This is the website and blog of Dr John Lever.

Thursday 15 December 2011

Neighbourhood plans, supermarkets and the high street

Earlier this year the Coalition Government asked the retail expert Mary Portas to conduct an independent review into the state of the UK's high streets and town centres. In the review, published earlier this week, Portas criticised supermarkets for their move into non-food retailing and suggested that the high street should be given greater prominence in neighbourhood planning. Proposals included plans to:

  • get local people more involved in Neighbourhood Planning
  • promote the High Street in Neighbourhood Plans
  • establish Town Teams to develop strategies for the future of High Streets
  • allow Business Improvement Districts to take on more responsibility

Read the Portas Review here.

Tuesday 29 November 2011

White working-class communities feel left behind

Since the 2001 disturbances in Burnley, Oldham and Bradford community cohesion has become a central feature of government policy. A critical review of the concept is provided in a new report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Based on research in Aston in Birmingham, Canley in Coventry and Somers Town in London, the report finds that people in these areas feel that they are not listened to by local or national government and that policy makers have failed them. Read Community cohesion: the views of white working-class communities here.

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Victorian levels of inequality

Yesterday saw the publication of the High Pay Commission's final report into boardroom pay. The report - 'Cheques with Balances: Why tackling high pay is in the national interest' - argues that the pay of UK executives is corrosive for the economy. It lists a 12-point plan to stop "high pay creating inequalities last seen in the Victorian era" and puts forward a series of reforms:

  • A radical simplification of executive pay
  • Putting employees on remuneration committees
  • Publishing the top ten executive pay packages outside the boardroom
  • Forcing companies to publish a pay ratio between the highest paid executive and the company median
  • Companies to reveal total pay figure earned by the executive
  • Establishing a new national body to monitor high pay.

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Demonstrating the value of arts in Criminal Justice

A new report, Unlocking Value, commissioned by the Arts Alliance and produced by New Philanthropy Capital, suggests the arts can have a positive impact on reoffending rates, particularly amongst young people. Of the 72 offenders involved in the Only Connect project – which involves work in theatre, film and music – only 26% went on to commit more offences. Read the report here:

Friday 23 September 2011

Should income inequality worry us?

The Spirit Level (2009) significantly increased debate about the link between income inequality and health and social problems. An independent review funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation reports that there is a correlation between income inequality and health and social problems, and that some rigorous studies provide evidence of this link. Read the full report here:

Thursday 15 September 2011

Inequality, materialism & children’s well-being in the UK

In 2007, a UNICEF report found that the UK was at the bottom of the league table of child well-being, with subsequent work showing that inequality among children in the UK is greater than it is in other OECD countries. In order to understand the statistics behind these findings UNICEF UK commissioned a piece of qualitative research with Ipsos Mori and Dr Agnes Nairn. Comparing the experiences of children in the UK with children in Spain and Sweden, and paying particular attention to the interplay between materialism, inequality and well-being, the research found that parents in the UK struggle to find time to meet their children’s needs and that consumer goods and commercial pressures have a strong role in creating and reinforcing social divisions. Read the full report here:

Tuesday 13 September 2011

The 'deep roots' of homelessness

Findings from a new study reveal the extent to which homelessness is linked with a range of other problems, including mental illness, alcohol dependency, street culture activities and experience of prison. The study also highlights the challenges services face if they don't do more to help people with multiple problems: Read a summary of the findings from 'Tackling homelessness and exclusion: Understanding complex lives' here.

Monday 5 September 2011

Exploring executive pay and performance

The High Pay Commission has released a report, ‘What are we paying for? Exploring executive pay and performance'. The data in the report, compiled by Incomes Data Services, shows that over the past 10 years monetary and share-based rewards for FTSE 350 directors have grown rapidly to outstrip company performance. Read the report here.

Monday 29 August 2011

How to raise happy children?

A recent study funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Understanding Society, attempted to answer the question 'What makes happy children?' Although there are no fool proof ways of raising happy children, the research reveals that children brought up in a UK household with both biological parents experience higher levels of satisfaction with their lives, but that satisfaction levels drop as the number of children in a household increases: Read a summary of the first findings here.

Monday 22 August 2011

“I buy, therefore I am”

A new report by a leading City broker argues that the recent riots in London and other UK cities were the result of an "out-of-control consumerist ethos". One of a series analyzing big issues facing the UK, the report suggests this situation will have a profound impact on the UK economy: Click here to read the report in full.

Sunday 14 August 2011

Elite perceptions of poverty in the UK: time for a rethink?

Much has been written over the last few days about the causes and consequences of the riots in London and other UK cities. One of the dominant elite discourses expressed during this period, that the causes of human behavior are based on deficiencies that can be overcome if those involved take responsibility for the actions is similar to that held in earlier centuries.

