It is ages since I’ve read a Victorian novel and I’ve never read a book by Elizabeth Gaskell. Mary Barton is one of the first industrial novels. It is set in the early days of Manchester’s industrial expansion. However, I was struck by how modern the story is.
Mary is a smitten young working class woman, dreaming of improving her life by the promise of marriage to a richer man. Her life as a seamstress is filled with fashion and gossip. Unlike her father, a union man, she shows little awareness of the structural inequity underpinning her fantasy of escape. As a young, pretty woman she is subject to judgement, through gossip, inter-generational sneering, and her own harsh opinion, when she realises she was looking in the wrong place for happiness. Continue reading →
Social policies categorise people. A primary category is those who require support. Another is those who provide support. Those who are subject to social policy are then further divided; we call them service-users, patients, recipients, tenants, etc. And those who provide services are called social workers, medics, civil servants, housing officers etc. Social policy academics can look at the impact of social policy for those who use services, the organisation of those provide services or the relationship between the two. I have been turning my attention more recently to that last point. This is for three main reasons. First, I am not convinced by the divide between those in need and those who provide. I am both teacher and learner. I offer help but also require it. I require help, but can also provide it. Second, the relationship is subject to the implementation of policy. The consequences of legislation and resource allocation mean that it is not simply about practitioners using professional judgement, but understanding the context of their practice. Third, the relationship is not as described and is frequently far from the ideal that the terms service-user and provider would suggest. If the expectation is that someone described as in need of a service will receive an appropriate and professional service from someone described as a service-provider, that expectation is often thwarted. Continue reading →
When I first started this blog I wrote that I wanted to use my reading, cinema viewing, theatre and exhibition visits to help me with understanding the discipline of social policy and my place in the world. This blog aims to be an inter-disciplinary space using culture to understand the practicalities of politics. Helen Dunmore does something similar with her fiction. She asks ordinary people to cope with the dramas of history and politics. For example, The Siege (2001) focuses on the Levin family trapped inside Leningrad while Hitler’s army surrounds the city. The Lie (2014) gives a raw portrayal of a soldier’s return from World War 1. Exposure (2016) examines a marriage under the strain of the Cold War. This novel does something different. The big event is the French Revolution. However, the triumph and horror of the ferocious events of Paris are experienced vicariously as the action of the novel is set in Bristol. Continue reading →
Evidencing inequality is the easy part. Exposing the injustice and ridiculous consequences of inequality is important. But, understanding the reasons for its ongoing hold on social life is where it gets difficult. This novel Naomi Alderman’s The Power runs with the suggestion that the reason for gender inequality is as banal as physical strength. Continue reading →
I have an academic interest in utopias. Imagination is often underplayed in social policy, but, to me, creating future worlds is an inevitable product of redistributing resources in the present. A current fantasy of mine, in a near-future Utopia is that one of my favourite authors has read my blog and deliberately uses the motif of Doris Day as a ploy, so that I write about her work. Atwood understands the technology, the communication networks and the soft power of blogging. The tens of views my blog regularly receives means she could find a new audience of social workers and policy researchers previously considered ‘hard to reach’.
My imagination is not complete enough to detail fully the symbiotic relationship between academic and author that would flourish in the near future, but I can at least flatter myself that Atwood (or Margaret as I call her when we text and email) have a shared understanding of the complexity and nuance that the seemingly innocent image of Doris Day can evoke. Continue reading →
Reading plays a number of roles in my professional and private lives. Sometimes I read fiction to transport myself out of the present. I read fiction at night to provide for that gap between the switched on working mind and the sleeping one. However, writing this blog means I make connections between the theories and explanations of social policy and the fiction I read to escape. This was most acute when reading Ruby.
The social policy academic side of me, would describe Ruby as a novel about racism, sexism, their intersection, child abuse, child sexual exploitation (CSE) and poverty. The social work educator might use it as an example to study the impact of grief, bereavement and trauma. Yet none of those terms would be found in Ruby. The vocabulary of the novel and my day job are very different, even if the content is shared. Continue reading →
After the trauma of reading The Tidal Zone, Tessa Hadley’s The Past was a welcome retreat. A mildly dysfunctional family in a cosy, mildly dysfunctional setting. It was a charming, knowing read. It understood the point of fiction and the number of roles it can play.
One aspect of the story is the romantic relationship between Molly and Kasim, in which the slightly older Kasim casts himself as knowing seducer. Of course, it is not as simple as that:
“Don’t be anxious about this, he said – I’ll be very gentle. I’ve had quite a bit of experience.
– I’ve had some too, Molly said, – so I’m not anxious”