The Bullingdon Contagion “Not Defending Privilege, Spreading It.”

How far does a Bullingdon* contagion spread?

In a speech to the Tory party conference on Wednesday, British PM David Cameron promised to ‘spread privilege’ of the kind he enjoyed growing up as he vowed to make the country one of aspiration. Dave was of course responding to widespread criticism about his “out of touch” approach to the recession, his own privileged background, and the backgrounds of his front bench of millionaire ministers; all products of a posh and expensive education, and tendency to regard those “below” them as plebs.

A Bullingdon contagion spreads like wildfire on the steps of Eton! Well, at least 9 boys seem to have been infected.

Virality has some questions about Dave’s desire to spread privilege. What kind of contagion is this going to be?

What is the cost of the “aspiration nation”?

How much did Cameron’s and Gove’s aspirational education cost?

How far does a Bullingdon contagion (see pic left) spread?

An education at Eton can cost between £40-50,000 a year (see current fees). The average UK salary is £26,020!

Incidentally, the current Tory Mayor of London, Boris Johnson (one of the poor fellows pictured above on the steps of Eton suffering from Bullingdon’s disease), refers to £250,000 a year as “chicken-feed”(interesting article here about that).

Is the spreading of privilege really going to be achieved by cutting the taxes of millionaires and cutting welfare for the under 25s? Or is it possible to counter the rhetorical spin of Cameron’s privilege contagion with the notion of spreading (or redistributing) the wealth that pays for privilege?

Read more on Boris Johnson and the Olympics in a later post on Virality.

* The Bullingdon Club is a secret society dining club exclusive to students at Oxford University. The club has no permanent rooms and is notorious for its members’ wealth and destructive binges. Membership is by invitation only, and prohibitively expensive for most, given the need to pay for the uniform, dinners and damages. Read on

About Virality

Tony D. Sampson is Reader in Digital Culture and Communications at the University of East London. He has a PhD in social-cultural-digital contagion theory from the Sociology Department at the University of Essex. He is a former art student who re-entered higher education in the UK as a mature student in the mid-1990s after a long stint as a gigging musician. His career in education has moved through various disciplines and departments, including a maths and computing faculty, sociology department and school of digital media and design His publications include The Spam Book, coedited with Jussi Parikka (Hampton Press, 2009), Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks (University of Minnesota Press, 2012), The Assemblage Brain: Sense Making in Neuroculture (University of Minnesota Press, 2016), Affect and Social Media (Rowman and Littlefield, July 2018) and The Sleepwalker's Guide to Social Media (due 2020 with Polity Press). Tony is the organizer and host of the Affect and Social Media conferences in the UK (see archive on this blog). As a co-founder and co-director of the public engagement initiatives, Club Critical Theory (CCT) and the Cultural Engine Research Group (CERG), Tony has been project lead on a number of funded projects that bring impactful critical theories into the community and local political sphere to approach. These activities have included large conferences, symposia and informal lectures/workshops in pubs and community centres, co-organized with community groups and local authorities. Tony occasionally blogs at: Full academic profile:
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