Monday, March 30, 2009

Laban Goes To College

It's the time of year when Britain's world-renowned universities open their doors to prospective students, and so Saturday found Laban heading for the "University of the East of Wales" (formerly Blackwood Miners Welfare), giving my son a lift to the Open Day. I had nothing else to do, so I thought I'd stroll the sacred groves and see how things had changed in the last thirty-five years.

The first change is that I wasn't the only parent on site - at least a third, maybe more than half of the prospective students were accompanied - in many cases by both Mum and Dad. That just didn't happen back in the day - you'd no more have wanted your parents on campus with you than your dentist. The generation war seems to have ended - at least as far as the middle classes are concerned. For that's the other thing that struck me as I sat in the cafeteria - how very middle-class the overwhelming majority of the prospective students seemed - far more so at this former Poly than at my Victorian red-brick alma mater. It does tend to reinforce the theory that the massive expansion of further education (and lowering of standards) has benefited the middle rather than the working classes - although of course it could be that middle-class youth just talk louder.

That's not to say that there's no radical counterculture anymore - although there isn't. The radical counterculture is now mainstream. The student newspaper points out that 'experimenting with drugs is, for many, an important and natural part of university life'. The 'Reclaim The Night' marches against male violence are now mixed-sex - it would have been a brave Yorkshireman in 1977 who attempted to join the women on the streets of Leeds.

(Although I did note that the legendary 'one in four women a victim of domestic violence' statistic is now apparently old-hat. According to Julie Bindel it's now one in two :

"In Britain, it is estimated that one in two women will experience domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking during their lifetime"

Whereas pretty much 100% of men really will experience physical assault - but let it pass.)

Where was I ? Ah yes. The 'one in four' stat now applies to rape, if the good students of the local Reclaim The Night march (three pages in the student paper) are correct :

My son went off to a little chat by his prospective lecturers, and left the cafeteria to darkness and to me. Why not fill a few unforgiving minutes by going along to one of these introductory chats ? After all, half the parents were accompanying their offspring to the lectures, and I could always claim to be a prospective student. I looked at the timetable of talks. Aha ! This should be good.

The head of Criminology at the University of the East of Wales turned out to be a shortish but hefty chap with a goatee, shaved head and a ring in each ear, dressed in a dark suit and black shirt - the deviant gangster effect being topped off with a pink tie. Obviously a man whose soul was in his work. The clicheometer was off the scale even before he opened his mouth - but he flattered to deceive, disappointingly sticking to listing the numbers of staff, students, and where the lectures were.

His sidekicks were a slightly camp chap in his thirties who specialised in 'Psycho-Social studies' and said 'it's about ..' a lot, and a strapping and self-assured redhead with a hard-to-place accent (Mancunian Irish ?) - between them they thankfully returned the clicheometer to full boost vertical - where it stayed for the rest of the lecture.

Psycho-Social started off, explaining to the prospective undergrads that the "common-sense solutions" to crime which might appear intuitively appealing needed to be replaced by a "sociological perspective". We had to, he said, go beyond common-sense solutions if we wanted to end poverty and racism. Nobody in his audience asked what that had to do with crime - we were sure we'd find out later (and we did). He listed the compulsory modules for the first year - 'Social Inequality' and 'Contemporary Critiques of Modern Society'. I'm pretty sure Peters Hitchens and Oborne won't feature in the latter. The general thrust was that views on crime and criminals in society at large were fairly simple - perhaps even naively so. But things were more complicated than that - a lot more. Why else would criminology be a subject you could study at university ? The good news was that you would become conversant with these complexities.

Ms Fit, resplendent in the sunshine flooding across the room (and slightly distracting Laban with the translucency - nay, almost transparency of her dress), took the floor. She spoke of 'offenders', of 'those involved in criminal acts' - and at this point I realised that the word 'criminal' had not once been spoken by these three criminologists. She reiterated that criminology 'also needs to challenge taken for granted or common sense views of crime, particularly those represented in the media'. The words ''Daily Mail" hung in the air. I breathed a silent prayer of "go on, say it !", but alas she resisted the temptation womanfully, moving on to 'the social forces and social divisions which influence which acts count as crimes'. Have you ever wondered, she asked, why white collar crime is not investigated by the Criminal Justice System ?

And so it went on. And on. I'll pass over 'factors such as unemployment, poverty ... coupled with interrelated divisions along the lines of gender and sexuality, 'race' (in quotes - because it doesn't exist) , age and economic inequalities'. I think you get the picture. I gathered that :

Year One is spent knocking those stupid 'common-sense' ideas out of you, and replacing them with 'the sociological perpective', in a slo-mo version of the first few days of an Exegesis course, or your first few months in the Army, where you drop the baggage you've brought with you, and embrace the culture of the group.

