Articles, news, comment, links and more for those working, studying, or with an interest in the Social Sciences: Economics, Geography, Politics and International Studies, Psychology, Social Policy and Criminology and Sociology
I'm wanting to start the Philosophy and Psychology Degree in October, and was wondering if anyone has studied the course and what you think about it? Also, what modules are included in the degree?
Last year I completed and BTEC National Extended Diploma in Journalism and Print-Based Media (Level 3) where I achieved Distinction, Distinction, Distinction. I went to a brick university to study Journalism, but moved back home after a term as I felt very unhappy there and realised the course and living away from home was not for me.
Since moving back home, I have been working full time and really enjoy it. I would love to still get a degree, and since my experience studying Journalism at University, I don't want to continue the subject to degree level, but do still want to do a degree.
During my time at college studying Journalism at college, I really enjoyed researching materials for writing, and gathering research. This is why I find the study and researching of philosophy and psychology to be so appealing to me.
I am also dyslexic, so would I be entitled to extra time with assignments/exams or any specialist equipment? I have a full dyslexia report as proof of my learning difficulty.
Sorry for the long post, I just really want to make sure I am making the right choice. I know I am a very hard-working and motivated student, and the only thing stopping me from studying before was feeling homesick and not enjoying the course.
Thank you for taking your time to read my message, fellow OU students!
I look forward to hearing from you :)
Hi Everyone, I'm wanting to start the Philosophy and Psychology Degree in October, and was wondering if anyone has studied the course and what you think about it? Also, what modules are included in the degree? Last year I completed and BTEC National Extended Diploma in Journalism and Print-Based Media (Level 3) where I achieved Distinction, Distinction, Distinction. I went to a brick ...
The UK economy is suffering from subsidies that extend the problems they’re meant to resolve, writes Alan Shipman.
Foremost among these: if you tax anything you get less of it, and if you subsidise anything you get more. Expanding something with a hand-out can be good, if it’s something the community hasn’t got enough of. For if there’s already too much, then subsidy just worsens the excess. So while supporters of welfare benefits see them as tackling poverty and social exclusion, critics say they amplify these evils. If you subsidise the poor, you just get more of them. Any top-up allows people to get by on unproductive jobs, or none at all. So giving them less can make them (as well as their community) better off, by forcing them into new or better work.
Some evidence of success for a strategy based on these principles emerged from the UK unemployment data released on 16 April. Unemployment rose, in part, because more previously “inactive” adults had chosen to seek work. Many of these are women with children who are far from inactive in their homes, but described as such by economists until they find paid employment outside it. The government says that over 800,000 people have abandoned their claims to out-of-work benefits as a result of stricter eligibility tests, and benefit changes that ensure they’re better off in work.
These changes would have been essential even without the recent financial crisis, according to Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, because of an inexorable rise in the number of claimants and average size of claims. The state benefits bill has risen from less than £90bn in 1990 to over £150bn in 2012 and this at that year’s prices. It’s jumped to more than 10% of national output in the current recession. (See this article in The Economist).
However, this growth doesn’t automatically confirm the existence of a ‘benefits culture' prompting people into premature retirement. Some of it has been caused by an unexpected rise in longevity, which leaves many claiming benefits to cover depleted pension pots or rising care costs, so that state pensions comprise almost half of state ‘benefit’ spending. Some is due to house price increases since the early 1990s, causing a rise in accommodation costs which governments dare not reverse because any further price fall would make Middle England’s mortgage unrepayable. The biggest growth has been in benefits and tax breaks given to people in work, which now vastly exceed the £5bn paid in jobseeker’s allowance in 2011/12.
The awkwardness of these rising payments to the working poor (in means-tested benefits and tax credits) is that they can equally well be viewed as state aid for employers, enabling them to pay less than a living wage knowing that the state will make up the difference. This has not been prevented by the introduction of a minimum wage alongside tax credits, which governments dispense much more grudgingly than the numerous tax breaks allowing large employers to minimise their tax bills. The dramatic spread of low pay, while enabling employment to rise and jobseeker’s allowance costs to fall despite the absence of overall output growth, is also the reason that welfare costs will continue to rise after the Coalition’s reforms – as they did under previous governments, including Margaret Thatcher’s.
