Life on the Dole for ‘Benefit Broods’ on the Screen: Poverty Porn and the War on Welfare – by Tracey Jensen

Originally posted on mediapovertywelfare:

In August this year, Iain Duncan-Smith announced his intentions to get ‘even tougher’ on the welfare system and to further reduce the Household Benefit Cap. The Cap formed a key plank of the Welfare Reform Bill 2012, was endorsed in Parliament in 2013 and finally implemented in April 2014.  It limits the total amount of benefits any household can claim to £500 per week for households with children and £350 for a single adult and is the Coalition’s single most popular policy.  According to a YouGov poll in January 2013, 76% of people surveyed agreed with the Benefit Cap.  Continuing with his project to reduce welfare spending, Duncan-Smith has promised to reduce the Cap even further after the next election if the Conservatives win.

Duncan-Smith positions himself as the courageous reformer of a bloated and out-of-control welfare state, stating in an interview that the previous government ‘spent thirteen years…

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Are critics of Benefits Street censoring the truth? – By Rob MacDonald and Tracy Shildrick

Originally posted on mediapovertywelfare:

This week a senior Channel 4 executive, in charge of the making of programmes like Benefits Street and Skint, accused critics of so-called ‘poverty porn’ of ‘a form of censorship’ and declared that: “I defend our right – and the necessity – to tell the stories of some of the distressed parts of our society.”

To us, this has a very odd ring to it. We have been critics of Benefits Street. But we had not considered ourselves in the business of censorship – or to be on the wrong side of a moral claim about the right or necessity of reporting the problems or social distress of people who may be on benefits.

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“Being Poor is Not Entertainment”: Class Struggles against Poverty Porn – By Imogen Tyler

Originally posted on mediapovertywelfare:

The fate of groups is bound up with the words that designate them (Bourdieu, 1984)

Aust[ralian] election public sick of public sector workers and phony welfare scroungers sucking life out of economy. Others nations to follow in time. (Rupert Murdoch tweet 2013)

Benefits Street, made by Love productions, is a six-episode reality television programme first screened on the 6th of January 2014 on Channel Four. The ten-second opening sequence begins with a camera panning over the rooftops of a row of terraced houses, a generic ‘view from above’ which establishes from the outset ‘the voyeurism of one class looking at another’ (Higson 1996:152, see also Lovell 1996 and Tyler 2011). As the shot pans across the roofs, a woman’s voice calls out the word ‘unemployed’ in a soft Birmingham (Brummy) accent. The shot then cuts to street-level, a young woman, dressed in a hooded top, jeans and a baseball…

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Rethinking the Sociology of Stigma in the transition to postwelfare states

I am delighted and honoured to have been awarded a Philip Leverhulme Prize, which means that from September 2015 I will have some relief from my day job (teaching and administration) for three years to focus on my new research project on stigma and inequalities (click on link to see my previous longer blog ‘The Stigma Doctrine’ which explains some of the ideas and impetus behind this new project).

Why research stigma today?

All the major institutions of ‘free-market’ capitalism have warned that escalating inequalities (of income, health and education) pose the gravest threat to future social and political stability. The premise of this project is that to combat this threat we require a much better understanding of relationship between stigmatisation, inequalities and capitalism—that is we urgently need to theorise stigma as a cultural and political economy.

Stigma is one of the most frequently used but least developed concepts in the social sciences. Although stigma is employed to describe a vast array of scapegoating practices and shameful identities, deeper theoretical understandings of stigma are frequently absent from sociological analysis. Erving Goffman’s Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity (1964) was pivotal in the emergence of a sociology of stigma, yet it is striking how little understandings of stigma have developed in the intervening 50 years. Further, the centrality of stigma in producing economic and social inequalities has been obscured ‘because bodies of research pertaining to specific stigmatized statuses have generally developed in separate domains’ (Hatzenbuehler, 2013). In short, stigma is widely accepted to be a major factor in determining life chances, yet research on stigma is fragmented and dispersed across academic disciplines. This research project will produce a new theoretical account of stigma, to address this lacuna and to consider the relationship between growing inequalities and ‘heightened stigmatization in daily life and public discourse’ (Wacquant, 2010). The project has the following aims:

