Owen Jones – ‘Chavs, the
Demonization of the Working Class’
(2011)
Activity: What do you think about "Social Class"?
1. Ta...
Owen Jones – ‘Chavs, the
Demonization of the Working Class’
(2011)
. Using a scale of 1-10 where 10 equals "strongly agree...
Owen Jones – ‘Chavs, the Demonization
of the Working Class’ (2011)
Since 2001 the National Statistics Socio-economic Class...
•A recent study carried out by Britain Thinks (2011) offers a fascinating insight into the current
subjective self apprais...
In their survey, Britain Thinks found that being called working class
was close to an insult, associating the term with th...
Owen Jones – ‘Chavs, the
Demonization of the Working Class’
(2011)
6 out of 10 Britons still self identify as working clas...
• Despite this subjective self definition appearing extremely durable,
Jones may have identified a striking new trend in U...
Neo Marxism and Class
Definitions
‘Contradictory class location’: During the 1970s class analysis was preoccupied with the...
‘Chavs’ (2011)
19th century Sociologist Herbert Spencer, argued that, as humans were evolving to a
higher state, any attem...
‘Chavs’
From The Independent (2011):
‘Jones focuses on the case of Shannon Matthews, the child who
disappeared in February...
‘Chavs’
‘The case of Shannon Matthews gives him his route into a wider
discussion of day-to-day chav bashing and class hat...
‘Chav-Baiting’
Jones traces the emergence of the populist caricature of the ‘Chav’ to two historical
developments:
1. The ...
‘Chavs’ – ‘Benefits Street’ (Channel 4,
2014)
http://www.theguardian.com/business/economics-blog/2014/jan/12/george-
osbor...
‘Chavs’ and Neo Marxism
‘Chavs’
• Jones is a Socialist activist, commentator and
journalist.
• Therefore he locates workin...
‘Chavs’
• Chav fighting classes -
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/5572046/Advertising-
watchdog-investigates-gym-ov...
Traditional/orthodox Marxist criticism of ‘Chavs’
• Orthodox Marxists have criticised Jones’ definition of class. This may...
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  1. 1. Owen Jones – ‘Chavs, the Demonization of the Working Class’ (2011) Activity: What do you think about "Social Class"? 1. Take a moment to write down a definition of "class.” . 2. Assuming that you were asked to assess the social class position of a particular individual, list the factors which you would consider in making your assessment 3. Which factors in your list do you consider to be the most significant factors influencing an individual's social class position?
  2. 2. Owen Jones – ‘Chavs, the Demonization of the Working Class’ (2011) . Using a scale of 1-10 where 10 equals "strongly agree" and 1 equals "strongly disagree" write down numbers which reflect your attitude to the following statements: 1.Most people of working age are workers. Therefore most people are working class. 2.Modern societies such as the UK are fairly equal and so social class differences are fairly insignificant. 3.The UK is essentially a meritocratic society. 4.Significant differences in wealth and income are essential in order to provide incentives to work, save and invest. 5.Greater economic equality would lead to lower economic efficiency
  3. 3. Owen Jones – ‘Chavs, the Demonization of the Working Class’ (2011) Since 2001 the National Statistics Socio-economic Classification (NS- SEC) has been used for all official statistics and surveys. It replaced Social Class based on Occupation (SC, formerly Registrar General's Social Class) and Socio-economic Groups (SEG). However, there are two ways in which ‘class’ can be measured and understood: Objectively: This refers to precise quantifying of class, such as that undertaken by the government and published by the Registrar General. Sociologists also seek to define class, though as we shall see they often find it a challenge to satisfactorily do so. They often tend also to disagree with one another on classifications! Subjectively: This one is trickier, and though Sociologists may pull their hair out over our ability to define ourselves in ways which bare little reality to our actual circumstances, nonetheless we have to take note of people’s subjective appraisal of their own circumstances . Self image has a significant impact on our behaviour and to what degree we conform to or dissent from dominant values and norms.
  4. 4. •A recent study carried out by Britain Thinks (2011) offers a fascinating insight into the current subjective self appraisals of the UK public. In a previous report, ‘Speaking Middle English,’ the group found that 71% of Britons define themselves as ‘middle class.’ •In their latest report, they consider the self definitions of the 24% who see themselves as working class. This compares with 67% as recently as the late 1980s. •* For Mattinson, the founder of Britain Thinks, the term ‘working class’ ‘used to be a badge of pride, but not any more for most people who call themselves working class.’ •* What in your opinion has changed since then? Remember to distinguish between what has actually changed, if anything, and what people may have perceived to have changed.
