Sociologist asks why people of Westeros haven’t had an Industrial Revolution

Westeros is consumed by the Game of Thrones but may be missing something else: an Industrial Revolution.

For Dr Peter Antonioni, from University College London, the key puzzle posed by the return to screens this week of the phenomenally popular fantasy series is quite why the people of Westeros have not had an industrial revolution.

Alas, the rest of the story is behind a subscriber wall. Perhaps they are too often stuck in battles that drain their limited resources. Once you get past the first few books, everyone is struggling: the kingdoms can’t raise much more money for troops, the countryside isn’t providing much food, and the average people are scrounging for food. And since these major skirmishes take place every generation or two, there isn’t much time to stockpile needed goods.

“Cities: How Crowded Life is Changing Us”

Here are some insights into how the large concentrations of people in major cities could be changing human beings:

The sheer concentration of people attracted by the urban lifestyle means that cosmopolitan cities like New York are host to people speaking more than 800 different languages – thought to be the highest language density in the world. In London, less than half of the population is made of white Britons – down from 58% a decade ago. Meanwhile, languages around the world are declining at a faster rate than ever – one of the 7,000 global tongues dies every two weeks.

It is having an effect not just culturally, but biologically: urban melting pots are genetically altering humans. The spread of genetic diversity can be traced back to the invention of the bicycle, according to geneticist Steve Jones, which encouraged the intermarriage of people between villages and towns. But the urbanisation occurring now is generating unprecedented mixing. As a result, humans are now more genetically similar than at any time in the last 100,000 years, Jones says.

The genetic and cultural melange does a lot to erode the barriers between races, as well as leading to novel works of art, science and music that draw on many perspectives. And the tight concentration of people in a city also leads to other tolerances and practices, many of which are less common in other human habitats (like the village) or in other species. For example, people in a metropolis are generally freer to practice different religions or none, to be openly gay, for women to work and to voluntarily limit their family size despite – or indeed because of – access to greater resources.

The biggest takeaway from this in my mind is the reminder that the megacities of today are relatively recent in the scale of human history. Outside of the last 150 years or so, at only a few points in human history has a city or two had a million people. Cities have been very influential throughout history, whether in Rome, Constantinople, Baghdad, or elsewhere, but today’s scale and rate of growth is astounding.

I also wonder if seeing these kinds of changes won’t really be fully known for a couple of hundred years where we can then look back and see that the changes in cities starting in the 1800s really altered human life. At the same time, plenty of learned people have noted the changes that started taking place in European life in particular in the late 1700s and early 1800s, from the Enlightenment to the Industrial Revolution. The more I have thought about it, the more I’ve become convinced that sociology’s origins are intimately tied to these changes in urban life.

The gendered tasks you do at work can affect the gendered work you do at home

A new study in the American Journal of Sociology looks at what men who work in female-dominated careers do at home:

When stacked up against men who have jobs where men and women are equally represented, men in gender-atypical jobs put in an extra hour each week on typically male housework. What’s more, these men’s wives stick to female-typed tasks, spending about four hours more each week cooking dinner, vacuuming or throwing in a load of laundry. Meanwhile, women who work in male-centric professions also tend to pursue more female-typed housework but not with the same consistency as men in female-dominated arenas — perhaps because they perceive it as less of a threat to their femininity. (It should also be noted that a different study in the Journal of Family Psychology found that doing housework after a day on the job isn’t good for anyone, regardless of gender.)

What’s going on here? It seems to be a manifestation of what sociologists call the “neutralization of gender deviance.” Or, in plainspeak, “men are trying to bolster their masculinity at home,” says Daniel Schneider, the study’s author and a doctoral student in sociology and social policy at Princeton University…

Truth be told, Schneider was surprised by the findings. He’d expected to discover that men in gender-typical jobs — a mechanic, for example — would spend more time at home working on car or home maintenance. By that logic, he also anticipated that men in male-atypical jobs would come home and do more cooking and cleaning-type housework typically associated with women.

But humans don’t always make sense. “The market and home are really intertwined and influence each other,” says Schneider. “But they are not necessarily intertwined in a rational way. Instead, they’re intertwined in a way that’s about cultural salience and the meaning of gender.”

In other words: gender norms and expectations influence how people act. If we were to interview men who work in more female fields, would they be able to describe this process discovered in survey data? Also,  I wonder if this is tied to the amount of time people spend at work.

More broadly, this is a reminder that what happens in our career or at the workplace has an influence on other areas of our life. On one hand, perhaps this seems fairly obvious: our culture is one where people are defined by their occupation and what they do. As I tell my students, when you meet people as an adult, the first or one of the first questions you tend to be asked is, “what do you do [for work, a living]?” These puts a lot of pressure on individuals to have meaningful jobs. On the other hand, we tend to act like we can compartmentalize work and home. This goes back into history as there was a separation of home and work only in the Industrial Revolution as jobs moved out of the household or close by to larger factories and offices owned by corporations. While technology may have blurred the lines in recent decades, we still tend to have strong physical and mental boundaries between home and work.

Considering how much time full-time workers put into their jobs today, it should be little surprise that it is hard to keep these spheres apart. At the same time, specifying how it affects other areas of our lives is worth considering.

German copyright > English copyright?

Der Spiegel has posted a summary of the work of economic historian Eckhard Höffner (see here for one of Höffner’s presentations).  As Der Spiegel summarizes Höffner’s question, “Did Germany experience rapid industrial expansion in the 19th century due to an absence of copyright law?”  Höffner argues that England’s draconian 19th century copyright laws resulted in a “chronically weak book market that caused England, the colonial power,to fritter away its head start within the span of a century, while the underdeveloped agrarian state of Germany caught up rapidly, becoming an equally developed industrial nation by 1900.”

As Matthew Lasar points out in his analysis for Wired, however, Höffner’s thesis is vulnerable to correlation vs. causation objections.  For one thing, many European countries (and their colonies) had growth outpacing England’s during this time period, and many of these countries also had strong copyright laws.

I find one of Lasar’s other objections to Höffner’s thesis less persuasive:

…when we put all the legal and economic comparisons aside, we have to ask how much the United Kingdom really suffered from its allegedly stultifying copyright rules. Sure, the nation’s economic growth declined compared to Germany and the US, but it certainly turned out some great literature; we’re still talking about the country of Charles Dickens, John Stewart Mill, Jane Austen, Lewis Carroll, and Arthur Conan Doyle.

And don’t forget that this is the nation whose scientists discovered the electron and the precise behavior of heat, explained the nervous system, electromagnetic laws, and the true nature of evolution, and whose inventors pioneered modern steel, the telegraph, the suspension bridge, and (over a century later) the theory of Internet packet switching as it is widely understood today.

I’d be curious to hear what you think.