Saturday, 7 May 2011

Time for the lady to vanish

It was by turns an earthquake, a perfect storm, a tsunami, a landslide, and an avalanche.  The latter was heard to be uttered on BBC Radio Scotland (07-05-11 probably in the afternoon) by Annabel Goldie, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives.  What caught my attention was Ms. Goldie's pronunciation, 'avalanche' pronounced as 'avalaunch'.  Now perhaps I've led too sheltered a non-U life because other than Iris Henderson, the terribly U character played by Margaret Lockwood in In Alfred Hitchcock’s 1938 film The Lady Vanishes, I’d never actually heard anyone pronounce ‘avalanche’ the way Ms Goldie did.  I haven’t heard on radio reports I haven’t heard it from skiers and I haven’t heard it from hill-walkers.  Of course, it could just be me.

In The Lady Vanishes, Iris corrects the pronunciation of the harassed Central European hotel manager Boris (Emile Boreo),

Iris: What is it Boris?
Boris: It’s the avalanche
Iris: avalanche Boris, avalanche


Iris: What is it Boris?
Boris: It’s the @v{l@n‘
Iris: @v{la:n‘ Boris, @v{la:n‘

For those not up on their phonetics (and I’m no expert myself) Boris pronounces the third syllable, a-va-lanche, using the sound of the second ‘a’ in ‘attack’.  The way me and Boris speak this will mean that the third syllable of ‘avalanche’ rhymes with ‘branch’, rather than the way Iris and Annabel speak where it rhymes with ‘paunch’ or ‘staunch’.

Does it matter? Well of course it doesn’t, the OED records both pronunciations and if it didn't Ms Goldie and anyone else for that matter is more than entitled to pronounce their metaphors in any way that they want.  However I think symbolically it does matter, and until the Scottish Tories learn to speak the same language as the people of the new Scotland, they will, to borrow another meteorologicalesque metaphor, continue to be frozen out.



"avalanche, n.". OED Online. March 2011. Oxford University Press. 7 May 2011 <>.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

BBC reply

This is the BBC's reply to the critical analysis of Hislop's sexist language.  The first part is fair enough so I've printed the analysis off and I'll post it to them tomorrow.  The second part is the trite, ready-made response that was predictable

Thanks for contacting us regarding ‘Have I Got News For You’ from 22 April on BBC One.
I understand you were unhappy at some comments made by Ian Hislop on the programme, and that you’ve posted your complaint online on a blog.
We cannot comment or respond to what you’ve posted on your own blog, as this falls outside of our complaints process, which can be read in more detail at this page of our website:

However, we try to ensure that post-watershed, anarchic topical comedy panel series are well signposted and it’s generally accepted that some newer comedy series thrive on self-consciously exhibiting bad taste.  Viewers of ‘Have I Got news For You’ would be well aware of the type of humour exhibited by our regular panellists Ian Hislop and Paul Merton, and would also be aware that they do speak their own minds on the show.
While we credit our audience with knowing these are their own opinions, I feel I must stress that these shouldn’t be seen as being representative of those of the production team or the BBC as a whole.
As we’re a public service financed by the licence fee we must provide programmes which cater for the whole range of tastes in humour.  We believe that there’s no single set of standards in this area on which the whole of society can agree, and it’s inevitable that programmes which are acceptable to some will occasionally strike others as distasteful.  The only realistic and fair approach for us is to ensure that the range of comedy is broad enough for all viewers to feel that they’re catered for at least some of the time.
In closing I’d like to assure you I've registered your complaint on our audience log.  This is an internal report of audience feedback which we compile daily and is available for viewing by all our staff.  This includes all programme makers, including the production team behind ‘Have I Got News For You’ and our senior management.  It ensures that your points, along with all other comments we receive, are circulated and considered across the BBC.
Thanks again for taking the time to contact us.

