Conference: Rethinking Inequality in Historical Perspective
Through working with the Public Engagement Policy of the University of Manchester and working closely with Susan Brown, I was called to do a presentation in University of Manchester on ‘Rethinking Inequality in Historical Perspective’. Pedro Ramos Pinto and Patrick Joyce were the key organizers and invited me to make a contribution by virtue of the Ragged project, as it is both an inclusive project and one borrowed from history.
This was an amazing opportunity which illustrates how academia is trying to break down the barriers and open up the ivory towers to other communities. This I am keen to see mature as a dialogue and line of thought, as there is a great deal of talent outside of the academic world which deserves to be included in conversations and contribute to knowledge as an open endeavour.
In trying to get this project off the ground a huge number of barriers have been encountered, all of which require solutions to be found. There is little help to small organisations, there is low awareness of what free knowledge resources are out there, there are lots of specialist bureaucratic barriers to doing the simplest of stuff in culture these days. It was very good to be able to present a perspective on these obstacles faced to a room of such interesting people.
This blog entry is just to report on that day, show the line up, and show people who are following the project what perspective I presented. At the moment, I am working with a teacher of the history of economics to expand it out into a book as he feels that it deserves that treatment. I hope you find it interesting as a reader. I would love your comments and thoughts…
The day happened this way…
Rethinking Inequality in Historical Perspective
Wednesday, 23rd May 2012, 10am – 5.30pm
University of Manchester, Humanities Bridgeford Building 1.69/70
10am – Welcome and Introduction
Pedro Ramos Pinto and Patrick Joyce
10.15 to 11.45: Panel 1; New Histories of Inequality
Ben Jackson (Oxford) Ideologies of Equality and Inequality in Historical Perspective
Emily Robinson (Nottingham) History and Inequality: It’s the Way You Tell It
Phillip Reick (Freie, Berlin) The Logic of Inequality in Working Class Berlin in the mid-1870s
11.45 – 12.00 – Coffee Break
12.00 to 13.00: Panel 2; Interdisciplinary Perspectives
Manoela Boatca (Freie, Berlin) The Mark of the Non-Modern ? Ascribed Inequalities in the Global Age
Salvatore Morelli (Oxford) Economic Inequality and Macroeconomic Shocks in Historical Perspective, 1911 -2010
13.00 – 14.00 – Lunch Break
14.00 to 15.30: Panel 3; State, Society, and Inequality in Britain
Pat Thane (KCL) Age and Inequality in Modern Britain
Kate Bradley (Kent) Anti-social behaviour before the ASBO
Simon Szreter (Cambridge) Educational Provision and Inequality 1922 – 2012
15.30 to 16.45: Panel 4; What do we want from a History of Inequality ? Non-academic perspectives
David Price, The Equalities Trust – Inequality in Britain Today
Alex Dunedin, The Ragged University – The Ragged Project
16.45 – 17.30 – Roundtable Discussion: mapping new questions for research in inequality in Historical Perspective
The Rethinking Inequality in Historical Perspective workshop is the inaugural event of the AHRC-funded Inequality, Social Science and History Research Network, which will hold a series of public seminars, workship events and a conference between 2012 and 2014.
The Network is directed by Pedro Ramos Pinto (Manchester), William O’Reilly (Cambridge) and Patrick Joyce (Manchester & EUI), who chairs the advisory board. It was produced in association of CRESC (Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change), Arts & Humanities Research Council and the Centre for History and Economics.
I introduced my presentation by explaining that the Ragged project was technically “an inclusive social capital project” and that to illustrate what this means the social capital supplement was written. You can see this below and it is free to download and distribute.
I listened to all the other presentations and then read through the following information illustrating the different points with anecdotes when asked for…
Setting the Scene
Ragged is an inclusive social capital project which uses education as a lens to focus communities and promote interaction between individuals and communities. Drawing on the Ragged Schools movement and the Madras peer led teaching method, the notions of inclusivity and social capital are informed greatly by the social history of Manchester.
Manchester’s charter was unique in that it did not put restrictions on who could be involved in the industrial and thus cultural life of the city… for example the Flemish weavers found it hard to find work due to the closed guild system.
In Stuart Hylton’s book ‘A History of Manchester’ in a section headed Manchester’s Charter, which was granted by the lord of the manor – Thomas Grelley – in 1301 states “One factor that was significantly absent from Manchester’s charter was any limit on who could set up in trade in the town. Many medieval towns had strict controls over new entrants to the local business community, and this flexibility was to prove important to Manchester’s future growth”.
The social capital supplement explains the theory of the model which we are propagating. I am here to discuss the obstacles through the histories we have drawn upon. Anecdote can illustrate each point forwarded.
Obstacles to Access
Informal communities lack access to:
- Academic and professional communities
- Journal archives
- Digital equipment
- Online networks
- Bureaucratic agency
- Legal agency
Literacy serves as a major barrier to learning and involvement, i.e. previously paperless jobs have now been bureaucratized with specialist jargon creating disenfranchised under classes.
Public Engagement Policy is exciting in that it raises the opportunity to concretely approach bridging the acculturation which exists between formally qualified and ‘unqualified’ communities – also known as linking social capital.
Opportunity to Engage
The opportunity for the general public to associate, mix and interact with the academic and professional communities makes everyone stakeholders in knowledge and incentivises involvement.
Acculturation arises from many factors and must be thought through including the effect that the industrial revolution and the division of labour has had in atomising communities, how economically we tend to associate with those who are of the same economic group, how education tends to define our economic opportunities, and how our economic position defines both our networks and resources.
There are complex relationships at play here, and it is put forward here that all three types of social capital are necessary for sustainable communities – bonding, bridging and linking forms.
