The Christmas before last, I read a very important book called The Social Entrepreneur by Lord Andrew Mawson, charting his journey transforming a church in Bromley-by-Bow, East London into a centre delivering arts, healthcare and education services. The overriding lessons for me were a) the success of mobilising untapped creativity and cash in communities to tackle social problems and b) using church space outside of congregation time is as good a place as any to start. I was reminded of Andrew’s work by two Fellows’ ventures supported by Catalyst who have taken a similar approach.
The first venture is led by Francis Davis FRSA to use excess faith-run spaces to incubate start-up or growth businesses and social enterprises, initially across the Solent region but developed for replication by every faith-based centre. He was supported by Catalyst to find nine Fellows who stepped forward to be designated mentors for the businesses. Last week I went down to the Portsmouth Cathedral Innovation Centre and saw Francis launching community shares in the fund investing in the start-ups, with Baroness Berridge, Minister for Employment Mark Hoban and Dean of Portsmouth Cathedral David Brindley there to commit to be the fund’s first investors.
Creating wealth is a good thing, employing people is a good thing, and I think it’s really important that the cathedral gets involved so that the capitalists, the people who make the wealth of the future, do it in a way that’s more socially responsible than we’ve seen in the past – Baroness Berridge, backer of Cathedral Innovation Centre, speaking on Radio 4
The second is The Sunday Assembly who run big public meetings with the aim of helping people to “live better, help often, wonder more”. They get people together in churches and other available spaces to sing pop songs, meet their neighbours, hear how they can help out with local community projects and listen to inspiring speakers to teach them more about the world they live in. As co-founder and RSA Fellow Sanderson Jones put it: “Atheists make a mistake to look at church and throw it all out just because they don’t believe in God.” Mobilising other faith spaces will be crucial to the ability to scale the assemblies to other communities. An encouraging sign came when one Assembly in North London dovetailed with a church service, the Bishop was very encouraged by the Assembly: “in the process of time, with love people will come to know the God that we serve.”
Of course the guardian could not resist citing experts who say “I do think it’s going to appeal only to one particular section of the community… a middle-class cultural elite” and “atheist churches were formed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but petered out because people found other forms of social organisation that suited them better”. What Mawson said is relevant to these critiques: “start with people and action rather than research… avoid paralysis by analysis.” Sanderson is getting on with it and with the help of a Catalyst grant wants to provide clear instructions to help others launch Sunday Assemblies in communities across the world.
Atheists make a mistake to look at church and throw it all out just because they don’t believe in God – Sanderson Jones FRSA, co-founder of The Sunday Assembly
I wanted to end with what Lord Mawson had learned from building his Bromley-by-Bow centre, which I think sums up what Catalyst is about, supporting RSA Fellows to try out new ventures. He said that: “answers to macro-political questions must be sought in the micro-experience of local activity… rewarding those who bother to get off their backsides to work together on practical projects and discouraging those who want to take the lazy, pontificating, seminar-attending approach.”
The Self-Tapping Screw: Recollections of a Borstal Officer, Simon Barlow, 22 May 2013 at 6pm, Tunbridge Wells Council Chamber, Town Hall, Royal Tunbridge Wells, TN1 1RS
On the evening Wednesday 22nd May, the Whole Person Recovery Programme will be hosting an event as part of our on-going Public Events Programme. The Public Events Programme is held in various venues across West Kent as a way of engaging and educating the wider community members in our work and the debates surrounding addiction, recovery, community development, etc. On the 22nd we will welcome Simon Barlow to Tunbridge-Wells to discuss his new book. Simon is a colleague from CRI, one of our partner organisations on this project.
Like many of those we work with in West Kent, Simon has had an interesting and varied career. Before moving to Tonbridge and working for CRI Simon gave up his job working at a shoe shop and enrolled on a training programme to become a prison officer. From 1980 to 2005 Simon worked in a variety of adult prisons but started out as an officer for the now much maligned borstals, probably most famously depicted in the Alan Clarke film Scum. Simon argues that, for all their faults, the borstals did help to transform many boys’ lives. Viewed from the inside, Barlow champions the system of education, training and structure for the borstal boys and compares it to what he deems an inadequate replacement.
