Introduction In 2014 the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission published a report examining the backgrounds of the people who are in charge of the most powerful institutions and public bodies in the United Kingdom. It highlighted ‘a dramatic over-representation of those educated at independent schools…across the institutions that have…a profound influence on what happens in our country’ (Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, 2014b, p.2; See also Kirby, 2016). The study covered all aspects of public life in the UK, but focused specifically on politics, media and business. The report’s conclusion suggested that ‘Britain is deeply elitist’ (Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, 2014b, p.2). These findings reaffirmed comments made by former Prime Minister John Major one year earlier: ‘In every single sphere of British influence, the upper echelons of power in 2013 are held overwhelmingly by the privately educated or the affluent middle class’ (Major, cited in Hope, 2013).
This imbalance is starkly apparent in the statistics1. Only 7 percent of the UK’s working age population attended independent schools, yet they make up a disproportionately high percentage of top jobs in both media and politics. For example, Members of Parliament – 33%, Top 100 Media Professionals – 54%, Newspaper Columnists – 43% (Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, 2014b). These figures raise questions about the inclusivity of institutions that purport to be socially representative within a democratic society. As Gottfried argues in his chapter on political inequality, if such institutions and public bodies derive their authority from their ability to accurately, fairly and equally reflect the population they represent, then the data clearly signifies they are failing (Gottfried, 2014). Institutions recruiting the majority of their workforce from such a limited resource pool can easily lose track of issues that affect the majority population and instead concentrate on ones that are relevant only to the minority. A disproportionate amount of independently educated people running these institutions and public bodies can lead to the institutions becoming disconnected from the challenges facing those who went through state education (Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, 2014b). Again, the statistics above confirm the cycle of division between those with power and those without. Furthermore, when such a small minority group dominate positions of power so overwhelmingly the rest of society can become distanced from public life, which can result in declining levels of engagement and trust with both leading institutions and public bodies. As a result, political elites may focus on groups more likely to vote, potentially ignoring disengaged groups, who in response may turn to more extremist factions that purport to listen to their concerns (Dancygier, 2010; Eatwell and Goodwin, 2010; Ford and Goodwin, 2014; Open Societies Foundation, 2014). It is these negative ramifications for community and social cohesion that this thesis, in part, attempts to highlight and put forward to wider public debate.
The process described above not only reflects a fractured social system, but also questions the ways in which the dominant group choose how the wider population is presented, and represented, in public life. In particular, within media and politics, two areas that deal with representation, forming and reinforcing attitudes, opinions and policy, it is imperative to ask what effect this lack of diversity has. From the perspective of media and political leaders, at the very least it risks ‘a lack of understanding of those with different backgrounds’ (Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, 2014b, p.16). Which in turn, as Kirby notes in her report for the Sutton Trust, increases the probability of leading public and media bodies recruiting from talent pools with which they, consciously and unconsciously, identify with, thus maintaining limited access to positions of power for people from other groups (Kirby, 2016). This thesis does not argue that this is a conscious conspiracy, but rather a system of recurring privilege through identification, where discrimination against other groups is mostly a consequence rather than a goal. Regardless of whether this is an outcome of conscious or unconscious groupthink identification, a group with greater access to systems of representation may and, this thesis argues, does misrepresent social groups with limited access to these resources. How the dominant group depict others can therefore be misinformed, unconsciously biased or purposefully misleading. Access to these institutions and public bodies enables the minority dominant group to form a socio-cultural norm, modelled on their own experience, from which other groups in society can be measured and judged. In this way, the elite, privately educated white males, can and, as the statistics show, ultimately do, maintain economic and political power.
This thesis will, in part, focus on how the elite use access to channels of representation, and presentation, to marginalise other social groups, increase intergroup conflict and to maintain hierarchical dominance in the UK. Specifically, this study will look at urban white working-class groups living in multicultural areas. It will investigate non-narrative representation, particularly in the media, and narrative representation through contemporary literature, in both cases relating the focus to the temporal and geographic location of the creative component.
The label ‘white working class’ is unique in its combined use of both colour and class as a socio-cultural marker, especially given how little media, political or academic attention is given to the white middle class or the white upper class. It appears that whiteness as a social-cultural marker is limited only to discussions of low-income groups, thereby conflating ethnicity and economic status. This construction of the white working class as an ethnic rather than class group not only masks class-based socio-economic inequalities, it also lies at the heart of how the white working class are represented.
