This is the website and blog of Dr John Lever.

Saturday 26 December 2015

Christmas, climate & (over) consumption - it's all getting a bit confusing

Watching the BBC news this Boxing Day morning I could not help wondering about the sustainability challenges we face.

First the weather. Another deluge from the skies for Cumbria and the North West as 'rare' red flood warnings are issued and threats to life are said to be imminent. Yet in southern England it's 'balmy' and they are selling Christmas pudding flavoured ice cream as people flock to the beach. A moment later we are discussing record online sales and the possibility of the same on Boxing day, with the usual images of shoppers spending billions on useless and soon to be disposed of items flashing across the screen. In the newspaper review we are informed that we can sell the UK for £8 trillion - imagine that? But that is exactly what we are doing to the planet - selling it down the river.

Notwithstanding the unsustainable production and consumption of Christmas trees, a UK Christmas style dinner is said to equate with 20kg of carbon dioxide, over half for the Turkey alone. Spending on other food items over the festive period - alongside travel, lighting and gifts - is estimated to result in as much as 650 kg of CO2 emissions per person. And now we've got our annual Christmas day meat fest out of the way, we embark on, or should I say continue our consumption frenzy into the new year at an unknown yet growing cost to the environment and our long term security.

People are optimistic after #COP21 and there are are signs of change. After decades of corporate greenwashing many big-brand companies are competing hard to be 'sustainability leaders'. By partnering with governments and NGOs, some businesses attain increased credibility and leverage and sustainbability benefits start to emerge. Yet the "big brand" takover of sustainability is failing to find deeper solutions to the environmental problems we face, many of which are created by runaway over consumption. As the BBC news lead Naga Munchetty suggested in her response to the declaration of the UK's estimated for-sale value, "hang on there a minute, it's all getting a bit confusing."

Wednesday 23 December 2015

The Structural Invisibility of Outsiders: The Role of Migrant Labour in the Meat-Processing Industry

John Lever and Paul Milbourne (2015) Sociology, Open Access, published first on-line 23rd December 2015.

Abstract: This article examines the role of migrant workers in meat-processing factories in the UK. Drawing on materials from mixed methods research in a number of case study towns across Wales, we explore the structural and spatial processes that position migrant workers as outsiders. While state policy and immigration controls are often presented as a way of protecting migrant workers from work-based exploitation and ensuring jobs for British workers, our research highlights that the situation ‘on the ground’ is more complex. We argue that ‘self-exploitation’ among the migrant workforce is linked to the strategies of employers and the organisation of work, and that hyper-flexible work patterns have reinforced the spatial and social invisibilities of migrant workers in this sector. While this creates problems for migrant workers, we conclude that it is beneficial to supermarkets looking to supply consumers with the regular supply of cheap food to which they have become accustomed. Keywords: civilising process, invisibility, liminality, meat processing, migrant workers, outsiders, Wales.

Monday 27 July 2015

Europe’s perennial "outsiders": A processual approach to Roma stigmatization and ghettoization

Ryan Powell and John Lever (2015) Current Sociology, published first on-line 27th July 2015

Abstract: This paper draws on the theoretical work of Norbert Elias and Loïc Wacquant in seeking to understand the stigmatized and marginalized position of the Roma population within Europe. The paper argues that the persistent persecution of Roma, reflected in social policy, cannot be understood without reference to long-term social processes, which shape the nature of the asymmetric power relations between Roma and non-Roma. Elias's theory of established-outsider relations is applied at the intra-state European level in arguing that Roma constitute a cross-border "outsider" group; with their intense stigmatization explained and perpetuated by a common set of collective fantasies which are maintained through complex group processes of disidentification, and which result in Roma being seen as of lesser human worth. Wacquant's theoretical concept of the "ghetto" is then drawn upon to show how the manifestations of stigmatization for the stigmatized are at once psychological, social and spatial. The paper suggests that the synthesis of the two theorists' relational, theoretical concepts allows for an approach that can expose the way in which power is exercised within and through group relations. Such an approach emphasizes the centrality of the interdependence between Roma and non-Roma, and the fluctuating power balance that characterises that relationship across time and space. The paper concludes that, while existing research focused on policy and outcomes is useful in understanding the negative contemporary experiences of Roma populations, they need to be understood in the context of wider social processes and historical continuities in seeking to elucidate how these processes shape policies and contribute to social and spatial marginalization. Key words: Roma; disidentification; stigmatization; marginalization; ghettoization; social integration; Norbert Elias; Loїc Wacquant.

Friday 12 June 2015

Halal Matters: Islam, politics and markets in global perspective

Forthcoming from Routledge July 19th 2015 

Bergeaud-Blackler, F., Fischer, J. and Lever, J.

In today’s globalized world, halal (meaning ‘permissible’ or ‘lawful’) is about more than food. Politics, power and ethics all play a role in the halal industry in setting new standards for production, trade, consumption and regulation. The question of how modern halal markets are constituted is increasingly important and complex. Written from a unique interdisciplinary global perspective, this book demonstrates that as the market for halal products and services is expanding and standardizing, it is also fraught with political, social and economic contestation and difference. The discussion is illustrated by rich ethnographic case studies from a range of contexts, and consideration is given to both Muslim majority and minority societies. Halal Matters will be of interest to students and scholars working across the humanities and social sciences, including anthropology, sociology and religious studies.