The Rentier and the Lumpen by Basak Tanulku (Independent researcher based in Istanbul)

This blog post will discuss the logic and the factors behind the current dual class structure, characterised by increasing lower and upper classes and declining middle classes. In this class structure, the upper and the lower classes, i.e. the rentier and the lumpen tend to have similar aspirations of speculation and consumption. From a psychological approach, the relationship between the lower, upper and middle classes can fit into a Freudian framework of id, superego and ego. In this framework, id corresponds to the animal inside a person, which needs to be satisfied, like sexual libido, hunger and thirst. Superego is the human part above all, corresponding to the narcissistic personality, which sees the self above everything and separates the good from the bad. Ego is in between the two, the suppressed part of the human personality. In this current society, superego is the rentier, free to do anything; id is the lumpen, who is unable to control basic instincts and to be satisfied; and ego is those in the middle, pushed from all sides, living in constant debasement. In this context, it can be argued that the rentier (the superego) and the lumpen (the id) vote for the same political parties, and share the same political and ideological ambitions and sexual fantasies. However, the ego, those in the middle, is pushed from both sides, envied and debased at the same time:  ridiculed for being ordinary and conservative and isolated from mainstream life because of the power of the new rich and other parasitic forms of life that are seen to deserve the high life as the result of their material and symbolic wealth.

How have we ended up here? This psychosocial context fits into the political economy, which emerged in the 1980s, all over the world. This era has many names, such as “neoliberal”, “consumer”, or “global”, along with many more beginning with a “post-” prefix, although all these terms may have alternative meanings in different theoretical paradigms. During this period, particularly the developed countries restructured their economies through post-industrialisation, and shifted to service-based economies in which innovation and high technology became very important for any economy to be considered successful and competitive. The membership of the conventional working class has declined due to the impact of outsourced production to developing countries, a process accelerated by “globalisation”. In this process, the conventional working classes have transformed into people dependent on ‘ready’ money which prevented them from forming class consciousness. This led to the erosion of class solidarity among them, and the decline of trade unions and class-based politics. The offspring of the working classes became stigmatised through terms such as “benefit scroungers”, “chav”s or “asbo”s, which refer to the underclass or lumpen, or people with neither class consciousness nor solidarity who live in an era of consumption, celebrities, football superstars and tabloid newspapers. They become symbolised through long-term unemployment, low levels of education, and an attitude towards life which can be summarised as “no future”. Their situation is legitimised by political actors and those who profit from such a political context. In this new class structure, the conventional middle classes have also experienced a decline both in numbers and prestige, best represented by public sector workers stigmatised for their perceived “non-job” jobs. Their declining status corresponds to a declining sensitivity towards accumulation and planning for the future, since a more differentiated consumer market with many products necessitated a throwaway society, with an apathetic attitude towards the environment, people and the future. The middle classes correspond to an ordinary, conventional and boring way of life, restricted in 9-to-5 work shifts and two-up two-down households consisting of a married couple with two children and pets.

However, there are also the winners of this new economic system. Despite their small numbers in the workforce, they had a high social status and important symbolic power in society: they are the “new middle classes”, i.e. people working in financial, real estate or various service or creative sectors. Within the new middle classes, new groups emerged, such as “yuppies”, “bohos”, and “hipsters”. Their lifestyle is characterised by an urban buzz around nice neighbourhoods, independent cafes, boutiques, small restaurants, art centres, and luxurious retail, residential and business complexes. At the same time, the “new rich” emerged, corresponding to a lifestyle characterised by spending sprees, luxury brands, and seven-star hotels in cities like London, New York, Istanbul, and Dubai, which created by world-known architects became highly standardised. The new rich create money out of thin air and can be regarded as ‘rentiers’, people who derive income primarily from speculation.

