I just cited Adam Perkins in an essay. The essay was looking at the dramatic change in family structures and demographics in the twentieth century, and the crisis in institutions still bult around the unpaid carer, breadwinner family model of the pre-World War 2 period. The transformation of the family organisation in the twentieth century, combined with increased female economic independence, ageing populations, and falling fertility rates, is crucical to understanding the crisis across institutions concerned with social reproduction. It didn’t start with the welfare state, it started a long time before World War 2, but it was evident by the 1960s when divorce overtook widowhood as the reason for lone parenting.
This tension between changing demographics and institutional structures has been brought into relief since the financial crisis. Our social care crisis, our benefits crisis. Understanding inequality requires the syntheisis of many disciplines, economics, social policy, law, sociology, psychology, philosophy, psychiatry, child development, mediciine, education, disciplines across health, labour market studies, welfare state scholarship…the list is endless. Many established disciplines with long academic histories, contained in academics institutions all over the UK.
This essay was particularly concerned with the institutional structure of our benefits system and the impact of changing demographics and evolution of disciplines like social work. Social work itself is not really an academic discipline, its a vocation which requires synthesis of other disciplines to inform decision making.
Anyway, we have a cyclical economy, and one of things that happens when institutional structures go into crisis as a result of changes as significant as the one we are in now, is that people reach out for pseudoscience to explain things that make them anxious. Lone parents make people anxious, because the traditional family form lasted for thousands of years and lone parents are the firstt visible manifestation of that change. With reference to our inequality crisis, we have to look beyond this at the intergenerational reciprocity implications of changing family forms, and really place that in an economic, social, and institutional context. Intergenerational ties become more significant as new stable family forms emerge as an evolution of the traditional nuclear family.
I cited Adam Perkins as an example of this pseudoscience, along with the ‘research’ Camilla Batmanghelidjh said she had that proved that brain deformation in children was directly linked to black mothers expressing sexual automomy. It harks back to similar pseudoscience in the Victorian age, with moral panic, imaginary orphans, and phrenology just a few examples. I think its very interesting that we grasp on to nonsense at times like this.
I let Adam know he had been cited. Its nice to let academics know when their work is being used. And he demanded ‘studies’. I tried not to laugh. A man who has placed his work at the intersection of so many disciplines, while clearly not expecting those disciplines to contextualise his work, whose use of stats is so dodgy that he needs a refresher course in quantitative analysis, and who misrepresented sources to create his book. A man who chose temporary media attention because his work doesn’t stand up to academic scrutiny, laughingly demanding people indulge work which defines ‘work resistant’ and ‘agreeable’ as scientific terms, demanding studies of what?
Anyway, i got into a discussion about how dangerous his work was. In normal circumstances, I would say that someone presenting faux scientific validity to arguments that support eugenics was dangerous. But I think we should put it into context. The institutional crisis we are in the middle of is reaching an interesting stage. IDS resigning has pierced a benefits blueprint that has existed for 70 years, and the media that underpinned this blueprint since Beveridge are dying. They moved into a chatroom and declared it their future. While the use of synthetic inequality modelling using public attitudes as an evidence base have provided the basis of economic and social policy modelling, Piketty’s methodology put an end to that and we are in a period of evolution from that way of doing things. Economics and Social policy are entering a new age of empiricism which is welcome.
Outside how interesting it is that as we reach the end of an inequality cycle, with institutional crisis at its core, that media are grasping onto pseudoscience reminiscent of the Victorian age, I don’t really think he is dangerous. He has just flushed his academic career down the toilet for media attention he could have got tweeting. His work exists at the intersection of many academic disciplines, and he can’t get it peer reviewed as a result. He has written an epitaph to his career that suggests the accusation of ‘welfare trait’ is a projection of his feelings about himself. I wish him luck, but outside citing him as an example of an interesting phenomena, I don’t really see how the nonsense he wrote is worthy of debate.
PS Adam- Social work is not a job for the agreeable. Its about assessing harm and being able to say to people they are harming their children to their faces, it requires a complete disregard for being liked. It does require the ability to synthesise disciplines, which is how I understand how many disciplines your work sits at the intersection of. You might want to familiarise yourself with those disciplines, if LSE ever rebook you, because many of them are contained there. Those academics are formidable and can spot nonsense a mile off.
PS Adam, I also worked at the jobcentre. Unemployment clearly scarred you, but really you should take a look at the research which exists on our labour market. It wasn’t your fault. Your next bout might be. If you want a copy of the essay I’ll send it to you.