‘The borstals, though not perfect, had transformed many boys’ lives. Lads would come to us, never knowing any structure in their lives and never having experienced discipline of any sort, and the experience would change them. I remember several examples of boys having to be physically removed from the institution on the day of their release, as they did not want to return to the chaos that was their lives.’
Join us to hear Simon recount his tales of borstal life and have a chance to engage with the issues raised in a discussion after the talk. The event is free and refreshments will be provided but please book in advance here.
It’s not the amount of support for SMEs that’s the problem. It’s encouraging them to make use of it.
In his speech to the conservative party conference last year, David Cameron asserted that we need to do more as a country to get behind the “doers” and the “risk-takers”. In his mind – and indeed in the minds of most people – the entrepreneurial class are like energetic Jack in the Boxes. They crave to be unleashed; to act on every opportunity, to start a business and grow it as fast and as big as possible. Ergo, all we need to do is to get out of their way and give them the occasional leg up.
This has been the narrative underpinning the many pro-entrepreneurial initiatives launched by the government over the past few years. Take, for example, the StartUp Loans scheme. Originally available only to the under 25s, the offer of a low-rate business loan of up to £5,000 (and accompanying expert advice) has just been extended to anyone up to the age of 30, and there are now calls to remove the age limit altogether.
For more mature businesses, there a multitude of new support schemes such as the Enterprise Finance Guarantee, whereby the government guarantees to secure loans from lenders to businesses typically seen too risky for a conventional loan. Myriad other mechanisms have sprung up to support businesses to grow, among them the MentorsMe mentorship service, the GrowthAccelerator initiative and the various National Insurance holidays.
Put simply, the support for entrepreneurs clearly isn’t lacking. Indeed, many of the schemes are highly effective. Research indicates that businesses which use support are much more likely to grow than those who spurn it. As I alluded to in my last blog post, the real problem is that businesses either aren’t willing to grow or aren’t event aware of the support that is available to them.
According to Lord Heseltine’s acclaimed report on the UK’s economic competitiveness, 29 per cent of businesses experienced more or less static growth in employment (-1 or +1 per cent) over the last 3 years. Echoing these concerns, Lord Young’s report on business growth released just yesterday cited figures showing that only a quarter of SMEs have ‘a substantive ambition to grow’. Nor is the situation improving. Fewer SMEs in 2012 said they aimed to grow than said so in 2010.
Contrary to what you might expect, the way out of this conundrum is not necessarily to expand support for entrepreneurs. In his report for the then Conservative shadow cabinet in 2008, the entrepreneur Douglas Richards lamented what he, perhaps justifiably, perceived to be a bloated enterprise support industry. He calculated that there were 3,000 government-led business support schemes in existence, costing some £2.4bn to the taxpayer (albeit at 2003 figures). The result was that entrepreneurs were left bewildered at the sheer amount of options available to them. Judging from the recent conversations we’ve had with young entrepreneurs for our own research, this is still very much a concern.
So, to return to the challenge, if more support isn’t the solution then what is? Two answers may be found in Lord Young’s latest report. First, although not one of his most exciting proposals, the recommendation that 5 per cent of the budget of future initiatives be spent on marketing and advertising could be genuinely transformational. As he states, one of the reasons why the old Enterprise Allowance Scheme was so successful is because it had a simple message and some hard-hitting marketing that helped it to go viral. (If only something like the National Insurance holiday had this, it may not have had the disastrous take-up rates that were reported last week).
Now while this gets at the people who want to grow their business but don’t know how, it doesn’t necessarily do anything to move the many entrepreneurs who currently lack the ambition to expand. This is where the second proposal comes in. Lord Young has outlined plans for a £30m Growth Vouchers programme to find “innovative approaches to help SMEs overcome behavioural barriers to increasing growth.” The detail is notably lacking, but the intention of using behavioural science to encourage more entrepreneurs to expand their operations and take on staff is a compelling one (and something the RSA might have something to contribute to).
Neither of these proposals sound incredibly daring, but they could potentially leave a bigger mark on the growth intentions of the country’s SMEs than the rest of the report’s recommendations put together. Whatever the direction of enterprise support over the coming years, the less talk of “unleashing” and “unlocking”, the better. In the end, it’s meaningless if there’s nothing waiting to be set free.
