The Tragedy of the Commons People: A Marmot Overview

This presentation explores working class in terms of permissions and allowances. Making an analysis of classifications as forms of empirical topography rather than cultural insignia, this examines notions of how intersectionality and verticality play out in terms of recognition, valuation and dehumanisation.

Michael Marmot
Michael Marmot


Making use of Ann Cahill’s work on ‘derivatization’ as a means to move beyond objectification theories, it offers further explanatory power articulating the barriers and challenges met by those at the bottom of power differentials. Cahill’s work gives an essential means to recognizing the dehumanization psychology at work in forms of exploitation.


This analysis is set out against the historical view of working classes and peoples displaced from ancestral commons. These groupings of people have as a pre-requisit for subsistence the necessity of performing to the desires of a sanctioned hierarchy which offers permission and validation within the hierarchy. Without performing people are excluded.


The presentation looks at the lack of representation of performative peoples in history understanding how multiple outgroup signifiers intersect in the circumstance of an individual.


These ideas are plotted against the backdrop of Michael Marmot’s longitudinal work on ‘status syndrome’ which documents how the lower the status, the higher risk of illness and death, and consequently the shorter the life expectancy.

Alan Moore
Alan Moore


“Her point is that despite the very real continuing abuses born of anti-Semitism, born of racism and sexism and homophobia, there are MPs and leaders who are female, Jewish, black or gay. There are none who are poor. There never have been, and there never will be. Every decade since society’s inception has been witness to a holocaust of paupers, so enormous and perpetual that it has become wallpaper, unnoticed, unreported.”

Alan Moore, Jerusalem (2016)


Mary and Fred; Silence in the Story of History

Mary Burns was the lifelong partner and lover of Frederick Engels. She was a working-class Irish woman who lived in Salford in what is now Greater Manchester. The world is privy to what gets ascribed to Engels as one of the great thinkers, but it is little wondered about or commented on of how much his work owes to her an intellectual debt.


Not much is known or written about Mary Burns just as we dont hear much spoken about the inner philosophical lives of the ‘servants’ of Marcus Aurelius. The accounts of Engels are adorned with epithets such as journalist, philosopher, historian, political scientist, sociologist, and businessman. Mary Burns is scarse known other than being lover of Engels. We don’t even have a record of where her body was buried.



After studying historical documents which make passing reference to Mary Burns I am suggesting that she was at the center of a series of intersecting prejudices which served to effectively silence her erasing her from history almost entirely. Kimberlé Crenshaw’s theoretical framework of intersectionality (Crenshaw, 1989) illustrates how the life of Mary Burns was “theoretically erased” and Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s theory of power and the production of history (Trouillot, 2015, p.25) accounts for her historical reality being erased and replaced with silences.


There is too much detail to include in the scope of this paper so I have created for the interested reader a detailed study of what we might know about Mary Burns’ life and influence in Appendix A to this paper. There you will see a practical demonstration of the effects of the theoretical framework I am detailing here which offers a way of understanding ‘workingclassness’ as subaltern.


My focus is to articulate the tragedy which befalls the people who at one point could draw sufficiency from commons but who have been coercively dispossessed from those means; as a result, this population made precarious must perform in a hierarchy of permissions and allowances for access to sufficiency. Mary Burns is one of uncounted examples who have been wiped from memory and representation in similar fashions.


Burns was born into a family which was a part of the Irish diaspora. A people victim to chronic and dire forms of racism, including overt epistemicide, purpetrated by the British government banning all forms of education for the Catholic Irish population.


She a woman living in a country and time which barely recognised women beyond a cult of domesticity. Burns lived in a time when women were not allowed to own property, they were not allowed to vote, and they had scant representation in law bar being regarded as the property of a man.


The dominant reality which she lived with was the fact that she was financially poor. This I argue is significant not just a result of being of outsider cultures pushed to the margins of society, not just as a result of being of a gender systematically dispossessed over the long arc of history, but also because being poor is promoted as a mark of deviance in and of itself. In this way financial poverty brings itself about because it is used to distinguish people who have transgressed societal norms. As I argue in Appendix A, poverty has become a sort of descending double signifier in the same way financial wealth has become an ascending double signifier.


These realities intersected in the life of Mary Burns resulting in her devaluation and dehumanisation where ultimately her voice was removed to be replaced by silence and overlaid with culturally produced ‘facts’. This silence represents non-recognition, non-acknowledgement, dehumanization, devaluation and an extensive, profound and structural violence which is instituted on those who are uprooted from sufficiency to perform for a hierarchy of privilege that patterns society.


