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Class, consumption and prejudice: contemporary representations of the social scum Dr Tracy Shildrick, Prof. Robert MacDonald (University of Teesside) &

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Presentation on theme: "Class, consumption and prejudice: contemporary representations of the social scum Dr Tracy Shildrick, Prof. Robert MacDonald (University of Teesside) &"— Presentation transcript:

1 Class, consumption and prejudice: contemporary representations of the social scum Dr Tracy Shildrick, Prof. Robert MacDonald (University of Teesside) & Dr. Colin Webster (Leeds Metropolitan University) (Work in progress)

2 Aims To think critically about contemporary representations of the poor – particularly the young & poor – in popular media & social science To argue that talk of chavs & charvers is a loud, late modern echo of age-old rhetorics of the undeserving poor To interrogate this talk & reflect on the meaning & consequence of this form of class prejudice [Work in progress!]

3 A clamour of hostile words… Explosion of mass media reference to chavs; since the early 2000s Hayward and Yar (2006): virtually zero references in UK national newspapers , yet 946 during alone. Chav now a familiar & amusing cultural common-place in everyday parlance (middle-class dinner parties, sociological conference conversations)

4 (Notorious) champion & purveyor of talk/ imagery about chavs (followed by chav towns, chav test, top ten chavs web-sites etc.) Documents the burgeoning peasant underclass; foul-mouthed vitriol; photographs of strangers posted for the disgusted vilification of blog participants The polar opposite of the mutual Respect called for by Sennett (2003)

5 What does it mean? Offensive, discriminatory language depicting poor people……defined as/ targeted on: Appearance/ stylistic consumption (tracksuits, trainers, hoodies, bling jewellery, cosmetics, branded drinks, etc) Council housing Welfare dependency/ criminality/ irresponsible parenting Youth Popular, very new labelling of young, white, working-class people at the social/ economic margins (…with more to follow on the racial aspects of representation)

6 Etymology & usage (Non-definitive); Romany roots – child (or friend?), also local/ regional counter- explanations, synonyms (pikey, ned, scally) & variations Charver (Tyneside/ NE England) & Chore (Hartlepool/ Teesside) longer-standing & more prevalent usage (than Chav)

7 A history of respectable fears Obviously, clear echoes of historic, recurrent designations of undeserving poor, back to 19 th C. and before. The dangerous class, the social scum, that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of society… (Marx and Engels, 1977:47).

8 Consumption & (classed) identities Hayward and Yar (2006): chav represents a popular reconfiguration of the underclass idea Excessive participation in aesthetically impoverished consumption - not marginality to production (work) – becomes the target for class ire [Not in absolute agreement]

9 Hayward and Yar (2006) …the chav phenomenon partakes of a social process in which consumption, identity, marginality & social control converge; consumption practices now serve as the locus around which exclusion is configured and the excluded are classified, identified and subjected to (increasingly intense) regimes of management.

10 …regimes of management: an example Policing the usual suspects (McAra and McVie, 2005); policing the irrelevant (Loftus, 2007) Stops, arrests & conviction rates reflect form & availability for arrest But also subjective, class-based distinctions (by officers) between the respectable and unrespectable (Possibly) on the basis of dress, demeanour, embodied, physical appearance.

11 Researching & representing chavs/ charvers Common self-censuring of discriminatory language & general avoidance of victim- blaming in contemporary UK academia …in respect of race/ ethnicity, gender, sexuality, dis-ability Yet some apparent willingness to employ classist terminology & representations… Examples from youth studies…

12 McCulloch et al, 2006 Journal of Youth Studies Qualitative research: youth cultural divisions in Edinburgh & Newcastle (45 interviews). 4 categories: Goths, Skaters, Chavs/ Charvas/ Neds, Others Chav, Ned and Charva are uniquely…& interchangeably used as othering labels & only rarely as a self-identifying label…[they] did not associate themselves with the name and did not feel they were one homogeneous group (p ).

13 McCulloch et al (cont): charvas… i.e. quite different epistemological status to this one category Tony (Charva):[referring to charva] Its what more posh people use to try and describe thugs and that (p.552). Rather, highly localised, neighbourhood- based names, territoriality & rivalries within this externally labelled sub-culture (cf: MacDonald & Marsh, 2005).

14 McCulloch et al (cont): charvas… Street leisure & neighbourhood-based socialising Predominantly unemployed Lower social class (by parental occupation) Council estate housing/ labelled neighbourhoods Strongly social division between Charvas & all other categories Impossibility of young person electing for this strongly-class based identity, from outside class base (unlike other groups)

15 Shildrick (2006) Young Youth cultural divisions & illicit drug use Hartlepool, NE England Qualitative interviews, year olds 3 youth cultural groupings: Spectaculars: i.e. clearly expressed/ named sub-cultural styles, Goths & Punks Ordinary youth: self-defined, normal majority Trackers: defined by others as chores, Hartlepool-specific (?) variant of charver

16 Shildrick (cont) Very similar to McCulloch et als findings (about form & content of youth cultural division); Shildrick adds differences in drug-using behaviour as further typological element But politics/ ethics of academic representation: why persist with universally pejorative labelling? Chores renamed neutrally by Shildrick (as trackers)

17 Anoop Nayak Race, Place & Globalization (2004) Strong, sophisticated contribution to contemporary youth studies Valuably situating questions of cultural (& ethnic) identity in historic context of unequal life conditions & youth transitions in a post- industrial city in NE England Three main youth cultural forms: [Real Geordies] [White Wannabes] Charver Kids…

18 Nayak: the symbolic violence of class Economically marginal, socially excluded Again, street-based & neighbourhood socialising, plus illegal rave/ techno scene But, claims some self-identification with label Embodied styles/ habitus of hard masculinity & association with criminality, violence, disorder, the underclass Nayak clearly identifies symbolic violence of class prejudice in popular, discursive representations of this group

19 Nayak: blurring representations with reality? Like many minority ethnic groups before them, charvers were associated with street crime, disease, drugs, over-breeding (many came from large families) and the seedy underbelly of the black economy(2006:824). i.e., associated with in the narratives of other young people (we think), but, difficult to identify where discursive analysis/ critique finishes & ethnographic description starts

20 Nayak: charvers from a distance If the postures of Charver Kids are ape- like and pronounced, other body-reflexive practices such as smoking, spitting, wearing loudly and drinking alcohol from bottles and cans in public further served to authenticate their roughness (2006: 823). Much on how they are seen & what they allegedly do but (virtually) nothing of what they say, or think, directly.

