Other winning essays
“CITY Inc.” | James Fletcher, King’s College London
“The World in 2065: A rapidly changing climate and a renewed social science” | Gioia Barnbrook, University of Aberdeen
“They know how much oxygen I breathe, which is fine by me” | Josephine Go Jefferies, University of Nottingham
“Doubting gender. Or why it is best to leave certain questions unanswered” | Kristin Hübner, University of Warwick
“After ‘posh and white’: the 50 year slog towards achieving educational equality” | Elizabeth Houghton, Lancaster University
“People will soon be at the very heart of law making” | Louise Thompson, University of Hull (PhD)/ University of Surrey (present)
“One morning in 2065” | Matjaz Vidmar, University of Edinburgh
“Policing in times of financial austerity and beyond: The role of psychology in maximising efficiency” | Rebecca Wheeler, Goldsmiths University of London
“Navigating private life in a public world” | Sam Miles, Queen Mary, University of London
Last year, Britain’s Economic and Social Research Council asked early career social scientists to try their hand at what might be called social-science fiction, looking at what strides their particular fields might achieve in the next 50 years. And like the best traditional science fiction, the winning essays were grounded in the evidence and research of today extended by smart analysis of what the future can hold.
Science fiction, err, speculative fiction, is in the business of predicting what the world will look like in years hence. And the best science fiction gives equal weight to both parts of its moniker: science and fiction.
The World in 2065, as the contest was named, received an array of submissions covering a wide variety of topics addressing key issues affecting society such as climate change, gender inequality, education and the law. The contest was co-sponsored by SAGE (the parent of Social Science Space), which like the ESRC celebrated its 50th birthday in 2015, and which again like the ESRC is busily writing its own narrative for another successful 50 years.
“Science communication is currently something of a buzz phrase in the academic world, so it was particularly interesting to see how this crop of up-and-coming scientists set about encapsulating their hopes and fears for their disciplines over the next 50 years in under 800 words,” Tash Reith-Banks, one of four judges in the competition, wrote in The Guardian, where she is the production editor for the Science desk. The other three judges were Alan Gillespie, the chair of ESRC since 2009; Miranda Nunhofer, executive director for SAGE; and Martin Ince, a freelance journalist specializing in research and higher education.
Over the last 10 weeks Social Science Space has presented the 10 shortlisted essays: the overall winner, two essays honored as ‘highly commended,’ and the seven other essays on the shortlist. Here, we present our finalminstallment, the highly commended essay “Keeping Pace with the ‘Perennial Gale of Competition'” by Samuel Ian Quigg of University of Surrey. You can read his full entry below:
“Keeping Pace with the ‘Perennial Gale of Competition’”
By Samuel Ian Quigg
Who will be able to cope and thrive with the demands of living and labouring in the ‘Competition State’?
Joseph Schumpeter vividly described capitalism as ‘the perennial gale of creative destruction’. He is credited with coining the term Unternehmengeist (‘entrepreneurial spirit’) – and it is such a ‘spirit’ that everything under the sun should represent for perennial success. To possess an entrepreneurial spirit is to be well-prepared to navigate and overcome the uncertainties and risks that life will bring, and all social institutions, whether (for example) universities or the family, should drive home the message that the good citizen is responsible for securing the future. A ‘competition state’, as opposed to the welfare state, is one where individuals are enabled and made responsible for realising their economic potential. One policy to enable citizens has been to widen university participation, with the university degree acting as the great equaliser of life chances – allowing young people to gamely wage battle with the invisible forces of the market. However, being a graduate amidst a sea of the same ilk is unlikely to alone make the final cut in the coming ‘jobs war’, where prospective top talent will need to accumulate a wealth of experience that pays testament to their striving to fulfill their potential.
It is hardly a bold prediction that the welfare state will be an institutional relic by 2065, having been usurped by a more globally competitive model heralding the creative powers of the individual to cope with social and economic turbulence. The entrepreneurial citizen is one emancipated from the state and Ulrich Beck’s ‘zombie categories’, such as gender, class and ethnicity. Any talk of limits in the competition state will simply allow the perennial gale to blow the weakest away, while the strongest push forward. It is a gale that will separate the winners with the right work ethic from those who have failed to grasp the multiple opportunities available. In 2065 a multitude of individuals will be competing more than ever to stand out from the crowd, supplementing standard academic credentials with value-added extras, attempting to strategically market every experience as part of a seamless digital identity that communicates entrepreneurial flair.
Continually reinvigorating the entrepreneurial identity is a life-time project, becoming all the more apparent in 2065 as concepts such as retirement, linear career progression and time-out from gainful employment become anathema to the essence of the competition state. It will be a period of accelerated time where every moment is more dreamt than lived, with minds focussed upon being better tomorrow than today. Language around the ideal entrepreneurial citizen can seem, on the one hand, akin to a spiritual experience of uncovering the hidden depths of self, and, on the other, simply towards maximising economic performance – as well as, ironically, projecting social conformity. While the competition state may celebrate diverse talents, these should serve the same ultimate purpose, namely economic growth, with responsibility for success in the present and future resting firmly on the resilience and ingenuity of the self.
Returning to the ‘perennial gale of creative destruction’, how might this reflect capitalism in 2065? The competition state will have wholly normalised the onus on the individual to continually prove their intrinsic worth, with those at the wayside left to consider their failure. Regrettably the chances of rising again after falling from the perennial gale is, at best, negligible, as it will move forward with those remaining in the relentless pursuit of more. The perennial gale of creative destruction is an unforgiving force that will spurn non-entrepreneurial parts, regardless of mitigating circumstances or previous performance, as the competition state, for better or worse, is narrowly focused on the future. Those not carried by this gale are destined to live and labour precariously, on the margins of those who have managed, thus far, to fly high through their permanent restlessness in the present.
Future social research must break down how meritocratic this competitive gale is with respect to who it unscrupulously drops to ground level, leaving them to deal with the ‘bads’ of entrepreneurial society. There is likely to be game or membership rules that go well beyond those resources that are easily or freely attainable. Assuming that such a socio-economic model is a good basis for ensuring that modern societies remain globally competitive and fair – which I doubt – the social sciences must remain alert to old inequalities in new forms. While an entrepreneurial spirit in sustaining the winds of change is not to be knocked, it would be a body blow to social progress if this spirit can only be practiced effectively by an elite, while a precarious multitude live and labour at the edges – far removed from that gale of inclusion and opportunity that has long since passed.