Archive for the 'Author blog' Category

The soul of a university: prologue

VC portrait cropped 4

Chris Brink

by Chris Brink

The soul of a university: Why excellence is not enough is out now from Bristol University Press

“Aristotle characterised the soul as ‘the essential what-ness’ of a living body. On this definition, and if we accept the university as a living body, the question of the soul of the university is a question about its essence.

Universities are among the most durable institutions society ever invented. You can trace the idea of a university back to Greek philosophers, or Chinese sages, or Islamic madrassas. Even just its European manifestation goes back almost a thousand years. Somehow, despite their wide variety, there is something recognisable about a university. We feel that if a time machine dropped us into a university of say 500 years ago, we would recognise it, and not feel out of place there. Likewise, we hope that if the time machine brought us forward in time to the year 2500, we would still find universities recognisable, and flourishing.

Such durability must be a consequence of the unchanging essence, the soul, of a university. And while we might dispute details and offer different formulations, there can be little doubt that the essence of a university has to do with the exercise of reason. Reason exercised, in particular, in the pursuit of knowledge and the search for truth. When we engage in learning and scholarship we do so in a certain way, and we try to inculcate that way in our students. We follow the way of rationality. This is not to say that universities do not adapt. They do. They may be maddeningly slow, and they may wander off into detours and dead ends, but they are not ignorant of what happens in society, because professors are people, and students even more so. So when we say there is something unchanging about the university – that there is an identifiable essence that characterises it – this is not an indictment of resistance to change. It is an affirmation of enduring value.

“The very essence of a university, it seems, is under threat.”

Having said that, it must be recognised that at present universities are confronted with a societal change so fundamental it is hard to know how it will turn out. The very essence of a university, it seems, is under threat. Throughout the history of universities, the exercise of reason, the pursuit of knowledge and the search for truth have enjoyed the respect and support of society. But no longer. Or at least no longer to the extent to which universities have always taken such respect for granted. It is hard to think of any earlier time when the very concept of truth itself has been undermined and constrained as at present.

Towards the end of 2016, the Oxford English Dictionary selected ‘post-truth’ as its word of the year. In a post-truth world, appearance matters more than reality, and what people can be led to believe takes precedence above what they ought to know.

With hindsight we can see the signs. In the penultimate chapter of his 1997 book Truth: A History and a Guide for the Perplexed, the historian Felipe Fernández-Armesto traces what he calls ‘the death of conviction’, and the role of intellectuals in its demise. Deconstruction, postmodernism, relativism: the intellectual whiteanting of truth is well documented. Since the millennium, the decline of truth has accelerated. Iraq was invaded on the grounds of weapons of mass destruction, which were not found. The financial crisis of 2007–8 destroyed trust in the probity of banks and the veracity of governments. The widening inequality gap led to the rage of the Occupy movement. And, increasingly, a disenchanted electorate refused to vote as they were supposed to, turning to unexpected charismatics stronger on promise than on experience.

In the UK, the leader of a political party signed a pledge, on camera, against any increase in student fees, and then, as part of a coalition government, voted to triple them. Another party elected as leader a man with no clear expertise but a messianic message, and although 80% of his parliamentary colleagues initially declared that they had no confidence in him, the electorate gave him an extra 30 seats in parliament. A former secretary of state for education declared that the people have had enough of experts. A new prime minister called a general election in the confident expectation of significantly increasing the government’s majority, and lost it. The United States of America elected as president a billionaire with no experience whatsoever of government, but an instinctive mastery of social media and an oceanic reservoir of self-belief as an exponent of the art of the deal. France swept aside both the established left and the established right, and elected a president who had never fought an election, and a party which had not existed a year before.

At the same time, we see a new isolationism taking shape. Three decades after the wall came down in Berlin, new walls, physical or metaphysical, are being constructed. Scotland threatens to leave the United Kingdom, Catalonia may leave Spain, and England voted to leave the European Union. A post-referendum secretary of state re-affirmed the government’s intention of bringing immigration into the UK down from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands, starting with a clampdown on international students. A prime minister declared that ‘If you see yourself as a citizen of the world you are a citizen of nowhere. You do not understand the concept of citizenship.’

Both the post-truth and isolationist developments are contrary to the idea of a university. Universities are where experts come from. The search for truth is what makes an expert. Truth knows no boundaries and no national identity. Universities, for hundreds of years, have welcomed anybody, regardless of national or cultural identity, who has the ability to contribute to, or the potential to benefit from, an environment concerned with  knowledge and understanding. That is why universities have always been international entities, ever since medieval wandering scholars commuted between Bologna and Paris and Oxford. The post-truth conception of the world undermines the idea of a university, and the new isolationism constrains it.

It may be argued that the current developments are just a new manifestation of the old tension between logic and rhetoric. But that would be to flatter the post-truth Twitterati. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle were all fairly scathing about the sophists, but they took rhetoric seriously, and no sophist would have openly flouted logic, though they were adept at twisting it. It used to be the case that public figures who contradicted themselves were held up to ridicule. Reductio ad absurdum has long been a powerful weapon for destroying the credibility of an opponent. But no longer. The Trumpeters have discovered that contradicting yourself is a way of validating any opinion. In the post-truth world of social media you can always refer back to the currently convenient half of your previous contradiction, and trust to the short attention span of your audience to forget the other half.

