Work and Leisure: The Role of Social Media in Upholding Neoliberal Capitalism

  1. Abstract 

This thesis will help us understand the link between attitudes towards work and how we spend our leisure time i.e., on social media. It also seeks to analyse how social media negatively impacts its users and how social media acts as a space to reinforce Neoliberal Capitalism through distraction and competition. The research identified how social media promotes unrealistic ideals and creates a skewed sense of reality. However, we will also consider the benefits of social media. As well as some solutions to resisting work through social media. For example, promoting rest as a form of resistance to capitalism and political formation. 

  1. Introduction 

2.1. Background  

Since the late 1970s, neoliberal ideas have increasingly guided the policies and practices of governments and other social institutions, and as a result, we have come to live in competition with ourselves, others, and our social world (Wilson, 2018), which can explain the inherently neoliberalist function of social media through distracting the masses against social inequalities, so they do not question their subordination, as well as encouraging consumers to compete with one another through models of tracking and surveillance and strive to be more productive members of society. 

Social media is a place that promotes ‘Hustle Culture’, which is a relatively new phenomena, but it is built around ideas of meritocracy and how working hard equates to moral value and good character. Fundamentally, “hustle culture is about work dominating your time in such an unnatural way that we have no time to live our lives” (Ryle in Gibson, 2021). So, this obsession with work has reflected in other areas of our life, for example, hobbies and self-care.
2.2. Research Aims: 

Apart from my interest, I chose to investigate the topic ‘hustle culture’ because it is a relatively recent phenomenon that lacks a wide range of literature. Even though, concepts and critiques of capitalism, work, and leisure date back to ancient and feudal societies. The consideration of how social media plays a role in reinforcing Neoliberal Capitalism is more recent, due to Neoliberal thought only being implemented in the UK government in the 1980s and the introduction of social media platforms occurring in the early to mid-2000s. The works of Wilson (2018) and Harfoush (2019) have been useful in helping us understand the connection between neoliberalism, work, leisure, and social media throughout this thesis. This thesis aims to contribute to this knowledge and build on the work of traditional and contemporary Marxists such as Adorno, Weber, Marx, Bauman, Foucault, and Lyon, whilst looking into concepts such as Surveillance, Scientific Management, the Protestant Work Ethic, Meritocracy, as well as psychoanalytical considerations such as desire, cognitive dissonance, and other factors why individuals use social media, that are not driven by capitalism. 

This Thesis aims to investigate:  

  • How have we become to hold the meritocratic beliefs that we do?
  • Does social media intentionally or unintentionally reinforces Neoliberal Capitalism? 
  • Is social media the most formidable opponent in promoting hustle culture?

2.3. Methodology 

I will be using qualitative secondary research methods (desk-based), which means using pre-existing data and literature to ground my arguments, instead of collecting my own research (primary). In secondary research, you can explore a broad range of data sources such as legal systems, forms of educational practice, personal narratives found within social media, paintings, artefacts, news media and so on because the list is endless (Largan et al., 2019). In my case, I plan to focus on my case study of social media (narrowed down to selected Instagram accounts and images), while taking on a theory-based analysis of these examples (Marxist approach). I chose this method over primary research, as I thought it would be interesting to re-read the works of traditional and neo-Marxists in the contemporary context of the digital age and Neoliberalism. And develop my critical thinking skills, research skills and communication skills (Largan et al., 2019). Even though it could have been helpful to gather my own qualitative research, for example, through online surveys or in-depth interviews, I felt my topic would be better suited to a desk-based thesis and it was more feasible to do so. I am interested in seeing how social media plays a role in reinforcing neoliberalism, which would be hard to do by methods such as surveys, as participants may be unaware of this complex and nuanced function of social media, and therefore it would result in unreliable results. 

In desk-based research, you must first decide and define your research topic then find and collect existing data on your topic, combine data and analyse the results further. I gathered external secondary research such as government statistics, media stories, social media images, online journal articles and company reports, at a broad range before narrowing down my focus (Largan et al., 2019). For example, psychological studies on attitudes towards work and education, the gendered division of work within the workplace and case studies from the Japanese workforce. The sources I gathered were credible and trustworthy, for example, from well-renowned academics, sociologists, and psychologists. Some advantages to using secondary research include easily and readily available data that saves you time and low to no financial costs (Largan et al., 2019). Personally, I paid for a subscription to Perlego, which is an online library, and office supplies for notetaking and organising research. But this was not a substantial barrier. However, to carry out desk-based research, you need to do a lot of reading and planning. So, I could have organised my time better and accounted for technical issues with my computer. Finally, some secondary research sources can provide statistics that are representative to the society we are studying, which makes it more convenient (Largan et al., 2019), especially for university students who have other responsibilities. Some limitations to my method include personal influence on my data selection. When choosing my secondary sources, such as case studies, images, and literature, I was choosing sources that backed up the arguments that I wanted to make. However, this was mainly due to my research aims and topic and not due to personal belief and bias influencing my actions. As throughout my analysis, I attempt to counter the Marxist critiques with psychoanalytic considerations and show the positive side of social media. 

  1. Ethical Considerations 

In terms of ethics, there were not many ethical considerations I had to consider during all stages of the research process. However, there is still a need to engage in ethical behaviour because we all have ‘ethical and moral responsibilities as researchers’ (Mauthner, 2012 Largan et al., 2019). Due to the nature of my project, my research proposal was considered low risk, since I did not plan to use live participants during my research. But, throughout my research and writing process, I took into consideration the three main ethical considerations, which are informed consent, anonymity, and confidentiality (Largan et al., 2019). Since I was using secondary sources, that I gained access to via my institution or were public access, for example, newspaper articles and public social media accounts. I did not need to acquire informed consent from a particular person. But I ensured to properly reference the sources and images I used to avoid copyright and plagiarism, and to give credit to the creators. Since I was accessing online spaces in my analysis, I took into consideration the anonymity, and confidentiality of the account users. Fortunately, both users’ accounts were already anonymous with no details linking them to other accounts, which shows that they will not be impacted by the arguments made in this thesis as their identity is hidden. 

  1. Chapter 1: History and Context 

In this chapter, I will be touching upon cultural, economic, political, and societal factors that have contributed to a society (American and Western European) that is obsessed with work and productivity. To understand this, firstly, it is essential to look back on the emergence of capitalism, meritocratic values and the concepts of work and leisure time, as it provides the history and context to create a base for our arguments. However, we will only touch upon the emergence of modern capitalism, as a recollection of the whole history is unnecessary and unfeasible. Furthermore, we will discuss how social media acts as a tool to reproduce meritocratic values and has contributed to the emergence of the new phenomenon of ‘hustle culture’. 

3.1. The Emergence of Capitalism

Early forms of capitalism date back to Feudal societies in the eleventh century, as well as in other civilizations from all corners of the globe, which was shown through the organisation of production, forced labour and the extortion of surplus labour to serve an exalted landlord (Beaud, 1983, p. 17). Whereas modern capitalism consists of a relatively free exchange of goods in markets, the separation of business activity from household activity, and the systematic organisation of work where workers are legally free rather than enslaved and profit is pursued in a regular and continuous fashion (Weber, 2013, p. xvii). This journey to modern capitalism consists of a complex and interlocking process that involved the formation of the merchant and banking bourgeoisies, the establishment of modern states, the expansion of trade and domination on a world scale and new modes of production (Beaud, 1983, p. 43). During the nineteenth century, it was through the establishment of mechanised industries that the capitalist mode of production was extended. For example, in Britain from 1750 to 1880, the cotton, iron and railroad industries were growing at a propelling rate, which allowed mechanisation to reach its full potential for productive output and employment of a plentiful, cheap, and disarmed labour force, so production levels increased dramatically (Beaud, 1983, p. 84). These societal shifts such as industrialisation, urbanisation and secularisation paved the way for modern capitalism as we know it and reinforced social stratification and hierarchy on the grounds of ascribed status and class, as the proletariat were the ones who worked in manual labour, whereas the bourgeoisie owned and controlled the means of production. Marx believed that work is degrading, monotonous, and suitable for machines rather than free creative people. In the end, he believed the system has turned people into robot-like mechanisms that have lost touch with human nature and that make decisions based on cold profit-and-loss considerations and concluded that capitalism blocks our capacity to create our own humane society (Prychitko, 2018). 

3.2. The Protestant Work Ethic 

According to Weber, religious belief influenced work habits and approaches to business, which inspired him to investigate the difference between Protestants and Catholics. Weber found that Protestants, specifically Calvinists (16th-17th century), believed that a precise number of people could assume a space in Heaven if they could master their selfish deeds and lead dignified lives shaped by God’s commandments (Weber, 2013, p. 70). One clear indication was that individuals were actively contributing to their community through work because God “willed” and desired them to do so (Weber, 2013, p. 34). Therefore, if you engaged in work, you were respected throughout the community and believed to be of good character (Weber, 2013, p. 13-14), which shows how work played a central role in the formulation of self-worth and identity. Calvinists fulfilled this through building businesses that generated wealth and reinvesting surplus back into the economy, which shows that religion played a significant role in the growth of modern capitalism across Northern Europe (Weber, 2013, p. 47). Weber’s Protestant Work Ethic fuelled and helped generate individualised forms of capital, with a goal of celebrity, virtue, and wealth (Littler, 2018, p. 29), which links closely to meritocratic values, as meritocracy is the idea that whatever your social position at birth, society ought to offer enough opportunity and mobility to ‘rise to the top’ based on your effort and talent alone (Littler, 2018, p. 1). However, social mobility is not always possible, as some people face inequality in opportunity or inequality of outcome. For example, an intersectional experience of oppressive systems such as capitalism, imperialism, and racism, causes people to ‘start’ at different levels in society due to their inequalities or privilege. 

3.3. Scientific Management 

Taylorism was introduced in the early 1900s, as the president of Bethlehem Steel hired Frederick W. Taylor to improve operations and increase profits at his Pennsylvania mills. At the time, Taylor thought that if machines could be optimised for better performance, then so could the workers (Harfoush, 2019). To achieve this, Taylor timed workers as they completed individual tasks and broke down these tasks into micro-actions. Then, workers were assigned to certain tasks based on their skills and expected to perform them in a highly specific and standardised way (Harfoush, 2019). Taylor believed that workers were primarily motivated by money, so he introduced the concept of a ‘fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work’ in which workers’ wage was directly related to their output (Harfoush, 2019). Workers who were eager to implement his system and increase their output were described by him as ‘first-class men’, (Harfoush, 2019), which created a sense of superiority and higher moral value for those who were more efficient and productive in the workplace. One problem with this method was that it gave the working class no option but to conform to mundane and unfulfilling forms of work to get paid enough to buy essentials to survive. It also treated workers like cogs in a machine with the sole purpose of generating a profit and may have led to workers feeling a lack of individuality or power. Taylor’s legacy lives on in management science today, especially around such concepts as efficiency, standardisation of best practices, knowledge transfer between management and labour and a focus on metric-based operational decision-making (Harfoush, 2019). His work would lead to the development of the Gantt chart, which was a way to visualise workflow and task components (Harfoush, 2019). This method for measuring productivity, and morality as a secondary thought, is problematic because it may not be feasible for some to work every day, or at all, for example, those with disabilities such as chronic fatigue or autism. It also ignores the gendered division of labour because women are more likely to shoulder the responsibility of unpaid work such as childcare and household chores. This is shown in a 2015 study when women aged 26 to 35 in the UK did on average 34.6 hours per week of unpaid work compared to 17.4 hours for men, which included housework, childcare, laundry, and volunteering (Women’s Budget Group, 2015, pp. 1-2). Furthermore, women are more likely to work part-time or have flexible working patterns, as well as earn less than men. For example, the median weekly pay for female full-time employees was £558 in April 2021, compared to £652 for male full-time employees (Irvine, 2022, p. 4). Therefore, deriving a moral value based on what we are giving back to the economy and how productive we are is not accurate or fair, as it makes certain groups appear ‘less than’ those who partake in standard working patterns with longer hours and more pay. 

3.4. The American Dream Ideal 

Taylorism piggybacked on ideals of The American Dream Ideal (Harfoush, 2019), as this was developed in the 1930s by James Truslow and is the idea that every citizen of the US should have an equal opportunity to achieve success and prosperity through hard work, determination, and initiative (Churchwell, 2021). So, essentially, Americans understood the American Dream as the fulfilment of the promise of meritocracy (McNamee and Miller, 2009 in Littler, 2018, p. 26). Weber would see these pivotal features of American society as secularised legacies of ascetic Protestantism, as Americans began to reject the social order of aristocracy through heredity privilege and strived to work hard through the Protestant Work Ethic (Littler, 2018, pp. 26-27). As well as these underlying ideals, the economic and political climate in the early to mid-1900s meant that working hard was often a necessity and not just because ‘hard workers’ were praised and assumed to be people of good character (Harfoush, 2019). The aftermath of multiple World Wars and The Great Depression on the American economy meant that workers from the relatively large boomer generation had to compete for limited jobs and invest more time and energy to secure their jobs (Harfoush, 2019). So, these attitudes to working hard because you ‘had’ to and working hard because it directly links to your moral value were passed down through the generations and reinforced through family socialisation, which shows a family is an important apparatus in reproducing and reinforcing values that benefit capitalism. According to a 2017 study, young adults today still hold high meritocratic values for themselves and others, despite it being more difficult for young adults to enter the labour market, pursue their chosen careers and become financially independent (Shane, et al., 2017). For example, believing their work ethic will determine how far up the social ladder they climb, as well as believing other people are at the top of the ladder due to their hard work, skills, and ability to achieve (Shane, et al., 2017, pp. 42-43). Participants in this study are American university students from a range of backgrounds and age groups, so it is helpful to see whether one’s gender, race and ethnicity influenced their meritocratic beliefs, which did not seem to have an effect. However, this study is not representative of American society as the sample consisted of mostly Asian students (45.6%), but Asian Americans take up 7% of the US population (Budiman, 2021). Furthermore, assessed participants did not encounter the most severe consequences of the Great Recession and the results did not show if economic recessions have an impact on young people’s meritocratic beliefs (Shane, et al., 2017, p. 47), which could be because Millennials and Gen Z were raised in a world where they were told repeatedly that they could become anything they wanted and were deserving of success. We were also raised within a cultural narrative that assumed unlimited growth and consumption and that everyone could have access to upward socioeconomic mobility (Harfoush, 2019). However, this narrative places the responsibility solely on the individual and disregards any socio-economic constraints that may impact one’s upwards mobility. Over time, the American Dream Ideal became synonymous with material success and invoked symbols of the nuclear family, a car, house, and white picket fence (Churchwell, 2021), which was perpetuated heavily through media advertising at the time to reinforce gender norms and encourage consumers to spend in their leisure time. This shows how the centrality of work in our daily language and lives is pervasive: as we arrange ‘working lunches’, we ‘work out’ daily, we ‘work’ on love, our relationships, and our personalities (Weber, 2013, p. 13). Overall, we see the importance of culture and family in reinforcing the importance of working hard and how ingrained ‘work’ is in Western society. 

