This is England, or did I inadvertently predict Brexit?

Richard Courtney reflects on the decade since his PhD, and in the light of Brexit and Trump, asks whether the social sciences have forgotten the white English working class.


It was ten years ago that I finished the field work for my PhD in sociology here at Leicester. It was a study of Thurrock in Essex titled: ‘This is England: Class and Ethnicity in Non-Metropolitan Spaces’. A typical Post-Industrial landscape that was neither totally rural, urban or metropolitan. The local area was littered with the disused remnants of its industrial and maritime past, such as the former Bata Factory in East Tilbury.


Throughout the 1980s and 1990s the architecture of consumer capitalism was super-imposed upon this landscape. Lakeside Shopping Centre and the Chafford Hundred housing development provided shopping and housing for commuters into London for work. From the outside, Thurrock could be regarded alongside places like Basildon, Daventry, or Nuneaton – as geographical illustrations of Marc Auge’s non-spaces. However, for the people living in these areas they were their spaces. It was also my space, because I was born and raised there.


I thought that these spaces were inhabited by a people who no longer knew who they were or what their relationship was to London, the UK, and the rest of the world. They exhibited a ‘dual consciousness’ where they used ideas about class at the same time as narratives of ethnicity and whiteness. Rather naively, I thought sociology would explain this. As I completed my PhD and moved into an academic life, I became increasingly interested in public sociology. This seemed to be the principle means by which social science could impact upon society. However, with Brexit, fake news and post-truth, I can’t help but think I failed and, more to the point, that social science has failed.


I felt sociology could expand understanding when it comes to issues of diversity and inclusivity. Thurrock was traditionally a ‘white area’ where diversity existed in the minds of local residents as something that applied to inner cities. Residents routinely used metaphors of hygiene, dirt, and garbage to describe the character of ‘immigrants’. In Thurrock these were often second generation Nigerians who worked in the public sector, IT, and other skilled occupations. However, in the minds of residents they were strangers whose personal intentions and culture was viewed with mistrust.


In 2005-6 by the then most prominent British right wing political party circulated a leaflet entitled: ‘Africans 4 Essex’. Its basic premise was that the new community had been offered a deal by Haringey Council, which meant that they were bought out of their council houses and used the money to move to Thurrock. None of this was true and it took Barking MP Margaret Hodge to demonstrate that it was false. However, many residents I interviewed still believed it, reasoning that everything you read in the media is a lie. Many people’s beliefs were so fixed that no amount of evidence to the contrary was plausible. They were already ‘post-truth’.


The people of Thurrock identified as local, as English, and in many instances ‘white’. At the heart of their lament for the decline of their former social status as ‘the British Working Class’ was a sense of resentment that ‘others’, namely migrants and cosmopolitan liberals had stolen their identity, not to mention their occupations, solidarity and space. They felt left behind, excluded, and that they were treated badly by a metropolitan multi-culturalism. They would claim that if minorities could celebrate their identity then why couldn’t the white English? They showed no understanding as to why something like ‘Empire Day’ wasn’t really something that could be celebrated equally alongside Black History Month.


Locals were not essentially racist or divisive; they just didn’t talk about themselves and others in the ways that social scientists would. However, during the mid-noughties, before Brexit, it was difficult within social science circles to discuss this world view without damning them for everyday racism and locating them in terms of predictable conceptions of class. This made understanding difficult. It’s difficult to empathise with a young woman telling you that they think all Asian people should be packed onto a boat that is then sunk. Does the fact that the young woman left school at 15, had never had a job, had no training or skills, had three children and was teetering into homelessness make a difference to your understanding?


I think that the current political situation is in part an outcome of the social sciences’ inability to impact positively and sensitively upon society over the past 30 years or so. And the reason is because we’ve shied away from confronting the challenging and often harsh realities of normal ordinary white British people – the self-identified ‘silent majority’. There has also been an over reliance on secondary data in much social science research that focussed on social characteristics that had little relevance to these people’s reality – an obvious example is the fact that these people couldn’t identify in the UK Census as English. From the late noughties onwards there were journal articles here and there, but no consistent position or intervention. This meant that post-truth got greater traction in the minds of ordinary people than social science.


In part this was a geographic problem because these people lived in places where little ethnographic research was occurring. Fake news has been rife for years in insecure economic spaces at the rough end of the economy, where ideas about knowledge, evidence, data, and perspective familiar to universities and the public sector simply do not exist. The Brexit result is an eruption of this world into the public sphere, and a widespread sense of a people who have been forgotten.