The white working class as a separate socio-cultural group narrative is made of three key, yet contradictory, strands. Firstly, the white working-class lose out when it comes to immigration, multiculturalism and race-relations. Secondly, the white working class are the main drivers ofracism in England and are the cause of far-right political party success. Thirdly, the white working class are to blame for their lack of social mobility and financial poverty because of their self-imposed cultural poverty and degenerate behaviour (Sveinsson, 2009). Noticeable is the absence of the role of class, especially in terms of financial and socio-political inequality. The white working class are constructed in ethnic terms and can therefore be used as a weapon against multiculturalism, yet never as an argument for greater equality (Rogaly and Taylor, 2014). As such the white working class as a social group are constructed by those with access to channels of representation and power in order to confirm their own cultural superiority and financial and political privilege, to construct their own normal and desirable identity in terms of what they are not, and to disavow their whiteness as a means to mask systematic racism and assuage their post-colonial guilt of assumed racial superiority2. As Hesse argues in his study on multiculturalism, the race-relations narrative ‘incorporates yet disavows its indebtedness to a racist discourse, structured discursively around a racially unmarked (i.e. white) British perception of the problem of national identity induced by post-1945 non-white immigration from the New Commonwealth’ (Hesse, 2000, p11). Essentially, it ‘implicitly and systematically questions the coherence and legitimacy of ‘non-white’ Britishness as well as the pervasiveness of white British racism’ (Hesse, 2000, p12). Multiculturalism can be understood in terms of its importance to Britain’s post-war drive towards modernisation, and the production of modern citizens able to fulfil the roles created by ‘the cultural economy of late capitalism’ (Haylett, 2001, p354). Therefore, the racialisation and segregation of the white working class can be understood as the process of othering those that are judged not able to fit into the elite’s imagined construction of the British identity. As Haylett observes:
Historically, the white people who have not achieved whiteness, who have been deemed undeserving of that marking, who have struggled to claim and maintain its privileges, and who have also been marked as excessively white, offensively and embarrassingly white, are the white working class (Haylett, 2001, p355).
Thus, creating a socio-cultural and economic underclass whose identities are systematically constructed and re-constructed by those with access to channels of representation in order to maintain socio-cultural, financial and political, as well as ethnic, hegemony.
The general exclusion of the white working class from jobs in media and politics can lead to inaccurate depictions of this group, especially as those in privileged positions select the spokespeople to represent them. For example, rather than democratically elected representatives from working-class communities, the media often give most coverage to controversial leaders of extremist groups such as the English Defence League as they are more profitable in terms of audience/reader numbers. Yet, as numerous studies have shown, the EDL are not representative of the white working class (Rogaly, 2011; Griffith and Glennie, 2014; Open Society Foundations, 2014). The process of media selected spokespeople from the extremes of the white working class can be seen in cultural and lifestyle choices, as well as in politics. Often this results in the perception that the working class deserve their own poverty, which ‘impacts on public policy because decisions are made based on the idea that people’s circumstances are the result of their own poor choices (of diet, or financial management, for example)’ (Open Society Foundations, 2014, p.62). This process of upholding and exaggerating stereotypical representations creates further socio-cultural marginalisation and greater segregation from avenues to media, economic and political representation.
White working-class stereotypes are disseminated through media and circulated back in both narrative work and government policy. This inequality in accurate and proportional representation was the genesis for the creative component of the thesis. As this thesis will discuss, contemporary literature generally reduces white working-class characters to stereotypes, whereas Another London draws explicit attention to this process of misrepresentation and attempts to give voice within an elitist medium to an underrepresented group. Although this thesis is focused on the white working class, all underrepresented groups are affected in similar ways by the elite’s dominance of leading institutions and public bodies. As such, this thesis attempts to undermine misunderstandings that have occurred through misrepresentation and in doing so expose the power structures that allow a privileged minority to maintain socio-cultural and politico-economic dominance in a what is purported to be a democratically equal country.