3.5. Neoliberalism 

In simple terms, neoliberalism is a set of social, cultural, and political-economic forces that puts competition at the centre of social life i.e., competition with one another, us, and the social world. In the neoliberal imagination, social infrastructures, such as social security, unemployment benefits, and public education, are believed to suppress entrepreneurialism and individualism and breed dependency and bureaucracy (Wilson, 2018). Whereas competition is believed to ensure efficiency, incite creativity, and make sure the best people make it to the top. Put a little differently, neoliberalism aims to create a market-based society, where there are individual liberties, property rights and free markets (Wilson, 2018). These ideologies were reinforced by UK and US governments in the late 1970s and 1980s. During this period, Thatcher promoted ideals of competition, individualism, and meritocracy through policies such as The 1988 Education Reform Act which introduced SATs tests, league tables and the national curriculum (Education Reform Act 1988). Generation X, who came of age during Thatcher’s reign, was deeply impacted by her governance style and industrial policy, especially those from a working-class background (Weatherburn, 2018). Even though, Millennials were the first generation to prioritise a work-life balance compared to previous generations (Kowske et al., 2010) and did not experience the introduction of her policy. The neoliberal agenda of competition and meritocracy lives on in all facets of our society such as the conservative policies, media advertising, the welfare system, education, and public opinion. For example, Millennials and Gen Z have been brought up in a system that rewards those who work the hardest, monitors progress and encourages us to compete with one another. This has led young people to believe their worth comes from academic attainment and work. So, they will question their value if they are unproductive or ‘lazy’ and blame themselves for failure instead of socio-political issues, which have only been exacerbated by the introduction of social media as it acts as a space to judge others and compare yourself to them. Neoliberal ideology perpetuated through the government has been beneficial in upholding capitalism because it is used to justify how we are exploited through work, such as with long work hours and a minimum wage, which is not sufficient for rent prices. For example, conditions in the Global South ensure we accept our relatively well-off, overworked, and miserable life because “it could be worse” (Fleming, 2014, p. 128). This narrative is a significant part of hustle culture, as it encourages individuals to change their life if they are not happy with it, as ultimately the responsibility is on them to climb the social ladder. 

  1.  Work, Leisure, and Social Media

Before the arrival of capitalism, the average time spent working was about three days a week (Fleming, 2014, p. 128), as leisure time was seen as important for human flourishing whereas work was viewed as oppressive. The conditions of capitalism have reduced the classical understanding of leisure and now leisure is defined primarily in relation to production and consumption (Shippen, 2014, pp. 21-22). So, in modern society, we take time off work solely to restore our energy and prepare to return the next day. Therefore, time alone or time away from paid work does not necessarily equate to leisure (Shippen, 2014, p. 22). In the classical ideal of leisure, leisure was qualified as a free being who shapes their own life rather than being passively shaped around by a herd-like mentality (Shippen, 2014, p. 25). Such as the pursuit of an amateur, hobbyist or volunteer activity where individuals acquire new skills, knowledge, and experience (Stebbins, 1998 in Haworth et al., 2005, p. 10). When discussing work, we are bound to mention leisure as the way we spend our free time away from work, for example, using social media platforms such as Instagram, can shape our attitudes towards work and productivity and acts as a form of distraction to the oppressive system of neoliberal capitalism. Adorno’s work from 1941 is quite relevant here. He believed that people use their leisure time as an escape from the boredom of mundane work and anxieties at the time such as low income, unemployment, and war (Adorno, 1941, pp. 205-209) so they were more likely to indulge in ‘non-productive’ activities such as watching TV and listening to popular music, as little effort and attention is required to follow along due to standardisation (Adorno, 1941, pp. 200-201). Adorno argued that the entertainment industry maintains its hold on the masses through distraction and inattention – “listeners are distracted from the demands of reality by entertainment which does not demand attention either” (Adorno, 1941, p. 202). His argument around leisure time is relevant to contemporary society because the technological advancements and modern-day strains such as austerity, flexible work contracts, in-work poverty, and more recently, COVID, have led most people to turn to their gadgets as an escape from the demands of capitalism. We see how social media has a neoliberal capitalist function regarding distraction, as it ensures that consumers remain passive and continue to get up for work every day without question. 

  1. Chapter 2: Marxist Critique of Social Media 

Thus far, we have gone over how religion, cultural ideals, the family, and neoliberalism have all played a role in reinforcing the importance of working hard. However, during my analysis, I am more concerned with how social media, particularly Instagram, acts as a platform to promote the neoliberalist agenda intentionally or unintentionally through the glamorisation of overwork and ‘hustle culture’. For example, we are prompted by images and videos of hyper productive daily routines, ‘from rags to riches’ narratives and quotes, which puts the responsibility on the individual to be a more productive member of society. To ground my analysis, I will focus on a selected few accounts, such as @themillionairefinancee and @work_hard_ethic. Furthermore, I will focus on the physicality of social media, i.e., Instagram’s algorithm and features, which create a space for surveillance, tracking, distraction, and comparison. 

4.1. The Power of Social Media   

4.1.1 Surveillance and Tracking 

Instagram is a free photo and video sharing application where people can upload photos or videos and share them with their followers or with a select group of friends. They can also view, comment and like posts shared by their friends (Instagram Help Centre, 2022). Some other features include like and reaction buttons, showing the number of followers you have, live streams, and the ability to comment. And for business accounts, seeing if anyone has shared or saved your post or skipped/replayed your story shows how we are constantly being watched or watching others on social media. So, social media is designed to judge others, compare ourselves to them and upload content to receive necessary critiques or validation and alter our behaviour. This links to the Panopticon prison plan concept formed by Bentham (semi-circle layout of cell blocks, with an inspector in the middle, who could see into any cell but remain invisible to inmates behind a blind) as prisoners had to always conform to the rules because they did not know when they were being observed and when they were not (Bauman and Lyon, 2013, p. 11). But, this principle has been applied to a broader context, such as modern power and maintenance of class distinctions and hierarchies in homes, schools, and workplaces (Bauman and Lyon, 2013, p. 13). Regarding social media, users freely participate in this ‘show and tell’ culture by updating their accounts daily with filtered photos and videos of what they are doing, what they are eating and places they have been, painting an image of an ideal and productive lifestyle, that all need some type of economic capital, i.e., money from working hard, to achieve. Users carefully select and upload images based on how they are expected to appear rather than who they are, which shows how social media acts as a space for performance, competition, and validation from others instead of its intended purpose of social interaction in the digital age. Most social media users may have 500, 1,000 or even 5,000 ‘friends’ or followers, but most of these are mere voyeurs looking into your daily life (Bauman and Lyon, 2013, p. 42). The introduction of social media has been beneficial for social interaction, but it has resulted in a society with little privacy and anonymity (Bauman and Lyon, 2013, pp. 12-14). We are constantly being watched and perceived. Therefore, we need to alter our behaviour to conform to what is acceptable or ‘trendy’. 

Productive_app (2021) ‘About App’ [Instagram]. Graphical user interface, application

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Productive_app (2021) ‘Track Your Productivity and Get Tips on How to Improve it’ [Instagram]. 

Concerning productivity and work, some pages and posts provide ‘advice’ on how to be more productive and be more efficient with your time while promoting an application or product that claims to solve the consumers’ problems or feeds into their insecurities. For example, the account @productive_app on Instagram uploads ‘motivating’ content and promotes their app called Productive, which claims to be a personal assistant for building daily habits and achieving one’s goals. Even though, at first glance, this seems harmless and beneficial for users. It reinforces the idea that productivity and working hard to achieve ‘our’ goals are what we should be striving for. This shows how Taylor’s Scientific Management has lived on in the contemporary cultural psyche. We are relentlessly encouraged to track bodily processes, moods, steps, sleep, caloric intake, etc., to calibrate the body for optimal outcomes (Wilson, 2018). In turn, this makes participants obsessed with outperforming themselves and others, which shows how social media unintentionally reinforces neoliberalism, “as one’s performance and wellness can be simultaneously gauged and guided by the data gathered about oneself through constant self-surveillance of one body” (Wilson, 2018). We believe that by streamlining our tasks and obligations, we will be rewarded more time we can use for other, more meaningful pursuits (Harfoush, 2019). Our obsession with tracking could be a subconscious desire to regain control under a system that grants us little and controls all aspects of our everyday lives. We believe if we make our daily habits more efficient and streamlined, we can achieve what we set our minds to. 

On the other hand, if we are choosing to follow these accounts then it is most likely because we already hold preconceived neoliberal beliefs, i.e., that being a productive member of society is a goal worth aspiring towards. According to Rose, the internet does not steal our humanity; it reflects it. So, social media only provides users with a platform to portray and confirm their existing ideologies. However, it is essential to consider that social media platforms have ulterior motives. For example, Instagram algorithms distribute their feed with the most popular or ‘boosted’ (paid) posts at the top instead of in chronological order (Instagram Help Centre, 2022), which shows what content we see and when we see it, is being manipulated. It is beneficial for Instagram to push the smaller accounts that are encouraging people to limit their social media usage and partake in more productive leisure time activities such as reading, writing and meditation, to the bottom. As it means they can prioritise pushing advertised content or content that encourages us to continue scrolling at the top, which leads us to the next topic of social media’s function of distraction and consumption. 

4.1.2. Distraction and Consumption 

If we take into account the lifestyle of an average American over the age of 16: 

  • 8 hours 27 minutes of sleep 
  • 4 hours 44 minutes of leisure and sports 
  • 4 hours 29 minutes hours of work
  • 1 hour 38 minutes on household activities
  • 1 hour 11 minutes of eating and drinking
  • 47 minutes of grooming and dressing
  • 41 minutes of purchasing goods and services
  • 36 minutes on educational activities
  • 36 minutes caring for children
  • 15 minutes on organisational or religious activities 

(Blackstone and Lubin, 2012)

We see that mundane tasks, sleep and work take up almost 22 hours of our day, leaving us little time to relax or partake in meaningful leisure time. These statistics are quite outdated, so we can assume that with changes in society, such as the introduction of new technologies and social media platforms, Americans are likely to use their free time partaking in activities such as watching TV and using social media. Recent statistics showed that 16 to 24-year-olds spend a median of 3 hours a day on social media, and adults between the ages of 25 and 34 use social media for 2 hours and 37 minutes each day (Georgiev, 2022), which could be because “behind every screen on your phone, there are generally like literally a thousand engineers that have worked on this thing to try to make it maximally addicting” (Wansbrough, 2020). As mentioned in Chapter 1, social media can distract the masses from the demands of reality through entertainment, which does not demand attention either (Adorno, 1941, p. 202). Furthermore, Adorno and Horkheimer believed that mass media is used to manipulate the masses. It is an invading force that pervades our everyday lives, leading to factory-styled standardisation and subordination (Wansbrough, 2020). In relation to social media, if we spend a considerable amount of time scrolling through Instagram, less time is spent thinking critically about the system we live in. For example, the majority of people do not ask questions such as ‘why do we work long hours for minimum wage?’ and ‘why are we expected to work every day until the age of 65?’, which links to the ‘Drip-Drip Effect’, because the more time people spend using their free-time consuming media, the more likely they are to internalise character portrayals and perceive the world by this internalisation (Preiss et al., 2011). For example, if we are fed the narrative that work is a natural part of society, that we must work hard in order to achieve our goal of upwards mobility and working hard has a direct correlation with moral value. If we disregard the economic necessity to work (survival), one explanation for this narrative is that work today is a rather extreme ritual linked to a dying capitalist project (Fleming, 2014, p. 128). A lot of people are living in a state of passivity, which links to the traditional Marxist theory of False Class Consciousness, as the proletariat accepts their exploitation under capitalism as normal and unavoidable (Eyerman, 1981).  However, traditional Marxists give the masses little credit by viewing them as passive bystanders. In contemporary society, the majority are aware of the system we live in. But they choose to accept it because they cannot imagine an alternative or the alternative is viewed as worse i.e., fascism or socialism. So instead, they distract themselves with numbing activities in their leisure time to protect their mental wellbeing. This links to cognitive dissonance theory, as this is the idea that people feel discomfort if there are inconsistencies between their knowledge, beliefs, and opinions with their actions. According to Festinger, some ways to relieve this discomfort are through moving an opinion to fit your behaviours, adopting opinions that fit your behaviours or reducing the importance of the involved elements (1962), which transpires through contributing to upholding neoliberal capitalism through competing with peers, using social media, consumption, and work, despite disagreeing with the system. This awareness somehow grants individuals a sense of superiority and distance from the oppressive nature of capitalism. One of the supposed advantages of the free market is that it delivers what we want and crave (Wansbrough, 2020), which is reinforced through targeted advertisements based on search history and cookies, as they lure us to consume in our leisure time and deposit funds back into the economy. This shows how social media is beneficial for neoliberal capitalism. However, although social media acts as a space to distract us, ensuring we continue going to work. Our time and attention have been commodified by TV channels, search engines and social media platforms (Barrett, 2017), which shows that social media may be damaging to individual efficiency and productivity because they are designed to be addictive. 

4.2. Hustle Culture 

In this section, we will explore examples from the Instagram accounts: @themillionairefinancee and @work_hard_ethic to show how social media glamorises overworking, entrepreneurial ventures and celebrities who have ‘risen to the top’, and consequently reinforces neoliberal capitalism. Also, I calculated the number of posts that came up in Instagram’s search bar in relation to work, productivity and hustle, which are shown down below and we see how this ideology takes up a lot of space in the digital world. And therefore, space within our lives due to the average time we spend on social media. 

Instagram Search Bar ~ 8 April 2022:

  • 4,573,664 posts that mentioned #productivity, not forgetting thousands more with similar words such as ‘productive’. 
  • 48,831,347 posts that mentioned #hustle, not forgetting thousands more with similar words such as ‘hustling’, ‘grind’ and ‘grinding’. 
  • 40,297,903 posts that mentioned #hardwork, not forgetting thousands more with syntax and lexical differences such as #workhard. 
  • 36,894,256 posts that mentioned #nevergiveup, excluding those that were not in relation to working hard to achieve your dreams and goals. 

(Instagram, 2022) 


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  themillionairefinancee (2022) Graphical user interface, application

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Work_ethic_mindset (2021)A person sitting on a couch

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These images/accounts are reinforcing ideals of meritocracy. For example, they give the impression that success is solely based on your merit, skills, and hard work alone. In these ‘rags to riches’ narratives, they use extreme and rare cases of billionaires such as Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, Mark Zuckerberg, who has the most powerful social network in the world and Elon Musk (Harfoush, 2019). These stories hit all the right notes: Work Devotion, sacrifice, struggle, unrelenting focus, and the rewards of unimaginable material wealth. But, most importantly, they make us believe in meritocracy and whisper about our own potential (Harfoush, 2019), which may result in working long hours to achieve a distorted version of what success and happiness look like. For example, striving toward superficial and material success such as a nice car, nice clothes, and a nice house. Throughout these accounts, they mostly used examples of white male celebrities as a symbol of success and hard work. But it is not realistic for everyone to achieve their goals without facing barriers along the way or other responsibilities. For example, if you are disabled or experiencing poverty. Outdated gender norms play a role in our views towards work and productivity, as working patterns during the 1900s were created around the assumption that someone was at home doing the chores and housework. However, in contemporary society, it is unrealistic to ‘do it all’, as most people work full time and have other responsibilities such as childcare, so you would not have the time or energy to take on much more responsibility, let alone a ‘billionaires’ daily routine’ or side hustles. These images create an unrealistic standard to live up to, which may result in viewers questioning their self-worth. If we take a closer look at the link between gender and work, there could be a reason why overworking is more common amongst men. According to Sallee, the ‘ideal worker’, is a male worker, as the notion of the ideal worker was built around the idea that the worker has unlimited time to give to work with no distractions at home. This could explain the gendered division of labour, as women reported spending 33.5 hours per week with their children, compared to men’s 20.3 hours (Sallee, 2011, pp. 785-786). And even though organisational policy allows men to take paternity leave, there is still stigma and judgement around men using them (p. 788). So, most of the time, men will continue working even after their child is born and they experience signs of burnout, which shows the neoliberal hate towards ‘laziness’ and gender norms are deeply ingrained into our society and perpetuated through social media. Overall, the modern interpretation of the American Dream —specifically, getting rich quick— has distorted our expectations of reality and collectively disappointed a generation who expected success as a given (Harfoush, 2019). 

