Quantum Subjectivity – Understanding the Dual Consciousness of David Cameron by Joe Crawford (University of St Andrews)


In September, Prime Minister David Cameron wrote to Oxfordshire County Council to ask what more they could do to ameliorate the very cuts that his government has imposed across the country as part of its never-ending-austerity programme.   The irony of this needs no further elaboration.

I wish to use this blog post to propose three possible explanations for David Cameron’s actions.

The first and most simple explanation is that the man known as ‘Call me Dave’ is a ‘liberal’ in the general (and worst) sense of the term.  Among a great many other problems, the liberal condition has a very strong tendency to decouple all that is inextricably linked while aligning all that is disparate.  For example, on one level (say, the liberal myth of meritocracy) there is no ‘perceived’ connection between rich and poor in the sense that the existence of one has no ‘obvious or visible’ determining effect on the existence of the other (rich people are seen as being talented and hardworking, poor people are lazy and feckless).  Yet in another sense liberalism aligns a diverse range of people (with vastly uneven and unequal volumes of economic and cultural capital) with politically motivated rhetorical sound bites such as ‘we are all in this together’, ‘we all need to tighten our belts; or ‘we should all pay our fair share’…etc.  Dave has himself produced a very useful example by recently decoupling any connection between the rise of ISIS and western military intervention in Iraq, and by aligning disparate groups of people who oppose the bombing of Syria under the broad rubric of ‘terrorist sympathisers’.  This is what liberal politicians, journalists and academics have a strong tendency to do, they decouple all that is linked and align all that is disparate.  So, in his letter to Oxfordshire council, Dave seems to have decoupled any link between his own party’s austerity measures and the cuts being made to his local council services and aligned the government, local and county councils and the public in sharing responsibility for the task of doing all they can to lessen the impact of the cuts (which his government is responsible for imposing).

The second explanation for understanding this situation revolves around the notion that Cameron is exercising a form of ‘cynical practice’ (see Crawford and Flint 2015).  This form of cynicism arises when professionals (often public sector managers) are all too aware of the distance between the reality (what can realistically happen) and the mask they wear in public (the pretence they wish to promote), yet still insist on wearing the mask (despite everyone’s acknowledgement of the distance between the two).  Carlen’s (2008: 20) example is useful’

For while ‘everyone knows’ that the chief inspector was only ‘doing his job’, ‘everyone else knows’ that in-prison programmes and decent regimes are almost certainly not in themselves going to reduce offending…So why lose credibility (or your promotion, or even your job if you are a prison officer or a prison governor) by continuing to say what everyone else always and already knows?

Perhaps then, since Cameron knows that austerity is a political rather than economic programme, his letter to Oxfordshire council could well be a cynical ploy.  He knows what he’s doing but pretends he doesn’t know.  Dave could be playing a double bluff.

Thirdly, there is what I’ve decided to call ‘quantum subjectivity’ a concept similar to the psychological  notion of ‘cognitive dissonance’ but without there being too much ‘dissonance’ involved.  Quantum subjectivity arises when an agent harbours two (mostly contradictory) positions on the same subject.  The position which emerges depends almost entirely on the situation within which the agent finds him/herself.  We don’t know a person’s position  until we engage them, an activity which always takes place within a context, located within both social and physical space.

Think Schrodinger’s cat.  Is it alive?  Is it dead?  Until you look (thus pinning it down to one state or the other) it is both at the same time.  A quantum particle can be in two places simultaneously, only once you pin it down (by observing it), does it provide its location.  In sociological terms, what a person ‘thinks’ is often determined, not by their social position (as classical sociology might suggest), but by the situation in which they find themselves when they are ‘pinned down’ to having to express an opinion.  My own research provides useful examples.  When discussing eviction practices with housing professionals, they would freely alternate between structural and individual discourses depending on the context. On one hand they would adopt a position in which structural factors played the most significant role in the causes of rent arrears (the problem was collectivised and therefore depersonalised), and in another context would adopt a position quite the opposite of that, where it was the irresponsible behaviour of the tenant which was the issue (the problem is then individualised and thoroughly personalised).  So, in short, the same professionals, from the same offices, oscillated between the same binary frames in order to deal with the contradictions contained within the practice of evicting tenants.  Quantum subjectivity, it seems, allows professionals to deal with the inherent contradictions, political tensions, and moral ambiguities which have come to characterise modern ‘public service’ provision in the UK.

The ‘quantum subjectivity’ explanation suggests that David Cameron’s position on austerity is determined by the situation in which he finds himself.  When Dave is at home, in Oxfordshire, drinking tea in the garden with his wife and children, the effects of the cuts to his local services appear to him to be so severe, he is compelled to write to the council to ask why more cannot be done to reduce their impact.  When David Cameron is in Parliament, surrounded by his Bullingdon Club chums, all braying like donkeys, manically waving their order papers as they ridicule and berate those in opposition, the government’s austerity programme seems the most sensible policy for dealing with problems, the real impact of which David Cameron appears to know absolutely nothing about.

