The contemporary UK appears to offer almost endless agency within everyday lives. The amount of freedom and choice available fifty years ago needs to be compared with people today to establish whether or not the title statement is valid.
People in the UK today enjoy an increase in choice of food available through the year. An abundance of fruit of vegetables out of season keeps the consumers happy (Woodward, 2005, p.40). Additional complications over the selection of these foods occur with the choice of locally produced, organic and fair-trade options. Fair-trade products are the result of the farmers fighting back with the help of aid organisations. Increased globalisation pushed prices lower having negative consequences on these already poor suppliers.
Pessimistic globalists see the negative aspects to globalisation that create increased agency for the wealthy yet little benefit to the poor producers emphasizing the inequalities and uneven consequences from globalization (Kelly and Prokhovnik, 2004, p.96). Genetically modified foods appeared on the shelves to satisfy the pressure of the consumer for high quality, low cost produce. Global companies tried to dominate this market taking the freedom of choice from the consumer. If genetically modified foods are the only ones on the shelves, the consumer’s choice is withdrawn (Mackay, 2004, p.30).
Not only has the choices of food increased but the shops in which they’re sold has gained greater variety. Fifty years ago the shops on the high street were mainly local independent traders. If a product was not stocked in one of these shops, then it was not available to be purchased. Today however, the high streets are packed with large retail chains offering a great range of goods. Increased transport opportunities make travel to cities accessible to visit a plethora of other shops. The internet allows access to even more products so the consumer can locate exactly what they want to buy. The high street however, whilst appearing to hold a range of shops within, will have largely identical shops found in most towns and cities across the UK. Whilst greater choice is seemingly available, that choice is the same nationwide.
Online shopping gives the freedom to shop at home in any country through increased technology. This technology also gives criminals access to a global market for credit card fraud making detection and prosecution difficult. The increased diversity of shopping opportunities available provides the possibility for uncertainty over the security of personal information. The internet though is amazing technology considering fifty years ago global communication was only achieved, for most people through letters or telephone calls, not always with complete accuracy. Freedom of speech can be sent around the world through the internet and lobbying groups formed globally without the need to search personally to find like minded individuals (Mackay, 2004, p.56).
Other information can be shared internationally through this media such as medical knowledge. Doctors no longer are the only expert who may be consulted when someone is feeling unwell. Generally, society has a greater access to knowledge from many different sources (Woodward et al., 2004, p123). This allows individuals agency to question the decisions of experts. This increased knowledge causes confusion however, with conflicting advice being given by different sources of knowledge. The TV06 Mother Knows Best? (2006) DVD shows a mother concerned about her child’s MMR vaccination that is due.
Five different expert opinions are portrayed ranging from the health visitor insisting that measles is more dangerous than the MMR vaccination to a parent from ‘JABS’ stating that the MMR vaccine is so detrimental to a child’s health that the program should be suspended immediately. This amount of diversity within experts and their knowledge is creating fear in a more uncertain society. A change in importance of experts has emerged from the diverse range of knowledge available. Fifty years ago, if a doctor advised a mother that her child must be immunised it would be accepted that it was the best course of action to take for her child. It is widely received that an individual will research all the available options before taking the advice of an expert.
Contemporary society lives within an environment of increased technology. Television and media companies relay news around the globe instantaneously to be watched live on computers or television. Newspapers report more on scandal rather than factual news as they would of fifty years previously. Worryingly, the current media infrastructure consists of ten major companies which have the power to dominate the market on a global scale (Mackay, 2004, p.57).
These companies have power over what is and what is not released to the public thus people are able to watch instant news but only if it is approved by the owning media company. Satellites beam these pictures into our television sets with an increasing number of channels appearing yet the choice of television programmes available to watch are not raising at the same rate. Frustrated people can be heard around the country, “All these channels, and still nothing to watch!”