I’m not saying its social sciences’ fault that this is happened, I’m saying that it happened ‘on our watch’ and we should reflect on this fact. It is therefore our responsibility to engage with it and try to impact on the conditions that push people towards rejecting openness and internationalism. Without social science providing an empirical and conceptual compass for public issues, fake news and post-truth fills that space. We shouldn’t let an embarrassment that public opinion trumped our influence force us to abandon our normative commitments. We need to do more than hold more conferences and seminars, we actually need more engaged ethnographies. This will enable us to re-acquaint ourselves with society, because ultimately ‘Brexit’ shows just how much we’re estranged from it.


I might have been naïve when I was doing my PhD, but current events will not dent my resolve over the enriching role of social science in everyday life.

Originally published at

University of Sanctuary, University of Refuge

This week, Martin Parker considers whether the University of Leicester should commit to being a University of Sanctuary for refugees.


A sanctuary is a place which is sacred, or more generally, somewhere that is protected from the outside. A room of one’s own, a walled garden, a refuge, a defence against the hostility of the world. Under medieval law, fugitives or debtors enjoyed immunity from arrest in certain churches. Nowadays we also have the word used to describe somewhere that is protected for wilderness too,  set aside for wild plants or animals.


The idea of a university already contains the idea of sanctuary. It is a place set apart from the turmoil of the world, somewhere for students and teachers to think, write and stroll the cloisters, slowly talking of great things. Of course most universities don’t have cloisters any more, and the world and its needs are much noisier, but the university is still a distinctive institution. It stands for something, for an ideal of community and the rational life.


One of the ways in which this ideal is being pursued by several US universities in a post-Trump era is the idea of a ‘sanctuary campus’. Portland State, Wesleyan, Pennsylvania and quite a few others have now declared their campuses to be sanctuaries for students who are undocumented migrants. The term is modelled after the idea of a ‘sanctuary city’, a status adopted by over 30 municipalities in the USA.


In November 2016, students around the USA staged demonstrations, walk-outs, and sit-ins in an effort to push their schools to oppose Trump’s avowed policy of mass deportations. Though this is a new movement, proposed policies on sanctuary campuses include – not allowing immigration officers onto campus without a warrant; not allowing campus police to enforce immigration law; and not sharing student immigration status or citizenship status. As well as these attempts at protection, there have been proposals to provide tuition support; distance-learning options for deported students; and legal support to students with immigration law questions and issues.


The American Association of University Professors has endorsed the sanctuary campus movement and urged more colleges and universities to adopt sanctuary policies. Is there anything that universities in the UK could do? More specifically, is there anything that Leicester University could do?


In the UK, the ‘City of Sanctuary’ is a movement which attempts to build a culture of hospitality for people seeking sanctuary. Its goal is to create a network of towns and cities which are places of safety for people seeking sanctuary, helping them integrate into their local communities. It’s not a new movement. In September 2007, with the support of the City Council and over 70 local community organisations, Sheffield became the UK’s first ‘City of Sanctuary’. Leicester followed soon after.


Since then, the movement has supported the development of over 90 City of Sanctuary initiatives in towns across the UK and Ireland. Schools, health and maternity services, theatres and arts venues, churches and other faith centres, sports clubs, communities and businesses become ‘places of sanctuary’. A key element across all these initiatives is awareness raising, telling the stories of refugees to those who never hear them. Local groups work to build coalitions which make a public commitment to welcome and include refugees and people seeking sanctuary in their usual activities. The endorsement of government is sought on the basis of demonstrated community support, rather than being a ‘top-down’ council initiative.


When local organisations and communities include people seeking sanctuary in their activities, personal relationships are formed which lead to greater understanding and support from the host community. City of Sanctuary seeks to influence the political debate on sanctuary through cultural change and through a commitment to awareness raising right across society.


Out of these streams has come University of Sanctuary, an initiative to celebrate the good practice of Universities welcoming asylum seekers and refugees into their university community. Bradford, Sheffield, Gloucester and Wolverhampton are among the universities that have signed up so far.


The idea is to develop a culture of welcome in institutions of Higher Education. Universities are in a powerful position to secure equal access to higher education for sanctuary seekers. This means reaching out to and supporting sanctuary seekers in their local communities who could benefit from University resources.


Since the refugee crisis hit the news in 2015, there has been a surge in interest and support for refugees, in universities and across society more widely. A University of Sanctuary should be a place where anyone can welcome and able to pursue their education. University can seem like an impossible goal for some. This should not be the case. University should be a possibility for everyone, and even for those who do not wish to study, universities can be welcoming and safe places, even just by letting people use the facilities who may not otherwise have access to books in their own language, computers, sports facilities and more.


Universities like Leicester are well placed to be able to lead on initiatives which would help refugees locally and globally. Can we become a place of sanctuary too?

