You're viewing an archived page from a previous Festival of Ideas. See this year's festival »
In 1958 Michael Young, author of Labour’s 1945 election manifesto, published The Rise of Meritocracy, a book that has been cited approvingly by politicians including Tony Blair ever since. The problem for those politicians, however, is that Young’s book was not an endorsement of meritocracy but a story about a country on the verge of collapse because of it.
Young was not alone in his worries. With Britain building its new welfare state, the country’s social scientists had been studying subjects like social mobility systematically for the first time. Yet, despite their enthusiasm for a new society that rewarded talent and ability, those social scientists grew concerned there were flaws in their approach. The ordinary people they studied did not see things like work, pay, and social hierarchy in the same way they did, casting doubt on whether they would ever buy in to the system social scientists and politicians wanted to create.
Join Chris Renwick as he returns to those worries and explores the problems they revealed about the way we think about social mobility. In so doing, Chris will consider what politicians and social reformers might learn from social scientists of the past.
Dr Chris Renwick is a Senior Lecturer in modern British history at the University of York. He has written two books, including Bread For All: Society, Progress, and the Origins of the British Welfare State, which will be published by Penguin in late 2016, and is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.