Drawing on insights from sociology we can recognise the need for a more substantive understanding of the riots. Such insight is available if we look to the work of Abram De Swaan (1988), who examined the development of welfare provision in Western countries over the course of five centuries. Tracing the rise of welfare through poor relief, mutual aid and central state provision, De Swaan argues that inclusive urban policies only emerged as a result of a growing realization amongst elites that the poor presented threats or promising opportunities. To put it another way, poverty reduction and welfare provision only became pressing concerns for elites when they came to be associated with crime and disorder, disease, economic instability and a more general social consciousness. This is not to say that change was solely imposed from above as many Foucauldians claim; the poor were as involved in these developments as much as anyone through processes of contestation and collaboration.

In the early stages of the state formation process, De Swann’s argues that strangers tended towards violence or charitable giving as and when the need arose, often on the back of fear and expediency. Later, as urban areas grew in size and density and the rich and poor lived in ever-closer proximity, he argues that a growing collective awareness facilitated a wider understanding of the need for inclusive urban policies. Examining political responses to disease and squalor throughout the 19th century, he shows that initial outbreaks of cholera in the early 1830s were followed by policies that excluded those seen to be responsible for the spread of the disease, but that major cholera epidemics later in the century led political elites to initiate more practical approaches to prevention through emergent health authorities. De Swaan’s wider argument is that the unavoidable fact of greater social and economic interdependence is that the action of one group has a direct impact on every other.

Virtual interdependence

Much has been made of the similarities between last week’s riots and those during the early days of consumer culture in the 1980s, though the differences draw our attention to the inequalities that have emerged in the intervening years. One commentary drew attention to opportunist looting on a scale that befits our era of wanton materialist consumerism, arguing that the rioting was more about decadence than a cry from the ghetto. But this is to overlook the scale of the divide that now separates the very rich from the very poor and the argument that the moral decay of our society is as bad at the top as the bottom.

While inequality has increased over recent decades, albiet with ups and downs, developments in technology - particularly the emergence of the internet and latterly new social media - have also brought people into ever-closer proximity, with technology led revolts now shaking elites around the worldUK Uncut’s targeting of UK businesses owned by individuals avoiding UK tax payments earlier this year highlighted the volatility of current protest movements in the UK. Yet politicians do not appear to understand the significance of these developments. A common statement of the last week has been that the riots were not politically motivated, but this again misses the point that what we are witnessing is the momentary transformation of anger from a dirty word into the very currency of political exchange.

Elites are struggling to make sense of these developments in any meaningful way and in the aftermath of the riots a number of polls found that the public lacks confidence in politcal leaders. Arguments about individual responsibility and retribution through the criminal justice system may help to generate short-term political capital, but as De Swaan points out, and as recent developments around the world make clear, in the long-term elites have to acknowledge that their fate is inextricably tied to that of the poor. Maybe it's time for a rethink?

Monday 8 August 2011

Counting the Cuts

NCVO have produced a detailed analysis of the Spending Review period 2011–2015. Using Government figures from the Office for Budget Responsibility, they estimate that the voluntary and community sector faces cuts of around £3 billion over the next 5 years: Read the 'Counting the Cuts' report here.

Sunday 7 August 2011

Independent Social Research Foundation

Early Career Research Support in Interdisciplinary Social Science for Academic Year 2012-3

The Independent Social Research Foundation supports independent-minded researchers who wish to conduct original, interdisciplinary research that is unlikely to be supported by existing funders: Click here for more details

Friday 5 August 2011

Mapping the Big Society

A new working paper from the Third Sector Research Centre (TSRC) discusses the role of their quantitative research in understanding the sector's contribution to Big Society: see Mapping the Big Society

Sunday 17 July 2011

Stories of co-production: improving schools, social care and health services in an age of cuts

The New Economics Foundation has made a short film, Stories of Co-production, that shows how people around the UK are already making the most of their own community resources and strengths to deliver more effective and efficient services. A new report of the case studies involved, In This Together, accompanies the film.

Call for papers

Norbert Elias and Figurational Sociology: Prospects for the Future 

Department of Political Science & Department of Sociology, University of Copenhagen, Denmark, 2–4 April 2012

This two-day conference focusses on the development of figurational sociology in relation to other disciplines. The first day will explore the ‘boundaries’ and relationships between figurational sociology and other disciplines, as discussed by Elias in 'What is Sociology'? On the second day, the major themes that emerge from subsequent ‘boundary’ work will be examined in more detail in relation to some of the major areas of debate in figurational sociology. Click here for more information.

Supporting capacity in a time of funding cuts

Over the last decade a range of initiatives and networks have emerged to support voluntary and community sector development. The economic crisis and subsequent funding cuts have meant that everyone involved has had to reconsider the ways in which they support organizational development in the sector. In order to further this process BIG commissioned Professor Diana Leat to write a report on how funders can best support organizations to build and maintain their skills in this context: Read 'New tools for a new world' here.