Monday, 25 April 2011

The slappers and the slaphead: the role of discourse in the reproduction of sexism

This post attempts to show how sexism is reproduced in language.  It takes the example of sexist language used by Ian Hislop on Have I Got News For You, broadcast on BBC1, Friday 22nd April.  The programme in concern might still be viewable at  I have complained to the BBC Trust about Hislop’s language and will post their reply.  The complaint refers to language used in the sequence starting 0:29:05.  This is a transcript of the subtitles provided by the BBC and the language of concern is emboldened and coloured red.  I appreciate that there are worse offenders and worse offences.  However, it might be considered that Hislop’s language plays its own part legitimizing those offenders and their worse offences.

In the episode in question Hislop described some unknown women as ‘slappers’.  A ‘slapper’ is defined in the OED as:

Brit. slang (derogatory). A promiscuous woman.
Freq. in old slapper.
See quot. 1990 for a postulated connection with Yiddish schlepper ‘unkempt, scruffy person; gossipy, dowdy woman’; however there is some gap in sense. Cf. also quot. 1854 at sense 1.

The cited quotations

1854 A. E. Baker Gloss. Northamptonshire Words,   Slapper,‥applied to persons and things, but most frequently to over-grown females.

1990    T. Thorne Bloomsbury Dict. Contemp. Slang 468/1   Slapper in British, a prostitute or slut. This working class term from East London and Essex is probably a corruption of shlepper or schlepper, a word of Yiddish origin, one of whose meanings is a slovenly or immoral woman.
Thorne’s Dictionary example from The Guardian 0n 13th April 2004 is particularly apposite in Hislop’s case.  Here the reference is to David Beckham’s affair with Rebecca Loos

’…it was either Posh's fault for being too thin and failing to follow her husband when he moved to Madrid; or it was Rebecca Loos's fault for being a slapper.’

The quotation is significant because of its apportion of blame.  It wasn’t the husband’s fault for not taking his wife with him, it wasn’t the husband’s fault for going without his wife, and it wasn’t the husband’s fault for getting involved with another woman. It simply wasn’t the man’s fault.  Conversely, it certainly was one of the women’s fault.  Dead simple – a necessary or unavoidable choice between black and white alternatives (OED, either, II.3.c.).  Furthermore, the pejorative is singularly applied to the other woman.  There is no label such as adulterer, deceiver, or liar, or the like.  These aren’t even pejoratives.  I’m not even sure if there is a slang pejorative that can be applied to men.  Even if there is it isn’t applied here and Hislop didn’t use it either.

This is a record of the subtitles provided by the BBC.  Where I could hear words not included in the subtitles I have inserted these in brackets.  The sequence starts at 21:12


RG – Rhod Gilbert
LB – Louise Bagshawe
IH – Ian Hislop
PM – Paul Merton


Time now for the odd-one-out round.
Just one between you this week and the four are:
A, B, C, and D.

You’ve got four blank faces, you cannot see who they are, you’re not allowed to know who they are,
they may or may not have done something with ladies who are not their wives, one of them definitely doesn’t rhyme with (eh) xxx
Even though he’s a footballer.
And, er, one of them might (or might) not …

Can someone call the police.
I’m sitting here next to a Conservative MP who’s trying to break a series of super-injunctions.
I’m absolutely appalled!
These gentlemen are perfectly entitled to privacy.
They may have slept with a bunch of slappers, all of them, without telling their wives, but that is entirely their own affair.
Whether they run banks or play football or act in popular television shows it’s none of your business!

Absolutely none of your business

Or have columns in newspapers.  Really!

Or indeed edit Private Eye.
Could be anybody.
Four people (who) were very disappointed at a photo-me booth
The answer is there is an odd-one-out but, for legal reasons, we can’t tell you which one or why.

Theoretically, might the odd-one-out be Sir Fred Goodwin because he was named by my colleague John Hemming in the House of Commons as being the subject of a super-injunction?
And because he said it, I can report that he said it.
Whether or not he was right, who’s to say?

I do.

I have no idea.

Yeah it was him.

He could’ve made it up out of thin air.

No, no, he tried to get a super-injunction.

I didn’t say that.

Mm. I did, though.