Two entirely different positions.

Two entirely different worlds.


Pictures [from David Cameron’s (Tenant’s) special relationship with Scotland] are published with kind permission from Greg Moodie


By Joe Crawford (University of St Andrews)



How to Spot a Liberal By Joe Crawford, University of Stirling

Quliberalestion: What is the opposite of a critical urbanist?

Answer: A liberal academic

They’re everywhere. Don’t get me wrong, they’re lovely people, and some of them do very good work. But they’re liberals, and of that fact, one must always be aware (and on one’s guard), lest one be tricked into thinking, as liberals do, that the world is just as it appears, empirically verifiable, with no hidden dimensions lurking beneath the shadowy surface.

So to help you, here’s a quick guide on ‘How to Spot a Liberal’.

Liberals are champions of commonsense thinking and see a political bias (which they perceive as a left wing bias) in critical thinkers’ refusal to accept the world as it presents itself. Liberals also tend to ignore the fact that submission to the dominant order is in itself an entirely political act[1] (early warning – if you flinched at the words ‘dominant order’, you might just be suffering from some form of liberalism).

At dinner parties critical urbanists will say things like ‘all science would be superfluous if the manifest form of things and their essence coincided’[2], or ‘commonsense is a political relation, as are the categories of perception that sustain it’[3]. Liberals, on the other hand tend to talk about ‘actual politics’ (that’s the boring stuff that goes on between people who are officially recognised as ‘politicians’ i.e. people like Dave, Nick and Ed- known in Scotland as the Three Amigos). They concern themselves with ‘real worldy’ things like policy and free-market economics.

They also tend to do much better than non-liberals when it comes to promotional prospects in the academy. While critical urbanists have to hot-desk in shared office spaces and buy their own pencils and jotters, liberal academics get entire rooms to themselves, with mahogany furniture and a regular slot as a pundit on Newsnight.

Liberals talk about things like ‘evidence-based policy’, and reproduce, often without question, the concepts created via official discourse which in effect reproduce the language of governance (Newspeak to use an Orwelian term) rather than opening a space for critical inquiry.

They equate critical thinking with ‘moaning about stuff’ and invariably avoid reading articles or attending conference papers which have the word ‘Neoliberalism’ in the title, a word they deem to be not only vacuous, but a clear indication of the author’s intention to bleat on about how rubbish everything is.

More importantly, (we’re getting technical now so if you’re losing the will to live, then, I’m afraid you’re suspicions might be well placed. Yes. YOU could very well be a liberal). Liberals derive their ‘power’ from the efficacy of the double naturalization process which arises when mental structures (the categories of perception that persons apply to all things of the world) are more or less adequately adjusted to objective structures (the external world) giving the impression that everything in the world is just as it should be, natural, right, groovy and great! What liberals fail to adequately account for is the fact that when it comes to the production of these categories of perception, these epistemological couples (individual/collective, profit/loss, rights/responsibilities, etc.) the state operates on an industrial scale churning out, through the smog of ‘official discourse’, the rules and regulations, the laws, the guidelines, on how things should and should not be done, as well as the very definition of social problems and their solutions.

As Bourdieu (1994) warns, the state creates ‘social’ problems (through official discourse and processes of problematisation), which academics do little more than ratify when they take them over as ‘sociological’ problems. Liberals (mistakenly) see a hint of cynicism in the ‘radical doubt’ (Bourdieu 1994) that critical urbanists apply to their analyses of the state, particularly to the symbolic dimension, which masks, and thereby strengthens, relations of domination and exploitation by hiding them under a cloak of ‘nature’, ‘benevolence’ and ‘meritocracy’.

So be alert. Liberals don’t see the social world in this way. That’s the difference between them and us 🙂


Joe Crawford, PhD researcher, University of Stirling



Bourdieu, P (1994) Rethinking the State: Genesis and Structure of the Bureaucratic Field. Sociological Theory 12: 1



[1] Jeremy Paxman – the doyen of liberal thought, had to publicly admit (apologise) that the BBC had the ‘wool pulled over its eyes’ regarding WMDs and the Iraq war http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2009/583-the-bbcs-jeremy-paxman-on-iraq-we-were-hoodwinked.html This folly could have been avoided had Paxman bothered to read Machiavelli while at Cambridge.