Originally published at

What happens when the cash disappears?


ULSB PhD student Secki Jose explores the paradoxical effects of India’s recent decision to get rid of some of its banknotes to combat corruption. Secki can be emailed on
At the stroke of midnight on November 8, 2016, India launched what seemed like an extraordinary experiment in monetary economics. Identifying India’s historical problems of corruption and national security as being caused by easy cash, a war was declared – on cash money. India attempted a ‘demonetisation’ by scrapping the existing denominations of 500 and 1000 Rupees that formed around 86 percent of the paper notes in circulation. Any cash over a specified limit that you brought into the bank after this date would be heavily taxed and your finances subject to the taxman’s scrutiny.


It seemed like a bold move, and one that seemingly had the ability to strike at all the evils in the country. But did it have any effect? I was fortunate to be in India starting from the second week of this ‘demonetisation’ and was able to closely follow its trajectory and the corresponding events on the ground.

A curious thing had been happening in India over the previous three years. The rate of cash in the hands of the public had been rising much faster than the rate of growth of the broad money supply. In other words, the people were accumulating cash outside the banking system faster than it was being printed out by the central bank. No one could explain the reason for this rise in cash holdings despite there being several developments that appeared to run in the opposite direction (such as e-banking and mobile banking).


Several suggestions were put forward to explain this but all involved a high degree of speculation because the money, by definition, was outside the banking system. It is also disconcerting for a central bank like the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). The more the cash floating outside the formal banking system, the less control the RBI and the government has over the size of transactions as well as monetary policy in general.

Demonetisations have been done for a variety of reasons in the past. Its most common form is seen in ‘redenomination’ where inflationary, high face-value notes are removed from circulation. Other examples include the removal of very low values that are no longer used, or removal due to adoption of new systems – such as the British ‘decimalisation’ in 1971-72, or the introduction of the Euro. But this was probably the first time that a country tried demonetisation to tackle corruption. That the unabashedly right-wing Indian PM could also sell it as being an anti-terrorist move, as well as a nationalist one, was an added bonus.


For anyone who has studied monetary history and its vagaries, Demonetisation is a nerve-wracking experiment. It is therefore no wonder that there were almost no established academics or economists behind this idea. The previous Governor of the RBI, Raghuram Rajan – an economist of some standing – had resigned and left 2 months before the demonetisation. Economists have been split on the consequences of the move with the two camps being bitterly divided. One side argues that the move has been successful in unearthing money that had been hidden away, whilst the other side points to the damage to the economy and the poor in particular. Both the positions in the argument have their merits, but I’m not going to explore those here. Instead, I want to point out that there were two striking things about these discussions.

First was the lack of any solid data to back up any arguments. The large size of India’s informal sector, both in terms of employment and cash transactions, means that there are few ways to capture any real-time changes happening in the economy. The formal sectors with good data were already integrated into the digital economy and banking system and so faced less disruption. It was the cash intensive informal economy that has really faced the brunt of the demonetisation. And there is little anyone can do to measure it. This meant that there were only a few small stories that could be used as evidence, but no way of gauging the move’s wider impact.

The second major issue was about how to interpret the results. Since something of this scale or nature was unprecedented, there was confusion on what was the meaning of the information coming in. For example, it seems that almost all the targeted cash has come back. But does that mean that there was no ‘black’ money left or does it mean that those with ‘black’ money managed to slip it back into the banking system? Failure to release statistics by the RBI has only exacerbated this confusion.


The subsequent actions of the Indian government have shown that it is looking to continue to combat cash holdings, as it sees cash as the oil that fuels corruption. However, not only has this resulted in new ‘innovative’ forms of evasion but crucially, there is no way of ensuring that the ruling dispensation itself remains corruption-free. There is a consensus that the overall execution was shambolic with dead cash machines, long queues, incompatible currency sizes and daily flip-flops by the RBI. But the overall effect of demonetisation was simply obscured by India’s large informal sector – where there are few clear measurables.


With all sides trading barbs, the elections in the coming years will tell us whether ordinary people think that the whole exercise was a success or not. The people in the informal sector whom I spoke to seemed to think of it as just another part of the general turbulence of their lives. They hope that all the trouble helped the country in some of the ways that they had been told it would. I’m not sure whether we will or can ever know whether that was the case.


Originally published at

Fair Game? A Reviewers Tale


Emeritus Professor Peter Armstrong ( discusses an episode in the journal reviewing process that led him to believe that power and politics play their part too.