On the day that George Osborne’s assessed Mick Philpott’s child-killing exploits, a parliamentary committee accused three former HBOS executives of destroying the UK’s fourth-largest bank through avarice and incompetence. It was a reminder that when Britain subsidised incompetent bankers, it got more of them. In this case, government-backed deposit insurance and inevitability of state-financed bailout give large banks an implicit annual subsidy of £10bn, according to the Independent Commission on Banking. And whereas any subsidy to ‘dole queens’ (and kings) is a richer-to-poorer redistribution that goes back into circulation when recipients spend it, the bankers’ subsidy is a poorer-to-richer allocation that disappeared into their punctured balance-sheets, along with £1,200bn of taxpayers’ money to prevent a systemic collapse.
This trio of errant bankers, and Royal Bank of Scotland’s Fred Goodwin, are often used to portray the whole financial sector as reckless and parasitic. Mr Osborne's resort to the same sort of wrecking synecdoche when using the Mick Philpott case to cast aspersions on all benefit recipients, has tended to expand on all political sides. It’s a tendency that has been spreading, from public-sector reformers who cite Jimmy Savile as a sign of endemic decay in the BBC and NHS, to internal combustion enthusiasts who use one flat battery to reject a whole fleet of electric cars.
While policy changes may be aimed at stopping the irresponsible arrival of new children, they are also targeting a better deal for those already growing up. Mr Osborne’s 2013 Budget assigns £1bn to subsidise childcare for working families, and several billion to help the purchase of new or larger homes. Amid a predominantly ‘supply side’ recovery strategy, these measures stand out as delivering a demand-side boost. The first-quarter growth figures, showing the UK still on the brink of a triple-dip recession, highlight the importance of subsidising assets that the community wants more of. The Chancellor will now be hoping that spending more on nursery places and houses will encourage business to offer more of them, and not just inflate the price of those already there.
Alan Shipman 24 April 2013
Alan Shipman is a lecturer in Economics at the Open University. He is responsible for the modules You and your money:personal finance in context and Personal investment in an uncertain world, part of the foundation degree in Financial Services.
The views expressed in this post, as in all posts on Society Matters, are the views of the author, not The Open University.
Cartoon by Catherine Pain
The UK economy is suffering from subsidies that extend the problems they’re meant to resolve, writes Alan Shipman. Kissing babies at election-time is a practice politicians often regret but cannot seem to renounce. So, too, is commenting publicly on those that go on to become the victims of extreme parenting. By suggesting that the deaths of six children in ...
Edward Lawrenson reviews The Spirit of '45, the film which has triggered a debate nationally about the kind of society we have become and the kind of society we want to be.
Ken Loach has just directed a documentary called The Spirit of '45. It is a stirring portrait of the founding of the welfare state by the post-war Labour government. It's thanks to the film that I have a credible version of the life I'd be leading if I were the age I am now back in 1945.
Feeding my details into the film's accompanying website, I learned that I'd probably live in a house without a bath or a shower, a visit to the doctor would have cost me about seven per cent of my weekly wage, and that I only had 30 years to live.
It's not the cheeriest news, but it did bring home sharply the everyday hardships people had to endure before such things as the National Health Service. Funded by the British Film Institute initiative to support forms of digital storytelling, the online arm of The Spirit of '45 is a provocative exploration of many of the concerns of the film. You can watch interviews from the film as well as those that did not make the final cut, and there's quaint footage, as well as a thoughtful timeline of the past 60 years of British social history (see Timeline Health).
Still, it's the film where my and Loach's priorities lie (speaking at a screening I attended a few weeks back, Loach professed to be unfamiliar with the internet). What Loach does best is make films, and The Spirit of '45 reveals the director in commanding form, telling of the massive programme of nationalisation by the incoming Labour government of 1945. It's an expert assemblage of archive material revealing just how bad life was for ordinary people immediately after the war, incorporating interviews with men and women who were involved in the first nationalised industries.
'After the war', writes Ken Loach, 'people had a sense that they had won the war together as a collective, and that brought a sense of unity in the country. They remembered the '30s, which was a time of great poverty and depression – between two and three million people unemployed, rather like now – and people didn't want to go back to those days. They wanted to use the same methods they had used to win the war to win the peace. So that was the spirit, really, that they would build a better world and do it together.'
The emotional impact of this is extraordinary. Among many testimonies is the childhood memory of a man called Ray, now in his eighties, of his mother dying from a preventable ailment the family doctor lacked the resources to cure. What emerges is a heartfelt tribute to a generation of activists who ensured an end to needless deaths, such as that of Ray's mum.
Of course, there's a loud and resolute political edge to all of this. If the first half of the film, which charts the heroic work of building the welfare state, inspires admiration, then the second part of it, devoted to the steady dismantling of nationalised industries, provokes anger. When archive footage of Margaret Thatcher flashed up on-screen, I could feel the audience greet the image with a collective and involuntary hiss.