Precarity: Displacement from collective sufficiency of commons

This section of the presentation explores the historical pattern of law and land reform which created the conditions for a precarious population dispossessed from ancestral rights associated with sufficiency uses of the land (the commons aka shared pool resources). It is important to understand the changing circumstances in which people found themselves in order to apprehend how large populations came to be working in an industrial landscape often in poor conditions and for insufficient remuneration.


This offers an analysis of the creation of classes of people whose existence is rooted in working (coersed performance) via the artificial production of precarity through their dispossession from commons as forms of wealth. Precarity describes primary qualities of life which embody uncertain and unhealthy existence; ones which lack predictability and the affordances of planning, security of income through labour as a feature, and sufficiency of material and psychological aspects important for wellbeing.


Here I offer a potted history examining how displacement of populations from the means of sufficiency farming over centuries has created large urbanized populations which exist under conditions of precarity forcing dependence on inclusion in hierarchies of financial status chiefly expressed through opportunities of workfulness. This practice of enclosing the means of sufficiency extends to the present day through enclosure of portions of human capital (for example, with intellectual property and professional qualification) traditionally inalienably associated with the individual.


Displacement of populations from the means of sufficiency farming over centuries has created large urbanized populations which exist under conditions of precarity having become dependent on inclusion in hierarchies of financial status chiefly expressed through opportunities of workfulness. This enclosing of sufficiency extends to the present day through enclosure of portions of human capital (for example, with intellectual property and professional qualification) traditionally inalienably associated with the individual.


Common land as a means of populations maintaining sufficiency refers to land owned collectively by a number of persons. From the 13th century onwards we see a concentration of ownership into the hands of single individuals whilst people retained traditional rights such as allowing their livestock to graze, collecting and coppicing wood (estovers), and cutting turf for fuel. Most commons are based upon ancient ancestral rights in British common law which pre-date the statute law passed by the Parliament of England. An individual who has a right to draw subsistence from common land was understood as a commoner and a part of the commons people.


Sir George Laurence Gomme wrote about ancestral rights such as the ancient belief associated with homemaking on land in his book ‘The Village Community’: “…the old tenure locally called ‘keyhole’ tenure in Hampshire, by which, if a squatter could build a house or hut in one night, and get his fire lighted before the morning, he could not be disturbed…” (Gomme, 1912, p.128)


James Alfred Yelling points out that Enclosure was not one key step that released commercial or capitalist forces into the agrarian regime (Yelling, 1977, p.3). More broadly it can be seen as a pattern of legal process in England emerging from the 13th century onward which consolidated (enclosing) small landholdings into larger farms. Once enclosed, use of the land was restricted and available only to the owner as it had legally ceased to be common land for communal use. This signalled cultural superimposition on the ancient system of arable farming in open fields.


Property rights started to crystalise when lodgers and the subdivision of houses were declared illegitimate by dint of the monarch’s overarching allodial title of ownership. In 1290 we see the statutes of ‘Quia Emptores’ and ‘Quo Warranto’ passed which acted to prevent land ownership becoming distributed. These statutes were constructed to rule on land ownership disputes and consequent financial controversies in England.


The name Quia Emptores comes from the first two words of the statute in its Latin form, which translates as “because the buyers”. Its full title translates as ‘A Statute of our Lord The King, concerning the Selling and Buying of Land’.


The statute prevented tenants from alienating their lands (land acquired from customary landowners by the government, either for its own use or for private development) to others by subinfeudation (the practice by which tenants, holding land under the monarch or other ranking lord, created new tenures in their turn through sub-letting or alienating a part of their lands). Instead all tenants who wished to alienate their land were required to do so by substitution (the person who was granted the land was to hold it for the same immediate lord, and by the same services as the alienor who held it before).


The statute of Quo Warranto derives from the Latin meaning “by what warrant?”. It is a prerogative writ requiring the person to whom it is directed to demonstrate what authority they have for exercising a right, power, or franchise they are laying claim to.


The long term effect of this statutory law was to create lineages of ownership which prevented redistribution of lands to entrepreneurial individuals who might increase their standing through becoming landowners.


