June 2008 Archives

08.2.2 Sticky tape dispenser 114x86 040.jpg 'Saving the planet' is a project which must surely involve everyone; but apparently not all designers of domestic recycling technology agree. For recycling to be effective, design should logically follow, not lead, function. This requires an understanding of how ordinary people will use recycling opportunities - before systems are designed, not as an afterthought.

Stories abound of people who have been fined for recycling things in the 'wrong' way - collections with mixed content, paper with an individual's name on it as 'proof' that they put items in the wrong repository, using a compost heap inappropriately - all make good stories to create media martyrdom to the recycling regulations.

Short-term technology before people
Almost anything can be recycled, but at present it seems Local Authorities decide for themselves what they will and will not process. Often immediate costs are not measured against the long-term implications of not taking action now. Despite challenging targets set by central government, few of us are yet holding local decision-makers to account for by-passing future sustainabilty.... if we were, there would be more conversations around involving 'ordinary people'.

The factors which feature most in local decision are likely to be the economics of recycling, available recycling technologies and where to locate recycling facilities (including the NIMBY - 'not in my backyard' - factor). Public understanding of the very serious situation we are all in is rarely discussed.

What repeated stories of fines and public naming show is how very far officialdom may be from the real need to get the public on-board, and quickly.

Silly civic expectations
Our own City Council is party to non-automated recycling processes which still do not accommodate some recyclable plastics. Yet the need is to raise the currently very poor performance of the city, at just 7.6% - when one council already achieves 50%, the Government target for all councils by 2020.

Doubtless, those who have designed the process see it as innovative and positive; and certainly it is better than what preceded it.

But is the City Council serious? I however will continue to have my doubts whilst the Council briefing, issued to every household in the City, includes the instruction to 'Please remove sellotape' before recycling gift wrapping paper - an instruction which was even issued as part of the recycling initiative last Christmas. (How else would one spent Christmas afternoon?)

Citizens as wrong-doers or as partners?
Whether individuals intentionally break the rules, or do so unknowingly, the outcome if detected is the same: a news story which makes others wary of doing anything at all.

The physical technology exists to recycle pretty well everything; processes are available for all domestic waste, if the budget and machinery are up to it.

Making people into media stories because of their recycling behaviour will simply encourage their fellow citizens to cynicism and an unwillingness to recycle at all, for fear of wrong-doing.

Sustainable behaviours are not optional
The imperative to get recycling is urgent.

We need, very soon, to get much cleverer about how to help everyone be part of the solution, not the problem.

Read more articles on Environment and Sustainability:

Conserve, Recycle & Sustain and

Sustainability As If People Mattered.

Blue sky & pink summer blossoms We've reached the Summer Solstice or Longest Day, but still the demand for more evening light, energy savings and greater road safety yearlong won't go away. Now it's the turn of Senators in Jersey to try to align their community with Central European Time, which we Brits call Double Summer Time. And U.K. politicians too are thinking again. Given the many benefits of CET, let's hope this time endorsement of the idea is compelling. Perhaps where Jersey leads the U.K. may follow? ...

The Channel Islands, Guernsey and Jersey, enjoy a close connection with France, lying just off the French coast of Normandy. But whilst these very pleasant isles are not in the United Kingdom, they are geographically part of the British Isles and largely English-speaking, with a strong financial link to the U.K. economy.

It is very interesting, therefore, that Jersey is to hold a referendum on proposals to move the island to Central European Time.

This is so-called Daylight Saving with serious intent. Central European Time is two hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time in the Summer, and one hour ahead in Winter.

A long-contested idea
This proposal has been around for many years, in Jersey and Guernsey, and in mainland Britain.

The ideas behind the proposal have been well rehearsed, whether in the U.K. Parliament, repeatedly by RoSPA, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, or indeed on this very website.