A trained psychologist myself, I took great interest in today’s call of the British Psychological Society for a departure of the biomedical model of mental illness. And, to my delight, so did other colleagues – read a great blog post from Social Brain’s Emma Lindley here, where she writes that we might be right now witnessing a bona fide revolution that may change mental health services so radically, ‘they will be unrecognisable to the children of my generation.’ As Emma points out, the debate is as much driven by differing concepts of human nature as it is by politics, and the struggle for professional relevance and power. It is the latter aspect that I want to focus on in this blog post.
The RSA has long taken an interest in professions and their future (including this project in the early 2000s), and is currently managing an independent review of the Police Federation. Further international projects with other professions may follow soon.
Interestingly, even though Psychiatry is the younger term, it is the arguably the older science, and literally means ‘the medical treatment of the soul’, whereas Psychology means ‘study of the soul’. Psychology and, specifically, its subdomain Clinical Psychology, have always had a hard time standing up to their medical cousin. Part of the reason for that one can find in the etymology; isn’t medical treatment is just so much more tangible than mere study? Thus, in more than one hospital of the world (including one I interned in a long, long time ago), Psychologists have not been much more than overeducated sidekicks to doctors. This may change soon.
The main reason for this is that over the last decade, and particularly since 2008, Psychology has arrived in the scientific establishment. It did so by using a strategy applied by underdogs since the advent of mankind: collaboration. (And, of course, the emergence of discipline rockstars like Steven Pinker has helped.)
Not having enough leverage itself, Psychology entered functional marriages with up and coming disciplines like neuroscience and traditional ones like economics, a process that led to the creation of new interdisciplinary fields like behavioural science. A prominent victim of this process was homo economicus – the notion that humans are wholly rational and narrowly self-interested. Homo biomedicus (not an official term, my inadequate creation), the similarly reductionist paradigm underlying present day psychiatry that acknowledges only the physical side of human existence, but leaves aside the social and psychological aspects, may very well be next.
There are two reasons to be concerned about the potential revolution of mental health services given that professional battle lines are drawn:
Firstly, while for Psychology there was the possibility of a non-threatening complementary relationship in the mutual interest with economics or neuroscience, with Psychiatry it is different. Here the question is ‘who runs the show?’, or, if you will, one of professional hegemony. Still, one hopes that the critical voices on both sides steer the process away from the zero-sum-game it is in danger to become, which certainly would leave everyone worse off.
Secondly, the homo biomedicus model is not entirely wrong, just as the homo economicus model is not completely off the mark. The concept has its merit and adequate areas of application, and it will need to be taken into account when designing future services based on a richer, more complex understanding of man as Homo biopsychosocialis that is embedded in a capabilities-based approach. Throwing out the baby with the bath water would be just as wrong.
Josef Lentsch is Director of RSA International – follow him at @joseflentsch
As a committed Labour supporter, Alex Ferguson’s announcement to retire could have been better timed. It took the heat and light out of a Queen’s speech that was even duller than her annual Christmas message. If Ed Miliband did give the front bench the hairdryer treatment, it was lost in the photos, eulogies and trophy infographics of one of Britain’s greatest post war leaders (or is that brand-builder?)
We shouldn’t judge a government by the content of its Queen’s speech. Halfway through an administration, the big policy changes have already been pushed through, and the inevitable suite of unintended outcomes have not yet revealed themselves. It may be that “we don’t need much legislation”. New laws don’t grow economies, although like most of us I can’t quite work out what might.
But a dearth of real parliamentary business offers a potential opportunity. Margaret Hodge pointed out recently that too many MPs don’t have enough to do. This year’s legislative programme may lead to even more slack time.
How might MPs fill this time? There probably isn’t any room for more MPs at Number 10, whatever school they went to. As more policies become scrutiny-ready, Select Committee members should get even busier. The unlucky ones will be swallowed by the dull machinations of party business. Others may find more interests to register this time next year (one of the greatest ideas to come from Mark Thomas’ People’s Manifesto was that MPs, like F1 drivers, should be forced to wear the logo of any organisation which pays them). The natural and ethical way to fill your time will be to serve your real employers, your local constituents. A few MPs such as Stella Creasy and Robert Halfon are taking this beyond the standard reactive surgery and letter-passing approach to become genuine community entrepreneurs in their patch. Matthew Taylor once proposed that MPs should be given specific government projects to oversee, to improve their understanding of implementation, and feel the heat of accountability.
