Success, with Jo Littler

Uncommon Sense

20-10-2023 • 43分

“If you’re talented and work hard, success (whatever that is) will be yours!” – So says the powerful system and ideology known as “meritocracy”. But if only it were so simple! Jo Littler joins Uncommon Sense to reflect on where this idea came from, how it became mainstream, and how it gets used by elites to convince us we live in a system that is open and fair when the reality is anything but that.

But Jo also shows things are changing. Since the crash of 2008 it’s been clear we’re living and working on a far from “level” playing field. Jo describes the recent embrace of non-work and the rise of assertive “left feminisms” as a sign of hope that the tide may be turning against meritocracy and shallow ideas of success, and discusses the work of people leading the way.

Plus: we reflect on the trope of escape. Why is it so often that to “succeed” in life, one must leave the place that they’re from and embrace the risky and new? And what’s up with the cliche of the “ladder” as a visual image for success? Jo reflects with reference to everyone from Ayn Rand to Raymond Williams. Also: we consider the 1990s rise of the “Mumpreneur” and the more recent phenomenon of the “Cleanfluencer”.

Guest: Jo Littler
Hosts: Rosie Hancock, Alexis Hieu Truong
Executive Producer: Alice Bloch
Sound Engineer: David Crackles
Music: Joe Gardner
Artwork: Erin Aniker

Find more about Uncommon Sense at The Sociological Review.

Episode Resources

Jo, Alexis and Rosie recommend

  • C. Carraway’s book “Skint Estate”
  • M. Brown and R. Jones’ book “Paint Your Town Red”
  • D. Aronofsky’s film “Requiem for a Dream”
  • R. Linklater’s film “Slacker”

From The Sociological Review

By Jo Littler

Further reading

  • “The Rise of the Meritocracy” – Michael Young
  • “The Coming of Post-industrial Society” – Daniel Bell
  • “Coloniality and Meritocracy in Unequal EU Migrations” – Simone Varriale
  • “Perceptions of Meritocracy in Singapore” – Terri-Anne Teo
  • “Meritocracy and Elitism in a Global City” – Kenneth Paul Tan
  • “The Tyranny of Merit” – Michael Sandel
  • “Inequality by Design” – Claude Fischer, et al.
  • “Notes on the Perfect”– Angela McRobbie
  • “Culture and Society” – Raymond Williams


Read more about the industrial sociologist Alan Fox, the work of Bev Skeggs on respectability politics, the work of Nancy Fraser, and the Billionaire Britain 2022 report by The Equality Trust.