Above: Local Company Experien’s Myriad Categorisation of market categories
If you don’t believe a word that you hear or read, if you go through life thinking I’ll read this but I’d really like to read something that makes me feel humanly connected to the world around me. I agree.
The Mosaic system of social classification reminds me of the kinds of quizzes you read in pop psychology magazines. The problem is though, it’s razor sharp clever about who you are, where you are, where you’ve been and what your life chances are. A Parliamentary Select Committee described Experien’s information resource as ‘the Crown Jewels of the UK’ but the problem with the development of Mosaic is that although it’s been instrumental in growing and developing the UK brand and luxury brands across the world, when it comes to connecting and including the people and communities that funded it in its early iterations as Cavendish Woodhouse, Great Universal Stores, CCN Systems, then Experien, the money it gained from the tally man and hire purchase, catalogue and credit systems culture and technology, came from the people with the least money in society.
Yet they were excluded from the new systems. We’ve now got a permanent underclass, people living on the streets and a culture of gambling and addiction.
There’s a big discussion at the moment about all kinds of abuse.
To remedy this we need to work out how we can address, change and rehabilitate people, live better, have a really satisfying personal life. We need to work out how big companies and organisations can become part of our aspirations for a better world. The issues are legal, cultural, social, moral, as well as the economic. We need to bring the people at the top of society out of the shadows as well as those stuck in the so-called underclass.
We need to change the way we see Britain and who we are in the world too.
If, as a society we were able to address all forms of abuse then we’d really be getting somewhere. As with equalities, we’re in an environment where the powerful think that a ‘pick and mix’ of addressing degrees of abuse is enough. Where power structures aren’t addressed and the actual environment is toxic and dystopic for everyone.
In the work setting, you have a static monoculture at the top of governments, organisations and companies and then the ‘tier of representation’ where you have the display of multiculturalisms (to almost to ‘brand’ or market the ‘capital’ but actually in many sectors it’s effectively pick and mix ‘mmm we’ll be out there…we’ll have young women and gay men in our organisation (but noone from an ethnic minority and no woman over forty…).
I think this applies to the way cameras and films are used to gain victim testimony. (I worked as a logger in the crown court, trials, cases and plea management before automation). The demands of the legal system to perform could be addressed and changed. Because abuse isn’t just sexual abuse, is it? It’s institutional, class, race abuse, age etc. It happens all the time.
I know this because I experienced, not sexual abuse but abuse by a professional at an early age that changed the whole course of my life. I realised it only happened because our family were seen as different and that after the first abuse we probably were stalked by institutions and our boundaries weren’t ever respected. That was a revelation to me.
I think there has been since the creation and development of the welfare state an institutional stalking of difference which has undermined equalities, health care, educational gains and has allowed those institutions to be controlled by markets in deficits.
I’m thinking here of how the Mosaic system of financial marketing segmentation now seems to include life chance data. It has replaced cleaner statistics (statistics that assume people are just people) in the health service to define groups and individuals based on what is really social exclusion and denial of access to work, housing, training and a full range of NHS services on the basis of those assumed life chances.
Because of marketing segmentation everyone’s view then of what the NHS (and other social services including education) are now seen through ‘who they are’, their professional and social status which makes it easier to speak in stereotypes about a genetic underclass. Mosaic tells a story of success and under privilege.
This can be changed: the reason there is so little awareness within the NHS (and in other institutions, government, companies, sports organisations and the media) that can be constructively communicated is because of the information has been structurally collated to be socially confusing, to put you off thinking in a more holistic way.
We now use the Experien Mosiac classification system for everything, It’s our robot and why we’ve got such weird and dystopic notions of our country just now. So many nightmare and apocalyptic visions that suit the people who want the world to end nigh.
When you think about how Mosaic evolved it tells you a lot about why we should be wary.
After the second world war the empire ended. The new NHS and British infrastructure was built on empire labour but the people who built it, just as the people who built all our infrastructure were excluded from participating, no blacks, irish, italians, chinese etc in the new council houses, second class access to everything, the white working class used as a hate foil probably against ideas of newness, sharing, new ways of living, working, thinking, being and doing.
Community and solidarity isn’t a threat if you’re humane. If you’re humane you welcome it. It’s peaceful and peace loving, let’s you get on with becoming more than you are.
What’s really interesting is that the ideas of consumerism though and access to the new things came through hire purchase, the tallyman, clubs, groups but the whole door knocking for products built the Cavendish Woodhouse, Great Universal Stores, (catalogues) CCN Systems and Experien, here in Nottingham were built on the eugenic notion of a criminal underclass who gambled and squandered, liked baubles and trinkets but amounted to nothing.
