Working Classness: Class as a Topology of Finance and Status

In this work I am attempting to make sense of the world, not just from my own perspective but to find a formulation which offers a means of understanding the sense other people make from their relative positions in shifting and changing cultural landscapes. Class as a term gets used a lot in Britain but the erosion of language has meant that the meaningfulness of language has become soft in places. When this happens we have no choice but to use qualifiers in order to retain the usefulness of the words we are utilising.


Important to me is to establish an articulated meaning of the language that I am using so that I can construct sufficiently complex cultural and sociological analyses using the explanatory power which emerges from the internal logic of the words. This is not to fix the language and insist upon a singular ‘true’ definition of what ‘working class’ means, but instead I am choosing to anchor to a particular reading of it that allows me to orient my arguments in relational ways.


I am going to be laying out the groundwork of ‘class’ in terms of a topology of finance and a related status deriving from that finance associated with opportunity and agency in the world. I will be using class as a simple category that expresses where an individual is in relation to resources – distant or close. In example, if we were to look at a picture of a beach in a seaside town, we could create certain classes around where people are in the picture below. In this example a class of people might be formed from those who are seen in the water and a class of people who are on the sand.


We might as reasonably create different ‘classes’ of people from the photograph (if we can distinguish them) using criteria such as height or age or sex or whether they wear a hat. The important thing in the use of the term ‘class’ is that the operational distinctions are made explicit to give it falsifiable explanatory power. It is in this way that I will be exploring ‘class’ in the sense of ‘grouping’ as a linguistic device that associates an individual with certain characteristics that make up a category. Class results as a result of a process of classification.



In the paper I will be describing the common characteristics found in the lives of people who are situated in the category of working – more so and less so. In context I will be examining how factors intersect and coalesce to inform where an individual resides in a topology of finance and status as well as notionalising how verticality can inform situations which, at face value, seem to contravene the definition but are in fact expressions of the driving patterning principles at work.


Informing factors include social groups excluded and displaced from the socio-economic institutions and opportunities of society and who are, as a result, denied their voices in the body politic (social groups also known as the subaltern). Typical examples include intersecting realities of gender, race, sexuality. This work necessarily also involves understanding class as how people who find themselves in categories are organised in hierarchies that are recreated by participants in socialised norms.


The name subaltern derives from the work of Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci. The original Italian usage, ‘subalterno’ translates as ‘subordinate’. The term carries in it class analysis with Gramsci originally referring to peasants and the lower working classes and over time it has expanded in use to designate the general attribute of subordination. Here for the clarity of the language I shall be using the language of finance, opportunity, subordinate and class.


“The Subaltern studies collective was founded in 1982 under the intellectual and editorial auspices of Ranajit Guha. Its name derives from the terminology of the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, who used the name ‘subaltern’ to interrogate the Marxist focus on the urban proletariat and to emphasise the role of culture and the question of popular consciousness (Gopal 2004: 141; see also Brennan 2001). In its original Italian usage, ‘subalterno’ roughly translates as ‘subordinate’ or ‘dependant’ (Arnold 2000: 30).

While the term suggests class analysis – originally referring to peasants and the lower working classes – its definition was expanded by the Subaltern historians to designate ‘the general attribute of subordination … whether this is expressed in terms of class, caste, age, gender, and office or in any other way’ (Guha 1982a: vii).

Concerned with the histories, agency and politics of social groups that have been excluded, elided, dominated and oppressed by both colonial and post-colonial state formations, Subaltern studies contests the notion that a resurgent national culture ever works as a panacea capable of resolving issues of poverty, sexism, patriarchy, racism and so on.”


[Lehner, S. (2014). Subaltern ethics in contemporary Scottish and Irish literature: Tracing counter-histories.  Palgrave Macmillan. Page 8]


The notion of verticality aims to add dimension and complexity to intersectional accounts offering insights of how differing scenarios can amount to changed status despite the backdrop of macro-generalisations. An example might be how someone sharing characteristics of the dominant cultural group, may in specific circumstances experience disadvantage which recreates them as an outgroup. Verticality as an idea can then offer useful accounts of situational effects and I would argue is essential to negotiate the divisive nature of identity politics to maintain a fix on universal human rights and justice.


This sociological formulation places people within a topology of finance and status and necessarily includes details of how individuals are recognised (or not), how they are valued (or not), and how they are humanized and dehumanized in relation to others in the hierarchy which forms of the intersecting realities of each persons life circumstances.


Drawing this together, I am searching for a meaningful account of what makes some individuals predominantly of the ‘working’ category of people, what distinguishes people moving up through the hierarchy of status designated as finance, and which also holds true for extreme outgroups who find themselves in anomalous positions. It is a tentative expression of a phenomenological sociology of people in relation to resources and the distinctions that afford meaningful separations of groupings as expressed by their status which is intra-actionally linked with the resources they have access to.


Intersecting Silences and Historical Production

In the story of Mary Burns and Fredrich Engels, we can understand that Mary Burns had several intersecting realities informing her position in society and the topology of finance and status. Mary was poor and as such was of the working class having little choice but to perform for others higher up in the hierarchy.


Mary was part of the Irish diaspora displaced from their lands and cultures to work in the industrial mills and factories of Manchester and as such was facing the cultural dehumanization of racism; Mary was female caught in a long and insufficiently questioned history of dehumanization and exploitation we know as sexism.


These cultural realities intersect in the socio-economic reality of her being poor; a double signifier itself signaling the least valued and most devalued grouping/s of society. A valid question is to ask is what is represented in the thinking of Marx and Engels (the Siamese writers) equally of her thinking ? She was caught in the silence of rich, white, male dominance rhetoric about the world and as a consequence we are left with nearly no trace of her.



The critical framework of intersectionality was developed by Kimberlé Crenshaw (Crenshaw, 1989) to resolve the problematic consequences of the tendency to treat race and gender as mutually exclusive categories of experience and analysis. Her work set forth this analysis to contrast the multi-dimensionality of Black women’s experience with the common single-axis analysis that distorts these experiences.


“I have chosen this title as a point of departure in my efforts to develop a Black feminist criticism because it sets forth a problematic consequence of the tendency to treat race and gender as mutually exclusive categories of experience and analysis.’ In this talk, I want to examine how this tendency is perpetuated by a single-axis framework that is dominant in antidiscrimination law and that is also reflected in feminist theory and antiracist politics.

I will center Black women in this analysis in order to contrast the multidimensionality of Black women’s experience with the single-axis analysis that distorts these experiences. Not only will this juxtaposition reveal how Black women are theoretically erased, it will also illustrate how this framework imports its own theoretical limitations that undermine efforts to broaden feminist and antiracist analyses.

With Black women as the starting point, it becomes more apparent how dominant conceptions of discrimination condition us to think about subordination as disadvantage occurring along a single categorical axis. I want to suggest further that this single-axis framework erases Black women in the conceptualization, identification and remediation of race and sex discrimination by limiting inquiry to the experiences of otherwise-privileged members of the group.


Crenshaw, K., (1989) “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics,” University of Chicago Legal Forum: Vol 1989: Iss. 1, Article 8.


After a study of the sparse fragments left which do refer to Mary Burns I am suggesting that she was at the center of a series of intersecting disadvantages which served to silence her, effectively erasing her from history almost entirely; I am also suggesting that she was an important thinker in relation to Fredrich Engels as well as Karl Marx whose influence has been erased from history. I am drawing on Kimberlé Crenshaw’s theoretical framework of intersectionality to illustrate how the life of Mary Burns was “theoretically erased” and Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s theoretical framework of power and the production of history (Trouillot, 2015, Page 25) to illustrate how she was silenced.


“The search for the nature of history has led us to deny ambiguity and either to demarcate precisely and at all times the dividing line between historical process and historical knowledge or to conflate at all times historical process and historical narrative. Thus between the mechanically ‘realist’ and naively ‘constructivist’ extremes, there is the more serious task of determining not what history is—a hopeless goal if phrased in essentialist terms—but how history works.

For what history is changes with time and place or, better said, history reveals itself only through the production of specific narratives. What matters most are the process and conditions of production of such narratives. Only a focus on that process can uncover the ways in which the two sides of historicity intertwine in a particular context. Only through that overlap can we discover the differential exercise of power that makes some narratives possible and silences others.

Tracking power requires a richer view of historical production than most theorists acknowledge. We cannot exclude in advance any of the actors who participate in the production of history or any of the sites where that production may occur. Next to professional historians we discover artisans of different kinds, unpaid or unrecognized field laborers who augment, deflect, or reorganize the work of the professionals as politicians, students, fiction writers, filmmakers, and participating members of the public.

In so doing, we gain a more complex view of academic history itself, since we do not consider professional historians the sole participants in its production. This more comprehensive view expands the chronological boundaries of the production process.”


Trouillot M.-R. & Carby H. V. (2015). Silencing the past : power and the production of history. Beacon Press.


Crenshaw developed the apparatus of intersectionality to reunify the fragmented elements of individuals to represent the real lives of people which had been “theoretically erased” through the kind of categorical handling of singular aspects which dominates attention thus limiting the further advancement of feminist and antiracist (and other) analyses. Devon Carbado makes the point that limiting understandings and applications of intersectionality theory is to artificially constrain its generative, normative, and analytical capacity (Carbado, 2013).


Carbado points out that the intersectionality framework has moved into and built bridges across a significant number of disciplines and areas of focus. It offers a useful tool of reunifying experience and analysing in social processes the “multiple axes of difference” such as classism, homophobia, religious prejudice, xenophobia, nativism, ageism, ableism, and sexism.


“It is part of a larger ideological scene in which Blackness is permitted to play no racial role in anchoring claims for social justice. But even assuming that one thinks that it is problematic for intersectional analyses to focus on Black women or on race and gender, the claim that the theory is inapplicable to other social categories is theoretically unnecessary, descriptively inaccurate, and easily falsifiable. Scholars have mobilized intersectionality to engage multiple axes of difference—class, sexual orientation, nation, citizenship, immigration status, disability, and religion (not just race and gender).

And they have employed the theory to analyze a range of complex social processes—classism, homophobia, xenophobia, nativism, ageism, ableism, and Islamophobia (not just anti-Black racism and sexism). Seemingly, the genesis of intersectionality in Black feminist theory limits the ability of some scholars both to imagine the potential domains to which intersectionality might travel and to see the theory in places in which it is already doing work.3

The next three criticisms of intersectionality (that the theory is identitarian, static, and invested in subjects) are curious given the theory’s genesis in law and critical race theory. Intersectionality reflects a commitment neither to subjects nor to identities per se but, rather, to marking and mapping the production and contingency of both. Nor is the theory an effort to identify, in the abstract, an exhaustive list of intersectional social categories and to add them up to determine—once and for all—the different intersectional configurations those categories can form.

Part of what Crenshaw sought to do in “Demarginalizing the Intersection” was to illustrate the constitutive and ideologically contingent role law plays in creating legible and illegible juridical subjects and identities. Her effort in this respect is part of a broader intellectual tradition in critical race theory to demonstrate how the law constructs (and describes preexisting) social categories.”


Carbado, D. W., (2019), ‘Colorblind Intersectionality’, In Crenshaw, K., In Harris, L. C., In HoSang, D., & In Lipsitz, G. (2019). Seeing race again: Countering colorblindness across the disciplines. Page 200


In stating “It is not necessary to believe that a political consensus to focus on the lives of the most disadvantaged will happen tomorrow in order to recenter discrimination discourse at the intersection” Crenshaw relocated agency in the life of the authentic individual away from reifying political institutions and practices that dislocate us from knowledge which aids us in making sense of the world (Crenshaw, 1989).


The human cultures which we find ourselves attempting to make sense of have certain imagined realities associated with them; they are imbued with the fairytales we tell us about our selves and the worlds we create as ordered and orderly, deliberated and deliberate.  Trouillot states an important aspect of how human culture comes to be configured in certain ways: “Effective silencing does not require a conspiracy, not even a political consensus. Its roots are structural” (Trouillot, 2015; Page 106).



“I am quite willing to concede that the conscious political motives are not the same. Indeed again, that is part of my point. Effective silencing does not require a conspiracy, not even a political consensus. Its roots are structural. Beyond a stated—and most often sincere—political generosity, best described in U.S. parlance within a liberal continuum, the narrative structures of Western historiography have not broken with the ontological order of the Renaissance. This exercise of power is much more important than the alleged conservative or liberal adherence of the historians involved.”


Trouillot M.-R. & Carby H. V. (2015). Silencing the past : power and the production of history. Beacon Press. Page 106


This helps unsettle the problematic notions of conscious and orchestrated cultures; sometimes it is the very language we use which structures the actions of people in hypnagogic ways. For example, a man need only feel they treat a woman as an equal to believe it whilst drawing on a sentiment to charter actions which renders agency from the woman in the name of ‘protecting the weak’.


Sociologically speaking we need to include develop analyses of self organising ideas (like memes) within our behaviour if we are to get beyond simplistic accounts of why the world is the way we find it. Understanding how cognitive dissonance and the tacit payload implicit of an idea are key aspects to decoding the invisible structures at work that shape social or anti-social outcomes.


The Missing Story of Mary Burns

My overall focus in this writing 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 indigenous 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, innumerable examples who have been wiped from memory and representation in similar fashions.


To contextualise the focus of our study here, Burns was born into a family which was a part of the Irish diaspora leaving Ireland due to the authoritarian rule of Britain. The Irish people had fallen victim to chronic and dire forms of racism, including overt epistemicide, perpetrated by the British government banning all forms of education for the Catholic Irish population. Amongst other things, the Cromwellian regime had initially imposed a ban on education for the Irish people which was carried forward under the Penal Code which was introduced during the reign of William III.


It is worth highlighting that we can hardly imagine the civic circumstances of a woman in the period we are examining, let alone a single woman, a woman of non-British origin or a woman without independent financial means. Mary Burns was a woman living in a country and time which barely recognised women beyond a cult of domesticity. She 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 laws of Coverture).


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 detail in the work following this piece – The Missing Story of Mary Burns (which should be regarded as the same work as this) -, 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 paper explores the history of law and land reform which created the conditions for a precarious population dispossessed from ancestral rights associated with sufficiency uses of the land. 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 predominantly in poor conditions and for insufficient remuneration.


The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose off the common
But leaves the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from the goose.

The law demands that we atone
When we take things we do not own
But leaves the lords and ladies fine
Who takes things that are yours and mine.

The poor and wretched don’t escape
If they conspire the law to break;
This must be so but they endure
Those who conspire to make the law.

The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
And geese will still a common lack
Till they go and steal it back.