(Just) to put a bit of flesh on these rather vague bones

Yeah just tell us who they are.

Mr Justice Eady, (who’s been) at the centre of the most recent privacy cases, issued an unprecedented injunction to a TV star on Wednesday.
What was it?

It was that no-one could ever publish a photograph involving this person ever again, in any domain in the whole world ever.

Absolutely (right)

And nobody could mention it to their work colleagues, that there had to be total and utter privacy, throughout the galaxy, until time literally ends and Dr Brian Cox goes …

No, no it’s not against the galaxy.
He issued an injunction “against the world”

Judges are making up privacy laws as they see fit.
We don’t have a proper privacy law, which you lot in Parliament should’ve got round to but you haven’t.
And it’s time you did to stop judges just making it up as they go along.
Cos they inevitably balance freedom of the individual privacy against the press’s freedom of expression and, obviously, in the case of a load of slappers and footballers, it’s (pretty) arguable.
But (one day) a proper case will come along where we need to know what’s happening and we won’t be able to cos of these stupid injunctions

Critical Discourse Analysis

The reproduction of discourse positioning in language (such as sexism or racism) has, as van Dijk has identified, two major aspects: the direct enactment of the production of dominance by discursive means, and the consequences of this speech in the process and management of the public consensus on the particular affair, (2009, p.307).  In this post I’m going to attempt to briefly identify the dominant position from which Ian Hislop speaks, how this dominance is manifest in his use of ‘slapper’, and some of the possible consequences of his speech.  To try to achieve this I am deeply indebted to the principles of CDA as set out by Teun van Dijk.  I have followed his structure and his argument in the reproduction of racism.   Like his essay I have begun by setting out the various properties of the context and then go on to identify the properties of the text that reproduce sexism.

Access: Have I Got News For You is a very popular, and sometimes satirical, quiz show broadcast at peak viewing time on the flagship channel of the BBC.  It is one of the most popular programmes on BBC1 television.  The panellists, the host and particularly the resident team captains are therefore graced with access to a prestigious platform from which to speak.

Setting: Have I Got News For You was first broadcast on BBC2 before transferring to BBC1.  It might be concluded that this promotion indicates the BBC’s management consider the programme to be representative of the highest values of the organization.

Genre: Have I Got News For You is not simply a TV quiz show.  Its position in the BARB ratings identifies it as the most popular topical current affairs programme on the BBC.  It is not simply comedy.  Its ‘light-hearted’ satirical format means that it has access to a larger and, perhaps, wider audience than other quizzes or political/topical programmes on the BBC.

Communicative acts and social meaning:  At the interaction level the discourse of dominance takes place within the part of the programme where Ian takes the floor to take a satirical swipe at political malpractice, social hypocrisy etc.  Because of his position both as a team captain and as editor of Private Eye he is a respected social commentator.  The number of cases of libel does not detract the position of respect he holds.  Instead it could be argued that he is/was regularly taken to court because of his high-standing, the wit of his attacks, and the esteem in which he is held by his readers and the large number of regular viewers.

Participant positions and roles: The five participants in the programme on 22-04-11 were four males and one female.  Excluding Hislop the other males are considered to be comedians.  The single white female is a Conservative MP. None of the participants, on air, criticized Hislop’s discourse.  His categorization of the women as ‘slappers’ was heard/watched by millions of people and went unchallenged.  The women involved in the super-injunction case are denied not present and cannot challenge this labelling. There is no prescribed audience participation in Have I Got News For You and so even if they were present there ability to respond would be limited.  Furthermore, the limits of the super-injunction might have made them unable to speak a response.  Consequently, Hislop speaks from a socially dominant position. He makes use of this dominant position to satirize incompetence, inefficiency, corruption, pomposity or self-importance’.  His position within the BBC’s broadcasting schedule means that he is, or at least appears to, speak with the authority of the BBC.  I realise that this last claim is, perhaps, extravagant.  I grew up with the BBC News at 9pm. It was at 9pm that BBC1 television spoke to the world, and that time slot retains a symbolic power.  It would probably be more accurate to say that the BBC speaks through his position.