Around 1990 I still believed that peer review worked as it is supposed to do. I had begun my career as a reviewer at the journal Work Employment and Society under the editorship of Richard Brown and tried to follow his injunction to ‘let the author write their own paper’. That is, I tried to make a judgment of quality, doing my best to set aside my own preferences for method, theoretical approach and research question. As an author, I was as hurt as anyone else by rejection, but never thought of arguing. Naturally I sometimes believed the referees to be mistaken, but I accepted that they were competent people who had made their judgments in good faith. I was totally naive.


It was in the foregoing spirit that I approached the review of a paper which claimed that a dispute between a catering manager and company accountant over the amount allowed for catering purposes could only be adequately understood in the light of a particular social theory. As far as I could see from the author’s account, the dispute could perfectly well be understood as a straightforward difference in priorities rather than requiring any complex theory. I also knew enough about this particular theory to see that the author’s understanding of it was imperfect, to put it kindly. Accordingly I asked for revisions to the exposition of the theory and for the inclusion of any additional case material which might justify the author’s claim that it was necessary.


In their reply the editors of the journal enclosed a hand-written rejoinder from the author. A journalist would have described it as a green ink letter. The theory, it declared, MUST STAND, bold, capitals, double-underlined. The case material was perfectly adequate as it stood, and so on for two furious pages. Appended there were a number of references just so I would know who I was dealing with, never mind that this was a clear breach of the ideal of blind refereeing and one in which the editor seemed happy to collude.


Faced with a flat refusal to revise anything at all, I didn’t have a great deal of choice. I recommended rejection. The next communication from the editors informed me that, since the two initial reviews had disagreed, the paper would go to a third referee for adjudication. In the ordinary way of things, that would have been the last I heard, except that the adjudication had gone the author’s way. Author 1, reviewer 0.


At the time, I was working in a university about 180 miles from my home and was desperate for a job within feasible commuting distance. It so happened that the department at which I had applied for a lectureship was also the one which employed the author and a senior co-author who had also featured in the list of references. Anticipating that I would have problems in working with someone capable of writing a letter of the kind I had received, I considered withdrawing the application but went ahead on the basis of greater need. As luck would have it, neither of the two were on my interview panel. Whether consequently or not, I got the job.


On their return I found myself on the receiving end of a little chat with the senior co-author. To the best of my recollection, it went thus.  ‘X doesn’t know it was you, and I won’t tell.’ The evident presumption was that the paper was OK and that it was I who had something to apologise for. The speaker seemed to think they were doing me a favour in keeping my misdeeds from an injured party. Apparently it never occurred to them that there might be something improper about discovering the identity of a supposedly anonymous reviewer. The little chat concluded with, ‘We’ll work on it. It’ll be OK, you’ll see.’


And so they did and so it was. The paper was not only published – largely unmodified – but was also awarded a prize by the publisher of the journal. About two years later, through a chance turn in a conversation with another academic, I discovered that they had been the second reviewer and that they had made precisely the same objections to the paper as me, and had asked for similar revisions. In other words, there had been no disagreement between the first two reviews, and so no justification for sending the paper to an adjudicating referee, if indeed this was what had actually happened.


At the time the senior of the two collaborators was already a distinguished scholar and, as time went on and the publications piled up, that also became true of their protégé. Both of them were honoured guests at the celebration which marked the tenth anniversary of the journal concerned. Though I worked alongside the pair of them for four years, the affair was never mentioned again and I could never work out how the pair of them saw my part in this episode. Was I some ogre of vindictiveness overcome by the temptation to slap down the aspirations of a rising star, or was I simply too prejudiced or stupid to see the virtue in a piece of work whose objective worth was later attested by the publisher’s prize?


Unless there are good reasons to the contrary, my working assumption is always that what I have experienced is not an isolated occurrence. On the basis of my chance behind-the-scenes peek at the review process, I wonder if we who submit to it in good faith are the fools who obey the speed limit whilst the more worldly-wise swish past us in the outer lane with their eyes glued to their speed-trap detectors.

Originally published at

Doomsday Scenarios? Decisions, Deals and The Donald


Professor Rolland Munro discusses the difference between decision making, and doing deals. Can a entrepreneurial business leader run an economy in the way that they run their business?


Much attention is focused on the “decisions” being made by Donald Trump in these first weeks of his Presidency. Decisions once upon a time relied on getting good information and correctly analysing it. But far from hoping Trump might make even sub-optimal decisions, the optimistic expectation is rather of his “muddling through” – although without Charles Lindblom’s thoughtful science to help him.


What the media has its eye on is Trump’s inexperience in government. Since the art of government is partly about understanding how institutions sediment into other institutions – bringing into play Weber’s law of unintended consequences – one could hope a new President might adopt a policy of incrementalism. To the contrary to such caution, Trump appears to epitomise Amitai Etzioni’s figure of the reckless, someone who can’t or won’t cope with information: “Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead!”