We know, as RoSPA constantly reminds us, that moving permanently to lighter evenings would overall reduce accidents, enhance health (more opportunities for exercise), help the economy -especially the evening economy, and tourism - and save energy.

Public support
In the U.K., more people support the change to Central European Time than do not; and even in Scotland, location of the darkest mornings and as it happens also the most SAD: seasonal affective disorder, at least 40% are still in favour of change. (Tim Yeo's proposed but failed Bill of 2007 accommodated demands that the U.K. devolved administrations, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, could opt out of CET anyway, should they so wish.)

But still the foot-dragging continues, with a feeling in some quarters that it's 'not British' to adopt CET, or maybe that it's an affront to our agrarian heritage.

Changing mood?
But the new element in all this is that the Conservatives - often hostile to anything 'European' - are now reported to be thinking of adopting proposals for CET (i.e., 'Abandon Greenwich Meantime', in the words of The Telegraph) in their next manifesto.

A way to CET?
Well, I really hope this happens. It has been said that Jersey, whilst keen to move to CET, is worried about how things will work out if the U.K. doesn't do the same.

If we can somehow forget odd ideas about Britishness and 'Europe', and instead concentrate on issues of environmental sustainability, health and safety, we will do much better.

One way to start would be to move swiftly to Double British Summertime in Summer, as part of the change to adopt Central European Time throughout the year.

Read more articles on BST: British Summer Time & 'Daylight Saving' (The Clocks Go Back & Forward)

 Gateway to the World   In England, but not of it Much of the outside of Liverpool Lime Street train station is clad with art work celebrating the UK's choice of the city as European Capital of Culture 2008. So what should we make of the cladding's message, that Liverpool is 'In England, but not of it?'

The idea of covering ugly and unused buildings with celebratory artwork is excellent.

Lime Street, as Liverpool's railway terminus, epitomises our 'Gateway to the World city' (as Liverpool's ports did and, commercially, still do). It is therefore fitting that visitors in 2008, our year as European Capital of Culture, be greeted on arrival with vibrant images reflecting Liverpool's arts and cultural offer - an offer which draws on the traditions and experience of centuries of migration to Liverpool, with people arriving from across the globe:

Liverpool Capital of Culture 08 hoarding by Lime St Station, view from St George's Hall

But what are we to make of the claim, as part of this greeting, that Liverpool, whilst still 'Gateway to the World', is also 'In England, but not of it'?

Liverpool  Gateway to the World ... In England, but not of it

How can we, the people of this historic port, expect to progress and prosper, if we choose consistently not just to be 'on the edge' of Britain, but so it seems actually over that edge, in another place altogether?

What sort of civic identity and message does that give to our own fellow citizens?

And, critically, what does it say to those in the rest of the country with whom we must do business and confer on many issues, if Liverpool is to move forward successfully in the twenty-first century?

Read more articles on Strategic Liverpool
and on Liverpool, European Capital of Culture 2008.

More photographs: Camera & Calendar

School children What are schools for? If they're intended to give every child a good start in life, how can anyone defend the old-style Secondary Modern Schools? And how can the other side of this equation, Grammar Schools, be justified? These are institutions defined only by the fact that their students 'passed' or 'failed' an examination at age 11; and the children know it.

The Guardian has reported that there are still 170 Secondary Modern Schools in England, as also 164 Selective Grammar Schools remain, the last few institutions from the Tripartite System commonly employed by Education Authorities the UK between 1944 Butler Education Act and the Education Act of 1974. (This Act heralded the arrival of Comprehensive Schools - though effectively only in name if selective state education also continued in any given County.)

Ed Balls MP, the Government's Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, does not like selection by testing at 11+, but has allocated substantial sums of money to help those 'SecMods' in need of extra support.

Selection and struggling students
Balls is right to do this, but it is right as well that the Guardian reminds us that the 14 County Councils which provide wholly selective state secondary education are also those with highest proportions of struggling schools.