  5. 5. In their survey, Britain Thinks found that being called working class was close to an insult, associating the term with the ‘chav’ class who choose to live on benefits. In ‘Chavs: the Demonization of the Working Classes’ (2011), author Owen Jones responds to this caricaturing of what it means to be working class. He argues that: The findings depend heavily on the wording of the Britain Thinks questions. But Ipsos MORI actually found that 2/3 described themselves as ‘working class and proud of it’ in 2002, and in 2007 the British Social Attitudes Survey found that ‘57% called themselves ‘working class’ or ‘upper working class.’ However, Jones points to the demonization of the working class as having consequences for how people define themselves. The term has been diminished and ridiculed by a media dominated by privately educated broadcasters and journalists.
  6. 6. Owen Jones – ‘Chavs, the Demonization of the Working Class’ (2011) 6 out of 10 Britons still self identify as working class (2012) http://www.bsa-30.natcen.ac.uk/read-the-report/social-class/introduction.aspx
  7. 7. • Despite this subjective self definition appearing extremely durable, Jones may have identified a striking new trend in UK society, namely the emergence of a widespread hostility to working class people (or more specifically, the ‘undeserving poor’) within UK society. This has in part been facilitated by a media only too happy to portray working class individuals and families as benefit scroungers, drunk, lazy, criminal and without a distinct culture of their own that might legitimise their existence. Thus, the public perception of the working classes has been manipulated to such an extent that we now feel comfortable with deriding whole communities as ‘chavs.’ • But is this entirely new? Margaret Stacey (1950) in a study in Oxfordshire found that members of the manual working class distinguished three status groups within their own class: ‘Respectable,’ ‘Ordinary’ and ‘Rough.’ • Owen Jones – ‘Chavs, the Demonization of the Working Class’ (2011)
  8. 8. Neo Marxism and Class Definitions ‘Contradictory class location’: During the 1970s class analysis was preoccupied with the problem of assigning class positions to those ‘intermediate’ roles (such as manager, supervisor, or salaried professional) which seemed to be neither unambiguously of the bourgeoisie nor of the proletariat, and so generated a series of ‘boundary problems.’ Neo Marxists continue to wrestle with this issue – middle managers, salaries professionals (teachers, social workers) do not clearly belong to the bourgeoisie, their relation to the means of production is not clear cut. They act at times as ‘gatekeepers’ to power, or may unwittingly comprise staff within state apparatus (education, the media), but their class interests are ‘contradictory’ in as much as they benefit from the system relatively more than the working classes, but are as vulnerable in many ways to redundancy, economic crisis, poor working conditions, powerlessness at work and the stresses of living in competitive consumer societies. To describe the precarious and exposed material circumstances of this class post the banking crisis, contemporary terminology has coined the phrase ‘Precariat.’ Q: Why are definitions of class so crucial to Marxists, why does it matter so much to their world view?
  9. 9. ‘Chavs’ (2011) 19th century Sociologist Herbert Spencer, argued that, as humans were evolving to a higher state, any attempt to improve the lives of the poor and vulnerable should be rejected. A Darwinian ‘survival of the fittest’ was the ‘natural’ order of things. He claimed that the “unfit" should be eliminated, writing that: “If they are sufficiently complete to live, they do live, and it is well they should live. If they are not sufficiently complete to live, they die, and it is best they should die.“ The deserving and undeserving poor have always been with us! What Owen Jones has identified though, is an apparently concerted effort to undermine traditional self-definitions of class, chipping away at the possibility of class consciousness developing, replacing pride with feelings of shame and consequently stigmatizing large swathes of society.