Increased technology of the internet and media production introduces global issues into everyday lives. Environmental concerns have been televised to an extent that no-one in the Western world could deny that they had not heard of global warming. An individual can research further information for their benefit and choose to live a more environmentally friendly lifestyle (Bromley, 2004, p.88). This agency currently also permits someone to continue to live with an unchanged routine which may have a detrimental affect on the environment.
Reduce, reuse and recycle were not catch phrases around fifty years ago yet some people were concerned with living in harmony with their environment. These ‘new age beliefs’ include a wide range of practices including homeopathy and rieki healing and as a whole concept been considered to be a religion although there is not necessarily a God to whom they pray to (Thompson and Woodward, 2004, p.66). Evidence suggests that more formal religions have experienced a decline in church attendance which may be due to the explanations that science can attach to religious phenomenon.
Science however can not provide any guidance or comfort and people may search for alternative religions for spiritual reassurance (Thompson and Woodward, 2004, p.51). Increased religious diversity is providing people with an alternative to the traditional British churches although these churches are attempting to change with modern times since women are now able to become priests and play an important role within the church (Thompson and Woodward, 2004, p.58). Increased diversity within the UK has also brought different religions into everyday culture.
‘The culture of a society is its shared meaning, values and practices’, so with the multitude of ethnicities present, cultures are diversifying and becoming uncertain. The boxer, Amir Khan was cheered on by his friends and family ‘waving Union Jack flags and Pakistani flags’ identifying him with both cultures (Woodward, 2005, p.43). Increasing interconnection between people through globalisation is achieved with diversity. TV, film, news and the internet allow diversity of contemporary society. ‘Young people, who may sing karaoke, eat sushi, drink Australian wine, wear Nike, holiday in Florida and Ibiza and listen to world music’ (Woodward, 2005, p.40) have benefited from globalisation making many things possible.
Fifty years ago, the only take away to be found within UK towns was the fish and chip shop. In contrast, today’s myriad of food outlets allows the consumer to eat their way around the world and include these different cuisines in their culture. The contemporary ‘UK is not only multi-ethnic’ yet ‘mixed and interconnected’ (Woodward, 2005, p.47). The combination of different influences from around the world all meeting together has a huge impact on the younger generation who tend to be most effected, especially where music is concerned, taking its influence from ‘traditions and techniques that cross continents’ (Woodward, 2005, p.40).
People in the contemporary UK appear to have greater choice and freedom than fifty years ago. Increased technology brings greater access to knowledge and agency over their lifestyle and health. This increased choice created sometimes has a negative impact on others around the world and also brings uncertainty from things such as global criminal gangs operating credit card fraud over the internet. The agency people appear to hold however may be limited by large companies who choose what the consumer or viewer may have access to. People in the UK are more knowledgeable and discuss their freedom and choice greatly but whilst appearing that they have more than those from fifty years ago, their agency is narrowed by those in power.
Woodward, K. (2005) DD122 Course Introduction, Milton Keynes, The Open University.
Mackay, H. (2004) ‘The Globalisation of Culture?’ in Held, D. (ed.) A Globalizing World? Culture, Economics, Politics, London, Routledge/The Open University.
Kelly, B. and Prokhovnik, R. (2004) ‘Economic globalisation?’ in Held, D. (ed.) A Globalizing World? Culture, Economics, Politics, London, Routledge/The Open University.
Thompson, K. and Woodward, K. (2004) ‘Knowing and Believing: Religious Knowledge’, in Goldblatt, K. Knowledge and the Social Sciences: Theory, Method, Practice, London, Routledge/The Open University.
Bromley, S. (2004) ‘Political Ideologies and the Environment’, in Goldblatt, K. Knowledge and the Social Sciences: Theory, Method, Practice, London, Routledge/The Open University.
Woodward, k., Goldblatt, D. and McFall, L. (2004) ‘Changing times, changing knowledge’, in Goldblatt, K. Knowledge and the Social Sciences: Theory, Method, Practice, London, Routledge/The Open University.
DD122 DVD TV Programmes, TV06 Mother Knows Best? (2006) DVD, The Open University