21 White trash, poor places & the new snobbery The tools & targets of moral censure may have changed since the 19 th C. – ASBOs & council estate residents – but similar themes show themselves (Hughes, 2007) e.g. the prejudice that character can be read from appearance; facial (and racial) features Stigmata of degeneration define the poor, the social scum, the unfit & criminals as belonging to an inferior race (Webster, 2007).

22 The racialisation of poor whites Poor whites as repositories of racism – but also themselves racialised (Collins, 2004: Webster, 2007). US & UK ethnographies show white intra- ethnic fears about maintaining respectability Council estates as dumping grounds for the social scum: key signifier of poverty

23 Hanley, Estates (2007:14-15) Estates are dangerous, they imply: dont visit them, and whatever you do, work as hard as you can so you dont have to live on them. All the people who live on estates are failures, and failure is not only contagious but morally repugnant… …thats what theyre for: to contain the undeserving, un-useful poor. If the feckless poor did not exist, neither would council estates.

24 Summary & conclusions Chav & charver examples of age-old vilifications of the undeserving poor …though the term chav/a now circulates widely in Britain as a term of disgust and contempt, it is imposed on people rather than being claimed by them (Lawler, 2005:802) Recent youth studies identify currency of terminology and existence of some sorts of cultural/ social phenomena to which this refers

25 Summary & conclusions In otherwise sophisticated analyses, some come close to repeating/reinforcing moral, class stereotyping …partly because of the comparative paucity in youth cultural studies of ethnographic thick description of poor(est) white young people (Shildrick & MacDonald, 2007) (see Archer et al, 2007, for a more careful analysis of working-class young peoples style, identity & educational engagement)

26 To finish… Youth & the burden of representations (Ball et al, 2000; Griffin, 1993; Pearson, 1983) Lister (2004:115): the responsibility of those who research and write about poverty to use language that is respectful and less distancing. In other words, to paraphrase Sennett (2003:3), to treat people though they matter, with respect

27 References Archer, L., Hollingworth, S., and Halsall, A. (2007)University's not for me – Im a Nike person: urban, working-class young peoples negotiation of style, identity and educational engagement, Sociology, 41, 2: Ball, S., Maguire, M. and Macrae, S. (2000) Choice, Pathways and Transitions Post- 16: New Youth, New Economies in the Global City, London: Routledge/ Falmer. Bromley, S. (2002) In the name of the Charver, Leeds University, Department of English, (accessed 19/03/07) Collins, M (2004) The Likes of Us: A biography of the white working class, London: Granta Griffin, C. (1993) Representations of Youth, Cambridge: Polity Press. Harris, J. (2007) So now weve finally got our very own white trash, The Guardian, 6 th March. Hayward, K. and Yar, M (2006) The Chav Phenomenon: Consumption, Media and the Construction of a New Underclass in Crime, Media, Culture Hanley, L. (2007) Estates Hughes, G. The Politics of Crime and Community Basingstoke: Palgrave Lawler, S. (2005) Introduction, special issue on Class, Culture & Identity, Sociology, 39, 5:

28 References Lister, R. (2004) Poverty Oxford: Polity. Loftus, B (2007) Policing the irrelevant: class, diversity and contemporary police culture, in ONeill, M. et al (eds.) Police and Occupational Culture, Oxford: Elsevier. MacDonald, R., and Marsh, J. (2005) Disconnected Youth? Growing up in Britains Poor Neighbourhoods, Basingstoke: Palgrave. Marx. K. & Engels, F. (1977/ 1848) Manifesto of the Communist Party, Moscow: Progress Publishers. McAra, L., and McVie, S. (2005) The usual suspects? Street-life, young people and the police in Criminal Justice, 5, 1: McCulloch, K., Stewart, A., and Lovegreen, N. (2006) We just hang out together: youth cultures and social class, in Journal of Youth Studies, 9, 5: Morris, L. (1994) The Dangerous Classes: the underclass and social citizenship London, Routledge. Nayak, A. (2004) Race, Place and Globalization, Oxford: Berg. -- (2006) Displaced Masculinities: Chavs, Youth and Class in the Post- industrial City, in Sociology, 40, 5:

29 References Pearson, G. (1983) Hooligan: A History of Respectable Fears, London: Macmillan. Sennett, R. and Cobb, J. The Hidden Injuries of Class Cambridge University Press. Sennett, R. (2003) Respect: the formation of character in an age of inequality, London: Penguin Shildrick, T. (2006) Youth Culture, Subculture and the Importance of Neighbourhood in Young Vol. 14, no. 1. Shildrick, T. and MacDonald, R. (2006) In defence of subculture: young people, leisure and social divisions, Journal of Youth Studies, Vol 9, No. 2. Webster, C. (2007) Understanding Race and Crime, Buckinghamshire, Open University Press. Webster, C., Simpson, D., MacDonald, R., Abbas, A., Cieslik, M., Shildrick, T., and Simpson, M., (2004) Poor Transitions, Bristol: Policy Press.

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