However, there could also be scope for under-occupied MPs to use some of the time to transcend the short term needs of their constituents, and the myopic demands of parliamentary non-business. They could do what politicians of all sides find most difficult, partly because we voters make it so difficult for them – to think about the longer term challenges we face, outside of traditional party or departmental divisions, and develop philosophies and policy ideas that will probably have too much depth to be manifesto-ready.
So for those MPs who are twiddling thumbs rather than fiddling expenses, here’s an offer of work. RSA education is currently developing a new research programme to redefine adolescence. How can society relish rather than fear the teenage years, harnessing its ‘hidden wealth’? How might attitudes, funding and policy towards adolescence make the same step change that we saw in the Early Years during the last 15 years? We are looking for a small number of MPs from all parties to help develop this programme. The salary is less than minimal, the coffee isn’t great, and the chances of promotion and prizes are zero, let alone of winning cups with big ears.
Joe Hallgarten, Director of Education @joehallg
There was policy among the politics in Wednesday’s Queen’s speech, although not all of it was necessarily pulling in the same direction. For political consumption the Government is offering a new clamp down on the rights of non-UK nationals to access our NHS services. Let’s see if it proves more consequential, or electorally satisfying, than the many clamp downs that have preceded it. On the policy side, the government is taking important steps to reform social care, capping individual liability for some costs, introducing new rights and prioritising early intervention support. The social care sector will need to grow and change radically in order to meet the aspirations behind the proposals. Whether this will be helped or hindered by restricting the ability of migrant social care workers – on whom the sector has been highly dependent – to access health services while in the UK has yet to be seen.
The kindest interpretation of events is that the Coalition is deliberately underlining that the way we’ve expanded our caring capacity as a society in recent years is unsustainable, fiscally and socially. We cannot continue to rely on professional services, often offering low-pay, low-prestige jobs, intervening at points of crisis or severe infirmity and offering relationships between carer and cared-for that are so tightly rationed that care itself struggles to keep a foothold. A high-quality care sector can only be part of the solution to living well in a silver society. A much larger role needs to be played in future by softer interventions that maintain wellbeing, respect independence and nurture social-interdependence across the life-course. With its stress on reducing people’s dependency on formal care services through earlier intervention, the Care Bill is a useful step in the right direction. But as a pamphlet we published this week argues, its attachment to needs rather than strengths may ultimately perpetuate a system in which rationing around individual thresholds distorts our overall social investment and can create perverse individual incentives and unfair outcomes.
We believe that the Bill should go further. At the same time, we believe that the onus for change doesn’t rest exclusively with the Government, or even local government. How we function as a society will need to change as who we are as a society changes. Work in support of the National Dementia Strategy is instructive and important in this respect, reframing a medical condition as a social challenge with implications for communities and employers, as well as health professionals and care services. In a paper that we published last year, Craig Berry struck some important cautionary notes; yet many of the opportunities for improving the lives of our older citizens lie outside of traditional services. For example, we are currently working with Asda to explore how they could operate in ways that generate greater social value. The amount of store space that will be needed for retail is falling, so what other functions could the store spaces provide? How could stores like Asda, in partnership with community groups or mainstream public services, create opportunities for isolated older people to come together, share skills with each other or with younger people, perhaps learning how to pool personal budgets in order to access care that they would value? We have also been working with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and Scottish Natural Heritage to look at the role of access to high quality natural environments in supporting health and wellbeing throughout the life course. The importance of green space for healthy childhoods is now widely recognised, but designing healthy green space for active older communities is just as important, yet receives relatively little practical attention.
It’s unfortunate to see our older population routinely referred to as a burden, a timebomb or – more recently – the sharpest teeth in the LGA’s jaws of doom, threatening imminent financial breakdown. A whole-place, strengths-based approach doesn’t substitute fantasy for reality, but it is useful because it puts all of us in the frame.