“This 17th Century folk poem is one of the pithiest condemnations of the English enclosure movement—the process of fencing off common land and turning it into private property. In a few lines, the poem manages to criticize double standards, expose the artificial and controversial nature of property rights, and take a slap at the legitimacy of state power. And it does it all with humor, without jargon, and in rhyming couplets.” (Boyle, 2001)

—James Boyle, Duke Law School Professor


Boyle, J. (2001) Celebrating The Commons; People, Ideas, and Stories for a New Year, On the Commons,,, Page 45


This work analyses the creation of classes of people who’s existence is rooted in working (compelled performance) via the production of precarity based on their dispossession from natural commons as forms of sustaining wealth. Precariousness describes primary qualities of life which embody uncertain and unhealthy existence; ones which lack predictability and the affordances of planning, security of income through remuneration for labour as a feature, and sufficiency of material and psychological aspects important for wellbeing.


This section examines how displacement of populations from the means of sufficiency farming over centuries has created large urbanized populations which exist under conditions of precarity having been made dependent on inclusion in hierarchies of financial status chiefly expressed through opportunities of workfulness and the valuation of their labour. I argue that this enclosing/enclosure 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 as the means of reification had not been developed (i.e. highly organised ‘qualifications’, bureaucracies, technocratic financial systems, etc).


Historically, common land as a means of populations maintaining sufficiency was land shared collectively by a number of persons. The same sense of explicit legal ownership we have today did not exist in terms of organised and formalised property rights; instead a shared understanding of ancient associations with the land pervaded public consciousness. 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 their subsistence from common land jointly with others was understood as a commoner and as a part of the commons people. People retained traditional rights such as allowing their livestock to graze, collecting and coppicing wood (estovers), and cutting turf for fuel. It is from the 13th century onwards in Britain we see an initial concentrating effect of ownership into the hands of single individuals.


Sir George Laurence Gomme wrote about traditional rights such as the ancient belief associated with homemaking on land in his book on ‘The Village Community’: “it will be found that our examination of the village house structure in England leads us to perceive that it is intimately connected with the primitive Aryan principle of the sacredness of the homestead. The group of buildings making up the homestead is centred round that portion which contains the sacred house-fire…The preservation of the old chimney-stack of ancient dwellings while all else has been rebuilt and the right of house-bote attached thereto; 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; the demolition of the homestead as a sign of loss of village rights, taken in connection with a law of Canute which lays it down that housebreaking is an inexpiable crime, punishable only with death”


“The story of Germanus having found shelter in a villager’s house, and so preserved it from the fire which destroyed all the other houses in the village, reveals the collection of the homesteads into villages instead of in tribal homesteads (lib. i. cap. xix.) ; while the story of the sanctity shown by the earth taken from St. Oswald’s grave not only shows us the village homestead, but reveals at least one important feature of primitive house life, namely, the situation of the central fire in the middle of the room (lib. iii. cap. x.)—an arrangement prevalent in Scotland so recently as the latter part of the last century.

Following up this clue, it will be found that our examination of the village house structure in England leads us to perceive that it is intimately connected with the primitive Aryan principle of the sacredness of the homestead. The group of buildings making up the homestead is centred round that portion which contains the sacred house-fire, and it has been remarked with truth that ” it is no fanciful metaphor to say that the house-fire is the seed out of which the house has grown.”

If the architecture of the old village homestead reveals this much to us, custom tells us something more. The preservation of the old chimney-stack of ancient dwellings while all else has been rebuilt and the right of house-bote attached thereto; 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; the demolition of the homestead as a sign of loss of village rights, taken in connection with a law of Canute which lays it down that housebreaking is an inexpiable crime, punishable only with death; seem to me to connect the house unmistakably with the old hearth cult.

And the importance of this as a potent force in keeping together old forms of society may be to some extent measured if we bear in mind what Dr. Hearn has so strongly and ably set forth of Aryan society, that ‘it was not the tie of blood, or of family habit, or of superior physical force that held men together, but the far more potent bond of a common worship. Those who worshipped the same gods were relatives.'”


P. 128, Gomme, S. G. L. (1912). The Village Community; With special reference to the origin and form of its survival in Britain. London: W. Scott, New York, Scribner.


Feudalism has come to be a very loose term to allude to suggested arrangements of legal and military relationships among ‘nobles’ and ‘serfs’ between the 9th and 15th centuries. To a significant extent it is a construction of later centuries to account for a past order of things from which ‘manorialism’ extended; a suggested scheme of legitimacy presiding over the legal and economic relationships between ‘nobles’ and ‘peasants’.


Susan Reyolds (2001) brings a new reinterpretation of what we have received as the order of things in Medieval Europe. Her work has caused a shift in the use of language alongside an unsettling of romanticised notions of noble and serf debunking the myth of pyramidal feudal society in early medieval times. According to Reynolds the ideas come to be associated with feudalism would not have been recognised by many in the medieval period; certainly before 1066 the structure of relations between peoples and property rights was not so hierarchical as it as become painted:


“The concept of a hierarchy of property rights probably owes a good deal to Domesday Book, although it only came to be articulated during the twelfth century, when rights and obligations were worked out and enforced according to the way they had been set down in 1086. The very word hierarchy may, however, be misleading: property rights were arranged in layers, but the top layer did not have most rights. Most of the rights of property, including the fundamental rights to use, management, and receipt of the income, were enjoyed, as they were elsewhere, by those at the lowest layer above that of unfree peasants. Except in the case of property held by military service by heiresses or minor heirs, the rights of a lord in the layer above were restricted to certain dues and services: the king, of course, did better, but it still remains true that more rights of property belonged to those who came to be called tenants in demesne”


“If, as long tradition asserts, feudalism was introduced into England by the Norman Conquest, then, whether it is seen in military terms as a matter of knights’ fees and knight service or in jurisdictional terms as a matter of seigniorial courts, it was a pretty fugitive affair which barely outlasted its first century. If it is seen as already developing before 1066 then it might be said to have lasted longer, but the arguments for that, whether in terms of military service or of a tenurial hierarchy, seem hard to sustain.

The introduction of the word fief and a new concept of a hierarchy of property rights seem to be genuine consequences of the conquest. The concept of a hierarchy of property rights probably owes a good deal to Domesday Book, although it only came to be articulated during the twelfth century, when rights and obligations were worked out and enforced according to the way they had been set down in 1086. The very word hierarchy may, however, be misleading: property rights were arranged in layers, but the top layer did not have most rights.

Most of the rights of property, including the fundamental rights to use, management, and receipt of the income, were enjoyed, as they were elsewhere, by those at the lowest layer above that of unfree peasants. Except in the case of property held by military service by heiresses or minor heirs, the rights of a lord in the layer above were restricted to certain dues and services: the king, of course, did better, but it still remains true that more rights of property belonged to those who came to be called tenants in demesne than to either the king or any other lord.”


Reynolds, S. (2001). Fiefs and vassals: The medieval evidence reinterpreted. Oxford: Clarendon Press. page 394


Over the centuries we have seen a trend in the concentration of ownership of land and its associated means of sufficiency into smaller and smaller numbers of people. The most alluded to period in the history of Britain that illustrates this trend is that of the Enclosure Movement which took place between 1750 and 1850. Here the policy drive was expressed as a strategy to improve agricultural production and this kind of land management and social engineering project took place in various parts of the world.


James Alfred Yelling argues it is important to understand that Enclosure was not one key step that released commercial or capitalist forces into the agrarian regime (Yelling, 1977). 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 signaled the beginning of the practical ending to the ancient system of arable farming in open fields.


Yelling argues that it was in effect the emergence of a new economic and social order. There were “close links between enclosure and the commercialisation of agriculture, but the one was not a necessary cause of the other…Common field and enclosure coexisted over many centuries, juxtaposed at various levels from farm and township to the large-scale region”.


He gives varying examples of the attribution of enclosure: “in particular cases to population growth, to population decline, to the presence of soils favourable or unfavourable to arable, to industrial and urban growth, to remoteness from markets, to the dominance of manorial lords, to the absence of strict manorial control, to increased flexibility in the common-field system, and to the absence of such flexibility”.


Yelling, J. A. (1977). Common field and the enclosure in England: 1450-1850. London: The MacMillan Press. Page 3-4


The history of the re-organisation of land management can be understood over a period of a number of centuries. Perhaps the emergence of this new economic and social order can be understood in a pattern of behaviour which gained increasing adherents over time.


Gordon E. Mingay suggests “It should not be assumed, however, that historians have been entirely mistaken in attaching so much importance to parliamentary enclosure” (Mingay, 2016) which took place through several Acts of Inclosure passed between 1773 and 1882. It clearly had a long prehistory, and, in terms of land, Brett Christophers argues that this behaviour continues to this day in his book ‘The New Enclosure: The Appropriation of Public Land in Neoliberal Britain(Christophers, 2019).


“Until the era of cheap under-drainage and the introduction of roots suited to heavy soils (such as the mangold) in the middle nineteenth century, the cold wet clay lands could not be adapted to the new husbandry, and on these soils the ancient rotations long survived enclosure. It should not be assumed, however, that historians have been entirely mistaken in attaching so much importance to parliamentary enclosure. It meant a rapid accession to the cultivated area of large tracts of commons and waste, and for the common fields a rapid conversion to the conditions necessary for more efficient farming.

Not all villages had made much progress in adjusting their common-field farming to take advantage of the new possibilities of greater fertility and greater output: Young’s strictures on the ‘goths and vandals’ of the common fields and his view, expressed as late as 1809, that ‘the old open-field school must die off before new ideas can become generally rooted’; must have had some considerable justification in the conservatism of small farmers.

The common-field system was wasteful, expensive, and difficult to work so long as dispersed holdings, common grazing rights, and sharing of the commons remained its basis. Enclosure offered a means of rapid transformation to lower costs per acre, higher yields, and greater profits on a larger cultivated area. It was profitable to landlords, whose increase in rents usually represented a return of 15-20 per cent or more on the outlay, and it must have been correspondingly profitable to the farmers whose greater productivity allowed them to pay much increased rents.

The concentration of enclosure in periods of rising prices show that it was considerably influenced by the desire of landowners and farmers to take advantage of the market more readily and more completely than could be done under the limitations of the common fields, and the number of enclosure Actssome 5,000 in the two periods of heavy activity in the 1760s-70s and 1795-1815 – gives some indication of the scale of the change. Parliamentary enclosure thus gave a sharp fillip to improved methods of farming where conditions allowed them to be adopted. There seems little doubt, too, that generally the improved farming was more suited to farms of at least a moderate size (say above about 100 acres) and to farmers commanding capital.”


Mingay, G. E. (2016). Enclosure and the Small Farmer in the Age of the Industrial Revolution. London: Macmillan Education, Limited. Page 19


“The scope of this particular component of the wider project of British privatization has never before been explicitly considered, but here it has been laid bare. Even if we exclude all the land that has disappeared with Britain’s ‘other’ privatizations, just over 1.6 million hectares – or about 8 per cent of the entire British land mass – have been transferred from public into private ownership since Thatcher came to power. If we add to this the land owned by the water utilities and the other formerly public enterprises now in private hands, the figure jumps to around 2 million hectares. That represents approximately half of all the land that was publicly owned when the 1970s drew to a close. Local authority landholdings, in particular, have been decimated, with around 60 per cent of the local government estate having been ‘rationalized’. The result is that, today, only approximately 2.2 million hectares of public land remain.”


Christophers, B. (2019). The new enclosure: The appropriation of public land in neoliberal Britain. Page 276


Property rights started to crystalise when lodgers and the subdivision of houses were declared not to be legitimate by dint of the monarch’s overarching allodial title. This is mainly by effect of the passing of the statutes ‘Quia Emptores‘ and ‘Quo Warranto‘ by the Parliament of England in 1290 during the reign of Edward I. Thereafter manors could not be created as the law expresses that manorial courts could not be established with legal jurisdiction.


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 of Quia Emptores 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 the statutory law passed in the 13th century was to create lineages of ownership which prevented new ownership or redistribution of lands to entrepreneurial individuals who might increase their standing through becoming land owners. Built on these foundations the Erection of Cottages Act 1588 (31 Eliz c. 7, long title “An Act against the erecting and maintaining of Cottages”) enclosed commons land from the ancestral tradition of home-making without appeal to the lord of the manor.


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).


“For the Avoiding of the great Inconveniences which are found by Experience to grow by the Erecting and Building of great Numbers and Multitude of Cottages, which are daily more and more increased in many Parts of this Realm (2) Be it enacted by the Queen’s most excellent Majesty, and the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and the Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the Authority of the fame, That after the End of this Session of Parliament, no Person shall within this Realm of England make, build or erect, or cause to be made, builded or erected, any Manner of Cottage for Habitation or Dwelling, nor convert or ordain any Building or Housing made or hereafter to be made, to be used as a Cottage for Habitation or Dwelling, unless the same Person do assign and lay to the same Cottage or Building four Acres of Ground at the least, to be accounted according to the Statute or Ordinance de terris menfurandis being his or her own Freehold or Inheritance lying near to the said Cottage, to be continually occupied and manured therewith, so long as the same Cottage shall be inhabited ; (5) upon Pain that every such Offender shall forfeit to our Sovereign Lady the Queen’s Majesty, her Heirs and Successors, ten Pounds of lawful Money of England, for every such Offence.

II. And be it further enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That every Person which after the End of this session of Parliament shall willingly uphold, maintain and continue any such Cottage hereafter to be eroded, converted or ordained for Habitation or Dwelling, whereunto four Acres of Ground, as it aforesaid shall not be assigned and said to be used and occupied with the same, shall forfeit to our said Sovereign Lady the Queens Majesty, her Heirs and Successors, forty Shillings for every Month that any such Cottage shall be by him or than upholden, maintained and continued.

Ill. And be it further enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That all Justices of Assizes and Justices of Peace in their own Sessions, and every Lord within the Precinct of his Leet, and no other, shall have full Power and Authority within their several limits and jurisdictions, to enquire of, hear and determine all Offences contrary to this present Act, as well by Indictment, as otherwise by Presentment or Information: (a) and to award Execution for the levying of the several Forfeitures aforesaid by fieri facias, elegit, capias or otherwise, as the cause shall require.

IV. Provided always That this Statute, or any Thing therein contained, shall not in any wise be extended to any Cottage which shall be ordained or eroded to or for Habitation or Dwelling in any City, Town Corporate, or ancient Borough or Market-Town within this Realm, (2) nor to any Cottage or Buildings which shall be erected, ordained or converted to and for the necessary and convenient Habitation or Dwelling of any Workmen or Labourers in any Mineral Works, Cool Mines, Quarries or Delft of Stone or Slate, or in or about the Making of Brick, Tile, Lime or Coals within this Realm ; so as the same Cottages or Buildings be not above one Mile distant from the PIace of the same Mineral or other Works, and shall be used only for the Habitation and Dwelling of the said Workmen ; (j) nor shall in any Sort prejudice, charge or impeach any Person or Persons for the Eroding, Maintaining or continuing of any such Cottages, as are before in this Proviso mentioned and specified.

