Is Bristol really the happiest place in Britain?

There are persist traffic problems in my area of Bristol, Brislington, and during the evenings it can take up to an hour to drive a twenty-minute journey. Last Christmas a young man called Jama Powell was stabbed to death at a nightclub in the city center, and this year New Yeats Eve was again blighted by stabbings in the city center. Yet, as an alumni student I am emailed by Bristol University, very sadly a university that has recently been plagued with student suicides, informing me that Bristol is actually: “The happiest pace in Britain”. Its also similarly as confusing when I see articles declaring Bristol to be “Europe’s Greenest City” whilst overlooking swathes of urban hosing with not an ounce of green in sight. When I follow the link to discover why Bristol is supposedly so happy, I am taken to the website of a local paper, Bristol Evening Post. There I am told that the research concluding that Bristol is one of the happiest places to live in Britain was actually conducted by “Gala Bingo”, an online gambling company, not Bristol University! I would suggest that Bristol University, like many other universities, begin to reconsider the social scientific evidence it generates and marketing ideologies perpetuated, because they are clearly misaligned.

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On being Dyslexic at Cambridge University

By James E. Addicott ©2018

In this blog I reflect upon the process of studying for a PhD at one of the world’s highest ranking universities as a ‘dyslexic’ student. Let me begin by reflecting upon briefly detailing my background story:

I was diagnosed as dyslexic at the age of 30. I read a journal article once that stated that 50% of prisoners were diagnosed as dyslexic in a small study conducted in The US. I dropped out of education after leaving college with D and E grade A-Levels. From the age of 18 to 28 I moved to the then ghetto district of St Pauls in Bristol. I began a career as a pirate radio, nightclub and street-team DJ. I found it incredibly difficult to integrate with so-called “normal” society and much easier to integrate in places with less paperwork and bureaucracy, what some might call the “underworld”.

From around the age of 30 onwards my life slowly began to improve in terms of social mobility. In 2003, I studied for a certificate to teach English to foreign adults. I was picked up on my spelling by the examiners. They told me I could not qualify unless I could obtain a pre-diagnosis as dyslexic because my spelling was that poor – they didn’t know if I was being lazy or not. Then I went on to study for an undergraduate degree later that year. That year the Bristol Dyslexia Centre officially diagnosed me as quite severely dyslexic.

In 2013 I started studying for my PhD at the age of 37. Cambridge University is a place of big books, dense written texts, paperwork forms and bureaucracy, towering libraries and thick bookshelves – a dyslexic’s worst nightmare. I began blogging about it at the time – see ‘Experiencing dyslexia at The University of Cambridge’

I was registered with the disability department as dyslexic. I was told that I would not receive financial support since I was able to get accepted at Cambridge University, so clearly there was nothing much wrong with my reading and writing abilities. Although that was quite a blunt point to make, there was some truth to it, so what had changed? Why was I able to study for an undergrad, masters’ degree and PhD at one of the world’s highest-ranking universities, given that I had been diagnosed severely dyslexic?

I am convinced that the fundamental difference, more than anything, was that from around the year 2000 onwards, computer spell checkers and auto-correct software had become increasingly more advanced. These days, as I write, I can see the computer compensating for my disability in real-time. Now that is progress.

If I were to turn of the speel checker off and type and I naturally undestand that words are spelt then this article would read something like this. I find spelling vegetables such as coliflour, potatoes, bannanas, cabages, cuecumbers, most difficlt… so, turning auto-correct back on now…

Another remarkable shift that computing technologies have brought to us all, dyslexics and non-dyslexics alike, is the prevalence of icons, graphics, pictures, signs, symbols, multimedia or ‘visual culture’ over alphabetical writing or written texts. The home screen of a smartphone much more accurately represents the visual thinking mind of the human being much more so than sentences and paragraphs. Everyone struggles with reading and writing, hence an education system of fifteen years or more, so visual could well be increasing efficacy throughout modern societies, which eases things for dyslexics like myself.