These changes have created a more polarised and unequal class structure. However, many have become fascinated by the power of money and lifestyles of celebrities. And in this context, there is a symbiotic relationship between rentier (the upper classes or superegos) and the lumpen (the lower classes or the ids). In this relationship, the rentier eats most of the cake made of easy money based on a principle of profit. Meanwhile, the lumpen lives with a hope of one day catching up with the status of rentier. This continuous hope, fueled by the promise of continued consumption, kills the lumpen day by day without them ever noticing. In this relationship, while the rentier is free to do anything they want behind closed doors, the lumpen feels free to do so in streets. Because of that, we see people who we would never expect to find together in a photograph, such as aristocrats of various ranks, rentiers and celebrities who are regarded as national treasures in their countries.


By Basak Tanulku (Independent researcher based in Istanbul)


My Generation? The Use and Abuse of Generational Labelling By Adriana Soaita (University of St Andrews) & Beverley Searle (University of Dundee)

The ‘Lost Generation’, ‘Baby-Boomers’ and now ‘Generation Rent’ are popular labels attached to groups of people who are deemed to share particular social experiences. Such labels not only confuse distinct demographic, sociological and genealogical concepts but uncritically cast generational winners or losers. Drawing on 112 interviews from the Mind the (Housing) Wealth Gap study, we aim to clarify the concept of ‘generation’ using four key understandings. We tease out ideas of generational belonging among people aged 35-65 and reflect on generational identities and inequalities.

Demographers conceptualise ‘generations’ as birth cohorts – a population born in any one year often aggregated by decades. The examination of social change in relation to different cohorts at similar life stages through longitudinal analysis requires long term data series in order to differentiate between period, cohort and lifecycle effects. Although demographers clearly separate the concepts of cohort and age, our study indicates that peoples’ generational identities are generally not constructed within these categories:

I look around and there are older people similar to me and younger people similar to me! I don’t really see generations (male, 45).

I associate on a daily level with people of all ages, so I don’t really feel myself as part… There aren’t generations of people in society, there’s just a constant grey area, a constant flux of people (female, 40).

While rigorous longitudinal birth cohort analyses are welcome for the understanding of the enduring effects of socioeconomic events (such as economic growth or decline), cohorts need to be theoretically specified in relation to the subject of enquiry (Arber & Attias-Donfut 2007).

Mannheim’s (1927) concept of sociological generation tries to move away from simple chronological contemporaneity – ‘potential generation’/cohorts – to a more meaningful co-presence in a shared geographical location ‘where a concrete bond is created between members of a generation by their being exposed to the social and intellectual symptoms of a process of dynamic destabilization’ (182-183). As the social context is differently interpreted by different individuals, these bonds emerge from, and coalesce in, ideologically and culturally different ‘generation units’ whose members share indirect ties of exposure to similar events. Mannheim’s theoretical contribution helps to question generational labelling while raising awareness of substantial socioeconomic inequality and socio-cultural difference within cohorts. Yet the concept of sociological generation was considered to be too static given that formative learning was exclusively located in early youth. We exemplify the idea of generational units and intra-generational inequality by two contrasting views from early Baby Boomers, the cohorts most likely to accept generational labelling:

I’m a baby boomer born 1949, so we’re the ones who’d never had it so good. We had everything (male, 63).

What generation I belong to? The poor one! (female, 61).

In the context of austerity, aging societies and low economic growth, the concept of ‘welfare generation’ has permeated public discourses. By differentiating between welfare contributors and receivers, several studies documented the changing balance of public spending between the young and the old and differentiated between winner and loser generations (Thomson 1996, Kotlikoff 1992). These studies were criticised on methodological and philosophical grounds (Buchanan 2009, Piachaud, Macnicol and Lewis 2009) as well as for their disengagement with the horizontal macro-distribution of resources across socioeconomic classes (Hills 2014) and the vertical micro-distribution within families (Kohli 1996, Arber and Attias-Donfut 2007, Hills et al. 2013). Generational changes in the balance of welfare were fully recognised by our participants – as captured in the quotation below – but so were the important differences in generational opportunities arising from technical advances and broader socioeconomic changes:

I am a late baby boomer born in 1964… early baby boomers have had the best time, they’ve done exceptionally well… Late baby boom, myself, are going to have a difficult end of life… Generation X, they had a good start but struggled in the middle… Then generation Y, or Z, or where are we now? They are going to have good schooling, health service but have to pay for education, are going to start paying for pensions for previous generations and their own… And they have to try getting on the housing ladder, which is going to be difficult if not impossible (male, 50).