Any thought of a response must begin with an admission. As academics, we have been complacent in watching the new posttruth spirit develop, complicit in facilitating it, and compliant in accommodating its consequences. Which is odd. How can we say that we strive for knowledge when we disdain truth?

There are two key questions we should always ask about our academic work. The first is: what are we good at? The second is: what are we good for? The first question is about excellence: who is expert at what? The second question is about purpose: how do we respond to the needs and demands of society? Both questions are important and legitimate. We have been complicit in a relentless focus on the first question, and complacent in the face of a growing revolt about our lack of focus on the second.

“The UK and US like to boast about the world-class excellence of their top academics, counting their Nobel prizes like their Olympic gold medals.”

Inequality is about the distance between the haves and the have-nots. In the UK and the US the economic distance between the top and the bottom is greater now than it has ever been. This is worth taking note of, because there is a strong argument that social ills proliferate in direct correlation with economic inequality. The greater the distance between the rich and the poor, the more social problems the state will face. The same, I hold, is true for educational inequality. The UK and US like to boast about the world-class excellence of their top academics, counting their Nobel prizes like their Olympic gold medals. At the same time, just as the rich are stratospherically above the poor, and the super-athletes are on another plane than the obese masses, the star academics float above an underclass of barely literate and largely innumerate people who, we now know, are very angry. They have been fed a sugary diet of appearances rather than a healthy dose of truth, to the extent that they cannot recognise the difference any more. They do not understand the experts, nor do they interact with them. Whatever lingering vestiges of respect there might have been for clever people has been eroded by a lack of evidence that their work benefits everybody. There has not been a clear educational trickledown effect, just as there has not been an economic trickle-down effect. The knowledge gap, like the wealth gap, has become too large to endure.

The central thesis of this book is that universities should pay attention to the question of what they are good for with the same rigour and determination as they pursue the question of what they are good at. This is not entirely a new idea. I quote a somewhat obscure medieval scholar called Boethius of Dacia as saying that the supreme good open to man is to know the true and pursue the good – and to take delight in both. You can read his own words on this topic in the Epilogue, and you can trace his idea back to Aristotle.

We have not been paying sufficient attention to parity between the two guiding questions about the true and the good. We have self-indulgently been focusing on the former. Some have done so by undermining the very idea of truth. Among the remainder, who have no problem with truth, there is a school of thought that the search for truth is an end in itself – that advancing the frontiers of knowledge will suffice as a response to the question about societal benefit. We may call this the ‘invisible hand’ argument: that knowledge will always, in the fullness of time, through the workings of an invisible hand, bring benefit to society. Many of us accept this maxim as true, but some of us feel that it cannot be the whole truth. The pursuit of knowledge for its own sake is necessary, but not sufficient, for addressing the needs and demands of civil society. Its benefits are unpredictable in nature and slow in coming.

In global society space has shrunk and time has accelerated to the extent that responsiveness to the challenges facing us cannot wait for the workings of the invisible hand in the knowledge economy. Universities need to engage with the challenges faced by civil society, global and local. We should do so with a proper understanding of when the pursuit of knowledge should be challenge-led rather than curiosity-driven, and how these two methodologies differ from and interact with each other. The societal benefit of having experts should be made manifest. We have not been clear about the feedback loop between excellence and relevance.

In expounding my thesis, I have found it necessary to introduce some new ideas and debunk some common assumptions. ‘Applied research’, for example, is almost exactly what I am not talking about when I speak of ‘challenge-led research’. Applied research is a solution looking for a problem, challenge-led research is the opposite. I also have severe concerns about the fashionable idea of ‘merit’, and the accompanying socio-political construct of a meritocracy. A meritocracy, I argue, is much the same as an aristocracy, except that those at the top have higher self-esteem. Third, I am somewhat impatient with bogus quantification, and the deferential respect commonly paid to any conclusion arising from the application of a formula. We are prone to confusing accuracy of calculation with legitimacy of conclusion. This tendency is well illustrated by the current craze for university rankings. It takes only a little scrutiny to realise that these rankings are normative at least as much as they are substantive. They create a reality more than reflect a reality. Any competent arithmetician could easily find a perfectly plausible formula and a decent data set that will deliver pretty much any ranking you want.

“Rankings are a perfect manifestation of the post-truth society. “

Rankings are a perfect manifestation of the post-truth society. They give the appearance of certainty and avoid the complexities of truth. In response to a question about quality they offer a single number, which is your university’s position on their ranking. And they get away with it, on the apparently unimpeachable grounds that the result was obtained by a mathematical calculation.

Behind almost any discussion about universities is the question of quality. What makes a ‘good university’? This question, which occupies not only academics but millions of parents and prospective students, is of course only a proxy for a more fundamental question: what do we mean by ‘good’? Following Boethius of Dacia, I hold that ‘good’ has at least two dimensions: good as in excellent, and good as in virtuous. On the latter, less explored axis, quality is inseparable from equality. Likewise, equality is inseparable from diversity, which leads me to conclude that quality needs diversity.

I have now said what my book is for. If you ask, on the other hand, what my book is against, it is the poverty of linearism. ‘Linear’ just means ‘as if on a straight line’, which is how ordinary numbers are arranged. A straight line is the simplest representation of one-dimensionality. When we assign everything a number we have enforced a situation where, of any two things, one of them has a higher number than the other, and so is presumed to be better. Linearism, then, is a lazy preference for the apparent certainty of one dimension rather than the multidimensional complexities of truth. A ranking, of universities or anything else, is a numbered list, which is a one-dimensional representation of whatever reality we started with. The problem is not that it is done, but that it is so easily and uncritically accepted as a true representation of reality, rather than a preferential ordering. I can easily rank apples above oranges; that will tell you something about my preferences but nothing about fruit.