After spending five years studying independently for a PhD, afforded the time to learn and educate myself, I understand my dyslexic way of thinking much more clearly. I tend to read much differently than non-dyslexic students. My natural approach to a linear text tends to be non-linear, spatial and visual.  I pick apart different parts of books or journal articles. Maybe I will read the back sections of a book before the introduction, preface or chapter three. I find myself pinpointing certain paragraphs or sentences and unraveling them; completely deconstructing and reconstructing them until I am satisfied I understand or feel I confidently know what an author is saying.

As I read, I tend to doodle and convert the ideas written in words, paragraphs and sentences into non-linear, spatial diagrams. Each book on my bookshelf has been converted into a series of spatial, 2D diagrams. A web of interrelated diagrams and scribbles is how I get to understand or grasp complex ideas and working theories such as Marx’s theory of base-structure/superstructure or Weber’s theory of rationality/irrationality. See some examples below:

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I was able to carry these skills over into my final oral exam. During my viva, as my examiners asked me a series of very complicated questions. I ducked my head down and quickly scribble down diagrammatic representations of the ‘conceptual forms’ that I thought their questions took. In an exanimation environment, where the pressure is quite high, it helped me to gather my thoughts together by briefly looking at these scribbled diagrammatic forms. I could then answer the examiners quite comfortably. I realised that this was a skill that I had developed over the course of my PhD studies that I could utilise swiftly and confidently. Such ‘envisioning’ or ‘spatial visually’ are gifts of dyslexia – see Thomas G. West In the Mind’s Eye: Visual Thinkers – Gifted People with Dyslexia and Other Learning Difficulties. By reading about dyslexia (ironically) and receiving support from disability centers, I have been able to realise my disabilities, weaknesses and strengths in order to study at one of the worlds leading universities.

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The worst part of being dyslexic at Cambridge University was attending the disability resource center to register as a dyslexic student. Then being handed a thick bunch of paper forms to fill in to register as dyslexic – the irony was profound! Non-dyslexic people would probably not understand the relevance of such an act. Such a situation might be compared, in analogous terms, to a student on crutches being told to register at another office located at the top of a long flight of stairs. You have a disability with paperwork and forms; you are given a heavy load of paperwork and forms to ‘help’ tackle the problem. It was a real statement of misunderstanding. Such problems with forms and paperwork are a persisting problem even following my PhD. As an example, I find myself informing a potential employer that I am registered disabled and have a specific learning disability called dyslexic, but then having to pay someone to proof read my job application because it could be rejected for seemingly haphazard spelling mistakes and grammar errors.

I say all of this to say that problems with dyslexic have been remedied with computing technologies, thankfully. However many quite traditional ‘barriers’ still obstruct dyslexic peoples’ everyday lifeworld. That a large proportion of the prison population might be dyslexic might suggest that disability in reading and writing is a publishable offense en mass.

“Dyslexia” is in some respects simply a label or tag; everyone has their own subjective ways of understanding and communicating within this complex world. Although sometimes I resent the label I still strongly identify as being “Dyslexic”. I hope this blog can contribute towards helping other dyslexic people in their struggles. If you identify as dyslexic or non-dyslexic and can relate to any of the above then please share on your similarities or differences in the comment section below.

Website: jeaddicott.com
Email: mail@jeaddicott.com
Follow me on Twitter: @james_addicott or Instagram: jeaddicott

On graduating from Cambridge University

I began my blog almost five years ago when I started at Cambridge University. My studies were based in the department of sociology and I focused on precision farming. It was five years of incredibly hard work. Somebody told my parents once that ‘PhD stands for Permanent Head Disorder” and it very much felt like that. Having the same subject matter rolling over and over in your head like a tumbler dryer. Once I had submitted my PhD thesis to the Student Graduate Union such obsessional forms of thinking finally came to an end.

