Wednesday, 20 September 2017

‘Culture is a meritocracy’: Why creative workers’ attitudes may reinforce social inequality

By Mark Taylor and Dave O’Brien


There’s now extensive academic work on the creative economy, to match the public, media and policy attention. Sociology has been an important disciplinary home for this work, setting empirical and theoretical agendas on the creative economy. In this context, our new paper in Sociological Research Online aimed to give some new empirical insight to one of the key issues, inequality, in the creative economy, as well as testing some recent theoretical innovations. The paper is part of a broader AHRC funded project on the creative economy.

The paper makes three points: 

  • Our dataset of cultural workers have attitudes about inequality that are broadly similar to the general population; 
  • In our dataset, those with the strongest attachment to meritocratic views, that the cultural sector rewards hard work and talent, are those in the highest paid occupational locations;
  • Younger respondents who are well paid are less likely to hold critical or socially transformative attitudes.

To demonstrate these three points it is worth taking a moment to think about our data. Whilst we are confident in the analysis and the dataset itself, we do have some caveats. Data were collected in 2015, via an online survey hosted at The Guardian. The survey was part of an on-going partnership between academics and a range of cultural organisations seeking to understand issues of inequality in the sector. The survey was hosted prominently on the newspaper’s website, and was repeatedly publicised across social media and via publicity from prominent organisations in the cultural sector. Because of this recruitment method, this is not a representative sample; however, efforts were made to benchmark the sample against more representative data on the population’s cultural and creative workers.

In total we collected a sample of 2487 people, the largest survey of this group of which we are aware. We asked a range of questions, but here we focus on those associated with attitudes towards getting in and getting on in cultural and creative work. We asked ‘Looking at your creative occupation as a whole, how important do you think each of these is in getting ahead?’’ and then offered a range of options, including talent and hard work, class, gender, and ethnicity, amongst others. These are all well validated and well-known survey instruments.
Whilst the full and detailed analysis is in the paper, we concentrate here on the overall patterns observed in the dataset.

Figure 1: responses to the question “Looking at your creative occupation as a whole, how important do you think each of these is in getting ahead?” 
       
The responses to each option are presented in figure 1. This shows that respondents tended to agree that hard work, ambition, talent, and knowing the right people are very important or essential in getting ahead, while they were more sceptical about the role of coming from a wealthy family, class, religion, gender, and ethnicity.

Of these original eleven options, we generated three factors using principal components analysis. The three factors were around social reproduction, that characteristics such as class, ethnicity, and gender were important to success; meritocracy, that characteristics such as hard work and talent were important; and education. Of the three factors, social reproduction and meritocracy were the key explanations identified by our respondents for getting in and getting on in the cultural sector.

Figure 2: individual scores on the “Meritocracy” and “Reproduction” factors

Figure 2 shows the pattern of our respondents’ answers relating to meritocracy and social reproduction. At the top left hand corner we find those respondents most strongly attached to the idea that talent and hard work explains getting in and getting on in CCIs, while not thinking that class and knowing the right people are important. These respondents narrate the sector as ‘meritocratic’.

By contrast, those respondents clustered in the bottom right hand corner were most likely to explain getting in and getting on as an aspect of ‘social reproduction’. These respondents emphasised social barriers or exclusions, rather than talent or hard work.

Meanwhile, those respondents in the top right corner were those who emphasised both social reproduction and meritocracy: those believing hard work and talent are essential, but acknowledging the roles of barriers and exclusions. Those respondents in the bottom left corner emphasise neither, perhaps believing that success in the CCIs is more-or-less random.

Figure 1 showed us that the majority of respondents believed that factors associated with meritocracy were crucial in getting ahead in the cultural sector, while they were more sceptical about social reproduction. How did this vary? In the paper, we found that people’s income from creative work was one of the best predictors. Figure 3 shows that people who were less well-paid in the sector had varying attitudes towards getting ahead, but that the people who were better-paid are overwhelmingly in the top left quadrant, not only believing in the importance of meritocracy but being more sceptical of the role of social reproduction.

Figure 3: individual scores on the “Meritocracy” and “Reproduction” factors, by income from creative work

These results make fairly grim reading for those who hope that inequalities in the cultural and creative industries might diminish. Almost everyone believes that hard work, talent, and ambition are essential to getting ahead, while class, gender, ethnicity, and coming from a wealthy family aren’t. People in better positions in the sector – those who are the most highly-paid, and most likely to recruit and elevate the next generation – believe most strongly in the meritocratic account of the sector, and are most sceptical of the role of social reproduction. Most strikingly, these attitudes persist whether people come from privileged backgrounds or not; it seems that once people have achieved success within the sector, their attitudes towards how one achieves success are similar regardless of background, and in spite of all the media, policy and public outcry about the inherent unfairness of cultural and creative work.