The antidote to one-dimensionality is more dimensions. I advocate an academic landscape, the two axes of which are excellence and purpose. The excellence axis is our response to the question of what we are good at; the axis of societal purpose is our response to the question of what we are good for. As in any landscape, the two axes are conveniently thought of as being orthogonal: at right angles to each other. Such a conceptualisation is half metaphorical and half practical. Metaphorically, I argue, we should envisage the good as orthogonal to the true. In practical terms, what this means is that challenge-led research cuts across disciplinary research (for which we use words like ‘cross-disciplinary’), and the idea of knowledge in service of society cuts across the idea of knowledge for its own sake.

One advantage of the landscape metaphor is that we are not trapped by another common assumption, which is that academic debate presents itself as a series of binary oppositions. It is not the case that we are talking of excellence versus purpose; the good versus the true. Instead, we can talk of excellence and purpose, knowing the true and pursuing the good. We can delight in both, because each can reinforce the other.

On the metaphor of an academic landscape each university could determine for itself its desired coordinates. What subjects do you wish to be good at? And what contribution do you wish to make to the challenges facing civil society? Given your circumstances, location, history, opportunities and responsibilities, where would you like to be located on the axis of excellence, and where on the axis of societal relevance? And how do these two ambitions interact, and mutually reinforce each other?

In the same way as we all strive to be a ‘world-class’ university on the axis of excellence, we can all strive to be a ‘civic’ university on the axis of societal purpose. ‘Civic’ is nicely ambiguous: it can refer to your interaction with your city or region, but it can also refer to your responsibility to civil society – local, national or global. Just as a world-class university knows what it is good at, and has the evidence to back it up, a civic university is one that knows what it is good for, and has the evidence to back it up.

“Locating ourselves on an academic landscape means we can compete when competition will suffice and collaborate where joint action is necessary.”

For better or for worse, the good-at axis has developed as a competitive one – a fact the rankers have clearly perceived and ruthlessly exploited. The good-for axis, however, is intrinsically a collaborative one. Tackling climate change, or clean energy, or antimicrobial resistance, or obesity, or inequality, or extremism, or any other grand challenge facing global society, is unlikely to be the work of some lone genius. It will be the work of committed teams with various forms of expertise, interacting on different fronts. Locating ourselves on an academic landscape means we can compete when competition will suffice and collaborate where joint action is necessary.

And so, in summary, this book is one of advocacy. It is a set of academic considerations regarding the soul of a university. In a post-truth society we need to keep up the search for truth and understanding, but we need to do so with a better understanding of why we are doing it, and a clear commitment that academic excellence must respond to the challenges facing civil society. In an increasingly fractured world, we need to combat isolationism with the simple truth that your problem will no longer stop at my border, nor mine at yours. It is up to us to demonstrate that the world can still benefit from wandering scholars.

 

The soul of a university FCThe soul of a university by Chris Brink is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £11.99.

Find out more about impact, influence and engagement at Policy Press here.

Policy Press newsletter subscribers receive a 35% discount – sign up here.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Bristol University Press and Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

A democratic answer to neoliberalism and authoritarianism

bryn (2)

Bryn Jones

MikeODonnellJPG

Mike O’Donnell

Bryn Jones and Mike O’Donnell, editors of Alternatives to neoliberalism,  examine the problems of authoritarian nationalism and explain that the best hope for greater equality and quality of life lies with people themselves, and in more, not less democracy. The paperback of Alternatives to neoliberalism is out now.

When the hardback edition of our co-edited book was published in early 2017, it was the long, harsh aftermath of the 2007-8 financial crisis and subsequent recession – encapsulated in the term ‘austerity’ – that we challenged and sought answers to.

Along with a growing number of progressive critics and politicians, we named the extreme free-market ideology of neoliberalism as the underlying cause of the economic and social disruption that still persists. Alternatives to neoliberalism offers a range of democratic and egalitarian alternatives from progressive academics and policy practitioners. Their answers apply now even more urgently and provide a concrete vision of a participative society in which power is exercised by citizens, routinely in the communities and institutions in which they engage, and through robust systems of accountability at regional and national levels.

In the last year the need to defend and extend democracy and social justice has become even more acute. The neoliberal theorist, Fredrick Hayek, was a proponent of ‘the free-market’ but tended towards political and social authoritarianism so that business could be executed with the minimum of inconvenience. One man’s freedom…

“Liberal capitalist regimes, especially neoliberal ones, tend to respond to economic crisis and the social protest it provokes, with a shift to authoritarianism.”

However, the current resurgence of authoritarianism in many parts of the world, notably in the United States, Eastern Europe and Russia, and the Philippines, is not significantly the product of theoretical thinking – rather the opposite.  Liberal capitalist regimes, especially neoliberal ones, tend to respond to economic crisis and the social protest it provokes, with a shift to authoritarianism. Thus, they impose austerity on the majority in order to pay off debts caused mainly by financial speculation. The cry ‘we are all in this together’ rings out and populist nationalism is offered as the antidote to ‘the peoples’ complaints.

In reality, political turbulence following economic chaos serves to obscure the real causes of crisis and misleads popular opinion. ‘Taking back control’ in terms of sustained democratic participation is a fair description of what is least likely to happen. Alternatives to neoliberalism seeks to make these processes transparent and to offer solutions.