V. Provided always, That this Act shall not extend to any Cottage to be made within a Mile of the Sea, or upon the Side of such Part of any navigable River where the Admiral ought to have Jurisdiction, so long as no other Person shall therein inhabit but a Sailor, or Man of manual Occupation to or for making, furnishing or victualling of any Ship or Vessel used to serve on the Sea ; ( 2 ) nor to any Cottage to be made in any Forest, Chase, Warren or Park , so long as no other Person shall therein inhabit but an Under-keeper or Warrener, for the good keeping of the Deer, or other Game or Warren ; (3) nor to any Cottage heretofore made, so long as no other Person shall therein inhabit but a Common Herd-man or Shepherd, for keeping the Cattle or Sheep of the Town, or a poor, lame, sick, aged or impotent Person; (4) nor to any Cottage to be made, which for any just Respect upon Complaint to the Justice of Assize at the Assizes, or the Justices of Peace at the Quarter-Sessions, shall by their Order entred in open Assizes or Quarter- Sessions, be decreed to continue for Habitation, for and during so long Time only as by such Decree shall be tolerated and limited.

VI. Provided also, and be it enacted, That from and after the Feast of All-Saints next coming there shall not be any Inmate, or more Families or Households than one, dwelling or Inhabiting in any one Cottage, made or to be made or erected ; (2) upon Pain that every Owner or Occupier of any such Cottage, plaoing, or willingly fuffcring any such Inmate, or other family than one, shall forfeit and lose to the Lord of the Leet, within which such Cottage shall be the Sum of ten Shillings of lawful Money of England for every Month that any such Inmate, or other Family than one, shall dwell or inhabit in any one Cottage as aforefaid: (3) And that all and every Lord and Lords of Leet and Leets, and their Stewards, within the Precinct of his and their Leet and Leets, shall have full Power and Authority within their several Leets to enquire, and to take Presentment by the Oath of Jurors, of all and every Offence and Offences in this Behalf; (4) and upon such Presentment had or made, to levy by Distress to the Use of the Lord of the Leet all such Sums of Money as so shall be forfeited : (5) And moreover, that it shall be lawful for the Lord of every such Leet where such Presentment shall be made, to recover to his own Use any such Forfeiture, by Action of Debt, in any of the Queen’s Majefty’s Courts of Record, wherein no Essoin, Protection or Wager of Law shall be allowed. 35 Eliz. cap. o. 43 Eliz. cap. 2.”


Basket, Mark (1763). Statutes at Large:From the fifth year of King Edward IV to the end of the reign of Queen Elizabeth etc. Vol.2. London: Mark Basket et al, pp. 703


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 in his book ‘Mercantilism’ that it was during this period that England expressed protectionist policies through general internal economic regulation. A critical moment in this was 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” (Page 226, Heckscher, 1994)..


“The circumstance that no single branch of economic life was preferentially treated in England laid the foundation of a deep-set difference between English and continental policy, a difference which found its last expression in the specifically English form of mercantilist protection, the protection of agriculture and industry combined, or the “system of solidarity”.

It was, however, only at a comparatively late period that a protectionist system of this kind arose, and its treatment belongs to the third section of this work, in which mercantilism as a protectionist system is dealt with. The point at issue here is the general internal economic regulation, in which the same tendency was manifested much earlier and in more mature form especially in the famous Labour Law of 1563 called by Adam Smith the “Statute of Apprenticeship”, but nowadays more often quoted as the Statute of Artificers (5 Eliz. c. 4), the work of William Cecil, Lord Burghley.

It was one of the most remarkable results of English economic policy. In spite of the much greater activity of the French monarchs in their heyday, neither in France nor in any other country is it possible to find any other attempt at so thorough a control of the whole industry of a country during the mercantilist period. Its origins and formation are particularly able to throw light on the characteristic features of English development.

The circumstance which provided the real motive for the enactment of the Statute of Artificers operated elsewhere, especially in France, as well as in England. In England too (see above 138 and 141) it was the enormous rise in wages after the Black Death which led to state interference. From that date the regulation of wages ceased to be a local affair and became a national problem.

The national regulation of wages is to be found in the Ordinance of Labourers and the Statute of Labourers enacted in 1349 and 1351 respectively, and in them it is already possible to perceive two closely connected and very essential divergences from the French decree of John the Good, likewise enacted in 1351. The latter held only for the Paris district whilst the former included all England in its scope and created a great judicial system, which covered the whole land and was very extensively employed.

The second difference is closely bound up with the first. The French decree regulated mostly urban trades, whilst the English law was designed to fix the wages for every person who was in the service of another, and in practice the English measures were preferentially applied to rural workers. T h e fundamental ideas of both these decrees were later reproduced without any essential modification in the Elizabethan Statute of Artificers, which on its own admission merely attempted a codification of older rules.

Of the laws which were passed between 1349-51 and 1563, that of 1388 (12 Rich. II cc. 3-10) was specially important. It shows clearly that legislative attention was directed mainly towards agriculture, thus providing a striking contrast to continental tendencies. It stated, for instance, that whoever had worked on the land until the age of twelve must remain on it and was not to be admitted to handicraft. Contracts of apprenticeship not in accordance with this ruling were consequently to be annulled.

Another clause, also illustrating the preoccupation with agriculture, proclaimed that “as well artificers and people of mystery as servants and apprentices, which be of no great avoyr (i.e., reputation) and of which craft or mystery a man hath no great need in harvest-time, shall be compelled to serve in harvest, to cut, gather and bring in the corn”. The Statute of Artificers Out of these medieval laws, mentioned here very briefly, the Elizabethan Statute of Artificers created a whole legal system which with the exception of a few unimportant points remained on the Statute Book until 1813 and 1814.”


Heckscher, E. F. (1994). Mercantilism. Routledge: Taylor and Francis. Page 226


The statute had been brought into force by William Cecil also known as Lord Burghley, Elizabeth I’s Lord Treasurer. Hecksher makes the point that “neither in France nor in any other country is it possible to find any other attempt at so thorough a control of the whole industry of a country during the mercantilist period”.


Professor Patrick Atiyah discusses how there is a tendency to discount the notion that the Governments of Elizabeth I’s reign had attempted to control the national economy. He details how three central goals were the focus of the introduction of a substantial amount of regulation over existing human ecologies in Britain. These involved the regulation of labour, the ‘encouragement’ of key industries and the ‘advancement’ of agriculture.


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


“The decline of the overall moral authority of the Church in the medieval economy was not immediately followed by a free for all; it was rather followed by two hundred years during which the state attempted to fulfil the role formerly played by the Church, with its secular laws substituting, somewhat half-heartedly perhaps, for the laws of God. Modern economic historians tend to discount the notion that the Governments of Elizabeth I’s reign ever attempted an overall control of the national economy, but the fact remains that they pursued three goals which, taken together, involved a substantial measure of regulation.

These three goals had as their basic aims the regulation of the labour force, the encouragement of key industries, especially shipbuilding, and the advancement of agriculture. The labour force was, in many ways, the subject of the greatest degree of regulation. The Statute of Artificers (usually called the Statute of Apprentices) was passed in 1563 and remained on the Statute book until 1819; the Poor Law Act of 1601—which provided for much else besides poor relief—remained largely operative until the twentieth century.

Between them, these Acts attempted ‘to banish idleness, to advance husbandry and to yield to the hired person, both in times of scarcity and in times of plenty, a convenient proportion of wages’. They controlled entry into the class of skilled workmen by providing for a compulsory seven years’ apprenticeship; they reserved the superior trades for the sons of the better off; they assumed a universal duty to work on all the able-bodied; and empowered justices to require unemployed artificers to work in husbandry; they required permission for a workman to transfer from one employer to another; they severely restricted the freedom of movement of the poor by enabling a person without means to be removed by order of the justices to his original parish or last place of settlement; and they empowered justices to fix wage rates for virtually all classes of workmen.

On the other hand, there was a quid pro quo for all this: the Poor Law recognized the right of the indigent to poor relief, to be provided at the charge of the parish, and there were also other provisions for the benefit of labourers and artisans such as attempts to ensure that they were employed under contracts of a year’s duration.”


Atiyah, P. S. (2003). The rise and fall of freedom of contract. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Page 67


Here we see a type of enclosure of skill and labour which had not been seen before. The Statute of Artificers (aka Statute of Apprentices) passed in 1563 represented the introduction of the greatest degree of regulation. This statute remained active on the Statute book until 1819, interestingly the same year as the Peter’s Field protest took place in Manchester where 60,000 people gathered to call for representation and parliamentary reform; in response to this peaceful protest 18 were killed and an estimated 400 – 700 people were injured resulting in the travesty being named the Peterloo Massacre.


In the same period, the Poor Law Act of 1601 was passed into statute – which Atiyah states 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 in the law to individual parishes. The combined aims of the Statute of Artificers and the Poor Laws were Acts which express an ideological position “that would banish idleness, advance husbandry, and pay proper wages to the laborers”.


England had seen an enormous rise in wages after the Black Death which provoked state interference. The regulation of wages stopped being a local affair and became dictated through national regulation. The national regulation of wages is found in the earlier Ordinance of Labourers and the Statute of Labourers enacted in 1349 and 1351 respectively. Heckscher points out that the ideas of both these earlier statutes were later reproduced in the Elizabethan Statute of Artificers without any significant modification. (Heckscher, 1994,Page 226).


The poet Edmund Spenser voiced a hated for the ideas of William Cecil aka Burghley. One of the moods Spenser set around Burghley came of a piece of writing lampooning him as a nepotistic “malicious, Machiavellian fox who steals the crown of his sovereign to aid the prospects of his ‘cubs’”.


All offices, all leases by him lept,

And of them all whatso he likte, he kept.

Iustice he solde iniustice for to buy,

And for to purchase for his progeny.

Ill might it prosper, that ill gotten was,

But so he got it, little did he pas.

He fed his cubs with fat of all the soyle,

And with the sweete of others sweating toyle,

He crammed them with crumbs of Benefices,

And fild their mouthes with meeds of malefices,

He cloathed them with all colours saue white,

And loded them with lordships and with might,

So much as they were able well to beare,

That with the weight their backs nigh broken were.


Page 162, Danner, B. (2011). Edmund Spenser’s War on Lord Burghley. London: Palgrave Macmillan UK.


The restriction of freedom of movement of the poor through statute was added to by the legislative prohibition of travelling peoples to make a homestead as they moved. The histories of diasporic and travelling peoples are often obscured for the reason that they have been systematically excluded and what stories written about them have been written by people who are a part of an enfranchised culture looking on.


There may be significance in the connection between the acts of parliament prohibiting free movement, those which locked Travelers from using the land and the coincident historical accounts of Gypsies in England. The identities of travelling people remain 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”. It raises questions about whether significant subpopulations prior to the restriction of movement by British statute moved around the country with the seasons, and whether ‘Gypsy’ the word became proxy for those who attempted circumvent the law.


“Historians have come rather late to Gypsy studies, and to a large extent the study of Gypsies has usually been undertaken outside the world of mainstream academic history. The likely reasons for such neglect are many. The group is numerically small, so contributing to their invisibility, although this has not prevented investigation into the Polish, Chinese, German or Lithuanian communities in Britain.

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. Also, of course, there remain doubts as to whether Gypsies constitute a distinct and separate minority. These factors have meant that the Gypsies have remained largely marginal within the historical studies discipline, relegated to footnotes, included as one small part of the criminal or vagrant population, or ignored altogether.

It would be misleading, though, to suggest that Gypsies have been entirely abandoned by the historical profession, and the neglect by historians has been relative rather than absolute. In recent studies it is possible to find increasing mention of Gypsies in works on criminality and the underworld,20 on immigration and minority groups,21 in works looking at the lower classes and migrancy,22 and in recent studies of the Nazi state and the Holocaust.”


Page 27, Mayall, D. (2004). Gypsy identities, 1500-2000: From Egipcyans and Moon-men to the ethnic Romany. London: Routledge.


Exemption from the Elizabethan Erection of Cottages Act 1588 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


The creation of a manor arose via a grant from the crown on paying a fee. An estate was given over from the monarch’s allodial title (a term meaning ownership of real property that is independent of any superior landlord). Details of this can be found in Perkins’s Treatise on the laws of England (Perkins, 1792) illustrating the terms of tenure:


“670. If lord and tenant have been before the statute, of two acres of land, and the tenant do thereof enfeoff a stranger, to hold one acre of the lord paramount, and to hold the other acre of him, the same is good. And it is to know, that the beginning of a manor was, when the king gave a thousand acres of lands, or a greater or lesser parcel of land unto one of his subjects, and his heirs, to hold of him, and his heirs, which tenure is knights service at the least. And the donee did perhaps build a mansion-house upon parcel of the same land, and of twenty acres, parcel of that which remained, or of a greater or lesser parcel before the statute of Quia emptores, &c. did enfeoff a stranger, to hold of him, and his heirs, as of the same mansion-house, to plow ten acres of arable land, parcel of that which remained in his possession, and did enfeoff another of another parcel, &c. to carry his dung unto the land, &c. and did enfeoff another of another parcel thereof, &c. to go with him to war against the Scots, &c. and so by continuance of time he made a manor, &c.”


Page 670 Perkins, J. (1792). A treatise of the laws of England, on the various branches of conveyancing.


In the text ‘enfeoff’ is a verb illustrating to give (someone) freehold property or land in exchange for their pledged service. In the text we can also see mention of the 1290 Quia emptores statute mentioned previously translating to “because the buyers” which makes reference formally to ‘A Statute of our Lord The King, concerning the Selling and Buying of Land’ having the function to prevent tenants from alienating their lands.


A manor was the basic unit of manorialism, which became the dominant economic system during parts of the European Middle Ages. In English, Welsh and Irish law at the time, the lord held a land title (estate in land) which involved the right to hold a manorial court. The court held jurisdiction over most of those who lived within the lands of the manor, the serfs – villeins – cottars – crofters – slaves (bonded tenant living under the condition of debt bondage and indentured servitude) and free peasants (tenant farmers who paid low rents to the manorial lord) who worked various plots of land.


This was qualified by the afore mentioned Act formed in 1597 – ‘An Act for the Relief of the Poor’ and 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


“And be it further enacted, That it shall be lawful for the said Churchwarden and Overseers, or the greater Part of them, by the Assent of any two Justices of the Peace aforesaid, to bind any such Children, as aforesaid, to be Apprentices, where they shall see convenient, till such Man-Child shall come to the Age of four and twenty Years, and such Woman – Child to the Age of one and twenty Years, or the Time of her Marriage; the same to be as effectual to all Purposes, as if such Child were of full Age – and by Indenture of Covenant bound him or her self.