My graduation day and graduation ceremony was incredible. My journey to Cambridge from Bristol began at 5am in the morning. The train journey from London to Cambridge was standing room only with the amount of people traveling to Cambridge for graduation day. My mother, father and eldest niece met me at the train station. First of all we visited my college, St Edmunds College, where we ate sandwiches, met up with college friends, and rehearsed for the ceremony at Senate House in the city centre.

As PhD students, Adrien, Megan and myself lead the parade of graduating students down to Cambridge city center. We were really lucky with the weather and it was a really fresh, frosty October day with a lovely warm sun.

I felt extremely nervous and because my surname begins with “A” then I was the first student to walk up the the front to be sworn in as a doctor. Being the sociologist and rebel that I am, I ticked the box not to bow but stand in front of the Vice-Chancellor.  I hope he understands that it is nothing personal, but after studying social and symbolic power relations over knowledge, then last thing you feel like doing is bowing down to hegemony (that’s sociological speak if you do not understand me). Anyway looking into his eyes, seeing him nod his head, confirmed that I had actually done it – I’d graduated.

Then I walked out a small side door of the Senate House onto a narrow side street in the middle of Saturday afternoon, in the middle of Cambridge, as if nothing had happened. I looked down into my hands to see that I was clutching a PhD certificate, and I thought to myself: “Is that it?!” It looked like something you could print with a home computer purchased from PC World, although the two signatures looked rather difficult to forge.

I was really glad it was a good day because experience of Cambridge University was unfortunately tainted towards the end, and I struggled to remain positive at times. It was quite an ordeal but man falsely claiming to be a ‘Senior Member’ of my college attempted to claim co-authorship rights over my PhD thesis against my will. You read about these kinds of things but never think they will happen to you. Although my department was incredibly supportive, this event cast a  dark shadow over the final year and a half of my studies – life is after all ups and downs. But the day before my graduation I was issued a contract from another book company, and that did brighten things up no end.

All in all, I felt so incredibly proud to have studied at Cambridge University. It was an utterly life-changing experience and I feel enlightened just by immersing myself in an environment of intensive learning. It really is important for human to once in a while feel approved and feel recognised for any hard work invested, and this best described the moment you look the Vice-Chancellor in the eyes to accept your post as a newly appointed doctor. The best part of my day was having my family there, with massive smiles across their faces. Thank you to Adrien, Emma and Megan for brightening the day up even more.

P.S.: My advice for future PhD students is be aware that you do not need to buy a PhD gown and hood for the event. No one will tell you this and I forked out £380 for a gown and a hood I did not need. You will wear your masters degree gown to Senate House with a PhD hood that you cant rent from the shop across the road from Senate House (Ryder & Amies).

Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below. Follow me on Twitter @james_addicott or Instagram: ieaddicott or visit my website: http://www.jeaddicott.com

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Quote: Marx and Engels on Populism, Hegemony and Ideology

For each new class which puts itself in the pace of one ruling before it, is compelled… to represent its interests as the common interests of all the members of society, expressed in ideal form… The class making a revolution appears from the very start, if only because it is opposed to a class, not as a class but as the representative of the whole of society: it appears as the whole mass of society confronting the one ruling class. It can do this because, to start with, its interest really is more connected with the common interests of all other non-ruling classes, because under the pressure of hitherto existing conditions its interest has not yet been able to develop as the particular interests of a particular class. Its victory, therefore, benefits also many individuals of the other classes which are not wining a dominate position, but only insofar as it now puts these individuals in a position to raise themselves into the ruling class.

Marx K and Engels F. (1974) The German Ideology, London: Lawrence & Wishart Limited – pp. 65-66

 

Does UK Drill music cause violence?

Does drill music cause or encourage more violence on the streets of Britain? This is an important question posed by the Metropolitan Police with discussion on the BBC and mainstream media. This blog develops a theory about the relationship between urban violence and drill music.

