Tag: Imagining Better Worlds

Telling Sexual Stories Twenty Years On

Last week I attended an exciting Summer School at Durham University for the Centre for Sex, Gender and Sexualities Centre. Here is the abstract of the lecture I gave. More details can be found at Telling Sexual Stories Twenty Years On: Narrative Power and Narrative In this lecture I will briefly revisit my study Telling…

Cosmopolitan Sexualities: Hope and the Humanist Imagination

Cosmopolitan Sexualities is now published My latest book was published in May 2015 by Polity Press. You can find details and a study guide for it by clicking here or the tab at the top: Cosmosexualities It is reviewed in the Times Higher Education here, along with my ‘full profile, at: Review’ From the cover:…

 

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Things can only get better! Another day we need hope!

There has been huge damage to lives in this country over the past five years, driven by an absurd austerity argument and anti-humanist economics.  But worse, unashamedly and almost celebratory, the worst is yet to come and bigger cuts are on their way. Humanity once again has shown its darker side, supported and encouraged by the British media.

The Conservatives have specified just over £1bn of the £12bn of cuts they intend to make in the first two years of the next parliament. These will hurt the poor: a freezing of working-age benefits, a reduction in the benefit cap (from £26,000 to £23,0000); the removal of housing benefit from 18-21-year-olds claiming jobseekeer’s allowance. Not good news. Even so: what of the remaining 11 billion?

Here is a reminder are of just a few of the terrible things that the last Government has done and which they can now carry further.

  1. Poverty will continue to grow: not only we have been ‘going backwards’ and witnessed ‘the rise of mass poverty’ (Lansley and Mack, 2015:Ch 2), the government has scrapped the accepted understandings of relative poverty and waged an awful campaign to blame the poor. The poor are now the ‘skivers’, the ‘drinkers’, the ‘broken families’ – Mr Iain Duncan Smith has worked hard to redefine poverty so that it ‘blames the poor’; and the press have gone along with him. Historians and sociologists have long documented this mode of dividing the poor into the respectable and disreputable poor: and this government has adopted this divide and rule strategy its limit. It is bad enough to lack money: you don’t need the stigma.
  2. The housing problem will get worse. A bedroom tax has hit families and communities and has not helped alleviating ‘the homes’ problem. Indeed homelessness has increased (nearly 2,500 people sleep out across England on any given night); and there is now a recognised major housing crisis. Housing has become impossible for first time buyers and schemes introduced by the government have benefited renters?
  3. The Health Crisis Continues – this government forced through the Health and Social Care Act, 2012 as the biggest re-organisation of the NHS since 1948 . Bold indeed, as it was not even in their Manifesto. Being a Coalition government might have suggested a little moderation but they rushed it through in their first year. Those who work in the health services have never been more demoralised and by most accounts the change has been a disaster. What will they do now? Watch this space.
  4. Hunger grows: One Million plus are on the food banks, which the government sees as a good thing. I had thought we were over this stage of poverty in advanced industrialised society, but no! It might have been good for the United States ( one of the most unequal societies in the world!), but surely we did not need it.
  5. Work has become unstable, with ever lower pay and declining rights. The Coalition boasted there are more people in work (2 million!), but the conditions of this work have become increasingly unbearable and untenable. Zero hours Contracts earn less than half the average age (£326 compared with £482)The number of people paid below a Living Wage has increased by more than 400,000 in the last 12 months.Is this the kind of society we want to see in the future- with workers living in minimal and insecure conditions?
  6. There have been cut backs in all the services of ‘working people’. The most deprived local authorities have seen cuts of £220 per head, compared to £40 per head in the least deprived (Hastings, 2015)A 2015 Rowntree Report on the Cost of the Cuts shows that: Local authorities in England lost 27 per cent of their spending power between 2010/11 and 2015/16 in real terms. Some services, such as planning and ‘supporting people’ (discretionary social care with a preventative or enabling focus) have seen cumulative cuts to the order of 45 per cent. People are beginning to notice the impact of the cuts with an increasing proportion of households finding services inadequate or unaffordable. (Hastings et al 2015). These cuts have been made very widely and have left the social fabric of the UK in a bad way. We find closure and/or heavy cuts in
    Elderly care homes have already been slashed between 2010-14 by nearly a fifth, whilst the number of adults receiving local authority care services has been cut by nearly a third from 1.8m to 1.3m. Yet the demand for care home places is rising inexorably as the number of over-85s is forecast to rise by 60% by 2035.
    Legal Aid Benefits for the needy have been severely cut – especially for the Disabled.
    Probation service, has been more or less closed down.
    Prisons (which are now at their fullest despite the lower crime rates)
    Local Libraries closed
    Local arts closed
    Women’s Refuges closed and so on….
  7. ‘Our’ wealth has been sold off. We have now witnessed privatisation of health, crime, care and education – by stealth! We are getting used to the great sell of- whereby new profit based companies ( whose identity is not always transparent) become part of the sell of the state, companies whose motives is profit and who often can be shown to have failed. See James Meek’s study Treasure Island: Why Britain now Belongs to (2015 2nd ed Verso) looks at privatised mail, railways, water, electricity, health and homes;  and shows how a real shift has occurred between the rich v the poor.
  8.  Our culture is becoming sleazy. It blames the the poor and scapegoats the immigrant,and is encouraged in this by a media which led the campaign to get the conservatives back to power. It cannot be trusted yet it pervades our lives.
  9. Inequalities will continue to grow as the rich will get even richer: most of the conservative policies have facilitated this. We seem now to be living under a Plutocracy: the rule of the rich and the richest.
  10. and more…….