Speech acts:  Hislop’s speech consists mainly of assertions, and in performing the speech-act he accomplishes a verdictive performative.  It isn’t the case that Hislop is describing the women in question.  He labels them, categorizes them, passes judgement on them, and humiliates them

1. These gentlemen are perfectly entitled to their privacy. They may have slept with a bunch of slappers, all of them, without telling their wives, but that is entirely their own affair.

2. …they inevitably balance freedom of the individual privacy against the press’s freedom of expression and, obviously, in the case of a load of slappers and footballers, it’s (pretty) arguable.

The effectiveness of his speech act is its initial seclusion from open public criticism and the authoritative position from which Hislop speaks.  Initially he is protected because of where he offensively passes a verdict and judgement on the respective women but also because, in this particular instance, the women in question may not have legal recourse precisely because of the super-injunction that Hislop will later rail against.  The judgement made by Mr. Justice Eady in favour of the male individuals doesn’t extend to protecting the women involved from sexist pejoratives.  Hislop’s speech act not only reproduces the sexism of which he should know better but grants authority to cite him as authoritative reference.

Macrosemantics- topics:  Hislop contrasts the ‘slappers’ with two different nouns.  He firstly uses an ironic tone to imply that the ‘gentlemen’ were anything but gentlemen.  Such is the biting satire of Have I Got News For You.  Secondly, he then drops the irony to describe the men simply by an occupation.  Hislop’s normalisation technique derives some of its strength from its x and y construction: x is factual and y is factual.  In this latter case Hislop’s construction strives towards to normalise the existence of the ‘slappers’: some people are journalists, some people are footballers and some women are slappers.  In contrast what is normalised is the discourse of sexism.  Its values are accepted in a prestige BBC programme and go without comment – such is their normality – such is Hislop’s authority.  From the casual ill-thought remark to the weekend kick in the teeth Hislop discursively positions himself accordingly.
The topic of ‘the women’ need not occur.  Hislop could quite as easily have adopted a high moral tone and satirized the relationship whereby the offenders of a moral law seek the protection of the civil law.  Instead, the actions of the men are minimized via the emphasis of the loose moral behaviour of the other women. By redefining topic in terms of the women’s behaviour Hislop effectively translates his moral outrage into an assertion of the dominance of gender.


Judges are making up privacy laws as they see fit. We don’t have a proper privacy law which you lot in Parliament should’ve got round to but haven’t. And it’s time you did to stop judges just making it up as they go along. Cos they inevitably balance freedom of the individual privacy against the press’s freedom of expression and, obviously, in the case of a load of slappers and footballers, it’s (pretty) arguable.
But one day a proper case will come along where we need to know what’s happening and we won’t be able to cos of these stupid injunctions

The framing of the second insult is significant.  Hislop employs deixis to establish a community that suffers because of politicians’ inactivity.  He refers to a ‘we’ that is not the politicians although they too have no access to a privacy law that doesn’t exist.  The implication is that politicians would gain a super-injunction.  Hislop has consequently positioned himself on the side of the people who wouldn’t be able to get such an injunction, but, arguably, wouldn’t need one anyway.  Simultaneously, he has positioned the audience as those, like him who would need to know.  Yet in between these ‘we’ pronouns is inserted the categorization of ‘slapper’. The entire construction functions successfully by excluding footballers and slappers from the fictional ‘we’.  The viewing audience are neither ‘slappers’ nor footballers, and Hislop attempts to position himself within the protective embrace of the morally decent.