Finally, the concept of genealogical generation was particularly employed in sociology. Linked genealogical generations [1] are often the most appropriate unit for the study of intra- and intergenerational inequalities since family is the recognised social institution that transmits privilege/disadvantage along individual life-course (Hills et al. 2013). Sound theoretical sampling allows linking family generations to Mannheim’s (1927) generational units. Our study suggests that while individual belonging to a genealogical generation is least problematic, its role in the transmission of social inequalities is generally overlooked on the assumption that gifts/inheritances are relatively equal and universal within particular cohorts (which of course runs against the evidence):

We are the generation that will reap the rewards of inheritance that grandparents and parents are able to pass on (male, 36).

The Mind the (Housing) Wealth Gap team continue to explore the multiple ways in which housing wealth reinforces inequalities within and between families, cohorts and generational units.

Adriana Soaita (University of St Andrews) and Beverley Searle (University of Dundee)


[1] Dyads or triads of children-parents-grandparents.


Arber, S. & C. Attias-Donfut. 2007. The Myth of Generational Conflict London: Routledge.

Buchanan, NH. (2009) What Do We Owe Future Generations? The George Washington Law Review, 77, 1237-1297.

Hills, J. 2014. Good Times, Bad Times: The Welfare Myth of Them and Us. London: Policy Press.

Hills, J., et al. 2013. Wealth in the UK: Distribution, Accumulation, and Policy Oxford: OUP .

Kohli, M. 1996. The Problem of Generations: Family, Economy, Politics. Budapest: IAS.

Kotlikoff, LJ. 1992. Generational Accounting: Knowing Who Pays, and When, for What we Spend. New York: Free Press.

Mannheim, K. 1927. The Sociological Problem of Generations. In Essays on the Sociology of Knowledge. London: Routledge.

Piachaud, D., J. Macnicol & J. Lewis. 2009. A Think Piece on Intergenerational Equity. London: Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Thomson, D. 1996. Selfish Generations: How Welfare States Grow Old. Cambridge: White Horse Press.



What is it that Bugs me about Neighbourhood Effects Research? By David Manley (University of Bristol)

There are many answers to that question. I could, for instance point to the lack of appreciation for the temporal scale – the theory that has been laid out for the neighbourhood to impact the individual relies on a far longer temporal scale than the time frame most analysts (if not all) allow for the analysis. Or, I could have lamented the lack of thinking about causal pathways: open any health related journal and I guarantee you’ll find a paper analysing the relationship between public open space and improved health outcomes (quite how the mere presence of local open space is sufficient is never disclosed in these papers. My grandmother lived very near a number of parks but she rarely, if ever, ventured into them). Or, I could have pointed to near silence in the literature that recognises that where people are located in residential space owes a lot to the spatial expression of inequalities and class struggles so that the urban differences between places are not accidental outcomes (but others blogging here are far better placed to talk about that than I am!). No, when I was asked to respond to Joe’s blog on neighbourhood effects I thought long and hard about Bourdieu and what his work could mean for the field. Then I thought harder and longer about the dominance of the disciplines represented in the near 20,000 papers reporting neighbourhood effects. My gaze landed on the econometricians and I wondered how they would engage with the ideas of the philosopher: whilst I may be doing a disservice to some econometricians, many within the field are likely not to be listening. So, the thing that keeps me awake at night and where I think we (by we in this instance I mean people interested in neighbourhood effects) need a step change is to wrestle the term and analyses back from the economists and econometricians.