This is one of those dark days for humanity as the British Election results gives little sense of a more human, caring world. But we have been here before. It is yet another day we need hope.

 

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On the current problem of inequality: The rich are getting richer

Inequality “There’s been class warfare going on for the last twenty years, and my class has won. We’re the ones that have gotten our tex rates reduced”. Warren Buffett   Last Sunday saw the publication of the Sunday Times Rich (April 26th 2015). It showed that the wealth of Britain’s richest people has more than doubled…

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Oh cruel world!

Humanity’s inhumanity to humanity is haunting the ballot box.

Welfare states tumble

Health services crumble

With austerity conniving.

Rich get richer

Poor get poorer

With markets driving.

Suffering is ignored

Environment forgotten

With prejudices thriving.

Oh cruel world!

Humanity’s inhumanity to humanity is haunting the ballot box

Against Austerity

Against Austerity   Austerity is anti- humanist. It takes money and wealth as the starting point rather than people. It celebrates usury, credit and the rich. It erodes human value;  and soon becomes insensitive to the widespread suffering of human beings that it generates. Austerity invariably fails – making for more hardship and inequality. The…

 INSPIRATIONS: PETER TOWNSEND (1928-2009)

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Peter Townsend was the founding Professor of Sociology at the University of Essex and he has been an inspiration for many, including me. I first read his study of care of the elderly – The Last Refuge – as a student in the mid 1960’s. His book was enormously influential at the time. I was later to have the privilege of teaching with him.  Most famously he developed the idea of relative poverty and he lived to see it being widely accepted and applied  in many countries across the world.

But it has now been rejected by the current coalition government, who have returned us to the old language of the disreputable poor: the skivers and the scroungers , ideas we thought had been laid to rest. This government has displayed a dire form of anti-humanity which has distressed large numbers of people. If it returns to power, it plans to take it even further with even deeper currently unspecified cuts into welfare of between £11-30 billion pounds.   I sigh with disbelief and horror. It would be cruel and nasty government. Poor Peter would turn in his grave at the horrors being perpetrated  and the loss of much of his life’s work.

Let’s recall the final words of his book, The Last Refuge (1959):

We look back with horror at some of the cruelties perpetrated in the 1860’s, just as our descendants, a hundred years hence, will look back with horror at some of the cruelties we perpetrate today. Possibly the ultimate test of the quality of a free, democratic and prosperous society is to be found in the standards of freedom,  democracy and prosperity enjoyed by its weakest member.

I am already starting to feel the horror!

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INSPIRATIONS:MARTIN LUTHER KING

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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the central figure of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s in America. A Christian Humanist who believed in the power of non-violence and love, he was assassinated by a lone gunman on 4 April 1968 on a motel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee as he prepared to attend a rally in support of striking sanitation workers.

April 4th is my birthday and so his assassination is always a date for me to remember.

He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977, and a posthumous Congressional Gold Medal in 2004.

I find his compilation book A Testament of Hope remains  an inspirational book.