Implicitness: implications and presuppositions:  There is such a thing as a footballer.  One might consider sport to be vaguely absurd but there’s no denying that it exists (well one could deny it if one liked, one could deny anything if one liked but footballers certainly exist).  Whereas ‘footballer’ is a noun ‘slapper’ although technically a noun in its OED sense it’s really more of an adjective a description not of a real thing but of how certain men judge women to be.  It isn’t a real thing it’s a discursive construction that goes beyond a man’s attitude.  Nevertheless, the implication in Hislop’s grammatical x and y construction is that slappers really do exist on the same empirical level as footballers, lawyers and journalists (I’m glossing over CDP’s categorization theories here).  One could argue that ‘slappers’ do exist but that would only be within the discourse of sexism.  In this instance one doesn’t simply take up the positions available within a discourse one is given the position by the most powerful within the discourse.  ‘Slappers’ exist because men say they exist: ‘slappers’ exist because Ian Hislop says they exist.  So how are these vile bodies to be treated Mr. Hislop?

Style: The standard BBC response to complaints about the reproduction of sexism on the BBC is to insist that the speaker is being ironic and that the sophisticated audience will recognize the irony, (Mills).  Hislop’s initial use of ‘slapper’ occurs within a passage that is undoubtedly said with an ironic tone (I should know because I’m sophisticated, allegedly).  However the irony does not apply to his use of ‘slapper’ but at Bradshawe’s attempt to be … oh I don’t know… funny…liked.  The second usage occurs within a direct address to the wider audience about the need for a privacy law.  If the second usage occurred in an ironic passage one would need to conclude that Hislop is not in favour of a privacy law.  In such a case his performance as satirist is considerably secondary to his performance as a hypocrite.

Summing up

Hislop expresses, signals and legitimizes dominance in a number of ways.  This is not simply the case of a man calling a woman a ‘slapper’.  Dominance is here reproduced not simply because Hislop is a media personality; not simply because he has a reputation for challenging authority not only in Have I Got News For You but also in Private Eye; not simply because he has access to speak to a large number of television viewers; not simply because he is a team captain on one of the BBC’s prestigious topical affairs programmes; and not simply because that programme is now in its fortieth season and that the BBC have, by implication, merited it a success and have considerable confidence in its ability to project BBC values.

Googling ‘BBC sexist language complaints’ generates over a million hits, and the first page provides links to those who might have been expected to be the usual suspects, Chris Moyles, and Top Gear. Would one expect to get a hit for Ian Hislop or Have I Got News For You? At one time I would have thought not.

Hislop’s reproduction of discursive sexism is successful because he has positioned himself with Moyles, Clarkson et al.  They do it so he can do it – he does it so they can do it, and all of a sudden it’s the norm.  And that’s the successful part of reproduction in this instance – sexism’s normalization.

This is the link to Jane Martinson's blog at The Guardian


slapper. (2007). In Dictionary of Contemporary Slang. Retrieved from

"either, adj. (and pron.) and adv. (and conj.)". OED Online. March 2011. Oxford University Press. 24 April 2011 <>.

"slaphead, n.". OED Online. March 2011. Oxford University Press. 24 April 2011 <>.

"slapper, n.1". OED Online. March 2011. Oxford University Press. 24 April 2011 <>.

Austin, J.L. (1976) How To Do Things With Words, (2nd edn) Oxford, Oxford University Press.
Broadcasters' Alliance Research Board (Apr 04 - Apr 10, 2011) 'Weekly Top 30 Programmes', BARB [online], (Accessed 24-04-2011 2011).
Van Dijk, T. (2009) 'Principles of Critical Discourse Analysis', in Wetherell, M., Taylor, S. and Yates, S.J. (eds) Discourse Theory and Practice: A Reader, London, Sage, The Open University Press.
Wikipedia, t.f.e. (2011) 'Have I Got News For You', Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia [online], (Accessed 24-04-2011 2011).
Wikipedia, t.f.e. (2011) 'Ian Hislop', Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia [online], (Accessed 24-04-2011 2011).
Wikipedia, t.f.e. (2011) 'Private Eye (magazine)', Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia [online], (Accessed 24-04-2011 2011).