Demarcation of Stakeholders
Top down models of pedagogy appeal to notions of sovereignty and dominate the modern landscape of who is a stakeholder in knowledge.
This archetype is an incomplete picture of learning and expertise narrowing ad nauseum to exclusion of first principles laid out by Sir Francis Bacon.
The view of education the Ragged project takes is that learning is a multi-directional thing which necessitates acknowledgement of informal learning through prior accreditation.
Barriers to Involvement
The historical landmark of Samuel Pepys brought about the valuing of bureaucratic administration demonstrating its benefits and feeding into the industrial revolution.
In a post industrial age in which we are collectively moving into information economies, layers of increasingly specialist bureaucracy and jargon now stand as a barrier to operating in culture.
Similarly the over expression of positivism and ‘outcome driven’ policies act as an impediment to many in accessing funding for social projects which perform but cannot be expressed in such two dimensional ways.
Giving Meaning to Inequality
This nebulous concept is an ideal striven towards since before Urukagina’s first formulation of economic and civil laws in Mesopotamia. Many questions need to be re-voiced.
There are many reasons for striving towards equality rather than inequality. Indeed the incentive of getting out of poverty is only meaningful when it is accompanied by opportunity. Poverty has evolved with technology to produce barriers to social mobility.
The Ragged perspective rests very much on – by giving the opportunity to learn the culture people will engage and invest in culture by engaging. Open education redistributes qualities and reinvests opportunity in society.
Questions for Equality:
At this moment in history, with the Victorian movement of Ragged Schools held in mind, we must ask where in the economics of poverty is there provision for education ?
Thinking through incentive and stakeholdership, we must ask questions of the reductive positivism embodied in CV culture asking where in the scheme of things does informally learned skills/life experience/prior accreditation get recognised ?
Considering the historical economic and cultural barriers which the exclusive social capital of the Corn Laws and Guild Socialism generated, we must ask how much the same forces are in action in our world now, embodied as intellectual dead capital ?
Lend Us Your Thoughts
The Ragged project is trying to find a way through to become a sustainable project that reanimates the philanthropic history of the UK. It is a privilege to be welcomed among the academic community to gain better insights and have the enterprise informed by such a valuable learning community.
To finish, it seems wise to quote the teacher of the historian Marc Bloch – Charles Seignobos; ‘It is useful to ask oneself questions, but very dangerous to answer them’. Together, through discussion and dialogue I am sure that collectively a pragmatic approach can be made to find answers to current problems through recapitulating our past whilst avoiding the problems of historicism.
After the presentation…
Well, a discussion was had around the many different aspects of inequality which had been presented by various people. I wanted to emphasize that people outside of the academic world rarely ever get the opportunity to engage with the expertise that community has to share – for example, inclusion in peer review.
As well as this, I spoke of the increasingly specialized nature of funding and fundraising. The bureaucracies which govern this area of life are exclusive to even the most adept at their subject (even academics who are specialist in their own field struggle with these demands). With this in mind, many community organizations and individuals get excluded because they don’t know the right words or phrases, the right forms, the correct offices to go to, etc.
This is a very real problem which has been encountered with the Ragged project. Much more will be posted on this subject to inform people of what has been going on behind the scenes with trying to register as a charity. All in all it was a great day and very interesting to listen to all the work presented.
I would say that one of the most gripping deliveries was by Simon Szreter who was clear, concise and recommended a book to everyone in the room: Treasure Islands by Nicholas Shaxson. The book blurb is – “This is the ugliest chapter in global economic affairs since slavery – and secretive offshore tax havens are at the heart of the trouble.”
Also I really enjoyed David Price’s presentation of The Equality Trust. This seems to be a very driven and focused project which has brought together large amounts of data so that the facts of inequality and poverty can be intelligently thought about and understood.
The book they have published is The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better. Their book blurb is as follows: Large inequalities of income in a society have often been regarded as divisive and corrosive, and it is common knowledge that in rich societies the poor have shorter lives and suffer more from almost every social problem.
This groundbreaking book, based on thirty years’ research, demonstrates that more unequal societies are bad for almost everyone within them – the well-off as well as the poor. The remarkable data the book lays out and the measures it uses are like a spirit level which we can hold up to compare the conditions of different societies. The differences revealed, even between rich market democracies, are striking.
Almost every modern social and environmental problem – ill-health, lack of community life, violence, drugs, obesity, mental illness, long working hours, big prison populations – is more likely to occur in a less equal society. The book goes to the heart of the apparent contrast between the material success and social failings of many modern societies.
“The Spirit Level” does not simply provide a key to diagnosing our ills. It tells us how to shift the balance from self-interested ‘consumerism’ to a friendlier and more collaborative society. It shows a way out of the social and environmental problems which beset us and opens up a major new approach to improving the real quality of life, not just for the poor but for everyone. It is, in its conclusion, an optimistic book, which should revitalise politics and provide a new way of thinking about how we organise human communities.
Also I thought that what Pat Thane had to say was extremely pertinent and much overlooked. She touched on various points about inequalities to do with age and gender. I shall be looking up her work and taking it in. Recently she published on unmarried motherhood in England (the untold story) – Sinners ? Scroungers ? Saints ?
To finish off, it is worth mentioning that we all had a social drink to talk over ideas and explore chat. Whilst talking with Simon he asked me where I had drawn my reference for Linking Social Capital (see presentation). I told him that I had taken it from the Office for National Statistics. He then told me that he had coined the definition whilst working through the concept alongside Robert Putnam, so it should rightly be attributed to him – after which he said he liked the Ragged idea and wished me luck.
The evening finished with some food before running for buses. Many thanks for the support of Pedro and everyone in open those big ol’ doors – also in helping raise awareness of the Ragged University in Manchester. I shall pick up on various topics discussed here in other posts.