Squaring up to society

4 min readOct 16, 2019


Before exploring at how we create positive disruption, let’s start by going back to first principles and exploring what the frictions are between the social constructions of reality we’ve internalised and the realities we confront everyday.

First up, let’s look at the frictions between the representations we make of our political and economic system and the realities we experience.

All consuming: The frictions between consumption and production

What people feel angry about is how some countries have been tougher to its people while others have been tougher with the powerful, how society has been tougher to its children who will have to foot the bill even if they won’t have anything to pay it with. But this is about our responsibility too as citizens.

Indeed, our “spending power” has been sufficient enough to be able to avoid any need to produce. It has disguised the fact that the structures of power controlling consumption have strangled the capacity for local production and our market-driven education has suffocated our capability to create, repair and re-use goods rather than just buy new products.

It has also created changes in people’s economic behaviour. As people realise that they can’t get loans from banks, they turn to legal loan sharks, exacerbating the structural and cultural “acceptance” of having excessive private debt in the UK.

1. Getting “real” with the economy: The frictions between the real economy and the financial system

When people do look for solutions that can’t be delivered in the old industrial way, this shift in thinking doesn’t just happen; “After two generations of “you are on your own” economics, it is really hard for people to ask for and receive help from their neighbours. We understand charity, but genuine reciprocity is harder…The pressure and the responsibility of creating a new economy felt overwhelming, even paralyzing, and what I was doing felt silly and small.” (@resiliencircles)

Could there be external social trends that create spaces for these shifts to happen quicker than we might anticipate? “The shift from house to neighbourhood, and from buying to renting, is driven by a number of factors from delaying marriage, to academic debt, to persistent unemployment.”

2. Squaring up to democracy: The frictions between political power and the economics of democracy

And these external social trends are exhibiting themselves not just in our economy, but in our democracies. You might think it irrelevant or even inappropriate that in democracies like Spain and Greece, social movements have co-opted the symbols and imagery of these revolutions to mobilise people on very different causes.

But as I wrote in an open letter to comrades in Egypt “It’s the need for an economic revolution that makes our destinies intertwined so we don’t end up at the wrong end of the global supply chain. You haven’t waited years to remobilise after your revolutions, this time you’re organising to transform your economy. We’ve been sleepwalking for years, thinking that if we spent more, we’d get what we wanted.”

It’s also become much easier and quicker for people to feel bonds of shared experience of suffering from the recession with others through social media. But this isn’t just about making your message go viral like the #solidarityhashtag, it’s about using connectors like the #acampde (add your public square) to get people to the physical spaces where people can rehearse the democracy (@jeromeroos) they want to practice.

3. Manufacturing consent: The frictions between public opinion

It’s perhaps especially in the communications and media arena that these representations of reality are falling apart the most visibly. The structures that controlled the media have been so distant from any sense of accountability with their audience that they never predicted they could fall from the “commanding heights a kind of journalism that dispenses power, intimidates and influences politicians and shapes political outcomes”. They “manufactured consent” (@paulmasonnews) so well that we didn’t see it either.

But this isn’t just about the mainstream media, it’s about how we use new forms of media too. If there’s a channel that manufactures consent, it’s the web that often makes us to want to manufacture or retweet consent. With much of the web “you don’t choose the filter. It chooses you

So we need to reflect on the representations we construct about our relationship with our economy, our democracy and our society. We need to reflect how these show that we cannot create political, economic or social alternatives without starting with a change in our own behaviours.




Head of Policy Design, Scrutiny & Partnerships @newhamlondon #localgov Co-founder of #systemschange & #servicedesign progs. inspired by @cescaalbanese