“…populist leaders and supportive media frame ‘the solution’ in terms of a supposed long-suffering national majority and ‘others’.”

Authoritarian nationalism typically couches the promise of restoring economic prosperity in terms of cultural inclusion and exclusion. These two aspects are rhetorically conflated as populist leaders and supportive media frame ‘the solution’ in terms of a supposed long-suffering national majority and ‘others’, frequently recent migrants or more established but easily differentiated and scapegoated groups. This was the scenario in inter-war Germany and is currently being played out in numerous parts of the world, if for now in somewhat less brutal terms. Why ‘we’ behave in this way is not best explained in terms of the psychopathology of the few – although that has some traction – than in the exploitation of insecurity and want.

It need not be so. The message of our book is fundamentally optimistic. Sceptical of the sustained intentions of remote elites to deliver on electoral promises, we believe that the best hope for greater equality and quality of life lies with people themselves, in more, not less democracy.  However, we mean this not in terms of current populist bombast but in the extension of citizens’ engagement and rights.

Thomas Marshall’s classic book on citizenship published in 1950 chronicles the development of a trilogy citizen’s rights in Britain; civil (legal), political and social. We advocate a fourth phase in the accretion of citizen’s rights: the development and implementation of democratic participation and accountability from the bottom to the top of society. Already many community and voluntary organisations as well as more formal organisations such as trade unions and small businesses contribute to sustain their localities.

Anna Coote, a contributor to the book, argues for a ‘new social settlement’ that would channel capital and resources ‘upstream’ drawing on civic organisation and vitality, leaving to residents more control of expenditure and development be it, for instance, in social care, additional educational and leisure facilities, community enterprise, and the maintenance and protection of the environment.  A complementary policy presented in the book would require supermarkets to negotiate and contract for the provision of certain services such as sourcing a minimum quota of local produce and/or meeting enhanced environmental standards.

“Such redistribution of power as we are currently seeing is into the hands of populist politicians.”

Building a more participative society will take organisation. Like any major change it has a political as well as a socio-economic dimension. It requires a redistribution of power. An increase in democratic participation in locally based institutions of, for instance, big business, education and in budget allocation will cumulatively have major regional and national implications. If sustained it will create a participative democratic society. Such redistribution of power as we are currently seeing is into the hands of populist politicians.

After the virulently totalitarian inter-war bout of authoritarianism and the war required to defeat it, there was a widespread desire for social reform. That reform, Marshall’s third phase of citizens’ rights, has been pushed back and as a priority must be defended and re-established. But beyond necessity awaits the tantalising possibility of a society of meaningful participation and opportunity.

Jones_Alternatives to neoliberalism [FC]Alternatives to neoliberalism edited by Bryn Jones and Mike O’Donnell is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £20.79.

Find out more about impact, influence and engagement at Policy Press here.

Policy Press newsletter subscribers receive a 35% discount – sign up here.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Southgate offers solutions for local leadership

Robin Hambleton portrait pic

Robin Hambleton

By Robin Hambleton

Originally published by Local Government Chronicle on 12 July 2018.

The disappointment of England losing the World Cup semi-final to Croatia last week does not undermine the fact that Gareth Southgate has raised the bar for international football management.

His calm and self-effacing manner, coupled with his inspirational leadership, has won admiration from football fans in many countries.

Here in England Southgate has become an enormously popular public figure. His influence already extends well beyond the world of sport, not least because of the rapid expansion of the hilarious Twitter movement ‘GarethSouthgateWould’, which provides hundreds of amusing suggestions on ‘What Gareth would do’ in all manner of situations.

Can we draw any lessons for local leadership from the ‘Southgate approach’ to leadership and management?

Some will answer ‘no’. They will argue that managing a national football team is entirely different from exercising effective place-based leadership. For a start the overall objectives of leadership are far more straightforward in sports management. The metrics for measuring success are pretty clear – basically adhere to the rules of the game and win against opponents.

In contrast, local leaders are required to pursue multiple objectives and respond creatively to a wide range of expectations and pressures. The metrics for measuring performance are contested and power struggles between competing interests are endemic. Moreover, different interests will disagree over whether a given policy outcome is good, bad or indifferent.

“I believe that the ‘Southgate approach’ to leadership provides three pointers for local government politicians and managers.”

Notwithstanding these important differences I believe that the ‘Southgate approach’ to leadership provides three pointers for local government politicians and managers.

First, his leadership style is collaborative. Fabio Capello, England manager from 2008-2012, was, for sure, previously an exceptionally talented footballer and a successful club coach. But his leadership approach was very top-down. Indeed, he had a reputation as a disciplinarian and was criticised for not allowing his senior players to have tactical input. As England manager he was less than successful.

The leadership approach adopted by Gareth Southgate could hardly be more different. He is very strong on listening and on motivating the whole squad, coaches and staff.

For example, in interviews he almost invariably refers to the important contribution of players in the squad who have not appeared on the pitch, explaining that their solid commitment to work on the training ground enables whoever ends up playing for England to be better than they otherwise would have been.

Second, Southgate is emotionally intelligent. He understands that leadership is first and foremost about feelings, and he recognises that successful leaders need to make an emotional connection. His leadership approach has shown that if people are respected and feel valued they can perform at an unprecedented level.

“His success in enabling such a young team to perform so well stems from the way he has cultivated a culture of common commitment and an emphasis on positivity.”