It is unashamedly partisan stuff, and the film does glide over uncomfortable realities to advance its argument. A rosy glow, for instance, settles over the references to post-war town planning that ignores the ugly effects of so much centralised architecture.
Speaking on why he made the film, Loach concluded: 'The narrative is particularly apposite because we have two and a half million people unemployed, a million of them are young people. We are told there is no alternative, but if this is the only society we can imagine building it is a poor effort.' (see the interview).
The blurb of film states it is 'an impassioned documentary about how the spirit of unity which buoyed Britain during the war years carried through to create a vision of a fairer, united society'.
If it is at a cinema near you, do go and see it. For local listings see here.
Edward Lawrenson 12 April 2013
Edward Lawrenson's review originally appeared in The Big Issue, No 1043, March 18-24, 2013. It is reprinted here with thanks.
Find out more
Watch the Spirit of '45 trailer.
The views expressed in this post, as in all posts on Society Matters, are the views of the author, not The Open University.
Cartoon by Catherine Pain
Edward Lawrenson reviews The Spirit of '45, the film which has triggered a debate nationally about the kind of society we have become and the kind of society we want to be. Ken Loach has just directed a documentary called The Spirit of '45. It is a stirring portrait of the founding of the welfare state by the post-war Labour government. It's thanks to the film that I have a credible ...
Two OU students were successful in the inaugural Psychological Society of Ireland (PSI) essay competition this year. Helen O’Shea, was the winner of the Undergraduate category whilst Kira Kazakova, also an undergraduate, received a commendation for her essay.
The winning entries were published in the Irish Psychologist magazine and the successful entrants will receive a significant contribution towards attending the Annual Congress of Psychology Students which is being held in Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology (IADT) in April 2013.
“One of my biggest concerns about studying with the OU was that the study was independent rather than normal lectures. This made me wonder how I was going to cope with self-regulated study and would I have the discipline required to achieve a BSc in Psychology. My concerns were quickly allayed when I came to realise the level of support and resources that were available, and in particular the standard and timeliness of communication between the tutors and the students.”
Helen, a wife and mother who says “there was a lot of juggling and late nights” in order to complete her studies, is now a research assistant on the Waterford Mental Health Survey, which is a joint project between the Health Service Executive (South) and University College Dublin.
Kira started her studies when she was working as a Legal Executive, and the OU was the best option for her to combine work and study. One of her major concerns was undertaking a course in English which, at the time she began her studies, was her third language. In addition, when Kira went back to study, she was, and still is, a single mother. “Raising a young child by myself, as well as trying to educate myself, was very tough at times...for three years between 2006-9 I was also working full time as well as studying.”
“I am very pleased to be a runner-up in the Essay Competition and I am very proud to represent the OU in this endeavour.”
Dr Aileen O’Reilly, PSI Graduate Officer and Council Member said “It was wonderful to receive entries from Open University students, and I would encourage more students to enter the competition next year.”
Karen Hagan, Senior Lecturer in Psychology in Ireland says “The Open University is delighted that two students have received awards in the first PSI student essay competition. This shows the high calibre of our students and, indeed, their motivation to succeed.”
Find out more
Posted 8 April 2013
Two OU students were successful in the inaugural Psychological Society of Ireland (PSI) essay competition this year. Helen O’Shea, was the winner of the Undergraduate category whilst Kira Kazakova, also an undergraduate, received a commendation for her essay. The winning entries were published in the Irish Psychologist magazine and the successful entrants will receive a significant ...
I am hoping to study Social Policy & Criminology and wondered if anyone else out there is doing it? If so, it would be great to have some feedback?
Hi, I am hoping to study Social Policy & Criminology and wondered if anyone else out there is doing it? If so, it would be great to have some feedback? Many thanks. Nicky
The Impoverishment of the UK report paints a bleak picture of deteriorating living conditions and opportunities for a significant and growing proportion of the population.
It will be profiled in a special Tonight programme, Breadline Britain, broadcast on ITV tonight Thursday 28 March at 7.30 pm.
The report is part of the Economic and Social Research Council-funded Poverty and Social Exclusion (PSE) study, which uses a way of measuring poverty devised by Joanna Mack, Learning and Teaching producer at the OU, and Stewart Lansley, senior project officer at the OU.
This PSE approach – now adopted by the UK Government and by a growing number of rich and developing countries – identifies people falling below a publicly-determined minimum standard of living.
It was pioneered in 1983 and repeated in studies in 1990, 1999, 2002/03 and 2012. The PSE project thus provides detailed and robust information about trends over 30 years.