[2] Marx Capital Volume Three

[3] Bourdieu Language and Symbolic Power

Housing Law and the Welfare State – the role of ‘law’ in governing state-citizen relations

The Downward Drag of Pereira: Ongoing disputes with Vulnerability By Jed Meers, University of York

In 2012, Nicola Sturgeon heralded the scrapping of ‘priority need’ assessments for homeless households in Scotland.[1] She described the change – which effectively results in anybody unintentionally homeless being owed the full housing duty – as ‘the most progressive homelessness legislation in Europe.’ In the aftermath of the Scottish Referendum, a great deal has been written about policy divergences north and south of the border. Sadly, for those of us in England, recent cases before the High Court and Court of Appeal bring into sharp relief how brutal our treatment of the homeless can be in comparison.

In England and Wales, one of the hurdles homeless applicants still need to navigate to be owed the full housing duty is the ‘priority need’ requirement. They can do so by demonstrating they fall into one of the categories outlined in s.189 Housing Act 1996 – a standard poor law inspired barometer of pregnant women, those with children, or people in old age – with a separate catch-all category of being ‘vulnerable’ for some ‘other special reason.’ There has been a gradual decline in the numbers accepted under this category; a trend demonstrated in figure one.[2]



It is this construction of ‘vulnerable’ which can generate a downward drag on those accepted as being in priority need. The term is not defined anywhere in the legislation itself, which has, unsurprisingly, led to a smorgasbord of legal appeals grappling with the concept and attempts by the Courts to define and refine the term on multiple occasions. The current position – stemming from Bowers [3] and given added gloss by Pereira [4] – is whether the applicant ‘when homeless, [would be] less able to fend for himself than an ordinary homeless person so that injury or detriment to him will result when a less vulnerable man would be able to cope without harmful effects.’[5]

There are two key issues to note in its interpretation. Firstly, following Johnson,[6] the test concerns an ‘ordinary homeless person’ who is already homeless – not somebody who is non-homeless who then becomes homeless. Secondly, with particular significance to recent appeals, the ‘ordinary homeless person’ is a ‘necessarily imprecise’[7] hypothetical construction which is largely left to the imagination of the local authority. It is assumed that ‘a busy local housing authority will have a vast experience of the range of homeless persons,’[8] and as such, they are best placed to create the appropriate comparator.

The problems this test can cause have been ably demonstrated in some recent case law. The judgment in Hotak[9] serves as an example of the Catch-22 situation which can present itself when Local Authorities stretch the Pereira test outwards. Here, the appellant had learning difficulties, a history of self-harm, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. He relied on his brother for daily support, including ensuring his personal hygiene, changing clothes, cooking meals and handling his finances.[10] The Local Authority decided that he was not more vulnerable than the ‘ordinary homeless person,’ as he had the support of his brother – something homeless persons rarely enjoy.

Their decision was upheld by the Court of Appeal, who saw support from others as being part of the ‘intensely fact sensitive and practical’[11] process of assessing vulnerability. The judgment was applied more recently in Kanu,[12] where the applicant suffered from Hepatitis B and haemorrhoids, and family support resulted in them falling foul of the Pereira test. However, could the facts of Mr Hotak’s case not be taken both ways? If he did not receive support, could it be argued that he is living independently and therefore is no less vulnerable than an ‘ordinary homeless person’?

This downward drag effect is particularly clear when Local Authorities draw on questionable evidence to support their construction of this ‘ordinary homeless person’ comparator. A good example was provided earlier this month by the Court of Appeal in Ajilore,[13] where the applicant suffered from hepatitis B, had a history of class-A drug use, and was suicidal. The Local Authority officer found that he was not in priority need, in part due to his assertion that ‘it was not unusual for street homeless people to have thoughts of self-harm and suicide,’[14] an assertion supported by a ‘report published in the British Medical Journal in 2005 [which] confirmed that homeless people do have higher self-harm incidents than the ordinary population.’ In short, a lot of homeless persons want to kill themselves, so that does not render an applicant any different from an ‘ordinary homeless person.’

However, the Court found that this ‘report’ was not a published piece of research at all. In fact, it was a letter sent to the Journal by a General Practitioner, which detailed the result of a survey of 116 of their patients. In this small sample, 7.2% had an episode of self-harm or suicide attempts. This did not prevent the Court upholding his decision, deciding instead that ‘the statistics were used by the reviewing officer in order to back up the conclusions that he had drawn from his own knowledge of an ordinary street homeless’ person.[15] Effectively, the statistics were for the purposes of illustration, instead of providing evidence per se.

The same approach has been used recently to justify denying a housing duty to those who have used drugs. In Johnson v Solihull,[16] the applicant was a recovering heroin addict who had been in-and-out of prison since the age of 16. The Local Authority did not consider him ‘vulnerable’ in line with s.189, citing in their decision letter a study by Homeless Link finding that 92% of homelessness services work with people who use drugs. The logic goes that a lot of homeless people are recovering drug users, or are still using, so that does not render an applicant any different from an ‘ordinary homeless person.’