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To begin with, I want to pinch to terms and concepts from anthropologist Richard Geertz. That is the idea that cultural symbols do two things, they provide a model of reality and a model for reality. In these terms, and in the first instance, UK Drill music models reality. What UK Drill does is represent a social environment to external audiences. Aspects of the cultural environment would include council housing estates, economic inefficiencies (litter, broken facilities, graffiti) slang, fashion, violence, crime, patrolling police officers, knives, guns and so on. Drill music can be understood as a form of artistic realism; it ‘keeps it real’, offering a real representation of life on the streets to audiences tuned in. This is one side of the coupling.

At the same time, UK Drill music is also a model for reality. It represents what is there on the streets of some of Britain’s toughest ghettos and presents it – or ‘re-presents’ it – in such a way that it becomes a model for reality; to some extent it determines life or ways of living. That is to say that Drill creates a new culture or sub-culture. It shows people life on the mean streets of London, represents it as realistically as possible, which then inspires some people to not only represent this lifestyle but compete to represent it more authentically in their own lifeworlds. Those listing to the violence represented by Drill artists may then be influenced or intimidated into crime, knife or gun violence as part of this cultural movement. Those listening to British Drill music who are not from poor social and economic backgrounds, do not sell drugs or commit crime, – perhaps white teenagers from working-class or middle-class facilities – might then buy into or be inspired by these artistic representations to live, act, behave in certain ways portrayed. A template is extracted from the streets of London and transported around neighborhoods of the UK, in the same way that a model of Drill culture was extracted from Chicago and exported to London, England.

Taken in these terms, if we ask the question, does Drill music encourage violence on the streets of Britain, then the answer would be “yes, but only to some extent”. As a “model of and for reality” then Drill music not only carries on but amplifies the kind of violence and gun culture that has always been found on the streets of London, Birmingham, Sheffield, Liverpool, etc. And lower-cost technologies are very much the cause of the amplification. It is very much the case that with new and more affordable technologies youngsters are able to generate and broadcast their own media and lower cost to potentially wider audiences – politicians may blame the media content but they would never blame the technologies themselves.

Politicians pinning the blame for gang murders and knife crime on Drill music are pointing their fingers at the effects but not the causes. In Marxist terms the ideological superstructure (musical expression) is the outcome of a deeper-rooted, social and economic base-structure. The causes should be quite clear and should have more to do with the social and economic environments, lack or wealth and resources, within which Drill music is produced rather than the music itself. At it has always been the case with Jungle Music, D&B, Hip Hop, UK Garage and Grime – genres that all contain violent language – that concerned, middle-class parents or politicians point their fingers at the music culture that the people produce rather than addressing the issues that plague most ghetto districts of Britain (low education, poor community facilities, lack of council funding, low societal esteem and high levels of drug demand, and so on). Banning UK Drill music on YouTube or stopping groups such as 67 from performing live concerts is an economic strategy and the aim is not “to stop the message getting out” but to draw this cultural movement to a halt by stunting financial prosperity and potential economic growth.

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Twiddling with monopoly control

As I try my best to fix some of the new faults my Apple computer alerts me of, I realize that these are issues of monopoly capitalism, not technical issues. My ‘out of date’ Apple 5 and 5s phones no longer work with my ‘out of date’ operating system because of some new reason or another. Reasons that are here today, and were not here five years ago when the same system ran fine. The only way I can get my systems linked up, or talking with any of the other Apple products my family own, is to upgrade my software or buy new equipment. I must buy my way out of technical glitches. The recent admission that Apple were purposely slowing iPhone’s down (to encourage people to buy new smartphones) came as no surprise. Of course company’s need to make money but what we have in our hands is evidence of market coordination and control that one of the two firms that dominate IT markets are able to exercise. If I had the time on my hands, tracing these networks to discover these ‘encoded technical glitches’ would make for a fascinating research study. A wide range of technical glitches indicates that I am clearly being ‘funneled’ towards a new purchase – I could be wrong of course, and many glitches are genuine faults. Some technical glitches reveal sources of political and economic contention and that  markets are not free, users freedom of choice is massively restrained, controlled and coordinated.

Jordan Peterson: Masculinazi?