Joanna Mack was the principal investigator on the 1983 and 1990 research studies and she is one of the lead investigators for the current research.
The OU also developed The Poverty and Social Exclusion in the UK website, which is an integral part of the overall project and which provides a major resource on poverty and social exclusion, used extensively.
Key findings of the PSE report include:
Joanna Mack said: “Levels of deprivation today are worse in a number of vital areas – from basic housing to key social activities – than at any point in the past thirty years.
"These trends are a deeply shocking indictment of 30 years of economic and social policy and reflect a rapid growth in inequality. This has meant that, though the economy has doubled in size during this period, those at the bottom have been increasingly left behind.”
Professor David Gordon of the Townsend Centre for International Poverty Research in Bristol, who is head of the project, said: “The results present a remarkably bleak portrait of life in the UK today and the shrinking opportunities faced by the bottom third of UK society.
"About one third of people in the UK suffer significant difficulties and about a quarter have an unacceptably low standard of living’ said ‘ Moreover this bleak situation will get worse as benefit levels fall in real term, real wages continue to decline and living standards are further squeezed.”
You can download The Impoverishment of the UK report here.
Posted 28 March 2013
The OU is a partner in the UK's largest-ever study of poverty and social exclusion, which has just published its first report. The Impoverishment of the UK report paints a bleak picture of deteriorating living conditions and opportunities for a significant and growing proportion of the population. It will be profiled in a special Tonight programme, Breadline Britain, ...
Philosophy and counselling may sound like unlikely bedfellows, but they have come together in a novel form of therapy called existential counselling.
One of the leading exponents of the British school of existential counselling is Dr Darren Langdridge, head of the OU's department of Psychology. He's just published a new book, Existential Counselling and Psychotherapy.
So what is existential counselling? "It's about bringing together a particular type of philosophy – existentialism – with a particular approach to counselling and psychotherapy," says Darren.
"Existentialism is a practical philosophy which looks at how we can live better lives. In existential counselling we draw on their ideas of how to live well, and apply them to therapy."
One well-known name who was an early exponent of existential therapy was RD Laing, the 'anti-psychiatry psychiatrist'. At a time when people suffering mental distress were being heavily medicated or locked away in mental institutions, Laing argued that therapists should be trying to connect with their patients as fellow human beings.
The key principles for an existential counsellor are: to try and understand how the person you are counselling sees the world, not to impose your world view on them; and to treat them as a unique human being. "We don't treat a person for 'depression'," says Darren. "We see a person who is having a low mood but we don't approach this as though they have a pathology.
"We have a dialogue with our clients. It is very engaged and active. The point about existentialism is that it wants to change the world."
Darren says his book is an introduction to existential counselling and psychotherapy but for those who are already well-informed in the subject, it also pushes the boundaries.
For those not so well informed, there is also an introduction to existential counselling authored by Darren in D240 Exploring fear and sadness, a course which looks at a range of therapies.
Darren has also contributed material to DD307 Social Psychology: critical perspectives on self and others on phenomenological psychology. Phenomenology is a branch of philosophy linked to existentialism, and the phenomenological method is used to understand what the world is like from the point of view of others.
If you want to learn more about how philosophy can inform counselling there's no need to be put off by any unfamiliar philosophical terms. These are all translated into practice in the book and course material on existential counselling, says Darren. "You don't need any background in philosophy to understand them."
Find out more
For those completely new to counselling, the OU offers a 15-point, 12-week introductory course Introduction to counselling (D171).
Philosophy and counselling may sound like unlikely bedfellows, but they have come together in a novel form of therapy called existential counselling. One of the leading exponents of the British school of existential counselling is Dr Darren Langdridge, head of the OU's department of Psychology. He's just published a new book, Existential Counselling and Psychotherapy. So what is ...
Around the world there are a number of professions in high demand. The BBC Business website has compiled a list of the top 20 most wanted professions internationally, and the countries that want them.
The list includes psychologists, physiotherapists and chefs, and there are case studies.
Is your profession there? Check it out on Global migrants: Which is the most wanted profession?
Around the world there are a number of professions in high demand. The BBC Business website has compiled a list of the top 20 most wanted professions internationally, and the countries that want them. The list includes psychologists, physiotherapists and chefs, and there are case studies. Is your profession there? Check it out on Global migrants: Which is the most wanted profession? ...
The research is investigating whether the brains of people with OCD function differently to those without OCD.
Preliminary findings suggest some systematic and interesting differences between brain activity in people with OCD, and non-OCD controls, even in a relaxed state. However, to obtain a more detailed picture researchers need to find more participants with OCD.