Yet despite pundits circulating his vocabulary, what seems to be overlooked is how Trump’s own language reflects himself and his moneymaking background. As with some other entrepreneurial billionaires, Trump’s focus is solely on making a “deal”.


Famously, for example, Bernie Ecclestone, the former boss of Formula One, never made notes in meetings and wouldn’t sign a contract. As he put it, whereas there wasn’t a contract in which he wouldn’t find a loophole, a handshake from him was forever.


In contrast to the arts of decision-making honed in institutions like the CIA and Department of Justice, deals are often done blind, on trust, or just on what seems right at the time. With deals you win some and lose some, but decisions tend to be judged good or bad.


This difference matters to someone like Trump, particularly since decisions have a habit of getting examined retrospectively, with the added disadvantage of the decision- maker being held to account. For example, his decision to run a bogus university (to teach people how to make money) keeps coming back on him. Whereas the practice of “cutting a deal” – as in a card game like poker – speaks of the luck of the draw. If you get dealt a bad hand, you just move on. To the next deal.


Recalling Henry Mintzberg’s proposal that action is a better unit of analysis for management than decision, Trump’s “strokes of the pen” are better seen as actions taken by him to reflect the “deal” he did with the American people. Vide: make me President and I’ll give you back your jobs, banish Muslims and build a wall. In his own mind, Trump is doubtless going full steam ahead to keep his word. That’s what those who “do deals” do to keep their reputation. Better to go bankrupt, than welch on a deal!


From the televised debates, we learnt Trump’s “smart” move is tax avoidance: to let the taxpayer bail him out via the Inland Revenue Service. This time though the fact is that, as President, it is now the nation that could go bankrupt. The prospect of dividing the US from global trade stems from his apparent aversion to multi-lateral deals.


More problematically, Trumps inability to undertake genuine decision-making, means much more than bankruptcy is at stake. Sticking to his comfort zone of holding out prospects of bi-lateral deals to other leaders, like Mr Putin and Mrs May, may lead on to the kind of isolationism that makes any nation vulnerable to war. So it is not Trump who will be the target in a “High Noon” shootout, doubtless one of the many heroic films he lives in. The torpedoes of today are nuclear and may all too easily mean Armageddon.

Originally published at

After Brexit, Trump?


Dr Fabian Frenzel of the Management and Organization Division of the School discusses the Anti-Trump protests across the UK and what they mean for Brexit Britain. How are the two connected?


UK wide protests against the Trump administration have hit the streets since the new president issued a controversial travel ban for seven predominantly Muslim countries last week. Nowhere outside the US have protests against Trump’s travel ban been as fierce and widely shared. A petition to parliament asking to revoke Theresa May’s invite to Trump for a state visit to the UK in summer has now reached nearly 2 million signatures. May has thus far rejected this demand, insisting on the diplomatic necessities of Realpolitik.


In response some MPs compared May’s approach to Trump to the appeasement policies of British government with Nazi Germany in the 1930s, indicating just how controversial her invite is. More protest are planned by a newly formed Anti-Trump coalition that enlists an impressive number of UK celebrities. Nation-wide marches are planned on the 20 February, the day Parliament is scheduled to debate the petition.


Such strong rejection and near spontaneous outburst of protest, mostly mobilised via social media without the involvement of larger organisations or parties, are by now a familiar feature of protest cultures across the world. The Anti-Trump protests are examples of collective affects, broadly shared sentiments pitched up via the power of algorithms and connectivity. It is wrong to dismiss social media as mere echo-chambers, reflecting only those sentiments one already holds. Some issues resonate broadly, while others remain fringe concerns. Once people take to the street in the numbers we saw this/last week, it is clear that something has hit a nerve.


The question is why the Anti-Trump protests resonate so strongly in Britain. I got some ideas about this when I attended the spontaneous protest against Trump’s travel ban in Leicester. I was surprised to find that far from everybody in the crowd seemed to be united. A fellow migrant saw me and shared her views: “Typical British anti-Americanism, she quipped: If they care so much about freedom of movement, why don’t they protest against Brexit?”


I replied that most people in the demo were likely to be opposed to Brexit, but she had a point. No one was out on the street when the House of Commons voted for the Brexit Bill this week. The leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, had even ordered his MPs to vote for Brexit. At the same time he fiercely criticised Theresa May for seeking closer ties with the US.


This makes very little sense.


Theresa May’s encounter with the new US president was the result of frantic diplomatic efforts in which May bargained for being the first foreign leader to meet Trump and for a quick free trade deal after Brexit. In return Trump asked to meet the Queen: He got it.