  • develop a new social theory/sociology of stigma
  • examine the relationship between stigmatisation and escalating inequalities
  • consider ‘behaviour change’ policies through the lens of stigma
  • deepen understanding of the role of stigma in generating a ‘post-welfare’ consensus

Outcomes from this project will include:·

  • The establishment of an interdisciplinary research network on Stigma & Inequality
  • A monograph: The Stigma Doctrine (provisional title)·
  • A special journal issue: ‘Sociology of Stigma’ (to be edited with Tom Slater)
  • Three peer-reviewed articles

What distinguishes this project from existing research is its explicit focus on stigmatization as a central dimension of neoliberal state-crafting. The project will focus in particular on welfare reform, the neoliberal de/recomposition of class, poverty, work and dis/abilities.

In due course there will be a new wordpress site with blog updates, events and findings from this research project as it develops.

The Economics of Illegality: Who Profits

Originally posted on Social Abjection :


Coffins in Lampedusa 2013

This post is “notes and data”, rather than a polished piece of writing , which I gathered together for a short talk at the Transeuropa festival in October. Thanks to Alina Muller for inviting me. I will not have time to write this up into a more formal academic paper for some time so decided to post the notes here for now.

This talk was motivated by the deaths at sea near Lampedusa in October 2013, and my intention was to reflect on the at European sea borders–something I have written about before—and connect this to my work on border controls and immigration detention in the UK.

We hear a lot about what migrants “cost us” and how they “cheat us” but conversely accounts which attempt to trouble this narrative of cheating often reinforce governmental categories of ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ migrants-refugees versus economic migrants. I don’t want…

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The Business of Immigration Detention: The Conference – Jan 22-23rd 2015

The Business of Immigration Detention: Activisms, Resistances, Critical Interventions

The Centre for Mobilities Research (CeMoRe)

 Lancaster University, January 22-23th 2015


To book a place see links below- you need to book separately for the Ice&Fire public performance (free) and for the conference (small fee).

The Centre for Mobilities Research at Lancaster University (CeMoRe) is hosting an ESRC sponsored conference “The Business of Immigration Detention: Activisms, Resistances, Critical Interventions” (which is the final event in part of a larger series of workshops titled  ‘Exploring Everyday Practice and Resistance in Immigration Detention’). Bringing together a range of leading academics, post-graduate researchers, practitioners, artists, activists and former detainees this seminar series will investigate the ways in which the UK experience of detention reflects and re-produces the contradictory logics inherent in contemporary global detention practices.  “The Business of Immigration Detention” will consider the challenges facing academics and activists in the area of immigration detention and related border-security practices.

The administrative detention and deportation of adults classified as ‘illegal’ escalated in the late 1990s with a policy shift from the detention of very small numbers of migrants in mainstream prisons to the development of specialist migrant detention facilities. Successive UK governments have argued that this escalation in detention is ‘an essential, everyday facet of immigration control’ and ‘regrettable but necessary’ (see Silverman 2012). However, while arguments about the ‘necessity’ of detention are grounded in notions of deterrence, threat and security, the expansion of immigration detention, and the practices that determine who is taken into detention, are also driven by business interests.

Detention is a business, and the profits to be made are key determinants of both transnational and state-level policy formation and everyday detention practices. Further, this global business is proliferating new markets for global securities companies which extend outside the detention estate into the provision of services, such as housing and welfare for migrant and increasingly ‘citizen’ populations (for example in running prisons, policing and schools services).

At this conference we will consider what Frances Webber describes as ‘the vexed question of when, if and how we should engage with statutory bodies and whether it is possible to do so without jeopardising the principles which led us to get involved in this work in the first place’? (Weber, 2012).

Should activism and activist-scholarship aim to resist state practices of detention entirely, or work with private and state actors in order to change detention practices? What forms of critical intervention and resistance are useful or possible in this field?