(a) And to the Intent that necessary Places of Habitation may more conveniently be provided for such poor impotent People;

(3) Be it enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That it shall and may be lawful for the said Churchwardens and Overseers, or the greater Part of them, by the Leave of the Lord or Lords of the Manor, whereof any Waste or Common within their Parish is or shall be Parcel, and upon Agreement before with him or them made in Writing, under the Hands and Seals of the said Lord or Lords, or otherwise, according to any Order to be let down by the Justices of Peace of the said County at their General Quarter-Session, or the greater Part of them, by like Leave and Agreement of the said Lord or Lords in writing under his or their Hands and Seals, to erect, build, and set up in fit and convenient Places of Habitation in such Waste or Common, at the general Charges of the Parish, or otherwise of the Hundred or County, as aforesaid, to be taxed, rated and gathered in Manner before expressed, convenient Houses of Dwelling for the said impotent Poor;

(4) and also to place Inmates, or more Families than one in one Cottage or House; one Act made in the one and thirtieth Year of her Majesty’s Reign, intitled, An Act Against The Erection and Maintaining of Cottages or any Thing therein contained to the contrary notwithstanding:

(5) Which Cottages and Places for Inmates shall not at any Time after be used or employed to or for any other Habitation, but only for Impotent and Poor of the same Parish, that shall be there placed from Time to Time by the Churchwardens and Overseers of the Poor of the same Parish, or the most Part of them, upon the Pains and Forfeitures contained in the said former Act made in the said one and thirtieth Year of her Majesty’s Reign”.


p.703 Basket, Mark (1763). Statutes at Large:From the fifth year of King Edward IV to the end of the reign of Queen Elizabeth etc. Vol.2. London: Mark Basket et al.


Here in this Act we can 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).


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 the communities and long established ways of life built on self sufficiency that were connected with the land and social networks.


Village populations moved into decline through the displacement of farmers to urban centers. This later coincided with the Industrial Revolution as resettled populations become the workforces of the factories and mills which started to dominate the landscape. Landownership consolidated as small holdings were aggregated into larger farms (Page 384, Rubenstein, 2010).


“To improve agricultural production, a number of European countries converted their rural landscapes from clustered settlements to dispersed patterns. Dispersed settlements were considered more efficient for agriculture than clustered settlements. A prominent example was the enclosure movement in Great Britain, between 1750 and 1850.

The British government transformed the rural landscape by consolidating individually owned strips of land surrounding a village into a single large farm, owned by an individual. When necessary, the government forced people to give up their former holdings. The enclosure movement brought greater agricultural efficiency, but it destroyed the self-contained world of village life. Village populations declined drastically as displaced farmers moved to urban settlements.

Because the enclosure movement coincided with the Industrial Revolution, villagers who were displaced from farming moved to urban settlements and became workers in factories and services. Some villages became the centers of the new, larger farms, but villages that were not centrally located to a new farm’s extensive land holdings were abandoned and replaced with entirely new farmsteads at more strategic locations.

As a result, the isolated, dispersed farmstead, unknown in medieval England, is now a common feature of that country’s rural landscape. As recently as 1800, only 3 percent of Earth’s population lived in cities, and only one city in the world—Beijing—had more than 1 million inhabitants. Two centuries later, one-half of the world’s people live in cities, and more than 400 of them have at least 1 million inhabitants. ”


Rubenstein, J. M. (2010). An Introduction to human geography: The cultural landscape. Boston: Prentice Hall. P384


In Scotland we can see a similar pattern of dispossession of people from sufficiency farming in the form of the highland and lowland clearances. From the work of Prof Tom Devine we can see a slow re-patterning of landuse where crofters and tenants saw their contracts of tenure changed or not renewed (Devine, 1999; Devine, 2011).


Devine, T. M. (1999). The Scottish nation: A history, 1700-2000. New York: Viking.

Devine, T. M. (2011). Clearance and improvement: Land, power and people in Scotland, 1700-1900. Edinburgh: John Donald.


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. The lesser known lowland clearances of Scotland took place between 1760-1830 as landowners bought up and aggregated holdings to form the first ‘superfarms’ (Aitchison & Cassell, 2019).


Aitchison, P., & Cassell, A. (2019). The Lowland clearances: Scotland’s silent revolution, 1760-1830.


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”. (Page 218, Thompson, 2016)


“The arguments of the enclosure propagandists were commonly phrased in terms of higher rental values and higher yield per acre. In village after village, enclosure destroyed the scratch-as-scratch-can subsistence economy of the poor-the cow or geese, fuel from the common, gleanings, and all the rest. The cottager without legal proof of rights was rarely compensated. The cottager who was able to establish his claim was left with a parcel of land inadequate for subsistence and a disproportionate share of the very high enclosure costs.

For example, in the enclosure of Barton-on-Humber, where attention was paid to common rights, we find that, out ofnearly 6,000 acres, 63% (3,733 acres) was divided between three people, while fifty-one people were awarded between one and three acres : or, broken down another way, ten owners accounted for 81% of the land enclosed, while the remaining 19% was divided between I I6 people. The average rental value of the arable land enclosed rose in five years (1794-9) from 6s. 6d. to 20S. an acre; and average rentals in the parish were more than trebled.

The point is not to discover an “average” village–diluting Barton with neighbouring Hibaldstow where, apparently, no cottage common rights were allowed, cancelling this out with the exceptional case of Pickering (Yorks) where the householders came out of it better than the landowners…..- but to notice a combination of economic and social tendencies.

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. The object of the operation (higher rents) was attained throughout the Napoleonic Wars. Rents were sustained, not only by higher yields per acre, but also by higher prices: and when prices fell, in 1815-16, and in 182I, rents remained high -or came down, as they always do, tardily-thereby spelling the ruin of many smallholders who had clung on to their few acre holdings gained from enclosure.

High rents sustained extraordinary luxury and ostentatious expenditure among the landowners, while high prices nourished higher social pretentions-so much lamented by Cobbett-among the farmers and their wives. This was the meridian for those “country patriots” whom Byron scorched in his Age of Bronze.”


Page 218 Thompson, E. P. (2016). Making of the English Working Class. Open Road Media.


For the purposes of this paper, what I have been interested in doing is demonstrating a pattern of the increasing concentration of land ownership in smaller and smaller numbers of people over the span of time. This is correlated with the dispossession and resettling of populations from ancestral land and associated practices which were used to draw sufficiency from commons.


Coming forward we can see this pattern of the concentration of ownership continuing. In 1800 only about 3 percent of Earth’s population lived in cities, and only one city in the world had inhabitants of more than 1 million – that of Beijing. Two centuries later we find 50 percent of the world’s people now living in cities, with more than 400 having at least 1 million inhabitants. (Rubenstein, 2010, P384)


We can see that, as a practice, enclosure was not just confined to Britain but took place in other countries too. In Russia around 1900 we can read about how the Stolypin agrarian reforms shifted landownership from the traditional obshchina communally owned form of Russian agriculture towards the development of large scale individually owned farms (khutors) – where ‘peasants’ (from Old French paisent ‘country dweller’) ‘freed of village and family restraints’, were plunged into a demand economy. (Scott, 2020, P. 42)


“The dream of state officials and agrarian reformers, at least since emancipation, was to transform the open-field system into a series of consolidated, independent farmsteads on what they took to be the western European model. They were driven by the desire to break the hold of the community over the individual household and to move from collective taxation of the whole community to a tax on individual landholders. As in France, fiscal goals were very much connected to reigning ideas of agricultural progress.

Under Count Sergei Witte and Petr Stolypin, as George Yaney notes, plans for reform shared a common vision of how things were and how they needed to be: “First tableau: poor peasants, crowded together in villages, suffering from hunger, running into each other with their plows on their tiny strips. Second tableau: agriculture specialist agent leads a few progressive peasants off to new lands, leaving those remaining more room. Third tableau: departing peasants, freed from restraints of strips, set up khutor [integral farmsteads with dwellings]on new fields and adapt latest methods.

Those who remain, freed of village and family restraints, plunge into a demand economy-all are richer, more productive, the cities get fed, and the peasants are not proletarianized.’ It was abundantly clear that the prejudicial attitude toward interstripping was based as much on the autonomy of the Russian village, its illegibility to outsiders, and prevailing dogma about scientific agriculture as it was on hard evidence.’

The state officials and agrarian reformers reasoned that, once given a consolidated, private plot, the peasant would suddenly want to get rich and would organize his household into an efficientworkforce and take up scientificagriculture. The StolypinReform therefore went forward, and cadastral order was brought to both villages in the wake of the reform.”


P. 42, Scott, J. C. (2020). Seeing like a state: How certain schemes to improve the human condition have failed.


In 1896 Vilfedo Pareto the Italian economist, sociologist and philosopher did a significant piece of economic work at the University of Lausanne in which he showed that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. This offers another litmus in our layering up of changing land ownership over time.


“The Pareto Principle (also known as the 80-20 rule) states that for many phenomena, about 80% of the consequences are produced by 20% of the causes. In this article we discuss the Pareto Principle and its importance in real life problems, describe some mathematical model related to it and also address the concept of the Lorenz curve and Gini coefficient. We tested two sets of real life data to see if the Pareto principle applies to these aspects.

For the Forbes list in 2012, we found that 20% of the richest people own 56.72% of the money. For the world Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2011, 20% of the richest countries in the world have 91.62% of the total amount of money. In both cases results have a relatively close resemblance to the Pareto principle.

More than a hundred years ago the Italian economist and sociologist Vilfredo Pareto made the famous observation that 20% of the population owned 80% of the property in Italy [1]. Later on, he created a mathematical formula to describe the unequal distribution of wealth in his country, which is known as the Pareto distribution.”


 Dunford. R., Su, Q., and Tamang, E. (2014) ‘The Pareto Principle’, The Plymouth Student Scientist, 7(1), p. 140-148.


In contemporary times we can draw a picture land ownership in Scotland from Andy Wightman’s book ‘The Poor Had No Lawyers; Who Owns Scotland and How They Got It. In 2011, of the total land area of 19,469,433 acres, 258 privately owned estates 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).


“In the introductory chapters of the book, I argue that there were five main land grabs in Scotland – namely, feudalisation, the appropriation of Church property, legal reforms in the seventeenth century, the division of the commonties and the nepotistic alienation of the common good wealth of the burghs of Scotland.5 This history is brought to a conclusion by a look at the landed elite. The second part of the book is concerned with who owns Scotland in 2012 and represents a follow-up to my 1996 work of that name. Chapters 13 onward provide an analysis of various aspects of the land issue including, importantly, the land reforms of the past ten years.

If everyone was living happily, there would be no land problem. But they are not – young people can’t afford houses, tenant farmers are being harassed, communities are losing common land and Scotland is still a country where a tiny few hold sway over vast swathes of country. In the space available, this book can do no more than dip into these complex areas and highlight some of the issues involved. There is no coverage at all of the question of public access, for example. In particular, my treatment of Scotland’s history focuses purely on those areas of most relevance to the topic but I point to sources where a fuller account can be gleaned.

Throughout the book I have also included a few additional tales of related matters from a non domino titles to who owns Balmoral. The Latin a non domino translates as ‘from someone who is not the owner’ and the concept is covered in detail in Chapter 22 (see pp. 278–280). In effect, this book ranges over many of the areas of work I have been involved in over the years. I hope it stimulates you to want to know more and to engage in some of the important land rights issues in Scotland. For too long the law has been the preserve of lawyers and for too long they have served the interests of the well-to-do at the expense of the poor.

Of course today there are many excellent solicitors doing very fine work in areas of public interest law and on behalf of the less well-off. The Govan Law Centre and the Environmental Law Centre, both of which have contributed outstanding service to the public, deserve special mention. Contrast these with some of the Edinburgh law firms and ask yourself who in the legal profession is going to help redress the imbalance of power implicit in Scotland’s land tenure system. Who will challenge the stealthy encroachment of landed power and who will stand up for the community’s land rights?”


Wightman A. (2015). The poor had no lawyers : who owns scotland (and how they got it) (New). Birlinn. Chapter 1


Looking more broadly at Britain, in his book ‘Who Owns England ?: How We Lost Our Green and Pleasant Land’, Guy Shrubsole details how 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.


“It’s often very difficult to find out who owns land in England. Land ownership remains our oldest, darkest, best-kept secret. There’s a reason for that: concealing wealth is part and parcel of preserving it. It’s why big estates have high walls, why the law of trespass exists to keep prying commoners like you and me from seeing what the lord of the manor owns – and why the Government’s Land Registry, the official record of land ownership in England and Wales, remains a largely closed book.

The geographer Doreen Massey once observed that the secrecy surrounding land ownership was ‘an indication of its political sensitivity’. Owning land has unique benefits. The inherent scarcity of land means it’s almost always a solid bet for investment. ‘Buy land,’ quipped Mark Twain, ‘they’re not making it anymore.’ Own some land, particularly in a valuable location, and you’re pretty much guaranteed a steady stream of rental income from it – whether by leasing it out for farming, or building flats on it and charging tenants rent.

In fact, a landowner need not do anything to make a profit from their land. ‘Land … is by far the greatest of monopolies,’ raged Winston Churchill in a blistering polemic penned in 1909. Consider, wrote Churchill, ‘the enrichment which comes to the landlord who happens to own a plot of land on the outskirts or at the centre of one of our great cities’. The landowner need only wait while other people work and pay taxes to make the city grow more prosperous: building businesses, installing roads and railways, paying for schools and hospitals and public amenities.

‘All the while,’ Churchill growled, ‘the land monopolist has only to sit still and watch complacently his property multiplying in value, sometimes manifold, without either effort or contribution on his part; and that is justice!’ And that’s why land – and who owns it – lies at the heart of the housing crisis. It’s not because bricks and mortar have suddenly become incredibly expensive. It’s because the value of the land itself has gone through the roof. According to the Office for National Statistics, the value of land in the UK has increased fivefold since 1995.

Landowners are laughing all the way to the bank: over half of the UK’s wealth is now locked up in land, dwarfing the amounts vested in savings. Who owns land matters. How landowners use their land has implications for almost everything: where we build our homes, how we grow our food, how much space we leave for nature. After all, we’re not just facing a housing crisis. We’re also in the throes of an epoch-making environmental crisis, with our land scoured of species and natural habitats after decades of intensive farming.

Our unsustainable food system is not only contributing to poor health; it also faces the biggest upheaval in generations thanks to Brexit. And all the while, our society has grown obscenely unequal, with wealth concentrated in the hands of a tiny few – including the ownership of land.”


Shrubsole, G., & Williams, M. (2019). Who owns England?: How we lost our green and pleasant land, and how to take it back. Introduction



It is evident that the general direction of travel is that land ownership continues to be concentrated in 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 different circumstances that intersect in their lives and that people exist within a spectrum – those who have no choice but to perform (work) for others for access to sufficiency, and those of a leisure class who have a choice as to what they perform as they have 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-requisites for subsistence (food, heat, etc…). In this paper this is can be 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 to ‘be allowed’. It is the meaning found in this linguistic root that I am bringing to inform the term ‘Leisure Class’.