Friday 15 July 2011

New research on the 'disappearing middle'

New research by the Work Foundation reports that many of the job types on which post-war social mobility/economic progress were founded are quickly disappearing. The recession has accelerated this process and those loosing secretarial, administrative and skilled factory jobs are finding it increasingly difficult to find alternative positions: click here for more details.

Tuesday 12 July 2011

The role of student volunteers in festival-based public engagement

New research for the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE) reveals that the popularity of science and arts festivals in the UK is founded on the help and willingness of university student volunteers. While UK universities are active supporters of science and arts festivals for the public, festival organisers highlighted the enthusiasm and expertise of volunteers as significant factors: http://www.publicengagement.ac.uk/how-we-help/our-publications

Wednesday 22 June 2011

ESRC funded research reveals unexpected national differences in privacy regulations

An ESRC funded study conducted by Professor Andreas Busch of Oxford University has found that the regulation of personal data varies greatly across countries and sectors. Carried out in the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany and Sweden, the research suggests that privacy regulation is highly dependent on context specific factors and particular institutional arrangements: Click here for more.

Monday 20 June 2011

Report on Poverty and Inequality in the UK

A new report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies on Poverty and Inequality in the UK (supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation) for the period 1997-2011 finds that although income inequality increased during the New Labour period it would have increased further without discretionary changes to taxes and benefits; the increase in inequality was also much smaller than the rise in inequality during the 1980s. While recent changes to the tax and benefit system may reduce income inequality by hitting those on high incomes hardest, the report finds that new cuts to benefits and tax credits are likely to counter this and increase inequality on an ongoing basis: http://www.ifs.org.uk/comms/comm118.pdf

Friday 17 June 2011

New report on young people and alcohol infleunces

A new report by the Joseph Rountree Foundation finds that young people are more likely to drink frequently and to excess if they receive less supervision from an adult; spend a lot of time with friends or friends that drink; are exposed to a family member, particularly a parent, who drinks; have positive attitudes towards/ expectations of alcohol; have easy access to alcohol. Read report in full here.

Friday 10 June 2011

Wednesday 11 May 2011

Ipsos MORI | News | The Coalition's first year: the public gives its verdict

Except for the first New Labour Government in 1997 the Coalition had the highest 100 day rating since 1979, but it appears that the public are increasingly skeptical about the value of hung parliaments: Ipsos MORI | News | The Coalition's first year: the public gives its verdict.

Friday 1 April 2011

What generates a participatory disposition in non-governmental actors?

A new paper in the Voluntary Sector Review provides a timely exploration of the contextual factors that underpin the participation of non-governmental actors in partnership work with state actors

Abstract: This paper examines developments in governance and non-governmental public action in three diverse contexts. It is based on comparative international research that examined the role of non-governmental actors (NGAs) involved in partnership working with state actors in Bulgaria, Nicaragua and the United Kingdom. The paper draws on Crossley's (2003) development of Bourdieu's (1977) 'theory of practice' to examine the contextual factors that influence the participation of NGAs in 'new governance spaces'. It highlights three very different responses to the 'opportunities' that governance offers, which illustrate how historical processes mould civil society relation's vis-à-vis the state in highly significant ways. Although governance presents many obstacles to change, the paper concludes that the new forms of participation that are appearing in these spaces may be the foundations from which more significant change emerges. Key Words: Civil Society; Capital; Habitus; Non-Governmental; Participation

Saturday 5 February 2011

Urban regeneration and partnership working under New Labour

Lever, J. (2011) ‘Urban regeneration partnerships: a figurational critique of governmentality theory’, in Sociology 45 (1)

Abstract: This article provides a critique of governmentally inspired accounts of urban regeneration and partnership working. Drawing on the work of Norbert Elias and prominent figurational sociologists, it discusses the changes taking place within andthrough the many partnerships set up by New Labour around the notion of ‘community safety’. Although recognizing the important insights provided by accounts of urban regeneration emerging through studies of governmentality, the article argues that such accounts fail to adequately consider the impact of partnership working on the individuals, communities and organizations involved. While urban regeneration partnerships have the potential to be the motor of the civilizing process in the manner identified by figurational sociologists, the article concludes that they are not currently living up to this civilizing potential.

Key Words: Civilizing process; community safety; Elias; Foucault; governmentally; partnership working; urban regeneration.

Sunday 23 January 2011

Improving animal welfare during religious slaughter - recommendations for good practices

The DIALREL (www.dialrel.eu) project set out to improve knowledge and expertise about the religious slaughter of animals through dialogue and debate on animal welfare, legislation and socio-economic issues. The final recommendations from the project are available here.