They are looking for people between 18 and 60 years of age, who have been diagnosed with OCD and have no learning disabilities.
If you decide to participate, they will need four hours of your time. The timing of these sessions can be flexible and scheduled according to your convenience.
During this time, your brain activity will be recorded using a safe, non-invasive and painless technique known as Quantitative Electroencephalography, or QEEG. You will also be interviewed and asked to fill in a questionnaire.
The study generally takes place at the OU in Milton Keynes or in Camden in London. Travel costs will be reimbursed. In some cases researchers will be able to come to your town or a town near you to perform the scans and interviews.
By participating in this study, you will be contributing to scientific advancements in OCD research. Additionally, you will gain interesting insights about how your brain may have been affected by OCD.
You can get more information from the QEEG and Brain Research Lab project page. If you wish to take part, or have any enquiries, please contact Loes Koorenhof by calling 01908 659 472, or email email@example.com
The Open University is recruiting people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) to take part in an ongoing research project. The research is investigating whether the brains of people with OCD function differently to those without OCD. Preliminary findings suggest some systematic and interesting differences between brain activity in people with OCD, and ...
He calls for urgent changes to Britain's 'flawed' drinks advertising regulations in an editorial in the British Medical Journal, which is published to coincide with a major report calling for all alcohol advertising to be banned.
The editorial cites research by the Rand Corporation for the European Commission which shows that 10-15 year olds in the UK see 10% more alcohol advertising on TV than their parents do. When it comes to alcopops, they see 50% more.
And the situation is set to worsen as advertisers increasingly spread their messages via digital media, say Gerard Hastings and co-author Nich Sheron, clinical hepatologist at the University of Southampton.
Their comments coincide with the publication of Health First: an evidence-based alcohol strategy for the UK, a report which calls for a ban on all alcohol advertising, and minimum alcohol pricing. Gerard Hastings is a member of the strategy group which compiled the report.
To see Gerard Hastings discussing the proposed strategy with Professor Linda Bauld, University of Stirling, go to this link.
Professor Gerard Hastings is a member of The Open University's Centre for Strategy and Marketing. He is founder/director of the Institute for Social Marketing and Centre for Tobacco Control Research based at Stirling University and The Open University. He is currently leading APISE, a major study of the effectiveness of alcohol control policies.
The British Medical Journal editorial Alcohol Marketing: Grooming the Next Generation was published on 1 March. Current OU students can access it via the OU Library using their Open University Computer Username (OUCU) and password. Its reference is BMJ 2013;346:f1227. For help in accessing electronic journals through the OU Library database go to How can I get access to a particular journal on the Library website.
Posted 26 March 2013
Children in Britain are more exposed to alcohol marketing than adults are, according to the OU's Professor of Social Marketing Gerard Hastings. He calls for urgent changes to Britain's 'flawed' drinks advertising regulations in an editorial in the British Medical Journal, which is published to coincide with a major report calling for all alcohol advertising to be banned. The ...
This is part of a process of demonisation of the working classes that has been evolving over the last 75 years, argues OU Senior Lecturer Dr Gerry Mooney in a new Social Sciences podcast called The Language of Poverty.
It maintains that the language used to describe poverty is significant because it has a vital bearing on how welfare policy is implemented, and how policies are perceived by the wider population.
Gerry is joined in the podcast discussion by OU Senior Lecturer Dr Geoff Andrews, and Owen Jones, the author of Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class.
Gerry Mooney has been involved with the production of Welfare, crime and society (DD208) and Crime and justice (DD301). He is Deputy Chair for the new Honours Social Policy module (DD312) currently in production, which will explore the interrelationships between wealth, poverty and social inequality.
Geoff Andrews has been involved with the production of Power, dissent, equality: understanding contemporary politics (DD203); and Living political ideas(DD306).
The 'strivers versus skivers' debate has framed much of the Government's current discussion on welfare policy. This is part of a process of demonisation of the working classes that has been evolving over the last 75 years, argues OU Senior Lecturer Dr Gerry Mooney in a new Social Sciences podcast called The Language of Poverty. It maintains that the language used to ...
Keeping Britain Alive: The NHS in a Day is an epic eight-part observational documentary starting Tuesday 26 March at 9pm on BBC2.
It tells the stories of a single 24-hour period in the NHS from a multitude of perspectives, following a diverse range of staff, and patients.
The OU team working on the series say it is of particular interest to Health and Social Care students, as it takes a broad view of health care delivery that moves beyond the ‘typical’ doctor-led focus in acute care to explore the relationships between service users and providers.
Check out the OpenLearn series page online interactive feature telling the story of the changing nature of health care from before the birth of the NHS to the present day.