What is wrong with the econometricians you ask? I’ll tell you: in the world of the econometricians complex modelling approaches can be used to overcome some pretty serious problems. What’s wrong with that, after all, that’s what all quantitative modellers are doing isn’t it? Well, no: for instance ‘things’ that we have not been able to measure (this could be personality, how risky an individual is willing to be in their financial behaviour to name two) can be ignored through the use of complex modelling techniques (the ‘fixed effect’ approaches). The econometricians are happy with these models because they allow them (they believe) the chance to estimate values to attached to neighbourhoods that are ‘unbiased’ and not altered by those inconvenient things that we do not know or cannot measure.  The problem is, in reaching those ‘unbiased’ estimations a lot of other important information that we do know and that is important has been thrown out: for instance, in their simplified representation of reality (for that is all a model really is) other variables have also been discarded because the model cannot cope with information that does not change. In short the baby is thrown out with the bath water and variables such as ethnicity and gender, to name two, are omitted from the model and any effect that these variables may have (and there is reason to suggest that they may be important!) is lumped together as ‘error’ with those other ‘things’ we don’t know. So far, so mechanical. But this blog is about more than just the specification of the variables in a model. Because, the same assumptions that apply to the econometrician’s variables also apply to their neighbourhoods!

Reading through the literature (and I am a part of this literature so I must shoulder some of the guilt) the most important component of the investigation – the neighbourhood to which we are ascribing these effects – is the part that receives the least attention. Indeed, in many cases the neighbourhood is used as a non-spatial entity. We (and this time I am using the ‘we’ for geographers!) should be the front of this literature using our considerable spatial arsenal to explain, examine, critique and explore how space matters. Neighbourhoods (whatever they may be – that is another blog to be written at another time) are fundamentally about the organisation of individuals into spatial entities. They may be spatially contiguous – that is next to each other like residential neighbourhoods – they may be disjointed – like work, leisure or cultural neighbourhoods – or they may not exist in a physical sense but all are important. The neighbourhood must be the most important part of any study trying to determine if there are linkages between places and individual outcomes. And of course, neighbourhood is a highly contested and debated object at an atomistic level neighbourhood has a unique meaning to each individual in the data. Yet, it is also the piece of information that received the least attention in much of the literature: neighbourhood is frequently used to mean purely the residential context and is derived from standard administrative units created to satisfy the delivery of state statistical data. They have no meaning for the activity space of individuals, of the spaces through which people travel or interact, and have no meaning for the spaces in which people inhabit. Moreover, the kind of neighbourhood that you would use for, say, trying to understand peer group effects on children are very different to those that you would employ for understanding   Similarly, the things that we measure in the neighbourhoods are equally important. Much of the neighbourhood effects work uses the percentage of X, or Y and then attempts to make an assertion that the more (less) of X or Y the worse (better) things will be for individuals.

So, until we engage spatially then we are going to continue to look for effects without getting a handle on where they may (or may not) exist. In doing so we may not find the needle in the haystack, but at least we’d be looking in the right place!

David Manley, University of Bristol (@david_j_manley)

The Continuing Danger of the Right to Buy – how housing is on the election agenda for the wrong reasons By Vikki McCall (University of Stirling)

Suddenly, housing is back on the election agenda. The Conservatives have pledged to ensure security for people by expanding the Right to Buy in England to housing association tenants. The policy has been framed as helping to give people security at every stage of their lives. The expansion would enable social tenants to buy a housing association home if they have lived in it for 3 years.

The plan has been challenged from several directions on social, moral and economic grounds. The Chartered Institute of Housing has already called for a ‘crack-down’ on the Right to Buy as it has disadvantaged different groups. David Orr from the National Housing Federation has questioned whether handing over assets will break the charitable rules and challenge the charitable status of most housing associations. The Audit Commission also report that fraud around the scheme has cost £12.3m a year. Other commentators such as Owen Jones have stated quite clearly:

“This is social cleansing, as simple as that”

It also sets English policy in direct opposition to the direction of travel in Scotland, where the Right to Buy will be ending in 2016. The abolition of the Right to Buy within the Scottish Housing Bill (2014) was introduced to save the current and future social housing stock. Housing Minister Margaret Burgess has noted that:

“These measures will protect up to 15,500 social houses from sale over a ten-year period and safeguard social housing stock for future generations… With 185,000 people on waiting lists for council and housing association houses, we can no longer afford to see the social sector lose out on badly needed homes” (Scottish Government 2014).