Thursday, 21 April 2011

the map made nation

In the Amazon review of Map of a Nation: A Biography of the Ordnance Survey by Rachel Hewitt, “Big Jim” writes

Hewitt explains how the Ordnance Survey grew from the Highland uprisings as the Hanoverian forces tried to explore the wild territory in which the clansmen lived and indeed hid. Ironically it was a lowland Scot, William Roy of Lanarkshire, who led the team that criss-crossed the rugged terrain - … (my emphasis)

My criticism of the review is that it simply wasn’t/isn’t ironic.  To be ironic it would have to fulfil the criteria whereby Roy’s Lowlander status as the leader was

2. fig. A condition of affairs or events of a character opposite to what was, or might naturally be, expected; a contradictory outcome of events as if in mockery of the promise and fitness of things. (In French ironie du sort.)

I’m sorry Big Jim but I don’t agree.  To consider a Lowlander’s involvement in the map’s construction ironic is to assume that the Lowlands and the Highlands were parts of a unified national whole and that a Scottish identity meant the same or at least a similar thing on either side of the lowland/Highland fault line.  It is wrong to assume that Scotland existed prior to the map.

This post considers that prior to the ‘reform’ of the Highlands there was no Scottish national identity that was common to either side of the fault line.  Consequently, the post does not accept that the map simply describes the landscape’s incidental natural features – that it was/is a representation of a naturally occurring area. Contrarily this post insists that the map made Scotland.

The discourse of nationalism is so embedded within the space that other discourses take place that it largely goes unnoticed.  To acknowledge that this post was typed in Scotland is to accept and acknowledge the prevailing and dominant modes of geopolitical representation, (Shapiro).  Can I say, as I did, on the recent census that I don’t ‘feel’ that I have a national identity that that means this wasn’t written in Scotland. Is utopia a state free from the discourse of nationalism?  I can’t give you a map reference  to where I then am, (which would be ironic).   Whilst it’s certainly possible to argue that social relations are constructed through available discourse (D843 SEP) the discourse of the national space is not simply available (in the sense that one can take it or leave it) but unavoidably available.  It’s such a given that it’s almost perfect because, for the most part, it’s buried so deep that it seems natural or, in Althusserian terms, ideologically obvious.

Where was I?

Although Hewitt doesn’t really provide a detailed critical geosociological analysis of Roy’s activities that isn’t to say that she leaves the reader unaware of the map’s constructionist role.  Hewitt outlines the differences between the Lowlands and the Highlands over a number of early pages- the differing political, religious and dynastic allegiances, the different languages (Scots and English in contrast to Scots Gaelic/Irish), the difference between social infrastructure, the differing legal systems and culture and, of course, the differing terrains.  Hewitt is left to conclude that whilst the 1707 effectively united Lowland Scotland with England the Highlands were ‘almost a separate nation’, (p.12).  In other words the Highlands were not effectively part of the Union – they were not Britain and in that sense the Highlands weren’t Scotland.  That is, of course, an Anglocentric piece of reasoning but it does mean that there was no one thing as Scotland, and it follows that there was not only no map of a place that didn’t exist, but that there couldn’t be a map of a place that didn’t exist.

Baudrillard makes use of Borges’ 1:1 map and accurately identifies in Scotland’s case that ‘the map precedes the territory’ (1983, p.2).  In other words the map’s accuracy was, not entirely, irrelevant but to now consider it either ‘relevant’ or ‘irrelevant’ would be to enter into an altogether different discourse, and to make the mistake that the map was intended to serve as a representation of Scotland. The map was, for want of a better expression, the real, whilst the nation was it’s (re-) product.  Scotland was constructed by the map in order to be represented by it.

Reflecting on her own book, Hewitt considers what it was like to inhabit a nation that lacked a map and how it felt to acquire that mirror, (xxvi).  It’s easy to interpret that Hewitt considers the map to be the mirror.  I disagree: the nation was the mirror.

So that’s where I was … through the looking glass


"irony, n.". OED Online. March 2011. Oxford University Press. (accessed April 20, 2011).

Baudrillard, J. (1983) Simulations, USA, Semiotext[e].

Shapiro, M. (2009) 'Textualizing Global Politics', in Wetherell, M., Taylor, S. and Yates, S.J. (eds) Discourse Theory and Practice: A Reader, London, Sage, The Open University Press. 

