Seminar: Power, Culture and Identities Research Group

We are pleased to have Professor Simon Winlow from Northumbria Criminology present at our next seminar, all are welcome to attend.

Date: Wednesday 9th of May, 3:30 to 5:00 in Northumberland Building, Room 348

If you would like to attend, please email either Emma (emma.h.casey@northumbria.ac.uk) or Edmund (edmund.coleman-fountain@northumbria.ac.uk)

The abstract for his talk is below:

Title: Rise of the Right: Understanding the Rise of Ethnocentric Nationalism

In recent years right-wing populism has risen significantly across the west. In 2017, Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front, came very close to winning the French presidential election. She eventually lost out to Emanuel Macron, a man dedicated to maintaining the neoliberal consensus but smart enough to voice the usual progressive liberal platitudes during his election campaign. If this was a victory for liberalism over an increasingly virulent and regressive nationalism, it rang rather hallow. The huge strides made by the National Front under Le Pen, quite clearly, do not augur well for the continuation of liberal values in Europe. However, it seems quite important to ask why a representative of the dominant politico-economic order was presented to the electorate as the alternative to the ethnocentric nationalism currently pulling France to the right. Can Macron’s unmitigated neoliberalism assuage the anger and anxiety that underpin the new French nationalism? Does the invidious choice between Le Pen and Macron not tell us something about the parlous state of liberal democracy and the chains that have been placed upon our collective political imagination? Might the continued dominance of neoliberal capitalism – which has throughout the west concentrated wealth in the hands of an oligarchic elite and permeated economic insecurity throughout the rest of the population – have in some way influenced the development of this new right-wing populism? And perhaps more to the point, shouldn’t we be asking searching questions about why the political right has been the principal beneficiary of post-crash economic insecurity, stagnating wages, declining lifestyles, austerity and the gradual breakup of the west’s welfare states? Why has there not been a resurgence of interest in traditional left-wing politics rooted in political economy and committed to advancing the interests of the multi-ethnic working class? Using some of the data and theory presented in Rise of the Right: English Nationalism and the Transformation of Working-Class Politics (2017, Policy), I will explore the rise of ethnocentric nationalism and identify some of the reasons why the historical relationship the working class and the political left has become strained and at risk of breaking down all together.

Simon Winlow is Professor of Criminology at Northumbria University. He is the author of Badfellas: Crime, Tradition and New Masculinities (2001, Berg) and co-author of Bouncers: Violence and Governance in the Night-time Economy (2003, Oxford University Press), Violent Night: Urban Leisure and Contemporary Culture (2006, Berg), Criminal Identities and Consumer Culture: Crime, Exclusion and the New Culture of Narcissism (2008, Willan), Rethinking Social Exclusion: The End of the Social? (2012, Sage), Revitalizing Criminological Theory: Towards a New Ultra-Realism (2015, Routledge), Riots and Political Protest: Notes from the Post-Political Present (2015, Routledge) and Rise of the Right: English Nationalism and the Transformation of Working-Class Politics (2017, Policy).

The Re-culturalisation of Poverty

Cultures of poverty, Lewis
Lewis’s work has been used to link culture to poverty

Stephen Crossley writes on the re-emergence of cultural explanations of poverty

(Slides from Dr Crossley’s recent seminar are available here: The (re)culturalization of poverty policy)

Cultural explanations of poverty have a long (and largely evidence-free) pedigree but the more specific and explicit theory of a ‘culture of poverty’ can be traced back to the work of the American anthropologist Oscar Lewis in the 1950s and 1960s. Lewis’ work was strongly critiqued at the time it was written, but it was also hugely influential but not necessarily in a way which Lewis approved of. Indeed, by the late 1960s, when he was still writing about a ‘(sub)culture of poverty’, he was privately attempting to distance himself from it in correspondence with colleagues. It has been argued that Lewis’ ideas, based on small scale studies with very small numbers of Latin American families in different countries, have remained peripheral to UK policy and political discourse surrounding poverty and disadvantage. In recent times, however, and in line with narratives surrounding other ‘social problems’, UK political rhetoric and government initiatives aimed at tackling poverty and disadvantage have become increasingly concerned with cultural explanations, in a new iteration of what Mamdani has termed ‘Culture Talk’.

UK political rhetoric and government initiatives aimed at tackling poverty and disadvantage have become increasingly concerned with cultural explanations, in a new iteration of what Mamdani has termed ‘Culture Talk’.

For example, in the 1980s ‘politicians of the right condemned the “dependency culture” of welfare benefit recipients, contrasting it with the “enterprise culture” of those who seek to create wealth and opportunity’. In the late 1990s, Tony Blair’s first term in office as Prime Minister was associated with a desire to end this ‘dependency culture’. His first term was also notable for his historic commitment to end child poverty forever by 2020. Throughout their period in power, New Labour attempted to address problematic or ‘destructive’ cultures amongst disadvantaged communities.

