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January 17, 2012



Good post - thanks Will.

What is striking about the post-Crunch West is the extent to which neoliberals on all sides have simply stopped trying to create any narratives of political hope. The EU is becoming a fiscal discipline machine, devoid of any vision or story about European solidarity. The Coalition here presents deficit reduction and eventual economic growth as ends in themselves. If any presidential candidate in the USA is offering a coherent story about political and social hope, I must have missed it.
My colleague Tim Jackson wrote a book on Prosperity without Growth, attracting plenty of sneers from neoliberals. But their offer is now clearly summed up as Growth without Prosperity, following an indefinite period of Austerity to appease the bond markets. Politics, stuck in the neoliberal paradigms, seems incapable of generating new social and economic 'imaginaries', and so they will have to come from elsewhere. But where?

Dick Pountain

Another interesting post Will. As someone old enough to have gone through the '60s "counterculture" I'm bound to say that what you're asking for is more or less what was being sought back then - that is, fulfilling modes of life outside the mainstream of the wage-labour economy. The results as we all know were very mixed and ultimately unsuccessful (think all those rock critic "Woodstock v Altamont" mythologies).

However yesterday I went, against my inclination, to see the Grayson Perry exhibition at the BM and found it surprisingly moving and far deeper than expected. His harnessing together the notion of craft with the solidarity-producing mechanisms and artefacts of traditional societies is actually saying something of relevance to this debate.

The real problem is of course the addictive nature of high-tech, celebrity-lead consumer culture (sort of fast food for the soul) - it would be a really tough sell to persuade the majority to give it up for some kind of neo-hippydom.

Will Davies

Thanks, both. At the risk of sounding like the constructivist sociologist (that I largely am), my analysis is not necessarily all that optimistic, but mainly descriptive. I don't think that this turn towards psychology is a sham, but nor do I think it should be taken completely at face value. I think you can discover forms of politics lurking behind and within all indicators and statistics - there are reasons why wellbeing is gaining public profile, which need identifying. That's my somewhat Foucauldian response. I also think there may be a very fine thread linking statistical measures of happiness and genuine ethical questions of human purpose, but that's a slightly different issue, and the thread is very fine.

Dick Pountain

> there are reasons why wellbeing is
> gaining public profile, which need
> identifying.

Indeed. Perhaps one of the reasons is, to paraphrase an old New Yorker friend of mine, "Wellbeing and 50 cents will getcha a cuppa cawffee..." (Not adjusted for inflation)

Joe Fernwright

Well, as a person in my sixties, my standard of life has increased beyond the dreams of avarice. A computer costs a couple of hundred pounds rather than a million (in old money) and is so much better. I can instantly listen to almost any music I can think of. Cars go at twice the speed for a fraction of the cost and kill half as many people per year. I can get almost any information I want instantaneously.
Going further back even further beyond their dreams - my grandmother was one of nine children raised in a two room tenement flat.
I think I know why the Brit middle classes like Dickens so much. They identify with Oliver Twist. They still want more.

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