  1. Chapter 3: Discussion (Plan/Unfinished)
    So far, we have addressed the power social media holds over its users i.e., through surveillance, tracking, distraction, and consumption, as well as the ways in which it promotes a hustle culture that inherently benefits neoliberal capitalism. But it is important to consider the benefits of social media, such as freedom of self-expression, social solidarity, and political organising, as well as some psychoanalytic considerations that counter our Marxist critique of social media. For example, our desires are constructed through the human psyche and not solely under the conditions of capitalism. Furthermore, we will consider cultural differences, to see whether this obsession with work is solely under the consideration of neoliberal capitalism in the West, or if it is a worldwide phenomenon. 

5.1.  The Bright Side of Social Media 

Despite the obvious downfalls to social media that we have mentioned. It isn’t all bad. Social media can be a space for self-expression and interaction, where consumers can be active agents of choice, they can choose how to express themselves, which they may not be able to do in real life. 

  • We choose to use social media: agency and self-expression. Social media companies are responding to the needs of consumers and not the other way around. 
  • Social media can be used to spread awareness of how toxic hyper-productivity and hustle culture is and how this links to capitalism e.g. The Nap Ministry on Instagram talks about ‘Rest as Resistance’ (The Nap Ministry, 2021) Social media is a space for activism and for political organising. 
  • Social interaction, solidarity and building a digital ‘community’ in a globalised society (Durkheim). 
  1. Psychoanalytical Considerations
  • Case study: Workaholics Anonymous founded in 1983 by Dan, a recovering workaholic (Singer, 1991). There are other reasons why people use social media often / work too much: family socialisation, as a coping mechanism for mental health issues or some people have more addictive personalities compared to others.
  • Desire: “Our desires, wants and interests are not merely created by and catered to under neoliberal capitalism” (Wansbrough, 2020, p. 40). Innate human desires – Human beings are social creatures. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, human needs can be depicted by five hierarchical levels within a pyramid – halfway up the pyramid there is ‘belongingness and love needs’ which is one of our psychological human needs. Examples of this include friendship, intimacy, affection, and acceptance, which are essential to motivate our behaviour (Edgley, 2020, p. 215-216) and (McLeod, 2020). This shows that our motivation behind social media usage and working is because we desire to feel connected to one another and they both play an important part in self-actualisation and feeling a sense of purpose and identity. Consider ‘The Lost Object of Desire’ (Lacan) and Zizek. 
  1. Cultural Differences 
    • Japan Case Study of Japanese Workers (Singer, 1991). It is common in Japanese culture to work 15-hour days. Widows of men who die on the job get a cash bonus known as ‘karoshi’, which means ‘worked to death and died like an ox’. This shows that the obsession with work and productivity may be a worldwide phenomenon, and not just related to neoliberal influence in Western societies. 
    • Nordic Countries – Importance of family, minimal work, and rest e.g. Swedish corporations have become more encouraging of men taking paternity leave (Sallee, 2011, p. 786). Statistically happiest countries in the world with the lowest crime rates (Norway), which shows that living in a capitalist system and the conditions of work are detrimental to our wellbeing. Mentioned increased suicide rates in the UK and link to Durkheim’s concept of Anomie (living to work with no social bonds can lead to suicide). 
  1. Conclusion 

In conclusion, we have discussed the history and context of the emergence of meritocratic values, which was through cultural ideals, family socialisation, government, and scientific management. These beliefs lived on in the cultural psyche and were reinforced through social media. This was shown through Adorno’s (1941) work on how mass media has a function of distracting the masses from reality through content that does not require much attention. Bauman, and Lyon’s (2013) work to show how social media acts as a place for surveillance, as we are constantly being watched and watching others, which leads to creating an idealised version of ourselves online and acting in ways that conform to cultural and societal norms. Also, we see how social media glamorises hyper productivity and overwork through the idealisation of celebrities and their ‘rags to riches’ narratives. 

Despite the hold that social media has on us. Consumers can be creators as well and use the platform to their advantage. For example, The Nap Ministry on Instagram, promotes the idea that rest is our divine right and how ‘proclaiming you are a workaholic is not a flex’ (The Nap Ministry, 2021). And this rest alone, acts as a resistance to capitalism, which shows the power social media has in activism, education, and political formation. Most social media users are aware of its addictive features, which is why a lot of them take the responsibility into their hands in setting limits and uploading genuine content. 

Social media was a formidable force in reinforcing Neoliberal agenda and hustle culture. But it is important to remember that social media is often a reflection of our beliefs, ideologies, and desires. And the accounts I focused on in my analysis were from ordinary users, which shows that these beliefs are ingrained in other structures in our society such as the family, government policy and the education system. However, this collection of work will be useful for future considerations around the link between attitudes towards word, how we spend our leisure time and Neoliberalism, as the digital world is still transforming.  


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The Dark Side of the Fashion Industry

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This essay will provide a sociological and criminological analysis of the fashion industry. More specifically, the social (macro and micro-scale) and environmental harms of fast fashion such as pollution, excessive water waste, poor working conditions and wages for workers, gender violence, overconsumption, and individuals’ mental health and beliefs. Fast fashion is a recent phenomenon that refers to the production and promotion of cheap and readily disposable clothes (Barn and Lea-Greenway, 2006 cited in Anguelov, 2015), which is made possible by exploitative labour practices and trends dictated and pushed by the industry. Despite fashion having numerous references to cultural norms, representations, consumption, social roles and demonstrating how the outside world shapes individual practice, it is often overlooked within the world of sociology (Jenss, 2015). However, fast fashion is relevant to criminology, especially green criminology, as the lines between social harm and crime have blurred within the discipline. Moreover, it is essential to consider harms generated through ‘legitimate’ markets and protected by law which, through the goods or services produced therein, are associated with consequences resembling those produced through acts or omissions that are criminalised (Canning, et al., 2021). For example, fast fashion impacts the mental health of its consumers depletes the Earth’s natural resources and upholds poverty and modern slavery within the third world. However, these violations are viewed as ‘legal’ due to local policies.

Firstly, we will delve into the social harms of the fast-fashion industry, focusing in on a micro approach, i.e., the promotion of fashion and how fast-fashion impacts consumers. Although discovering the ethical, social and environmental implications of the fast fashion industry has been easier due to globalisation and digitalisation. Most people still choose to partake in fast fashion, i.e., following the perpetual flow of trends, buying cheap clothing from large clothing corporations and throwing clothes away when these trends pass, or because the garment was not durable enough to last. So, it is important to consider the reasons behind this. Fast fashion would not be here today if not for the rise in consumerism in the 20th century. The 20th-century growth of capitalism, post-war economies of re-construction, and post-1950s expansionism were resource-hungry periods shaped by growth-oriented economic pressures and ideologies (Brisman and South, 2014). As the economy recovered in the post-war era, working-class lives were liberated from the back-breaking toil beset previous generations (Hall et al., 2020). Individuals had the means to invest in technological advancements, cosmetics and clothing, instead of focusing solely on necessities such as food. The media (magazine and TV advertising) was a formidable force in increasing sales because they constructed consumers’ needs and fed on anxieties and insecurities. This led to a shift in what success and the American Dream looked like – there was a newfound value placed on material items, as one could showcase their wealth and status through what they wore, drove and ate (Brisman and South, 2014). The digital revolution has allowed large clothing corporations such as H&M, Zara and Nike, to promote their brands through online advertising instead. In the past, industry platforms in the fashion world had developed around eight traditional ‘seasons’—Spring, Summer I, Summer II, Fall, Trans-seasonal, Winter I, Winter II, and Holiday (Birnbaum, 2005 cited in Anguelov, 2015) and distributed trends through fashion magazine such as Vogue. But, today, 24 distinct ‘seasons’ exist, and trends are distributed via Instagram instead. The notion of ‘latest trends’ is at the core of fast fashion, as well as the rate of production being fast, the customer’s decision to purchase is fast and fast delivery (Crumbie, 2021). We discover these trends during our leisure time, which is now spent using social media and watching TV instead of traditional activities. This links to Lloyd’s concept of ‘commodified leisure’, as our leisure time has become a place for consumption, which has been made possible due to changing work patterns and increased leisure time as a result. In 2019, Common Sense Media found that the average American teenager spent an astonishing 7 hours 22 minutes looking at screens, not including homework-related reasons (Rideout and Robb, 2019). So, we are encouraged to shop through clothing promotions and ads based on customers’ history during our leisure time. As well as the ease of online shopping and features such as Klarna, which allow you to ‘have it now, pay later. These advertising tactics and the velocity of fashion effectively encourage consumers to overconsume because humans have an innate desire and social pressure to conform to the herd. Cultivation Theory suggests how the media, cultivates the viewers’ mind over long periods, especially heavy media viewers. Gerbner et al., believed this was due to the repetitive nature of media messages and children’s susceptibility (1986, cited in Laughey, 2007). We are susceptible to these media messages because advertisers often draw on basic human needs, as well as false needs that have been constructed by cultural capital. Maslow’s theory of motivation examines five basic human needs, which include: physiological needs such as water, hunger and sex; safety needs such as a safe, predictable and organised environment; love needs such as affection and feeling of belongingness, esteem needs such as a stable firmly based high evaluation of ourselves, and finally, the need for self-actualisation (Maslow, 2019). For the most part, we subconsciously associate the general appearance of these fashion ads with ideals around happiness and success. So, we believe that material items will fill our void and make us happy, which only contributes to the cycle of fast fashion and the culture of overconsumption. Drawing on human desire and insecurity explains how the global fashion industry draws in $3 trillion annually (Morgan, 2015). This links to the concept of ‘conspicuous consumption, as individuals buy trending clothes to appear fashionable, wealthy, and avoid judgement from others (Bagwell et al., 1996). We see how the fast-fashion industry has been harmful to individuals for multiple reasons. For example, constant inward surveillance and comparison to others, unrealistic body ideals presented by fashion models and heavily edited advertisements can cause mental health, body and self-esteem issues. The fast-fashion industry perpetuates a cycle of unrealistic body ideals, as Instagram influencers and microcelebrities are paid to promote clothing brands and often conform to contemporary body ideals that are usually achieved through cosmetic surgery. Due to how often Instagram’s algorithm shows us these images and Instagram influencers seeming more like us than highfashion models, individual’s, especially young women, are more likely to compare their bodies and lives to those they see online. This would be in line with social comparison theory (Festinger, 1954) which suggests that individuals have a higher tendency to compare themselves to someone if they feel they are perceived to be more like themselves and if the body ideal is perceived as personally more attainable (Bauer, 2020). One fast-fashion brand that has been criticised for its unrealistic body and beauty ideals is the American brand Fashion Nova. Images on their website portray models with characteristics such as curves, flat stomach, large breasts, light skin, no body hair and big lips, which were most likely achieved through heavy editing and cosmetic surgery. A lot of the time, women compare themselves to these images despite knowing what they see is not real. However, some are people are more impressionable and may resort to disordered eating behaviours or cosmetic surgery to achieve this ‘thin-ideal’. According to a study by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, there were 12,000 more liposuction procedures performed in 2018 than in 2017, while breast augmentations increased by 4% (Powell, 2019). Furthermore, according to Google keyword data, ‘BBL’ (Brazilian Butt Lift) was searched roughly 200,000 times per month between January and May 2021, despite having the highest mortality rate across all cosmetic surgeries (Ellin, 2021). This shows the number of people unhappy with their bodies and prepared to do anything to live up to the ideals reinforced through fast fashion company advertising. Other brands such as Forever 21 have been praised for their expansive plus size range and representation of diverse body types. However, in 2019 they were accused of body shaming and encouraging eating disorders when they sent Atkins meal replacement bars alongside their online orders (Fieldstadt, 2019). Despite the social harms that fast fashion can cause on the consumer. Social media can be a platform to spread awareness and online activism, such as the Fashion Revolution Instagram page. They aim to inform people on sustainable and ethical fashion practices and value the worker and environment over financial profit (Instagram, 2022).

Now, let us move on to how the fast-fashion industry is causing harm on a macro scale, particular the social harm caused to women and children within garment industries in Asian countries such as India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Cambodia. Major western fastfashion retailers like H&M and Primark manufacture their clothing in sweatshops in developing countries such as Bangladesh to keep their prices low, give consumers cheap versions of what they see on the runway and make a mass profit. This is possible as there are over 40 million garment factory workers globally – 4 million of whom work in Bangladesh (Morgan, 2015). Although, giving jobs to those in developing countries can benefit individuals through building skills and is usually the ‘better’ alternative and benefitting the economy. There are many ethical and human rights issues within this industry that do not justify its continuation and are often hidden from customers due to legal loopholes. For example, sweatshops have unsafe and unhygienic working conditions, low wages as little as $2 a day, child workers, long hours with no breaks, and local governments may not follow labour laws such as minimum wages and working hours because they are desperate to keep export revenue from multinational retailers (Morgan, 2015). There have been many disasters caused within the garment industry. For example, the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh on 24 April 2013 collapsed due to structural unsafety. As factory owners ignored orders to evacuate and forced workers to continue working. The total death count was 1,134, leaving many more injured, which is the price that garment workers are paying for cheap clothing in the West (Morgan, 2015). This disaster was reported worldwide and became one of the first phenomenon’s that exposed the dangerous labour conditions within the garment industry. Despite this, little action has been taken by fast-fashion brands to push for better working conditions and living wages for their workers, as companies outsource their guilt by saying they are not responsible for conditions within the spinning mills and garment factories since they do not officially own the factories or employ workers (Morgan, 2015). We have seen resistance to the inhumane working conditions within sweatshops from workers worldwide, such as through strikes, protests and unions. For example, the Cambodian protests of 2014 – textile workers protested for higher minimum wages but were met with the police force, which resulted in three dead and several injured (BBC News, 2014). Resistance to these oppressive harms is often unsuccessful because the underlying capitalist ideologies are firmly rooted in our social paradigm and ultimately, building the economy means more to the bourgeoisie than human life. This is reinforced through the failed protests because half a million Cambodians work in the garment industry, a significant part of the national income (BBC News, 2014). So, multinational retailers take advantage of this, knowing that developing countries have no other option but to keep wages low and ignore local labour laws (Morgan, 2015). This is known as globalised production, as the production of most goods have been sourced to lowcost economies where wages are low, so those at the top of the value chain can choose where their products are made and switch if they find somewhere cheaper (Morgan, 2015), which continues the cycle of fast fashion. Within the fast-fashion industry, we see the interconnection between many harms such as global inequality, poverty, modern slavery, gender violence and reinforcement of the Caste system within South Asia. Firstly, let’s focus on gender inequality and violence. Women and girls take up the majority demographic within the garment industry and often work unpaid overtime and under extreme pressure if they do not meet unreasonable production deadlines (Hodal, 2018). It is not uncommon for women and girls to receive daily verbal, sexual and physical assault – one anonymous woman stated, “[My] batch supervisor came up behind me as I was working on the sewing machine, yelling, ‘You are not meeting your target production.’ He pulled me out of the chair, and I fell on the floor. He hit me, including on my breasts. He pulled me up and then pushed me to the floor again [and] kicked me” (Hodal, 2018). Furthermore, there are 14.2 million slaves in India and 2.05 million in Pakistan (Global Slavery Index, 2020). A lot of which are women from a lower caste (Dalits and Shudras) who are subjected to modern slavery within the garment industry. Caste differentiation in Southern Asian countries is a form of social stratification that is ascribed intergenerationally and maintained through marriage and is still very much in place today (Jodhka, 2016). The fast-fashion industry reinforces this hidden apartheid by producing garments in sweatshops in developing countries, despite knowing how unethical it is. We see how the social harms related to fast fashion are organised and distributed unequally across the globe. For example, the bourgeoisie are perpetrators of these harms, but the third world suffers the consequences, highlighting the global divide between the North and South and East with West. This links to the risk society thesis because the nature of risks has changed – they are now socially mediated (manufactured by man instead of nature). They are often risks we cannot perceive in the present moment, i.e., the harms and risks associated with fast fashion can be hidden from the rest of the globe and often are. Alternatively, are projections of future risks such as depletion of natural resources (Beck, 1992). However, because the allocation of risk is unequal, there is still an overlap between the risk society and class society.

