Musings of a phenomenologist

Science, psychiatry and random musings

Are you lonesome tonight?

Posted by soveda on December 2, 2008


Well, if you live in Edinburgh you are likely to be according to this you are more likely to be.

Yes this is a story of deprivation and loneliness, or is it? The paper that is being referred to was comissioned by the BBC, not a problem in itself but I do wonder what the motivation behind the comission was.

So what does it all mean? the headline as you see is as follows: People have more feeling of “not belonging” based on a number of demographic variables. Demographic variables that have allegedly been linked to loneliness in the past, but demographic variables nonetheless. Apparently most (97%) of communities have become “more fragmented”, now forgive me if I am being dim but what the hell does that actually mean?

As far as I can see it refers to the fact that people are more likely to be renting privately (nothing to do with affordability of housing is it?), non-married (nothing to do with cohabitation rates having increased?), Living alone or moved within the last year.

In their conclusions they state the following:

“The data and analysis presented here suggests that the social glue and cohesion
has been weakening and that Britain has been steadily moving towards a slightly more
atomised society with each decade that passes. ”

“Although Britain has been dividing and segregating in every way measured by the data
presented in this report, it should be noted that there were some areas where the divisions
narrowed. For instance, Britain is less segregated by race and ethnicity than it was in 1991. It
is also less divided in terms of people owning a car or television set as compared to 30 years
ago. In addition, more people have access to higher education now. There are now ten times
as many 18 and 19 year olds going to university compared to the numbers in 1968.”

Now could these factors be linked? People have more access to cars and are therefore (potentially) more mobile so their social groups can be more spread out.

More people are going into further education and this could perhaps be linked to the time spent in accomodation.

I love the final conclusions:

“The evidence presented in this report suggests that if recent trends
continue into the coming decades, although we may not notice the change year on year, like
lobsters not noticing the heat turning up in the pan, Britons will come to live in an extremely
segregated, fragmented and alienated society in the future. That is if these trends are not
abated. Trends towards segregation and polarisation were reduced significantly within the last
one hundred years of British social history, prior to 1973.”

So what does this actually mean, does the data support their hypothesis?

What about other forms of social cohesion, the groups that are created through internet sites.

To my reading of the paper they have taken a number of variables and extrapolated them beyond what can be reasonably expected of the data.

I can’t see any statistics looking at whether there are significant differences between areas either.

This hasn’t stopped Mark Easton blogging it as “An extraordinary and troubling story”, why is it extaordinary? Do we have comparisons with other countries? It could be very ordinary, and it’s only troubling if you accept the conclusions in the paper, and the concept of anomie itself.


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