His success in enabling such a young team to perform so well stems from the way he has cultivated a culture of common commitment and an emphasis on positivity. In interviews and discussion he demonstrates not only his advanced tactical knowledge of football but, just as important, he comes across as warm, light hearted and liberating.

It is possible that you could say the same about Sven-Goran Erikkson, England manager from 2002-2006. While the Swedish manager was always courteous and friendly, he was criticised for being unenthusiastic on the touchline. His deliberate ‘ice cool Sven’ body language backfired.

In contrast, Southgate knows when to damp down the feelings on the touchline. But he also knows that it is important for the manager to let it all out when the team does well. Southgate is certainly soft-spoken but he can also shout very loudly when the occasion demands.

Third, Southgate recognises that effective leaders do not simply focus on the leadership of their own organisation. In more than one interview he has noted how proud he is to be “part of a team that has a chance to affect things that are bigger than football”.

By his squad and team selections, as well as through his personal leadership style, Southgate is contributing to the national debate about what it means to be English in 2018. It would be misguided to believe that a successful multi-ethnic national football team can put an end to racism in any given society, but sport can play a role in shaping national feelings of identity. Southgate is very aware of this and believes that football can play a role in uniting people.

“My definition of leadership is ‘shaping emotions and behaviour to achieve common goals’. “

My definition of leadership is ‘shaping emotions and behaviour to achieve common goals’. This definition draws attention to how people feel, and it emphasises the collective construction of common purpose.

Many political and managerial leaders in local government now recognise the importance of the three ‘Southgate approach’ criteria. They are committed to collaboration; they are emotionally intelligent; and they are fully aware of the larger purposes guiding their leadership efforts.

My suggestion is that even the most accomplished place-based leaders can learn from studying how Gareth Southgate leads the English national football team.

 

Leading the inclusive city [FC] 4webLeading the inclusive city by Robin Hambleton is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £20.79.

Find out more about impact, influence and engagement at Policy Press here.

Policy Press newsletter subscribers receive a 35% discount – sign up here.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Feature Image by Антон Зайцев, soccer.ru (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Understanding the rise of populism and addressing its challenges

etzioni, amatai

Amitai Etzioni

Amitai Etzioni, author of Law and society in a populist age, examines the emergence of populism and suggests ways in which law-based approaches and political institutions can both understand and manage the challenges these movements present.

“Much attention has been paid, for good reason, to the rise of right-wing populism in many countries. Emerging notably in opposition to immigration, and Britain’s decision to leave the EU, this type of populism plays out as a direct political bond between a charismatic leader and the masses, which occurs outside established institutional channels.

Left-wing populism, on the other hand – seen in movements such as the rise of Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain – is often all too overlooked but must be taken into account.

To take an example from the US, when Bernie Sanders ran for nomination as its presidential candidate he was not a member of the Democratic Party and was about as critical of it as Trump was of the Republican Party. Both candidates were initially opposed by the establishment of the two parties they came to represent. Likewise, Macron won the French presidential election, against all candidates of established parties, and created his own party in the process.

Their success demonstrates that, although right-wing populism is not embraced by the majority of the public in most of the nations in which it is rising, if one adds those on the left who are deeply troubled by the existing political regime, the combined result is a large majority of citizens who are alienated and distrust major institutions of their countries. Unexpected alternatives become viable options.

“The populist response to loss of jobs and benefits, increased economic insecurity, and accelerating social and cultural changes is deeply troubling and must be corrected, but their disaffection is driven by valid concerns.”

These emerging majorities have strong reasons to be disaffected. To dismiss their concerns as merely reflecting ignorance, prejudice, or credulity is both empirically wrong, and unhelpful in dealing with the crisis they pose to the legal order of liberal democracy. The populist response to loss of jobs and benefits, increased economic insecurity, and accelerating social and cultural changes is deeply troubling and must be corrected, but their disaffection is driven by valid concerns. To go forward, we must look for paths toward the reintegration of these masses into a society based on the rule of law, even if some of the laws involved may have to be recast in the process.

Modernity is characterized by technological and economic developments that underpin the existing legal, ethical, and political institutions. As populist movements grow, these institutions lose their ability to ensure that these developments will be dedicated to pro-social rather than anti-social purposes.  Like Golem, or the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, society has lost control of these developments and is buffeted by them.  This institutional lag should be closed and society—drawing on its law-making, policy-setting institutions—can then guide the forces that have been unleashed, rather than be captured by them.

This is just one of the ways in which law-based, political institutions in many democratic societies are being challenged by populist movements, parties, and leaders. Changes such as this necessitate greater attention to the role society plays in forming and challenging laws—and to the role of the law in coping with these challenges. An agenda is needed for research and deliberations by those interested in these law-in-society considerations.

“In order for the public at-large to be served, rather than having large segments of the population feel left out and antagonized, we need a major reallocation of power as well as a new source of legitimacy.”

Part of this agenda is to examine how the challenges posed by specific sources of alienation must be addressed. These include the privatization of force, the capture of the public domain by concentrations of private power, and ways in which obsolescent legitimacy can be replaced by newly-formed legitimacy.  In order for the public at-large to be served, rather than having large segments of the population feel left out and antagonized, we need a major reallocation of power as well as a new source of legitimacy. Both of these developments require the kind of major societal change historically brought about only by social movements.