There is a booklet associated with the series, Working to Save Lives, which gives a personal view of day-to-day life as an NHS healthcare professional. For a free copy, call 0845 271 0015 or go to the OpenLearn page.
Posted 25 March 2013
A new OU/BBC series captures a day in the life of one of the world's largest publicly-funded health services. Keeping Britain Alive: The NHS in a Day is an epic eight-part observational documentary starting Tuesday 26 March at 9pm on BBC2. It tells the stories of a single 24-hour period in the NHS from a multitude of perspectives, following a diverse range of staff, and ...
BBC's Mastermind is looking for contestants now.
For more information, or to book a place on one of the nationwide auditions, visit the Mastermind website and click on Audition Information; or call 0161 836 0315; or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted 25 March 2013
Do you fancy yourself as a bit of a quizzer? BBC's Mastermind is looking for contestants now. For more information, or to book a place on one of the nationwide auditions, visit the Mastermind website and click on Audition Information; or call 0161 836 0315; or email email@example.com Posted 25 March 2013 1.5 Average: 1.5 (6 votes)
The views expressed in this post, as in all posts on Society Matters, are the views of the author, not The Open University.
Cartoon by Gary Edwards
Ever had your enjoyment at a live performance spoilt by collective coughing fits from the audience? The theatre critic James Agate once reflected: 'Long experience has taught me that in England nobody goes to the theatre unless he or she has bronchitis.' I once played Albert the Horse in Alan Bennett's lovely adaptation of The Wind in the Willows and during every ...
George Osborne is unusually reluctant to show how a smaller Budget is financing tax cuts, because new evidence suggests that won’t promote economic recovery, argues Alan Shipman.
George Osborne is unusually reluctant to show how a smaller Budget is financing tax cuts, because new evidence suggests that won’t promote economic recovery, argues Alan Shipman. When the economy was growing, Chancellors measured their success by how many hidden tax rises they could smuggle into a Budget, and how many days it took the personal-finance experts to unearth ...
The OU’s Professor Mark Fenton-O’Creevy, together with fellow academics Professor Adrian Furnham and Dr Sophie von Stumm, reveal what they learned from the results. It's clear that there is far more to managing your money than just financial know-how.
• While financial knowledge is important, our emotions play a big part in how well we manage our money
• Money makes many people feel worried, guilty and anxious
• Impulse shopping can lead to disastrous financial problems
• If money makes you feel powerful you are more likely to encounter money problems, but if money makes you feel secure you are less likely to
• Being able to make ends meet is crucial for us to be able to manage our money well, more so than financial knowledge
• Attitude to money and financial success tend to improve with age, even more so for men than women
Read the results in full.
Find out more:
Posted: 20 March 2013
More than 109,000 people have taken part in the BBC Lab UK’s Big Money Test which was launched in April 2011 by money saving expert Martin Lewis. The OU’s Professor Mark Fenton-O’Creevy, together with fellow academics Professor Adrian Furnham and Dr Sophie von Stumm, reveal what they learned from the results. It's clear that there is far ...
Professor Sheila Peace, an expert in environmental gerontology at the OU, has been examining these issues and recently published research which calls for more inclusive kitchen designs in order to allow older people to remain in their own homes for as long as possible.
Commenting on the need for this research, Sheila (pictured) said: “previous evidence of older people’s experiences of the kitchen have been limited and a better understanding of their views remains critical to ensure that future developments are useful and acceptable to kitchen users in the future.”
Titled ‘Transitions in Kitchen Living’, this multi-disciplinary 'research project part of the Research Councils New Dynamics of Ageing Programme', involved talking to people across a 40 year age span from those in their 60s to those in their 90s. The participants provided their experiences of the kitchen in places they have lived and how that has changed over time. In addition, the study looked at how these age groups currently use their kitchens.
Assessing movement and behaviour
As part of the research, Sheila and The OU team conducted an assessment of movement and behaviour within the modern kitchen and how the spaces are used in collaboration with Loughborough University's Design School.
Participants revealed problems with reaching, bending, hearing, seeing and dexterity in the kitchen. Some of the most common problems reported were difficulties seeing cooker controls and reading packaged food instructions. Also measurement of lighting levels found that food preparation areas were the most poorly lit falling well below recommended minimum levels.
“There are lots of issues which need more attention and which ultimately can meet the needs of everyone and not just older people” Sheila enthuses. “For example not having to open windows across a sink; having more appropriate colour of surface and lighting and work surfaces which are height adjustable are just some of the things that could make kitchen life easier. Unfortunately, people generally don’t know about gadgets that can help them with their situation.”