This post is based on research published in Sociological Research Online. The original article can be found here.

Mark Taylor is Q-Step Lecturer in Quantitative Methods (Sociology) at the Sheffield Methods Institute at the University of Sheffield. His research interests are in the sociology of culture and its relationship to inequality, in terms of consumption, production, education, and the relationships between all three, and he teaches quantitative methods and data visualisation.

Dave O’Brien is Chancellor’s Fellow in Cultural and Creative Industries at the University of Edinburgh, based in the School of History of Art. He is the author of Cultural Policy: Management, Value and Modernity in the Creative Industries, and the editor of After Urban Regeneration, The Routledge Companion to Global Cultural Policy and Routledge Critical Concepts in Culture and Media Studies: Cultural Policy. He is currently working on inequality and the cultural and creative industries.


Thursday, 24 August 2017

What is the impact of my outsider/insider status on the research process?

By Dr Irene Zempi 




Following terrorist attacks such as 9/11 in the US and 7/7 in the UK, bias, prejudice, hostility and ‘hate’ towards Muslims in the West has increased significantly. Muslim women who wear the face veil (niqab) are particularly vulnerable to Islamophobic attacks in public due to the visibility of their Muslim identity. Against this background, my doctoral research examined veiled Muslim women’s experiences of Islamophobia in public places in the UK. Specifically, I employed a qualitative approach, which included 60 individual interviews and 20 group interviews with veiled Muslim women who had experienced Islamophobic attacks in public in the UK.

In qualitative research, critical reflexivity is important. Both researchers and participants have multiple identities. Critical reflexivity entails reflecting upon how similarities and differences between the researcher and the researched might influence the research process and the knowledge produced. Within the framework of critical reflexivity, an understanding of the advantages and limitations of researchers’ insider/outsider status can enable them to better prepare for and tackle the challenges of producing reliable and ethical research findings. As an Orthodox Christian woman, my research was primarily from an ‘outsider’ position. An ‘insider’ is a researcher who belongs to the group to which their participants also belong based on characteristics such as religion, ethnicity, gender and sexual identity, while an ‘outsider’ is not a member of that group. A common argument in the research literature is that insider researchers are more likely to be able to understand and represent participants’ experiences. This can be particularly important in research with groups that have been under-represented and socially/culturally marginalised. In contrast, some of the perceived benefits for the outsider researcher include the apparent objectivity that being detached provides.

In light of my non-Muslim identity, access to potential participants was initially challenging. I found that participants were keen to establish my motivations for researching their experiences of Islamophobia before agreeing to take part in this study. I found that being open, authentic, honest and deeply interested in their lives encouraged openness and trust between the participants and myself, and helped to assuage any suspicions about my motives. Also, the fact that when interrogated about my faith, I answered that I was an Orthodox Christian seemed, in the majority of cases, to contribute towards the idea that I was a person with good morals who followed a religious code, and therefore, could be trusted. Therefore, I was a partial insider not as a Muslim but as someone who holds strong religious beliefs.

Moreover, I found that during the interviews and group discussions participants were willing to explain things in detail, and voluntarily ‘educated’ me about their lives because of my non-Muslim status. Relatedly, some participants told me that they were keen to talk to non-Muslims in order to dispel myths about Islam. In this regard, I found that many participants were concerned about the implications of what they had to say, as they felt they were seen as representatives of Islam. By answering my questions participants knew they were contributing in some way to outsiders’ perceptions of Muslims. They felt the duty/burden of projecting a good image of Islam to non-Muslims. Whilst this question of individuals feeling representative of Islam at times affected the direction of the interviews, in some cases this was probably the trigger that convinced some participants to agree to participate in the study. As such, being perceived as an outsider has a value in terms of encouraging individuals to take part in the study.

Nonetheless, although I was an outsider in terms of my religious identity, I was an insider in that I was a woman. This is important because it highlights one of the ways in which the categories insider and outsider are not necessarily clear-cut and fixed. Despite explicit religious differences between me and the participants, I empathised with them through our shared identity as women. In this sense, I used my gender identity to establish rapport and trust with the veiled Muslim women who took part in the study.

Throughout the study, critical reflexivity enabled me to work towards a deeper understanding and awareness of my own identity and how this interacted with the identity of my participants. Through the process of critical reflexivity, I regularly questioned my methodology and deconstructed my interactions with the veiled Muslim women who took part in the study. Similarly, I questioned my understanding and representation of veiled Muslim women’s lived experiences. Critical reflexivity also helped me to continually re-evaluate methodological, analytical and ethical research processes as the research progressed. Ultimately, critical reflexivity proved to be a very useful methodological tool in the knowledge production in this study.