An agenda must acknowledge the tensions between those who seek ever more governmental powers to bolster national security and defense (as well as environmental protection and climate control), and those who believe that such concentrations of power undermine their rights.  The very concept of the common good is contested by libertarians and introduces a liberal communitarian conception of a balance between individual rights and social responsibilities.

Finally, relations are needed between the national communities and the attempts to build more encompassing, so-called supranational (or regional) communities. The most advanced of these is the European Union (EU). The fact that Britain chose to leave the EU is often cited as a key example of the rise and victory of populism. One can also see it as an example of multilateral overreach; of concentrating power in Brussels and violating national sovereignty—before most people transferred their loyalty to the nascent European community.

“This acknowledgement that law and society are deeply intertwined will help to address the challenges posed by both right and left wing populism in these troubled times.”

In one major arena after another, specific sources of alienation require deliberations on how the challenges they pose should be faced. According to Lawrence Friedman, one of the leading thinkers in the law and society field, we must look at “ways in which law is socially and historically constructed, how law both reflects and impacts culture, and how inequalities are reinforced through differential access to, and competence with, legal procedures and institutions.” This acknowledgement that law and society are deeply intertwined will help to address the challenges posed by both right and left wing populism in these troubled times.

Law and society in a populist age FCLaw and society in a populist age by Amitai Etzioni is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £15.99.

Find out more about impact, influence and engagement at Policy Press here.

Policy Press newsletter subscribers receive a 35% discount – sign up here.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

‘Ain’t no such things as half-way crooks’: political discourses and structural duplicity in the troubled families agenda

Troublemakers FC

‘Troublemakers’ by Stephen Crossley came out in April

Stephen Crossley, author of Troublemakers: The construction of ‘troubled families’ as a social problemdiscusses the National evaluation of the Troubled Families Programme 2015 to 2020 interim findings, ‘dirty data’, his approach and methodology and the purpose of academic research.

Academics from different disciplines are often expected to demonstrate the impact of their research and this impact can be expected to relate to demonstrable changes in policy and/or practice. Such aims can lead to research being commissioned and published that is amenable to the interests of policy-makers and politicians. But there can be dangers in this, especially in the UK at the current time where many academics would not feel comfortable aligning themselves with some of the policies being pursued or advocated by our government or other powerful institutions.

The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu railed against ‘lackey intellectuals’ (Stabile and Morooka, 2010: 329) who put themselves in the service of neoliberal governments and, along with his long-time collaborator Loïc Wacquant, referred to such individuals as ‘defector[s] from the academic world entered into the service of the dominant, whose mission is to give an academic veneer to the political projects of the new state and business nobility’ (Bourdieu and Wacquant, 2001: 1).

“Sociology should not be a ‘disinterested calling pursued for purely intellectual and aesthetic reasons’ and instead should be ‘committed to, and involved in, solving current problems’”

In studying the implementation of the Troubled Families Programme (TFP) for my PhD and for Troublemakers, I wanted to adopt a different approach. Drawing on the work of Bourdieu and Wacquant, as well as other sociologists who have urged researchers to remember whose side they are on and to ‘study up’, I decided that ‘muckraking’ sociological approach would be appropriate. Gary T. Marx argued for a ‘muckraking sociology’ which, using the tools of social science, could help to unearth ‘dirty data’. Marx, like many others, proposed that sociology should not be a ‘disinterested calling pursued for purely intellectual and aesthetic reasons’ and instead should be ‘committed to, and involved in, solving current problems’ (1972: 4).

Writing in the 1970s, but with continuing relevance, he argued that muckraking research should help to document and publicise ‘the gap between values and actual practices and in questioning established orthodoxies’ (Marx, 1972: 2), and could be of benefit to those groups seeking change. Such research, Marx argued, could ‘give us a clearer picture of our world, stripped of protective verbiage and without the usual selective perceptions (and misperceptions)’ (1972: 4–5). In a passage particularly relevant to an examination of the TFP and its emphasis on ‘hands-on’ practical support for disadvantaged families, while marginalising structural inequalities and poverty, Marx argued that muckraking research ‘can expose the fallacies in certain common sense beliefs about social problems and show how certain ideas rationalize an unsatisfactory status quo’ (1972: 5) He goes on suggest that:

Such research uses the tools of social science to document unintended (or officially unacknowledged) consequences of social action, inequality, poverty, racism, exploitation, opportunism, neglect, denial of dignity, hypocrisy, inconsistency, manipulation, wasted resources and the displacement of an organization’s stated goals in favour of self-perpetuation. It may show how, and the extent to which, a dominant or more powerful class, race, group or stratum takes advantage of, misuses, mistreats, or ignores a subordinate group, often in the face of an ideology that claims it does exactly the opposite.

Such an approach has been particularly fruitful in studying the TFP. Research by myself and other academics have unearthed a large amount of ‘dirty data’ relating to the programme ‘whose revelation would be discrediting or costly’ to the government and that goes beyond incidental or minor inconsistencies, errors of judgement or ‘soft-core discrepancies’ (Marx, 1984: 79).

“The government claimed to have evidence that there were 120,000 ‘troubled families characterised by crime, anti-social behaviour, school exclusion and ‘worklessness’. It didn’t.”

In 2011, at the launch of the programme, the government claimed to have evidence that there were 120,000 ‘troubled families characterised by crime, anti-social behaviour, school exclusion and ‘worklessness’. It didn’t.