The impact of the Right to Buy on the social rented sector is well known and clearly documented. This can’t be underestimated. Further expansion of the Right to Buy will herald the decimation of the social rented sector in England. It will add to the already pressing demand for more social housing throughout the UK. Why would any landlord build social housing only to be forced to sell it 3 years later?

This policy change is situated within a housing market where ‘expansion is largely dependent upon maintaining demand among a widening section of lower income households’ (Malpass 1986: 241). This trend was continued as the Right to Buy was followed by other schemes that have been targeted at those on lower incomes. It has been shown that these have posed a number of financial challenges for new owners, questioning the appropriateness of home ownership for lower income groups (McKee 2010). There is a perception of ‘winners’ (those who benefited from the policy and became owners) and ‘losers/victims’ (everyone else) with focus on its more negative impact has been predominantly on the social renting sector.

However, this is a debate with much wider repercussions even for the ‘winners’. I recently presented a piece of research written with Drs Madhu Satsangi and Corinne Greasley-Adams at the Housing Studies Association conference in York around older owner occupiers in lower value properties. There was an emerging view that there was a group of owner occupiers whose housing needs were not being met.

The research indicated that the group ‘older owner occupiers in lower value properties’ was synonymous with those who had exercised their Right to Buy. Over half of the group surveyed were in properties built before 1990, which generally have higher repair and maintenance costs and are less energy efficient. A third of the participants reported that there was a part of their home they could not access. Furthermore, a third of them wanted to move, mainly due to ill health, but lack of options and affordability were key barriers to moving.

The investment opportunities, security, freedom and autonomy that were promised to them was therefore not in place for a certain group of owner occupiers. This group, especially after a health crisis, were turning to the social rented sector to help. Despite the presiding myths and the veneration of homeownership in UK housing policy, there has been a perception that people are ‘perceived as victims of housing policy rather than its beneficiaries’ (Malpass 1986: 243).

We therefore have come to a full circle from the initial promises of the 1980s that cashing in on the Right to Buy guarantees future security for everyone. David Cameron introduced the new expansion of the policy on the same promise: security and a ‘good life’ for all. Although clearly some people have won from this policy, what we see now is that housing options can be reduced as a certain group of homeowners grow older and develop new support needs.

This ideologically driven policy ignores the wider socio-economic inequalities that exist amongst homeowners (whom are not an homogenous group). The expansion of the Right to Buy is a dangerous, short sighted policy that will further the socio-economic inequalities in the UK.

Blog by Dr Vikki McCall, University of Stirling

All views represented here are my own.

Follow @vikki_mccall @HousingStirUni

Problematising Generation Rent By Kim McKee (University of St Andrews) and Tom Moore (University of Sheffield)

‘Generation rent’ is a term that has been popularised by the media, social commentators and housing campaigners, referring to the phenomena whereby young people are excluded from homeownership and spend longer periods of their lives in the private rented sector. Headlines consistently lament the way in which young people are increasingly ‘stuck in a rent trap’ due to difficulties in saving for deposits and in navigating precarious youth labour markets. Faced with soaring private rents in more prosperous locations, and with welfare conditionality disproportionately affecting young people at the other end of the spectrum, it is clear that today’s generation of young people experience very different housing opportunities as compared to their parents. Housing continues to be a key mediator of inter and intra-generational inequalities. This is an issue that we are exploring as part of the Leverhulme Trust-funded research project ‘Mind the Housing Wealth Gap’.