It is in this period that we can see the early structures of merchantialist capitalism being forged from feudo-manorial holdings in the Renaissance era – the transition from the Middle Ages to modernity and covering the 15th and 16th centuries. Eli Hecksher details that it was during this period that England expressed protectionist policies through general internal economic regulation (Heckscher, 1994, p.226). A critical moment is represented by the Labour Law of 1563 put into place by William Cecil, Lord Burghley, in the Statute of Artificers (5 Eliz. c. 4) which Adam Smith referred to as the “Statute of Apprenticeship”.


The Statute of Artificers Act imposed the following (Atiyah, 2003, p.67):

  • Control of entry into the class of skilled workmen via compulsory seven year apprenticeship
  • Reservation of superior trades for the sons of the better off
  • Assumption of universal obligation to work on all who are able bodied
  • Empowerment of justices to require unemployed artificers to work in husbandry
  • Requirement of permission for a workman to transfer from one employer to another
  • Severe restriction of the freedom of movement of the poor
  • Enablement of justices to remove people to their original parish or place of settlement
  • Enablement of justices to fix wage rates for nearly all classes of workmen


Here we see a type of enclosure of skill and labour which had not been seen before. The Statute of Artificers represented the introduction of a vast degree of control. This statute remained active on the Statute book until 1819; interestingly the same year as the Petersfield protest for parliamentary reform in Manchester and resultant travesty named the Peterloo Massacre.


Built on these foundations later the Elizabethan Erection of Cottages Act 1588 enclosed commons land from the ancestral tradition of home-making from commons land (Basket, 1763, p.664). Exemption from this Act could be obtained by petition at four times of the year based on grounds of poverty. This permission was sought from the person who held the title of lordship of a given manor. The Manorial system described the system of landowners in the Middle Ages and in Tudor and Stuart times


In the same period, the Poor Law Act of 1601 had been passed into statute – which remained largely operative until the twentieth century; in many respects it was a refinement of the Act for the Relief of the Poor 1597 which devolved authority and responsibility for the poor to individual parishes. The combined aims of the Statute of Artificers and the Poor Laws were Acts express an ideology “that would banish idleness, advance husbandry, and pay proper wages to the laborers”.


This was qualified by ‘An Act for the Relief of the Poor’ passed in 1601. It gave churchwardens and overseers the authority to build cottages on ‘waste and common’ for the use of the poor and inmates, with permission of the manorial lord. In the same Act we also see how the labour of children could be legally bound to indentureship by Churchwardens and Overseers. This servitude could be taken from male children until the age of 24 and from female children until the age of 21 (or the time when she was married) (Basket,1763, p703).


The restriction of freedom of movement of the poor through statute compounded the legislative prohibition of travelling peoples to draw a homestead as they moved. The identities of travelling people remains fairly mysterious as David Mayall writes: “They have perhaps been excluded from the histories of immigration, as it was forgotten, or not even realised, that Gypsies did not arrive in England until the early sixteenth century” (Mayall, 2004, p.27). Does this signal that travelling with the seasons was a normal thing for a people until these prohibitions ?


When discussing Enclosure, in general, historical focus has fallen on the parliamentary Enclosure era of between about 1760 and 1830. When they required it, the government forced people to give up their former holdings. While it is argued that Enclosure ushered in improved agricultural efficiency, at the same time it eradicated many communities and long established ways of life built on self sufficiency.


In Scotland we can see a similar pattern of dispossession of people from sufficiency farming in the form of the highland and lowland clearances. The lesser known lowland clearances took place between 1760-1830 as landowners bought up and aggregated holdings to form the first ‘superfarms’. (Aitchison & Cassell, 2019). The work of Prof Tom Devine shows a slow re-patterning of landuse where crofters and tenants saw their contracts of tenure changed or not renewed (Devine, 1999; Devine, 2011).


The previous ecology of sufficiency farming had allowed dispersed communities to exist as much in terms of trade and barter but after their uprooting populations had no choice but to operate within a system of centralised finance.


E. P. Thompson gives a relatively detailed historical account of the Enclosures in his book ‘Making of the English Working Class’. In it he is clear about his view of the practices: “Enclosure (when all the sophistications are allowed for) was a plain enough case of class robbery, played according to fair rules of property and law laid down by a Parliament of property-owners and lawyers” (Thompson, 2016, p.218).


In 1906 the problematic Italian economist and sociologist is commonly cited to have done a piece of economic work showing that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. His name has become associated with controversies of unequal distributions. This offers another litmus in our layering up of changing land ownership over time (Marshall, 2016, p.2).