To address these and other questions, we have invited leading scholars, artists and activists to address to share their research and experience, and to reflect, listen, learn and debate questions of resistance to immigration detention, from local, national and global perspectives.

Public Lecture: Thursday 22th January 4.30 pm

Professor Alison Mountz, Professor of Geography and Canada Research Chair in Global Migration, Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada. Professor Mountz’s work explores the tension between the decisions, displacements, and desires that drive human migration and the policies and practices designed to manage migration. She is author of Seeking Asylum: Human Smuggling and Bureaucracy at the Border (2011) and leads the ‘Island Detention Project’

Public Performance: Thursday 22th January 6.30pm

Ice&fire will be performing specially adapted version of their ‘asylum monologues’ at the Lancaster University Chaplaincy Centre at 7pm on Thursday 24th January, followed by a wine reception and book launch. It is FREE to attend this event – but you must register as numbers are strictly limited. Book here:

Conference Friday 23th January at Lancaster Conference Centre, 9.30am- 5pm(online booking required, limited spaces) at Lancaster University FASS building rooms 2/3, 5pm (building 21 on campus map)


Closing Keynote 4pm: Friday 23rd January

Dr Jenna Loyd is an Assistant Professor in Public Health Policy at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, as well as a prison and detention abolitionist activist. She is the author of Health Rights Are Civil Rights: Peace and Justice Activism in Los Angeles, 1963-1978 (2014) and co-editor of Beyond Walls and Cages: Prisons, Borders, and Global Crisis (2013). Beyond Walls and Cages takes an explicitly abolitionist and transnational political approach to issues of detention and forced imprisonment. Inspired by Jenna’s activist-scholarship, we are seeking to emulate the philosophy of Beyond Walls and Cages at this conference, with scholars, activists, artists, and the formally imprisoned speaking together form a range of disciplines, experiences and perspectives—from local struggles against immigration detention and strikes and protests against the privatisation of policing and prison-services, to trans-national networks which seek to expose and undo the increasing hold of global securities companies within the fabric of the state.

Other Confirmed Speakers:

Christine Bacon is Artistic Director of ice&fire, who will be performing at a free public event at Lancaster University chaplaincy Centre on the evening of Thursday 23rd of January to mark the beginning of our conference.  Christine has been involved in numerous grassroots campaigns, including Actors for Refugees Australia. She moved to the UK in 2004 to complete an MSc. in Forced Migration at Oxford University. She founded ice&fire‘s outreach network Actors for Human Rights. Plays for ice&fire include On the Record (with Noah Birksted-Breen); Afghan Monologues, Rendition Monologues; The Illegals; Broke; Seven Years with Hard Labour (with Sara Masters); and Listen to Me (with Sara Masters).

Dr Mary Bosworth is Director of Graduate Studies at the Centre for Criminology at Oxford University, where she is a Reader in Criminology and, concurrently, Professor of Criminology at Monash University, Australia. Dr Bosworth conducts research into the ways in which prisons and immigration detention centres uphold notions of race, gender and citizenship and how those who are confined negotiate their daily lives. Dr Bosworth is currently heading a five-year project on “Subjectivity, Identity and Penal Power: Incarceration in a Global Age” and with colleagues from Monash is conducting research in Greek Immigration Detention Centres. Details of both of these projects can be found on the website

Dr Maja Sager is a COFAS Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellow at the Department of Gender Studies, Lund University and, between 2012 and 2015, a visiting researcher at the Department of Sociology, Lancaster University, UK. Her PhD ‘Everyday Clandestinity: Experiences on the Margins of Citizenship and Migration Policies’ (2011) is based upon an ethnographic study with irregular migrants and migration rights activists and discusses how national belonging, citizenship and social organising are practiced and represented in the Swedish welfare state. Maja is currently undertaking her postdoctoral research with migrant activist groups in the UK, Sweden and Denmark.

