History and Heteronomy: Critical Essays

Published by the University of Tokyo Centre for Philosphy

Table of Contents, Copyright
Preface: Yasuo Kobayashi : Download

Reconfiguring Historical Time: Moishe Postone’s Interpretation of Marx
Viren Murthy : Download

1. Rethinking Marx’s Critical Theory
Moishe Postone : Download

2. Critical Theory and the Twentieth Century
Moishe Postone : Download

3. The Subject and Social Theory: Marx and Lukács on Hegel
Moishe Postone : Download

4. Theorizing the Contemporary World: Robert Brennet, Giovanni Arrighi, David Harvey
Moishe Postone : Download

The realism of the abstact – an encounter with Sekula

Today I went to a viewing of Allan Sekula’s 2006 film Lottery of the Sea followed by a symposium to layout and discuss the main themes of the film. The event was entitled Critical Realism and was hosted by CentreCATH at Leeds – A Transdisciplinary Initiative in Cultural Analysis, Theory and History. The film was 3 hours long and after a late lunch break I was only able to stay for the first three talks, all very interesting. Given the title of the session was critical realism it was not surprising that the content of the film was discussed in terms of a critique of global capitalism. This in any case was Sekula’s own purpose. Much of the discussion was, to my ears at any rate, a stimulating but unfamiliar mixture of the language of Marxist analysis of capitalism with that of aesthetics and photography and film as art.

A key topic of debate was how to interpret photographic images from a critical realist perspective. We no longer assume that a photograph is an objective and neutral record of what simply ‘is’. We are aware of how the photographer’s point of view and selection of subject constructs a photo before the process of cropping and post production manipulation. And, in any case, as one of our speakers said, “pictures know more than their authors”. The content of a picture is not bent entirely to the photographer’s will or subconscious framing. It is a representation of a reality that is initially autonomous with respect to the representation’s author. In documentary photography the reality pre-exists the photographer’s interest and intent and was already there to be found. Critical realism is based upon the idea that the reality available to the camera’s lens and our direct perception is the surface of underlying processes and mechanisms that are not immediately apparent in the visible aspect of the images projected onto our retinas or the photographic medium behind the lens. From a critical realist perspective the underlying processes and mechanisms are fundamentally those of the workings and logic of the globalising capitalist economy. It is this that prompts the (re)turn to Marx.

Marxist ideas also talk about hidden processes that need to be excavated so that what is apparent and visible can be understood as the product of the underlying processes. This structure of argument is explicit in Marx’s notions of reification, ideology, abstract labour and so on. The implication is that the photographic image can be unpacked in terms of the labour relations under the conditions of global capitalism that constructed the surface reality depicted in the image. The underlying process is what Marx tries to get at with his concepts of the labour process, use value, exchange value, surplus value, commodification, the ‘dead’ labour embedded in commodities, commodities as ‘abstract reality’ –  abstract ‘reality’ because it is the product of social relations.

Sen and sociology

There is obviously a lot of sociology in the background to Sen’s thought, sometimes quite explicit. This post just notes a number of issues that require sociological clarification so far. The reading of Sen undertaken here will be a sociological critique of Sen’s sociology.

He refers with approval the ‘anthropological’ turn in the later Wittgenstein and ‘ordinary language philosophy’ and links this to Gramsci (via Sraffa). From Gramsci he takes the idea that our language constructs our concerns, meanings and understandings. One always belongs to a particular grouping that shares the same mode of thinking and acting. We are all conformists of some conformism or other, of the group.

Sen insists on a notion of veracity and objectivity but grounded in public  standards of communication and discourse, mentioning Habermas.  He points to the need for ‘countervailing’ power in the public discussion against overly powerful sectional interests and the crucial necessity of impartiality.

In the pursuit of impartiality and objectivity he invokes Adam Smith’s idea of the ‘impartial spectator’. These can be ‘real’ outsiders or hypothetically constructed outsiders on the basis of a will to self-distancing. It will be interesting to see how this compares with Norbert Elia’s account of personal and community detachment as characterises scientists and the scientific community.

But Smith’s and Sen’s impartial observer can only be superficially impartial to the group and issues viewed as an outsider. The observer’s own way of understanding the world (familiar and alien) that is not impartial with respect to its own ‘habitus’ and will tend to translate the strange culture into its own concepts and frameworks of meaning. Also, as a reflexive exercise imagining a detached (preconcpetionless?) observer, we would understand the outsider’s apparent view in our own language and meaning frameworks. If we have access to ‘real’ impartial observers then we would likewise assimilate their account to our own language, etc.