In contemporary times we can draw a picture land ownership in Scotland from Andy Wightman’s 2011 book ‘The Poor Had No Lawyers; Who Owns Scotland (and How They Got It)’. Of the total land area of 19,469,433 acres, 258 privately estates owned 6,669,071 acres. Of a population of 5,295,000 it effectively means that 0.0049% of the population owns over 34% of the whole country (Wightman, 2015).


Looking more broadly at Britain, in Guy Shrubsole’s book ‘Who Owns England ?: How We Lost Our Green and Pleasant Land’, we find that two-thirds of land in the UK as a whole – 40m acres – is owned by 0.36% of the population and half of England is owned by less than 1% of the population (Shrubsole & Williams 2019).



It is evident that the general direction of travel is that land ownership continues to be concentrated into smaller and smaller numbers of owners. This means that people are dependent on being a part of the system of centralised finance to live as there is no means of sufficiency left to them in terms of drawing from the land.


It is in this setting that I will propose how different classes of people have been formed through circumstances that intersect in their lives and that people exist within a spectrum – Those who have no choice but to perform (work) for others to access sufficiency, and those of a leisure class who have a choice as to what they perform as they have greater ownership of resources and status within the hierarchy of sufficiency.



Permissions and allowances as demarcations of status

There is a class of people who live the necessity of performing to the desires of a sanctioned hierarchy which offers permission and validation within the hierarchy to access the pre-requisits for subsistence (food, heat, etc…). In this presentation this is what is meant by working class – a category of people who have fewer options to pick and choose who they perform to and what they perform.


The resources you have determine what allowances you have or whether you have choice in performing for others. The primary indicator of resources is the amount of finance an individual has and is a reflection of where they exist in the hierarchy of permissions and allowances.


The meaning of leisure comes from Middle English and derives from the Old French ‘leisir’ which in turn is based on the Latin ‘licere’ translating as ‘be allowed’. It is the meaning found in this linguistic root that I am bringing to inform the term ‘Leisure Class’.


In this proposed scheme there are thus performers for sufficiency and allocators of sufficiency. More accurately individuals exist on a spectrum within a hierarchy which is codified through access to finance and corresponding opportunities. The less finance an individual has the fewer opportunities are available to them.



Individuals who are further up in the hierarchy are owners and allocators of sufficiency, in that they tend to be owners of enterprises to which profits flow and accrue; similarly they tend to be the individuals who have agency to determine and shape collective activities. Individuals who are lower down in the hierarchy are performers for sufficiency in that they tend to be performing the wishes and agendas of those who own and shape the given enterprises.


In this scheme the further to the left in the picture, the decreasing numbers of choices available to you and the increasing numbers of people you must perform to. The further right in the picture, the increasing numbers of choices available and decreasing numbers of people you must perform to. People exist in relative and changing positions broadly in relation to the finance they have and the status that affords.


Status as Representation: Non representation and culturally codified devaluation

In this section of the presentation I am going to scrutinize some of the dynamics at work in status, representation, and performativity. Later I will introduce how psychological biases of dehumanisation can determine the opportunities which people are afforded. I will examine codified systems of ratification and validation to highlight how individuals of a lower status must seek permissions and allowances from individuals of a higher status.


Into this scheme I will introduce research which suggests how bias, prejudice and identity differentials play roles in self reinforcing societal systems. To illustrate the differentials at work I draw in some examples which can be used to layer up an intersectional understanding. Intersectionality is an imperative framework to grapple with how lives play out in the real world.


The purpose of this is to offer a mechanistic rationale to account for the general intersecting dynamic throughout culminating in the final part of the paper which looks at Michael Marmot’s work on ‘status syndrome’ – a term used to indicate how the lower in socio-economic status a person is, the shorter their life and the poorer their health prospects.


Working or performative classes are those who are qualified by appeal to someone above them in the cultural hierarchy who has sufficient allowances necessary to ratify the person existing in the subordinate position within the hierarchy of privilege. Outside of getting sanction from within the cultural hierarchy the individual is not recognised and as a consequence no value is attributed, a lack of recognition takes place and sometimes an active devaluation occurs. This results in loss of opportunity and as a consequence, loss of finance.


Status is codified in the culture and can be seen in legal bureaucracies. An example of such a bureaucracy is where a passport photograph must be countersigning by “a person of good standing in their community” or who works in a recognised profession. Examples of recognised professions include accountant, barrister, and civil servant (UK Government a, 2021).