This generational shift irent house on white backgroundn housing opportunities reflects broader international trends around the neo-liberalisation of welfare, with a movement towards individualised asset-based welfare regimes, in which housing features prominently. Individuals and families are expected to accumulate and draw upon housing wealth to meet their own current and future needs, including its use as a resource to top-up pensions, to fund social care in older age, to meet the rising cost of higher education, or crucially to help their children access homeownership. However, we know that while previous generations were supported into owner occupation by policies such as Right to Buy and Mortgage Interest Tax Relief, housing has become significantly more expensive relative to incomes, paralleling a decline in the number of 16-34-year-olds who own their own home. Those who do are increasingly reliant on the ‘bank of Mum and Dad’. Analysis published in 2013 showed the 64% of first-time buyers were reliant on financial assistance from their parents due to high deposit and stringent mortgage requirements.

The implication of this is that access to owner occupation is strongly tilted in favour of those fortunate enough to access financial support from their family. What we are witnessing, is therefore a widening social cleavage between young people who can draw upon family resources and support to help them with buying a home, and those who cannot. Young people’s access to homeownership – an asset they are encouraged to access for future welfare needs – is shaped by the levels of familial wealth they are able to draw upon, but it is obvious to anyone that these resources will be unevenly distributed across regions, age cohorts and income spectrum. These inequalities have a significant impact on young peoples’ life chances, for those who cannot access owner occupation repeatedly find themselves resident in the family home or in the private rented sector. Debates around the often insecure and unregulated nature of the PRS are well rehearsed and demand policy intervention, but critically the English Housing Survey tells us that the average household in the PRS spends 40% of their income on rent, compared to 20% of income paid by the average mortgaged owner occupier. This helps to perpetuate the reliance on family support, as young people struggle to save for a deposit – especially in ‘hot’ property markets – and contributes to the ways in which our housing system is strengthening and extending existing socio-economic inequalities.

Public policy has tried to tackle these issues to some degree, but has by and large tinkered at the edges. Most prominently, the Help to Buy scheme tried to support first-time buyers but has been critiqued for potentially contributing to affordability problems (as demand continues to exceed housing supply) and has been shown to favour more affluent households compared to traditional shared ownership models that have similar objectives. There has also been important discussion around making the private rented sector a more secure and sustainable option, but this alone will not solve the difficulties younger generations face, particularly in the context of international shifts towards asset-based welfare regimes (see Ronald and Elsinga’s 2012 book for an excellent overview).

Far from creating a property-owning democracy, in which people can make money from houses as commodities to draw upon in later life, the focus of current housing and welfare policy continues to be highly exclusionary. Homeownership may be the preferred tenure of choice for a majority of households, but this is driven by a lack of secure, affordable and attractive alternatives which encourage this, as well as a welfare system that supports the pursuit of equity gain and housing wealth. Instead, we need to rethink what we perceive housing to be for, and how it should be used. Above all else, policy needs to valorise ‘home’ above ‘homeownership’. For example, limited equity models of homeownership, as used by community land trusts and advocated by housing campaigners, can offer secure and affordable access to forms of property ownership that balance individual property rights with collective concerns over long-term affordability for future generations, challenging the perception that homes are an investment through which wealth can be derived. The recent Lyons Review also recommended a return to local authority involvement in the commissioning and building of social housing, which can help to create secure rental options that support those in need. And, perhaps most critically, public policy could do more to recognise the specificities of place in creating housing solutions. Different communities, regions and nations within the UK require locally nuanced and unique solutions, with a support from and steer from national policy frameworks. For instance, our emerging study highlights the ways in which young people on the very lowest incomes are finding it increasingly difficult to reside in the South East. For these people, the problem is not exclusively of ‘rogue landlordism’ and regulation in the PRS, but the fact that social housing is in short supply and other housing options are far too expensive for those on modest incomes.

The challenges faced by young people have far-reaching implications, for their limited housing opportunities impact not only on financial welfare but also their personal sense of well-being, independence, future family formation and labour market opportunities. The Lyons Review commented that “The impacts of the shortage of housing … hit the youngest and poorest hardest.” It is time that public policy had a constructive debate and identified suitable solutions to the way in which housing, as part of wider social and economic change, is mediating and limiting the current and future welfare of young people, and thus perpetuating intra and inter generational inequalities.

Kim McKee (@kim_mckee) and Tom Moore (Tom_Moore85)