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

the discourse of 'apprenticeships'

It would seem that regardless of the economic weather apprenticeships are back in fashion.  In Scotland, with the approach of the 2011 Holyrood Election, Labour are offering an unmeasured amount of places whereas the SNP have promised 25,000 places.  In England, the Conservative Chancellor, in his recent Budget, announced that he was funding a total of 50,000 apprenticeships for the young unemployed.  This convergence of the political spectrum to the concept of apprenticeships is historically explicable since it is the ‘dominant, surviving textual practices [of manufacture and design] that give rise to the system of meaning’ within the wider discourse of the workplace, (Shapiro 2009), even if the parties converge from different ideological positions.  For those working in the management of Modern Apprenticeships these promises/aspirations are, whilst heartening, somewhat puzzling.  Although the workload of some contractors has improved, confidence remains low and margins remain tight.  The actualit√©  has been eloquently highlighted by Gerard Eadie, Chairman of CR Smith, in an succinct letter to The Sunday Telegraph (27-03-11) ‘Government cannot create apprentices...[i]t will take employers hiring 40,000 more young people before there can be 40,000 more apprenticeships’, and restated in The Guardian (29-03-11) by Charlie Mullins, director of Pimlico Plumbers, ‘[o]n paper it’s positive, but each ‘new apprenticeship’ requires a job’.

So why this concern with apprenticeships at a time when employers are simply not in a position to make the politicians’ dreams come true?  I don’t think the answer lies directly within the control of employers but in the funding arrangements for Higher Education.  It seems entirely plausible that the English funding agreement will reduce the available number of university places to school leavers.  If apprenticeships can, therefore, be sold as a realistic and viable option for school leavers then their taking up will automatically reduce the pressure on the numbers applying to universities, (cf. Bakhradnia, 15-03-11).  Apprenticeships have, accordingly, to be socially packaged as objects of desire – developed, embedded, entextualised, sanctioned, legitimized, commodified,  - the entire panoply of twenty-first century, post-crash meaning-making.  In consequence of this, and despite this fissure between political intent and economic reality, one would expect in these promises of investment that there would be a concomitant appreciation regarding the status of apprenticeships to be equally visible in the political parties’ discourse.
The current (1989), on-line, Oxford English Dictionary defines an ‘apprentice’, n. as;
1. A learner of a craft; one who is bound by legal agreement to serve an employer in the exercise of some handicraft, art, trade, or profession, for a certain number of years, with a view to learn its details and duties, in which the employer is reciprocally bound to instruct him.

2. Obs.

3. By extension: One who is only learning the rudiments; an unskilled novice, a tyro.

Of course as well as its noun sense, ‘apprentice’ can also be treated adjectivally, such as in ‘apprentice electrician’ but whilst ‘apprentice electrician’ or “apprentice motor mechanic” doesn’t jar on the ears, the same adjective, when applied to a university taught profession, so as to produce “apprentice teacher” or “apprentice chemical engineer” seems if not discordant ridiculously oxymoronic.  In this context, the OED’s n.1 initial sense ‘a learner of a craft’ seems most appropriate; and to some extent therein lies the rub since one doesn’t really expect to find an apprenticeship in the taught university ‘professions’.  This perceived discordance is, however, not accidental but is, instead, an example of how the term ‘apprenticeship’ has constitutively established a complex social construction that has been tightly interwoven into broader social relations.