Dr Irene Zempi is a Lecturer in Criminology at Nottingham Trent University. Irene is the co-author of the books Islamophobia:Lived Experiences of Online and Offline Victimisation (Policy Press, 2016 with Dr Imran Awan) and Islamophobia, Victimisation and the Veil (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014 with Dr Neil Chakraborti).

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Understanding the complexities of inclusive masculinity through the Footy Show

Ryan Scoats and Adam White discuss their recent article in SRO

A growing acceptance of homosexuality in society is not just good for sexual minorities, but it also has a knock-on effect for the ways that all men behave. In the past, a suspicion of homosexuality has often been based on effeminate behaviours, like men wearing pink or holding hands. Any boy not attempting to embody, or at least endorsing traditional notions of masculinity, would therefore be singled out as feminine, and thus, a fag. However, when men no longer fear being thought of as homosexual—because being homosexual is no longer considered a bad thing—this broadens the range of behaviours available to them. When men are able to choose their behaviours more freely, not fearing stigmatization, being associated with that which were once considered 'symbols of femininity' no longer has the same meaning. This is something we are seeing within Western cultures of masculinities, particularly amongst younger generations of men. For contemporary masculinity, having an interest in fashion, crying during a film, or spooning with another man no longer carry with them a homosexualising stigma.

This change in attitudes towards masculinity can be understood through Eric Anderson’s inclusive masculinity theory. Anderson says that as men's fear of being though gay declines, a wider array of male behaviours are socially acceptable. Inclusive masculinity theory has been used by many to explain the improved attitudes towards gay men in sport, increasing physical tactility between guys and the social development of both metrosexuality and bromances.

Yet, some have mistaken these optimistic findings as suggestive of a gender utopia. Unfortunately, not all areas of society change at the same rate. Some areas of society do, and will continue to exhibit higher levels of homophobia as well as be more prone to gender policing. Those who continue to subscribe to orthodox/traditional notions of masculinity are unlikely to embrace new, softer forms of masculinity. With this in mind, our recent research in Sociological Research Online looks at these contrasting cultures of masculinity through the lens of the media; specifically Australia's weeklyrugby league show: 'The NRL Footy Show'.

The Footy Show airs every Thursday typically after 8.30pm Australian Eastern Time. It has run for 23 consecutive seasons since 1994 and usually involves 3 to 4 consistent co-hosts whom are regularly supplemented with ancillary hosts who are namely current rugby league players and/or other athletes. The show consists of various scripted segments related to rugby league as well as interactions with current players.

Using a content analysis to examine three separate episodes of the show, we found there to be inconsistent messages put forward around masculinity. Whereas the scripted portions of the show presented orthodox notions of masculinity, including casual misogyny, the valorisation of violence, and condemnation of femininity, this stood in contrast to the guests on the show: current players. Instead, these guests demonstrated more ‘feminised’ behaviours such as vulnerability, being in touch with their emotions, or flamboyancy. We interpret this this disparity in ‘message’ as a generational divide between the ‘old’ proponent’s orthodox masculinity and the ‘young’s’ inclusive masculinity. The show seems intended to appeal to those socialised in an era where extreme homophobia was compulsory to achieve masculinity. This culture of relative orthodoxy, however, stands in contrast to the younger athletes appearing on the show who were cultivated in an era more acceptable of homosexuals and feminine practices.


It would, however, be simplistic to simply view this as a clash of cultures—the old versus the new—and the show attempts to navigate this disparity through the use of humour. We suggest that the makers of the show recognise that the audience no longer universally values orthodox masculinity, nor is it exalted by the players they feature on the show. It is for this reason that the show aims to shape a version of appropriate masculinity through humour. The tongue-in-cheek style of the show suggests that all involved know that misogynistic and homophobic statements are now socially unacceptable. However, this humour allows for plausible deniability in their position. Thus, this strategy enables the show to straddle the intergenerational divide: reinforcing traditional masculinity to those with more orthodox appetites, whilst at the same time couching their activities/language in humour that allows for the younger generation to interpret them as innocuous banter. 

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Resisting gentrification
By Phil Hubbard - 

This blog offers some reflections on the recent SRO 'Rapid Response'  in volume 21 issue 3.