We would need to see how Sen’s ideas and formulations stack up against or alongside reasonably established sociological ideas like, for instance, identity formation and ideological construction, the embeddedness of behaviours and attitudes in networks of social practices, the well rehearsed and established critique of methodological individualism and voluntarism, the operations and structures of power, dependency, dependency, and so on.

Basic statements about capitalism

This won’t be very systematic but Iwill be keeping notes on this blog on the basic ideas and statements about capitalism.  I have started reading Economics and the Crisis of Ecology by Narindar Singh (3rd edition 1989 OUP). For him the real villain of the piece are the petrochemical and associated industries.  The initial argument of the book is that no proposed solution to the forthcoming environmental crisis has a hope in hell of working if it tries to do so within (and thus preserve) the capitalist status quo. He goes through a range of strategies including zero growth, the marketising of externalities, population control, and technological fixes, including nuclear power, and demostrates how none of these can possibly work leaving capitalism in place as the fundamental and defining characteristic of capitalism is its need for continuous growth.

According to Marx, the capitalist “shares with the miser the passion for wealth as wealth. But that which in the miser is mere idiosyncrasy, is, in the capitalist, the effect of the social mechanism, of which he is but one of the wheels”.  Capital Vol I Allen &Unwin 1957 p 603.

Look up Schumpeter’s ideas on capitalism as creative destruction.

Treadmill of production: “In 1980, Schnaiberg developed a conflict theory on human-environment interaction. The theory is that capitalism is driven by higher profitability and thereby must continue to grow and attract investments to survive in a competitive market. This identifies the imperative for continued economic growth levels that, once achieved, accelerate the need for future growth. This growth in production requires a corresponding growth in consumption. The process contains a chief paradox; economic growth is socially desired but environmental degradation is a common consequence that in turn disrupts long-run economic expansion”. Taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_sociology.

How to put ‘society’ into climate change

On the 8th February 2010 the British Sociological Association hosted the first of a series of Presidential Event at the British Library Conference Centre – How to put ‘Society’ into Climate Change. A number of leading sociologists specialising in environmental issues gave presentations on their understanding of how sociology can make a contribution to policy debates on environmental issues. Videos of all the presentationsand discussions are available on line and audio only files for listening or downloading can be accessed from the BSA’s Postgraduate Forum blog PG Focus. The presentations give some important insights into the current controversies in climate science (so-called Climategate) and the rather impoverished understanding of the social and behavioural aspects of climate change that informs (or misinforms) much climate change policy.

Several of the speakers referred to the uncertainty of the climate sciences and our unrealistic expectations and demands for certainty and exactitude in climate change predictions. John Urry refers to the complexity and multi-disciplinarity of climate change science and, importantly, its relative newness. Couple this with the enormous public scrutiny it is subjected to it is hardly surprising that it will be found wanting. Brian Wynne claims that the big question asked in the 1980s – is a reliable predictive science of climate change possible – has never been explicitly and conclusively answered. Back in those days the limit of long term weather forecasting was 15 days. Today even this seems overly optimistic with the UK Met Office stating only forecasts up to 5 days can be considered reasonably reliable. Over the last 20 years or so a vast amount of money and resources have been poured into climate change science and massive advances have been made in the technologies and data collection techniques. The big question therefore seems to have been answered by default rather explicitly and scientifically.

This is not to say that human-made climate change is a myth. In fact the evidence for this is an entirely separate matter to the accuracy of climate change predictions, according to Wynne. In any case the uncertainty of prediction seems more likely to underestimate the temperature increases than overestimate them. Apparently 16 feedback processes relevant to climate change were identified by climate scientists but left out of the original IPCC report on climate change. 13 of these are likely to be positive feedback loops, i.e. would lead to more rapid and higher global temperature rise. One of these, for example, concerns the way that methane is being released from thawing tundra (any soil and rock that is frozen 12 months in the year). The question arises, why were these left out of the report? The answer seems to be that the scientists produced the report in line with with what they perceived the policy makers could realistically cope with. In this respect Wynne claims that the science is ‘co-producing’ itself with an assumed world of policy and its policy needs and capacities.