The research team has now developed a shorter guide based on the research which Sheila is currently sharing with a whole range of people including kitchen designers, planners, manufacturers and installers to provide age friendly kitchens in the future. The research is already influencing certain projects such as kitchen designs in a supported housing project.
Outlining her hopes for the impact of the research Sheila said: “the meaning of home and staying at home is very important for people and therefore we are hoping that these recommendations will go some way to getting the retail and design sector to sit up and take these on board. An easier solution for people in their 80s is actually and easier solution for everybody.”
For more information about Sheila Peace's research, see here.
Posted 15 March 2013
With more than 10 million people over the age of 65 in the UK, and with the proportion of people aged 85-plus on the increase, how do we ensure that our homes meet the needs of an ageing population? Professor Sheila Peace, an expert in environmental gerontology at the OU, has been examining these issues and recently published research which calls for more inclusive kitchen ...
Meg Barker looks a little deeper at what can be done to alleviate human suffering
Self-help history: empowerment or victimisation
Examining the history of self-help we can see that books in this genre have tended to be of two types. The first type – empowerment self-help – emerged in America after the great depression and drew on the New Thought movement which believed in the power of positive thinking. Such books held out the promise that by imagining good things and striking the right attitude people could bring what they wanted to themselves: wealth, friends, success, etc. The second type of self-help became popular in the late sixties and seventies. Know as victimisation self-help, books in this category tend to blame the wider world for any problems that individuals have. Akin to the twelve step programmes for addiction, these books are concerned with reassuring readers that their difficulties are not their fault but down to something beyond their control like having toxic parents or a disorder or disease of some kind. Power is located outside the individual.
In the 1980s and 1990s there was a backlash against victimisation self-help and a return to an extreme form of empowerment self-help which argued that any problems were down to the individual and could be fixed by positive thinking. For example, a quote in the bestseller The Secret by the author's fellow self-help writer, Bob Proctor, says: “Why do you think that 1 percent of the population earns around 96 percent of all the money that’s being earned? Do you think that’s an accident? It’s designed that way. They understand something. They understand The Secret, and now you are being introduced to The Secret.” The Secret in question is the New Thought law of attraction, that successful people bring positive things to themselves merely by thinking about them.
Both these forms of self-help are problematic, and together they set up a false binary around human struggles, which is similar to the either/or view of mental health which I've discussed elsewhere. It seems that we have to believe either that we are personally responsible for all our problems but that we can fix them by changing ourselves, or that the world is responsible for all our problems but that we are powerless then to do anything about them. If we buy into the empowerment way of seeing things then it easily slips into victim blame, whereby we regard everyone, including ourselves, as to blame for any problems in life. If we buy into the victimisation way of seeing things then we have to believe that there is something fundamentally wrong with us and give up any sense that we could do anything about our difficulties.
A third way? Oliver Burkeman
In recent years it seems that a few authors have been looking for a kind of third way of doing self-help: a way that involves breaking out of this problematic binary. What I have called anti-self-help self-help starts from a criticism of the assumptions of the self-help movement in general. It asks questions about whether it is actually good to strive for the things that self-help suggests that we strive for: happiness, wealth, success, a romantic relationship, etc. Are these good things to have and, even if they are, is striving for them the best way of going about it? Anti-self-help self-help locates any problems that we have in the wider society that surrounds us, the messages we receive from it, and how we relate to these, rather than seeing us as isolated individuals responsible for everything that happens to us. But, at the same time, it sees us as actively engaged with this wider world and able to engage with it in different ways, rather than as powerless.
A great example of such anti-self-help self-help is the writing of Oliver Burkeman. Like his Guardian newspaper column, This Column Will Change Your Life, his first book Help! presented an analysis of existing self-help books, attempting to pull out actually useful suggestions from the overwhelming mass of contradictory messages that he found. His second book, The Antidote, builds on the criticisms of self-help that he came to when writing Help! and suggests a radically different approach.
Positive thinking, argues Burkeman, actually makes us suffer. The empowerment self-help movement has got it completely wrong. What he offers in its place refuses the disempowering position of victimisation self-help, but instead embraces the potentials of what he calls a 'negative path'. This draws on a cluster of approaches taken from philosophies from Buddhism to Eckhart Tolle, the Stoics of Ancient Greece to the Mexican Day of the Dead. What these have in common is that they all do the opposite of 'positive thinking', instead turning to face the difficult stuff of life.
