Posts Tagged ‘sennett’


it’s all in a word…

August 4, 2008

The current trend seems to be to try and distill one’s thinking to a single word. Three in particular spring to mind that are doing the rounds in the policy world…

Nudge – Richard Thaler says that policy should go with the grain of how people behave anyway, shock horror

Blink – Malcolm Gladwell argues that instinct (ok, ok, ‘rapid cognition’) counts and we should take it seriously

With – not yet a book but guaranteed to be so within 18 months… Charlie Leadbeater says that it’s time to think about ‘with and by’ not ‘to and for’ when it comes to public service design. A thesis he begins in We-Think but most recently talked about at the social innovation conference in San Sebastian (more on that in another post)

I’ve never quite managed to boil my own thinking down to a single word, but I’ve got a few that I’m pretty fond of. In no particular order:

Authenticity: I think most people have a pretty good bullshit detector and there’s rarely any point in pulling the wool over people’s eyes

Autonomy: my money’s on the fact we’re going to be hearing quite a lot about ‘control’ in coming months but I prefer autonomy. At Demos we used to talk about ‘people being architects of their own lives’. I like that too but it fails on the word count in this particular post.

Connectedness: not exactly a word but a really important principle. Most ‘bad’ outcomes – mental health, physical wellbeing, behaviour – can be correlated to loneliness and isolation. People need to feel seen and heard. I read a report last year that found that low income mothers have much smaller social networks than middle class mothers. This makes a mockery of how we deal with, for example, young offenders, or people with mental health problems, where we actively remove them from society. Just imagine if connectedness was a performance indicator for public services…

Usefulness: Marx talked about productivity, Sennett (in The Culture of the New Capitalism) about usefulness. I love both of these, but usefulness wins out because it encompasses non-paid work too. Feeling useless is surely one of the worst and most debilitating emotions someone can experience.

Pride: I really like this one. People who are proud feel good about themselves, and how they are living their lives. When we were working with the families in Kent, many of them felt ashamed of even letting our ethnographers into their homes. At a more macro level, imagine if Brown’s doomed attempts to define Britishness centred on pride? Not in a grim empire-building way, but more in a sense that Brits should feel proud of their country, proud of what it stands for. When I saw him speak, the only thing Richard Thaler said that I liked was about the contrast between the UK’s ‘Keep Britain Tidy’ signs and the US’s ‘Keep America Beautiful’ signs.

Liminal: ah, my favourite space. And such a beautiful word. In-between, murky worlds where interesting things happen and new perspectives emerge from the collision of different views and experiences. A good anthropological word too. In fact so good, it’s got a website all to itself.

Value: I have a feeling that much of my thinking rests on a desire to redefine what we value in society: unpaid work, love, emotions – too often treated as value-free in a world where markets and rationality rule. If I were making a visual thesarus I would connect value to meaning, experience and relationships.

I’m pretty sure there’s a counter-point blog to this post, on words that should be banned… can we start with ’empowerment’ please?