Yet that was so wrong. The people who bought on trust and on tick were the ones who counted and accounted but they were written off by the new system that they were force fed on the new estates. They didn’t count because the myth was they couldn’t count, but they were counting just that they weren’t seen as part of the scene that mattered.
The picture is complex but suffice to say, (a bit like Bright House now), that Cavendish Woodhouse and all its iterations into catalogues like Freemans and Argos, groomed the people on low incomes for these new products and they paid every week into the pots.
And the pots grew and as the pots grew, the profits grew and the pot of profit enabled technology to evolve. Cavendish Woodhouse, Great Universal Stores catalogues and Argos looked across the world and saw the US and it was good. They grew a new form of information gathering and called it CCN Systems which then became Experien. And some things they got right but, I’d argue, because they only considered how they’d profit they’d forgotten that they’d also taken something on trust that they’d abused: the hope and idealism of everyone who made their business work, let them go about their daily lives in peace because they excluded the people and deeper dimensions of what people need and are from the shiny new credit system. The people they’d excluded made it possible.
A bit like slaves not getting reparations when slavery ended but the slave holders being compensated. I suppose it’s an old colonial model but it’s a bit embarrassing now when it’s dressed up as the shining heat of all that’s cutting edge in intelligence.
In its first iteration, CCN was seeking approval from the great and the good in the way most new businesses are, most new ideas are. So its notion of status and what a person was wasn’t broad and cultural and sociological, it was narrow and based on the here and now of what these programmers could see on their own financial horizons. These people weren’t educated broadly, more’s the pity, they were educated instrumentally to look at what was already there, to determine and to control.
So ideas of status were based purely on existing privilege and the way things seemed to them.
And all good writers and cultural producers in the fifties and sixties were tasked with writing about the problems of the ‘culture’ without really understanding that they were the cultural producers and had a responsibility to tell the stories of everyone in the city.
That’s why knowing so many people who were immigrants here of every background and then reading the kinds of things Alan Sillitoe wrote about people here (notice he didn’t even see Irish, Caribbeans, Indians, Pakistanis, Africans, Italians Chinese etc), he was tasked with mythologising the working class white man) at a time when there was potentially so much more and better things to be documented, bigger things to be said.
The people in Nottingham were written off by the middle class intellectuals, just as in the new credit systems even if you’d ever paid regularly and promptly for something you might be written off if your face didn’t fit. The people who had paid promptly for their furnishings and furniture would come from all parts of Nottingham but their credit status was inflated if they owned their own property and down graded if they rented a property. Or if there were things that could be written about you, generally, not if you were of higher status.
It was based on the feudal system but not, as it was part of a process that would result in Margaret Thatcher deciding that people who run businesses should be put at the top of social classifications, as leaders and academics and knowledge about people, society, health and things beyond this narrow remit should be sidelined and mocked as waste and wasteful.
Mosaic did to a developing notion of social classification and developing equalities in the Liverpool Poverty Studies, what Marx did to Hegel with the hermeneutics of knowledge. The impact of this can be seen in the way the police honestly believed that striking coal miners were evil, that Hillsborough contained the devil’s spawn and that Liverpool as a city was a threat to the state.
The Liverpool Poverty Studies were at the forefront of social campaigning and informed social policy. CCN and later Experien turned the notion of a community into nothing more than a market to privilege, so socially segmented that it looks like a form of apartheid. You can’t look at Mosaic and understand people, all you can understand is why so many people have problems.
Although there are many categories and classifications, it’s a deficit model that structures and hides its core assumptions. It’s a dystopic feudal model because there’s no sense of any notion of social justice as its underpinning. Although the feudal model of society was ruthless there was a sense that after the second world war that the welfare state was the apex of feudal morality, with a kind of centripetal social bond offering protection and receiving service: creating national assets in trust for everyone. Creating trust with everyone.
The Mosaic model replaced any sense that anyone can be trusted. Now we need the sense of a structure that we can participate in, interrogate and change.
Mosaic separates the privileged from everyone else and then rebuilds a strucutrated classification system which is really only based on superficial assumptions about privilege and aspiration. It retells the privileged story of success over and over again until even the privileged will die of ennui, reading it.
If you’re privileged at say age 18, (a white boy from a professional family hides embedded assumptions and cultural access), then you’ll continue to be privileged throughout your journey through the market and your life because the Mosaic tools are there to help you access the markets it assumes you’re interested in and keeps your head away from thinking about or worrying about anyone else.
If you’re not privileged (eg: a black gay, disabled boy from a single parent hard working family displays assumptions, deficits and always already failing because the classification overtakes information from the underprivileged and undertakes from the privileged).
Some people’s journey in this tariff will always be on a deficit (you’ll never gain, or be given ‘credit”) throughout your interactions with any organisation Indeed you’ll be viewed as a problem, as someone who wants or needs something that marks you out as a problem. So it’s a kind of boys club that the boys have used to prevent access to jobs, educational, social and cultural opportunities.