In my forthcoming book The Battle for The High Street, I argue policies for the regeneration of British High Streets have been accepted almost without question, to the extent few appear to be making the equation between the gentrification they are promoting and the displacement of the poorer in society. It’s this that I comment on in my Sociological Research Online paper, which is one of nine in a rapid response section of the journal on the theme of assessing the impacts of, and resisting, gentrification. While gentrification is a fairly hoary academic concept, and something that has been evident in the major cities of the urban West for many decades, this call was issued in response to the current ubiquity of gentrification as a process that has now effectively displaced the working class from central London in a manner that now demands urgent attention. Witness not just the ‘hipsterfication’ of inner city districts like Hackney, Shoreditch and Brixton, and the ironic consumption of landscapes of poverty and austerity commented on by Eleanor Wilkinson in her paper, but also the redevelopment of inner city council estate housing by cash strapped local authorities who are thrall to the property conglomerates who see little profit in constructing social housing. As Mara Ferreri and Luna Glucksberg argue in their piece, between 2005 and 2032 over 70 council estates have been or will be affected by 'regeneration' schemes, many of which require wholesale estate demolition and redevelopment as mixed-tenure, with more than 820,500 m2 of land changing ownership from public to private, affecting over 150,000 Londoners, between tenants, leaseholders and freeholders.

What is particularly disheartening for those critical scholars determined to challenge such accelerating processes of gentrification is that these processes have be represented as not just inevitable but morally defensible: the gentrifier is seen to have earned their ‘right to the city’, and those that they marginalize or displace are regarded as having lost this right. It has taken the E15 mothers campaign, and the attendant publicity they have gained, to even question this, and for at least some to come to the conclusion that working class communities might have the right to remain in the neighbourhoods and communities that they have constructed over many decades. But there is perhaps not enough said about the way the city has been taken from the working classes, and, as Waquant suggests, perhaps too much emphasis placed on the aesthetic and cultural ‘improvements’ associated with the arrival of artistic, hip middle class gentrifiers who have taken over inner London, and transformed landscapes of ‘austerity’ with spaces of spectacular, artful consumption.

This erasure of critical perspectives isn’t simply limited to London, being repeated in other national contexts. Even in the US, where gentrification has been most debated, critics sometimes appear somewhat ambivalent about urban upscaling. For example, Sharon Zukin – perhaps the most influential interpreter of changing patterns of culture and capital in the contemporary city – adopts an almost celebratory tone in some of her descriptions of the gentrification of East Village, New York, arguing that ‘far from destroying a community by commercial gentrification, East Ninth Street suggests that a retail concentration of designer stores may be a territory of innovation in the urban economy, producing both a marketable and a sociable neighbourhood node’; elsewhere she argues that Orchard Street, also on the Lower East Side, has been ‘successfully revitalized by new investment, restaurants and retail stores’, shaking off its ‘ghetto image’ with no attendant ‘crisis in moral ownership.’ Here, there’s little said about class conflicts, with the obvious onset of re-gentrification scripted as regenerative rather than necessarily driving a wedge between the poorer and the more affluent.

What seems to be happening here is a collective amnesia about why we study gentrification: that is, to expose the processes which result in the displacement of working class populations from the spaces where they live and work. A book still little known beyond those working in queer activism, but highly pertinent in this context is Sarah Schulman’s (2012) The Gentrification of the Mind: witness to a lost imagination. This is a slim but powerful book in which she makes connections between the consequences of AIDS, the literal gentrification of the city and a ‘diminished consciousness’ about how political and social change occurs. Her argument, though backed up by anecdote rather than empirical data, is powerfully persuasive, and relates to what she sees as the erasure of a ‘queer urban ecology’ due to the combined effects of deaths from HIV, in the first instance, and, secondly, the gentrification of New York. Here, she hypothesizes the injection of new middle class money into previously mixed neighbourhoods – many of which were decimated by HIV – created spaces more homogeneous in class terms than their predecessors. The eviction of the less affluent, she argued, reduced urbanity: white middle class suburban cultural values came to reign where previously diverse ones had mingled and clashed. Yet, over time, she argues these gentrified neighbourhoods became normalized as made by the middle classes, with incomers forgetting these neighbourhoods had even existed before they ‘created’ them. As she sees it, the failure of the gentrifiers – many of them gay white men – to acknowledge the previous lower class inhabitants of the area, including people of colour who had been active in the struggle against AIDS, is testament to ‘the loss of a generation’s ideas’. As Shulmann states, gentrified happiness requires the gentrification of the mind, and the forgetting of what has been suffered – and achieved – by previous generations. The physical landscape has then adapted to the consumer demand for familiarity, and adopted a bland homogeneity that, in her words, “hides the apparatus of domination from the dominant themselves”. This argument, though specific to a particular queer struggle, has considerable resonance for thinking about the wider struggles surrounding gentrification, and our inability as academics to organise effective forms of resistance to this phenomena. While not all academics are middle class, there is a sense in which we are all seduced by new emergent landscapes of middle class consumption and gentrified living.