Brexit Britain has little choice but to seek closer ties with the US. Only the US has an economy strong enough to offer some replacement of the economic benefits of the single market. Via closer ties with the US the UK financial sector can hope to maintain its world leading position, even if EU markets becomes harder to access. Politically, it is only on the side of the USA that Britain may hope to have some relevance in the world, once its leaves the foreign policy co-ordination of the EU.


None of this British geopolitical constellation is new. Long before Brexit, Britain maintained relative political and economic independence as a result of carefully balancing its position between the EU and the US.


The balancing act is not only a question of diplomacy and national interest, it also deeply affects the British identify.


Parts of the UK public are evidently allergic to EU influence, but as the protests against Trump show, public sentiment is also fiercely opposed to any sense of dependence on the USA. With a president as controversial as Trump, this is even more so. Few people made the link between the Anti-Trump protests and Brexit last week. But it may well be that the unease and anger displayed results not simply from the politics of the new American president, but equally from the fear of being closely associated with it.


The question many Britons may ask is: when we leave the EU, will we be forced into a closer alliance with Trump’s USA. The answer to that question is almost certainly yes. Brexit Britain needs closer ties to the US at the precise point where the US turns out to be a very dubious partner indeed. Protests against Trump in Britain may well signal the beginning of a new wave of Anti-Brexit mobilisation.

Originally published at

Do Managers Make Teams Successful?


ULSB PhD student Rasim Kurdoglu (rsk15) considers just what we can learn from Leicester City’s lack of success this season.


Unlike most industries, managers in team sports are paid less than many of the team players. Sport is an activity in which team players’ performance is directly visible, therefore clearly appreciable. But surely the manager is important too? Most people who work in a Business School would agree that managers have important leadership and decision making roles in any organization. But does that mean that they are magicians, heroic leaders who produce success or failure?


It was fascinating and surprising to see Leicester City Football Club as the champions of 2015-2016. However, the same team’s struggle in the Premier League in 2016-2017 is equally surprising. So, assuming that not that much has changed about the team, the fans, the league, the stadium, then is the success and failure down to management or not?


Let’s look at some academic theory and see what we can learn. The economist Friedrich Hayek asserts that if a game is played fairly then there is nothing wrong with rewarding people for the results they achieve. In that sense, he would see no problem with managers claiming full credit for success and then reaping the financial benefits of it. Therefore, for him, managers could be understood as the creators of success or failure.


The sociologist Max Weber had a different view. He believed that social inequalities lack a rational explanation, are not the result of justified rewards for success. Instead, the successes and failures that we see in society have more to do with luck, or who your parents happen to be. Despite Weber’s common sense, it seems that Hayek’s is the dominant view in our time, particularly amongst the winners.


Turning back to Leicester FC’s success then. Of course we should credit the value of manager Claudio Ranieri’s strategies and tactics, his team line-up, his communication skills and so on. It would be perverse to ignore his contribution, but to say that the manager was responsible for the success would be an incomplete explanation. Even more so since we currently observe a serious decline in his team’s performance, although it has the same management and only a few changes in the team.


Indeed, we only need to listen to Ranieri himself. I have watched his interviews many times. There is a single notion I consistently hear in his explanations, and which reflects his general humility. This notion is ‘spirit’. He regularly talks about the ‘good spirit in the team’.  Spirit is a beautiful and a poetic concept, perhaps an invisible element of success which cannot be captured by any single factor. Probably, Ranieri was also struggling to make sense of what was happening as he repeatedly invoked ‘spirit’ like a ‘ghost’ in the team, and which could explain their astonishing success.


What is the ‘spirit’ which gives rise to all the confidence, enthusiasm, courage and ability last season, but which seems so lacking this season?


It seems to me that the ghost in the team is something that couldn’t possibly be reduced to the manager. In 2015-16, the players, the manager, the club’s Thai owners, were in some sort of harmony, combined with luck, that could never be reduced to one factor.  If there is a lesson, it is that spirit, harmony, is a complicated prescription for success. Trying to make our lives simple with explanations such as the superiority of a single manager simply doesn’t work.


This isn’t to say that Ranieri didn’t matter. Of course he did. Yet we should not forget that Ranieri is himself a product of the spirit he describes. He was born out of this harmony just as much as he can take some credit from creating it. In that respect, it is neither fair nor accurate to isolate one cause for success.  Last season was a culmination of a beautiful collective effort, and both manager and players should be proud to have been a part of it. And the lesson for the Business School? Simply that one should not imagine that a heroic leader with an MBA will guarantee success, because luck and spirit matter just as much.


Thanks to Martin Parker for helping me with this piece.

Originally published at

Why target people with ads who are turned off by targeted ads?

