Benidorm and Social Reproduction Part III – Garry Smith

Failures in communication of one form or another are almost always the start of conflict, failure to establish meaningful communication in a conflict will result in conflict mismanagement. So with different codes operating between different social classes we have massive opportunities for conflict. Now introduce all the other social variables and you can begin multiplying outwards exponentially.

However, remember where this tale started, over in Benidorm back in September 2016. Well it did not start there but going there brought thoughts from my subconscious to the fore. Like many others I associate with people I like, people like me, yes I have family and friends who will happily tell me when they think I am wrong and we can agree to disagree on certain issues. Take the Brexit vote, all our kids wanted to remain in the European Union but my wife and I voted to leave, they expressed their surprise to us but nobody fell out. Yes we discussed it but not in any detail, we all just got on with life, apparently it has split other families asunder….. I like people like me funnily enough but I can see massive dangers as we move towards fractured communities, countries even, where different social groups inhabit their own cosy feeling echo chambers and I know Marc MacYoung is digging deeply into this at the moment. The thing is communicating across barriers is possible and we do not need pretty coloured beads anymore, but only if the barriers can be relaxed.

When we went to Benidorm we actually spent time with members of other tribes around us, it was for me a socio-anthropological experience, it was superb. Being in contact with other tribes helps you to bring your own practises into question. When you can compare how people talk, eat, move around, relate to each other and to others around them you can also compare how you behave as well. This is where I started to rediscover the concept of social reproduction, the way that different social groups are produced and reproduced.

Now putting to one side the whole education Vs environment debate, free will Vs conformism and the whole gamut of isms wrapped up as analysis there are things that go together like say, fish and chips. Because, and here is a controversial one, not only do different social classes, remember where Erik started this, speak different codes, as the continual process of social production and reproduction gathers pace they are beginning to look different.

Two thirds of British adults are overweight or obese and a growing number are becoming severely obese. It was easy to see that most of the people in our hotel who were how much you could get on your plate.

Well each to their own is how I try to see things but I often fail, the thing is when you are interested in eating healthily, not obsessively though, we all like a few chips, then when you see people effectively gorging huge platefuls of fried foods, platefuls of cakes and washing it down with lots of beers and/or cokes then you cannot help but notice it. As somebody who still actively trains and sees a clear link between what I put into my body and what I can then expect it to do, I just do not get how people can do this to themselves.

I try to make good choices most of the time but I am not a food fascist, I watched and listened as our family ate our food, discussed our food and enjoyed our food, lots of good choices, with a few nice naughty bits here and there. I watched our daughter guide our grandsons as we had her and that was fun too. My father has a saying, strength goes in at the mouth, I have always liked it, but weakness goes in at the mouth too is the reverse. Now let us throw a hand grenade into this piece of revelry.

“Severe obesity is associated with lower educational attainment, reduced employment prospects and lower socioeconomic status, although the directionality of this association is not known.” Health Survey for England

BOOM!!! ­Well life is all about choices, or is it​? Well the old free will versus determinism can take us around in circles but as Haidt (2014?) indicates most decisions are made as emotional reactions then we rationalise them afterwards. He uses the analogy of riding an elephant, according to this model; the rider is rational and can plan ahead, while the elephant is irrational and driven by emotion and instinct.  This is where the differences emerge between those who choose to control their emotions, as best they can, and make more rational choices and those who’s emotions make the choices and then they rationalise the choices made.

So when we are presented with a huge array of choices at our all inclusive restaurant buffet choices have to be made but there are no rules, you can eat what you want in whatever quantities you like. So as we approach the buffet it will depend who is in charge, the rider or the elephant (no pun intended). So given that most of our behaviour is learned and that the primary agency of socialisation is the family, is it surprising that you could see tables of families and each had similar choices on their tables? Choices are informed by our knowledge and understanding, something Pierre Bourdieu (1986) calls cultural capital.

“Cultural capital: forms of knowledge, skills, education, and advantages that a person has, which give them a higher status in society. Parents provide their children with cultural capital by transmitting the attitudes and knowledge needed to succeed in the current educational system.”

So the restaurant in our holiday hotel in Benidorm brought into the same room social groups with different levels of cultural capital. If severe obesity is associated with lower educational attainment and lower socio economic status, amongst other thing, then it is likely that lower levels of cultural capital will be present too. Conversely  as Bourdieu demonstrated those who possessed higher levels of cultural capital had far better levels of educational attainment and socio economic status.

Obesity is present in all social groups but evidence from Public Health England it is much more prevalent in lower income households and socio economic groups. The correlation between levels of cultural capital and its transfer through social reproduction is clear, poorer, less educated families are more likely to be obese.

Social reproduction refers to the emphasis on the structures and activities that transmit social inequality from one generation to the next. Much of what we know of human behaviour shows that throughout the long evolution of our species learned behaviours are passed from generation to generation.

This includes the social construction of the worlds we inhabit, they differ by ethnicity, class, gender, name your own variable, we all believe, or would like to that our body of knowledge, our culture, the way we do things, is the right way. We belong, as did our ancestors, to tribes, each tribe can have its own shared customs, values and belief system, we operate best in tribes of around 30 to 40 members, just like our ancestors. If we become separated from our tribe we will look for others like them/us and seek their company, like attracts like. We do this because tribes all have their own style of dress, adornments and/or markings. Youth cultures and sub-cultures are the most obvious examples.

Take a moment here to think about your tribal identity, take your time, look at your hair, your clothes and look at yourself as if looking at a stranger, adopt the position of anthropological strangeness. Do you wear jewellery? If so what does it say about you? Then work outwards from the self to the artefacts you​ possess, what do they say about you and your tribe?

I am concluding this article on yet another holiday this time on the island of Fuerteventura, the Canary Islands. We are in yet another al inclusive hotel but this one cost quite a bit more and this is reflected in the social make up of the guests. However, right back to the march Issue of Conflict Manager and Erik’s article. A person’s social class is rarely chosen, most of us are born to it and inculcated into it before we have any choice. Social class itself is a complex series of interacting variables and influences far too complex for us to do it justice here, in this 3 part article I have merely tried to begin expanding how we think of social class, pardon yet another pun. Social class is worthy of consideration in considering potential causes of conflict, especially as power is distributed unequally in society. The process of social reproduction ensures that the uneven distribution of cultural capital remains relatively constant and self reinforcing. We speak in codes and live in tribes, we are generally physically identifiable by how we speak, act and look.

Erik was correct, social class matters, but understanding the process of how classes are created and recreated over generations matters too. Now is anyone ready for a discussion on social mobility?


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