Pa Modou Bojang (Prince) is the Director of Kibaaro Radio, a journalist, writer and refugee. Prince is also a former immigration detainee and a founding member of Migrant Artists Mutual Aid, a Liverpool based activist organisation comprised of migrant and ‘citizen’ artists, poets, writers and performers.

Dr Alex Hall is a lecturer in Politics at the University of York. Her research focuses on the international securitisation of mobility and contemporary border politics in the west, drawing on interdisciplinary work from international relations, anthropology and critical security and border studies. She has conducted research into the everyday production and experience of security within immigration detention, and the rise of ‘smart’ e-border targeting systems in the UK and Europe. Alex is currently conducting research on the role of discretion within smart border targeting programmes, as a way of understanding the contemporary working of sovereign power at the border and the international governance of mobility.

The Detention Forum is a network of over 30 NGOs who are working on immigration detention issues.  We are working together to build a momentum to question the legitimacy of immigration detention which has become such a normal part of the British immigration system.  We are now a membership-based network, a collective of organisations who want to work together to challenge immigration detention.  One of the aims of our work is to engage more politicians about this issue.  We now host regular Parliamentary Network Meetings on immigration detention twice a year, have written joint letters to influence and individually lobbied local MPs to be more vocal about detention issues.

John Grayson  is an independent researcher and adult educator. He was Senior Tutor for research at the Northern College for residential adult education until 2006 and taught Housing Studies at Sheffield Hallam University. He lives in Barnsley and is an activist and campaigner with SYMAAG (South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group). John has published widely on anti racist issues for the Institute for Race Relations news service; and on immigration issues, especially on privatisation and asylum housing. He has been involved with the transnational ‘Stop G4S’ activist network.


Professor Alice Bloch is Professor of Sociology at the University of Manchester. Her research focuses on understanding the lived experiences of forced migrants with a focus on marginalisation and exclusion, rights and agency, engagement in transnational relations, social and community networks, economic strategies and labour market experiences. Recent publications include, ‘Sans Papiers: The social and economic lives of undocumented migrants in the UK’ (Pluto Press with Nando Sigona and Roger Zetter). She has recently completed an ESRC funded study (2011-14), with Professor Sonia McKay from the Working Lives Research Institute, London Metropolitan University, ‘Undocumented Migrants, Ethnic Enclaves and Networks: Opportunities, traps or class-based constructs’. Her current research is a collaboration with Professor Milena Chimienti, University of Applied Sciences and Arts Western Switzerland and Professor Catherine Withol De Wenden Sciences Po Paris, on a project funded by the Swiss Network for International Studies, ‘Children of refugees in Europe: Aspirations, social and economic lives, identity and transnational linkages’.


From “The Shock Doctrine” to “The Stigma Doctrine”: Imogen Tyler

I am currently developing a new research project titled ‘The Stigma Doctrine’, which is the “sister project” to Revolting Subjects.


In 1964, Erving Goffman’s Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity transformed scholarly and wider public understandings of how stigma impacts upon well-being, social relations and community cohesion. Goffman made two central claims: 1) stigma is not an essential quality of a person or thing but rather describes a ‘special kind of relationship between attribute and stereotype’ (Goffman, 1963:4); and 2) individuals manage the shame of stigma by employing strategies of passing, concealment and refusal.

Goffman’s work has been pivotal in the development practical initiatives designed to combat social stigma, for example in programmes designed to reduce the social stigma of conditions such as HIV and Aids, and in the area of mental health and disability policy development and activism.  Indeed, in the fifty years since Stigma was published, social and political movements, such as the disability rights movement, have radically transformed public perceptions and understandings of what might have been considered ‘deviant’ or ‘marked’ bodies and behaviours. However, despite these sometimes successful practical applications of Goffman’s work, it is striking how little our theoretical understandings of stigmatisation have developed in the intervening 50 years (but see the important work of Graham Scambler on Stigma including his 2009 Review article: “health-related stigma” in Sociology of Health and Illness 31 441-455)

Further, the centrality of stigma in producing economic and social inequalities has been obscured ‘because bodies of research pertaining to specific stigmatized statuses have generally developed in separate domains’ (Hatzenbuehler, 2013). In short, stigma is widely accepted to be a major factor in determining life chances, yet research on stigma is fragmented across academic disciplines.