Paul Buddery is Partner at RSA 2020 Public Services. He tweets at @buddypb
Today, the Division of Clinical Psychology has issued a statement that essentially says that our system for diagnosing mental illness is unreliable, lacks validity and is not fit for purpose. This follows a similar statement from the American National Institute for Mental Health last week in which it was announced that NIMH would not be using the new DSM-V (the prescribing manual for mental disorders) because of concerns about its validity and use value. These two announcements are of tremendous significance, and could herald the beginning of a bona fide revolution in how we respond to and treat mental illness.
I think that mental health services will change so radically within my lifetime that they will be unrecognisable to the children of my generation
For several years I’ve been saying, albeit tentatively, that I think that mental health services will change so radically within my lifetime that they will be unrecognisable to the children of my generation. I really hope these recent announcements are the beginning of that transformation.
Arguments about the revisions to the DSM have been simmering for a long time, and the new issue is already several years later in being published than expected. You could look at this as a predictable and relatively insignificant resurgence of the long held divisions between psychology (which assumes mental distress is caused by traumatic life events) and psychiatry (which treats mental illness like any other physical condition, and assumes causes are biological).
You could regard it as being politically driven – in both the UK and US, the cost of mental illness is utterly unsustainable, and anyone who’s ever taken time to look at the figures will know that a majority of prison inmates have a history of mental illness. As Barack Obama put it rather starkly, it’s easier for a mentally ill person to buy a gun than to get proper treatment in the US. In the UK, the political narratives are spun separately, with few people joining the dots to see what’s really going on.
it’s easier for a mentally ill person to buy a gun than to get proper treatment in the US
On the one hand, mental illness is on the rise. It costs us £36 billion a year, in sickness absence, unemployment, not to mention treatment. The pharmaceutical industry produces more and more psychotropic medications, most of which are incredibly expensive, and all of which are developed on relatively limited understandings of how they work or why they work (if they work, which, frequently, they don’t). On the other hand, the voices of mental health service users are finally started to be heard, and the resounding message is that things need to be done differently. In support of that, both the critical psychology movement, and critical psychiatry movement have both been asking questions with increasing urgency. Running alongside are parallel problems around mental illness and employment; mental illness and education, and mental illness and social exclusion. All of this needs unpicking and exploring in a lot more detail.
This week is mental health awareness week, and the focus is on physical activity and its benefits for mental health. I’m fully in support of this, and a firm believer in the importance of physical health for mental health. But it strikes me that there are bigger and more important issues happening too.
My PhD thesis, Making sense of mental illness: The importance of Inclusive Dialogue, goes into some of these arguments in a lot more detail, some of which I hope to return to and develop in another blog post.
Whilst the London Fellowship have been taking the lead in their highly successful Reboot events, where Fellows share a range of innovative and exciting Fellow-led projects, I have been running Ideas Cafe style events in the West.
The most recent was held in Bristol at the Create centre, where we had a room full of Fellows – some pitching their projects and ideas towards tackling social problems, others assisting with connections, expertise and local knowledge to help develop ideas.
Some of the most valuable outcomes of such sessions can be the connections you make and it seems like this worked well here.
Here is a taste of the ideas pitched on the evening, which demonstrate the strength and depth of the Fellowship –
Richard Guise – The paved street heritage - Richard believes there is a skills deficit for people who can lay traditional paving materials; and that it is worth developing apprenticeships for people to learn this skill and generally to raise awareness and interest in the heritage of our streets. Bristol offers the ideal street environment for this project Contact Richard
Jon, Sam and Dave – Bristol Story Lab – Children have incredible imaginations, they just need somewhere to unleash them. The Story Lab’s writing workshops let childrens minds run riot, while they build confidence, self-respect and communication skills. The Lab follows the model established by www.826valenica.org and www.ministryofstories.org, which has been proven to do all of this and improve academic performance. Contact Jon
Penny Hay – Artspace for Bath – An encounter with the city - their vision is to create a vital contemporary arts space in Bath that encompasses an art/gallery/workshop/café/studio: a place of serious creative play. Contact Penny. In follow-up to this, Penny will be presenting to Fellows in Bath at their May networking event to see if any local Fellows are interested in getting involved.