It had evidence that, around seven years earlier, there were around 120,000 families that were experiencing ‘multiple disadvantages’ such as poverty, material deprivation, poor housing, and poor maternal mental health. The government claimed that the programme ‘turned around’ the lives of 99% of the 120,000 ‘troubled families it originally set out to work with. It didn’t.

Families that turned themselves around with no contact with the programme were counted in the TFP figures. Families could, in some circumstances, be classed as having been ‘turned around’ by a child reaching school leaving age. The effectiveness of the ‘family intervention’ model, on which the TFP is based, had, in the words of David Gregg, been ‘sexed up’. Research was carried out without appropriate ethical procedures. Statistics and surveys that formed the basis of the need for ‘radical reform’ were invented. Local authorities were effectively threatened with naming and shaming if they didn’t ‘turn around’ 100% of their families in the first phase of the project. Local authority officers on the programme complained of staff from DCLG phoning them up to complain about slow progress. It was alleged that the government attempted to ‘suppress’ the official evaluation of the programme when it failed to provide them with the support it was expecting. Researchers who critiqued the programme had their competence and their integrity publicly called into question. A parliamentary committee accused the DCLG (now the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government) of obfuscation and evasion in its lack of co-operation with an inquiry into the programme.

While I was carrying out my research, I was reminded of Mobb Deep’s assertion that there ‘aint’ no such things as half-way crooks’. In more academic terms, Bourdieu (1985: 738) argued that ‘political discourses have a sort of structural duplicity’, and the ‘troubled families’ agenda is a clear-cut example of this. It relies on deceit and duplicity at all levels, and the catalogue of inconsistencies, contradictions and falsehoods listed above cannot be put down to individual errors of judgement or mere coincidence.

Troublemakers focuses attempts to explicate and lay bare the overblown claims of the programme, the underhandedness, political chicanery and ‘structural duplicity’ that has been evident throughout the programme, and the symbolical importance of the programme at a time of wider state restructuring. It is, in short, an attempt to rake all, or as much as possible in a little over 200 pages, of the muck associated with the TFP into a single heap.

References

Bourdieu, P. and Wacquant, L. (2001) NewLiberalSpeak: Notes on the new planetary vulgate, Radical Philosophy, 105: 2-5.

Marx, G.T. (1972) (ed.) Muckraking Sociology: Research as Social Criticism, New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books.

Stabile, C.A. and Morooka, J. (2010) ‘Between Two Evils, I Refuse To Choose The Lesser’, Cultural Studies, 17 (3-4): 326-348.

Troublemakers FCTroublemakers by Stephen Crossley is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £19.99.

Find out more about impact, influence and engagement at Policy Press here.

Policy Press newsletter subscribers receive a 35% discount – sign up here.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Variations and Innovations in Care Services: Reflections on the Debates and Issues papers in the new themed issue of the International Journal of Care and Caring

Alisoun Milne

Alisoun Milne

By Alisoun Milne, Debates and Issues Editor, International Journal of Care and Caring

Issue 2, Volume 2 of the International Journal of Care and Caring is the journal’s first themed issue. It is edited by Karen Christensen and Yueh-Ching Chou and is entitled ‘Variations and Innovations in Care and Care Work: Critical Perspectives’.

The articles in this issue explore the relationships between formal care services and ‘informal’ care work and how they are being affected by change in different parts of the world. The Debates and Issues section is written by committed practitioners who want to improve the lives of service users and carers. They offer a lens on how two different countries have engaged with two contemporary challenges: ensuring cost effective user driven support for people with intellectual disabilities in Norway and how to offer creative accessible support to carers.

Two papers from Norwegian practitioners ‘User-controlled personal assistance ‐ the case of persons with intellectual disabilities’ and ‘From institutionalisation via good intentions ‐ and back again?’ explore innovations in the care and support of people with intellectual disabilities, specifically user controlled personal assistance and community based alternatives to long stay hospital care. The third paper, ‘Making a world of difference for carers: the Pathways for Carers project’ introduces us to an exciting new model of carer support – a ‘Pathways for Carers walks’ project – based in Victoria, Australia.

“discusses the tensions that exists between policy goals and offering a service that offers ‘value for money’ (sound familiar?).”

The two Norwegian authors discuss the tensions that exist between policy goals such as personalised care and the operational realities of offering a service that offers ‘value for money’ in a time of reduced funding for welfare services (sound familiar?). Balancing the rights of people with intellectual disabilities to independent living and personalised decision making with the risk of them being expected to accept a narrow reductionist service is also explored. The second paper raises the question about whether group living community-based alternatives to long stay hospital care are genuinely less institutionalised. Cuts to staffing and reduced funding for support of people with intellectual disabilities have resulted in the introduction, by stealth, of institutionalised elements to the caring regime e.g. reduced access to community facilities. The advantages and disadvantages of ‘group living’ are also discussed raising a second question – whether this model suits everyone. Accommodating more challenging needs whilst ensuring that all users are able to live an ‘ordinary life’ is a specific issue.

The ‘Pathways for Carers walks’ project brings to the fore the importance of developing services that are in tune with the local needs of carers and utilise community intelligence and resources. The ‘walkers’ that lead the service passionately believe in the power of carers’ sharing experiences and the therapeutic and physical benefit of walking in lovely open space whilst learning about the variety of support services available to them. Part way along, there is a Carers Seat dedicated to carers’ contribution to community and family life in the region; the seat is enjoyed by many carers participating in the walks.