In this scheme of things 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 paper 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 psychology research which establishes how bias, prejudice and identity differentials play a role in self reinforcing societal systems. To illustrate the differentials at work I am drawing in some examples which can be used to layer up an intersectional understanding; an imperative framework to grapple with how lives play out in the real world.


The purpose of this is to lay down 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 low status syndrome – a term used to indicate how the lower in status a person is, the shorter their life and the poorer medical 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 bureaucracies such as the law. An example of such a bureaucracy is where a passport photograph must be countersigning by “a person of good standing in their community” or work in (or be retired from) a recognised profession. Examples of recognised professions include:


  • accountant
  • airline pilot
  • articled clerk of a limited company
  • assurance agent of recognised company
  • bank or building society official
  • barrister
  • chairman or director of a limited company
  • chiropodist
  • commissioner for oaths
  • councillor, for example local or county
  • civil servant (permanent)
  • dentist
  • director, manager or personnel officer of a VAT-registered company
  • engineer with professional qualifications
  • financial services intermediary, for example a stockbroker or insurance broker
  • fire service official
  • funeral director
  • insurance agent (full time) of a recognised company
  • journalist
  • Justice of the Peace
  • legal secretary (fellow or associate member of the Institute of Legal Secretaries and PAs)
  • licensee of a public house
  • local government officer
  • manager or personnel officer of a limited company
  • member, associate or fellow of a professional body
  • Member of Parliament
  • Merchant Navy officer
  • minister of a recognised religion (including Christian Science)
  • nurse (RGN or RMN)
  • officer of the armed services
  • optician
  • paralegal (certified paralegal, qualified paralegal or associate member of the Institute of Paralegals)
  • person with honours, for example an OBE or MBE
  • pharmacist
  • photographer (professional)
  • police officer
  • Post Office official
  • president or secretary of a recognised organisation
  • Salvation Army officer
  • social worker
  • solicitor
  • surveyor
  • teacher or lecturer
  • trade union officer
  • travel agent (qualified)
  • valuer or auctioneer (fellow or associate members of the incorporated society)
  • Warrant Officers and Chief Petty Officers


UK Government, Countersigning passport applications and photos, Drawn from Internet 6.2.2021:


Further inspection of the law governing the ratification of someones identity for a passport reveals that:

“A countersignature must be a person who enjoys a good reputation in the community, possesses a current British passport and has credentials that can be checked, and who would have something to lose by wrongly countersigning an application. For logistical reasons it is not possible to provide a comprehensive list of all professions and organisations where persons holding a responsible position are acceptable to verify passport applications.

While there is no qualification for a “person of similar standing” this may be interpreted in the widest sense, but it must always be borne in mind that a countersignature should normally be someone who: • has qualifications that can be checked; and, • it is believed will not risk a career or reputation by knowingly making an untrue statement in completing the countersigning section of an application form. Note: An unemployed person who has appropriate credentials is not precluded from countersigning an application.”



This is a codified example of how individuals must appeal to persons of status for recognition within the bureaucracy – that is, the centrally managed administrative apparatus of the British government. The very identity of a person is in this sense withheld without ratification given from someone of sufficient status in the hierarchy. 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’.


Explicitly the specification is that the individual has qualifications (validations) that can be checked, and that it is a career or reputation deemed sufficiently valuable not to risk losing their status within the hierarchy.


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 punitive framework associated with finance and status I argue is the basis of a series of inferences which work as the basis of syllogistic thought which steer societal value judgements.


There is evidence of this to be found in Adam Smith’s example of cultural necessity and exclusion (Smith, Campbell, Skinner, & Todd, 1981, Page 176): “But in the present times, 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”. Page 176


“The state, not knowing how to tax, directly and proportionably, the revenue of its subjects, endeavours to tax it indirectly by taxing their expense, which, it is supposed, will in most cases be nearly in proportion to their revenue. Their expense is taxed by taxing the consumable commodities upon which it is laid out. Consumable commodities are either necessaries or luxuries.

By necessaries I understand not only the commodities which are indispensably necessary for the support of life, but whatever the custom of the country renders it indecent for creditable people, even of the lowest order, to be without. A linen shirt, for example, is, strictly speaking, not a necessary of life. The Greeks and Romans lived, I suppose, very comfortably though they had no linen.

But in the present times, 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. Custom, in the same manner, has rendered leather shoes a necessary of life in England.

The poorest creditable person of either sex would be ashamed to appear in public without them. In Scotland, custom has rendered them a necessary of life to the lowest order of men; but not to the same order of women, who may, without any discredit, walk about barefooted. In France they are necessaries neither to men nor to women, the lowest rank of both sexes appearing there publicly, without any discredit, sometimes in wooden shoes, and sometimes barefooted.

Under necessaries, therefore, I comprehend not only those things which nature, but those things which the established rules of decency have rendered necessary to the lowest rank of people. All other things I call luxuries, without meaning by this appellation to throw the smallest degree of reproach upon the temperate use of them.

Beer and ale, for example, in Great Britain, and wine, even in the wine countries, I call luxuries. A man of any rank may, without any reproach, abstain totally from tasting such liquors. Nature does not render them necessary for the support of life, and custom nowhere renders it indecent to live without them.

As the wages of labour are everywhere regulated, partly by the demand for it, and partly by the average price of the necessary articles of subsistence, whatever raises this average price must necessarily raise those wages so that the labourer may still be able to purchase that quantity of those necessary articles which the state of the demand for labour, whether increasing, stationary, or declining, requires that he should have. ”


Smith, A., Campbell, R. H., Skinner, A. S., Todd, W. B., (1981), ‘The Glasgow Edition Of The Works And Correspondence Of Adam Smith: Vol. 2, Part 1’. Indianapolis: Liberty Classics. P870 


Those who lack the most basic fundamentals required to function as distinctions of acceptance 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 – has become a double signifier having the inference that because the person does not have the necessary requisites for membership within a group, there is a reason for this; they have been denied them or stripped of them. In effect they wear the garb of those who have contravened ‘rules of decency’.


People who have membership within a status hierarchy do not want to be the target of having their status stripped through gaining an associated with an individual who is a part of the outgroup; insuffiency in this way can act as a social contagion. 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 punitive targeting which signals transgression. This shares the semiotic which is used to distinguish those who have been targets of the criminal justice system.


Just 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 the effort in achieve results etc; core associations with financial wealth are that success and skill are recompensed, and that societally virtue is honored 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 primitive 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 and so on.


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 (Page137, Luhmann & Bednarz, 2005).


“Accordingly, social systems are based on either a type of action or on an aspect of action, and through action, so to speak, the subject comes into the system. But one can ask whether this accurately grasps the relationship between action and sociality, above all, whether it grasps this relationship in a sufficiently productive way.

If one begins with the possibility of a theory of self-referential systems and with problems of complexity, there is much to suggest simply reversing the relationship of constraint. Sociality is not a special case of action; instead, action is constituted in social systems by means of communication and attribution as a reduction of complexity, as an indispensable self-simplification of the system. On the level of general systems theory one already speaks of “mutualistic” or “dialogical” constitution.

This means that self-reference on the level of basal processes is possible only if at least two processing units that operate with information are present and if they can relate to each other and thereby to themselves. Self-reference presupposes a correspondingly discontinuous infrastructure. The mechanisms necessary for this cannot be either the elements or the subsystems of the social system, because both elements and subsystems are produced by these mechanisms. Instead, systems consist in the selective coordinations produced as the processing units operate together, and the only f unction of the system’s structure is to make the perpetual changing and regaining of such coordinations probable.


Luhmann, N., & Bednarz, J. (2005). Social systems. Stanford, Calif: Stanford Univ. Press. Page137


Prof 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.


“People Get the Class They Deserve It is our national orthodoxy that America is the land of opportunity. According to a pivotal survey by James Kluegel and Eliot Smith, Americans’ stable consensus endorses an opportunity syllogism: (a) Assuming equal opportunity, then (b) people get what they deserve, and (c) the system is fair.26

The first step, equal opportunity as a shared assumption, wins a full 70 to 88 percent agreement, whether in 1952, 1966, or 1980.27 More recent Gallup data show certainty declining from the peak of 77 percent who were satisfied with the level of opportunity in the United States in 2002 to 57 percent in 2009, but that still represents a comfortable majority.28

Despite war and recession, Americans continue to believe that opportunity is available to almost anyone who works hard. Collectively, ensuring opportunity itself matters to twice as many of us (66 percent) as reducing actual inequality (28 percent).29 Nearly everyone (87 percent) thinks “our society should do what is necessary to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity.”30

Opportunity is our mantra. The second step in our opportunity logic is that people get what they deserve. If opportunity arises only for those who work hard, then effort determines economic fate. We presumably control our own efforts, and when we have control we are not innocent victims of circumstances. Indeed, common explanations for poverty and wealth often blame the victim and credit the victor. About half of us (47 percent) blame people’s poverty on their lack of effort, whereas the other half of us (48 percent) blame poverty on circumstances beyond poor people’s control.31

At the other end of the spectrum, about half of us (54 percent) say that people who make a lot of money deserve it, whereas the other half of us (45 percent) disagree. A later section discusses this in more detail, but for now assume that at least half of us subscribe to the syllogism’s second step. Consistent with the common idea that people get what they deserve, poor people around the world are viewed as intrinsically incompetent, whereas rich people are viewed as competent, according to data collected by Amy Cuddy, myself, and our international collaborators.32

What is more, poor people are especially blamed. As Ann Marie Russell shows, observers judge poor people more than rich people on their work ethic.33 This pattern typifies what social psychologists call a controllable stigma. People with HIV/AIDS are blamed more if they contracted the disease through casual sex than if it was transmitted through a blood transfusion. If you bring about your own misfortune, others are angry with you and do not want to help you.

On the other hand, if the misfortune seems to be beyond your control (caused by circumstances), others feel pity for you and do help, according to Bernard Weiner’s decades of research.34 Indeed, the poor are pretty much universally seen as deserving their fates because they are lazy, immoral, and stupid.35

We are particularly concerned about explaining bad outcomes, so it is poor people especially who provoke this kind of attributional gymnastics. But explanations for wealth also tend to credit the rich for their status. In short, meritocracy ensures that people seem to deserve their fates.”


Page 8, Fiske, S. T. (2012). Envy up, scorn down: How status divides us. New York: Russell Sage.


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.


“Similarity breeds connection. This principle—the homophily principle—structures network ties of every type, including marriage, friendship, work, advice, support, information transfer, exchange, comembership, and other types of relationship. The result is that people’s personal networks are homogeneous with regard to many sociodemographic, behavioral, and intrapersonal characteristics.

Homophily limits people’s social worlds in a way that has powerful implications for the information they receive, the attitudes they form, and the interactions they experience. Homophily in race and ethnicity creates the strongest divides in our personal environments, with age, religion, education, occupation, and gender following in roughly that order.

Geographic propinquity, families, organizations, and isomorphic positions in social systems all create contexts in which homophilous relations form. Ties between nonsimilar individuals also dissolve at a higher rate, which sets the stage for the formation of niches (localized positions) within social space. ”


McPherson, M., Smith-Lovin, L., & Cook, J. M. (2001). Birds of a Feather: Homophily in Social Networks. Annual Review of Sociology, 27(1), 415–444. doi:10.1146/annurev.soc.27.1.415


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.


“Social motivation has been shown to influence various cognitive processes. In the present paper, it is verified that people are motivated to view out-groups as possessing a lesser degree of humanity than the in-group (Leyens et al., 2000) and that this motivation influences logical processing in the Wason selection task. So far, studies on infra-humanization have been shown to influence attribution of uniquely human characteristics to groups. Most of these studies focused on the attribution of secondary emotions.

Results have shown that secondary emotions are preferentially attributed to in-group members (Leyens et al., 2001). Also, people tend to react differently to in-group and out-group members displaying secondary emotions (Gaunt, Leyens, & Sindic, 2004; Vaes, Paladino, Castelli, Leyens, & Giovanazzi, 2003).

In the present paper, it is argued that infra-humanization is a two-direction bias and that it does influence logical processing among perceivers. Specifically, infra-humanization motivation impacts logical processing in two different directions. First, most motivation is spent to reach the desirable conclusion that the in-group is uniquely human. Second, least motivation occurs to support the undesirable conclusion that the out-group is uniquely human.

These hypotheses are tested in four cross-cultural studies that varied the status and the conflicting relations between groups. Results were in line with the predictions and further confirmed that infra-humanization biases can be obtained independently of status and conflict (but see Cortes, Demoulin, Leyens, & de Renesse, 2005). The discussion relates these findings with in-group favouritism and out-group derogation (Brewer, 1999) and underlines the importance of infra- humanization in counteracting system justification biases (Jost & Banaji, 1994).”


Demoulin, S., Leyens, J., Rodríguez‐Torres, R., Rodríguez‐Pérez, A., Paladino, P. M., & Fiske, S. T. (2005). Motivation to support a desired conclusion versus motivation to avoid an undesirable conclusion: The case of infra‐humanization. International Journal of Psychology, 40(6), 416–428. doi:10.1080/00207590500184495


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.


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:


“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).


YouTube player


Universal Basic Income Handbook by Annie Miller, Taken from Internet 7.2.2021: 


“The Marriage Contract is not a contract between husband and wife but between the couple and the state, in which the couple agree not to trouble the state for financial help unless the couple as a unit need it. Although the law is gender neutral, its effects are not, affecting far more women than men.


If a poorer partner is not able to work on account of caring for children or elders or sick family members, then the wealthier partner must aliment her, ie giving food, clothing, shelter etc. but she is not entitled to any of his income, (except through separation by divorce or death). This means that many women have no independent income and many have had to feed themselves and their children with only their Child Benefit. If they are in an abusive relationship, then there is often no way out for them. If the couple as a unit needs financial help, they have to submit a joint application.


One of the current problems for married women et al, is that even if they are awarded Universal Credit, the amount depends on her partner’s income which often varies from month to month. So she has no opportunity to budget with the unknown variable amount of money available.


As a young married woman in the 1960s, I could not open an account at a shop without written permission from my husband. Also, in those days, married women could have their earned income separately assessed for income tax, but Tax Returns came with the note ‘If you are a married woman, then pass this to your husband to fill in on your behalf… and you will have to tell him all your financial secrets but it is not required for him to reveal his, and he will be granted any tax rebates that you are due on your income.”


Annie Miller, taken from Private correspondance


This gives illustrating examples of how women as people are set into positions of disadvantage where they must regularly seek permissions and allowances from men to do basic things in their lives. It underpins how being female carries with it nuanced and textured difficulties which disadvantage their functioning in society.