Finally, let us discuss the environmental and physical harms associated with fast fashion and the links to green criminology and crime. The fast-fashion industry has had a detrimental impact on the environment at every stage, from production, to transportation, packaging and ending with excessive piles of clothes in landfills. Fast fashion is depleting the earth’s natural resources by excessive water use, contributing to increased gas emissions, impacting soil and air clarity and leading to habitat degradation. However, weaving cotton into fabric is the most ecologically damaging industrial production link because of the chemical pollutants expelled in the liquid effluents that result from the runoff processes during textile manufacturing (Anguelov, 2015). Furthermore, the ecological damage from chemical pollution adds to a large global carbon footprint of high direct fuel costs and their indirect pollution impact in the form of CO2 emissions and, ultimately, climate change in the long term (Anguelov, 2015). In this section, I will focus on a few examples, such as the impact of the cotton industry, use of pesticides, chemicals and clothing waste, as we will not be able to cover the true extent of environmental harms caused by the fast-fashion industry in detail here. Cotton is often viewed as a sustainable material, but at the rate of production and due to mixing with synthetic materials, that is not always the case. America is the largest cotton exporter in the world – they send the bales of cotton to India to be processed into fabric, then sewn into garments in China and re-imported back to America (Anguelov, 2015). In India, most of the cotton is grown within the Punjab region, which is the largest user of pesticides in India. Dr Pritpal Singh’s reports show how these pesticides also impact communities and public health (Morgan, 2015). For example, his reports showed a rise in congenital disabilities, mental disabilities and illness, cancers and stomach ailments within the Punjab region, which shows a correlation between the use of pesticides with negative impacts on physical health and how the environmental and health harms associated with fast fashion are also impacting those around the globe unequally. Textile processing consists of three major steps – pinning, weaving, then spinning. However, the most serious environmental problems are associated with the wet-finishing processes, which are bleaching, mercerising, and dyeing and produce liquid effluent with varying waste composition (Anguelov, 2015) be toxic for air, soil and water quality. Kanpur is the leather capital in India – the chemicals used to treat the leather flow into local farming and drinking water, which is very harmful to humans and animals in the surrounding areas (Morgan, 2015). We see how major western retailers can profit from sourcing cheap materials in low cost economies while avoiding the environmental harm associated with fast fashion and accountability for the growing cost to human health. If we skip forward to the end process of the fast-fashion cycle, the average American throws away 82lbs of textile waste each year, which is more than 11 tonnes annually from the US alone (Morgan, 2015). This harms the environment because most fast-fashion garments are synthetic and non-biodegradable materials. So, they sit in landfills for 200+ years while releasing greenhouse gas emissions such as methane. One way to combat this cycle of overconsumption and waste is by only buying clothing you need or donating clothes you do not want to charity. However, this is not always effective because a lot of clothes donated to charity are dumped in third world countries such as Haiti, and only 10% of donated clothes are re-sold in third stores (Morgan, 2015), which showcases how the fast-fashion model is built on careless production and endless consumption (Morgan, 2015). Another example is the report on the mountains of discarded clothing that ended up in Chile’s Atacama Desert – a total of 59,000 tonnes of second-hand clothing is said to arrive each year from Europe, US and Asia (Crumbie, 2021), which shows how those upholding the fast-fashion industry are both causing the initial harms, avoiding responsibility and the consequences. The environmental harms associated with fast fashion are relevant to criminology because green criminology aims to re-examine the definition of crime to include environmentally harmful acts but still lawful (Lynch and Stretesky, 2017), which can include dumping of clothing waste, chemicals and pesticides in third world countries. The contribution of green criminology is to frame these kinds of general issues in terms of transgressions against humans, eco-systems and animals, and more broadly in the context of global economic and political pursuits (White and Heckenberg, 2014). This critical approach to the harmful nature of fast fashion alongside the digital revolution that has eased the spread of this information has contributed to a generation that acknowledges how harmful fast fashion is and aims to incorporate more environmentally friendly practices into their lives such as minimalism, thrift shopping and avoiding over-consuming and unethical/unsustainable brands. However, we need collective action from large Western retailers and the government in order to make meaningful changes. This topic is useful to criminology because it will inspire future generations of students to take up the issues, research lawful but awful environmental harms, and demand a different future, one that embraces the study of environmental crimes and seeks out innovative solutions (White and Heckenberg, 2014). Finally, it is important to acknowledge that the environmental harms of fast fashion are socially mediated – for example, more than half of methane production comes from human activity (IPCC, 2001). So, the solution needs to be socially mediated. Also, it seems like progress to see large retailer companies such as H&M introducing ‘sustainable’ fashion lines. This is more likely to appeal to the ‘ecoconscious’ consumer and gain sales, as the company still participates in unethical and unsustainable practices for the rest of their lines. Furthermore, the responsibility to be sustainable is usually put on the consumer in the end stage and removed from the production players, such as Levi’s ‘no-wash jeans’ (Anguelov, 2015), which only takes place from the true perpetrators of the harms associated with fast-fashion.

In conclusion, throughout this essay, we have investigated the social, ethical, physical and environmental harms associated with the fast-fashion industry, which include pollution, climate change, gender violence, inhumane working conditions for garment workers, as well as body image issues due to fast-fashion marketing and advertisements and feeling of inadequacy if one cannot conform to trends due to spatial and financial issues. We have also analysed fast fashion in relation to environmental crime and harms and how they are relevant to one another. However, we have mainly focused on the fashion industry’s dark side. It is essential to acknowledge the efforts some brands have taken to move in a sustainable and ethical direction, as well as the rise in fair trade companies such as People Tree, founded in 1995 (Morgan, 2015). As well as platforms such as the Fashion Revolution that contribute to online activism by informing their audience of the social and negative harms associated with the clothing they wear and ways they can move towards ‘slow fashion’ such as through minimalism and thrift shopping. Furthermore, it is useful to acknowledge the positives of the fashion industry. For example, fashion is an excellent tool for self-expression, identity building and building a community with people around you. Fashion can also tell us about language/codes, social/political and cultural contexts. Furthermore, trends are continuously renewed from the past, which is helpful for those who do not want to throw clothes away but want to stay trendy (Jenss, 2015). Finally, considering this topic concerning social harm and criminology is useful. It contributes to the existing literature, which can help us develop practical solutions to the harms the fast-fashion industry has caused—for example, increasing the living wage for garment workers, opaque and fair policies are not hidden by legal loopholes, avoidance of cheap and synthetic materials in garment making, as well as limiting the distribution of ‘latest trends’. Word count: 3651


Anguelov, N. (2015) The Dirty Side of the Garment Industry. London: Taylor and Francis. pp. 1-82.

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To What Extent Do Intersectional Accounts of Gender Continue to Have an Impact on Contemporary Society?

Trigger warning: Mentions racially and gender targeted murders (and names of victims), police brutality, transphobia, sexism, sexual abuse, mental health and death penalty.

Firstly, it is helpful to define what we mean by ‘intersectionality’. Kimberle Crenshaw coined this term in the 1980s. At the time, it was used to encapsulate the experiences of African-American women using a crossroad analogy, as not only did they experience the strains of patriarchy. They experienced multiple forms of oppression such as racism, colonialism and imperialism, which link together to make a double, triple or multiple layered blankets of oppression (Crenshaw, 1991). Today, this term has been used to examine a broader range of discriminations people may face, such as homophobia/transphobia, Islamophobia, ableism, classism and material deprivation. Therefore, in this essay, I will consider material and cultural accounts of gender such as intersections with class, disability, culture, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender expression to examine how these forms of oppression overlap and shape individuals’ experiences. To ground the argument, I will draw from contemporary and historical examples such as policing and healthcare, and contextual factors, empirical evidence and relevant theory such as feminism and queer theory. 

Now, let’s delve deeper into the origin of intersectionality and strive towards inclusive feminism in the 19th and 20th century before assessing its contemporary relevance and impact. Before Crenshaw, Black feminists, activists and abolitionists expressed the need for a more inclusive perspective within feminism, which was necessary because “white women focused on their oppression as women and ignored differences of race, sexual preference, class and age” (Lorde, 2007). In 1851 Black abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth confronted this issue during the first wave of feminism at a Women’s Rights Convention in Ohio. She expressed “Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman?” (Eddo-Lodge, 2018). A century on in 1984 Black feminist Audre Lorde acknowledged the same issue with how white women in the feminist movement ignored their built in privilege of whiteness and defined ‘woman’ based on their own experiences alone. They viewed Women of Color as ‘other’ and therefore could not or did not try to relate to their experiences (Lorde, 2007). This showcased how Black women and Women of Color felt like outsiders within the Women’s Rights/feminist movements due to racism as well as within Black communities due to sexism, which is what led to the consideration of intersectional accounts of feminism. More recently, the term ‘misogynoir’ was coined by feminist activist Moya Bailey to define the place where anti-Black racism and sexism meet, which was described as “the particular brand of hatred directed at Black women in American and popular culture” (Saad, 2020). Although intersectionality started as a consideration of racism combined with sexism. Lorde acknowledged that we must recognise differences amongst women and devise ways to use these differences to enrich our visions and our joint struggles (Lorde, 2007), which includes aspects such as our class, sexuality, religion, [dis]ability and gender expression/identity as well.

Intersectional accounts of feminism are important because sexism and racism are still very much prevalent in UK society, despite policies such as Race Relations Acts 1965-1976, the Equal Pay Act 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Equality Act 2010, that aimed to prevent discrimination on the grounds of race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality within everyday life and the workplace (Legislation.Gov.UK, 2021). Even though, men from minoritised ethnic groups in the UK have to navigate through the strains of racism, for example, people from Black British, Afro-Caribbean, Asian/Asian British, Arab and mixed backgrounds. Women from the same backgrounds experience their own class of racialised misogyny. The hashtag #SayHerName was created in 2014 to highlight this and the number of Black women and girls that were murdered by law enforcement officers, including Natasha McKennaTanisha AndersonMichelle CusseauxAura Rosser and Maya Hall, to name a few (Khaleeli, 2016). Although in general, Black individuals are more likely to be stopped and searched, arrested and abused/murdered by the police due to racial profiling and institutional racism. For example, Black people were 9.5 times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people in 2018-19 and more than any other race and ethnicity (GOV.UK, 2021). The stories of Black women and girls, including sexual abuse and murders, are often overlooked, unnoticed and untold, which is reinforced through lack of media coverage, education and justice around these cases. One case that did catch the media and the public’s attention was the death of Sandra Bland. The police officer pulled her over for not using her indicator. Then, soon after, slammed her head down on the pavement, without a justifiable reason. This was caught on camera, which explains the attention it accumulated. Three days later, she was found dead in a police cell (Khaleeli, 2016). This showcases an example of anti-Black patriarchal violence and dehumanisation against Black female bodies. Another example of misogynoir would be shown in the 2014 NHS report as Black British women are more prone to experience anxiety, depression, panic and OCD disorders than white women. Also, Black women are five times more likely to die in childbirth in the UK and three times more in the US compared to their white counterparts (Saad, 2020). This disparity could be partly down to Black women being stereotyped as strong, sassy and aggressive and viewed as less worthy, which are harmful stereotypes translated to the medical field and explains why Black women are less likely to receive the care they need (Saad, 2020). Although, Black women and girls have not received as much media coverage as Black men and boys in recent Black Lives Matter (BLM) demonstrations and debates around police brutality. Black men and boys are much more likely to be targeted by the police, be the victims of an excessive police force and receive harsher prison sentences than women. These occurrences could be due to values of chivalry built into our society and harmful stereotypes around Black men; for example, they are viewed as sexually deviant, violent, less intelligent, lazy and criminal (Saad, 2020). This stems from systemic racism grained into Western society and portrayals of Black men in the media such as the 1915 Birth of Nation, which was fabricated as a propaganda message to justify the violent treatment against Black men, which still lives on a century later in the collective white psyche (Saad, 2020). These stereotypes are shown in action in the 2014 University of Michigan Law School study that shows how Black offenders were 75% more likely to face a charge carrying a mandatory minimum sentence than a white offender who committed the same crime. Furthermore, Black men who commit the same crimes as white men receive prison sentences that are, on average, nearly 20% longer (US Sentencing Commission, 2017). Another example of the disparities between Black and white men regarding experiences with the police include when the rapper, activist and author Akala was pulled over by a male police officer that pointed out “cars like this are used by gang members” (Akala, 2019). Once the female officer realised Akala was ‘someone important’, the male officer’s attitude towards Akala changed completely, which shows how his class privileges came to the fore and trumped their racial assumptions (Akala, 2019). But, in most cases, class or status is not obvious through physical appearance, so Black people are judged by their race before anything else. Moreover, lower-class Black men are often the targets due to the assumption that they are associated with crime or gangs. In this circumstance, we see how class, gender and race intersect with one another to shape the experiences of Black men and women in society. 

To look at class and gender more generally, working-class women, especially lower-class BIPOC and Asian women, are the most likely to experience the strains of capitalism and material deprivation compared to men. For example, the 2012 and 2013 British women’s groups such as the Fawcett Society and the Women’s Budget Group found that the government’s austerity measures hit women the hardest (Eddo-Lodge, 2018). This is reinforced through the pandemic, as working-class women were more likely to be furloughed or out of work. Due to the nature of their roles (semi-routine and face-to-face), it resulted in almost half of working-class women (43%) receiving no hours of work in April compared to just 20% of women in professional or managerial roles (university of Nottingham, 2020). Furthermore, in April 2020, 41% of working-class women felt distressed, which was the highest proportion across the classes (University of Nottingham, 2020). This could be due to financial struggles, being in lockdown with no work, long hours in crucial work and focusing on childcare/housework on top of this. Furthermore, the pandemic alienated the disabled community; for example, face masks make it impossible for deaf people to lip read and see facial expressions, and social distancing makes it difficult for disabled people who require personal assistants. The pandemic exacerbated inequalities across class, gender identity and disability groups, as working-class disabled women or gender non-conforming people experience a multi-layered blanket of oppression in a society where they threaten ‘norms’ and do not accommodate them in times of crisis. 