Grammar Schools had their place in the post-WWII scenario of bringing forward the talents of children from less privileged backgrounds, at a time when there were few academically well-qualified and professionally trained teachers. The 'Grammars' were a well-intentioned strategy to nurture children deemed bright, and we knew far less then about how to teach and support children across the board to succeed.

Now, a school which does not support all its pupils or students is rightly judged inadequate; it is not the children who have 'failed', but the school. (What can I say about the school only a few miles from where I live, where just 1% of children gain five good GCSEs - the worst 'results' in the country? Despite its beautifully fitted-out new buildings, its results are simply an unbelievable disgrace.)

Failed students, or failed schools?
One of the reasons given for not closing dreadful schools - though that may happen - is that the children might think it's they who have failed, not their school.

But with the 11+, where only a small percentage of children gain Grammar School places, that's exactly what the message is: 'You, personally, have already failed'.

How counter-productive and downright cruel is that?

Success despite rejection
I know people who 'failed' at age 11, but have gone on to achieve considerable success in their careers.

None of them attributes that success to their Secondary Modern School; and most of them still rue the day when, aged just 11, they were pronounced 'failures'.

It hurts and damages for life.

Read more articles about Education & Life-Long Learning.

British Sociological Association (BSA) logo The British Sociological Association, founded in 1951, promotes the work of sociologists and social scientists as practitioners and scholars, in the UK and, through links, much further afield. Sociology offers an analysis which helps surprisingly large numbers of us make sense of what happens in our ever-changing world.

I recently re-joined the British Sociological Association, of which I was an Executive Committee member when I worked in further and higher education, much earlier in my career.

It's fascinating to see how things have evolved since that time, back in the 1980s.

Battles now won
Then we were battling to 'save' the Personal, Social and Health curriculum, which Sir Keith Joseph, then Secretary of State for Education under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, was keen to remove or at the very least side-line. History in schools was to stop at 1945, the end of the Second World War and before the arrival in 1948 of the National Health Service (NHS) and Welfare State; Section 11 legislation made it almost professional suicide to teach about HIV / AIDS; the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) had to be renamed the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) lest anyone should think that social research was scientific - in retrospect a far cry attitudinally from current demands for 'evidence-based' policy at the highest levels.

All this we addressed, through the Executives of the BSA and other professional associations, via FACTASS, The Forum of Academic and Teaching Associations in the Social Sciences, of which I was Convenor. Now there is no need for FACTASS. We managed to hang on in there, and it's unlikely that any mainstream politician in any modern democratic country would want to see it otherwise; the PSHE curriculum and entitlement of children to understand their world is, along with positive resolution of the GCSEs-for-all debate, now established.

But the fundamental emphases of the BSA on social equity; on understanding the interactive social constructions which give meaning to our daily lives, continue, developed and debated by people who have now spent a lifetime exploring how human societies and communities work and are understood by the people in them.

The 'classics' - gender, 'race' and ethnicity, age and life transitions, and social class - remain (alongside matters such as health and medicine, work and employment, and so forth) the fundamental building blocks of sociological analysis, keeping us constantly aware that big and sometimes invisible forces shape our day-to-day experience, even to the extent that they often determine our actual life expectancy.

New social analysis too
And beyond that, there is a new and critical emphasis on our physical world, on sustainability and green issues and how societies and communities will find themselves responding to the challenges we all face.

It may be too soon to say that Human Geographers and Sociologists have found completely common ground, but it looks as though a convergence may slowly be developing, after a decade or more when the gathering of empirical data on population change and socio-economic impacts was sometimes perceived to be enough to take governmental programmes and political policy forward.

Contextualising for the future
There is now a recognition that 'social research' must inform, e.g., environmental as well as community, health and education policies. (I was recently a co-author of the Defra Science Advisory Council report on Social Research in Defra - a fascinating and I hope very fruitful experience.)

The BSA, I note, has a growing Section (interest) Group on Sociologists Outside Academia (SOAg). I intend to sign up for it.