As we wander around spaces like Soho, which Erin Sanders-McDonagh, Magali Peyrefitte and Matt Ryalls argue is now seen as edgy, but not seedy, with its mixture of chic restaurants, designer stores, and creative businesses, we are also fooled into thinking this represents true urbanity because it appears so bohemian, not bourgeois, and seems to signal cultural acceptance, diversity and opportunity. But this diversity is only available to those who can afford it, and gentrified areas like Soho are far from accessible or open to all. The middle class, particularly its creative factions, imagine their access to food, art and culture in Soho is due to their personal worth and hard work, yet their wealth is partly a function of their ability to define taste in favour of forms of cultural capital they are able to transform into economic capital. The gentrified neighbourhood of Soho sets the standard for acceptability, normalizing the tastes and proclivities of the middle-class consumer in the process and embedding it within a particular imagination of swinging, creative London. Schulman argues gentrification is the removal of the truly dynamic mix that defines urbanity, the privileging of a particular set of class dispositions and the disavowal of others. Despite initially appearing bohemian and edgy, Soho shuns real social diversity and mix in favour of an upmarket form of consumption that feigns cosmopolitanism, looks good, and feels safe, but is palpably not for all. But somehow this exclusionary logic has been forgotten. A gentrification of the mind has occurred. We still go to somewhere like Soho to experience urbanity, the juxtapositions of grit and glitter that have defined the urban condition, and taught us the importance of encountering difference. But it’s apparent that, despite nods to the contrary, Soho, like many other inner London neighbourhoods, how boasts an ersazt urbanity not rooted in any particular time or place.

But if the future of our central city is not as a gentrified bubble serving only the affluent, then what is it to be? Here, my own observations on the role of High Streets in promoting vernacular creativity, conviviality, and senses of belonging suggest that representations of incivility and abandonment should not be allowed to dominate in descriptions of working class areas. Following Suzanne Hall’s study of Peckham High Street and other ‘ordinary spaces’, I conclude it’s vital that we value working class districts as, in Hall’s words, these are ‘shared local spaces shaped by habitual associations rather than outright compatibilities’, with the ‘aggregation of small spaces and diverse groups’ often creating deeply rooted ‘local’ cultures and senses of belonging.


But quite how we might defend working class communities in the face of post-political discourses that elides questions of rights in favour of a rhetoric which equates gentrification with regeneration and, as Hamil Pearsall and Isabelle Anguelovski argue, environmental improvement, remains open to debate. The purpose of this rapid response section is to raise such questions, and to explore how diverse processes of gentrification require different forms of resistance, such as the ‘lobbying campaigns against revenge evictions, anti-eviction action, welfare cuts, housing corruption’ described by KirsteenPaton and Vickie Cooper, or the squatting activism detailed by Sandra Annunziata and Loretta Lees in the context of Southern Europe. But perhaps they also require us all, as critical scholars, to be a bit more discerning in our own consumption and lifestyle habits, perhaps looking for more ethical alternatives to the Air B&B accommodation that is one of the prime battlegrounds of gentrification (as Agustín Cócola Gant argues in the context of Barcelona) or refusing to frequent the hipster businesses that are overwhelming some of the neighbourhoods where ethnic and class diversity previously reigned.
Resisting gentrification
By Phil Hubbard - 

This blog offers some reflections on the recent SRO 'Rapid Response'  in volume 21 issue 3.

In my forthcoming book The Battle for The High Street, I argue policies for the regeneration of British High Streets have been accepted almost without question, to the extent few appear to be making the equation between the gentrification they are promoting and the displacement of the poorer in society. It’s this that I comment on in my Sociological Research Online paper, which is one of nine in a rapid response section of the journal on the theme of assessing the impacts of, and resisting, gentrification. While gentrification is a fairly hoary academic concept, and something that has been evident in the major cities of the urban West for many decades, this call was issued in response to the current ubiquity of gentrification as a process that has now effectively displaced the working class from central London in a manner that now demands urgent attention. Witness not just the ‘hipsterfication’ of inner city districts like Hackney, Shoreditch and Brixton, and the ironic consumption of landscapes of poverty and austerity commented on by Eleanor Wilkinson in her paper, but also the redevelopment of inner city council estate housing by cash strapped local authorities who are thrall to the property conglomerates who see little profit in constructing social housing. As Mara Ferreri and Luna Glucksberg argue in their piece, between 2005 and 2032 over 70 council estates have been or will be affected by 'regeneration' schemes, many of which require wholesale estate demolition and redevelopment as mixed-tenure, with more than 820,500 m2 of land changing ownership from public to private, affecting over 150,000 Londoners, between tenants, leaseholders and freeholders.

