Back in December, I was interviewed on Radio 5 Live about my opposition to Syrian air strikes. The interviewer clearly had doubts about my politics but also about my job, evident when she introduced me in a sceptical tone as “Heather Mendick, who describes herself on Twitter as a freelance academic”. The idea of working as a freelance academic is unfamiliar, even to many university-based academics. The most common question I get asked by them is “What do you do?” In this blog I answer that question.
Like many researchers, at CelebYouth, we hope that our research is not just academic but can play a small part in social change. Through telling stories about the young people who participated in our study, we hope that those who read or hear them will gain a greater understanding of social inequality and be provoked to act. These are huge aspirations, but we see ourselves working within a collective of critical social researchers and see this change as something we do together through collaboratively building ideas and analysis. With these goals in mind, when we tell stories about our research participants, we usually seek to do so in ways that generate empathy in readers and listeners. But in this post, I suggest that provoking alienation may be a better strategy.
An important strand of UK government education policy over the last two decades has focused on ‘raising aspirations’ as a way of increasing social mobility and overcoming disadvantage. Within this, some aspirations are classified as high and others as low. High aspirations are generally equated with middle-class pathways into higher education followed by professional occupations. This is evident in 2014 statements from a government advisor that ‘working class children must learn to be middle class’ and ‘that children from poor homes need help to change the way they eat, dress and conduct personal relationships to get ahead in life’. Similar attitudes have pervaded Labour Party education policy. But last September, Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour leader gaining the votes of an unprecedented quarter of a million people. His policies and ideas mark a significant shift for the Party. In this post, I argue that we can we take inspiration from the Corbyn political revolution to reclaim the word ‘aspiration’.
Beyoncé definitely knows how to cause a stir by dropping this amazingly pro-black video in (US) Black History Month argues Jaimeel Fenton in this guest blog. Click here for a contrasting view of “Formation” from Kwame Ibegbuna.
Beyoncé’s newly released song “Formation” has garnered a lot of attention, admiration and no little controversy. But once again, the actual lyrical content is far less powerful than the undoubtedly spectacular visuals. The lack of critical attention to the song’s lyrics however, is unsurprising given the less than revolutionary nature of them, argues Kwame Ibegbuna this guest blog. Click here for a contrasting view of “Formation” from Jaimeel Fenton.
Last month we (Heather, Kim, Laura and Aisha) signed a contract with Bloomsbury Publishing for a book entitled ‘Celebrity, Aspiration and Contemporary Youth: Education and Inequality in an Era of Austerity’ based on the CelebYouth study. We’re currently writing the first chapters with the final manuscript due in February 2017. We’re very excited about this book and the interest we’ve had in our work meant we felt optimistic about finding a publisher. However securing a deal for the book we wanted to write turned out to be trickier than we thought. I describe that process in this post.
‘A public fascination with a family possessing incalculable wealth should itself signify an interesting academic puzzle’ – Michael Billig
As Michael Billig’s classic study of how ordinary people talk about the Royal Family demonstrated, The Royals present an interesting ‘academic puzzle’. Yet, in recent years relatively little academic attention has been paid to the cultural and political significance of the Windsor family. As scholars working across both Sociology and Cultural Studies, Laura Clancy and Kim are both interested in how the Royal Family are mediated, particularly against a backdrop of austerity, ever-growing inequality and declining social mobility. As they show in this blog, academic research into inequality would be greatly enhanced by a critical examination of the Royals.
Elsewhere we have examined how the Royals’ position of immense wealth and privilege is justified and legitimated, arguing that constructions of ordinariness and authenticity are pivotal in erasing structural inequalities and enhancing public perception of the Royals. In this blog post we will further examine these processes by considering a recently aired television documentary, When Ant and Dec Met the Prince: 40 Years of the Prince’s Trust.
This month the BBC’s children’s channel CBBC launches the 10-part series Pocket Money Pitch. This Dragons’ Den style show invites young entrepreneurs (aged between 8 and 14) to pitch their plan for the chance to win a year’s worth of ‘pocket money’ investment in their fledgling businesses. BBC business presenter Steph McGovern fronts the show dedicated to finding the ‘business brains of the future’. McGovern declared ‘Hopefully this will kick off the careers of our future business leaders, and we’ll find the next Richard Branson or Martha Lane Fox’. In each episode participants undertake set challenges including fighting a ‘head-to-head pitch battle’ to win a mentor to help them to the next stage. The show’s business ‘gurus’ include fashion designer Myleene Klass, Hussein Lalani (founder of 99p Stores), Rob Law who invented the Trunki suitcase, spicy sauce creator Levi Roots and Sarah Jane Thomson, founder of children’s national newspaper First News.
In this guest blog, Anita Biressi, Professor of Media and Society at the University of Roehampton, looks at what the show and the reading list of one of its mentors reveal about the complexities of growing up today.
Talk of aspiration has been running through social policy in the United Kingdom and beyond for decades. Labour and Conservative politicians see it as a way to address inequality and to get working-class people to become more socially mobile. Prime Minister David Cameron called the UK an ‘aspiration nation’ and opposition leadership candidate Andy Burnham opened his campaign with his intention to make Labour ‘the party of aspiration’. In such pronouncements, aspiration remains alarmingly vague. In this guest post, Garth Stahl explores how we can use the theoretical tools of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu to study the identity negotiations surrounding aspiration, and particularly the aspirations of working-class young men and their sense of value.
At CelebYouth, we’re excited about Jeremy Corbyn’s rapid rise to position of runaway front runner in the UK Labour Party Leadership election. Our research on youth aspirations has documented the impact of austerity on young people’s lives and Corbyn offers the promise of a mainstream challenge to that. However, we’ve also been interested in the transformation of Jeremy into a celebrity and the fandom that’s circulating about him. In this post Heather highlights some examples of this and discusses why it matters.