For several years the DNT (Do Not Track) initiative has been trying to formalise a standard feature for the worldwide web to allow users to tell a website whether they are happy to have their activities tracked by the website and their partner. These initiatives have been opposed by a group of organizations with clear interests in the digital marketing market (IAB in particular). They have confused, obfuscated and in some cases intimidated participants in the project. This lead the New York Times to describe DNT as a ‘slow death‘.

But, I came across this interesting study by Goldfarb and Tucker. Put very simply, they find that consumers respond best to ads which are contextually targeted or highly visible on screen but that contextually targeted and highly visible ads perform relatively badly. The paper speculates that consumers privacy concerns might be the explanation for this effect. A targeted and visible ad reminds consumers that the site is tracking them and makes them more critical of persuasive communication.

So, just imagine the power of knowing which consumers cared about privacy and “detargeting” them – but perhaps using highly visible ads instead. In the paper, Goldfarb and Tucker estimate that 5% of digital ad spending is wasted targeting people who are turned off by targeting. That’s a spicy meatball.


Originally published at

Don’t mention the War

Stephen Dunne, Lecturer in Social Theory and Consumption and the School, considers the strange role played by mottos in the marketing of Higher Education 


When the University of Leicester recently changed its corporate logo, the decision was made to omit its inaugural motto from the crest’s imagery. And so a few Latin words, themselves translations of an earlier spiritual vernacular, were excised. Here’s a brief explanation of what that decision amounted to, why it was taken and how it was made.


As the upper middle class targets of Universities once knew, the Ut Vitam Habeant which used to adorn the corporate logo makes a conspicuous nod to John 10: 10. It is there, those chaps used to have to recognise, that Jesus Christ presented to the Pharisees the nature of his pastoralism which had been and implied the promise of his sacrifice which was to come. He suggests the way to his followers, that is, in order “that they might have life”.


The new logo no longer obliges audiences to know what Ut Vitam Habeant means or even where it came from. Rather than being invited to process the previous logo’s peculiar invocation to compare the University of Leicester to the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, contemporary target markets and the wider stakeholder community receive a very different message. The word of higher education brand consultancy now has it that image shall supersede text. With this, the life given by the Lord withdraws from the world of our logo. To those who would listen, the new logo speaks only of its own silence.


How has this shift in emphasis been received? Well on the one hand, “[C]urrent and potential students”, following “nearly 18 months work…involving workshops, focus groups and one to one interviews” are said to have welcomed the new logo’s “more modern, digital feel”. But the move hasn’t been seen as a blessing which has entered everybody’s lives, by the responsible agency’s own admission, since “some alumni, naturally rooted in their pasts, are mourning the loss of some of the more traditional elements”. The new logo’s very existence symbolises the victory of the ‘modern’ over the ‘traditional’. That’s what we’ve been asked to believe by the agency, in any case.


This is strategic marketing in action. The decision to remove Ut Vitam Habeant implies that bookish Latin – and all the legalised bureaucracy and theologised obedience that goes with it – is no longer the contemporary university’s principal currency. Rendered affirmatively, we might say that an appeal to the idea of a University as a site of rational dialogue, whatever its linguistic mode of expression, has become obvious if implicit. You don’t need to be able to speak Latin to come here, the present absence of a motto now says. All the world’s languages can make equal claims on learning, it follows. And there is probably some progressive reassurance to be found in the crediting of such an interpretation.


An alternative interpretation – not necessarily that of “some alumni” – renders the omission of Ut Vitam Habeant as a proxy for the anti-intellectualism through which Universities seek to substantiate their contemporary function. And why not?! What good is the naive and anachronistic appeal to rationality and impartiality these days while we’re being drip fed the idea that we’ve had it with expertise, given up on truth and capitulated to populism! Wouldn’t it be much better if contemporary university occupants got involved in the real world, instead of clambering further and further up the ivory tower? Isn’t it time – now more than ever – for academics to intervene within political affairs, to put their erudition to use? That’s what many people now say.


But that has always been what many people have said. It predates 2016. It predates the Book of John. It even predates Thrasymachus, who told Socrates that “The just is nothing else than the advantage of the stronger”. Those who find little consolation in the reign of real-politic, by contrast, aspire to a juridical situation in which reason, rather than arbitrariness, reigns sovereign. Universities have provided one possible foundation for such an aspiration, one practical manifestation of the Christian determination to make contemplation its own reward, one institutional articulation of the Socratic ethos which invites wisdom’s light into the world. Their very existence suggests that reason, powerlessness in the face of violence, remains nevertheless capable of disarming power. The symbolic abandonment of such an institutional principle isn’t just a strategic marketing consideration, then, though it is at least that.