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


“What comes after #MeToo? One of our most eminent lawyers and defenders of human rights answers with this urgent, authoritative and deeply shocking look at British justice

In Eve Was Shamed Helena Kennedy forensically examines the pressing new evidence that women are still being discriminated against throughout the legal system, from the High Court (where only 21% of judges are women) to female prisons (where 84% of inmates are held for non-violent offences despite the refrain that prison should only be used for violent or serious crime). In between are the so-called ‘lifestyle’ choices of the Rotherham girls; the failings of the current rules on excluding victims’ sexual history from rape trials; battered wives being asked why they don’t ‘just leave’ their partners; the way statistics hide the double discrimination experienced by BAME and disabled women; the failure to prosecute cases of female genital mutilation… the list goes on. The law holds up a mirror to society and it is failing women.

The #MeToo campaign has been in part a reaction to those failures. So what comes next? How do we codify what we’ve learned? In this richly detailed and shocking book, one of our most eminent human rights thinkers and practitioners shows with force and fury that change for women must start at the heart of what makes society just.”


Kennedy, H. (2018). Eve was shamed: How British justice is failing women. Introduction


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 explicit demonstrations of this kind of bureaucratic policy enactment is the Windrush Scandal in Britain. It was a profound and vivid example of racism being enacted through bureaucracy. The ‘Windrush Generation’ were named after the ship which brought one of the first groups of West Indian migrants to Britain in 1948; by extension it came to refer to all West Indian migrants. 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”.



Wardle, H., & Obermuller, L. (2019). “Windrush Generation” and “Hostile Environment.” Migration and Society, 2(1), 81–89. doi:10.3167/arms.2019.020108




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 are exemplars of 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 blatantly illegal activity in full public view and in large magnitude can and is normalised through appeals to authority. These indicate how multiple disadvantages (culture, class, gender, disability, etc) intersect and layer up in the real lives of people.


People of colour have been exploited and devalued in numerous ways. Having their very identities withheld in statutory processes is emblematic of the lack of acknowledgement, recognition, valuation and agency which is structured into normalised discourses of privilege hierarchies. These hierarchies dominantly correspond to the finance which people have available to them.



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 – human beings cut of the same cloth. 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 individuals actions partly through the creation of class and privilege.


The system itself is recreated by itself. The sociologist and systems thinker Niklas Luhmann describes social systems as autopoietic – “The key concept here is ‘autopoiesis’ which is to say, the self-reproduction of life by those elements that have in turn been produced in and by the living system” (Luhmann, Gilgen, & Baecker, 2017)



Luhmann, N., Gilgen, P., & Baecker, D. (2017). Introduction to systems theory. Malden: Polity. Page 43


Luhmann uses the concept of “autopoiesis” to characterize the recursive operations of self-referential systems: “One can call a system self-referential if it itself constitutes the elements that compose it as functional unities and runs reference to this self-constitution through all the relations among these elements, continuously reproducing its self-constitution in this way. In this sense, self-referential systems necessarily operate by self contact; they possess no other form of environmental contact than this self-contact.” (Luhmann, N., & Bednarz, J. (2005)



Luhmann, N., & Bednarz, J. (2005). Social systems. Stanford, Calif: Stanford Univ. Press. Page 34


Luhmann’s work in conjunction with others is useful in offering a recognition of structure in behavioural dynamics which results in our 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)



Luhmann, N., & Bednarz, J. (2005). Social systems. Stanford, Calif: Stanford Univ. Press. page 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 matched. In this way 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).



Bell, D. A., (1976), ‘Serving Two Masters: Integration Ideals And Client Interests In School Desegregation Litigation’. New Haven: Yale law journal Co.



Bell, D. A., Jr., (1980), ‘Brown v. Board of Education and the Interest-Convergence’, Dilemma, 93 Harv. L. Rev. 518, 523,


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 enfranchised. Her work in ‘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)


“Before delving into the philosophical underpinnings of this idea, let me offer a brief description of it.  Grammatically, it follows the structure of the term to be replaced; if ‘objectify’ means to ‘turn into an object,’ the ‘derivatize’ means to ‘turn into a derivative’.   To derivatize is to portray, render, understand, or approach a being solely or primarily as the reflection, projection, or expression of another being’s identity, desires, fears, etc.

The derivatized subject becomes reducible in all relevant ways to the derivatizing subject’s existence – other elements of her (as I will argue in the next chapter, women are far more likely than men to be derivatized) being or subjectivity are disregarded, ignored, or undervalued.  Should the derivatized subject dare to demonstrate aspects of her subjectivity that fall outside of the derivatizer’s being – assuming such a demonstration can even be perceived (it may well be so incomprehensible so as to be beyond the perceptual range of the derivatizer) – she will be perceived as arrogant, treasonous, and dangerously rebellious.

Derivatization can function in a variety of social and political situations. Many forms of work, most notably the kind found in service industries, involve various manifestations of derivatization. The hostess at the fine restaurant must smile and make pleasant small talk while escorting the diners to their table – this is not a matter of sheer usefulness (the diners could probably find their own way to the table if it were pointed out to them) but rather an indulging of the diner’s alleged desires to interact with a friendly, hospitable person. When sports fans demand of their heroes not only excellent athletic performance, but also the fulfillment of certain moral standards in their personal life, they are requiring those heroes to embody and represent the fans’ desired ideals (regardless of whether the fans themselves live up to those same ideals).

Derivatization, then, is not limited to interactions that are distinctly sexual, or explicitly engage with the sexuate identities of individuals. Yet for the purposes of this and several other chapters, I will focus primarily on sexual derivatization, as my concerns center on sexual inequality. Although many of the insights that are gained from the exploration of this particular form of derivatization may apply to other examples, and although none of these social spheres are, strictly speaking, distinct from one another, it may well be that the quality of any given case of derivatization is ineluctably marked by the sphere within which it takes place. And so whereas sexual derivatization may serve as a productive starting point for a discussion of the phenomenon, it will not exhaust its political and ethical meanings, a broader scope of which will be explored in the final chapter.

The sexually derivatized subject is not quite a non-person. She may express desires, emotions, and preferences; she may articulate consent or the lack thereof (especially when the lack of consent only heightens the erotic nature of the encounter); she may even play a role of alleged dominance in relation to the derivatizer. One may understand a dominatrix, for example, as a sexually derivatized woman: despite the fact that she takes up an absolutely authoritarian role, defined by and replete with power and domination, still the raison d’etre of the dynamic (and indeed the being and behavior of the dominatrix) is entirely reducible to the needs and desires of the submissive.

It would be laughable to consider a dominatrix a “thing,” or an “object,” if by those terms we mean a “non-person.” Indeed, the dominatrix is not being treated as a thing in any of the ways that, for example, Nussbaum articulates. She does not lack autonomy (indeed, she’s at least nominally, but in a distinctly real way, in charge), nor is she clearly being used as an instrument. Instead, she is required to use the submissive as an instrument. She is in no way similar to inanimate objects, and in fact must express and embody the particular subjectivity demanded by the role with total consistency. The derivatized subject exhibits (and, I would argue, experiences) a particular kind of subjectivity—a subjectivity that is stunted, or muted, as I argue later, but a subjectivity nonetheless.

The problem with the behaviors and images usually associated with sexual objectification is not that they render women things, and therefore not-subjects, or, as Nussbaum would have it, that they represent the inappropriate transposition of thing-like characteristics to women. Such a diagnosis, even through the mediating values of autonomy and non-instrumentality, inevitably opposes the figures of “woman” and “material entity.” As I see it, the ethical problem with such behaviors and images constitutes an ontological mistake of a different sort, whereby feminine subjectivity and sexuality are constructed as wholly derivative of masculine subjectivity and sexuality.

The desires, actions, and choices of derivatized women are required to mirror nothing but the desires of men. Beyond those desires, a derivatized woman cannot exist, cannot speak, and cannot act. The dominatrix is not allowed to say, “You know, I’m tired of dominating you. Let’s try interacting as equals for a change.” Female prostitutes must enact personalities and roles that have been constructed as sexually appealing to men. The prostitute who feels the sexiest when dressed in a loose, Grecian gown, and insists on wearing such a costume, is hardly likely to attract a significant clientèle.

She has made the mistake of assuming that her definition and experience of sexiness is relevant, rather than fulfilling the roles and images that (heterosexual) men (are supposed to) find sexy. Similarly, women who are sexually harassed are implicitly called upon to play a particular role, and if they fail to go along with the harassment in good humor and with little real resistance, they have demonstrated their refusal to act within the bounds of the proscribed relationship. And for saying, “I am more and other than the person you are constructing me as”—for resisting the move of derivatization—they often inspire scorn, anger, and retribution. They have overstepped their bounds by claiming a subjectivity that exceeds that of the derivatizer.”


Cahill, A. J. (2011). Overcoming objectification: A carnal ethics. New York: Routledge. Page 32


She offers a framework of intersubjectivity which stands in contrast to self referential 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”


“Grounding my analysis in the theories of Luce Irigaray, as well as other theorists who have adopted a model of embodied intersubjectivity, I claim that to be considered or treated as a body is not in itself harmful, precisely because subjects are bodies. Nor is being the passive recipient of an active gaze necessarily damaging: to be intersubjective is to be open (even vulnerable) to the attention, acts, and being of the other.

What is harmful—and what in fact is occurring in virtually all situations previously described as ‘objectification’—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.

The problem, then, is not that Western culture on the whole portrays and treats women as things. The problem is that Western culture portrays and treats women as nothing more than the projection of (allegedly) masculine desires, and so fails to recognize women’s ontological specificity. Because this notion of derivatization is grounded in a theory of the embodied, intersubjective self, it avoids many of the theoretical difficulties presented by objectification. In addition, as later chapters will demonstrate, it proves more efficacious in analyzing the ethical wrongs presented by a variety of political and social phenomena often analyzed using the concept of objectification.”


Cahill, A. J. (2011). Overcoming objectification: A carnal ethics. New York: Routledge. Page xiii


“I will never be in a man’s place, never will a man be in mine. Whatever identifications are possible, one will never exactly occupy the place of the other-they are irreducible one to the other.

‘When the first encounter with some object surprises us, and we judge it to be new, or very different from what we formerly knew, or from what we supposed that it ought to be, that causes us to wonder and be surprised; and because that may happen before we in any way know whether this object is agreeable to us or is not so, it appears to me that wonder is the first of all the passions; and it has no opposite, because if the object which presents itself has nothing in it that surprises us, we are in nowise moved regarding it, and we consider it without passion.’ (Rene Descartes, The Passions of the Soul, article 53).4

Who or what the other is, I never know. But the other who is forever unknowable is the one who differs from me sexually. This feeling of surprise, astonishment, and wonder in the face of the unknowable ought to be returned to its locus: that of sexual difference. The passions have either been repressed, stifled, or reduced, or reserved for God. Sometimes a space for wonder is left to works of art.

But it is never found to reside in this locus: between man and woman. Into this place came attraction, greed, possession, consummation, disgust, and so on. But not that wonder which beholds what it sees always as if for the first time, never taking hold of the other as its object. It does not try to seize, possess, or reduce this object, but leaves it subjective, still free. This has never existed between the sexes since wonder maintains their autonomy within their statutory difference, keeping a space of freedom and attraction between them, a possibility of separation and alliance.”


Irigaray, Luce. 1993. An ethics of sexual difference. Trans. Carolyn Burke and Gillian C. Gill. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, Page 13 (quoted in Cahill) 


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 or is that dynamic absent ?


In situations of derivatization the dominant is caught in a narcissistic gaze on 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 (Fisk, 2011)  to coercion and punitive brutality for disturbing the fixation of attentions on the dominant self image.



Fiske S. T. (2011). Envy up scorn down : how status divides us. Russell Sage Foundation, Page 28



Creation of performative underclasses to sanctioned hierarchies

In this section of the paper 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. The precarity which exists has come about through the artificial creation of scarcity rather than our facing a natural scarcity of our environment.



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.


To qualify this argument I draw on the work of two of the United Nations Special Rapporteurs, one on the right to food and one on extreme poverty.  Former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Food, Prof Jean Ziegler, stated: “According to the World Food Organization, there is enough food on the planet for 12 billion people. If people still starve today, it’s an organized crime, a mass murder. Every five seconds a child under the age of ten starves to death and one billion people are permanently severely malnourished” (Lopfe, 2012).



Lopfe, P., “Jetzt kann ich sagen, wer die Halunken sind” (Now I Can Tell Who The Scoundrels Are; interview with Prof Jean Ziegler), 01.10.2012, – google translated:


Prof Jean Ziegler’s book on this is published in the UK under the name ‘Betting on Famine’ which you can download Here:


Much of the poverty we see is a political choice rather than a failure of logistics; the structuring of the sociological environment aims to bring about a hierarchy of classes based on access to sufficiency resources. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and the most cited human rights scholar Prof Philip Alston gave weight to the argument that poverty is artificially created in an interview he did saying “Poverty could be eliminated in virtually every country if the political elite actually wanted to do that, but they don’t, they consciously don’t. They want the money for themselves. And so looking at the US and the UK where you’ve got very wealthy economies, they had lots of choices but they still opt to have 15% or whatever of their population living in poverty” (Alston, 2020).


YouTube player


“And so the actual choice of countries, in some ways I was lucky because obviously China, the United States, United Kingdom, well the US and the UK came from my belief that we should not only do what Nikki Haley would like us to do which is to go to the poorest countries in the poorest continents and hammer away at them but to emphasize the theme that I’ve always pushed which is that poverty is a political choice.

Poverty could be eliminated in virtually every country if the political elite actually wanted to do that, but they don’t, they consciously don’t. They want the money for themselves. And so looking at the US and the UK where you’ve got very wealthy economies, they had lots of choices but they still opt to have 15% or whatever of their population living in poverty so I thought it was very important to convey that message and document the linkage.”  (Quote from Philip Alston 23 min 28 seconds into the video by Prof Philip Alston UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty; the most cited human rights scholar)


Alston, P., (2020) ‘Do Human Rights Investigations Matter? The Case of the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty’, Retrieved from internet 31.1.23:



This enclosing of sufficiency 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).



Rutherford, D. (2007). Economics: The key concepts. London: Routledge. Page 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. This is a natural abundance which John Locke associates as an inalienable property in his Second Treatise on Government:


“Thought the Earth, and all inferior Creatures be common to all Men, yet every Man has a Property in his own Person. Thus no body has any Right to but himself. The Labour of his Body, and the work of his Hands, we may say are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the State that Nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his Labour with, and joyned to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his Property.” (Section 27, On Property, Second Treatise)


Locke, J. (1971). Of civil government: Second treatise. Chicago: H. Regnery.


In a political economy which has set up institutions and conventions which set out to alienate the individual from the land (commons), finance (the promissory note), and their human capital (their self) we find classes of people who must perform to those who have status in the hierarchy to access the means of sufficiency in order to survive. This includes the basic recognition of self owned human capital.


