Brexit, Trump and the Dangerous Condescension of Liberal Elites

This extract from Thoughts on the Sociology of Brexit by Will Davies over at the PERCblog provides an alternative take on Brexit and the role of ridicule and condescension that is so often overtly heaped on the culturally and economically marginalized in England:

By the same token, it seems unlikely that those in these regions (or Cornwall or other economically peripheral spaces) would feel ‘grateful’ to the EU for subsidies. Knowing that your business, farm, family or region is dependent on the beneficence of wealthy liberals is unlikely to be a recipe for satisfaction (see James Meek’s recent essay in the London Review of Books on Europhobic farmers who receive vast subsidies from the EU). More bizarrely, it has since emerged that regions with the closest economic ties to the EU in general (and not just of the subsidised variety) were most likely to vote Leave.

While it may be one thing for an investment banker to understand that they ‘benefit from the EU’ in regulatory terms, it is quite another to encourage poor and culturally marginalised people to feel grateful towards the elites that sustain them through handouts, month by month. Resentment develops not in spite of this generosity, but arguably because of it. This isn’t to discredit what the EU does in terms of redistribution, but pointing to handouts is a psychologically and politically naïve basis on which to justify remaining in the EU.

In this context, the slogan ‘take back control’ was a piece of political genius. It worked on every level between the macroeconomic and the psychoanalytic. Think of what it means on an individual level to rediscover control. To be a person without control (for instance to suffer incontinence or a facial tick) is to be the butt of cruel jokes, to be potentially embarrassed in public. It potentially reduces one’s independence. What was so clever about the language of the Leave campaign was that it spoke directly to this feeling of inadequacy and embarrassment, then promised to eradicate it. The promise had nothing to do with economics or policy, but everything to do with the psychological allure of autonomy and self-respect. Farrage’s political strategy was to take seriously communities who’d otherwise been taken for granted for much of the past 50 years.

This doesn’t necessarily have to translate into nationalistic pride or racism (although might well do), but does at the very least mean no longer being laughed at. Those that have ever laughed at ‘chavs’ (such as the millionaire stars of Little Britain) have something to answer for right now, as Rhian E. Jones’Clampdown argued. The willingness of Nigel Farrage to weather the scornful laughter of metropolitan liberals (for instance through his periodic appearances on Have I Got News For You) could equally have made him look brave in the eyes of many potential Leave voters. I can’t help feeling that every smug, liberal, snobbish barb that Ian Hislop threw his way on that increasingly hateful programme was ensuring that revenge would be all the greater, once it arrived. The giggling, from which Boris Johnson also benefited handsomely, needs to stop.

As this version of Brexit indicates it’s not just people’s pockets that can play a part in decision-making (a view that massively oversimplifies human and social complexity) but an array of emotions informing a sense of dignity and related socially-situated perspectives. A similar vibe is apparent among Trump supporters as detected by the work of Arlie Hochschild and in this fascinating piece by a former member of a rural community where Trump support is strong. Inequality and exclusion it would seem are no longer things the liberal cultural elite can afford to ignore, or worse, ridicule.



Climate Change and its Contribution to the Syrian War and ISIS

Media coverage of anything typically lacks a critical spine. This is particularly the case with the coverage of ISIS. Too often the reporting surrenders to a black and white, good vs evil othering of ISIS, which marks them as the opposite of us (the West) and beyond our comprehension. While an understandable cathartic response to the horrible cruelty perpetrated by them this narrative dangerously oversimplifies. It denies the complex history of the conflict, the social, material and political origins of the perpetrators and it quickly wipes clean the role of Western governments such as France who continue to play a massive role in militarising Western Asia.

Some of this coverage is knee-jerk demonisation but some is guided by an underlying linear simplicity that views ISIS actors as somewhat spontaneously radicalised by an extreme interpretation of Islam. This in turn leads them to carry out these heinous acts of terror. Essentially the logic here is A + B = C. However, the social world is far from linear. A proper analysis needs to take into account the systemic nature of the social world and recognise that multiple systems of factors are involved. In this video Prof. Christian Parenti manages to go some way towards providing such an analysis as he links ‘climate change’ to the Syrian war and terrorism. Note he is not saying that climate change alone causes the current conflict but that it is bound up in other socio-political and material developments which together have culminated in the Syrian War. You can see the video for yourself below:


Bourdieu and the ‘Mind-forg’d Manacles’ of Journalism

Bourdieu defined the media as comprised of “doxosophers” in that they disseminate doxa: a set of “presuppositions that are regarded as self-evident and so outside the field of discussion” (McCullagh, 2007: 140). Often lacking the necessary critical training, journalists operate as merely the public voice of doxa, parroting its presumptions. In this way, they create and distribute a particular worldview in the guise of analysis, description and discussion, which unwittingly and uncritically reinforces pre-existing categories of perception (Bourdieu, 1998: 7), along with cultural and social hierarchies. Thus they define for many what is salient, relevant, worthy of consideration. They also delineate between what is good/bad, polite/vulgar, male/female, worthy/unworthy, expert/non-expert – the list is endless.



