives put in to practice by each. For example the right-handed’s obsession with the privatisation of public services shifts the emphasis of unconditional care for citizens to an unconditional emphasis on price. In addition, as power can be gained through the control of territory – the conquest of space – and through the increased use of money-capital (2008: 175-6), the state and the private sector can cooperate, instilling ‘mercantilism’ within society. For Weber, in mercantilism, “the state is handled as if it consisted exclusively of capitalistic entrepreneurs” (1981: 347) where profit is a means to an end. On the other hand, the states mercantilist policies can conflict with the interests of private for-profit organisations; this is where the relationship becomes strained. Furthermore, “as long as the world is pacified to the degree necessary for pursuing profits, capitalists place self-interest before statecraft and nationalism” (2008: 176). The irony of this situation being that transnational corporations tend to base primary operations within states with low taxation, yet at the same time still require the state have sufficient resources to maintain social order, a strong economic infrastructure and a high level of human capital. Through the taxation of working people the corporations are protected by the state funded services, as Ingham sates, “in return for their investment in state debt, the capitalist received protection for their ventures and interest payment on their loans… [this] produced capitalist society’s typical social structure of two relatively autonomous but interdependent spheres – state and economy” (2008: 177).

Bourdieu has argued that politics – those actively involved within the political sphere – has achieved recognition of its own class, a result of the set conditions available to those who wish to make a career in party politics (1998: 5). Instead of activism within the ranks of political parties, the aspiration for change has been traded for a sense of economic rationality. The right-handed in society obsess over delivering ‘financial equilibrium’ (ibid) while misunderstanding class inequalities and neglecting the costs of restricted public spending. In this sense class is accepted by both the bottom and the top of the social scale as those at the bottom feel abandoned and without, leading to an ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ mentality. There may also be a rejection of the ‘other’s’ culture, the left versus the right, each developing their own unique versions of fairness applicable to all forms of social life. This has a substantial effect on the voting habits of left and right-handed individuals, Bourdieu outlines this behaviour well:

“the distribution of political opinions between right and left should correspond fairly closely to the distribution of classes and class fractions the… propensity to vote on the right increases with the overall volume of the capital possessed and also with the relative weight of economic capital in the capital composition, and the propensity to vote on the left increases in the opposite direction in both cases” (1984, 438).

Bourdieu has authenticated where the fundamental opposition lies between the dominant and the dominated and the importance of the volume of capital each has at its disposal. Also a paradoxical condition where a member of either side may ‘break rank’, and vote with an opposing handedness. For example, artists, intellectuals or teachers socialised within the middle and upper-classes align themselves with those with a low volume of capital and vote leftwards, and lower/working-class individuals who feel betrayed by progressive social programs such as the benefit system and vote on the right; the interpretation of fairness is critical to how individuals identify themselves politically and socially, indeed fairness may even surpass class egotism.

A poignant point made by Bourdieu is what has been called the ‘return to individualism’ which he explains as:

“a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy which tends to destroy the philosophical foundations of the welfare state and in particular the notion of collective responsibility… The return to the individual is also what makes it possible to ‘blame the victim’, who is entirely responsible for his own misfortune, and to preach the gospel for self-help, all of this being justified by the endlessly repeated need to reduce costs for companies” (1998: 7).

The right-handed mentality is exclusionary in nature and although politicians on both sides of the political stage will argue for better living conditions for the poor, the actualisation of this ideal seems lost to the confines of a social subconscious. The individual is objectified and remains the product of their own motivation and merit; the conditions that restrain the progress of individuals of lower class positioning are not proportionally represented in political debate, this will remain as long as a merit-market mentality eats away at liberal principles.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The Acceptance of Class Inequality: Part 1

Section 1: Bourdieu and the Acceptance of Inequality

1.1 Bourdieu and the Racism of intelligence

Racism in its most communal form exist as a confrontation between individuals belonging to two or more groups or 'peoples' whereby an exchange of powers and battles of ideology produces a relationship based upon an 'un-mutual' acceptance of an 'other'. In a sense people can live within the vicinity of another type or ethnicity of person without acknowledging/accepting their civil liberties and/or cultural qualities. Racism has evolved over time to merge acts of resistance and superiority into more than one's ethnicity or biology – racism acts in process, it requires action and certain provoking trains of thought which appear in other forms of discrimination. Bourdieu took the idea of racism to another realm of social discourse by applying its attributes to class in the form of the racism of intelligence. He asserts that racism is plural, and is used as a tool of justification, a way for groups to vindicate their own existence and indeed the domain in which they exist (i.e. social position). The racism of intelligence accordingly possess similar attributes to that of the racism of one's ethnicity or creed in that a dominant group hold a precedence over another by subjecting them to stigmatisation, falsities and prejudice. Bourdieu seamlessly outlines how the racism of intelligence is characteristic of a dominant class within society, he states:

“This racism is characteristic of a dominant class whose reproduction depends to a large extent on the transmission of cultural capital, an inherited capital that has the property of being embodied, and therefore apparently natural, innate, capital” (1993: 177).

This is where the justification lies, deeply embedded within the object of the dominant class. A way of maintaining social order by deception to prove that power, leadership and privilege are derived from forces outside the control of an individual (i.e. the lottery of being born). Essentially the dominant class feel themselves superior, a higher form of being with the right and authority over life’s up-most complexities and afflictions.

Racism has evolved how as an active force it penetrates sectors of society in which it is to some extent inconspicuous – existing at the unconscious and conscious level – focusing upon an individual’s merit and discriminating on grounds of the superiority of one's education and 'culture'. For Bourdieu a problem exists in the strong censorship of the 'most brutal forms of racism', 'so that the racist impulse can only be expressed in highly euphemised forms' (1993: 177). This becomes apparent in the use of language, using language in the expression of racism, for example using sentiments and metaphor without directly expressing a direct racist view. Racism at this level of consciousness may then be open to interpretation as its euphemistic form manipulates the underlying meaning within an expression of an individual’s point of view. In addition, individuals active in racism can hide their oppressive opinion behind a veil of euphemism, adhering to the forms of censorship which prevent the open expression of sinewy racist views while still getting a message across to the wider audience. What must also be considered here is whether certain individuals take notice of their own racism and to what extent they believe their racism to be real or misrepresentation of their character/psychology.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Should we make Politics a compulsory lesson?

On the day of the Local Elections and The AV referendum turnout is expected to be around 40%.

This is only the second referendum the UK public have been offered in history. In 1975 the public were asked if the UK should join the EEC (later to become the EU) and turnout was 64.5%. Considering the change in the population the figure of 40% in only the second referendum becomes even more shocking.

Voter turnout has been on the slide ever since the 1950's.

Voter apathy is a real problem in 2011. How do we solve this problem? It was mentioned to me today that younger people "do not know enough about politics" and therefore "they just don't care". 

John Rimmer (President of The National Association of Schoolmasters) has suggested that Politics becomes a compulsory class between the ages of 14-16. His hope is that the pupils will become educated at a young age and have a proper understanding of politics before they leave and become disillusioned or (worse) indoctrinated by the spin of Alistair Campbell and the likes. 

Cooking is compulsory. So why not politics?

Politics classes at this age would give pupils a better understanding of how UK politics works, but could we keep it non-partisan? This seems to the main criticism levelled at the idea. But if classes could be offered different sides of an argument on the same topic, surely we would benefit in the future from a more politically inclined population - one which could better hold its MPs to account and one which better understood what politics was really about.

Five years ago the Institute of Public Policy and Research called for compulsory voting - like in Australia. But what would be the point if people still knew next to nothing about UK politics.