The novel focuses on the life of a white working-class male living on the fictional council estates of Eldon and Addington in East London. It follows the protagonist, Dean, from childhood through to adulthood over a twenty-year period between 1991 and 2011. The novel traces his socio-cultural and psychological development whilst he lives through fictional parallels of major events that predominantly affected lower income areas of inner city London, such as the murders of Stephen Lawrence in 1993 and Richard Everitt in 1994, the London terrorist attacks of 2007, and the London riots of 2011. The novel draws on several socio-cultural case studies that share the same geographic location and include research findings that cover the majority of the novel’s timeframe (Hewitt, 2005; Dench et al,2006; Dancygier, 2010; Eatwell and Goodwin, 2010). As explained above, both the creative and critical components of the thesis are specifically focused on London, as opposed to England or the UK in general. However, given that restricted democratic access to representation is not limited to London, the research and the novel could be applied as a framework for investigations into other English urban centres.
Given the contentious nature of using a white working-class subject in an era of multiculturalism, marginalisation and intergroup conflict, it is necessary to address the debate on how to come towards an understanding of who the white working class in Britain are. In doing so, this thesis accepts, and argues, that the white working class are not a homogenous group and any definition will be tenuous at best, not least because it won’t have been derived from within the target group, but rather by a privileged academic elite who, in doing the defining, potentially reinforce the marginalising power structures that this thesis attempts to expose and undermine (Haylett, 2001; Feldman and Gidley, 2014).
The term ‘white working class’ is a difficult, and controversial, concept to pin down and has been approached from various angles ranging from using eligibility for free school meals (House of Commons Education Committee, 2014), occupational markers based on the UK’s official National Statistics Socio-economic Classification scheme (Office of National Statistics, 2010), geographic location, particularly estates (Rogaly and Taylor, 2011) and even in terms of how the white working class are defined by their relationship to immigration and the narrative of being excluded in favour of non-native groups (Ford and Goodwin, 2014). However, all of these approaches have been criticised as being too simplistic, out of date, too specific or of lacking general consensus (Griffith and Glennie, 2014). This inability to agree on who the white working class are clearly suggests they are not a homogenous group and thus any definition will be tenuous at best. Therefore, from a pragmatic standpoint, this thesis will use a ‘fuzzy set’ definition based on one used by the Open Society Foundations in their 2014 European wide report focusing on white working-class communities. They suggest that the term ‘white working class’ should be defined as ‘members of the “majority” population living in neighbourhoods and districts with high indicators of social, economic and political marginalisation’ (Open Society Foundations, 2014, p.9). ‘Majority’ within this thesis refers to the population of England and Wales, where 80% self-identify as White British (Office of National Statistics, 2012). However, this thesis accepts that this definition is not fully comprehensive and a flexible approach should be taken with regards to inclusion and exceptions.
Defining the elite is as complicated as defining the white working class. There are no set boundaries or criteria as such, but what is clear is that the elite are made up of individuals and groups that have disproportionate access to financial wealth and/or political power, and who continually ‘“manage” democracy, to make sure that it does not threaten their own interests’ (Jones, 2014). Central to maintaining their position in the social hierarchy is their control of systems of social and cultural capital. Social capital being the resources that result from group membership, relationships, networks of influence and support. Cultural capital being forms of knowledge, skill, education and any advantages that achieves a higher social status (For further discussion see Bourdieu, 1986; Kerswill, 2007). As the social commentator Henry Fairlie observed in 1955 when discussing the concept of the establishment, hegemonic systems of power are maintained through ‘the whole matrix of official and social relations within which power is…exercised socially…[through] subtle social relationships’ (Fairlie cited in Jones, 2014). As mentioned above, and discussed in more detail below, leading public bodies and institutions are disproportionately run by people who attended the same independent schools and universities, clearly highlighting the social relationships that work to maintain political influence and social status. Throughout this thesis, the term elite will be used to talk about the seven percent of independently educated people who have disproportionate access to, and control of, leading public bodies and institutions, and channels of representation (For further information see Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, 2014b).3
Social status is also influenced by cultural hierarchy, where members of a dominant group work to construct their lifestyle choices as normal and desirable, thus conferring social capital on adherents to this lifestyle and excluding those who do not conform. Wendy Bottero, in her chapter on class in the twenty first century, claims that inequality in material and social status becomes dependent on the relative chances of success, in turn predicated by access to socio-cultural capital (Bottero, 2009). Low-income groups are instantly put at a disadvantage in terms of social mobility, not least because of inadequate schooling in disadvantaged areas where 60 percent of pupils achieve less than half the number of good GCSEs than their middle-class counterparts from more affluent areas (Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, 2014b). In addition, low-income children have disproportionately lower access to extra-curricular clubs and activities compared to their middle- and upper-class counterparts (Sutton et al, 2007). This continues through to adolescence and adulthood where many people from working-class groups lack the resources to support themselves, or be supported by family, through the unpaid internships that are now a common pre-requisite to successful access to a career in media or politics. In principle, social mobility depends on the effort an individual puts in rather than being tied to their family background. Yet in the UK, ‘those from high income backgrounds are far more likely to have high income as adults’ (Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, 2014b, p5, See also Kirby, 2016).