This is a codified example of how individuals must appeal to persons of status. The very identity of a person is in this sense withheld without ratification given from sufficient status in the hierarchy. Explicitly, the qualities of the status required for ratification of a persons identity include a ‘good reputation’, possession of the same bureaucratic validation (a completed passport process), ‘credentials that can be checked’, and ‘something to lose’ (UK Government b, 2021).


Here we can see a clarified example of the core dynamic which runs through society. The semiotics of the value system are clearly expressed in a system of professional credentials and that there is significant value which can be stripped of the individual should they transgress. This punative framework associated with finance and status I argue is the basis of a series of inferences which work as the basis of syllogisms that steer societal value judgements.


Account of this is found in Adam Smith’s example of cultural necessity and exclusion (Smith, Campbell, Skinner, & Todd, 1981): “…through the greater part of Europe, a creditable day-labourer would be ashamed to appear in public without a linen shirt, the want of which would be supposed to denote that disgraceful degree of poverty which, it is presumed, nobody can well fall into without extreme bad conduct” (Smith, Campbell, Skinner, Todd, 1981, p.176)


Those who lack the most basic fundamentals required to function as distinctions in given levels of a society can receive scorn for lacking those very things as they are ‘wearing poverty’. Poverty – the lack of fundamental sufficiency – becomes a double signifier having the inference that because the person does not have the necessary requisits for membership within a group, there is a reason for this exclusion; thus by inference they have been denied or stripped of them. Defacto they wear the garb of those who have contravened ‘rules of decency’.


People who have membership within a status hierarchy tacitly do not want to be the target of having their status stripped through gaining association with an individual who is a part of an outgroup. Poverty is both a signifier of membership in a group which has not received ratifying assimilation (i.e. possibly race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, class) but also can be syllogistically read as a sign of punative targeting which signals transgression. This is the same semiotic which is used to distinguish those who have been targets of the criminal justice system.


As poverty acts as a double signifier, so too does wealth promoting an affirmative syllogistic reasoning. The system of syllogistic logic infers that those who do good deeds get rewarded, those who work hard succeed, those who put in effort achieve results etc. Core associations with financial wealth are that success and skill are recompensed and virtue is honoured with riches. In this system of signification those who have wealth deserve it, they are hard working and have a right to what they have. Extending this scheme of value inference; those with more wealth have done proportionally more work, they are significantly better at what they have done, they are better people, their opinion is worth more because their time is worth more.


Human society constructs a multitude of signs and distinctions which signal membership and associations. Difference is used to demarcate involvement. The order of things is heavily involved in a series of self reinforcing informational interactions (Luhmann & Bednarz, 2005, p.137).


Susan T. Fiske reports on research by James Kluegel and Eliot Smith which investigates this kind of syllogistic thinking and how it self reinforces the notion that ‘people get the class they deserve’. As a psychologist who studies prejudice and bias part of her work scrutinises the belief that opportunity is available to almost anyone who works hard. She gives an example of this kind of syllogistic reasoning: (a) Assuming equal opportunity, then (b) people get what they deserve, and (c) the system is fair (Fiske, 2012, p.8).


The psychological tendency of homophily is a well studied characteristic of human society which is also self reinforcing. Various self reinforcing (autopoietic) principles are coded into our societal networks and structures. Homophily describes the principle of ‘similarity breeds connection’ and this is found to structure marriage, friendship, work, support, information transfer, exchange and group membership along with other things (McPherson, Smith-Lovin, & Cook, 2001).


Infrahumanization studies have shown that certain humanising characteristics are preferentially attributed to in-group members. They show people tend to react differently to in-group and out-group members who display the same characteristics. These processes of infrahumanization are understood to be a part of spectrum of dehumanization processes which are active in human beings (Demoulin, Leyens, Rodríguez‐Torres, Rodríguez‐Pérez, Paladino, & Fiske, 2005).


All of these factors shape the identity we have, the groups we have membership in, the way we apprehend others, and the opportunities we afford others. The ideologies which individuals hold as a part of their identity play profound roles in how we receive others and how we treat them.


Gender is an example of an outgroup status which intersects in the lives of individuals. Typically historically women have existed in a cultural position where they have been required to seek permissions and allowances from men by law. Annie Miller cites this as a key motivating factor cited for formulating a considerable body of economic work advocating for Universal Basic Income (Miller, 2021a).