Bourdieu P (1998) Acts of Resistance: Against the New Myths of Our Time. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

McCullagh C (2007) Modern Ireland, Modern Media, Same Old Story. In: O’sullivan S (ed.) Contemporary Ireland: A Sociological Map. Dublin: UCD Press.

How corporate media ownership and advertising hampers democracy

Capitalism just doesn’t seem to have the interests of democracy at heart – just look at the attempts to establish the post-democratic TTIP. And now we’ve got corporate censorship at the Telegraph – not surprising when you consider the overwhelming dependence of mainstream media on advertising revenue. Despite the author’s deluded dewy-eyed view of the Telegraph’s upstanding history, the linked article makes for interesting insider info on one media corporation’s censorship of key public-interest items. It seems the need to obsequiously protect its advertisers’ (Tesco & HSBC) reputational interests overruled any notion of informing its readers:(Click for the article at OpenDemocracy here).

This isn’t the first or last time such corporate manipulation of the media has occurred. The following offers just some of the conditions of influence or conflicts of interest through which the media’s supposed “window on the world” is smudged via its immersion in the business world (note that I am describing media as it is run under so-called democratic regimes as opposed to the more stringent state censoring under totalitarian regimes):

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Inequality Kills: According to Reports on Cancer in Ireland

Good to see an article in the Irish Times addressing the relationship between inequality and cancer in Ireland according to two recent reports. The article lists several of these reports’ findings :

  • “people living in more deprived areas experience a poorer survival from cancer than those who live in more affluent parts of Ireland.”
  • “breast cancer patients from the most deprived areas were about 30 per cent more likely to die from their cancer than patients from the least deprived areas, having allowed for differences in patients’ age.”
  • “those from more deprived backgrounds were more likely to present late with advanced stage cancers. In addition, they were more likely to present with symptoms rather than through screening and were less likely to have breast-conserving surgery.”
  •  “death rates from cancer in some of the poorest parts of Dublin were more than twice as high as rates in more affluent areas.”
  • “Some of these disparities are due to the difficulties accessing healthcare experienced by the poorest in society”

Unfortunately the article is quite small, far from the symbolism of front page significance, and all too easily forgotten. I fear the class-based, social justice and social environment features behind such cancer rates will become lost again in mainstream media’s tendency towards ‘episodic’ reporting. For an illustrative example see this previous post which highlights how a statement, about poorer people being up to 70% more likely to get some cancers, gets lost in a new report’s classless assessment. Such easy returns to class-invisibility with regard to the reporting of cancer rates is perhaps aided by the media’s bias towards the middle-class experience along with a narrow dependency on a panel of go-to experts wherein the individualising mainstream economist is dominant – although for “softer” social and more lifestyle related issues the individualizing psychologist becomes the consecrated ‘public intellectual’. This narrowness of expertise in public debate and policy-related decision-making is something I will return to in a future post.

Checkout Girl and the Media’s ‘Middle-class Society’

Moffat (2010) writing in Ireland of the Illusions points to an emergent “cultural shift”, accompanying the Celtic Tiger wherein Ireland is increasingly explained as a “middle-class society”. He finds the media is complicit in this privileging of the middle-class experience wherein “what might be seen as exclusively middle-class events or experiences are projected as ‘the normal’ experience of all Irish people” conveniently sidestepping “the issue of structural social exclusion”.  He cites their obsession with university enrolment issues despite the fact that chiefly it is the middle classes who attend university whereas a majority of the overall population do not attend. Therefore “middle-class expectations are being projected onto all people” (Moffat, 2010: 242). Thus they engage in legitimating their own social space while alternative experiences and social spaces are marginalised. In the media there exists no representatives for the builders; cleaners; residents of deprived inner city estates etc.

This is perhaps why I found the Guardian’s What I’m really thinking: the checkout girl article Continue reading

The Classless View of Cancer in Ireland

A report has been released by the Irish Cancer Registry which predicts a doubling of cancer incidences by 2040. I find it interesting how quickly class invisibility re-emerges in regards to cancer in Ireland. If you remember in September last year the headline to emerge from the annual Irish Cancer Society Charles Cully Lecture in Dublin was that poorer people are up to 70% more likely to get some cancers. This produced a brief ripple with some minor coverage in a few newspapers and featured as a topic in radio one’s Drivetime. As far as I can tell the class aspect of cancer appears to have become lost again from the articles that I have read (a)(b)(c). Additionally, RTE Radio 1 show News at One failed to mention class when discussing the report with Dr Harry Comber from the Irish Cancer Registry.

Of course the media seem merely to be repeating the core predictions of a report in which class does not feature. This behaviour is typical of the journalistic practice of episodic framing: i.e.  “case study or event-oriented” depictions of “public issues in terms of Continue reading