What is particularly disheartening for those critical scholars determined to challenge such accelerating processes of gentrification is that these processes have be represented as not just inevitable but morally defensible: the gentrifier is seen to have earned their ‘right to the city’, and those that they marginalize or displace are regarded as having lost this right. It has taken the E15 mothers campaign, and the attendant publicity they have gained, to even question this, and for at least some to come to the conclusion that working class communities might have the right to remain in the neighbourhoods and communities that they have constructed over many decades. But there is perhaps not enough said about the way the city has been taken from the working classes, and, as Waquant suggests, perhaps too much emphasis placed on the aesthetic and cultural ‘improvements’ associated with the arrival of artistic, hip middle class gentrifiers who have taken over inner London, and transformed landscapes of ‘austerity’ with spaces of spectacular, artful consumption.

This erasure of critical perspectives isn’t simply limited to London, being repeated in other national contexts. Even in the US, where gentrification has been most debated, critics sometimes appear somewhat ambivalent about urban upscaling. For example, Sharon Zukin – perhaps the most influential interpreter of changing patterns of culture and capital in the contemporary city – adopts an almost celebratory tone in some of her descriptions of the gentrification of East Village, New York, arguing that ‘far from destroying a community by commercial gentrification, East Ninth Street suggests that a retail concentration of designer stores may be a territory of innovation in the urban economy, producing both a marketable and a sociable neighbourhood node’; elsewhere she argues that Orchard Street, also on the Lower East Side, has been ‘successfully revitalized by new investment, restaurants and retail stores’, shaking off its ‘ghetto image’ with no attendant ‘crisis in moral ownership.’ Here, there’s little said about class conflicts, with the obvious onset of re-gentrification scripted as regenerative rather than necessarily driving a wedge between the poorer and the more affluent.

What seems to be happening here is a collective amnesia about why we study gentrification: that is, to expose the processes which result in the displacement of working class populations from the spaces where they live and work. A book still little known beyond those working in queer activism, but highly pertinent in this context is Sarah Schulman’s (2012) The Gentrification of the Mind: witness to a lost imagination. This is a slim but powerful book in which she makes connections between the consequences of AIDS, the literal gentrification of the city and a ‘diminished consciousness’ about how political and social change occurs. Her argument, though backed up by anecdote rather than empirical data, is powerfully persuasive, and relates to what she sees as the erasure of a ‘queer urban ecology’ due to the combined effects of deaths from HIV, in the first instance, and, secondly, the gentrification of New York. Here, she hypothesizes the injection of new middle class money into previously mixed neighbourhoods – many of which were decimated by HIV – created spaces more homogeneous in class terms than their predecessors. The eviction of the less affluent, she argued, reduced urbanity: white middle class suburban cultural values came to reign where previously diverse ones had mingled and clashed. Yet, over time, she argues these gentrified neighbourhoods became normalized as made by the middle classes, with incomers forgetting these neighbourhoods had even existed before they ‘created’ them. As she sees it, the failure of the gentrifiers – many of them gay white men – to acknowledge the previous lower class inhabitants of the area, including people of colour who had been active in the struggle against AIDS, is testament to ‘the loss of a generation’s ideas’. As Shulmann states, gentrified happiness requires the gentrification of the mind, and the forgetting of what has been suffered – and achieved – by previous generations. The physical landscape has then adapted to the consumer demand for familiarity, and adopted a bland homogeneity that, in her words, “hides the apparatus of domination from the dominant themselves”. This argument, though specific to a particular queer struggle, has considerable resonance for thinking about the wider struggles surrounding gentrification, and our inability as academics to organise effective forms of resistance to this phenomena. While not all academics are middle class, there is a sense in which we are all seduced by new emergent landscapes of middle class consumption and gentrified living.