Another aspect of climate change science that Wynne is critical of is the way that the science is allowed to set the agenda for climate change policy. As well as giving us information about climate change the science also seems to set the meaning of the policy debates. For example, the science shows the relation between a ton of carbon dioxide emissions and a specific rise in the global temperature. A ton of CO2 saved anywhere is equally effective in those terms. But this makes no distinction between a ton of emissions created by thousands of subsistence farmers growing barely enough to feed their families and a ton of CO2 coming from waste disposed of in a landfill site in an affluent Western society.

In similar vein Wynne also takes issue with the narrow scientistic approach to risk assessment and how this dictates and limits the meaning of the policy debates. As an example he cites the risk assessment of genetically modified crops. The scientists have done the laboratory tests and risk assessments in terms of crop trials and so on and claim there is no risk to human beings and no justification for resisting the introduction and further development of GM crops. But a legitimate public issue may be the concern that half a dozen of so corporations could come to control the global food chain. This is a risk of another sort not addresses by the scientific definition and evaluation of risk.

So one major contribution to climate change policy debates can be made by the sociological understanding of science, the scientific community and the knowledge production process and how this is itself thoroughly social and not something outside of social, economic and political processes. As Wynne puts it, ‘society’ is already in the science. Sociology’s job is to identify and problematise the implicit assumptions about society that are embedded in the science, often by default and omission. This “highly normative sociological practice” is a primary responsibility of sociology with respect to climate change science.

All the presenters identified gaps and inadequacies in current policy debates about climate change and identifed ways that sociology could fill the gaps and contribute. One clear area is the problem of human behaviour since there is now general agreement that the move to more sustainable societies will require significant changes in individuals’ behaviours. The individualistic and rational action theories that underpin much policy debate are inadequate. One common variant of this is the so-called ‘deficit’ model of behaviour. The idea is that individuals behave in ways that are detrimental to the environment because they lack the environmental knowledge and awareness that, if they had it, would lead them to act differently. Little if any evidence has been produced to support this theory. We require a much more sociological and structural understanding of why the majority of individuals behave the way they do whether they have the environmental knowledge or not. This needs to recognise the habitual nature of behaviours that are embedded in social practices and are not the result of conscious and ‘rational’ calculation. Sociology has a great deal to offer in exposing and understanding these processes that are both structural and cultural.

A final theme I will pick out from the presentations is that of the necessity of a normative sociology. Mention has already been made above to Wynne’s claim that what is needed is a ‘highly normative sociology” of climate change science. It is difficult, when looking at the possible futures outlined by Urry that are implied by the decline in fossil fuels, water and food shortages, population growth and increase environmental migration, and so on, not to get involved in normative considerations of what sort of sustainable society we should be working towards. For instance, one possibility is that corporatist authoritarian and militaristic surveillance societies will come to dominate with a loss of democratic forms of government, civil rights and even perhaps a redefinition of human rights. It would be difficult for a social science that identifies the process that could lead to this scenario to remain indifferent to the fate of future generations and humankind.

Tim Jackson acknowledges the discomfort many sociologists would feel at taking an overtly normative stance. His cultural and structural analysis of the roots of the behaviours that lead to environmental degradation and the current unsustainability of societies points ultimately to the influence of growth based capitalist economies. He claims social structures based on capitalism and growth have lead to rapacious exploitation and degradation of both environmental resources and forms of cultural capital. He goes on to ask, what if we have evolved and developed a set of social institutions and social structures that produce exactly the opposite of what is needed for a sustainable society and ways of living? We need a re-engagement of a critical sociology with these social structures and the nature of capitalism and growth in order to make sense of sustainability. To do this we will have to engage with the moral dimension. This puts us in danger of crossing the line between being scientists and being polemicists. Jackson warns that if this happens we may find ourselves as being ‘no further use to policy’. But we may just find we are of some use to humanity.

