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Hard Times for Whom? What is the relevance of ‘critical thought’ for those who research the ‘welfare subject’?

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Presentation on theme: "Hard Times for Whom? What is the relevance of ‘critical thought’ for those who research the ‘welfare subject’?"— Presentation transcript:

1 Hard Times for Whom? What is the relevance of ‘critical thought’ for those who research the ‘welfare subject’?

2 Case Study – Homelessness Glasgow GCC will lose £8million a year from their homelessness service – All homeless persons will now have to pay council tax on temp accomm – All homeless persons will now have to pay for storage of furniture – Increases in temp accomm costs. Inglefield Street Hostel (one very small room in a dilapidated building) £493 PER WEEK! What must the ‘world’ be like for homeless people to have to foot the bill for a funding shortfall in order that the local authority can meet its statutory obligations towards them?

3 The Argument Need to reassess the ‘structural’ factors which impact on the ‘welfare subject’ (Dean 1991, Fox-Piven and Cloward 2002, Wacquant 2008, 2009, Leys 2009) Only by focusing on abjection can we really get to the core of the issue of social suffering The ‘negative’ is essential to highlight the ugliness of social injustice and to illustrate just how deeply it affects human experience (Frost 2001)

4 Background Global problem of rising levels of inequality. Epochal changes in employment practises and ideological nature of the ‘cuts’ and the corresponding rise in social suffering. – US average household income fell by 23% in 2010 ( – Forbes Rich List reports that the wealth of the worlds billionaires rose by 25% in 2010 ( – Over half the worlds stock in money exists in, or passes through, tax havens…(IMF estimate $13 trillion in small island balance sheets. Tax havens are the single biggest reason why poverty persists in the world today (Shaxson 2011)

5 Globalisation Rising levels of inequality – Tax burden shifts from from capital to wages / from high earners to low. Desocialisation of work – Flexibilisation / workfare Threat to welfare – Cuts to public spending / further privatisation

6 Under serious threat? 3 discourses of neighbourhood deprivation (Atkinson and Jacobs 2008) – individual, structural, reconstitutive What works (social anti-science?) Regeneration outcomes/impact (what do we mean by employability?) Community cohesion/participation agenda (not universal) Asset-based welfare / citizenship through consumption Structure/agency debate (from bottom to top) Governmentality discourse (towards Agamben’s theory of the camp)

7 The problem with research(ers) ‘Planetary Vulgate’ (Neoliberal Newspeak) – from which the terms ‘capitalism’, ‘class’, ‘exploitation’, ‘domination’, and ‘inequality’ are conspicuous by their absence (Bourdieu and Wacquant 2001) a false critical thought which, under cover of apparently progressive tropes celebrating the “subject,” “identity,” “multiculturalism,” “diversity,” and “globalization,” invites us to submit to the prevailing forces of the world, and in particular to market forces (Wacquant 2004)

8 Un-critical Thought ‘Un-critical’ is no less political than critical thought – although (the danger is that) ‘un-critical’ is sometimes seen as neutral/balanced Gramsci – hegemony (1971) - that the values of powerful groups are almost always represented as ‘natural’ or ‘normal’ and become inextricably tangled up in the power/knowledge nexus (Foucault 1980). Reproduction of ideology leads to ‘cultural imperialism’ which like other processes of domination is ‘a form of symbolic violence that relies on a relationship of constrained communication to extort submission’ (Bourdieu and Wacquant 2001 p.1).

9 ‘silent’ political silencing By this term Mathiesen means attitudinal and behavioural subordination to political standpoints which are regarded as authoritative in the society or the group, so that acquiescence follows and given standpoints are accepted without protest (Mathiesen 2004).

10 The antidote – Critical Thought? Kantian - the evaluative examination of categories and forms of knowledge in order to determine their cognitive validity and value Marxian - trains the weapons of reason at socio-historical reality and sets itself the task of bringing to light the hidden forms of domination and exploitation which shape it

11 It is the system! Horkheimer’s definition of “critical theory” as theory that is at the same time explanatory, normative, practical, and reflexive George Monbiot (on reading Treasure Islands by Shaxson) “I’ve realised that injustice of the kind described in this column is not a perversion of the system; it is the system.”

12 Thinking the World “The real political task in a society such as ours is to criticize the workings of institutions that appear to be both neutral and independent…” (Foucault – debate with Chomsky 1972). …so as to give ourselves a chance to think the world, rather than being thought by it, to take apart and understand its mechanisms, and thus to re-appropriate it intellectually and materially (Wacquant 2004).

13 Critical Theory in Social Science Unmasking forms of oppression and exploitation (Marx), removing the veil of neutrality (Foucault), uncovering structures of domination (Agamben) Ruthlessly reflexive (Bourdieu) Applied! – a social theory oriented towards critiquing and changing society as a whole (Horkheimer)


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