What goes without saying comes without saying (Part 1)


Eric Pickles and Louise Casey performed something of a doxic double-act yesterday when discussing the latest figures and ‘phenomenal’ progress of the Troubled Families Programme. On a number of occasions they left things un-said and, in doing so, created a self-evident, common sense view of the world which didn’t need to be discussed.  Bourdieu suggested that ‘what is essential goes without saying because it comes without saying’ (p 167, 1977) and that politicians seek to portray the arbitrary as natural and self-evident.  I think it’s worth looking at some of this doxa that was secreted yesterday. We’ll look at Pickles contribution in this blog and Casey’s in another one here.

Pickles actually talked about a ‘no-nonsense and common sense approach’ but the bit that caught my eye is below:

Louise is not afraid of inflicting that pain. It’s tough love. I think we’re not doing this to be unpleasant to people, we are doing this to say you are ruining your life, you are ruining the lives of your children.

If we don’t do something now 25 years from now we’ll be dealing with your children. That gives people a chance.

Implicit and unspoken within this is that these families don’t respond to a caring and supportive approach, what Pickles called elsewhere ‘a lot of feeling people’s pain’. They only respond to ‘pain’ being inflicted on them, incapable of higher cognitive function and the implication is that they are probably incapable of offering care or support to others if they don’t respond to such an approach themselves.

Pickles, in talking about ‘ruining’ the lives of their children and setting the scene for 25 years down the line borrows from intergenerational transmission arguments. He leaves no room for doubt that these families will bring up children who will prove to be a similar ‘problem’ to the state and others. Pickles line bears close resemblance to a sentence written by Henry Herbert Goddard in 1912 in a book  looking at ‘feeblemindedness’. He wrote that ‘for practical purposes it is, of course, pretty clear that it is safe to assume that two feeble-minded parents will never have anything but feeble-minded children.’ (pp104-114, 1912, in Welshman p52, 2006)

But the idea has been widely discredited, especially in this country. Very recent work has focused on the idea that ‘cultures of worklessness’ are passed down the generations (see Shildrick et al 2012). However, if we look at the ‘Transmitted Deprivation’ programme in the 1970s extensive academic work, commissioned and instigated by the Conservative MP Sir Keith Joseph found falws with the thesis that familial cycles of disadvantage existed. Rutter and Madge, in a review of the evidence, write:

… this apparent focus on the family is too narrow. In the first place … continuities over time regarding high rates of various forms of disadvantage can be seen in terms of schools, inner city areas, social classes, ethnic groups and other social and cultural situations which lie outside the family.  These are also highly important. In the second place, even with respect to familial continuities, the reason for the intergenerational continuity may not be familial at all but rather may reflect the influence of a common social environment or a common political structure on successive generations.

… even with the variables showing the strongest continuities across successive generations, discontinuities are prominent and frequent. Among children reared under conditions of severe multiple disadvantage, many develop normally (sic) and go on in adult life to produce, happy non-disadvantaged families of their own. Although intergenerational cycles of disadvantage exist, the exceptions are many and a surprisingly large proportion of people of people reared in conditions of privation and suffering do NOT reproduce that pattern in the next generation. (pp5-6, 1976, original emphasis)

But then, none of the findings from this research programme, or others like it, ever get discussed by the likes of Pickles who prefer to define the world using ‘common sense’ approaches. I’ll finish with a bit of Bourdieu, who wrote:

In class societies, in which the definition of the social world is at stake in overt or latent class struggle, the drawing of the line between the field of opinion, of that which is explicitly questioned, and the field of doxa, of that which is beyond question and which each agent tacitly accords by the mere fact of acting in accord with social convention, is itself a fundamental objective at stake in that form of class struggle which is the struggle for the imposition of the dominant systems of classification. (p 169, 1977)

The second part of this post, on Louise Casey’s comments on contraception, can be found here


Bourdieu, P. (1977) Outline of a Theory of Practice, New York: Cambridge University Press

Goddard, H. H. (1912) The Kallikak Family: A Study in the Heredity of Feeblemindedness, New York: Arno Press in Welshman, J. (2006) Underclass: A History of the Excluded 1880-2000, London: Hambledon Continuum

Rutter, M & Madge, N (1976) Cycles of Disadvantage, London: Heinemann

Shildrick, T., Macdonald, R. Furlong, A., Crow, R. & Roden, J. (2012) Are cultures of worklessness passed down the generations?  York: JRF