The terrible wrong though that Mosaic does is to everyone. Because it does a terrible disservice to those marked out as privileged: it alienates them as much as it alienates its own self described underclass. It’s good for markets but should never be used for commissioning health, education services, sports, culture, politics.
Everyone’s lives have shrunk because of the loss of equality and community values in the way we live because of this power structure created by a few privileged men after the second world war on behalf of everyone but in actual fact it was only for the few. This has created the conditions for Isis to thrive: the lack of meaning and understanding it has engendered has momentum: it’s hate on steroids, it hates children, hates love, hates beauty hates anything that isn’t about exploitation and rationality.
Now is the time to temper it.
We need to be able to think beyond the moment into the past the present and the future. We’re in a place at the moment where we’re stuck. If we can think in terms of how we need to add value in thinking, in connections it’ll make a massive difference.
A granular understanding of everyone’s lives needs to be written back into our Nottingham history and connected with the rest of the UK, Europe and the world, so the energy for real social change can come back in a much better form.
We’ve been socialised into thinking that there is an underclass and it’s like a slave pool that the privileged groups of men can pick and choose out of, can give a golden ticket to a deserving member of that savage pool, whether it be by taking the children away from ‘the chaotic and alienated home’, privatising education so that at one end you have the massive academy chains surrounded by high walls and Chief Execs who earn a fortune (but the teachers have to hustle the parents for money for music lessons and books) and free schools where the loony and the well intentioned and the religiously inspired are set against each other in a competition to put ever more pressure on children, or in the Brave New World of Child Care provision where working parents have to put their children into care before and after work into places where the working class become nannies, fooled into endless NVQs that don’t really develop their careers or aspirations because there’s no real career structure child care any more.
When ignorant headline writers and scientists talk about ‘underclass eugenics’, I know how socially constructed these categories are, how vested interests rely on fear and hate intellectual, social and cultural enquiry about how things could be different, how much better society can be. I have experienced exclusion and my own opportunities being limited because I want to know what I think rather than just fit in and compromise and it’s hard.
Just after my dad died. My mum was on her own with four children and she wanted everything to be right for us, took us all to the dentist. I was seven and a half and all my second teeth had just come through and I was really proud of them. I was very close to my mum and we went happily to the dentist. Neither of us thought there was anything wrong with my teeth, they were new. The dentist, straight away looked at my teeth and said.
‘Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear…. she’ll have to have a few fillings…(we believed him because we trusted him)
The reason I remember this detail now is that I’m doing a lot of writing and had started listening to the BBC Writer’s Room Podcasts and one of the writers Sarah Phelps, talks about how one of the actors she wrote for (Gillian Anderson ‘nailed it’). She was talking about writing the character of Miss Haversham but for some reason it made me think of this dentist:
‘that slightly kind of hypersexualised, mandarin way of speaking where everything is couched in a hidden language and you think you’re responding to someone’s etiquette but instead you’re being dragged into a very strange, warped, tortured and very unhappy world’
I suddenly realised that in writing the character, Sarah was also writing the world that created Miss Haversham also. She was producing the negative of a kind of Dorian Gray ).
The dentist persuaded my mum that I should have eight teeth filled under anaesthetic. Over two visits I had that done. And I suffered. I had dreams that I was chewing barbed wire and the dreams used to follow me wherever I was. I couldn’t concentrate at school. One day at lunch time I ran down for lunch at home and thought ‘I know, if I can just get my comic I’ll feel better’. So I persuaded my mum to give me my pocket money. I ran down the road and could see a red mini approaching. There are two versions of this memory. The first is that I waited to cross, thought the car had stopped and crossed and was hit feet first head over heels through the windscreen, the windscreen wiper going through my upper lip, landing on the ground, getting up, then being carried by an irish workman into the sweetshop, sat on a stool, then becoming dizzy and wanting to lie down.
Or there’s this version. I saw the car coming. I was feeling so uncomfortable. My mouth was throbbing. I never stopped thinking about the fillings. I wanted them to go away. I saw the car and thought. What would happen if I walked in to it? I saw the car slow down, I hoped it would stop but didn’t really care. I just wanted to get rid of the teeth that were in my head. I was hit and thrown up, my head went through the windscreen, the windscreen wiper pierced my lip I was thrown back on to the road. I got up and then an irish builder came and held my hand then picked me up and carried me into the sweet shop. I lay down on the floor and the woman who ran the sweet shop brought me a stool. I tried to sit on it but felt so tired and lay down.
The dentist took advantage of the NHS and me as a child. I think that the ignorance and cruelty that is vested on difference by privilege will be changed if we want it.