Thus Burkeman argues for the benefits of meditating on the inevitable fact of our own mortality. He critically evaluates the way in which we tend to react to 'bad things' in our day-to-day life, and considers alternatives where we recognise our own role in categorising what is good and bad and trying to get all of the former and none of the latter. He explores meditation and building the capacity to be with difficult feelings, turning towards the things that scare us rather than away from them. He considers the power of just getting on with tasks we are avoiding, rather than assuming that we have to 'find our passion' or 'get motivated' before we can do anything. He explores the value in considering the worst that could happen (and whether what is happening is 'just bad' or 'absolutely terrible') as well as asking yourself whether you have a problem right now, in the present moment. He questions who this self is that we are trying to improve through self-help, and wonders whether it might be more useful to reflect on whether such a thing really exists in any meaningful sense, rather than assuming that it does and engaging in a futile quest to make it better.
I loved The Antidote because it resonates so well with the answers (and – perhaps more usefully – questions) that I have come to through my own journey through the ways in which psychology, psychotherapy, philosophy, and sociology have understood human suffering and what can be done about it. Like my work, the book is particularly rooted in Buddhist philosophy and it is very nice to see that engaged with so thoughtfully, rather than just being offered as another set of techniques to make people happier.
The anti-self-help self-help manifesto
Where to from here? I would like to see many more anti-self-help self-help books which start from a critical stance towards the self-help industry and offer something more valuable to people who want to think about how they are living and how they might do it differently. Such work would, I think, share some of the following things in common:
• A critical stance towards conventional self-help
• A critical stance towards normative taken-for-granted ideas about what makes a good person and a successful life, and whether happiness and wealth are the best things to be striving for
• An informed understanding of the problems with telling people that they are flawed in some way and need to change by striving after something different
• Drawing on research evidence from psychology and sociology, as well as philosophical understandings from across the globe (not just the 'west'), in order to suggest what might be helpful to people
• Locating people's problems in the inter-relation between them and the world around them rather than entirely internally or entirely external – regarding people as biopsychosocial beings rather than focusing on one of those aspects (bio, psycho, social) to the exclusion of the others
• Suggesting ways forward which involve engaging with the world differently, and recognising how difficult this can be and arguing for wider social change, rather than putting all responsibility on the individual
• An ethical commitment to putting something different 'out there' even though the publishing industry conservatively continues to try to publish the same kinds of messages as before
I'd be very interested to hear from others who are trying to write blogs, books, articles, etc. in this vein, and to continue to discuss whether a 'negative path' or 'anti-self-help' does present a valuable third way.
Find out more
There is more about self-help with useful links to other work here.
Cartoon by Catherine Pain
Meg Barker looks a little deeper at what can be done to alleviate human suffering I gave a talk recently at the University of East Anglia on the history of self help books. I wanted to understand far more about why they came to be the way they are. I also managed to chart one potential future trajectory of self-help, building on this criticism. For this I particularly ...
An Open University/BBC co-produced documentary series which looked at the challenging role of social workers has won three accolades in the Royal Television Society Awards, West of England.
The awards are for Best Documentary, Best Director and Editing.
The three-part documentary series Protecting Our Children, featured on BBC2 last year, was produced with the expert insight of three Open University academics.
Dr Barry Cooper and Dr Lucy Rai, both Senior Lecturers in Social Work in the Faculty of Health and Social Care, were consultants on the series and worked with the production team for over a year giving advice on social work practice and policy development.
In addition, Debbie Stringer, Senior Lecturer in Law provided support as part of the module team.
The series followed the work of Bristol’s child protection teams over the course of a year and observed their jobs first-hand, exploring how the crises of the last decade had impacted on their ability to safeguard children.
Commenting on the awards, Dr Rai said: “Working on Protecting Our Children was a fantastic opportunity to work closely with the BBC and social workers in Bristol to present the public with a rare insight into the everyday work of child protection social workers.
"The series created a challenging, emotive but very honest reflection on the profession and will be of great benefit to students learning about this area of work.”
Protecting Our Children also won the Grierson Award for Best Documentary in 2012.
An Open University/BBC co-produced documentary series which looked at the challenging role of social workers has won three accolades in the Royal Television Society Awards, West of England. The awards are for Best Documentary, Best Director and Editing. The three-part documentary series Protecting Our Children, featured on BBC2 last year, was produced with the expert insight of three Open ...
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Read Godfrey Boyle's interview here.
Humanity is headed for a very difficult future unless we change our ways soon, according to The Open University's Emeritus Professor of Renewable Energy Godfrey Boyle (pictured). In an interview for Indian website Zee News about climate change, he says that technology is part of the solution but we also need social and cultural shifts – in particular, ...
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