In contemporary society, we see more diversity and freedom of expression due to political and societal progression, as well as increased conflict due to our ability to acknowledge and ridicule these differences due to the digital revolution. This inequality is especially apparent within the LGBTQIA+ community, as heterosexuality and cisgenderism continue to be the norm. Hence, there is still an overlap of discriminations such as sexism, homophobia/biphobia and transphobia towards people who deviate from this norm. When feminists in the 1970s began to challenge male privilege encoded into conventional heterosexual relations, it laid the foundations for a radical critique of heterosexuality, which we later made explicit by Adrienne Rich (1980). She looked into compulsory heterosexuality, which is the idea that lesbians were confined and subordinated by heterosexuality because it was perpetuated as universal, natural and normal (Richardson et al., 2006). Furthermore, many queer and gender non-conforming people had to conform and hide their true identity due to a society that sees queer identities as deviant or gender as a binary socially constructed product of patriarchal societies (Richardson, et al., 2006). Despite the previously mentioned policies that aimed to minimise discrimination of sexuality, gender expression and identity. There is still significant overt and covert forms of homophobia, sexism and transphobia across the globe, which includes harmful stereotypes around lesbian women and gay men, slurs, a fetishization of bisexual, gender non-conforming and trans people, high rates of murders amongst BIPOC trans women, the death penalty in certain countries/cultures, exclusion of trans women in sports and exclusion of disabled trans people within the LGBTQIA+ community. An example of this would be how 350 transgender people who were murdered, suffocated or burned alive in 2020, most of which happened in South and Central America (Forbes, 2020). This shows how our location and culture come into play with our gender identity and expression because certain countries protect the rights and lives of LGBTQIA+ individuals, whereas others do not. Some countries that criminalise LGBTQIA+ people include Iran, Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria and Kenya (Human Dignity Trust, 2021). However, we see how our gender can intersect with our sexuality, gender expression, race and class. Many critical feminists feel as if the inclusion of trans and queer women within feminism has taken away the initial aims of the movement (Richardson et al., 2006). Furthermore, others, such as the right-wing website Breitbart London defined intersectionality as a debate strategy – to call your opponent racist or a capitalist when you lose an argument about feminism (Eddo-Lodge, 2018). However, this is overly simplistic and ignores the intricacies of how our identity shapes our experiences with the world. As one’s Blackness and queerness is as much a part of them as their womanhood, as they cannot be separated or one deemed more important than the other (Eddo-Lodge, 2018).

In conclusion, despite arguments against the need for a intersectional perspective within feminism. Intersectional accounts of gender continue to have an impact on contemporary society. Although white middle-class heterosexual women can also suffer under the strains of patriarchy. It is important to consider how multiple parts of our identity intersect to shape our experiences within society and how those parts can create a multi-layered blanket of oppression in some cases. Furthermore, it important to apply the notions of intersectionality to men and non-binary/transgender people because men’s identities are diverse and multifaceted (sexuality, religion, culture and race). These characteristics all come together and impact their experiences and treatment as men in similar ways to women. For example, hegemonic ideologies around being ‘manly’ and ‘tough’ can put a strain on men’s mental health and body image. 


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Crenshaw, K. (1991) ‘Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color’, Stanford Law Review, 43(6) pp. 1241-1299.

Eddo-Lodge, R. (2018) Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, pp. 156-187.

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Lorde, A. (2007) Sister Outsider. Rev. edn. New York: Ten Speed Press, pp. 114-122.

Race Relations Act 1968, c. 71. Available at: (Accessed: 18 May 2021).

Richardson, D., McLaughlin, J., and Casey, M. (eds.) (2006) Intersections Between Feminist and Queer Theory. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, p. 7-23.

Saad, L. (2020) Me and White Supremacy. Great Britain: Sourcebooks, pp. 86-95.

Sex Discrimination Act 1975 (Repealed), c. 65. Available at: (Accessed: 18 May 2021).

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United States Sentencing Commission (2017) Demographic Differences in Sentencing: An Update to the 2012 Booker Report, Washington DC, pp. 2-17. Available at: (Accessed: 19 May 2021).

University of Nottingham (2020) Available at: (Accessed: 21 May 2021).

Wareham, J. (2020) ‘Murdered, Suffocated And Burned Alive: 350 Transgender People Killed In 2020’, Forbes, 11 November. Available at: (Accessed: 20 May 2021).

How Resistance to Power is Effective at Bringing About Social Change

In this essay, I will explore the extent to which resistance to power effectively brings about social change. To do this, I will focus on two case studies, including the Stonewall Riots of 1969 and counterculture in 1960s-1970s America. I will also provide links to relevant theory and social, political and cultural contexts to assess how successful these events brought about short and long term social change. Firstly, however, it is helpful to define what we mean by ‘power’ and ‘resistance’. According to Scott, “to have power is to have an enduring capacity or disposition to do something regardless of whether this capacity is being exercised” (Scott, 2002). This conceptualisation implies that a group, organisation or individual possesses power if subalterns comply with their wishes without the need for intervention or punishment. More generally, power is an actor’s ability to produce successful performances, as long as there is an intention to do so (Wrong, 1979 cited in Scott, 2002) showing up in overt and covert ways. Furthermore, “as soon as there is a power relation, there is the possibility of resistance” (Foucault, 1994 cited in Heller, 1996). Resistance is the idea of opposing or undermining forms of power and domination, which can fabricate in many ways, such as protests, illegal acts and applying pressure to institutions. I have chosen these case studies because they showcase different forms of power, social movement, authority and resistance. For example, power from the bottom (masses), violent resistance to sovereign power and power shown through compliance to oppressive laws and societal norms, which I will explore further throughout this critical essay.

In the following section, I will explore the extent to which the Stonewall Riots effectively brought about social change. America’s laws had always punished gay men and women due to Puritan heritage that oppressed same-sex relations (Carter, 2005). However, during the post-war era, gay men and women found themselves in a worse legal position since the Republic’s birth. They were used as scapegoats for hysteria around communism, conformity and child molestation. As a result, new crimes were invented, such as loitering in public toilets, wearing inappropriate clothing for your sex, selling alcohol in gay bars and increased penalties around sodomy (Carter, 2005). Bars and restaurants in Greenwich Village, the seafront and the West side of Central Park were spots where LGBTQ+ individuals would go for casual sex, to express themselves, socialise and gain a sense of community. Once this became common knowledge, gay men were intentionally sought out by police officers, which included routine bar raids and closures, homophobic slurs, ostracism, harassment, physical force, entrapment and arrests (Carter, 2005). These instances highlight the overlap between sovereign and disciplinary power. Foucault defines sovereign power as the ability to stop or limit one’s behaviours, such as through the use of violence, law and regulation (1979, cited in Lilja, 2014), which is reinforced through our example as there were restrictive laws around ‘homosexual’ acts, fear of punishment if one did not adhere to these laws and police force. Furthermore, disciplinary power can train and control individuals through institutions and scientific discourses while simultaneously punishing (1979, cited in Lilja, 2014). This is shown through consistent surveillance (hidden cameras and undercover police officers), self-regulation and psychological reinforcement that homosexuality was a mental illness, criminal and sinful. This encapsulates the power the police and state held because it deterred LGBTQ+ individuals from acting upon their desires due to the fear of being beaten, arrested and humiliated. Despite these power relations, the Mafia boss, ‘Fat Tony’ opened a gay bar named The Stonewall Inn on March 18th 1967 (Carter, 2005). To operate under restrictive laws, Fat Tony fronted as a private/bottle club that did not serve alcohol (but in reality, they served anyone the doormen admitted and made a profit through watered-down drinks and overpriced tickets). Furthermore, to limit the chance of police raids and entrapment, there were secure windows, steel doors and strict bouncers. Due to police corruption, the Mafia paid police officers to turn a blind eye to broken laws. In return, the police gave the Mafia notice before raids, so incriminating evidence could be hidden (Carter, 2005). However, on June 28th 1969, officers raided The Stonewall Inn at peak times and planned to confiscate alcohol, money and trash the bar, as they were tired of the Mafia re-opening shortly after raids (Carter, 2005). There was immediate verbal resistance when officers asked Stonewall customers to get their ID out. Usually, LBGTQ+ individuals would comply and sit quietly. However, this time they were acting up: “get your hands off me” and “don’t touch me” (Carter, 2005), as lesbians were inappropriately frisked, and transgender women were targeted and ‘checked’ in the toilets. Those who had identification were allowed to leave but decided to gather outside to wait for friends instead. The crowd grew fast due to curiosity and anxiety, and patrons began shouting and throwing coins when officers handled transgender women with unnecessary force (Carter, 2005).

According to eyewitness accounts, everything was reasonably peaceful until a lesbian came out kicking, cursing and screaming. This instance acted as the catalyst for the riots as someone shouted, “why don’t you guys do something?” (Carter, 2005, p. 151), which resulted in officers barricading themselves inside The Stonewall Inn after rioters started throwing rubbish, cans, glass, fire and bricks to attack them (Carter, 2005). This reinforces how illegal and violent acts are often the only way to undermine and challenge sovereign power because it controls the agency of subalterns otherwise. So, resistance becomes a matter of breaking such commands or repressions, for example, rebellions, disobedience, political revolutions and overthrowing oppressive governments and regimes (Foucault 1979, in Lilja, 2014). Although not as common, we see some resistance to disciplinary power within the Stonewall Riots, including passive and hidden forms of resistance, such as sarcasm, cursing, chanting, refusal to follow orders and foot-dragging (Scott, 1989, cited in Lilja, 2014). For example, some onlookers deliberately blocked the street so police officers and cars could not enter (Carter, 2005), which offered others more space and opportunity to confront and attack the officers. Although, similar movements at the time, i.e., the Civil Rights Movement, took on a non-violent approach to resisting sovereign power, such as protests and boycotts. The Stonewall Riots were effective as they expressed a collective resistance to oppressive regimes and built up fury from subordination. They were also necessary to show the police that the LGBTQ+ community would no longer act as passive bystanders, which they did by showcasing a united front and a sense of “Gay Power” (Carter, 2005) by claiming Christopher Street as their own and not backing down.

Even though the LGBTQ+ community were demonised in the media for orchestrating the riots and it was not the only event that led to the Gay Rights Movement. The Stonewall Uprising sparked social change and was a galvanising force for political activism. It introduced organisations such as the Gay Liberation Front and Human Rights Campaign and magazines such as ‘GAY’ (History, 2021). These magazines and their affiliated political groupings began to pursue a policy of raising consciousness and ultimately driving for equality, lack of legal harassment and greater tolerance and respect from the American public (History Extra, 2021). This shows how the Stonewall Riots gave other LGBTQ+ individuals the courage to stand up for their political rights and resist overt and covert forms of homophobic oppression and bureaucratic authority, as there was power in numbers. On the first anniversary of the riots, we saw America’s first gay pride parade as thousands of people marched the streets of Manhattan (History, 2021).

Above and Opposite: The First Gay Pride March, Sixth Avenue, New York City (Evans, 1970, cited in Duberman, 2019)
“At a time when the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual still listed homosexuality as a mental disorder, the march was a rare opportunity for gay people to publicly express the love and strength of their community. As they walked north, the crowd chanted: “Say it loud, gay is proud.(Evans, 1970)

After the first parade, progress sped up. In the decade that followed, the federal exclusions on gays and lesbians were lifted, the medical profession reversed its belief that LGBTQ+ individuals needed psychiatric treatment, the government struck down many anti-sodomy laws, and homosexuality was made legal. The legal progress was matched by a change in cultural attitudes, as 3/4 of Americans accept gay relations (BBC News, 2019). This shows the significance of the Stonewall Uprising, as it lives on as a part of LGBTQ+ history and culture within contemporary society due to how ‘pride month’ is celebrated every June worldwide. Even though resistance and political activism before the riots are overlooked. They set the trajectory for the riots and greater change after that, such as the legislation of same-sex marriage in 2015 (BBC News, 2019).

The following section will discuss how effective the American counterculture (from 1964-1972) brought about social change. The Hippie subculture followed in the footsteps of an earlier countercultural rebellious group in the 1950s named the Beat Generation. The political environment of 1960 America informed and inspired the hippie rebellion, including the civil rights movement, America sending troops to Vietnam, the anti-nuclear movement and Cold War tensions (Issitt, 2009). These issues founded the values and aims of the subculture, such as pacifism, ecological consciousness, women’s, LGBTQ+ and Black rights, Eastern religion and hedonistic living (Issitt, 2009). However, many Hippies were involved in political and global activism, such as the International Federation for Internal Freedom (IFIF) and Youth International Party (or Yippies). They participated in the civil rights and anti-war movements (Issitt, 2009). At the core of Hippie philosophy was the rejection of American norms and materialism and the promotion of ‘love’ and nonviolence. For example, “hippies envisioned a world freed from the pursuit of wealth, where communities would provide for one another in the spirit of love and harmonious coexistence” (Issitt, 2009). Their aims were not to specifically create social change. The Hippie subculture was a place for identity formation, community and enjoying the pleasures in life such as music festivals (Woodstock and Summer of Love) and spiritual enlightenment. Hippies showed resistance to traditional and conservative norms and capitalism simply through their lifestyle, including sexual positivity and exploration, psychedelic drugs and rock music, colourful clothing, emphasis on pleasurable living and freedom, as long as it did not hurt anyone else (Issitt, 2009). We can link these actions to disciplinary power because the power structure Hippies were resisting is more subtle. Individuals were monitored and controlled through the law, regulation and surveillance and expected to conform to cultural and societal norms (Foucault 1979, cited in Lilja, 2014). Some everyday forms of activism that Hippies did to undermine disciplinary power and capitalism was passivity, theft, rejection of norms as the ‘absolute’ truth, homelessness or frugal living as a choice, illegal activities such as drug-taking. Others chose to entirely ‘drop out’ of society; “those in good conscience should ‘‘drop out’’ of society, adopting a lifestyle of complete abstinence from the conventions of the mainstream, including politics” (Issitt, 2009). This ideology can be linked to Weber’s Protestant Work Ethic, as the Hippie’s rejection of religion and self-indulgence undermines capitalism as a whole because it freed them from hierarchical social structures and low wellbeing due to decreased social life (Weber, 1930).

“Hundreds of hippies gather in the San Francisco Presidio for an anti-war demonstration” (Altman, 2007, cited in Issitt, 2009)

Some more overt acts of resistance for politically active members included protests, public demonstrations and boycotts. The Hippie subculture ended in the mid-to-late 1970s. Janis Joplin’s’, Jimi Hendrix’s, and Jim Morrison’s death by overdose contributed to the shifting views around drug use and the remaining Hippies reverted to urban areas from NY, LA and San Francisco (Issitt, 2009). However, the main reason the rebellion dissolved was because the subculture and symbols of the subculture e.g., peace sign and fashion became a commodity when it was absorbed by mainstream society, which ultimately rendered the function of the subculture obsolete (Issitt, 2009). Although the movement was short-lived, its effect was profound, yet not realised immediately. By the 21st century, many ideas that Hippies thought of as ‘revolutionary’ were common sense for a generation fuelled by Hippie’s accomplishments. Gradually, trickling through generations and pervasively chipping away at the status quo (Issitt, 2009). Perhaps the most notable way the subculture impacted society was how their hunger for anything ‘un-American’ and interest in foreign culture contributed to a blending of cultures and driving force behind the evolution of a global society and multiculturalism. Therefore, Hippies must be acknowledged as agents of globalisation for spreading psychedelic rock and fashion across the globe (Issitt, 2009).