The Social Model of Disability

I had the great pleasure of attending this year’s Faculty of Education, Social Science and Law Postgraduate Conference recently at Leeds University. The programme was organised into 2 parallel streams and just by chance the first and last presentations I went to both made reference to the Social Model of Disability (SMD). The social model is explicitly contrasted with the dominant medical model of disability. The medical model focuses on individuals’ impairments (for instance deafness) as the cause of their disability. The ‘solution’ is therefore a combination of attempting to improve the ‘disabling’ condition as far as possible and if necessary limiting activities to those that can be carried out reasonably satisfactorily. In contrast, the social model, while acknowledging the fact of bodily impairment, locates the causes of disability within the physical and social environments in which the impaired person lives. The causes of disability are therefore located in the disabling environment rather than the impairments of the disabled person. This is a very important and increasingly influential perspective on disability. Many aspects of law and regulation concerning the treatment and accommodation of people with impairments, for instance with regard to employment and accessibility, are based on the social model of disability. Even more, variants of the social model of disability are now being applied to our understanding of a range of social issues such as educational disadvantage, social exclusion, and meeting a variety of welfare needs relating to different stages of the life cycle, for instance aging.

However, it is still the case that most people’s ideas about disability and the disabled have more in common with the medical model. Something like the medical model seems to underlie the prevailing common sense understanding of disability. The first of the two presentations I went to at the Postgraduate Conference reported on a study of the way ‘socioscientific’ issues are represented and discussed in the 14 to 16 GCSE science curriculum (The Representation of Socioscientific Issues in a School Science Curriculum paper by Helen Morris, School of Education). The science curriculum now includes practical examples of how science impacts on society. The analysis of the textbooks showed that discussions of disability were couched in terms of the medical model whether discussing treatment of impairment or the ethical issues. The social model did not get a look in. This is a pity. It is a wasted opportunity to get young people to think more broadly and critically about social issues and the relationship between scientific, technological and social approaches to understanding. The approach in the text books continues to foster the belief that all problems have, in principle, a solution available on the basis of science and technology.

The last presentation I went to demonstrated that the basic assumptions of the medical model of disability seem to be the common sense perspective of young children. (Understanding Children’s Attitudes Towards Disabled People: Making a Case for Interdisciplinary Research paper by Angharad Becket, School of Sociology and Social Policy, based on the findings of the Disability Equality in English Primary Schools (DEEPS) project). In this study non-disabled children aged 6/7 years and 10/11 years took part in focus groups to discuss disability and their knowledge/understanding of the lives of disabled people. Although some were concerned that disabled people are not always treated fairly (an encouraging response), common views expressed were that their lives were very sad and probably not worth living, that they would not be able to get a job, have girl or boy friends and raise families, and that the cause of all this was their physical impairments. The common image of the disabled person was someone in a wheelchair. It seems to me that if this is the general attitude towards the disabled at that age, the text books these children will go on to use in secondary education will offer nothing to challenge these views or encourage a more balanced approach to the disabling material and social environments that are such a large part of the production and experience of disability.

BBC Disability Confidence Course
BBC Disability Confidence Course

As an interesting example of how major institutions are basing their approach to disability on the social model, the BBC have produced a short on-line course on Working with disable people for their School of Journalism. The opening video is an excellent demonstration of what the social model of disability is all about. Other sections give examples of how the BBC enables staff with impairments to do their jobs. To start the opening video click on the Next button in the bottom right-hand corner of the welcome screen.

Among the many organisations and institutions using the social model of disability to inform their policies, the British Red Cross and Manchester City Council both have descriptions of the model on their websites. The School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Leeds has the internationally acclaimed Centre for Disability Studies that hosts the UK Disabilty Archive. There are many articles and papers on disability issues freely available there including an early paper by Mike Oliver, one of the original proponents of the social model, The Individual and Social Models of Disability. Searching the Archive for ‘social model’ lists over 70 relevant articles.

The social history of natural disasters

Recent floods in Cumbria (UK) have been caused by record breaking rainfall (Cumbria deluge breaks historic rainfall record) due in part to unusually high temperatures, 4 degrees above the seasonal average. In one 24 hour period the rainfall has been 10% higher than what is normal for the whole month of November. The man-made built environment and infrastructures have simply not been able to cope. But the extreme weather and ensuing floods cannot be seen as a purely ‘natural’ disaster. Like many others in recent years, this disaster has had a long history in the making.

Over many hundreds of years the landscape of the Lake District has been changed by deforestation and the grazing of sheep. The Cistercian abbeys of Furness and Byland, followed by land enclosures in the 16th and 17thcenturies, exploited the area for wool production. The process of deforestation was accelerated by iron ore smelting and later by the extraction of lead and copper. The resulting transformation of the land over several centuries, particularly the removal of the original scrubland vegetation and trees, produced the Lakeland landscape as it is known and loved today. But this dramatically altered the hydrology of the land and its ability to slow down and absorb surface water. This is also part of the story of the flooding of Boscastle in Cornwall in the August 2004 which similarly suffered unusually high rainfall in the space of a few hours. Long run changes in farming practices in the area, particularly land usage and the reduction of trees and hedges were seen as contributory factors.

