Atishoo, atishoo, we all fall down : Some seasonal reflections on body politics

The well known nursery rhyme flashed into  my mind as I pitched forward onto the wet pavement, instinctively putting my right hand out to break my  fall. No it was’nt a serious as the  Black Death, but neither was the searing pain in my right shoulder a benign memento of a children’s counting out game,  to take the two dominant interpretations of  Ring a Ring of Roses nursery  rhyme. I could do the  sneezing  part all right as I had a ferocious cold but later in the A & E , where they diagnosed a fractured humerus, that seemed the least of my concerns. I do not regard myself as accident prone but over the past few years for various reasons I have become something of a connoisseur of A & E departments. St Thomas’s was definitely a cut above the rest. Of course it had its  cast of stock [Read More…]

Through Thick and Thin : On Public Sociology

Text of a talk given to the Michael Young Centenary Conference November 11 2015 Introduction As this event is taking place , by no coincidence, on Remembrance Day , it might be appropriate to start with a personal reminiscence.  I first met Michael Young (hereinafter referred to as MY) in 1963 when he came to Cambridge to give a talk to the Heretics Society, of which I was a member . The society was founded by Bertrand Russell when he was an undergraduate and its aim was to invite speakers who were mavericks or held views widely regarded as  heretical or merely eccentric.  We had someone from the Flat E arth Society , we had Colin Ward the anarchist town planner, D.W. Winnicott talking about psychoanalysis and Michael Young on Sociology. Sociology was not taught in Cambridge at that time,  indeed  apart from its stronghold at the London School of [Read More…]

And now for something completely different

Reflections on the labour leadership election So, against all the odds, he did it. Jeremy  Corbyn’s victory is already being claimed as an     ‘insurgency’  on the scale of the SNP advance in Scotland, and driven by much the same popular discontent with  austerity economics and ‘business as usual ‘ neo-liberal politics. The campaign’s success is being widely interpreted as representing a shift to the Left, not only in the labour movement but in the country, in the wake of the election defeat and also due to the fact that Corbyn was the only candidate not tainted by association with the New Labour regimes of Blair and Brown. But is our existing political geography with its Left, Right and  Centre grounds adequate to locate  the shifts  that have occurred in our ideological landscape? Or is it the case that our received political maps no longer correspond to the new territories  of [Read More…]


  Some reflections on choosing a leader   Like many of my friends and colleagues I am a fully paid up member of the Groucho  Marxist tendency. I would never join a political party  that would have me as a member. Until now. Because like tens of  thousands of others I  have now paid my three quid to register to vote in the election for a new labour leader, specifically because I did not want a New Labour  leader to be elected. After decades of voting Labour with gritted teeth, because they were the least worst option  (that cynical Churchillian definition of democracy) and without any hope or expectation that their policies would produce any fundamental shift in the balance of power and wealth in our society, I have at last taken the plunge and pressed the submit button to vote for Jeremy Corbyn. I did so with gritted teeth [Read More…]

July Newsletter : Waiting for the bus

Introduction This is a re-post as my webmaster has set up a system whereby these newsletters will be posted as blogs so everyone on my friends and colleagues list will automatically get  a notification. Apologies if you have read this before, although I have added a post script including some solutions that people  sent in to the little thought puzzle that gives the title of the piece. I will also be posting more substantial blogs from time to time. If you would like friends or colleagues to get these newsletters and blogs,they can subscribe by going to the Newsletter section of the website. LivingMaps We concluded our 2014/5 seminar series with a critical overview of the issues the series had addressed  thus far, a brilliant little film about a town in Kosovo where the maps no longer worked  followed by  a bit of a party. The series has been very [Read More…]

May Blog : A post election comment

In the wake of the election it is clear that political geography is shifting under our feet. Centrifugal forces in what we used to call ‘British’ society, hitherto held in check, have staked out new and uncommon ground. This moment of de-centering, whether represented by the SNP on the Left, or UKIP on the Right, offers both an opportunity and a risk to everyone who holds on to a more inclusive vision of what social justice means in the city. While the political class sets off on a wild goose chase to capture the now evanescent ‘centre ground’, and Labour replays the endless Blair V Brown debate, the search for an alternative geography of resistance will go on. The temptation on the part of disenchanted radicals is to reach for purely aesthetic or utopian solutions, to retreat into artistic subversion or anarcho-punk defiance. But however therapeutic it may be for [Read More…]

March Blog: Living with Painting

 Living with painting   The works which constitute the life and fame of artists decay one after the other by the ravages of time. Thus the artists themselves are unknown, as there was no one to write about them so that this source of knowledge was not granted to posterity     Giorgio Vasari Writing is present in the margins, painting is spread over ‘vacant’space’ –  Stephane Mallarme My responsibility  towards these paintings  is to make you see them, only that. – Victor Segalen 0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0 By all accounts it was Vasari who was responsible for the idea that the story of art could be told through the lives of its practitioners. At the time he was writing, in the mid 16th century  it certainly was the case that if the reputation of painters, sculptors and architects was to survive them it was not enough for their works to do so. His vivid pen [Read More…]

SEPTEMBER BLOG In place of Kaddish, a letter for Ste

  This month, on September 12th, is the anniversary our adopted son’s death. We still do not know the exact medical cause as the inquest has been repeatedly postponed; the pathologist’s diagnosis of Central Pontine Myelinolysis concerns a condition which is almost as mysterious as the circumstances of his death in hospital. CPM is definitely associated with chronic alcoholism, but also with AIDS and a number of other serious disorders which have neurological complications. Its symptomatology includes seizures, of which Ste suffered several, although these may also be symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. There is little or no treatment or cure, and prognosis is as uncertain as aetiology: a third of patients die, a third survive but remain in a semi-vegetative state for the rest of their lives and a third spontaneously recover. In any case the hospital have satisfied themselves, though not us, that this death could not have been [Read More…]

AUGUST BLOG : Now you see it, now you don’t – Some reflections on the pop up economy

  I recently had a dream in which I was lost in a city which was familiar- I recognised several landmarks – but also strange in that its buildings had all been painted in garish day-glo colours. Many had giant graffiti sprayed on them depicting grotesque characters and scenes from comic books. As I wandered around the streets, at once enchanted and bewildered, I came across an atlas housed in a specially constructed kiosk. I felt overjoyed at the prospect of at last being able to find out where I was. When I opened the book it was a black and white street plan on which were located a number of ‘pop up’ buildings, one of which I recognised as being the block of flats where I had grown up. On closer inspection the street plan turned out to be an underground map of the city, showing a network of [Read More…]

JULY BLOG A Walk in Olympic Park

  As Londoners we are used to buildings crowding out the sky, the constant friction of human traffic, the barrage of  audio-visual noise which cuts into our  thoughts and counterpoints our   conversations on the street.   And so we cocoon  ourselves  inside little immersive techno-bubbles which are just as invasive, but at least of our own choosing, and we seek out little niches of tranquillity amidst the urban buzz: churches,  squares, unfrequented places and of course parks, so many refuges from the oppressive circumstances of everyday city  life. The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is not a refuge from the city, it is a prospect on it. The first  impression as you walk onto it from the main entrance  is of an infinitely  expansive space,  a series of vistas  that pull the eye to a  skyline dominated by the iconic landmarks of financial power clustered around Canary Wharf and the old City [Read More…]