As we wander around spaces like Soho, which Erin Sanders-McDonagh, Magali Peyrefitte and Matt Ryalls argue is now seen as edgy, but not seedy, with its mixture of chic restaurants, designer stores, and creative businesses, we are also fooled into thinking this represents true urbanity because it appears so bohemian, not bourgeois, and seems to signal cultural acceptance, diversity and opportunity. But this diversity is only available to those who can afford it, and gentrified areas like Soho are far from accessible or open to all. The middle class, particularly its creative factions, imagine their access to food, art and culture in Soho is due to their personal worth and hard work, yet their wealth is partly a function of their ability to define taste in favour of forms of cultural capital they are able to transform into economic capital. The gentrified neighbourhood of Soho sets the standard for acceptability, normalizing the tastes and proclivities of the middle-class consumer in the process and embedding it within a particular imagination of swinging, creative London. Schulman argues gentrification is the removal of the truly dynamic mix that defines urbanity, the privileging of a particular set of class dispositions and the disavowal of others. Despite initially appearing bohemian and edgy, Soho shuns real social diversity and mix in favour of an upmarket form of consumption that feigns cosmopolitanism, looks good, and feels safe, but is palpably not for all. But somehow this exclusionary logic has been forgotten. A gentrification of the mind has occurred. We still go to somewhere like Soho to experience urbanity, the juxtapositions of grit and glitter that have defined the urban condition, and taught us the importance of encountering difference. But it’s apparent that, despite nods to the contrary, Soho, like many other inner London neighbourhoods, how boasts an ersazt urbanity not rooted in any particular time or place.

But if the future of our central city is not as a gentrified bubble serving only the affluent, then what is it to be? Here, my own observations on the role of High Streets in promoting vernacular creativity, conviviality, and senses of belonging suggest that representations of incivility and abandonment should not be allowed to dominate in descriptions of working class areas. Following Suzanne Hall’s study of Peckham High Street and other ‘ordinary spaces’, I conclude it’s vital that we value working class districts as, in Hall’s words, these are ‘shared local spaces shaped by habitual associations rather than outright compatibilities’, with the ‘aggregation of small spaces and diverse groups’ often creating deeply rooted ‘local’ cultures and senses of belonging.


But quite how we might defend working class communities in the face of post-political discourses that elides questions of rights in favour of a rhetoric which equates gentrification with regeneration and, as Hamil Pearsall and Isabelle Anguelovski argue, environmental improvement, remains open to debate. The purpose of this rapid response section is to raise such questions, and to explore how diverse processes of gentrification require different forms of resistance, such as the ‘lobbying campaigns against revenge evictions, anti-eviction action, welfare cuts, housing corruption’ described by Kirsteen Paton and Vickie Cooper, or the squatting activism detailed by Sandra Annunziata and Loretta Lees in the context of Southern Europe. But perhaps they also require us all, as critical scholars, to be a bit more discerning in our own consumption and lifestyle habits, perhaps looking for more ethical alternatives to the Air B&B accommodation that is one of the prime battlegrounds of gentrification (as Agustín Cócola Gant argues in the context of Barcelona) or refusing to frequent the hipster businesses that are overwhelming some of the neighbourhoods where ethnic and class diversity previously reigned.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Gender, Intimacy, Equality


By Charlotte Faircloth and Katherine Twamley

 
This blog accompanies the special section we edited on gender, intimacy and equality. Here, we give some background to the workshop which led to the special section, explore some of the key themes which emerged, and describe the kinds of conversations and reflections which the workshop provoked (and which we hope the special section continues…).

The topics of gender, equality and intimacy were selected as the basis for a workshop based on our own interest, and from our observation that recent scholarship has begun to unpack their intersections, particularly in the context of personal life (Jamieson 1998, Smart 2007, Gabb 2008). One conclusion of this work has been that, while some theorists predicted a straightforward correlation between greater ‘equality’ between men and women, and enhanced intimacy in personal relationships (see, for example Giddens 1992, Beck and Beck-Gernsheim 1995), this has not necessarily been the case. Instead, empirically grounded work has revealed the three concepts of gender, intimacy and equality to be ‘uncomfortable bedfellows’. An important trend in this work, then, has been to explore the clash between ‘ideal’ relationships promoted by policy, expert and self-help literature, on the one hand, and the pragmatics of family life, on the other (Gillies 2009, Jensen and Tyler 2013)

In April 2014, we – the editors of this new special section of SRO – convened an event at the IOE in London entitled ‘Gender, Equality and Intimacy: (Un)comfortable bedfellows?’ This workshop was set up to explore further how such connections between equality and intimacy are experienced by men, women and families. At the workshop we aimed to create a dialogue between junior and senior researchers, with presenters pre-submitting papers on new and emerging empirical research, whilst respondents reflected on the papers’ theoretical contributions to the field.