In modern society, ‘normal’ and ‘desirable’ lifestyle choices are based on cultural consumption patterns, where individuals can recognise each other as belonging to the same group, creating hierarchal class boundaries between the included ‘us’ and the excluded ‘them’ (Haywood and Yar, 2006). Low-income groups are marked by their ‘inability to participate in the sphere of market-mediated consumption…[and] are excluded from social membership since they lack the economic resources necessary to fulfil a meaningful role as consumer-citizens’ (Haywood and Yar, 2006, p14). The marginalisation of those in poverty is not only constructed by the elite, but also by those with access to socio-cultural capital, i.e. the, predominantly, white middle and upper classes. It is also important to note that where there is potential and actual crossover between financial, political and media elites, and those from the middle and upper classes, there is a distinct lack when compared to those from low-income groups. This thesis does not conflate the elite with middle- and upper-class groups, but acknowledges both their contributions to the exclusion of the white working class, and by association other immigrant and minority ethnic groups.
During the period covered by this thesis, outspoken disdain for the white working class appears to have become socially acceptable and presented without serious repercussions (Hartigan, 2003; Skeggs, 2009; Sveinsson, 2009; Owen, 2011). In Britain, this can be articulated in the use of the word ‘chav’ which ‘has become a ubiquitous term of abuse for white working-class subjects’ (Tyler, 2008, p.17). Consciously used as a term of ridicule and scorn, particularly in the media, the chav figure can be seen as part of a wider re-marking of class identities in which middle- and upper-class whites attempt to distinguish themselves from the white poor (Tyler, 2008; Webster, 2008; Rogaly and Taylor, 2009). The construction of the chav derives much of its potency from the concept of an underclass, put forward by Charles Murray in 1989, where ‘the ‘underclass’ does not refer to a degree of poverty, but to a type of poverty’ (Murray, 1989, p.23). Murray’s usage of the term underclass could be seen as an extension of the euphemistic way in which the term ‘lower’ has been replaced by ‘working’ in discussions of class divisions and poverty. In some ways, this distinction has been made to separate the so-called ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor, or as some recent political parties have rhetorically labelled them, the ‘strivers’ and ‘skivers’. Yet, as will be discussed in more detail below, these categories of poverty are superficial at best and become interchangeable at the convenience of those with access to political and media power. As Rogaly and Taylor note, the term ‘white working class’ is frequently employed to describe both the cultural poverty and xenophobia of the chav and, at the same time, the hardworking victims of multicultural policies and the onslaught of immigration (Rogaly and Taylor, 2014). However, the conflated and rhetorically expedient definitions used to describe those living in poverty were developed and are used by academic, political and media elites. The chav figure becomes symbolic of all white poor when utilised by the white middle and upper classes to differentiate their ‘acceptable’ whiteness, in terms of classed and cultural identities, from that of the white working class (Tyler, 2008). As a consequence, attention is deflected away from the more concrete reality that Elaine Kempson highlighted when discussing Murray’s paper, that ‘people who live on low incomes are not an ‘underclass’. They have aspirations just like others in society; they want a job; a decent home; and an income that is enough to pay the bills with a little to spare’ (Kempson, 1996 cited in Lister, 1996, p.8). Even so, it is Murray’s approach to the poor, dating from the start period of this thesis, which frames much of the following discussion on how the white working class are represented in both non-narrative and narrative media.
This thesis argues that the way in which poverty is discussed and how the white working-class subject is presented maintains privileged structures of power by constructing the white working-class identity in ethno-cultural terms to hide the underlying socio-economic inequality of a classed and hierarchical society where access to media and political representation preserves socio-political dominance for the elite. Sveinsson highlights ‘the paradoxical and hypocritical ways in which the ruling classes speak for the white working class on the one hand, and how they speak about them on the other’ (Sveinsson, 2009, p.5, original italics), defending the group against the supposed negative impacts of multiculturalism whilst criticising them for their self-created cycle of cultural and economic poverty, all the while ignoring the growing socio-economic polarisation of the past thirty years (Dorling et al cited in Tyler, 2008; Sveinsson, 2009; Rogaly and Taylor, 2014). Through the creative component this thesis attempts to expose privileged access to narrative representation and give voice to a group who are both talked for and about by those in power, yet who do not have any direct say in how this is done.