Held in a punitive hierarchy of finance there are various incentives to maintain the order of the status quo and to privilege performing to those who are higher in the hierarchy. This sense of performing to the order of relevance in a hierarchy is well expressed in the autobiography of Nelson Mandela as he recounts his time in Robben Island prison:


“The most important person in any prisoner’s life is not the minister of justice, not the commissioner of prisons, not even the head of prison, but the warder in one’s section. If you are cold and want an extra blanket, you might petition the minister of justice, but you will get no response. If you go to the commissioner of prisons, he will say, ‘Sorry, it is against regulations.’ The head of prison will say, ‘If I give you an extra blanket, I must give one to everyone.’ But if you approach the warder in your corridor, and you are on good terms with him, he will simply go to the stockroom and fetch a blanket.”



Mandela, N. (2008). Part Eight: Robben Island; The Dark Years, The illustrated long walk to freedom: The autobiography of Nelson Mandela. London: Little, Brown. Section 66


Through group behaviour in these institutionalised value structures we participate replicating what we have encountered. Not uncommonly we find ourselves in situations where we have more control over other people’s actions than we have over our own. Iris Marion Young discusses oppression as a multiformed structural concept:


“In this extended structural sense oppression refers to the vast and deep injustices some groups suffer as a consequence of often unconscious assumptions and reactions of well-meaning people in ordinary interactions, media and cultural stereotypes, and structural features of bureaucratic hierarchies and market mechanisms—in short, the normal processes of everyday life. We cannot eliminate this structural oppression by getting rid of the rulers or making some new laws, because oppressions are systematically reproduced in major economic, political, and cultural institutions… The systemic character of oppression implies that an oppressed group need not have a correlate oppressing group. While structural oppression involves relations among groups, these relations do not always fit the paradigm of conscious and intentional oppression of one group by another.” (Young, 1990)



Young, I. M. (1990). Justice and the politics of difference. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, ISBN: 9780691152622, Pages 41 – 76


In this way an important task is to examine the creation of classes as ideological memes rooted in elementary primate behaviours which find their expression throughout our cultures as homo sapiens. Critically central to this investigation is asking the question of ‘if class gives rise to class’ and whether underpinning the sociological patterns are ingroup-outgroup and dehumanization psychologies/behaviours.


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 punitive 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 industry exploited the newly 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 business owners can be seen as a behaviour which continues to this age where the practice of outsourcing is used to lower costs by moving contracting to places where the population is more precarious and as the stakes are higher, will work for smaller provisions of sufficiency. Not only this but if humans can be replaced by machines and computers, the bottom line business will tend to do so.


As the span of the political economy has moved from the local to the national to the international, the patterns of concentrating profit have continued whilst transparency of activity has decreased. The textile workers of Manchester past which would produce the fabric which would supply the clothing retailers that sold the added value products have largely been replaced by different precarious populations elsewhere in the world. The clothing bought in high street retailers gives a clear example. The following is a note found in a pair of trousers at a Primark store in Belfast :


“SOS! SOS! SOS! We are prisoners at Xiangnan jail in Hubei, China. For a long time, we have been producing clothing for export. We work for 15 hours each day. What we eat is even worse than food for pigs and dogs. The work we do is similar to (the hard work) that oxen and horses do. We urge the international community to denounce China for this inhumane act”. A woman in Belfast found this note in a pair of trousers she bought at Primark along with an identity card of the prisoner.” (BBC News, 2014)



BBC News (2014), Primark Investigates Claim of ‘cry for help’ note in trousers,
Northern Ireland. Drawn from Internet 8.2021:


As time has passed we can see a continuing pattern of ownership in business focusing on minimising cost and maximising profit whilst externalising social and environmental responsibilities. Thomas A. Palley (2007) suggests that outsourcing as a central element of globalization is best understood as a new form of competition however, this kind of behaviour has been around a long time.


Palley argues that outsourcing practices are problematic. In the drive to achieve low costs and deliver low prices, it does so at the “high cost of undermining the structure of income and demand generation“.



Palley, Thomas I. (2007) : The economics of outsourcing: How should policy respond?, Public Policy Brief, No. 89, ISBN 978-1-931493-63-5, Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY


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.


As employers and industrial economic policy create the conditions for a competitive labour market both selection and screening play significant roles in steadily declining mean wages as unemployment continues. The ‘Selection effect’ refers to a perception of pre-existing differences among workers who lose their jobs.


This produces a pattern where workers perceived to be more productive find employment quicker and at less of a wage discount, leaving other workers still unemployed facing lower waged opportunities. The ‘Screening effect’ is the related phenomenon where employers infer that the longer a person is unemployed the less productive they must be. Screening can drive a vicious cycle of declining wages (Nichols, Mitchell, & Lindner, 2013).


selection effect


Nichols, A, Mitchell, J & Lindner, S (2013), Consequences of long-term unemployment, Urban Institute, Washington, viewed 08 Feb 2021, <>.


Kroft, Lange, and Notowidigdo (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. This effect is especially pronounced during the first eight months after becoming unemployed. Estimates suggest that this effect is quantitatively important with interview rates being cut by nearly 50%



Kroft, Kory and Lange, Fabian and Notowidigdo, Matthew, Duration Dependence and Labor Market Conditions: Theory and Evidence from a Field Experiment (September 2012). NBER Working Paper No. w18387, Available at SSRN:


Schmieder, von Wachter, and Bender (2012a, 2012b, 2012c) show that increases in duration of unemployment caused by benefit changes drive down the wage offers of employers but do not substantially affect reservation wages. This line of research is one of the very few to plausibly establish a direct causal impact of increases in duration of unemployment.



kroft, kory, Fabian I.ange, and Matthew J. Notowidigdo. 2012. “Dotation Dependence and Labor Market Conditions: Theory and Evidence from a Field Hxperiment.” Working Paper 18387. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research, http://papers.nber.otg/papers/wl8387.


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 the labour. It is associated with subsequent risks of material deprivation, poverty and social exclusion. For older segments of the workforce periods of long unemployment can result in a forced exit from the labour force. (EEORLU, 2012)



EEORLU European Employment Observatory Review Long-term Unemployment (2012), Drawn from Internet 5.2.2021:



McClelland and Macdonald (1998) detail the social consequences of unemployment in terms of health, wellbeing and sociology: “The personal and social costs of unemployment include severe financial hardship and poverty, debt, homelessness and housing stress, family tensions and breakdown, boredom, alienation, shame and stigma, increased social isolation, crime, erosion of confidence and self-esteem, the atrophying of work skills and ill-health. Most of these increase with the duration of unemployment”



McClelland, A., Macdonald, F., (1998), The social consequences of unemployment, Report for the Business Council of Australia,


The effects of being increasingly performative to the rest of society show in accumulating impoverishments as disadvantage intersects in the individual life often bringing about a new disadvantage triggered by an existing one. In the final section of the paper 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 and physical health and ultimately their life expectancy.


Impoverishment Equates to Stress equates to Harms

Michael Marmot is Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London. Work he is famous for includes 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).



Marmot, M. G., Smith, G. D., Stansfeld, S., Patel, C., North, F., Head, J., White, I., Brunner, E., Feeney, A., (1991), ‘Health Inequalities Among British Civil Servants: The Whitehall II Study’. Lancet 1991;337:1387-1393, THE WHITEHALL-II STUDY



North, F., Syme, S. L., Feeney, A., Head, J., Shipley, M. J., Marmot, M. G., (1993), ‘Explaining Socioeconomic Differences In Sickness Absence: The Whitehall II Study’. Br Med J 1993- 306:361-366 _Syme_SL_Feeney_A_Head_J_Shipley_MJ_Marmot_MG_Explaining_socioeconomic_differences_in_sickness_absence_the_Whitehall_ll_study



Stansfeld, S. A., Marmot, M. G., (1992), ‘Social Class And Minor Psychiatric Disorder In British Civil Servants: A Validated Screening Survey Using The General Health Questionnaire’, Soc Sci Med 1992;35:1027-1035, medicine/article/social-class-and-minor-psychiatric-disorder-in- british-civil-servants-a-validated-screening-survey-using-the- general-health-questionnaire/B89216380F2B698E9244816FEB E4F20C


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. And the differences between top and bottom are getting bigger, and have been for a generation….Let me translate…the higher the status in the pecking order the healthier they are likely to be. In other words health follows a social gradient. I call this the status syndrome…Why should someone with a master’s degree have a longer life expectancy than someone with a bachelor’s? The answer that I shall lay out in this book, is that for people above a threshold of material well-being, 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.” (page 1, Marmot, 2015).



Marmot, M. (2015). Status syndrome: How your social standing directly affects your health. Page 1


Supplementary video: Prof Sir Michael Marmot on The Health Gap: The Challenge of an Unequal World


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A large body of research demonstrates that stress is a key component of shortened life span and ill health, both mental and physical. In work for the World Health Organisation Marmot collaborated with Richard Wilkinson to produce the book ‘Social Determinants of Health; The Solid Facts’. This lays down detailed perspectives on how poor social and economic circumstances affect health throughout life and reinforce that people further down the social ladder have at least twice the risk of serious illness and premature death as those near the top (Marmot & Wilkinson, 2005).



Marmot, M., & Wilkinson, R. (2005). Social Determinants of Health. World Health Organisation Europe. Oxford: OUP Oxford. Page 10


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.


The lower people are in the social hierarchy of industrialized countries, the more common these problems are. These psychosocial factors turn on the stress response which diverts energy and resources away from physiological processes important to long-term health maintenance. The cardiovascular and immune systems are especially vulnerable to stress and a wide range of conditions are associated with stress including infections, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, depression and aggression (Marmot & Wilkinson, 2005).



Marmot, M., & Wilkinson, R. (2005). Social Determinants of Health. World Health Organisation Europe. Oxford: OUP Oxford. Page 12


Social relationships and the capacity to socialise is essential for lowering stress levels and improving mental and physical health. If people do not have the finance to participate in social activities they lack the ability to mitigate the stresses of performing in the world. The space, the time and the resources to live in intersubjective ways with others is increasingly lacking the lower in the social and economic hierarchy an individual exists. In his 2019 book ‘The Health Gap: The challenge of an unequal world’ Marmot highlights some extremities of inequality that structure the world in our time:


“When the 1 per cent and the 99 per cent have diverging interests and the head of the US Federal Reserve Bank says that inequalities of income and wealth have gone too far, when banks in Europe and the US have, since 2008, been fined a total of £100 billion for banking crimes and misdemeanours which damage their customers’ interests, when rich countries compete to make the most of Africa’s resources” (Marmot, 2019).



Marmot, M. (2019). The health gap: The challenge of an unequal world. Page 26


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. 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. As the UK emerges from the pandemic it would be a tragic mistake to attempt to re-establish the status quo that existed before the pandemic – a status quo marked in England, over the past decade, by stagnation of health improvement that was the second worst in Europe and widening health inequalities”



Michael Marmot, Jessica Allen, Peter Goldblatt, Eleanor Herd, Joana Morrison (2020). Build Back Fairer: The COVID-19 Marmot Review. The Pandemic, Socioeconomic and Health Inequalities in England. London: Institute of Health Equity:


Supplemental Video: Webinar – Build back fairer; Inequalities and COVID-19 in England


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The Tragedy of the Commons People

In this section I am going to examine ‘the tragedy of the commons’ suggesting of it that what is really stored in this popularized phrase is the tragedy of the commons people; an allusion to the countless lives lost to the poverties created through the pursuit of power. Ultimately I argue that humans, the land and nature are not separate but a part of, and what happens to one occurs to the other.  The people who belong to the land as a part of the natural biosystems have been exploited and despoiled by the inequity championed by the likes of Garrett Hardin as a result of specious and ideological decisions on societal arrangements and the use of resources.


The tragedy of the commons people is a play on the word drawn from the famous paper expressed by Garrett Hardin in 1968. This paper has done much to popularise the notion of ‘the tragedy of the commons’ being the major vehicle by which the expression has entered the common parlance. As a piece of writing I suggest it represents a sociologically dangerous political eristic rather than writing which can be regarded as problematized scholarly contributions to the field of science.


What the paper represents is an ideological account of why power should be assumed over other people (people placed at a disadvantage) and over shared resources, and a piece of writing which holds within it authoritarianism which advocates moral disengagement in seeking power.  It was published in the journal ‘Science’, the peer-reviewed academic journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science regarded as one of the world’s ‘top academic journals’. The journal states itself as having “been at the center of important scientific discovery since its founding in 1880—with seed money from Thomas Edison”.


To get a flavour of the moral disengagement which Hardin is arguing for we need only look at the section of his paper titled “Pathogenic Effects of Conscience” which begins stating “The long-term disadvantage of an appeal to conscience should be enough to condemn it; but has serious short term disadvantages as well”. Such an appeal for human society to abandon perspectives of conscience is deeply troubling and illustrates the kind of moral abandonment which has long accompanied the self justifications of tyrannies to impose their will on populations seizing power, resources and privilege at any expense.



Hardin, Garrett (1968). “The Tragedy of the Commons”. Science. 162 (3859): 1243–1248. Bibcode:1968Sci…162.1243H. doi:10.1126/science.162.3859.1243. PMID 5699198


A chief feature of the paper is the argument against the state providing welfare for those in need and human rights: “If each human family were dependent only on its own resources; if the children of improvident parents starved to death; if, thus, overbreeding brought its own ‘punishment’ to the germ line then there would be no public interest in controlling the breeding of families. But our society is deeply committed to the welfare state (12), and hence is confronted with another aspect of the tragedy of the commons.


In a welfare state, how shall we deal with the family, the religion, the race, or the class (or indeed any distinguishable and cohesive group) that adopts overbreeding as a policy to secure its own aggrandizement (13)? To couple the concept of freedom to breed with the belief that everyone born has an equal right to the commons is to lock the world into a tragic course of action.


Unfortunately this is just the course of action that is being pursued by the United Nations. In late 1967, some 30 nations agreed to the following (14): The Universal Declaration of Human Rights describes the family as the natural and fundamental unit of society. It follows that any choice and decision with regard to the size of the family must irrevocably rest with the family itself, and cannot be made by anyone else.”


It is worth pointing out that reference 13 of the bibliography which Hardin uses to underwrite the statement ‘In a welfare state how shall we deal with…overbreeding as a policy to secure its own aggrandizement’ is a reference to a paper he wrote in 1963.  This paper titled ‘A Second Sermon on the Mount’ was published in the journal ‘Perspectives in Biology and Medicine’ a peer-reviewed academic journal established in 1957 (


The association of the notion of tragedy with commons seems to be related to a political philosophy of authoritarianism off the back of a poorly examined rhetoric of Malthusian catastrophe. Professor Jean Ziegler who was the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Food for two consecutive terms of office has grappled directly with this amoral (and ultimately immoral) persuasion in his book ‘Betting on Famine’.