Fast forward to the Coalition Government (2010-2015) and at the launch of a flagship social policy aimed at ‘turning around’ the lives of ‘troubled families’, the Prime Minister David Cameron claimed that they were characterized by a ‘culture of disruption and irresponsibility that cascades through generations’. A UK government Social Justice Strategy included a section on ‘Challenging the culture of worklessness’ and, at around the same time, the Leader of the Opposition spoke of the need to end the ‘culture of something for nothing’. David Cameron, during a speech explaining how the government intended to ‘transform the lives of the poorest in Britain’, spoke of ‘the opportunity of culture’ and remarked, that ‘there are too many young people in Britain who are culturally disenfranchised’, who ‘might believe that culture is not for them’. This bears a remarkable similarity to Charles Valentine’s critique, nearly fifty years ago, of Frazier’s portrayal of cultural practices within poor black communities:

“While these constructs are labelled and treated as “cultures”, they are nevertheless presented as so lacking in basic elements of organization universal among human lifeways that they stand quite outside any usual definition of the term culture. Thus, life in the culture of the poor takes on the paradoxical meaning of life without culture, or at least without major elements previously understood as necessary aspects of culture”

Raymond Williams wrote that ‘culture is one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language’ and it is this complexity that makes its use as an explanation of poverty and disadvantage so enduring and problematic.

…the use of culture in political rhetoric around poverty helps to keep the focus on the behaviours and practices of people on low-incomes rather than the behaviour and practices of people in positions of power

The anthropologist Lila Abu-Lughod suggests that ‘culture is the essential tool for making other’ and the use of culture in political rhetoric around poverty helps to keep the focus on the behaviours and practices of people on low-incomes rather than the behaviour and practices of people in positions of power who choose to do nothing about continued existence of poverty in one of the richest countries in the world.

Dr Stephen Crossley is Senior Lecturer in Social Policy at Northumbria University.

Twitter: @akindoftrouble

‘Haciendo Trámites’ – the everyday reality of fieldwork

Associate Professor Katy Jenkins reflects on waiting during fieldwork

Trámites, only now do I fully understand the meaning of this quintessentially Peruvian activity. Having yesterday spent five hours traipsing between different local government and council offices, only now do I understand why trámites are approached with such trepidation and given such weight in the Peruvian imagination. The verb ‘tramitar’ is best translated as ‘to process’, so haciendo trámites is essentially submitting oneself to the bureaucratic process. In our case, this was the final stage of trámites that had been ongoing for several weeks, aimed at securing permission to hold a photography exhibition in one of the main streets in Cajamarca city, Peru, on International Women’s Day. So, having submitted various requests in duplicate to various different offices (should it be the mayor; the municipality; the local government, all of these or somewhere else entirely?), I spent yesterday, accompanied by my Peruvian research assistant, going between various offices searching for the elusive permiso – would anyone actually take responsibility for granting it or would it be a request for another document, another thus far unmentioned permission to apply for, another stamp or signature to obtain? We were frequently told that the person we needed to speak to (usually ‘el jefe’) wasn’t there, that we should leave our documents and come back tomorrow, and our requests and documentation were viewed with deep suspicion. Folders were leafed through, computers consulted, colleagues summoned, brows furrowed and heads shaken. Unfailing patience and ingratiating politeness were required throughout, as any one of these officials could decide to reject our request with no reason at all. To an outsider at least, the lack of a clear logic or transparency structuring this process makes it baffling and frustrating in equal measure. Even with the benefit of my research assistant’s ‘insider’ knowledge, this process seems to me arbitrary and at times impenetrable – cultural conventions, tacit assumptions and unspoken hierarchies abound.

These trámites have given me new insight into the, at times Kafka-esque, bureaucratic hurdles of everyday life faced by (especially poor, rural and not always fully literate) Peruvians.

We visited one office of the municipality four times, the offices of the Civil Defence Authorities twice, and municipality offices in a different part of town, twice, each of these visits requiring a 15-minute taxi ride. We have stood in line to pay our fee (when we find out this is required), we have submitted proof of payment, and now today, fingers crossed, we are told the permiso will be authorised. Our one-page letter requesting permission, itself couched in a language of extreme deference to authority and office, has become a seven-page document in duplicate, stamped and signed by, seemingly, half of Cajamarca’s state apparatus. It quickly becomes clear that although we first submitted the documentation several weeks’ previously, it is only by being physically present and endlessly chasing a resolution, that the trámite progresses through the bureaucratic system.

I was always slightly sceptical when people told me they had put aside whole days for trámites, but now I understand a little of the waiting, the frustration, the powerlessness, and the process of deferential ingratiation that is required in order to (perhaps) eventually reach a favourable result

It’s times like this when I wish I did research with a large NGO or organisation that would take care of these sorts of tasks. Working directly with grassroots women’s organisations, themselves often marginalised from, alienated by, or simply unfamiliar with the bureaucracy of local government, makes it difficult to effectively navigate such structures as a foreign researcher. These trámites have given me new insight into the, at times Kafka-esque, bureaucratic hurdles of everyday life faced by (especially poor, rural and not always fully literate) Peruvians. I was always slightly sceptical when people told me they had put aside whole days for trámites, but now I understand a little of the waiting, the frustration, the powerlessness, and the process of deferential ingratiation that is required in order to (perhaps) eventually reach a favourable result, to be given the appropriate paperwork, duly stamped and authorised.