The picture as it stands appears to be at odds with the purpose behind both the Pereira Test and s.189 Housing Act 1996. The principle is to ensure that those who are more vulnerable receive assistance, but the formation of a comparator which is already very vulnerable – and supported by what can often be shaky evidence – pushes the test downwards and denies the housing duty in questionable cases. Hotak is on appeal and will be heard at the Supreme Court on 10th December, which will be the first time the highest court has considered this issue. Hopefully they will take the opportunity to re-assess the test as it currently stands, and halt its downward drag.

Jed Meers, University of York  (@jed_meers)



[1] See Homelessness (Abolition of Priority Need Test) (Scotland) Order 2012

[2] Data taken from the Department of Communities and Local Government

[3] R v Waveney DC Ex p. Bowers [1983] Q.B. 238

[4] R. v Camden LBC Ex p. Pereira (1999) 31 H.L.R. 317

[5] Pereira [329] per LJ Hobhouse

[6] Johnson v Sollihul [2013] EWCA Civ 752

[7] Ibid [18] per LJ Arden

[8] Tetteh v Kingston upon Thames Royal LBC [2004] EWCA Civ 1775 [21] per LJ Gage

[9] Hotak v Southwark LBC [2013] EWCA Civ 515

[10] Hotak [4] per LJ Pitchford

[11] Ibid [39] per LJ Pitchford

[12] Kanu v Southwark LBC [2014] EWCA Civ 1085

[13] Ajilore v Hackney LBC [2014] EWCA Civ 1273

[14] Ajilore [22] per LJ Gloster

[15] Ajilore [39] per LJ Gloster

[16] Johnson v Solihull [2013]



Using the Social Security System to Deliver Housing Policy By Louise Cheung, University of Southampton

The interaction between housing policy and social security law has been my primary research interest for the last few years. My PhD research has looked at several overarching themes to unpick this topic, including; government measures to prevent repossession, the ideology of homeownership, and the state versus individual responsibility for housing costs. The political basis behind the ideology of homeownership which takes into account financial investment considerations in conjunction with the x -factor benefits of home is of particular interest, and it has been my aim to marry this together with the state’s approach towards social security law and policy. The idea of home in law has been an ever increasing popular research area in property law. To gain an understanding of the nebulous idea of home; I would refer to the excellent account of the conceptualisation of home in law by Fox O’Mahony as primary reference material.

In the UK, it is fair to say that we are a nation of homeowners and this is a product of a string of governmental policies throughout the 20th and 21st century. I have found particularly interesting the contrast from the UK and continental European countries where renting is the main tenure, and the reasons why. For an insightful perspective on this, I would refer to a superb article by Matthew Phillips about why most Germans rent. In particular, the development of social housing and its relative decline since the 1980s is a pet interest of mine when contemplating the notion of tenure. There are many fascinating accounts of the history of social housing, including, Cole and Furbey’s ‘The Eclipse of Council Housing’.

The key means-tested social security welfare benefits that I discuss in my research are Housing Benefit for renters, and Support for Mortgage Interest for mortgaged homeowners. The increasingly residualised nature of the government safety net housing costs is a key aspect of my thesis’ discussion of these welfare benefits for housing costs. With the upcoming Universal Credit reforms, these benefits will be shelved, but the theory driving the use of tax payers’ money for the use of these welfare benefits for housing in both tenures remains relevant. The eligibility criteria, the method of delivery and the use of bright line rules all give details about the policy direction which drives the regulation governing these social security benefits. Statistics about the number of welfare benefit recipients, analysis of the mention of housing in key political manifestos throughout the 20th century, and budget records are all primary material which are analysed to give this research further depth to the exploration of material, to come to functional and evidenced conclusions.

A great difficulty in my research has been pinpointing the exact nature of housing policy, and the key objectives which run through it. Through researching the history of housing policy, it seems to me that there are two common threads which guide housing policy in amongst some incoherent policy; (1) provide support for rented accommodation for low-income households (mostly as a safety net) (2) to promote homeownership to enhance individual responsibility for housing costs. It is these two guiding objectives which tie together the various discussions relevant to my research, alongside the key theoretical underpinning of my thesis, which is measuring the relative shifting of state towards individual responsibility for housing costs, be that in the rented or owner-occupier sector.

It seems to me that property law lends itself to discussion of policy. Property law is about governing relationships between land/structures and people, and policy drives relationships that people have with the land/structures, and the impact people have on land/structures. If you would like to read more about contemporary legal research in property, please visit our blog, where discussion pieces about property law’s relationship with sustainability, policy and social justice can be found. The blog was created through the gathering of early career academics at the postgraduate stream of the most recent Modern Studies in Property Law Conference in Liverpool. The property collective editors welcome blog posts from those interested in property research and its connection to sustainability, policy and social justice.


Louise Cheung (@MsLouiseCheung)

PhD Candidate, University of Southampton, Law School, Faculty of Business and Law

Property Graduate Trainee, Hertfordshire County Council