Year Two is spent discovering that prison is at once a tool of social control and an expensive way of making bad people worse - or it would be if they were bad people. On analysing the stats (you see, that's what criminologists do - look at real data), and discovering that 'incarcerated offenders' are statistically more likely to be poor and/or black, it is but a short step to the conclusion that they have been convicted because they are poor and/or black.

Year Three is spent analysing the Daily Mail, whose writers and readers have not done years 1 and 2, and bemoaning its influence.

I looked round the room at the eager young faces, all athirst for knowledge. Poor sods, I thought. Let's hope the social life makes up.

Psycho-Social took the floor again. What kind of job will a criminology degree get you ? Where do our graduates go ?

#1 - further study

#2 - social work, probation service, "community work" and other jobs in the criminal justice system

#3 - teaching

#4 - personnel (loads of 'social science' grads end up there. That's why you get asked your ethnic origin when you apply for a job)

A great wave of cognitive dissonance came over me. Both lecturers had said explicitly that they and their department were challenging 'society's' view of crime. Yet they were providing the social workers and probation officers of today and tomorrow. I got no inkling from their chat that the state-funded EEW criminology department was out on some left-wing limb - indeed rather the opposite - that theirs were the views of mainstream UK criminology (and have been IMHO for some thirty years).

Yet they were apparently the rebels, the iconoclasts - despite controlling the universities and great chunks of the criminal justice system . In their shoes, wouldn't you be tempted to wonder why, after years in which your views have completely dominated the education system, those views have so stubbornly refused to take root among the general population ?

Who and what was this 'society' and what power does it actually have ?

I came to the conclusions

a) people who've not done Criminology and/or read the Daily Mail

b) not a great deal


Anonymous said...

Once on CiF I made a comment to the effect that if you were put into hibernation in 1959 and woken up today...whose agenda would appeared to have triumphed. That of the Guardian or the Daily Mail? Apparently we are supposed to believe its the Daily Mail.

Anonymous said...

Ah, but are you spending your own money so that your son can get this educashun? Would you, if he had to pay the full price?

Anonymous said...

The campus rape myth.

A must read.

TDK said...

To steal Jonah Goldberg:

"Liberals are never responsible for historic misdeeds ... Conservatives ... take the blame for events not of their own making that they worked the most assiduously against"

WM said...

Apply to The Institute of Criminology at the University of Cambridge, UK, ...

You will feel much more at home, there.


Foxy Brown said...

Anon @ 1.42

Last week BBC Four broadcast "1959 - A Panorama Guide". On the once seminal (albeit full of liberal claptrap) current affairs programme. It's still available on the iPlayer. Well worth a look.

Unknown said...

You make very similar points to Heather MacDonald in Victimology 101 at Yale in a recent Weekly Standard.

One of the points being that far from being the despised and oppressed minority, the left/liberal mindset is actually academic mainstream and has been for a long time. The more gained, the more grievance expressed ...

Trofim said...

Yes, Foxy brown – I watched the programme on 1959. As someone born in 1947, I remember a bit about the 1950’s. At the end of the programme one Dominic Sandbrook declared that 1959 was “the point at which Britain changes from a monochrome nation to a Technicolor one” – the BBC’s and the commentariat’s standard view of history – that up until the end of the 1950’s, life had been a tedious, boring, monocultural nightmare, and only in the 1960’s with the beginning of mass-immigration from the third world, did life became worth living. This is reminiscent of the Soviet view of history, where 1917 being the pivotal point.
I looked up this Sandbrook bloke who is the first port of call for the BBC if they want an authoritative opinion on life pre-1960, and as you would expect, not only was he born in 1974, but he appears never to have had a proper job.
Predictably, he wrote an article for Cif entitled “It's time to kick our addiction to nostalgia”.

How lucky the history students of Sheffield University must be to have such a model of objectivity to indoctrinate them.

Anonymous said...

To be fair, at contemporary ex-polys are full of complete idiots.

Blognor Regis said...

I am afraid you are completely wrong about Dominic Sandbrook Tendryakov. His books are excellent. Even that well known Guardianista Peter Hitchens has praised them. And, blimey, if isn't Dominic Sandbrook writing in the Daily Mail of all things:

Basically the thrust of Sandbrook's two "Sixties" volumes - although the first starts in 1956 which he says was really the start of the "sixties" as an idea rather than a collection of calendars because of being the tipping point between austerity and what came beyond, Churchill, Suez and Rock n' Roll in effect - is that the orthodox view is only about a tiny elite of people. The Profumos, the Peter Cooks, The Beatles & Stones, the Carnaby Street Set and Harold Wilson. More people went fishing each weekend than ever bought a Beatles record, The Sound of Music Soundtrack was the number one LP for the entirety of 1959 and so on. As I say I heartily recommend both books to the house.