In ‘The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism’ (2007), Naomi Klein details the ways in which ‘the policy trinity’ of neoliberalism, ‘the elimination of the public sphere, total liberation for corporations and skeletal social spending’ has been enabled through the invention and/or exploitation of crises, be they natural disasters, terrorist attacks or global economic recession. In my new project, ‘The Stigma Doctrine’ I revise Klein’s analysis, researching the claim made by the sociologist Loïc Wacquant (2010), and extended in Geographer Tom Slater’s work on territorial stigma (follow this link to Tom’s incredible bibliography on this topic), that “neoliberalism is characterised by heightened stigmatization in daily life and public discourse” (Wacquant).

Focusing on policy design and implementation, ‘The Stigma Doctrine’ aims to develop a new theoretical account of the ways in which neoliberal modes of government operate not only by capitalizing upon ‘shocks’ but through the production and mediation of stigma.

‘The Stigma Doctrine’ will involve an extensive review of the literature on stigma from several disciplines, including sociology, political theory, psychology, anthropology, disability studies, health research and the arts, alongside some new empirical research on the role of stigma in policy design and implementation in the UK today.

‘The Stigma Doctrine’ has five aims: 1) to develop a new cogent theoretical account of social, political and economic function of stigma; 2) to examine the relationship between stigma and growing inequalities; 3) to develop new methodological approaches to the study of stigma; 4) to explore the policy implications of ‘The Stigma Doctrine’ 5) to deepen wider public understanding of the centrality of practices of stigmatization in maintaining and reproducing social inequalities.

Poverty, Shame and Stigma

Existing empirical research demonstrates that the social dimensions of poverty are as significant as economic hardship. Economist Amartya Sen, for example, has developed rich and detailed understanding of the disabling effects of poverty shame. ‘The Stigma Doctrine’ will bring this work into dialogue with recent psychosocial research on the politics of affect and emotion. It will also examine existing empirical research on poverty and shame, including the findings of the Oxford University project, ‘Shame, social exclusion and the effectiveness of anti-poverty programmes’ (ESRC-DFID 2010-2012). However, what distinguishes ‘The Stigma Doctrine’ from existing research is its explicit focus on stigmatization as a central dimension of neoliberal state-crafting.

This project aims to develop a better understanding the production of stigma in relationship to the prevailing ‘post-welfare consensus’ (Peck 2010). Indeed, one area I want to examine in this project is whether stigmatization is designed into policy in order to ‘nudge’ citizens off state benefits. The ‘behaviourist turn’ in policy formation, and the accompanying intensive social, political and media focus on ‘behaviourally recalcitrant’ social groups, has not been researched from the perspective of stigma. ‘The Stigma Doctrine’ will offer an important critical analysis of ‘behaviour change’ approaches to policy design and the emergence of what has been coined ‘neuroliberal’ forms of governmentality (see Rhys Jones et al 2013, and Lynne Friedli’s work in this area).

The written Romani language – never say “never”

Originally posted on ROMEDIA FOUNDATION:

IN the light of the Romani situation in present day Europe, the history of the Romani language- Romanès, as we call it- may not seem like an especially important issue. Arguing about whether or not this language has a history of being written down might seem less important still. Yet the claim that the Romani language has never been written down until very recent times remains untrue, and this claim is dangerous for precisely the reasons that people assume it to be correct.

by Damian Le Bas

Letter composed in the Romani language by the English Romanichal Sylvester “Westerous”Boswell, 1874

Letter composed in the Romani language by the English Romanichal Sylvester “Westerous”Boswell, 1874


Roma people are struggling for basic civil rights, equality in education, and equality before the law in many European countries. Thinly veiled talk of the “Gypsy question” rises like a spectre masking the reality of murderous anti-Roma violence. The mediaeval myth that Romani people steal non-Romani children has reared…

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