Chapter 8 of the book is titled “Famine and Fatalism; Malthus and Natural Selection” where he deals with the passivity and acceptance which is cultured in relation to allowing populations of humans starve to death. Hardin follows directly on from Malthus in his argument that population in relation to available resources offers an insoluble problem.  Setting the scene Malthus published in his 1798 book ‘An Essay on the Principle of Population’: 


“Necessity, that imperious all pervading law of nature, restrains them within the prescribed bounds. The race of plants and the race of animals shrink under this great restrictive law. And the race of man cannot, by any efforts of reason, escape from it. Among plants and animals its effects are waste of seed, sickness, and premature death. Among mankind, misery and vice” [Malthus T. (1798). An essay on the principle of population]


In Malthus’ later Principles of Political Economy published in 1820 he extends his argument: “Under this law of population, which, excessive as it may appear when stated in this way is, I firmly believe, best suited to the nature and situation of man, it is quite obvious that some limit to the production of food, or some other of the necessaries of life, must exist. Without a total change in the constitution of human nature, and the situation of man on earth, the whole of the necessaries of life could not be furnished in the same plenty as air, water, the elasticity of steam, and the pressure of the atmosphere. It is not easy to conceive a more disastrous present—one more likely to plunge the human race in irrecoverable misery, than an unlimited facility of producing food in a limited space.”


Prof Jean Ziegler in his work on the human right to food wrote on Thomas Malthus and the intellectual heritage he left behind:



Malthus was one of the theoreticians – effectively a lobbyist – who provided a charter for action for the British establishment to behave in morally uncoupled ways.  He, like Garrett Hardin, lent his charismatic opinion under the guise of science to backing antisocial policy which disregarded the lives of people placed in destitution by such policy, and worse, by the regime of truth which allowed for damaging policies that cultivated what some argue as human rights catastrophes.


As an appendix to this study and analysis I have brought together a rudimentary collection of verbatim excerpts where Malthus is mentioned in British Parliament in order to provide to the reader a document which illustrates how Malthus’ work was used to justify policy decisions.  The reader is also invited to utilise the Hansard records which are publicly available without cost to learn firsthand about the nuances of the history being represented; thus beside each excerpt there is included a hyperlink which can be used to visit the archives directly.


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An example of the involvement of Malthus’ ideological views laying the groundwork for human rights catastrophes can be seen in the work of Professor of international law Francis Anthony Boyle who wrote the book ‘United Ireland, Human Rights and International Law’ in which he explores the policy decisions of the British government during the time of The Great Famine (aka The Irish Potato Famine). He concludes that the British government deliberately pursued a race- and ethnicity-based policy aimed at destroying the group commonly known as the Irish people and that the policy of mass starvation amounted to genocide per the Hague Convention of 1948.


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Did the Irish Famine Constitute Genocide? With Dr Francis Boyle, Professor of International Law


It took the ideas placed central in the theory of Malthus to set the scene for the kind of moral disengagement required to actively starve a population.  Moral disengagement is a process where an individual or group distances themselves from normal ethical standards of behaviour by use of convincing arguments which sanction new unethical behaviours by framing perceptions of extenuating circumstances. In his book ‘Moral Disengagement: How People Do Harm and Live With Themselves’, Albert Bandura describes the psychological processes:


“Moral standards, whether characterized as conscience, moral prescripts, or principles, do not function as unceasing internal regulators of conduct. People often face pressures to engage in harmful activities that provide desired benefits but violate their moral standards. To engage in those activities and live with themselves, they have to strip morality from their actions or invest them with worthy purposes. Disengagement of moral self-sanctions enables people to compromise their moral standards and still retain their sense of moral integrity.” (Bandura, 2016)


Bandura A. (2016). Moral disengagement : how people do harm and live with themselves. Worth Publishers Macmillan Learning. Page 2


Such theory, Prof Jean Ziegler suggests, inevitably discriminates on racial grounds. He points out that Malthus in later editions of his book makes a survey of the world’s peoples; for example, he writes about the First Nations peoples of North America: “The tribes of hunters, like beasts of prey, whom they resemble in their mode of subsistence, will consequently be thinly scattered over the surface of the earth. Like beasts of prey, they must either drive away or fly from every rival, and be engaged in perpetual contests with each other.”


This simplistic and misrepresentative picture of the lives which First Nations peoples lived was undoubtedly influenced by the deeply eurocentric prejudices which abounded.  The European eye cast outward saw its ‘regime of truth’ everywhere it went; one dogged with racism and dehumanization intellectually incapable in large part of recognizing civilisation when it encountered it. Indeed, when civilisation was recognized and encountered the pathological forces of colonization tended to plunder, destroy and yoke the riches they found.


The phrase ‘regime of truth’ I borrow from Foucault describing a general politics of truth that each society has, embodies types of discourse it harbours and causes to function as true (Michel Foucault, ‘The political function of the intellectual’, Radical Philosophy 017, Summer 1977). Societies create their own mythologies and institute them on the world as charters for action, and the European societies have created themselves as the image of civilisation, as a result become myopic to other civilisations of the world.


David Graeber and David Wengrow, explore this kind of construction of the world in their presentation ‘The Myth of the Stupid Savage: Rousseau’s Ghost and the Future of Political Anthropology’ which has an accompanying article.  In it they bring serious questions about the way which history is interpreted and how ‘civilising’ forces came about in Europe suggesting that significant positive example and influence came to Europe and European settlements via delegations of the likes of Iroquoian-speaking First Nations. 


These delegations were highly intelligent, eloquent speakers of the languages of the countries and communities they visited sharing the notion that in their cultural settings they ensure people have food and shelter by collective contribution and mutual aid.  The pathological degradation of othered cultures no doubt majorly shaped propagated images of non-European cultures and continues to do so to this day; a sort of structural racism which from the inside is not understood or perceived as anything other than ‘the truth’.


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Graeber and Wengrow on the Myth of the Stupid Savage


Ziegler highlights how the work of Malthus was received with immense success in the ruling classes of the British Empire. The prime minister recommended reading it and its arguments debated in parliament.  The influence and reach of Malthus spread across Europe because it conveniently serves the ruling classes and their exploitative practices. His ideological rendering of limited resources made it possible to reconcile the charter myth of the ‘nobility’ of the bourgeoisie’s mission to ‘civilize the savage’ with the “famines and mass graves that it was causing”. [Ziegler,  J., (2013), Betting on Famine, The New Press, Page 82]


Ziegler finishes his chapter on Malthus with “In naturalizing the mass death caused by starvation, by linking it to the idea of necessity, Malthus relieved Westerners of their moral responsibility”.


Returning to the likes of Hardin we see a modern Malthusian who has greatly contributed to the western nations normalisation of deliberate impoverishment of populations. It seems essential in any appraisal of the human world that this kind of immoral perspective is held and rationalised by a significant enough contingent of individuals. It bears repeating that another United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty, Prof Philip Alston points out that the poverty which many countries see is artificial – a result of political decisions:


“Poverty could be eliminated in virtually every country if the political elite actually wanted to do that, but they don’t, they consciously don’t. They want the money for themselves. And so looking at the US and the UK where you’ve got very wealthy economies, they had lots of choices but they still opt to have 15% or whatever of their population living in poverty so I thought it was very important to convey that message and document the linkage.”


(Transcript from Philip Alston 23 min 28 seconds into the video by Prof Philip Alston UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty; the most cited human rights scholar – Alston, P., (2020) ‘Do Human Rights Investigations Matter? The Case of the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty’, Retrieved from internet 31.1.23:


In Ziegler’s book ‘Betting on Famine’ he reveals that the United States of America particularly challenged and obstructed the notion of the human right to food.  You can see in the following excerpt how the Hardin perspective seems to sit center stage in the political realities they propagate illustrating the ideologies at work:


[Ziegler,  J., (2013), Betting on Famine, The New Press, Page 152]


It is worth noting that Ziegler devotes much of his book detailing and casting light on how the financial machinations of the stock market plunder the gobal south are particularly encouraged by the United States and other western nations; something he labels ‘Tiger SharkEconomies’ (to which he dedicates the last quarter of his book Betting on Famine to).


Thus we can see how Hardin’s perspective voiced in ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’, in which he argues for abandoning welfare and denying human rights in favour of societies based on “mutual coercion” are much more prominent than are publicized (likely because of their bad taste and moral disengagement). His use of ‘Rational Choice Theory’ to frame each person as a “rational being” only when they are maximising their gain is fundamentally flawed in relation to alternative views based on symbiosis, human rights and equity. Implicit in this framework is that the only rational course of events is for the individual to increase their lot without limit; a toxic fiction both in relation to social configurations and in relation to the bounded nature of the resources which the earth has.


Hardin twice draws on Kingsley Davis, an American sociologist and a senior research fellow at the Hoover Institution (a conservative American public policy think tank and research institution that promotes personal and economic liberty, free enterprise, and limited government) and someone who became a key commentator on population matters.


Davis is known for formulating an explanation and justification for social stratification, based on “functional necessity”. This he published along with Wilbert E. Moore in the influential paper “Some Principles of Stratification,” [Davis, K, and Moore, W. E. “Some principles of stratification.” American Sociological Review, 10 (2), 242–249] (which draws on the preceding paper ‘ A Conceptual Analysis of Stratification’ [Davis, K. (1942). A Conceptual Analysis of Stratification. American Sociological Review, 7(3), 309. doi:10.2307/2085360] offering utilitarian rationales for social inequality.


A theme of the work is that the most challenging jobs in any society are the most necessary requiring the highest remuneration to sufficiently motivate individuals to fill the jobs.  The sketches laid out by Davis and Moore of social structure and stratification have been widely criticised since their publication.  Hauhart (2003) examines some of the issues of the theory with a special interest in understanding why it became such a heavily cited paper.



Hauhart, Robert. (2003). The Davis–Moore theory of stratification: The life course of a socially constructed classic. The American Sociologist. 34. 5-24. 10.1007/s12108-003-1013-y.


Continuing the critical analysis, seeded in the language Hardin uses is that of genetics and eugenics. Hardin places center the ”population problem” which he ascribes to a class which has ‘no technical solution’. He describes himself as a genetically trained biologist but spends much time in his famous and influential paper talking about what he describes as the “pathogenic effects of conscience”. This all links discussion of pollution and degradation with how the “freedom to breed is intolerable”.


Drawing on Charles Galton-Darwin, he argues it as a “mistake to think that we can control the breeding of mankind in the long run by an appeal to conscience”. Both Galton-Darwin and Hardin were proponents of eugenics, a thoroughly debunked theoretical perspective which served as a harbour for poor understandings of the science of genetics as well as insidious and pathogenic ideological perspectives.


He lays out an argument that the tragedy of the commons is averted by private property, regularly suggest “the alternative of the commons is too horrifying to contemplate”. In his paper he states: “Coercion is a dirty word to most liberals now, but it need not forever be so. As with the four-letter words, its dirtiness can be cleansed away by exposure to the light, by saying it over and over without apology or embarrassment”. At one point he suggests “We in the Western world are just emerging from a dreadful two-centuries-long Dark Ages of Eros that was sustained partly by prohibition laws, but perhaps more effectively by the anxiety-generating mechanisms of education”.


Garrett’s advocacy for a social arrangement based on ownership of property and coercion speaks to a troubled stance which envisions a social stratification based on material wealth and social arrangements oriented around force and dominance.  The only rational interpretation of what he means by the ‘Dark Ages of Eros’ and ‘anxiety generating mechanisms of education’ which occur to me are that social orientations around love/attraction and a publicly knowledgeable population he sees as problematic. The vision he propounds seems to lean towards one of crypto-fascism where governance is defacto enforced through the greatest ownership of wealth but where governance is identified with individualism but not equitable regulation.



Definition of Fascism in Encyclopedia Britannica:


The Southern Poverty Law Center – known for its legal advocacy of civil rights and public interest litigation – publicised his connections with White Nationalism. Some of these include the co-founding of the anti-immigration Californians for Population Stabilization, having sat as a board member of the Federation for American Immigration Reform and on the board of Social Contract Press (SCP), a publisher of white nationalist and anti-immigrant literature (Beirich, 2019).


Screengrab of profile on Garrett hardin as a whites extremist



Beirich, Heidi (Spring 2019). The Year in Hate and Extremism: Rage Against Change (PDF). Intelligence Report (Report). Montgomery, Alabama: Southern Poverty Law Center. OCLC 796223066


The tragedy of the commons can be understood in many ways which is maybe why the phrase has become so popular and quick to the lips of people. What it represents in its origin is a deeply ideological and troubled if you hold that a society should democratically represent the rights and dignities of all people. ‘The tragedy of the commons’ has been used in many contexts as a short hand for societies based around a private ownership model, one where governance and government is decided by those who ‘own more’ and demonstrated through mechanisms of coercion.


Garrett has thinly dressed this vision as a concern for the environment as habitat and the ecologies we share with a range of other living species. A tragedy is that people are depicted in the way they are – one which implicates the effort to conscience as pathogenic – and that these depictions are used to justify the brutalising institution of private power over public resources at the expense of peoples lives.


If we look at the reach and influence of the financially wealthy class there is no doubt that it is those who are members of this category who disproportionately despoil natural commons, be it through their glutinous (and disproportionate) use of polluting resources in their personal lives or be it their decision making schemes which extract and privilege profit at the expense of people and planet (be it through agriculture, fossil fuels or anything they generate monopoly dynamics in) [see Prof Kevin Anderson below].


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Kevin Anderson: “The Uncomfortable Link Between Climate and Equity”


Hardin’s vision is an extension of the privilege certain people have attributed to themselves as a matter of providence and the mythologies of exceptionalism which humans have been so adept at creating to account for the regimes they institute. An alternative is to 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 dehumanised shortening their lives and damaging their health. The tragedy of the commons people is that they are exploited and despoiled by those who have enclosed the sufficiency of commons which is essential for wellbeing and continued abundance.


The tragedy of the people is their life is being stolen by the shortening of their years through ill health brought on by inequity in order (See Michael Marmot) to concentrate profit and sufficiency in the hands of too few. The inequity in the hierarchy is the tragedy as the hierarchy has been codified to exclude and penalise those who are not participating to maintaining it.


Countervailing Garrett’s account of the commons is Elinor Ostrom’s Nobel prize winning work ‘Governing the commons: The evolution of institutions for collective action’. In response to the social dilemma she introduces a model “in which the herders themselves can make a binding contract to commit themselves to a cooperative strategy that they themselves will work out” (Ostrom, 2019). The work of Ostrom speaks to me of the development of notions of democracy and inclusive both from their usefulness and from the values which are congruent with an ethical non-coercive society.


Ostrom, E. (2019). Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. Page 15


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Elinor Ostrom and the Theory of Governing the Commons Explained

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Elinor Ostrom Nobel Prize in Economics Lecture


by Alex Dunedin