Drawing on very different empirical examples, the authors in this resulting special section explore how discourses of appropriate sexual intimacy shape the personal lives of men and women, and focus on two themes in particular:

Representing sexuality

The first three papers examine representations of sexuality in sex advice literature and ‘communities’, and the ways that these exert influence on individuals’ experiences of intimacy in particularly gendered ways. Introducing these papers, Professor Ros Gill noted that the pieces are very ‘brave, difficult and challenging pieces of research’, which all, in different ways, reject the optimistic treatise of the transformation of intimacy school. They all also look at notions of mediation and story-telling in intimate narratives, which intersect with gendered power relationships in important ways.

The first paper, from van Hooff, for example, explores married women’s experiences of sex as these relate to idealised images of the couple relationship; the paper problematizes what van Hooff calls (after Jackson) ‘everyday, mundane, conventional sexual lives’ (Jackson 2008: 34). This paper explores the considerable gaps between aspiration and experience for many of her participants, a theme picked up by Woodiwiss, who looks at women’s responses to what she calls a narrative of ‘compulsory sexuality’ in self-help literature.  Both these papers focus on the ways in which cultural narratives around appropriate (hetero)sexuality impact on understanding of self and intimate relationships. These narratives around gender appropriate sexuality form the subject of the third article by O’Neill, who looks in particular at the commercialisation of intimacy through a study of men in the ‘seduction community’ in London. This is both a chilling and fascinating case-study into an increasingly ‘mediated’ intimacy. O’Neill argues that the seduction community can be seen as ‘of a neoliberal sensibility or rationality to the domain of personal and intimate life’ (p8). The implications of O’Neill’s analysis, in terms of gender equality, are bleak: the men view women as objects to attain - women who are ‘consumed’ and paraded as markers of status.

All three papers show how discourses of ‘normal’ sexual behaviour are governing the lives of men and women. ‘Good housekeeping has now been replaced by “good sex-making”’ (Hawkes 1996:121) as Van Hooff comments (p9).

Discussing the papers, Dr Meg John Barker noted that as someone who tries to both write, and criticise ‘self-help’ literature, these papers were particularly useful in thinking about the way in which we treat both ourselves (and others) as objects. Barker also commented on the relationship between emotional and sexual intimacy, noting that in all papers, these different kinds of intimacy were conceptually separated, while in ‘real life’ they tend to be conflated.

Sexuality and parenting

The second three papers look at sexuality and intimacy in the context of parenting.

Commenting on this, Dr Esther Dermott noted that the reason parenting raises questions of gender equality is because it’s the organisation of parenting tasks and responsibilities which seems to be the stumbling block, time and again, for gender equality. Whilst transformations have happened in the realm of paid work, this has not been matched in the domestic sphere. Similarly, the suggestion that the transformation of fatherhood is the answer to this problem does not seem to be the case – instead, research shows that ‘intimate’ fatherhood might mean ‘new-ness’ without necessarily transforming gender relations. Rather than continuing with this line of analysis, however, she noted that the papers here take the focus off fatherhood, and refreshingly look at gender equality in parenting through different lenses.

For example, Layne’s paper uses the case study of a ‘single mother by choice’ showing the uncomfortable relationship between parenting culture and the couple relationship as traditionally defined. Layne’s research participant, Carmen, happily avoids the compromises involved in a marriage. She wonders whether marital intimacy is laden with negotiation around household labour and intimate exchanges. Like Van Hoof’s participants who are in relationships, she expects men to want to have sex more often than women and is reticent to enter into a relationship where having sex, even when not wanting to, may be ‘part of the deal’. Carmen’s intensive approach to parenting, whether in part caused by lack of a romantic partner, also prohibits making more intimate adult connections.

Faircloth, by contrast, explores how couples manage transitions around intimacy as they become parents, looking in particular at the tensions between an ‘intensive’ parenting culture and a strong emphasis within the couple on the importance of sex and intimacy. By taking into account the policy context shaping parents’ lives, especially their division of care, Faircloth explores the role of the state in shaping the intimate lives of parents. Morris pursues the same themes but through work with single mothers, showcasing the competing accountabilities single mothers feel they must accommodate in order to avoid charges of deviance. Gender inequality pushed them out of relationships, but also left them vulnerable once out of them, economically, socially and emotionally.

What becomes apparent cross both sets of papers, are the ways in which men and women are increasingly treating their intimate lives as projects of improvement and individual endeavor, which Professor Gill referred to as the ‘toxic individualization of intimacy’.

Brought together, the six articles from the special section unpack the ways that enduring gendered discourses, whether ‘mediated’ through policy, social discourse or self-help literature, shape intimate life, and the ways in which individuals attempt to make sense of these in their narratives and intimate practices. Far from being a straightforward correlation between greater gender equality and intimacy, a look at shifting sexual practices across a range of settings shows that this relationship appears to be more fraught than ever.

 

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