The Labour Party’s position is founded upon John Park’s 2008 Public Consultation, The Apprenticeship (Scotland) Bill.  In that public consultation document  an apprenticeship is defined as something mostly ‘taken up by school leavers, who study towards a Scottish Vocational Qualification (SVQ) or National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) co-ordinated within the SVQ MA framework, and that these qualifications are normally undertaken in a college on day/block release or in a training centre’, (1.3).  Of interest, then, is the decision by Procter & Gamble to replace its graduate recruitment programme in order to directly recruit school leavers as ‘apprentices’ with a bespoke degree course at Northumbria University (TESS, 11-02-11).  Such an arrangement doesn’t demonstrate an inkling of semantic broadening but instead appears to be evidence of the discourse catching up with its semantic content.
George Osborne’s recent Budget speech further elaborated upon the current reconstruction of the apprenticeship package.  There are, according to Osborne’s budget speech, ‘currently only 1,500 higher level apprenticeships across the whole of England’ with the Chancellor aiming to increase this to 10,000.  It might no longer be politically acceptable to emphasize a Derridean sense of the relation of power between the binary poles of opposition (Hall, 2009) such as university/college, professional/craftsman, university student/apprentice; pairings but not equivalences.  But even if such things are no longer spoken of a trace inevitably remains.  Note how Osborne’s Budget provision for “higher level apprenticeships” asserts the HEgemony of a university taught education in contrast to what I suppose must now be called, “lower level apprenticeships”: university apprenticeship/craft apprenticeship.
Coincidentally, although these poles of opposition find their educational foundation in the Scottish Conservatives’ manifesto pledge to allow ‘disengaged’ fourteen year olds to leave school to take up an apprenticeship it would be simplistic to assume that such social positioning is solely the preserve of the Tories.  Before the dissolution of the current Holyrood Parliament the Scottish Government’s Finance Minister, John Swinney, announced the chosen contractors for the new Forth Bridge.  He was particularly pleased ‘that this bid will annually provide 45 vocational training positions, 21 professional body training places and 46 positions for the long term unemployed’ and in doing so re-asserted the common-sense understanding of the distinction between vocational or craft apprenticeships and university taught professions.  Perhaps most depressingly, John Park (unwittingly?) positioned the value of what an apprenticeship offers, ‘ [it is an] option for those who don’t wish to follow an academic route.  It is a real alternative to … unemployment’, (1.4).
‘Political processes are, amongst other things, contests over alternative understandings immanent within representational practices’, (Shapiro, 2009).  This current contestation regarding apprenticeships is not simply a question about which party can or will guarantee the maximum number of apprenticeships but is, more particularly, a stage in the process of constructing the dominant mode of representation which will, thereafter, be labelled as ‘apprenticeship’, (Mehan, 2009).  To make use of the Foucauldian term it would appear that politicians are attempting to move the discourse from one episteme to another.  Even so, despite the need to provide a meaningful career path for school leavers, one that is a legitimate and fulfilling alternative to the university option, the old reductive system of thought that allows apprenticeships to be spoken of as non-academic and in contrast to the professions, continues to slip through.  Consequently, despite the current rhetoric of politicians a craft apprenticeship remains represented in their language as a second-class option.


Bakhradnia, B. ‘The most likely future will see fewer students’, The Guardian, EducationGuardian, 15 March 2011, p.6
Eadie, G. (2011) 'One company in ten offering apprenticeships is far too few', The Sunday Telegraph, 27 March, p. 23
Hall, S. (2009) 'The Spectacle of the Other', in Wetherell, M., Taylor, S. and Yates, S.J. (eds) Discourse Theory and Practice: A Reader, London, Sage, The Open University Press
Lee, J. (2011) 'Procter & Gamble wagers its future on school leavers', Times Education Supplement Scotland, p. 19
Mehan, H. (2009) ‘The Construction of an LD Student: A Case Study in the Politics of Representation’ in Wetherell, M., Taylor, S. and Yates, S.J. (eds) Discourse Theory and Practice: A Reader, London, Sage, The Open University Press
Murray, J. (2011) 'You are needed at your workstation', The Guardian, EducationGuardian, 29 March 2011, pp. 4-5
Osborne, G. (2011) 'Full Transcript | George Osborne | Budget Speech | 23 March 2011', New Statesman [online], (Accessed 26 March 2011)
Park, J. (2008) 'The Apprenticeship (Scotland) Bill: Public Consultation',
Shapiro, M. (2009) 'Textualising Global Politics’, in Wetherell, M., Taylor, S. and Yates, S.J. (eds) Discourse Theory and Practice: A Reader, London, Sage, The Open University Press