“offers insights into the value, benefit and challenges of delivering three creative models in two different parts of the world”

The papers offer us insights into the value, benefit and challenges of delivering three creative models in two different parts of the world, brought to life through examples of users and carers experiences. The authors helpfully reflect of how policy ‘meets’ practice and the pivotal role that families and carers play in supporting and advocating for their relatives and the importance of recognising, advising and supporting carers themselves.

International journal of care and caring [FC] - smallThe Debates and Issues section is free to access in all issues of the International Journal of Care and Caring

Read the articles for free online:

User-controlled personal assistance ‐ the case of persons with intellectual disabilities

From institutionalisation via good intentions ‐ and back again?

Making a world of difference for carers: the Pathways for Carers project

Explore the themed issue:

Variations and Innovations in Care and Care Work: Critical Perspectives

Write for the Debates and Issues section:

The Debates and Issues section of the International Journal of Care and Caring attracts articles (up to 2500 words long) from a number of different stakeholders in the fields of care and caring on a range of contemporaneous issues of interest to an international readership. Authors are drawn from the third sector, the fields of policy and/or practice as well as students and academics. If you are interested in writing a paper for the section please contact a.j.milne@kent.ac.uk and read our guidance to authors.

 

Volunteers Week: The Future of Volunteering?

Continuity and change in voluntary action RGB

Out now

This Volunteers Week, Rose Lindsey and John Mohan, co-authors of ‘Continuity and change in voluntary action’, part of the Third Sector Research Series and out now, look at the impact of political rhetoric and public attitudes on volunteering on levels of engagement.

Voluntary action has been a hotly-contested topic over the last 30 years. The International Labour Organisation sees it as an “essential renewable resource” for society. Margaret Thatcher, in her famous speech to the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service, anticipated a demographic dividend from the retirement of active baby-boomers. Subsequent governments promoted voluntary action not only for its direct benefits (e.g. providing services) but latent impacts (e.g. on social capital, health and employability). The most recent manifestations of pro-voluntarist arguments have been the “big society” of David Cameron and the “shared society” of Theresa May. However, to what extent have several decades of such arguments and policies had impacts on levels of engagement?

There is certainly evidence that volunteering is a renewable resource if we look at statistics about the proportions who volunteer. These have remained steady for some 35 years, albeit with some fluctuations (a recession-induced decline and a short-term boost after the 2012 Olympics). Yet, despite Thatcher anticipating a significant increase in proportions of people volunteering, this hasn’t happened. Nor does it look as if the expansion of higher education – known to be a strong predictor of volunteering – has had much effect.

“…while many people dip into and out of volunteering, voluntary action is dominated by a small core of long-term volunteers.”

Our research demonstrates that while many people dip into and out of volunteering, voluntary action is dominated by a small core of long-term volunteers. In the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) –  the only significant longitudinal study asking questions about volunteering –  very small proportions of the population report volunteering in every survey wave. In a 12 year period (1996-2008) most people reported only intermittent volunteering. We can interpret this evidence in both a positive and negative light. For example, if we consider individuals’ contributions over their life courses, a much greater proportion of the population is involved in volunteering than is revealed by one-off cross-sectional surveys. The more challenging issue for voluntary organisations, however, concerns whether and how they can sustain that involvement over time.

When considering this question, it is useful to have insights derived from people’s own understandings of volunteering. We use extensive qualitative material from Mass Observation, tracking individuals’ accounts of the place of voluntary action and unpaid work in their lives. The material offers rich insights into writers’ individual trajectories into and out of volunteering, the social networks through which they became involved, their motivations, attitudes, and their views as to what voluntary action can and cannot do. Most strikingly, when asked about their involvement in unpaid work, or activities in their community, what they discuss first of all is unpaid care for relatives or neighbours. People prioritise what’s closest to home. This is hugely important in the context of great pressures on the social care system:  the prioritisation of unpaid care will limit the time and capacity that individuals have to engage in voluntary action in other parts of their communities.

“People prioritise what’s closest to home.”

Writers also exhibited a strong sense of scepticism about the conditions under which the public are asked to engage in voluntary action. Some writers articulated this very forcefully; for example one writer’s sole response,  to a question regarding whether she had heard of the “Big Society” was to write in uppercase letters:

“I HAVEN’T GOT A CLUE WHAT IT MEANS. NOBODY I’VE SPOKEN TO DON’T KNOW EITHER. IF IT’S ABOUT OUR PM SAYING WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER, IT’S A LAUGH”.

Other respondents articulated a sense of exhaustion – “my days of volunteering for anything are over” – and concern that calls for more volunteering would widen disparities between communities. There were also concerns iterated in the 1990s and again in the 2010s, about funding cuts and volunteers substituting the work of paid-staff. In this context, writers repeatedly argued for clear demarcation between what is the responsibility of public authorities to provide, and what should be expected of communities.

There is long-run stability in engagement, which is positive news. But given these strong views, and the recognition that the greatest burden of voluntary effort is being shouldered by relatively small subsets of the population, our study points to clear limits as to how far we might expect to increase engagement in volunteering further.

Continuity and change in voluntary action RGB

Continuity and change in voluntary action by Rose Lindsey and John Mohan with Elizabeth Metcalfe and Sarah Bulloch is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for just £60.00 or see more from the Third Sector Research Series.

Find out more about impact, influence and engagement at Policy Press here.

Policy Press newsletter subscribers receive a 35% discount – sign up here.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.


Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Twitter Updates

Archives

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print.

The work on the Policy Press blog is licensed under a Creative Commons licence.