I felt offended and appalled by Jordan Peterson’s attitude. I switched off almost immediately. I then returned to my friend and explain that I was not interested in watching the video. My friend  accused me of being narrow minded and childish, and the kind of ‘immature man’ or ‘overgrown child’ as the video suggested I – and most other men around the world – was. Later on that evening, another friend also sent me a link to the same video. Maybe I was missing out on something, being too eccentric or closed minded. I watched the video again and here is what I thought:

He was asked the question : “you have said that “men need to grow the hell up”, can you tell me why?” After a defining pause, he responded: “Because there is nothing uglier than an old infant”. “The Crisis of Masculinity”, he analyses and waned of, is a fault with each immature man, ‘old infant’ or ‘overgrown child’. He continued:

There’s nothing good [immature men}; people who don’t grow up don’t find the sort of meaning in their life that sustains them through difficult times – and they are certain to encounter difficult times – and they are left bitter and resentful and adrift and hostile and resentful and vengeful and arrogant and deceitful and of no use to themselves and of no use to anyone else and no partner for no woman and there’s nothing it is that is good. (He said shaking his head and grey hair).

Peterson informs us that he has clearly identified something he considers to be a “bad” or possible even an “evil” in the social world. For anyone studying the effects of individual value judgements in the social sciences might feel weary of such value judgements. We should assume to that as the researcher and expert in this area, then he represents a saviour, an ambassador, and the polar opposite of this “male-badness” or “male-evilness”, as a form of masculine good or source of male positivity, should we not? I mean, why wouldn’t we consider him on the better side of these ‘mature/immature’ ‘male/female’ dichotomies that he has drawn and thrown at our feet?

The most amazing this is that he did not explain what “growing up” actually entails; how do you define “growing up”? Does he mean put on a suit, slick your hair back, speaking in a serious and pensive demeanour, working in an office and wearing suits, arguing with women over gender-pay gaps? Does he mean, act more like an “sensible” adult white man? I mean, wouldn’t growing up for a young Ugandan, Paraguayan or Pilipino man mean something slightly different? What is the monolithic ideological construct he calls “growing up”? We all know, we cant all grow up at become successful football players, rock stars or drug dealers. We all know, that we will not all become managers or business owners. So what is this “grown up mature man” ideal type he refers us to? Become a bit more like him self?

Just as not all women are able to get equal pay, not all young men grow up in social and cultural conditions where simply throwing on a suit and speaking clearly and sensibly will get them as far as selling drugs, milking cows or hunting for wild animals. But anyway, according to Peterson, millions of young men watch his channel because he is the only person telling them that they need to grow up: “in fact the words that I have been speaking… have had such dramatic impact [that this] is an indication that young men a starving for this sort of message.”

If a woman presents Peterson the argument that there is a gender pay gap, he argues that there are so many different variables to take into account that the whole feminist gender pay gap argument is therefore debunked. Yet, he is able to present an argument that most men around the world, other than him self, are immature and the whole world is suffering as a consequence. His hypocrisy speaks volumes and goes unchallenged.

He also told the female interviewer (who is a woman with her own opinion) that: ‘Women deeply want men who are competent and powerful’ but then when asked what role women should play in fixing the ‘crisis of masculinity’, shrugs his shoulders and snaps: “Well it depends what [women] want!” Well Prof., you have already told us what (you think) women want ?! What makes him able to make such sweeping claims? “Because I’m a clinical psychologist.” Take a load of some of his other broad, general, sweeping statements:

“Power is competence.”
“You can’t dominant a competent partner.”
“Women are more agreeable than men.”
“[Having weak partners] makes women miserable.”

This is just testimony to shoddy, sensationalist egocentric (narcissistic), personality-driven academia. If I want to read about any for of crisis in masculinity then the library shelves of stacked full of books that will tell me about the humanitarian crises of alienation, species-being, dehumanisation, fragmentation, and so on. Although this author’s ego may allow very little room for discussion about these other authors, his message says little new.