  10. 10. ‘Chavs’ From The Independent (2011): ‘Jones focuses on the case of Shannon Matthews, the child who disappeared in February 2008, to expose the way the rich and the powerful define the nature of contemporary working-class existence. Scores of Dewsbury Moor residents raised money, volunteered and searched for the young girl before she was discovered on 14 March, drugged and hidden in a divan bed at the home of a relative. From this moment, the community itself was seen through the prism of Shannon's mother Karen. Their efforts were ignored as a picture was painted of a lawless, morally corrupt, workless nation. The press and politicians used the case to shine a light on a politically expedient, dystopian vision of "Broken Britain", dominated by a feral underclass. Valiantly, Jones unpacks this caricature step by step, posing the appropriate questions as to why the people are being so demonised.’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tl75zfq3rhQ&feature=related
  11. 11. ‘Chavs’ ‘The case of Shannon Matthews gives him his route into a wider discussion of day-to-day chav bashing and class hatred: Little Britain and Jeremy Kyle; gym classes sold as "chav fighting”; the promotion of "chav-free holidays"; Harry Enfield and Shameless; the Little Book of Chavs, Wife Swap and the website Chav Scum. The list culminates in the appalling treatment of Jade Goody...’ The Independent (2011) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hoB58_K9jJs&feature=share http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_HUYh_5tLU http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/mar/03/rich- landowners-farmers-welfare-nfu-defra
  12. 12. ‘Chav-Baiting’ Jones traces the emergence of the populist caricature of the ‘Chav’ to two historical developments: 1. The deliberate de-industrialisation of working class communities from the 1970s onwards, and most intensively and systematically during the Thatcher/Major Conservative governments of ‘79 – ’97 which threw millions of previously cohesive and self identifying communities into precarious lives of low status and wage occupations, poor housing, breadline benefit http://www.theguardian.com/uk- news/2014/jan/29/benefits-street-a-spiral-of-decline 2. Subsequent to the banking crash, the ruling class sought out a timely scapegoat to legitimise their distortion of the causes of the financial crisis.
  13. 13. ‘Chavs’ – ‘Benefits Street’ (Channel 4, 2014) http://www.theguardian.com/business/economics-blog/2014/jan/12/george- osborne-welfare-cuts-distortions-benefits-street http://www.channel4.com/programmes/benefits-street/4od On the basis of this clip of Benefits Street, first broadcast on Channel 4 during 2014, can you place yourself in the shoes of a. the producers, and articulate the claims that theirs was a sympathetic portrayal of the residents of James Turner Street, and b. the actual residents, and how they experienced their sudden public exposure? In doing so, consider the social, political and cultural context within which the programme was aired, and therefore how it was interpreted and understood by audiences, and what assumptions it either generally confirmed or challenged.
  14. 14. ‘Chavs’ and Neo Marxism ‘Chavs’ • Jones is a Socialist activist, commentator and journalist. • Therefore he locates working class self liberation at the heart of his proposed solutions to the problems of social inequalities. • Member of Labour Party, now rejected by many traditional Marxists as a vehicle for social change. • His critique exposes hegemonic ideologies within the print, on-line and television media. • He offers a historical overview which both: • Identifies the so-called ‘underclass’ as simply the ‘poor’ and marginalised working class, disputing the distinction between ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor. • Considers the neo liberal ‘counter revolution’ against the post 1945 social democratic settlement (welfare state, industrial policy, social mobility, strong unions, growing equality) as the central cause of poverty amongst the poor, particularly within ex-industrial communities. Neo Marxism • ‘Chavs’ reflects this perspective in its interrogation of: • Hegemony • Ideology • Class inequalities • Lack of political voices speaking for the working classes and the poor – a ‘crisis of representation.’ • Identifies power in your workplace as one contemporary signifier of class – Jones takes on the question of ‘contradictory class locations.’
  15. 15. ‘Chavs’ • Chav fighting classes - http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/5572046/Advertising- watchdog-investigates-gym-over-Chav-Fighting-courses.html • Chav free holidays - http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/travelnews/4346238/Holiday- company-offers-chav-free-breaks-free-of-children-called-Britney.html • ‘Chav Scum’ website - http://www.chavprotesters.8k.com/ • ‘Chav Town’ website - http://chavdom.blogspot.co.uk/2008/01/chav-towns.html • Owen Jones on Marx: • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u3XnrcKmNKc • Media Report on Europe-wide representations of class: • http://www.theguardian.com/media/2014/jun/16/media-sideline- european-white-working-class-study-finds
  16. 16. Traditional/orthodox Marxist criticism of ‘Chavs’ • Orthodox Marxists have criticised Jones’ definition of class. This may seem trite, indulging in the pedantry for which Marxist politics is sometimes denounced by its detractors (see sketch below), but given the centrality of class to their analysis of society, Marxists are inevitably going to place great emphasis on categorisation: • ‘Is a Cambridge don really in the same category as a supermarket checkout worker? The important qualification to add is not only those who sell their labour, but those who lack autonomy, or control over this labour.’ (Jones, p.144) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NrDVsprWRCQ • Harley Filben takes issue with Jones: • ‘…it is unclear how true this is even of professors, or at least academics further down the food chain, that work is characterised by ‘autonomy…’ • Filben also raises what he calls a further ‘serious problem’ with ‘Chavs,’ namely Jones’ alleged neglecting of the unemployed. • ‘On the strict Jones definition, the unemployed do not fit into the working class.’

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