The Making of the Modern Homosexual Revisited

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‘The Making of the Modern Homosexual’ Revisited

 A discussion between Ken Plummer, Jeffrey Weeks and other contributors chaired by Gregg Blachford; with an update with Róisín Ryan-Flood was held in the Sociology Department at the University of Essex on Thursday March 19th 2015. The Making of the Modern Homosexual was published in June 1981 in hardback and paperback. The book was inspired by Mary McIntosh’s article ‘The Homosexual Role” Social Problems Vol. 16, No 2, Fall 1968 which was republished in the book and followed by a discussion. The book was developed in an early workshop, linked to an Open University Second Level Intro to Sociology Course (Study Section 8), and held at Essex in 1979. (The O.U. programme ran for over a decade, throughout the 1980’s.)

The Book ‘Blurb’

‘Is the “homosexual” a type of person that has been with us in various guises throughout history? Is he or she simply a “being” that we are slowly discovering and understanding better? Or is the “homosexual” simply an invention of our century? The authors of this original and important new work take this last view and argue that although “same-sex” sexual experiences may have existed throughout history, the notion of the “homosexual” is a peculiarly modern idea, which has profound consequences in the structuring of recent homosexual experiences. The essays in this book take the contemporary construction of the homosexual as their common concern’.

The Book Contents

Part One: The Making of a Sociology of Homosexuality

  1. Building a Sociology of Homosexuality (Ken Plummer)
  2. ‘The Homosexual Role’ (Mary McIntosh); with interview (McIntosh, Weeks, Plummer)

Part Two: Directions for Enquiry

  1. Homosexual Categories (Ken Plummer)
  2. Discourse, Desire And Sexual Deviance: Some Problems In The History Of Historiography (Jeffrey Weeks)
  3. Liberating Lesbian Research (Annabel Faraday)

Part Three: The Making Of The `Modern Male Homosexual: Explorations In Research

  1. Pansies, Perverts And Macho Men: Changing Conceptions Of Male Homosexuality (John Marshall)
  2. Gender Confusions: Psychological And Psychiatric Conceptions Of Transvestism And Transexualism (Dave King)
  3. Male Dominance And The Gay World (Gregg Blachford)

Appendices on Research

Some images from those early days -1980

A day meeting to discuss the book and organised by the Open University who used many images for their programme broadcast throughout the 1980’s. The photos show Jeffrey Weeks, Ken Plummer, Gregg Blachford, John Marshall, Mary McIntosh and Annabel Faraday.

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INSPIRATIONS: ERICH FROMM (1900-1980)

I first encountered the work of Eric Fromm as a graduate student in the 1960’s through his influential and best selling work,  Escape from Freedom/ Fear of Freedom (1941). As he summarisese the book:

“There is only one possible, productive solution for the relationship of individualized man with the world: his active solidarity with all men and his spontaneous activity, love and work, which unite him again with the world, not by primary ties but as a free and independent individual…. However, if the economic, social and political conditions… do not offer a basis for the realization of individuality in the sense just mentioned, while at the same time people have lost those ties which gave them security, this lag makes freedom an unbearable burden. It then becomes identical with doubt, with a kind of life which lacks meaning and direction. Powerful tendencies arise to escape from this kind of freedom into submission or some kind of relationship to man and the world which promises relief from uncertainty, even if it deprives the individual of his freedom.” (Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom [N.Y.: Rinehart, 1941], pp. 36–7

As I recently have been reading a magnificent biography on his life by Lawrence J. Friedman, I increasingly realise how he has been a persistent, quiet influence. Of course he fell out of favour with many ‘hip’ theorists because he is an outspoken humanist;  but his work does seem to have had  a world wide impact- even now. He introduced me to the important idea of bridging Freud with Marx. An early Freudian (and a life -long clinician) , Freud soon disowned Fromm’s  humanism ( Fromm turned to a theory of ‘characterology’- about how people’s personalities  are shaped by their society). He was also an early Marxist ( and life-long socialists activist), and a member of the Frankfurt School –  a key figure in assisting their move New York under the Nazi threat; but here again his humanism put him in disfavour too ( Marcuse wrote a scathing influential attack on him and his work). Some of his later work is seen as a little superficial – The Art of Love is perhaps his best seller. For me though he sets an agenda for a humanist psychology making a bond between the human being and society’s regulation – the damage that is usually done here and especially so under capitalism. Love is the answer.

 

Lawrence Friedman’s new book on Fromm – THE LIVES OF ERICH FROMM: LOVE”S PROPHET (2013) is a marvellous intellectual biography and well worth reading.

Lawrence Friedman's new book on Fromm - THE LIVES OF ERICH FROMM: LOVE"S PROPHET (2013) is a marvellous intellectual biography and well worth  reading.

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