“One of the main cases for a Basic Income is that women are disadvantaged in the current UK Social Security System. Our Marriage Laws are medieval, based on the time when a woman was one of her husband’s property items. Owners have property rights, property does not. This model of marriage is imprinted on the whole of the Social Security system. The Marriage Laws require partners to aliment (maintain) each other at a standard appropriate to the wealthier partner’s standard of living” (Miller, 2021b).


In her book ‘Eve Was Shamed’, Helena Kenney, the lawyer and human rights champion presents evidence that woman are still being discriminated against throughout the British legal system. She documents a catalogue of failings detailing how statistics obscure the double discrimination which are experienced by women of colour and disabled women (Kennedy, 2018).


Systems of administration have ceded in them values and opinions which resultantly structure the lives of people who must negotiate them. Structural violence is for many a bleak reality especially when there is no course open for representation, discussion, support or complaint. The creation of “hostile environments” is an example of a deliberate strategy which is used to impose an outcome on groups put at a cultural disadvantage.


One of the most vivid demonstrations of this kind of bureaucratic policy enactment is the Windrush Scandal in Britain. It was a profound example of systemic racism being enacted on a population. The ‘Windrush Generation’ were named after the ship which brought one of the first groups of West Indian migrants to Britain in 1948. In 2018 the Home Office perpetrated wrongful detention on 83 people and denied them their legal rights. Many had been born British subjects and had arrived in the UK before 1973 but had their passports confiscated and threatened with deportation.


In 2012 Teresa May explicitly enacted the policy of creating a “hostile environment” for immigrants. Wardle and Obermuller (2019) analyse how the policy “summarizes, echoes and also reinvents a language of anti-immigrant sentiment that dates back to at least the postwar period of decolonization. Notably, the use of a metaphor usually preserved for bacteria control gives it a contemporary technocratic feel, subtly adapting the more blatant symbolism of immigration as a disease”.



This episode exemplifies and extends a history of policy formation which ‘arbitrarily ruptures’ the lives of people separating families who are legitimate parts of British society. These exemplars illustrate how those at the bottom of a power differential must seek permissions and allowances from those at the top of it – a repeating motif throughout the formation of class.


It illustrates how blatently illegal activity can take place in full public view, at large magnitude and how it can and is normalised through authority. These indicate how multiple disadvantages (culture, class, gender, disability, etc) intersect and layer up in the real lives of people.


Derivatization of individuals and dehumanisation of outgroups

The self reinforcing properties of the system of privilege and hierarchy produce certain paradoxical effects. For example there are systems of signification which cause human beings not to recognise other human beings as what they are – equal human beings who similarly think and feel. In this section of the paper I am exploring accounts of dehumanization and how systems can recreate themselves to do this. This is important to reach towards an understanding of how violence becomes normalised in structures, social cultures and in individual actions partly through the creation of class and privilege.


Luhmann uses the concept of “autopoiesis” to characterize the recursive operations of self-referential systems (Luhmann & Bednarz, 2005, p.34). Luhmann’s work in conjunction with others is useful in offering a recognition of structure being active in behavioural dynamics which results in better being able to identify and analyse dynamics in social groups.


Self referencial behaviours in groups can give an account of how ingroups and outgroups form around given value systems and ideologies. Luhmann states “From the theory of self-referential systems, it would seem to follow directly that the self-description of a system must interpret the system as difference from its environment” (Luhmann & Bednarz, 2005, p.170)


The values which inform how the social system deals with difference determine the outcomes of the behaviour and the behavioural ecology which arises. Exclusionary values give rise to encounters of devaluation enhancing psychological processes of dehumanization. Through a lense of exclusion a syllogism of quality control is evoked where people not sharing relevant signifiers and distinctions are seen as ‘other’, different and therefore not valued/valuable.


Values of exclusion can be convergent with instrumentalising perspectives and as such can appear as humanised interaction when the value system of the dominant hierarchy is being affirmed. In other words interaction can appear like dialogue whilst an individual is fulfilling an instrumental role which facilitates a desired outcome for the party in the privileged position.



Dr Derrick Bell in the field of Critical Race Theory argued significant change may only come about when there is a convergence in the interests of the dominant culture with those of the individuals seeking parity (Bell,1976; Bell, 1980).