As for “Ut Vitam Habeant”, it hasn’t been utterly sacrificed to strategic marketing’s requisite pragmatism. Whenever it now appears within University of Leicester communications, the motto now evokes a collective debt to the war fallen, it reminds us of the institution’s inaugural foundation as a symbolic mode of literal memorialisation. The maintenance of this implication, today, is both entirely well-meaning and utterly disingenuous. John 10:10 makes a general appeal to all those who might live on, not a particular appeal to some of those who have fallen. Ut Vitam Habeant, then, is a humanist ethical principle which need not be disparaged as exclusively Christian. But it must not be construed as exclusively or even predominantly a British principle either. Neither then or now. Remembrance should not be a political obligation. And it should not be a unique selling proposition either. The institutional expectation – even the organisational invitation – for the spiritual salvation of the British Monarch is precisely not what Ut Vitam Habeant means. It comes closer to its opposite, in fact. We should remember the fallen not because we are told by others that we should do so but because our inherent capacity to reason might compel us to do so.


And don’t even get me started on Elite but not Elitist.

Originally published at

Trump and the risks of narcissistic leadership

Professor Mark Stein discusses how Donald Trump shows signs of being a narcissistic leader – and why people have good reason to be concerned.

In 2013 I published a paper about the risks and problems of the narcissistic leadership of a New York based billionaire businessman. The paper happened to focus on Dick Fuld, but in 2016 it may well have focused on another New York based billionaire businessman, Donald Trump. Lehman Brothers’ Headquarters, where Dick Fuld was Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, was after all just a stone’s throw from Trump Tower.

Trump has all the characteristics of a narcissistic leader, and all the warning signs are present: we have good reason to be concerned. One key feature of the narcissistic leader is hubris, an exaggerated sense of one’s own value and worth. Trump emblazons buildings, aeroplanes and golf courses with his own name; regularly speaks about how he has ‘good genes’; and talks of how uniquely talented and clever he is.


Other key characteristics are the narcissists’ over-inflated view of their own power and knowledge, something Trump is often prone to remind us of. Trump talks of how he will re-shape the balance of global power, redressing the way, as he puts it, America has been ‘raped’ by other countries. This suggests that, aside from a large degree of naivety, he has omnipotent delusions about his capacity to exert influence, and an over-inflated view of his ability to understand and shape global politics.


Narcissistic leaders also tend to be contemptuous of others who they see as inferior to them. Trump’s now notorious suggestion that he has the right to sexually assault young women because he is a ‘celebrity’; his shocking mimicry of a disabled reporter on live television; and his branding of Mexicans as rapists and drug-dealers; are some of the ways in which he shows contempt for others, many of whom will be the very citizens he will act as President on behalf of.


An inclination for vengeance is yet another feature of the narcissist, one which also has deeply worrying consequences. Trump’s working up his supporters into a frenzied excitement about Hillary Clinton’s emails, shouting ‘lock her up’; as well as his threats to prosecute any woman who accused him of sexual assault etc., all speak of a deeply ingrained need for revenge.


The delusional nature of Trump’s narcissism and his excessive view of his own power and knowledge are laid bare by the fact that – somewhat ironically – he made his name by presiding over the American television version of ‘The Apprentice’: Trump has served no apprenticeship whatsoever for the post of he is about to assume, with every one of the previous 44 US Presidents having served in senior positions in government or in the military or both, where Trump has held no such position. This speaks of an extraordinary sense of grandiosity, of a failure to learn and develop, leaving Trump to feel that he can assume a position – the most powerful in the world – without any obvious preparation for the post.


Worryingly, while they may manage adequately when times are good, narcissistic leaders tend to deteriorate rapidly when there is a downturn. Indeed, the central argument of my paper is that narcissistic leaders may be ‘incubating’ problems that only become manifest at a later stage because such leaders become persecuted, and often highly vengeful, when the going gets tough. Put differently, the over-confidence of narcissistic leaders is often just a mask that is used to protect them against deep vulnerability; and being vulnerable or ‘thin-skinned’, they tend to react sharply, vengefully and sometimes brutally when times are difficult, and this may only become manifest at some later point in their career.


Given that Trump will be working closely with many Republicans who have made it clear that they have a visceral dislike for him; that he will have to work alongside global leaders who are profoundly dismayed and in deep shock about him and his approach; that he seeks to dismantle the very foundations of post-war US governmental policy, both domestic and international; and that he has no obvious skill or experience to be doing this job; the ‘going’ looks not just ‘tough’ but tumultuous and extraordinarily difficult, and for that reason Trump’s reaction is likely to be highly problematic. Because of these character issues, whatever our political views, we should have deep concerns about a Trump presidency.

Originally published at