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

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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

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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.