Alex and Jamie – New Dawn Traders – they hope to lower the carbon footprint of long-distance transport through raising public awareness creatively – including sailing voyages across to the Caribbean to fair-trade products. Contact Alex, if you are interested in getting involved they are holding an event on Wednesday 12 June in Bristol about one of the projects they are involved in.
Deepesh Patel – Deepesh is keen to connect university students to small enterprises and charities, to help find solutions to social problems within the local community. Contact Deepesh
Laura Pictor – Trowbridge Town Hall - Laura works on a team to develop the creative space in the heart of the community, “introduce, involve, inspire”, our vision - to reconnect an iconic building to its original purpose; providing a cultural hub to its community. The Town Hall will become a place where the arts are accessible to all; introducing new experiences, involving everyone, inspiring and enabling people to learn, share, create and play. Contact Laura, her and the team involved in the Trowbridge Town Hall project have recently linked up to share learning from Ed Whitelaw (Fellowship Councillor at large) at the Real Ideas Organisation’s Devonport Guildhall, which stemmed from a similar project and is a social enterprise hub and cultural venue for the community of Plymouth.
— Ed Whitelaw (@EdWhitelaw) April 26, 2013
Francesca Wakefield – The Ideas Arcade – Francesca envisions an online collaboration hub, looking at creative ways to inspire people to live better and understand the links between the big issues. Contact Francesca
Some of the most valuable outcomes of such sessions can be the connections you make and it seems like this worked well here. There are also avenues available to apply for seed funding, through the RSA’s Catalyst scheme and West seed fund.
I am hoping to hold some more ideas cafes in the South West region in the next few months, please get in touch if you are interested, or have other project ideas you would like to discuss.
If you are interested in running an Ideas cafe type event, below are some simple tips, and if you need support for your Fellows’ meetings, network or projects? Go to the Fellows’ tools & techniques page - for guidance, how-tos and other support.
- identify thematic areas that are of interest to attendees
- ask attendees to gather around tables they are interested in the themes of, think about the overarching question – “What themes/ideas are coming out of the this region that Fellows can take forward” – how can these be taken forward by Fellows?
- Facilitator finish with future steps, make sure there is a follow up to the event sent round to attendees, ask for people interested in leading in projects/ideas, facilitie connections with other Fellows regionally/nationally
Lou Matter is the Programme Manager for West and South West. You can follow her @loumatter
It’s been a big week for Manchester, what with Fergie finally hanging up his hat at United, and the arrival of his replacement, David Moyes. I’m not, have never been and doubt I will ever be, a fan of football. But having grown up in an industrial town in West Yorkshire, my Dad being a lifelong and committed Chelsea supporter, and living much of my adult in Manchester and Liverpool, football has been unavoidable.
I’ve always been quite open about the fact that I know very little about the details of the beautiful game and am not especially interested in improving my understanding of the rules. However, there are many things about football and the cultures it carries that capture my imagination. Sitting in pubs with my friends, seeing the way the results of a Chelsea game impact on my Dad’s mood, or being caught up in the strange, edgy feel that takes over the city I live in when there’s a Manchester derby going on, I’ve made observations and maintained an interest in football because of what it means to people around me.
When the BBC’s political editor, Nick Robinson, made a throwaway statement about Alex Ferguson being the ‘greatest living Briton’, it was quite surprising. But the comments he made by way of justification on Radio 4 this week were fascinating, moving, and highlighted precisely some of the things I’ve noticed about why football and its influential leaders matter so much.
Whether you subscribe to the view that it is the opiate of the masses, a tool of political oppression, see it as the front-end of everything that’s wrong with capitalism, or simply enjoy the game, you can’t deny that football is a powerful social force.
One of the things I’ve always appreciated about football is its aesthetic. Although I’ve never sat and watched an entire game on telly, have only been to one ‘actual’ match (Liverpool v Fulham at Anfield in 1998), I always like looking at the photographs in the sports pages. The expressions on players’ faces, the shots of people caught, mid-air in infeasible positions, all that biting and scowling – it’s all very guttural and just so interesting.
The picture above, which I was shown over dinner last night, is a particularly striking example. Bobby Murdoch, the terrifying chap on the left of the shot, seems to exude fury in a way that’s easily as palpable as more recent images of players being actually aggressive. On the right, Ferguson’s body language is incredible. The expression on his face, the position of his hands, the relaxed fingers, left leg softly at ease – everything about his stance is placating, non-confrontational.