Blognor Regis said...

'Sound of Music'? Sorry, meant South Pacific.

More on DS:
Unlike previous historians of the 1960s, Sandbrook argues that the period was marked by strong conservatism and conformity. His books debunk many of the myths associated with the period, from the sexual revolution to student protest, and he challenges the "cultural revolution" thesis associated with historians like Arthur Marwick.

Mark said...

The Criminology department described in Laban's post conforms almost perfectly to the concept of 'politicised compassion' outlined here by the political scientist Ken Minogue -
Interesting comments thread - Blognor Regis makes a valid point in defence of Dominic Sandbrook (a historian whose judgement is, like Minogue's,sometimes wayward but, in this instance, spot on).

BTW 1959 may have been a high point in early Rock'n'Roll, but in the UK at least the best selling artist in the singles charts that year was Russ Conway !(I had to mention this as Laban has in the past admitted to having a soft spot for his great rival, Mrs Mills).

Anonymous said...

As someone born in 1947, I remember a bit about the 1950’s. At the end of the programme one Dominic Sandbrook declared that 1959 was “the point at which Britain changes from a monochrome nation to a Technicolor one” – the BBC’s and the commentariat’s standard view of history – that up until the end of the 1950’s, life had been a tedious, boring, monocultural nightmare, and only in the 1960’s with the beginning of mass-immigration from the third world, did life became worth living.

You could argue that this is some kind of psychological coping mechanism or defence mechanism, trying to convince yourself that all is brilliant rather than admit the truth to yourself that it's been a disaster.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, I can see why that sort of bilge is propagated at colleges and universities, you can't get a degree in common sense as has been proven time and again by the graduates I have had the misfortune to have to train 'in the real world'.

Still, it's comforting to know that, if I murder one of them out of frustration at their ignorance, I come from the sort of background that would pre-dispose me to acts of violence and the social workers would stand up for me in court.

Trofim said...

Be that as it may, Blognor, but I firmly believe that anyone who experienced an event first hand is a better informant than one who has watched films, read books about it, dredged through documents and so on. There are several millions of people in Britain whose word is more authoritative than Sandbrook. The one thing you cannot convey or understand about a time or place which you have never experienced is the ambience. And you will find others repeating this particular theme of life in pre-immigration Britain. They always use terms such as monochrome and grey to describe it.
And by the way, can anyone tell me what a "narrative historian" is?

Mark said...

Tendryakov- Dominic Sandbrook's critique of the 'cultural revolution' thesis extruded by Arthur Marwick, Stuart Hall et al still holds good. At the grassroots level, the sixties cultural revolution didn't really get going until around 1972- the year Cosmo was launched and 'The Joy of Sex' was published.

Sandbrook is I believe a tenured academic so he has to pay his respects to the pc/multiculti gods. His sneers about the 'monochrome' fifties look to me like mandatory window dressing.

Hist said...

Be that as it may, Blognor, but I firmly believe that anyone who experienced an event first hand is a better informant than one who has watched films, read books about it, dredged through documents and so on.

I forget where I read it but someone was made the following point about historical witnesses. he was discussing a battle, Waterloo I think. Any person in that battle was witness to the things in their field of vision but no person, not even Wellington, saw the whole battle. he had an advantage because people were regularly reporting the situation to him but they could have been fooled by feints or even nerves. Thus whilst it is true that a witness has some value in understanding historic events it doesn't mean they know any more than you or I about the whole event. No one person experienced "The Sixties".

Think about it another way. Dozens of people went to the Soviet Union in the 1930s and came back dismissing tales of famines as nonsense. They had some credibility because they were witnesses. Obviously they too saw a partial picture.

Now any person can piece together testimony from witnesses and build up a bigger picture. They may get it wrong by excluding some evidence and over emphasising something else. Another person can repeat the exercise and get a better result.
The people who do this don't attend the event or even have to be alive when the event took place.

paul ilc said...

Please don't let your son go to UEW - or anywhere like it. If he can't get into a decent university, then he'd be better off finding an apprenticeship or a shorter vocational course.

Anonymous said...

Can't stop him. We have to make our own mistakes in life (fwiw, I agree with you). Best to get them over early.

Anonymous said...

I for one feel some respect Stuart Hall.

It must be hard going on the long march through the institutions destroying western culture from within and pursuing a career as a jocular television presenter. It's A Knockout is part of the landscape of my childhood.