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And so we wait, for lunchtime today, to see if our permission is granted, or if another stage of trámites is deemed necessary….

…Two further trips to the municipality and later the same day, just two days before the exhibition, we finally have our authorised, signed and stamped permission document in our hands!

Reflecting on this experience, there must certainly be a case study in here on Weber and bureaucracy for our Sociology students! How is bureaucracy maintained and reproduced? How might bureaucracy produce particular subjectivities? How is bureaucracy experienced, navigated (and sometimes subverted) by different types of people? But for now, at least, I leave these debates to one side, the relief is immense and the exhibition can go ahead!

Dr Katy Jenkins is an Associate Professor in International Development at Northumbria University.

Twitter: @drkatyjenkins 

A message from a Northumbria Sociology graduate

We share a message we recently received from a former Sociology student

I just wanted to say thank you to you and all the other staff on the Sociology programme for sparking my passion to become active in bringing about equality within society.

We are always delighted and proud when we hear from former students, particularly when it shows how they are continuing to develop their sociological imagination and passion for promoting the cause of social justice. So when we received an email from Jessica last month describing her involvement in promoting women’s rights, we asked if we could pass it on. Here, we share a little bit of Jessica’s message, and a picture of her and her friends. We think you will love them as much as we do.

Dear Ruth,

I took part in a protest today in Paris to mark the year of the women’s rights protest against Donald Trump being sworn in. I just wanted to say thank you to you and all the other staff on the Sociology programme for sparking my passion to become active in bringing about equality within society.

Jessica

Jessica and friends in Paris

What’s different about learning at Northumbria?  

Associate-Professor Ruth Lewis explores what happened at Sociology’s Embodied Learning Writing Retreat in Snowy Northumberland

Final year BSc Sociology and joint Honours Criminology and Sociology students met for a dissertation writing retreat in February. We chose to go to rural Northumberland to get away from the internet and mobile phones so we could focus on writing and critical thinking skills.  We picked probably the snowiest day of the year but Northumberland proved to be beautiful and fortunately, Minister acres, a retreat centre provided a log-burning fire and constant supplies of hot drinks and cake to keep us going.

…wherever possible we get out and about, use our environment and build a discipline- community of staff and students.  We look to connect the ‘brain’ stuff to the ‘body’ stuff.  That is what the writing retreat was all about.

So what is embodied learning and what is a writing retreat? Northumbria University Sociology team have developed new ideas about teaching and learning – we are interested in how movement (in this case walking) and experiences (in this case being somewhere different and being together with colleagues to focus on a common set of tasks) aids critical thinking and focus and helps the memory.  In a nutshell we know that doing a degree involves being in the lecture theatre and seminar room – but wherever possible we get out and about, use our environment and build a discipline-community of staff and students.  We look to connect the ‘brain’ stuff to the ‘body’ stuff.  That is what the writing retreat was all about.

We began with Katy Jenkins’s session on abstracts (the brains stuff – what are they for and how to write them – which was followed by a ‘walk and talk’ when students drafted their abstract. Walking in the beautiful surroundings of Ministeracres and speaking sentences out loud rather than writing them down, helped students articulate the core focus of their dissertations (it frees the mind – we know that as the Sociology team won an award to do research on this area).  This is ‘embodied learning’ approach we take –  sitting at a desk is not the only or the best way to learn. Once we’d had enough of the snowy walk in the Peace Garden and along the beautiful avenue of huge pine trees, students came back into the warmth and drafted their abstracts, achieving something that many of them had previously felt quite anxious about.

Minsteracres 2.jpg

After lunch and lots of conversations about dissertation topics, when staff and other students were able to give advice and support tailored to each students’ topic, we focused on what a conclusion should look like. Emma Casey talked us through an exercise to help students draft their conclusion, even before they’ve written the rest of the dissertation. Again, this was a real weight off the minds for several students, who couldn’t imagine what they might say in a conclusion until they’d completed their analysis.

Once we’d had enough of the snowy walk in the Peace Garden and along the beautiful avenue of huge pine trees, students came back into the warmth and drafted their abstracts, achieving something that many of them had previously felt quite anxious about.

It was great to see students engage so enthusiastically in the retreat and to support each other to resolve challenges on their individual projects. Each dissertation project is unique and students are usually very proud of what they’ve achieved, once it’s all done and dusted. The advice and support given by staff was appreciated and valued, with one student saying: “Just wanted to say thank you for your help today. It was really helpful (and actually just really nice) to have a discussion with someone who is equally as interested in the same kind of thing… Has helped me think of a few different things to explore also.. so thanks!”

Ruth Lewis is Associate-Professor of Sociology in the Department of Social Sciences, Northumbria University.