Coincidently, just as the flooding of Workington and Cockermouth were dominating the newspapers in the UK, the flooding of parts of New Orleans as a result of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 is in the news again. A court hearing has ruled that Hurricane Katrina and the ensuing flooding was not an act of God (Hurricane Katrina: It was not an act of God). The testimony of expert witnesses claimed that the danger of such a flood was acknowledged at least 17 years earlier and the responsibility for the devastation rested with policy failure and incompetent engineering and was as such avoidable. As for the hurricane itself it was not a 1 in a 100 year or even a 1 in 40 year storm and had not even been a direct hit.

In fact the history of flooding of New Orleans goes back to it founding in 1718 on swampland with a large proportion of the city below sea level and vulnerable to both sea surges and the flooding of the Mississippi basin. Since the growth of the city and the continual development of the Mississippi as a transport system with the rerouting of meanders and the cutting of channels for oil and gas installations the river has over the years lost the ability to deposit sediments and build up land around its mouth. It is estimated that over 2,300 square miles of the barrier islands and wetlands, the natural defence against storm surges and flooding, have already been lost. (Unnatural disaster Financial Times November 6 2009).

One way or another, adaptation to the environment has always been necessary aspect of human settlement. However, we seem to be entering a period of dramatic environmental change in which previous adaptations are becoming increasingly inadequate.

Expert knowledge and public policy

In May 2008 the then Home Secretary Jaqui Smith, against the recommendations of her own scientific advisers, reversed the government’s 2004 decision to downgrade cannabis to a class C drug, returning it to its previous status of class B. The reclassification came into effect January 2009. This reclassification caused controversy at the time but this has recently re-emerged with the publication of a paper by Professor Nutt who, until he was sacked last Friday, was chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. In the paper Nutt criticised the reclassification of cannabis and the government’s use of the precautionary principle to justify so doing. He claimed that by invoking the precautionary principle politicians had distorted and devalued the research evidence. In a recent appearance on BBC’s Question Time (Thursday 29th October) where Nutt’s paper was raised Smith again supported the use of the precautionary principle on the grounds that psychiatrists’ reports and police views on the development of new stronger types of cannabis indicate greater mental health risks. In the government’s judgement the trends in the increasing strength of cannabis and these reports indicate the possibility of health risks they are not prepared to take. The government’s responsibility is to make decisions and be accountable for them. Advisors are required only give to advice.

A number of interesting issues arise from this fracas. One key issue is the relationship between expert and scientific knowledge and the making of law and public policy. In his latest book, First as Tragedy, then as Farce, Zizek tells the story of how in 2007 in the Czech Republic a public debate raged about the proposed installation of US Army radars on Czech territory. Despite about 70% of the population not wanting this the government refused the demand for a referendum and allowed the installation of the radars to go ahead on the grounds that important decisions are not matters that can be decided by voting and that they should be left to the experts, in this case military experts on matters of National security. As Zizek observes, if this logic is carried to its conclusion what is there left to vote for? Should not economic decisions, for instance, be left to economic experts?

A related issue is that the nature of scientific knowledge is nearly always provisional. As most scientists would tell us, it is the best we have at the moment and is rarely certain. In addition, scientific knowledge is always partial in that it tends to focus on artificially separated and therefore ‘decontextualised’ aspects of the reality scientists are seeking to describe and understand. It is precisely because of this that the application of scientific and expert knowledge to social policy cannot be seen as some automatic translation of science into policy. The policy decision-making process has to allow for the provisional nature of scientific and expert knowledge and address the connecting and wider aspects of the policy making context that the scientific evidence does not address. This can be further complicated where there are competing accounts of the science within the scientific community, for instance apparent contradictions between laboratory findings and observations in the field.