See more articles on Social Science , and
History Lessons Need More Than 'Hitler And Henry'
Social Geographers Take The Lead In Social Policy

08.05.11  computer keyboard 156x112  001a.jpg When did the World Wide Web emerge for most people? Around the Millennium? Like most things technical, it took off first amongst young men who enjoy gadgets.... who happen also in general to be less concerned with what was going on previously. So does History now begin in 2000? Will western culture and destiny henceforth be shaped by what the second generation web tells us?

A hunch today saw me typing the words 'cyber.history' into the Google search engine. I suppose I was not surprised that there are almost 5000 entries listed for that exact phrase.

Developing the idea
One of the most interesting entries I looked at was John Stevenson's cyber history collection and timeline, in which he cites commentary going back to 1945 (!) on what has become the world wide web. This fascinating list includes, of course, the ground-breaking insights of Sir Tim Berners-Lee, including his 1992 CERN paper on World-Wide Web: The Information Universe.

If you're a historian or a social scientist (as I am) looking at the development of science and technology, this is a rich seam ; and one indeed in which, as second generation blogging develops, many of us play our own tiny micro-parts.

Generational and other divides?
Despite the rise of the silver surfer, non-technically-directed people with memories at least as long as mine still form a very small element within the www community.

For most young people the www is the first port of call when information and ideas are sought; and most easily accessible content on the www is probably posted by (relatively) young people. When put alongside the reality that the www became popularly available only in about 2000, it begins to look inevitable that the Millennium just past is where History starts.

An open network
As Tim Berners-Lee, who has steadfastly insisted the www should be an open network, said in 2006:

'We're not going to be trying to make a web that will be better for people who vote in a particular way, or better for people who think like we do.....The really important thing about the web, which will continue through any future technology, is that it is a universal space.'

Lee-Berner's remark was made in response to serious concerns that the internet might become an unpleasant place of anonymous rumour and malicious intent. And he is right to be so worried, before it really is too late.

Losing the past
I would add to that my own concern that the www has permitted us to forget how far western societies have come in the past few decades, let alone the past century. Right now, life truly is better for most of us in the developed democracies than it has ever been. But will this good fortune last? And can it be shared?

Losing our pre-Millennium reference points would also result in the loss, at a time when our culture is already very immediate, of our sense of what has worked to make the world better, and what perhaps has not. This loss would make it more difficult to sustain what's good and to improve what's not good or what looks worrying.

Learning for the future
Things reshape and evolve all the time. It's now 40 years since the last time 'history changed', in that surreal summer of 1968. For some who witnessed it, what the lessons are remains a matter of debate.

I still hope the www will help more people of every sort of experience and background share what they know and have observed. We have only to look at the work of political scientists and historians such as Peter Laslett to realise what a better understanding, say, of pre-industrial society might have done for many current social concerns.

Contemporary sharing might encourage us all to reflect just sometimes on the historical medium and longer term, and on how we can learn from it to sustain what we optimistically call 'progress'.

Read more articles on:
Hilary's Weblog
Pre-History / Herstory (1950-)

08.05.29 Hope Street Liverpool Orrery Suitcases 147x98  001a.jpg The Liverpool Orrery came to Hope Street last week, to the Suitcases plateau; and with it came lots of happy and excited children, eager to see the universe from the Unity Theatre's special SplatterFest! perspective. Using the public realm like this shows more clearly than any words how creativity can engage our communities and our imaginations.

08.05.29 Hope Street  Liverpool Orrery  Suitcases 500x449   003a.jpg

08.05.29  The Liverpool Orrery & Suitcases Hope Street  Splatterfest 500x380 007a.jpg

Read more about the Hope Street Quarter and the 'Suitcases' (A Case Study).

See more photographs: Camera & Calendar.

What is an Orrery? Find out here; and read about Unity Theatre and SplatterFest!.