I know practically nothing about what had actually happened in the game, but the power of the image to communicate so much about one moment makes it possible to imagine – even for someone like me who is ignorant and naive about such things. And for those who do know and care, the image is even more transporting.
The comments on this discussion forum include, “every time I see that image I feel like shouting HIT HIM BOBBY, HIT HIM!’, and “you can see the fear in Sir Alex’s face and you can also see what is causing that fear when you look at Bobby”. What I interpreted as an expression indicating Fergie backing off, apologising for something, looks to Celtic fans like fear, justifiable fear.
So, although this post is kind of about Ferguson and football, it’s really about photos. As a researcher, one of the most interesting challenges is finding ways to get people to tell you about things on their own terms. If you ask someone a question, they will give you an answer, and much depends on how you frame the question.
“Are footballers aggressive?” although closed, and only requires a ‘yes/no’ response, is actually very leading. By asking if footballers are aggressive, you’re planting the seed that they might be, therefore making it more likely that the person you’re asking will consider all the examples they can think of of footballers being aggressive before they answer. The fact that you’re asking them to stereotype and generalise is obviously rather problematic too.
Show them a photo, like the one above, and ask them “What’s happening here?”, and you’ve got a much higher chance of getting closer to the nitty gritty of what they think aggression between footballers actually is. Juxtapose it with an image like the recent one of the Suarez biting incident, and you’ll find out even more, on a deeper level about their perceptions, beliefs and understandings.
It was Friedrich Hayek’s birthday yesterday. Were he actually alive I imagine he’d be having a rye chuckle at today’s criticism of the Queen’s Speech which, despite including twenty-one parliamentary bills most of which either extend or tinker with regulations, has been accused of not having enough in it or even of being a laissez-faire programme.
The Nobel Laureate is reviled and loved in equal measure but here’s three reasons from me why I think he should be read whether you agree with him or not.
1. Hayek is a great counter-point to our dominant culture of ‘do something’ politics. In a world of highly competitive political parties and 24 hour news coverage, the pressure on governments to be seen to be taking action in the face of any and every problem is intense. Sometimes it is undoubtedly right for governments to act but Hayek offers an important challenge to the easy assumption that the blunt instrument of legislation is any match for the highly complex world of distributed information in which we live. For FH, this was nowhere more the case than in economic policy where the best governmental intentions can often lead to awful consequences particularly over that deeply unfashionable time period: the long run.
2. Hayek was more subtle and complex than many of his opponents and proponents recognise. He is, of course, regarded today as the high priest of laissez faire, sink-or-swim economics. What Mao’s Little Red Book was for the Chinese Communist Party, The Road to Serfdom has become for Tea Party sorts in the US. What is less acknowledged by both sides is that Hayek argued that certain state protections did have to be extended to citizens. For example, he was a supporter of a universal basic income: the guarantee of a flat rate income to all citizens without conditionality. Indeed, it has even been asserted by some that Hayek was much closer to being a moderate social democrat than a classical liberal.
3. Hayek could never be accused of thinking boom and bust had been abolished. While our most influential economic policy-makers and more than a few economists may have convinced themselves that The Great Moderation was some sort of proof that the biggest economic challenges had been cracked, I think we can be pretty sure that Hayek would have thought no such thing. Based on his analysis of trade cycles in his early academic career, Hayek argued that rapid swings in economic fortunes were only exacerbated by the efforts of governments and central banks to stimulate growth. The idea popular in the nineties and noughties that committees of economists and politicians could tweak fiscal and monetary policy to keep the economy chugging along nicely as though they were the Captain of a ship gently touching the tiller would have had him chortling into his Viennese coffee.
Like any thinker of Hayek’s prolific output and enormous influence, he wrote and said a lot of things that were less impressive than his best work and in the case of his warm words for Chilean dictator Pinochet shameful and bemusing. And, of course, those who fundamentally disagree with his beliefs also have a lot of good arguments and evidence on their side. But there is a bracing quality to Hayek’s work and more than a little wisdom worthy of consideration by all whatever their values and outlook.