In conclusion, through the exploration into the Stonewall Riots and American counterculture, it is evident that resistance to different forms of power, such as disciplinary and sovereign, has been effective in creating long term social change. This can be achieved through overt, illegal and violent means such as riots, theft and drug-taking, or can be done more passively and unintentionally, such as refusing to follow orders, ‘dropping out’ from society or refusing to conform to cultural norms. In both cases, we see a sense of power generated from the large scale social movements, as there is strength in numbers. This can contribute to meaningful social and political change, such as removing discriminatory laws, which showcases the power of activism and transformative social movements. However, even though the Stonewall Riots and Hippie subculture sparked the future trajectory of LGBTQ+ social movements and shaped the ideas and values of the next generation. It is essential to consider that social change occurs down to an accumulation of efforts to resist power structures and not solely one instance.


Altman, R. (2007) cited in Issitt, M. (2009) Hippies: A Guide to an American Counterculture. California: Greenwood Press, p. 49.

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Scott, J. (2002) Power. Cambridge: Polity Press, pp. 9-13.

Weber, M. (1930) The Protestant Ethic and Spirt and Capitalism. New York: Scribner, pp. 35-40.

Critical Review of: ‘On Popular Music’ by Theodor W. Adorno (1941)

This essay will be an evaluation of Adorno’s article ‘On Popular Music’, in which he critically analyses the culture industry and highlights the differences between ‘popular music’ and ‘serious music’, as his speciality was music composition and culture consumption. Adorno was one of the key philosophers in The Frankfurt School of thought that was founded in 1923, Germany, at the Institute for Social Research (IEP, 2020) But since then, critical theory has spread worldwide and been highly influential on contemporary sociological literature and debate, such as Frank Furedi and David Held. The school included other critical theorists such as Horkheimer, Benjamin, Marcuse, and Habermas, and as a whole, they took inspiration from philosophers before them such as Nietzsche, Hegel, and Marx. So, their main concerns centred around modern capitalism, politics, and mass culture – and Nazism (IEP, 2020). Most of The Frankfurt School were exiled from Germany due to their Jewish descent in 1934. So, Adorno moved to England, and then after, continued his research in America, until he returned to Frankfurt when the war was over (IEP, 2020).

To briefly summarise the article, Adorno argues how popular music has become ‘standardised’ due to the rise in consumerism e.g., successful hits are imitated and reproduced so companies continue to make a profit. As listeners, he believed we are unaware of this process of standardisation and have a false sense of ‘free choice’, which is known as ‘pseudo individualism’. As media companies only promote and distribute content that they know consumers ‘want’. Overall, the standardisation of music and entertainment and these feelings of pseudo individualism, mean that little attention and effort is required during our leisure time. Therefore, the culture industry ensures we ‘keep inline’ and continue working in our mechanised job, as well as distracting us from our unhappiness or thinking critically about the world we live in. Throughout this critical review, we will delve deep into these concepts to gain a true understanding of his argument. Additionally, we will assess the strengths and weaknesses to his argument, its disciplinary impact, contemporary relevance, as well as linking to contextual factors and key sociologists to support these claims. 

To start with, Adorno gives us an introduction into ‘The Two Spheres of Music’, where he assesses the key differences between ‘serious’ and ‘popular’ music. Adorno’s main argument is centred around the idea of standardisation, as he believed this was the main feature of popular music. He thought the structure (the chorus consists of 32 bars, the song lasts around 3 minutes and the lyrics are repetitive) as well as themes and characters – nursery rhymes, home, and love were standardised (Adorno, 1941). Adorno seems well versed in music composition and uses jargon to reflect this knowledge e.g., octave and scherzo (p. 304). This gives his article a sense of validity and credibility because complex vocabulary is usually associated with higher intelligence. However, these lexical choices may have been a barrier for working-class at the time, as the higher class were more likely to receive a formal education, and therefore be able to understand the complexity of the article. Even working-class people reading this today may struggle to understand if they lack the cultural capital (knowledge) due to their ascribed status (Bourdieu, 1981). This highlights the contradictory nature to his argument, which is shown through the quote “primitive musical language sets barriers to whatever does not conform to them” (p. 307). Furthermore, the use of the adjective ‘serious’ to describe one sphere of music showcases a sense of superiority. It’s likely that he labels classical music as ‘serious’ because it was the norm during his young life. The feeling of superiority is highlighted when he suggests that classical music has more ‘meaning’, is ‘absolute’ and requires more attention span than popular music (p. 310). This is merely a reflection of his personal opinion and likely due to a positive association with childhood memories – he thinks so highly of classical ‘serious’ music because it reflects a ‘better time’ before his exile and the horrific treatment of Jewish people in Germany. Hence, why he struggles to accept the inevitable musical shift taking place and how his argument around the classification of music holds little objective value. 

To address another weakness, I found his tone quite patronising – “most listeners of popular music do not understand music as a language in itself” (p. 310). Adorno fails to acknowledge the creativity and agency of individuals and how they can actively participate in and consume culture. For example, people are often aware of standardisation and can choose to boycott certain aspects of the culture industry or use it as a way to spread political messages instead. This has been done recently in songs such as ‘Black’ by Dave, ‘This is America’ by Childish Gambino and ‘Lockdown’ by Anderson Park, which shows how contemporary music artists are taking advantage of the rise in technology and consumerism to draw attention to topics such as police brutality, racism, and other current affairs. This is reflected through the philosophy of Pluralism, as Pluralists believe consumers “are free to select, reject and re-interpret a wide range of media content, and they increasingly take advantage of new technologies and new media to produce their own content” (Thompson, 2019). However, Adorno would suggest that even when the production of music is individualistic, the promotion and distribution of popular music is industrial (pp. 306-307). Therefore, even if artists write meaningful lyrics, the consumers are unable to pay attention because popular music has a primary function of reproducing the consumers working capacity (p. 310). This draws inspiration from Marx’s work as he believed that “the bourgeoise cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production” (Jones, 2002), which shows that through technological advancements and mass media, the bourgeoisie have found new ways to control the proletariat, instead of relying on the division of labour in industrial work like they used to. So, ultimately consumers are unable to devote their full attention to the lyrics due to the capitalist function of mass culture.

Furthermore, Adorno is overly critical of jazz throughout his article – “the most drastic example of standardisation of presumably individualised feature is to be found in the so-called [jazz] improvisations” (p. 308). He believed these improvisations created a sense of pseudo individualism because fans felt flattered due to the exciting stimuli, even though the improvisations were also “confined in the walls of the harmonic and metric scheme” (p. 308), which created a paradox or “backwardness” to the mass production of music. This shows how the “illusion of choice” was imperative to ensure standardisation was not questioned. Adorno fails to acknowledge the positive impact of popular music during the 1940s, such as increased social solidarity and self-expression. For example, jazz originated in the New Orleans in the early 1900s and was used to express pain, injustice, and adversity – the positive beats and jazz improvisations reflected freedom and hope that African American’s had little of during a time of segregation, hate crime and lynching. Furthermore, jazz music was considered “America’s classical music” (National Museum of American History, 2020), which highlights the societal differences between Germany and America at the time that Adorno disregards. However, Adorno’s ideas around pseudo individualism and standardisation were well ahead of the time and still possess contemporary relevance. Or even more so, due to technological advancements and a further rise in consumerism. For example, ‘pop’ songs are all around 3 minutes long, have similar themes such as ‘love’ or ‘heartache’ and follow a repetitive structure with similar beats – consider ‘Sweet Melody’ by Little Mix. And most people believe they have a choice over the culture they are consuming.

Expanding on earlier, we come to Adorno’s final argument around leisure time. He argued that popular music maintains its hold on the masses through distraction and inattention – “listeners are distracted from the demands of reality by entertainment which does not demand attention either” (p. 310). He believed that people use their leisure time as an escape from mundane work and due to fear and anxiety over low income, unemployment, and war (p. 310), which was justifiable with the political and economic climate at the time. So, people indulged in “non-productive” leisure time due to the boredom of work and societal strains, which leaves them with no energy to consciously engage their minds or think critically of the world they live in. All of this is possible because features of music and TV are already “pre-digested”, so little effort and attention are required to follow along (p. 310). This shows how the culture industry upholds capitalism by ensuring workers continue to get up and go to work every morning without question. Adorno’s argument around leisure time is significant and relevant to today’s society because people indulge in non-productive activities even more than they used to – the rise in technology and modern-day strains such as mental health, education, flexible work contracts, in-work poverty, and more recently, COVID, has led most people to become obsessed with their gadgets and social media, as a way to escape these issues and relax after work. Few people choose productive activities such as reading or learning a new language in their leisure time because they are too physically and mentally drained from the demands of modern capitalism. Adorno believed that this is only possible because “mass consciousness can be moulded by the operative agencies only because the masses ‘want this stuff’” (p. 310). This links to the ‘Drip-Drip Effect’, as the more time people spend watching TV, the more likely they are to internalise character portrayals and perceive the world in accordance with this internalisation (Preiss et al., 2011) e.g., the idea to carry on working, which reflects the passiveness of consumers. So, we continue to indulge in these materialistic items due to the powerful influence of the media. Media companies create advertisements targeted to our innate human desires e.g., human beings are social creatures who yearn for intimacy and affection (Edgley, 2020), so they often include ads that show friends having fun alongside the product they are trying to tell. The exploitation of our unhappiness and insecurities leads us to buy more ‘stuff’ we do not need, as we think it will give us happiness and success, which is known as ‘false needs’. This links to William Davies book ‘The Happiness Industry’, as he explains how happiness has become a commodity – “the market must be designed as a space in which desires can be pursued but never fully satisfied, or else the hunger for consumption will dwindle” (Davies, 2015). His argument seems more developed than Adorno’s because he draws on the work from many other critical theorists and Marxists before him, unlike Adorno. Also, the use of statistical economic data and links to neuroscience throughout his book make it appear much more reliable and credible, as Adorno’s work was subjective and contained no evidence. But it does highlight the lasting impact that Adorno, and The Frankfurt school in general, have had on contemporary sociological debate – because since then, many critical theories such as critical race theory, queer theory, cultural theory and previously mentioned media focused theories, have developed around The Frankfurt School’s ideas. A direct reference to Adorno’s work was made in David Held’s ‘Introduction to Critical Theory’, as he gives an in-depth history into The Frankfurt School, explains their key ideas, and offers some critiques of critical theory. For example, he believed an “excessive amount of time was spent studying superstructural phenomena’ – aesthetics and culture – thus further detracting from serious engagement with the key determinants of social life” (Held, 1991), which shows Adorno may have been more focused on criticising the culture industry instead of researching how to solve the issues he presents. 

Overall, Adorno expanded on theorists before him such as Hegel and Marx and produced a well-structured and coherent argument that was useful in explaining the negative effects of consumer culture and the standardisation of music on the public. It was a unique observation at the time, as few people owned a TV and radio. His ideas around the standardisation of music, the illusion of choice and skewed function of leisure time are still widely applicable and relevant to today’s society, due to increased consumerism, technology, and modern-day strains. We also see how his work has sparked further sociological debate and influenced the introduction of modern critical theorists who criticise our media and government, such as David Held and William Davies. On the other hand, there were some significant weaknesses and absences to Adorno’s argument. For example, his argument was repetitive, it lacked evidence and objectivity, included personal biases and complex vocabulary choices that acted as a barrier to the working class at the time. He also failed to acknowledge how consumers actively play a part in consuming culture and constructing their agency and finally, he was overly critical of popular music without mentioning any solutions to these issues. Despite these weaknesses, the disciplinary impact alone makes the argument significant – as Adorno raised questions and concerns that other critical theorists could later expand on. And The Frankfurt School as a collective, have inspired others to think critically about how economic, politic, and cultural systems shape who we are.


Adorno, T.W. (1941) ‘On Popular Music’, Studies in Philosophy and Social Sciences, pp. 301- 313.

Bourdieu, P. (1986) The Forms of Capital in Richardson, J., Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education Westport, CT: Greenwood, pp 241-58.

Davies, W. (2015) The Happiness Industry. 1st edn. Verso, p. 58.

Edgley, R., 2020. The Art Of Resilience. 1st ed. London: Harper Collins, pp.215-216.

Held, D. (1991) Introduction to Critical Theory. 1st edn. Polity Press, pp. 356-357.

Jones, G. (2002) The Communist Manifesto. 44th edn. London: Penguin Classics, p. 222.

Preiss, R. et al. (2011) Mass Media Effects Research: Advances Through Meta-Analysis. New York: Routledge, p. 200.

The Frankfurt School and Critical Theory (2020). Available at: (Accessed: 8 November 2020).

Theodor Adorno (2020). Available at: (Accessed: 8 November 2020).

Thompson, K. (2019) The Pluralist View of the MediaRevise Sociology. Available at: (Accessed: 8 November 2020).

What is Jazz? (2020). Available at: (Accessed: 8 November 2020).

Mental Health & The Importance of Self-knowledge

Author: Ivona Kafedjiska

Originally posted on:

What is Mental Health?

Mental health: we neglect it so often, forgetting that it is one of the most crucial aspects of our life. Symbiosis of our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Simultaneously shaped both by our brain [chemistry] and by our everyday experiences. Mental health: it is us, and we are it.

Our mental health affects every pore of our being: how we think, feel, manage stress and work responsibilities, maintain relationships, manage our time… The challenging part about it is that is constantly evolving – same as we are. Depending on our age, biology (genes or hormones for example), external conditions, traumas and stressors, and/or family and friends dynamics, our mental health can take unexpected, but not necessarily negative, turns.

One of the common misconceptions about mental health is that is a “topic” relevant only for those who struggle. Anxietydepressioneating disorders, and bipolar disorder are some of most well-known mental disorders; yet, it does not mean in any way that you have to be diagnosed with any of these in order to start paying attention to your mental health.

mental health

Truth is, we all struggle. But, understanding that this is normal part of life on the one hand, and understanding ourselves on the other, can be extremely comforting.

Why am I as I am? Who am I? How was I influenced by my past experiences and how will these shape my life in the future? Am I only a prisoner of my thoughts; or, can I find a way to overcome the barriers in my life and finally overcome to biggest barrier of them all – myself?

Finding the answers to these questions and realizing the importance of self-knowledge are the first steps towards maintaining a good mental health and a healthy relationship with yourself. Hopefully, after self-knowledge, self-love and self-acceptance can follow.


Much of what destroys our lives can be attributed to emotions that our conscious selves haven’t found a way to understand or address in time. It is logical that Socrates should have boiled down the entire wisdom of philosophy to one simple command: “Know yourself”.

– An emotional education by The School of Life

Knowing ourselves is laying the foundation for nurtured mental health. Much of our behavior patterns can be traced back to our childhood (cliche, I know, but true); yet, at the same time, we can barely remember anything truthfully about it. We tend to romanticize our former selves or our former experiences, even when it is not about about childhood memories.