In stark terms, Bell speaks of an understanding which relates to self reference and self interest. The idea of ‘Interest Convergence’ argues a perspective that white people will support racial justice only when they understand and see that there are advantages to them embracing the change.


The philosopher Ann Cahill lays out a framework for dehumanization which she calls ‘Derivatization’. This speaks of behaviours where an individual is treated as human only when they perform to the agenda and desires of the enfranchized. Her book ‘Overcoming Objectification’ resolves issues which arise from mind-body dichotomies that ultimately hinder our ability to apprehend and deconstruct instrumentalising situations, behaviours and attitudes (Cahill, 2011).


She offers a framework of intersubjectivity which stands in contrast to self referencial self interest. This work extends our capacity to understand beyond where Objectification Theory has helped us get to. To be considered or treated as a body is not in itself harmful because subjects and bodies are one; being the passive recipient of an active gaze is not necessarily damaging as an intersubjective relation involves the attention, acts and engagement of the other.


What she argues is harmful “is reducing one subject to a mere reflection of another subject’s needs or desires, that is, making one being into a derivative of another. Such a reduction violates the Irigarian principle of wonder, and denies the alterity between and among subjects that is central to ethical interaction” (Cahill, 2011, p.32).


What happens when an individual coalesces and converges with a dominant hierarchy holding exclusion values may be the absence of violence, which can masquerade as beneficence. What is revealing in such situations is what happens – or does not happen – when an individual does not meet the agenda of a dominant hierarchy with exclusion values. Put in simple terms, is there an appreciative dialogue involved?


In sitations of derivatization the dominant is caught in the narcissistic gaze of their own image and characteristics whilst the subordinate individual is met with non-recognition, non-acknowledgement and marginalisation; the subordinate can be met by explicit forms of violence ranging from the scorn of silence to coersion and punative brutality for disturbing the fixation of attentions on the dominant self image.


Creation of performative underclasses to sanctioned hierarchies

In this section of the presentation I am giving an account of how the lower down in the socio-economic status you are moved, the more people you have to perform to in the above hierarchy in order to gain access to the means of sufficiency. Groups that are excluded and displaced from the socio-economic institutions of society which have their voices ignored are visible through the impoverishments they live with and through.


The way our society has become dominantly structured has given rise to performative underclasses who are kept in precarious living conditions so that their labour and lives can be exploited as resources.


A major economic reality is one where the wealth and abundance has been systematically enclosed and extracted from the lives of people to remove the means of sufficiency necessary for wellbeing. This has taken place in terms of land, finance and human capital. The conception of human capital I am drawing on here involves both an embodiment of natural ability and education (Rutherford, 2007, p.109).


The professionalisation and financialisation of validation pertaining to natural ability is especially problematic. In the form we see it in Britain it is arguably an Enclosure and control of an abundance found in nature typically intimately associated with self ownership of the individual.


In this way important questions to ask are found in relation to examining the creation of classes as ideological meems rooted in rudimentary primate ingroup-outgroup behaviours that find expression throughout our cultures as homo sapiens.


Intersecting impoverishments and competing for distinction

As peoples are made more precarious impoverishment sets up a dynamic where individuals are pitted to compete for scarce resources to be allocated to them by those who have status of sufficiency. People find themselves in positions where they must compete with other individuals for the distinction of getting an income and thus not being lower down in a punative socio-economic hierarchy. This incorporates an ecology where individuals will accept bad opportunities as opposed to no opportunity as society penalises those who have no opportunity as unworthy and unproductive.


Historically we can see in the history of the lowland and highland clearances of Scotland how the owners of enterprises exploited displaced populations to undermine workforces elsewhere. Between 1750 and 1790 Scottish wages remained below those of England; English tycoons like Richard Arkwright boasted that the lower costs of production in Scotland would enable him to ‘take a razor to the throat of Lancashire’.


This kind of behaviour from enterprise owners can be seen as a behaviour which continues in this age where the practice of outsourcing is used to lower costs by moving contracting to places where the population is more precarious. As the stakes are higher populations will work for smaller access to provisions of sufficiency (BBC News, 2014).


For the populations which are being leveraged to generate profit which flows to the owners, working is not a choice of leisure but a fact of survival. As individuals have less security and as industry innovates increasing ways to cut costs by reducing staff numbers, the working population are set into mechanisms of competition with each other for what employment exists. Populations will compete for substandard opportunities over the option of no opportunity as the further down in status individuals become, the fewer opportunities and less finance is available.