As it happens, on the balance of the evidence and arguments as I understand them, I do not agree with the reclassification of cannabis and I do agree with the thrust of Nutt’s criticism of the current drug classification system and drug policy. However, the basis of his complaint that the scientific evidence has been distorted and devalued is problematic as this implies that without the alleged distortion the policy following on from the science would be self-evident. I think the government could have constructed discussable grounds for reclassifying cannabis and at the same time been perfectly respectful of the scientific evidence. The insistence that government has to take into account a range of other issues and considerations beyond the scientific evidence is correct.

On the other hand, I think Nutt’s sacking by the current Home Secretary ill advised and counter productive. Professor Nutt’s opinions and comments are valuable contributions to public understanding and debate, a debate the government should engage in intelligently and constructively. It would have been far better to engage in a public discussion of the various factors and other forms of evidence and opinion that went into the decision to reclassify cannabis. This would include the psychiatrist’s and police opinions and experience Smith alluded to in Question Time and a measured consideration of the views of social and health welfare professionals and those working in the front line of drug use and abuse. However, why this approach was not adopted by the government may have something to do with Lembit Opik’s charge made in the same Question Time discussion, that it the reclassification smacked of vote catching policy making intended to appeal to the readership of  the red tops. The history of government’s exercise of the precautionary principle demonstrates a somewhat cynical and selective attitude to its deployment. On what grounds was it not deployed by the Conservative government during the Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) crisis in the 80s and 90s? At the time the government made strenuous efforts to dismiss public fears and the views of experts on the possibility that BSE could be transmitted to humans. In 1995 John Major, Prime Minister at the time, based the government’s attitude and policy on the view that: “There is currently no scientific evidence that BSE can be transmitted to humans or that eating beef causes CJD in humans. That issue is not in question”. This was in the face of a great deal of evidence from scientists that this could not be discounted and was in fact probable. It is undoubtedly true that a variety of other forms of evidence, opinion and experience needs to provide a broader context to how scientific evidence is used in policy making. There are factors and issues that have to be considered that individual pieces of scientific knowledge do not, and by themselves cannot, address. However, it is hard to dismiss the possibility that the reactions of target voters and possible economic consequences will figure high in a government’s priorities. In fact it would be naïve to suppose otherwise.

The battle for social mobility

Today sees the publication of Alan Milburn’s Panel on Fair Access to the Professions final report. The following are two of the earliest responses in the media with a few observations of my own.

The battle for social mobility
Lee Elliot Major, guardian.co.uk, Monday 20 July 2009
“The failure to turn around the UK’s dismal level of social mobility may haunt Labour even more than Iraq or Afghanistan”

Interesting report that locates the solution to the lack of social mobility in the UK in the education system. The last time social mobility was at a high level in the UK was with the enormous increase in white collar and managerial work created by the expansion of the public sector and a rapidly growing corporate sector after the 2nd World War, all supported by a consensus around Keynesian economic policy. While the labour market is shrinking, as it is now, even a successful policy to increase social mobility will only rearrange the deckchairs on the Titanic or (for those that haven’t seen the film) shuffle the pack. Every move up from the bottom10% means a someone else will take the place. There will always be a bottom 10% of course.

Professions ‘reserved for rich’
BBC News Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Some rather mixed messages from this report so I guess I’ll have to get around to reading it! On the one hand it wants pupils from schools in underprivileged areas to be able to compete with the children of educated middle-class and professional families. This will entail finding a way to find surrogate forms of some aspects of the social capital they lack. One strategy offered is to create some State provided ‘pushy parent’ equivalent. However, it’s not evident how a surrogate network of informal contacts, well placed relatives, the ability to provide resources and engage with children’s learning (i.e. ‘discussing’ assessment work) will be provided or the money for foreign visits and cultural events, let alone the mindset that says “the world is mine and I deserve it”. All this is pre-university entrance. On the other hand there is an implication that HE institutions should provide the support required by less well prepared students to close any deficit gap.  I suspect that many Universities would say this is not our job and admissions based purely on merit would not require this anyway. The other issue that warrants attention is that a perception that large numbers of perfectly well qualified children of middle-class and professional families are being excluded due to positive discrimination for the children of the less educated and wealthy could lead to an intensification of exclusionary tactics and a reinforcement of private education and the growth of private universities. The networks of power operate outside of the education system just as effectively as within. The proposed policy seems based on the idea that education is the key. It is important but there are many other powerful process that determine access to the plum jobs in addition to educational achievement. A cursory inspection of history and sociology demonstrates that the powerful are past masters at preserving their advantage in the face of historical and legislative change.