It is not completely unreasonable to forget – or, better said, suppress – the wounds of the past. It is in fact a protective mechanism that sugar coats our personal histories and through denial, falsely promises us a joyful and obstacles-free life. However, by choosing to focus only on the cheerful memories, we omit – at least for a while – precisely the memories of the events that had the greatest impact on our character.

Through self-deception, we stay in our comfort zone, even when the comfort is damaging. Yes, sure, we “protect” ourselves from finding some possibly painful answers; but, at the same time, we avoid finding out how much we have compromised our lives for the sake of others; how much we need to change about our relationships with others – be it a partner, parents, siblings, friends, or colleagues; or, how we have ended up being in a job we hate. And these points largely influence our mental health and our overall life quality.

Markers of emotional health

The School of Life – a collective of psychologists, philosophers, and writers operating under this common brand – identify four markers of emotional health. They suggest that in order to assert how badly our early years have influenced us, we should firstly assert how we respond to these markers.

Markers of emotional and mental health
Markers of emotional and mental health, as described in “An Emotional Education” by The School of Life

Let me give you some food for thought for each of these four markers.

1. Communication

  • Do you communicate or internalize your pain?
  • When people upset you, do you feel the need to communicate with them? Or, would you rather avoid the possibility of a conflict?
  • How do you react when people cannot understand what you are trying to tell them?
  • How good are you at communicating your disappointments, the reasons for these disappointments, and how you want to change things?
  • How do you deal with frustration when you cannot communicate well with loved ones?

The answers to these questions should tell you not only how you respond to your struggles, but also how actively you think and talk about them. Finding the strength to verbally explain your feelings and experiences shows a certain emotional maturity, but also self-assertiveness that can have an overall positive impact of your mental health.

Since we are social beings, much of our emotions and mental health patterns yield from social contacts. These can never be long-lasting unless you can speak up your mind in the best possible way. Even if it is hard at first, give it a try. Maybe write a bit before you speak. Do not get discouraged if you are misunderstood at first. Seek for good listeners and people you trust in so that you can feel safe when sharing your burdens. Which brings me to the second point – trust.

2. Trust

  • How much do you trust other people?
  • How much do you trust yourself?
  • What do you think when meeting new people or starting a new job?
  • How do you react to unfamiliar situations?
  • When you are faced with a challenge, how readily do you accept it and how much do you trust yourself that you can stand up to it?
  • When it comes to love, how are you as a partner?

The topic of trust is a highly complex one. It addresses behaviors directed towards us, but also towards other people. In this way, the trust we have – or the lack of it – determines how controlling we need to be in our lives. Trusting other people and trusting ourselves and the decisions we make are the main conditions for embracing the world as it is and accepting that even though sometimes people hurt us, it does not mean that we are not worthy or deserving of something great.

3. Self-Love

  • Can you always stay on your side and be your own best friend?
  • How do you react to humiliation or offense from other people?
  • How do you react to toxic relationships – be it your own one or of other people?
  • When you make a mistake because of ignorance, how do you feel? Do you distinguish between lack of knowledge and lack of character?
  • How ready are you at work to ask for help and/or promotion/raise?
  • Can you say “no”?
  • How much do you need to please others? If a lot, why? If not at all, why?

I think this point is pretty self explanatory, but same as self-knowledge, it comes hard to many of us. We do not necessarily hate ourselves, but we do not necessarily always love ourselves either. The idea of self-love, however, is indeed asking us to always be mindful about our characters and love them nevertheless. Of course, through the process of self-knowledge we might want to aim to alter some of our behaviors, but even then, we should do so lovingly and respectfully. Nothing blooms when watered with hatred.

4. Candour

  • Up to which extent to you allow difficult ideas to enter your mind? How well do you accept them?
  • How often do you turn to denial when faced with a criticism or (negative) feedback?
  • Can you admit to yourself that you have made a mistake?
  • How often do you reflect upon your misbehavior?
  • Can you explore your own mind and its troubled, dark corners without feeling guilty or scared?
  • How readily do you learn from and listen to others?

If communication addressed the point of speaking up peacefully what is bothering us; if trust addressed the point of how well we trust other people that they want abuse our weaknesses or pains we have communicated with them; if self-love addressed the point of accepting ourselves, even when someone breaks our trust and refuses to loves us; then, candour addresses the willingness to hear everyone’s criticism – including your own. In doing so, you pave the path for self-knowledge on the one hand, and for fruitful communication on the other. Slowly, you learn to trust yourself and others until you finally learn how to be your most loyal and most loving friend.

Final words on self-knowledge and its influence on mental health

These four emotional markers are interwoven and almost indistinguishable from one another. Only through insightful questions and honest answers you can slowly, day by day, get to know yourself.

It it funny that we spend all of our time with our thoughts, quirks and character and yet, we are strangers to ourselves. We bombard our mind with social media, work, art, music, literature – which is all needed and nice – but we tend to forget to stop looking so much into the outward world and decide to take a look inward.

I believe that self-knowledge is the first step towards nourished and balanced mental health. Through self-knowledge, we get the chance to utilize our strengths and acknowledge our weaknesses. Accordingly, we can use our strengths to our advantage, but also be ready to reach out for help, whenever needed. By doing do, we give ourselves the chance to grow. To change and evolve beautifully. To accept that we and life cannot be perfect, but when we know ourselves, life can be healthy, joyful, and loving.

These four emotional markers are interwoven and almost indistinguishable from one another. Only through insightful questions and honest answers you can slowly, day by day, get to know yourself.

It it funny that we spend all of our time with our thoughts, quirks and character and yet, we are strangers to ourselves. We bombard our mind with social media, work, art, music, literature – which is all needed and nice – but we tend to forget to stop looking so much into the outward world and decide to take a look inward.

I believe that self-knowledge is the first step towards nourished and balanced mental health. Through self-knowledge, we get the chance to utilize our strengths and acknowledge our weaknesses. Accordingly, we can use our strengths to our advantage, but also be ready to reach out for help, whenever needed. By doing do, we give ourselves the chance to grow. To change and evolve beautifully. To accept that we and life cannot be perfect, but when we know ourselves, life can be healthy, joyful, and loving.

Check out her blog for more content on mental health, and also – travel, art, science, sustainability and much more!

Instagram: @jungle_dancer

A Mindful Lifestyle

Not only can we be mindful about our own emotions and how our actions impact those we care about. We can also be mindful about how our eating and lifestyle habits are impacting the planet and the eco-system. And we must try to be more environmentally sustainable now more than ever – environmental sustainability is the responsible interaction with the environment to avoid further depletion of natural resources and to ensure long-term environmental quality (The Balance Small Business, 2020). Burning fossil fuels and coal, factory farming and deforestation generate greenhouse gasses (CO2, CH4, and N20) that are released and trapped in the atmosphere, which means less solar radiation from the sun can be deflected back into space, so instead the heat is re-radiated, causing the earth to warm. This has depleted natural resources and led to a climate shift resulting in extreme conditions such as forest fires and rising sea levels from melted glaciers.  According to the NOAA 2019 Global Climate Summary , “the combined land and ocean temperature has increased at an average rate of 0.07°C per decade since 1880” (, 2020). Fortunately, it isn’t too late to reverse some of the damage. Although changes need to be made by world leaders, there are some things we can do individually to live a more environmentally sustainable lifestyle, they may seem insignificant, but if every person did as many of these suggestions as they could, then that is a step in the right direction.

Just so you know, I am not claiming to be some sort of Greta Thunberg, I know it takes research, practice, and patience. I am still learning how to be more sustainable myself, but I thought it would be useful for you to have this guide on where to start and maybe learn a thing or two along the way.


You’ve probably heard all the “meat is murder” and “eating meat is destroying the planet” phrases before. I’m not here to tell you to turn vegan, yes, following a plant-based diet supposedly causes less harm to the environment than an omnivorous diet – but soy and palm oil cultivation can also destroy wildlife habitats, harm endangered species and produce greenhouse gases. Even though most of this soy is fed to livestock, either way, the Amazon Rainforest is being destroyed at an alarming rate – 20% of the rainforest has been already cut down and scientists predict a further 40% will be destroyed and another 20% will degrade within the next two decades (Small Footprint Family, 2019). So, we see that having fish or meat on your plate isn’t necessarily the problem, it’s about moderation. And we need to consider much more than our diet alone.

I added fish back into my diet a few weeks ago. I was previously vegan, and I thought I would be for the rest of my life, so you could understand I felt hesitant at first. I won’t ramble on about my reasoning, but I decided it was the best decision for my health. My mind was made up once I researched the ways I could add fish back into my diet in a sustainable way. This looked like – only eating fish for 3 or 4 meals per week and eating plant-based the rest of the week. And only buying fish that was labelled ‘MSC certified’. It is important to choose responsibly sourced fish, so you know the fisheries are not overfishing, the fishing activity was managed carefully to ensure other species in the eco-system remained healthy and the fisheries complied with relevant laws (Marine Stewardship Council, 2020). It gets a bit trickier with meat, since factory farming is known to be one of the worse pollutants. But, if you’re adamant to keep meat in your diet, then there are some ways to do it that are slightly sustainable: you could eat less meat per week, have smaller portions of meat, buy from local farms or only buy pasture-raised meat, which means the animals spent their time unconfined and eating vegetation, so they were able to express their natural behaviours (FootPrint, 2020). I’d assume the same would apply to eating eggs and dairy too – moderating consumption, choosing free range / organic and buying from local farms. If your only concern is limiting your carbon footprint or ensuring you aren’t eating tainted meat, then hunting is a plausible option.

Food waste

Each year, “4.5 tonnes of food waste is thrown away from UK households” (The Guardian, 2020). That’s not even including waste from supermarkets and restaurants. Considering all the people living on the streets or who cannot afford food, you’d think we would be more conscious about what we throw away, but that’s a whole other topic we don’t need to get into right now.

There are many ways in which we can personally limit our food waste and how supermarkets and restaurants can do the same. Such as, buying products from supermarkets that will be thrown away the next day or eating food at home after the best before date – remember the ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ dates are different. The best before date is only a rough guide but the use by date is shown on food that shouldn’t be eaten past this date for health and safety reasons e.g. meat. But, even some products that surpass the use by date are still perfectly safe to eat e.g. certain fruit, vegetables, and pastries, which means a lot of the food that supermarkets throw away is still edible. More than 10 million tonnes of food and drink are wasted every year in the UK. Despite efforts to decrease this amount through donating food surplus – the number is still off the scales. Supermarkets need to ensure ALL edible food is donated to food banks and homeless people. They could even stock surplus food on the shelves for customers to take for free. There are many great apps which can help limit this issue as well. For example, ‘Too Good To Go’, which allows cafés and restaurants to sell their surplus produce at a discount price. And Olio, an app which helps connect neighbours and retailers, so surplus food can be shared and not wasted – you can often trade with people and get items for free.

Another way we can limit food waste within our home, is meal planning. Only buying the food you need and prepping for the week is a good way to use up everything you bought to ensure nothing is wasted. If you find yourself with spare items in your fridge that you don’t know how to use, you can just throw it altogether to make a soup or casserole. You could even give the items that are safe for animals, to your dog or cat (but make sure to research beforehand) or give leftovers to a friend or family member if you made too much.

Composting is also a great way to recycle your food scraps whilst benefiting the environment – it minimises methane emissions that would have been produced if it were buried in landfills (Primary Industries and Regional Development, 2018). It also acts as a fertiliser, which is useful for those who enjoy gardening. It’s really simple and easy for beginners, all you need to do is create a pile full of equal parts ‘brown’ materials (carbon) and ‘green’ materials (nitrogen). You’ll also need water but it shouldn’t be too wet or too dry (Better Homes & Gardens, 2020). There are plenty of how-to videos and articles online to act as a guide. But, I’ve added a guide to help down below. It’s something that I would like to start myself as well.

How to Compost:
What to Include:

Photo credit:


“8 million tonnes of plastic enter the sea every year, enough to circle the world 4 times. This plastic pollutes beaches, kills marine wildlife, and degrades into microplastics that enter our food chain. And without big action, by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean” – (Turning The Tide on Plastic, Lucy Siegle 2018) 

So, what can we do about it?

If you want to decrease the plastic usage in your life, first you need to assess how much plastic you are currently using. If you are one of those people living in blissful ignorance and the idea hasn’t even crossed your mind yet. That’s fine. At least you’re here now. Go take a look around your house or flat and see what you can find – keep an eye out for plastic bottles, wrappers on food, magazines, and toiletry packets. Once you are aware of how much plastic you’re using, it would be useful to write it down and see how often you buy these items. If you haven’t already, you could start by creating a box for recycling your household items, it usually tells you on the packaging whether you can recycle it or not. Or create a new purpose for the things you cannot recycle. Next, think about some replacements you could make for something more sustainable. For example, buying biodegradable wipes, choosing toiletries without microbeads in, opting for bamboo toothbrushes and earbuds, reusable water bottles, straws and coffee cups, glass tupperware, soap bars instead of shower gel, cotton bags for shopping and buying your fruit and vegetables without plastic wrappers. Then try to think on a wider scale – limit ordering food or clothes online to avoid packaging (or order from places where you know they use cardboard / paper packaging) buy in bulk when you shop, grow your own vegetables, take containers to fish and meat butcheries, shop at markets that sell loose items, which is a good way to support small local businesses too. I could go on and on, but you get it by now.

It may seem a bit excessive and you may have items you couldn’t possibly think of giving up. But, this is merely a list of examples, it’s all about starting small. Buy that reusable water bottle. Start recycling if you didn’t already. And then work your way up. A plastic-free life is almost impossible to stick to all of the time, but it’s important to do something at least. You may find it harder if you’re a parent, living with people who don’t share the same values as you, or you’re just clueless when it comes to this sort of stuff. But, speak to your family, research those alternatives, do something now if you care about the future of the planet.

What can UK citizens and the government do as a whole?

Decrease or ban plastic packaging and bags from supermarkets, have a bottle deposit system, beach clean-ups, ensuring all contents of recycling bins are actually recycled, create stricter policy, use plastic in innovative ways i.e. fashion – Adidas made shoes out of ocean plastic in 2018, put pressure on the government through activism and support plastic / waste free businesses. 

Other – cosmetics, fashion, and transport etc. 

Wait, there’s more? Yes indeed.

It is also important that we are conscious of the cosmetics products we are buying and using such as makeup, shampoo, aerosols, toothpaste, moisturiser, sun lotion, nail polish and soap etc. A lot of the items you use daily include ingredients that bleach coral reefs, pollute the earth, contribute to deforestation and are toxic to aquatic animals (they end up in the ocean after we wash our face, hands or take a shower for example).

