This blog has been somewhat dormant for a while and this is because, since fully retiring last July, a year ago today, I have not been regularly or consistently engaged in the study and teaching of sociology. In fact the emphasis has been rather more self-directed since my doctor advised me, about 2 years ago, I had a near 30% risk of suffering a heart attack in the next 10 years! So the prospects of an enjoyable (never mind useful) retirement of a reasonable length (say 20 years!) seemed unlikely. I won’t bore you with the details but in the ensuing 2 years I have shed 3 stone and reduced my cholesterol levels and blood pressure largely through a gradually increasing schedule of exercise coupled with a modest reduction in eating and drinking. I now tend to walk and cycle as a mode of transport (if the distances are reasonably short) as well as an occasional leisure activity. In addition I started playing racketball about a year ago. Although I hadn’t played for nearly 25 years I used to be a regular squash player. I consider starting again but have found that racketball is kinder to my reduced flexibility and speed, more fun and more sociable. Enough of this.

Much of what I’ve written in this blog has been connected to and inspired by my work as a sociologist. This is no longer the case. I’m not so intensively engaged with sociological literature, articles and research. I no longer spend part of nearly every day talking about and discussing sociology and sociological issues. However, I still tend to turn a sociological gaze and framework of understanding on the issues and problems of the day, particularly as they affect me and my friends and family. Inevitably this gives a rather more pragmatic and political caste to my thinking. Henceforth posts here will reflect this change in impetus and purpose. Close to my concerns at the moment are issues around ageing, health and well-being – no surprises there! But I have young relatives and friends who are struggling with the insecurities and uncertainties of the world of work, the housing market, the gradual (and not so gradual) withering of the public sector and welfare provision, the loss of faith in traditional political and democratic process, the degradation of the environment, and so it goes on. I’m hoping this blog will continue to be alive and interesting (to me at least – anything else can be seen as collateral benefit) rather than just an archive of an ex-sociology teacher.

Growth versus health?

A man tows his newly acquired pig in Guantánamo, Cuba. Between 1991-95 the Cuban government imported 1.5m bicycles because of petrol shortage. Photograph: Ramon Espinosa/AP

The fact that there seems to be either no correlation between growth (measured as GDP) and well-being or even a negative one seems to have been well established. Two I have read recently that make this claim are Tim Jackson’s Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet and Rob Dietz’s and Dan O’Neill’s Enough Is Enough: Building A Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources.  I read an interesting article in the Guardian a few weeks ago that offers some evidence for a part of this claim – Hard times behind fall in heart disease and diabetes in 90s Cuba, says study.

The hard times experienced by the people of Cuba in the early 1990s – when food was short and petrol almost unobtainable owing to the tightening of the US embargo and loss of Russian support – led to falling rates of heart disease and diabetes, say doctors.

Between 1991 and 1995 the research team found that the population lost an average of 5.5kg (12lb) in weight during the economic crisis after the Russians stopped economic support. This had a significant impact on health, cutting deaths from diabetes by half and from coronary heart disease by a third. However, after 1996 when the economy began to recover the levels of cycling and walking dropped, calorific intake increased and by 2000 the health benefits had been reversed. One of the key conclusions of the study for governments is that “transportation policies are fundamental – therefore we should encourage walking and bicycling as means of transportation”. The other key factor was a reduction in calorific intake and an improvement in the nutritional value of the diet.  The following video explains the study and outlines its conclusions.

Full report: Population-wide weight loss and regain in relation to diabetes burden and cardiovascular mortality in Cuba 1980-2010: repeated cross sectional surveys and ecological comparison of secular trends BMJ 2013; 346 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f1515 (Published 9 April 2013)

Other reports on this news item:




This is the TED talk given by Tim Jackson based on his book  Prosperity Without Growth

‎”This is a strange rather perverse story. Let me put it this way in very simple terms. It’s a story about us people, being persuaded to spend money we don’t have, on things we don’t need to create impressions that won’t last on people we don’t care about”. – Tim Jackson

Feeding the world

Last Saturday I went to the Not the G8 1 day conference at Leeds Uni run by the World Development Movement. The day was roughly scheduled to coincide with this year’s G8 summit to be held on the 17th and 18th June in Northern Ireland.  As one of several pre-summit events, on the 8th June Cameron hosted a G8 Nutrition for Growth: Beating Hunger through Business and Science. The first speaker at the Not The G8 event, Raj Patel, used Cameron’s speech to illustrate and critique the sort of policy being promoted as “Diet Coke Plus” Politics. The general thrust of the G8 event was to decouple problems of nutrition from poverty and promote technocratic big business and market based food programmes. The World Development Movement has been pointing out the often disastrous limitations of this approach and organising actions against it for many years. This is an area which interests me a great deal and I would like to follow up on some of the ideas, practices and policies set out at the conference. This post is just a note and a record of a couple of resources I will be looking at. One is the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development report from 2008 that demonstrates that a corporate business as usual model of agricultural development will not solve problems of poverty, food security for billions of people or malnutrition and in any case it is environmentally unsustainable. This has had an ambivalent reception from many western governments. The other report is the Global Food; Waste Not, Want Not report published in January 2013 by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. This makes the claim that up to 50% of food produced to feed us does not reach human stomachs. The current world population is just over 7 billion and is forecast, according to the UN, to increase to between 8 and 10 billion by 2050. One authoritative model predicts that the world population will reach a maximum round about 2050 and thereafter remain fairly steady or even decline. Either way, if no food, at current levels of production, was wasted we already produce enough to feed 14 billion. In fact, as the UN reports, we are currently producing more calories of food per head of the world population than ever before, more than enough for each individual. The problem of malnutrition is clearly one of waste and distribution rather than production.  But there is a lot more at stake when critiquing current dominant food policies – politically, culturally and ethically.