The ‘Screening effect’ is a phenomenon where employers infer that the longer a person is unemployed the less productive they must be. Screening can drive a self fulfilling cycle of declining wages (Nichols, Mitchell, & Lindner, 2013).


Kroft et al (2012) studied the role of employer behaviour in generating “negative duration dependence” which refers to the adverse effect of a longer period of unemployment. Employer screening results in the likelihood of receiving a callback decreasing sharply with unemployment duration. Estimates suggest that this effect is quantitatively important with interview rates being cut by nearly 50%.


The longer people remain unemployed, the harder it becomes for them to find a job. For some long term unemployment leads to permanent alienation from labour. It is associated with subsequent risks of material deprivation, poverty and social exclusion (McClelland and Macdonald, 1998) . For older segments of the workforce periods of long unemployment can result in a forced exit from the labour force (EEORLU, 2012) .


The effects of being increasingly performative to the rest of society are revealed in accumulating impoverishments as disadvantage intersects in the lives of individuals often bringing about a new disadvantage which has been triggered by an existing one.


Impoverishment Equates to Stress equates to Harms

In the final section of the presentation I argue the effects of this kind of culture of distinction and political economy can be seen in the amount of finance an individual has, their psychological wellbeing, physical health and ultimately their life expectancy.


Michael Marmot is Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London. He is famous for multiple large scale longitudinal studies which demonstrate that the lower down in the socio-economic scale you are, the shorter the life-span is and the greater number of health problems you encounter (Marmot et al., 1991; North, Syme, Feeney, Head, Shipley, Marmot, 1993; Stansfeld & Marmot, 1992).


In his book ‘Status Syndrome: How your social standing directly affects your health’ Marmot lays out a clear picture for readers: “Where you stand in the social hierarchy – on the social ladder – is intimately related to your chances of getting ill, and your length of life… I call this the status syndrome…another kind of well-being is central. Autonomy – how much control you have over your life – and the opportunities you have for full social engagement and participation are crucial for health, well-being and longevity” (Marmot, 2015, p.1).



Marmot and Wilkinson (2005, p.10) detailed for the World Health Organisation how people further down the social ladder have at least twice the risk of serious illness and premature death as those near the top.


They illustrate that social and psychological circumstances cause long-term stress implicating continuing anxiety, insecurity, low self-esteem, social isolation and lack of control over work and home life, have powerful deleterious effects on health. These psychosocial factors accumulate during life and increase incidences of poor mental health and premature death. It is a direct result of the over concentration of wealth in a diminishingly small number of people’s hands that we are seeing a series of health epidemics arise (Marmot, 2019).


If we are thinking in economic terms concentration of wealth can be seen equally as a concentration of health and understood explicitly as having a functional relationship. Marmot published an extensive report in 2020 focusing on the inequalities which are creating harms in England calling for change following the pandemic: “The levels of social, environmental and economic inequality in society are damaging health and well-being.” (Marmot, Allen, Goldblatt, Herd, Morrison, 2020)


Conclusion: The Tragedy of the Commons People

The tragedy of the commons people is well expressed by Garrett Hardin in his 1968 paper as the paper itself stands as a historical document advocating the coersive functionalist utilitarian ideologies which have manifested so many dehumanizing inequalities (Hardin, 1968). His paper is shortsighted and poorly thought through.


The tragedy of the commons can be understood in many ways. A tragedy is that people are depicted in the way they are and that these depictions are used to justify the brutalising institutions of private power over public resources at the expense of peoples lives.


We can view the people of the commons as a part of the commons who are involved in a participatory stewardship ecology oriented around continual renewal. In this scheme we can understand the tragedy as the destruction of the ancestral human ecology which maps to the natural landscapes which are exploited and devalued shortening their lives and damaging their health.


The tragedy of the people is their life is being stolen to concentrate profit and sufficiency in the hands of the few. The inequity in the hierarchy is the tragedy as the hierarchy has been codified to exclude and penalise those who are not participating in maintaining it. A direct counterpoint to Garrett’s account of the commons is Elinor Ostrom’s nobel prize winning work where she demonstrated effective models for collective management of commons (Ostrom, 2019).



Appendix A: The Missing Story of Mary Burns and Fred: Silences in the Story of History:


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This is a prior art publication

by Alex Dunedin


This is the research behind the presentation given at the 2020 Working Class Academics conference