Here are some ingredients to avoid if you are wanting to be eco-friendly with your regime (plus some natural alternatives):

  • Exfoliating microbeads (made from polyethylene – plastic particles). Used in face wash, body wash and toothpaste. They are toxic to marine life as they don’t degrade or dissolve – using coffee, rolled oats or brown sugar to exfoliate would be a better alternative.
  • Silicones – used in moisturiser, hair products and anti-ageing creams (large amounts were found in Nordic regions and detectable amounts were found inside fish, which means it could be contaminating the fish we eat)
  • BHA/BHT – Synthetic antioxidants used as preservatives in lipsticks and moisturisers, among other cosmetics. They are also widely used as food preservatives. Known to be toxic to aquatic life and have a high potential to bioaccumulate (David Suzuki Foundation, 2020). Rosemary extract is a good replacement.
  • Octinoxate Oxybenzone, plus many more chemicals used in sunscreen, which results in coral bleaching. You can find a list here: Opt for “reef safe” labelled brands instead – Nivea is an affordable option.
  • Palm oil – used in everything, from your pizza to your shampoo. It’s a major driver of deforestation – destroying the habitats of already endangered species such as the Orangutan, pygmy elephant and Sumatran rhino (WWF, 2020). Choose ethically sourced palm oil or coconut oil instead.
  • Mineral oil / liquid parrafin, and petroleum jelly – found in a lot of products such as baby oil, Vaseline, eczema cream, candles and lip balm. Extracting oil destroys habitats, burning petroluem creates CO2 and mineral oil pollutes drinking water and kills marine life (opt for castor oil, shea butter and soy wax instead)
  • Volatile Organic Components – cigarette smoke, aerosol sprays, air freshener, repellents & pesticides, permanent markers – and many other solvents. They produce fine particles that play a significant role in polluting the earth and forming a ground level ozone layer. Limit buying and using these products, choose biogenic options or create natural alternatives for household cleaners.
  • Parfum (fragrance) is a type of phthalate – it is toxic to marine life and disrupts our hormones (opt for rose water, lavender essential oil or fragrance-free products, which are also better options for your hair and skin.
  • Triclosan – found in hand sanitizer, laundry detergent and deodrant etc. When these are washed down the sink, they can change the biochemistry of fish and other aquatic life – also causes pollution when released into the air. Opt for roll-on instead and use brands that are trisoclan-free, such as Faith in Nature. You can make natural detergent and cleaners from ingredients such as: lemon and tea tree essential oil, apple cider vinegar and baking soda.

I know that was a lot to take in. As I said earlier, it’s all about starting small. It’s difficult to find affordable products that contain no harsh chemicals because even some brands labelled as “natural” contain parfum, silicone or mineral oil. So, ‘natural’ doesn’t necessarily mean better – remember to read the ingredient list to make sure (tip: the ingredients are listed in order of percentage, so the first listed ingredient is what the product contains the most of and the last ingredient listed is what the product has the least of). A great place to start for affordable natural skin and hair care would be Lush, The Body Shop, Botanicals, Noughty, The Ordinary, Faith in Nature, Milk Makeup and Original Source – or DIY your own products from natural ingredients.

Ah, fast fashion. The root of all evil. Well, that’s a bit far, but you get what I’m trying to say. We are all obsessed with buying the latest trends – we didn’t even take a second to consider the impact it’s having on the environment, next thing we know, our wardrobe is full to the brim with clothes we don’t even wear and we are throwing away tops by the dozen. If you didn’t know, fast fashion is “inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends”, so think of your high street stores. We are all guilty of this, I used to be a bit of a shopaholic myself due to my love for fashion and styling. Even though, I enjoyed buying second-hand clothes from charity stores (for the vintage bargains) and always donated / sold my old clothes. Sometimes, I’d overindulge, and buy clothes I didn’t even need or want. But, recently I had a massive wardrobe clear-out. So, my goal from now on is to only buy items I really need, choose second hand as my first option and avoid buying clothes from stores such as Primark – the materials are cheap and synthetic (polyester, acrylic and nylon), which are non-durable and bad for the environment.

The global fashion industry generates a lot of greenhouse gases during the production, manufacturing and transporting processes. For example, burning fossil fuels for synthetic fibres, cutting down forests to grow wood-based materials like rayon, viscose and modal, degradation of soil through overgrazing of sheep raised for wool and the massive use of chemicals to grow cotton. The list goes on. Each year, around £140 million worth of clothing is thrown into landfills, taking 200 plus years to decompose and simultaneously emitting a harmful greenhouse gas emission called methane (WRAP, 2018). 

But, here are some ways to be more sustainable with your fashion:

  • Research & check labels
  • Buy second hand or choose vintage
  • Sell unwanted clothes on Etsy / Depop
  • Donate old clothes to charity or friends
  • Learn how to repair your clothes or turn them into something new (DIY)
  • Choose ethically sourced and organic materials – support sustainable brands
  • Invest in good quality clothes and shoes that will last 
  • Only buy clothes that you need (ask yourself how often you will wear it before you buy)
  • Trans-seasonal clothing that you can wear all year round

(Bazaar – Amy De Klerk, 2020)

Transporation & Energy Usage

Another major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions is transport, even though the number has slowly decreased each year since 1990, “UK net emissions of carbon dioxide were estimated to be an astonishing 351.5 million tonnes in 2019” (National Statistics, 2019). The government has promised to reach net-zero emissions by the end of 2050 –

But, what can we do to lower these emissions and save energy within our homes?

  • Consider driving less – choose walking, cycling or public transport if and when possible (or buy an electric, hybrid or energy-efficient car).
  • Try to conserve water & use less hot water – turn off the tap whilst brushing your teeth, cut down shower time or buy a low-flow shower head, fill up your sink when washing dishes, only do full loads of laundry, wash clothes on a colder temperature and use a timer for your hot water heater.
  • Efficient energy sources – energy-saving bulbs, LED lights, solar panels, programmable thermostat, dimmer switches, ceiling fan instead of air conditioning and energy STAR appliances (help cut electricity costs long-term).
  • Energy Conservation – hanging laundry out to dry, only putting cooled food in the fridge, use lids when cooking, wash dishes by hand, insulate your home properly and use more blankets during winter – and finally, always remember to turn off lights & unplug sockets when not in use, as most appliances drain energy even when you aren’t using them.
  • Choose non-stop flights when flying, because landing and taking off requires more fuel and therefore creates more emissions. Avoid flying business class (the larger the business class area, the less economy seats there are – so, less people on the flight creates a higher carbon contribution per person). Airline companies should also scratch ‘Frequent Flier Programs’, as they encourage people to fly more. And improve engine and fuel efficiency.
  • Become more politically active – vote, petitions, protests.

I know it’s unlikely you are going to pop out to buy some solar panels and an electric car. I know some people have no option but to drive to work because of how far they live, buy connecting flights because they are cheaper or use more electricity due to living with more people. That’s understandable. But, there is no excuse when it comes to conserving water, turning off light switches, unplugging sockets and small alterations you can make when cooking and washing up. Everyone can do this. So, it’s time to stop making excuses. And I’m talking to myself too. I’ve learned a lot just by writing this and it’s opened my eyes to the changes I need to make. I hope you will also try to implement a few of the things we’ve discussed today, into your life, so we can both reduce our carbon footprint, conserve our planet and oceans for the future and reverse some of the damage that’s already been done.

How I Stayed Sane During Lockdown 1.0

I know what you’re thinking, this would have been way more helpful at the start of lockdown, and it seems irrelevant now since things are slowly getting back to normal. But, it’s never too late to form healthier productive habits, so I thought I’d share my experiences with this incredibly unique situation in the hopes that it would help you, due to the uncertainty still up in the air – as you may still be out of work, unemployed, currently waiting to go back to university, or just in a rut.


Firstly, let’s talk about mindfulness. What is mindfulness? “Mindfulness is the quality of being present and fully engaged with whatever we’re doing at the moment – free from distraction or judgment, and aware of our thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them” (Headspace, 2020). At first, being in quarantine was extremely hard for me, I felt anxious over how long it would last and how I would deal with being stuck at home every day. Having this mindset over situations we cannot control, won’t change the position you are in. But, what you can do, is shift your perspective. So, I decided to view this as an opportunity to do all the things I’ve always wanted to do but ‘never had the time to’. You can practice mindfulness in many ways such as meditation, yoga, and journaling, which I did a few times a week until I had the motivation to implement these into my everyday routine. I found these were helpful for me because writing down how I felt and what I had to be grateful for, was a good way to release negative emotions and remind myself of the things I was taking for granted. Also, giving myself a bit of time each day to meditate and do yoga allowed me to slow down, be present at that moment and relax, which was a good way to create zen in my life during the ambiguity of quarantine.

Socialising (when possible)

Human beings are social creatures. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, human needs can be depicted by five hierarchical levels within a pyramid – half way up the pyramid there is ‘belongingness and love needs’ which is one of our psychological human needs. Examples of this include friendship, intimacy, affection, and acceptance, which are essential to motivate our behaviour. I know this may have been difficult for those who live alone, aren’t close to their family or have friends that moved back home during the summer. But, any sort of social interaction, whether that be a video call with a friend, speaking to the cashier in a store, a socially distanced walk with a loved one or talking to random people on the internet. Social interaction can help us feel connected to those who understand what we are going through. So, keeping in touch with my friends and spending more time with my family was really helpful for me during this time, because it reminded me that I have people who care about me, that are going through the same exact situation. There’s nothing worse than isolating yourself from the world ~ especially during ‘self isolation’.

Focusing on My Hobbies

This is the perfect time to focus on something you love doing because you may not get another opportunity with this much free time on your hands. If no hobbies spring to mind, then you could always take up something new. It could be reading, learning something new, learning how to cook or a new sport, it could be anything, it could be a mixture of activities, as long as it’s something that brings you joy and it doesn’t feel like a burden to do. According to Delta Psychology, 2016, hobbies help you cope with stress, as they help you unplug from what is bothering you and escape from a mundane routine of everyday life. And we all know how boring lockdown became at times, so having a few hobbies can be beneficial for your mental health, especially if you’re unemployed or currently out of work and university. During this time, I tuned into my creative side, I was painting much more often and went on long walks with my camera to take some scenic shots. I even started dancing, reading tonnes of books and doing some online courses. This was my way to escape and keep busy, which was an important part of how I stayed sane during lockdown because without doing the things I love and keeping busy, then the days would have seemed meaningless and dull. 

Exercising & Getting Out

I know we all had those days where we wanted to stay in bed watching Netflix all day with the curtains closed. But, in reality, this will only make you feel worse. Even if you push yourself to go on a 15-minute walk, do a short workout at home, or even sit outside for a little bit, anything is better than nothing. I made the habit of walking my dogs with my mam every day for an hour, starting my day this way always lifted my mood, and I began to cherish the moments I spent with my family over lockdown. For those who live alone or became irritated by your family or flatmates, you could always go on a walk alone and listen to music or make plans with a friend now that social distancing measures have eased. Throughout lockdown, I tried out a few forms of exercise, such as skipping, cycling, dancing, weight lifting with some dumbbells I had at home and High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)– as of now, following dance workout videos have been my favourite because they aren’t as daunting as a mundane routine. I won’t lie, I’m still not as consistent as I would like to be, but on average I do around 2/3 workouts a week alongside my long walks every day, which is what I aimed for before lockdown too (but going to the gym instead). Staying active is an important part in keeping a healthy mind and body. This is shown in a study by Sports Medicine in 2000, where 43 hospitalised and clinically depressed patients were exposed to a vigorous exercise routine over a nine-week period, after this, there were significant reductions in their depressive symptoms, which shows how physical activity is an effective treatment for depression and depressive symptoms. So, next time you’re feeling blue with nothing else to do, why don’t you try going for a walk or do something a bit more intense if you’re up for it. If you’re feeling anxious you could try something more relaxing to do at home such as yoga or pilates.

Keeping Your Mind Active

As we’ve previously covered, it’s important to keep our bodies active to obtain optimal mental well-being. But, in order to keep our minds healthy and sharp, we need to keep our brains active. We can do this by reading intellectual content, playing mind games, drawing, listening to music, writing frequently, learning a new language and through many more activities. During quarantine, I bought tonnes of new books (I’m embarrassed to say how many) which was my favourite way to keep my mind active because I learned a lot from a range of subjects such as sociology, self-care, psychology, and neuroscience. And because of it, I discovered more about myself and how to implement this newfound knowledge into my own life. I’ve also been trying to learn Spanish, paint, and discuss what I’ve learned with my friends and family. It’s important to challenge or at least engage our minds every day instead of solely going through the motions and scrolling through social media. As this can improve memory and our thinking skills in the long term – alongside good sleep and eating healthy, of course, but we all know that went down the drain as soon as this whole lockdown ‘thing’ started. Joking aside, not getting enough sleep or eating a well-balanced diet has been proven to have detrimental effects on our health and mental well-being. I know it’s easier said then done (speaking from someone with insomnia) but taking small steps in creating a better night-time routine and incorporating healthier options into your diet is a step in the right direction.

Clear Space, Clear Mind

Normally our living space reflects how we feel – “your desk is a mirror that reflects your inner mind”. When you’re feeling anxious, your room is usually cluttered and messy like your thoughts, so it makes sense that a messy room can also make you anxious, it seems to be a constant cycle, right? In zen temples in Japan, monks clean the temples every morning and evening, not because the temples are dirty, but because they believe cleaning ‘hones the mind’. I know cleaning and tidying my room has always felt therapeutic for me and my mind feels much clearer afterwards. So, during lockdown, I ensured to keep my room tidy every day (with the occasional inconsistency) and I sorted through all my drawers and boxes to get rid of anything I didn’t need or use – I either donated or sold my clothes and items, of course, to avoid the harm of fast fashion and ensure nothing went to waste. A lot of us have items we don’t really need or acquire new things that are no use to us, simple living is a key part to a clear mind, so why not try parting with old things before acquiring new ones – it can symbolise letting go of your attachments and burdens. I know that tidying your room can seem like such a daunting task, but that’s only when you let it get to a state that seems overwhelming. Spend a few minutes each day to organise your room, as it will create an environment that’s compatible with productivity. I’m sure many of you did this during lockdown because there was nothing else to do, but it’s an important habit to keep around.

To sum up…

The most important part is creating an efficient and consistent routine, such as when you will do your chosen activities and how long you will do them for. Some flexibility can be beneficial for those who don’t enjoy fixed routines, but you need to know when to differentiate between being flexible and staying in your comfort zone. After I slowly introduced these habits into my weekly routine, I created an everyday routine, which consisted of journaling, meditating, walking, doing yoga, Spanish and reading – with some leniency around how long and where I would do each task, because I couldn’t predict how I would feel each day. But, implementing what I learned, trying new things and sticking to these tasks every day was the key to how I stayed sane during lockdown.

I hope you enjoyed reading my experiences with quarantine and that you can take away something from this. I will leave you with a quote by Abu Bakr, to put all of this into perspective – “without knowledge action is useless and knowledge without action is futile”.



Headspace. 2020. The Science-Backed Benefits Of Mindfulness. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 July 2020].


Edgley, R., 2020. The Art Of Resilience. 1st ed. London: Harper Collins, pp.215-216.

McLeod, S., 2020. Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs. [online] Simply Psychology. Available at: [Accessed 22 July 2020].


Forbes, J., 2016. The Benefits Of Hobbies. [online] Delta Psychology. Available at: [Accessed 20 July 2020].


Paluska, S. & Schwenk, A., 2000. Physical Activity and Mental Health. Sports Medicine, 29(3), pp.168–170.

Keeping your mind active

Whitley, M. (2020) 10 Proven Ways to Keep the Mind Sharp as You AgeA Place for Mom. Available at: (Accessed: 29 July 2020).

Clear space, clear mind

Masuno, S. (2019) Zen: The Art of Simple Living. 1st edn. Japan: Penguin Books, pp. 24-28.