What is the Big Society planned for Britain?

Has anyone been keeping up with the debate on the Big Society in Britain? Apparently it has become a serious position of the new non-Labor administration  and a storm has blown up over funding by the Arts and Humanities Research Council to research the Big Society.

Rick Rylance, the Chief Executive of the Council, defends the project, saying that researching the topic is not the same as promoting it

The first point to make is factual. Although Big Society may have started as a one-party election catchphrase (and as such would be unworthy of mention in the plan), it has, since 18 May 2010, been public policy. It was launched by Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy, Nick Clegg. The latter noted at the time that “we’ve been using different words for a long time and actually mean the same thing: ‘Liberalism’; ‘Big Society’; ‘Empowerment’; ‘Responsibility’. It means the same thing.”

Lexical juggling marked the Big Society’s inauguration. The theme was pursued by Labour, which criticised it as an attempt to “steal” its language of “fairness, solidarity and responsibility”. As the AHRC Delivery Plan comments, this calls for clarification.

Many academic voices are raised in protest and a statement has  been circulated demanding that the topic be removed from the research agenda. Another petition is circulating.

This is a list of signtories to the first statement. Some of the signatories raise suspicions.

Architectural Humanities Research Group
Association for Legal and Social Philosophy
Association of University Departments of Theology and Religious Studies
Association of University Professors and Heads of French
Association of Social Anthropology
Australasian Society for Continental Philosophy
British Philosophical Association
British Association for American Studies
British Association for Jewish Studies
British Association of Slavonic and East European Studies
British Association for Study of Religions
British International Studies Association
British Society for 18th-century studies
British Society for the History of Science
British Society of Aesthetics
British Sociological Association
Council of University Classics Departments
Economic History Society
English Goethe Society
Marx and Philosophy Society
Modern Humanities Research Association
National Association for Music in Higher Education
National Association of Writers in Education
Political Studies Association Media and Politics Specialist group
Royal Musical Association
The British Society for Ethical Theory
The Council of the British Association for Korean Studies
The Philological Society
The Society for French Studies
The Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies
The Social History Society
The UK and Ireland Association for Political Thought
The UK Sartre Society

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11 Responses to What is the Big Society planned for Britain?

  1. Louis Hissink

    Just read the founding principles of the English Fabian Society, and of its successors – it’s that simple.

  2. Judith Sloan

    Is Big Society related to Big Brother? First cousin, I think. Note that in all the guff about Big Society there is no mention of the central role of profit-making enterprises. Looks like Australian Labor, just contracting out lots of services that were once the sole preserve of the public sector.

  3. “Big Society”, what a stupid concept. What is a “big” society. Fat individuals? That he then forced the humanities to research a concept that helped him win an election is a remarkable act of stupidity because it betrays that he has no clear idea in his mind about what a big society is. Big – nothing to do with logic and all about emotions, humans respond to “big”. Welcome to modern politics where words are more important than clear thinking.

  4. .

    John H is bang on.

    The stupidity of rhetoric:

    A mountain in Germany cannot offend a mountain in France

  5. dover_beach

    JohnH, now that you’ve criticised the “Big Society” you might give some thought to what a “social democracy” means.

  6. .

    English Goethe Society

    Who cares what the Bosche say?

  7. Rafe

    Not to mention the Sartre Society!

  8. Has anyone been keeping up with the debate on the Big Society in Britain?

    No hadn’t heard of it.

    From a BBC’s bit on the Coombaiyah Circle:

    And in response to suggestions that people believed he was “Margaret Thatcher all over again”, he said: “I am different to Margaret Thatcher, different to past Conservative governments, this whole idea of emphasising the importance of building the Big Society and all the things that we can do – government is not just making cuts, sitting back and saying ‘let’s hope society steps forward’.”

    Very different to Thatcher’s views of society. For Cameron it’s very much real. In fact I bet the Iron Baroness is busy resisting the urge to hire some ex-SAS mercenaries. I don’t know what this is all about except it involves social entrepreneurship and the BLP says it’ll destroy volunteer organisations that exist.

    Is that a thought-out strategy? Or the unintended consequence of a lunch-hour brainfart?

  9. Looks like Australian Labor, just contracting out lots of services that were once the sole preserve of the public sector.

    Isn’t that what Howard did with child care?

    And then that ABC snafu… With Salaryanne Atkinson. Mmmm. Years later and I still smell a big fat rat.

  10. m0nty

    There’s a Big Society Tsar! And he’s Chinese! Couldn’t be more communist if David Cameron grew a Trotsky beard. 🙂

    To me it sounds like cutting funds to government programs and relying on volunteerism to cover the things that the public sector used to do. Which is to say, it’s a load of cobbler’s. Though I suppose that’s what Australian governments have been doing for years in areas like mental health and aged care, so why not?

  11. JohnH, now that you’ve criticised the “Big Society” you might give some thought to what a “social democracy” means.

    What I have criticized is the ambiguity of the concept, that it is propaganda masquerading as social policy. You have completely missed my point.

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