It could be argued that an ‘authentic’ representation of the white working class is impossible as there has never been democratic access to mediums of representation and therefore white working-class identity is a combination, to some extent, of a construction of those with access to power, and the feedback loops and counter narratives that are born from it. However, this thesis strives to analyse the relationship between the white working-class identity at the individual level and that of its collective group representation in narrative and non-narrative media. In doing so, it intends to expose these representations as dominant constructions of the white working-class experience by the elite. This thesis argues that the only way to work towards a more genuine depiction of the white working class is to open up channels of representation, open up positions of power within media and politics, and fully democratise access to leading institutions and public bodies. As such it will draw attention to the concerns that Tyler puts forward:
It is within the context of deepening economic inequality that we need to view much vaunted claims of the democratisation of popular media. The minimal opportunities for economically marginalised groups to communicate their experiences and identities within mainstream forums suggests there has been little if any shift in the alliance between elite media industries and traditional social institutions and hierarchies: class allegiances reproduce social inclusion and exclusion in a seemingly unbreakable cycle of class privilege. Certainly within the representational regimes which dominate within contemporary Britain, social class is only visible in highly stereotyped and often antagonistic forms (Tyler, 2008, p.31-32).
The above quote highlights that socio-economic inequality is the major issue facing representation in Britain without referencing any specific ethnic group. Class privilege is the central contributor to the lack of democratic access to mainstream forms of representation for underrepresented groups. However, given this analysis, Gavron, in the foreword to the Runnymede Trust report Who Cares About the White Working Class?, suggests that there is still a consistent focus in the media on the struggle for scarce resources that pits white working-class communities against other ethnic and immigrant groups (Gavron, 2009). The report goes on to suggest that, ‘feigning white working class disadvantage as an ethnic disadvantage rather than as class disadvantage is exactly what rhetorically places this group in direct competition with minority ethnic groups.’ (Sveinsson, 2009, p.6). Shifting focus away from class and onto race detracts attention from the common problems that poor white communities share with other disadvantaged minority ethnic and immigrant groups, that of increasing separation from middle and upper classes, who as a result avoid moving down the social hierarchy (Gavron, 2009; Levine-Rasky, 2013).
By depicting the white working class in terms of their ethnicity, especially in representations where they are in opposition to other ethnic and immigrant groups, those in power risk divisive outcomes for society as a whole (Rogaly, 2011). Firstly, it can lead to a ‘cultural reading of inequality, focusing on the distinctive cultural values of disadvantaged groups, rather than looking at the bigger picture of how systematic inequality generates disadvantage’ (Bottero, 2009, p.7, original italics). Secondly, it can result, as Tyler (2008) highlights in her analysis, in stereotypical representations as well as inter-ethnic conflict. Representing white working-class identity in news and media along ethnic lines, where they are repeatedly shown to be in competition with other ethnic and immigrant groups and where their media representatives are selected from a small pool of far-right political parties, ignores the fact that fears about migration occur across all classes and increasingly amongst different ethnic groups (Griffith and Glennie, 2014; Kaufman and Harris, 2014). However, it is important to remember that the group most often affected by immigration has been, historically, the white working class (Griffith, 2014). Therefore, the construction of the white working class as inherently racist, or at least constructing them as the racist section of the white majority in comparison to their non-inherently racist white middle- and upper-class counterparts, is both misleading and detrimental to community cohesion. Studies by the Open Society Foundations and the Institute for Public Policy Research have shown that ‘white working-class attitudes to race are as nuanced as those of other socio-economic groups’ (Griffith and Glennie, 2014, p.4; For further discussion see Griffith, 2014; Open Society Foundations, 2014). The conscious choice by media and political elites to disregard this exposes a hierarchal system that maintains dominance through ignoring socio-economic inequality and by upholding systematic racism. The projection of racism, as espoused by minority far-right political parties, onto the white working class distances the ruling classes from an investigation into the structures of their own socio-ethnic dominance. Yet the white working class, with their limited and disproportionately low levels of access to positions of power, are the group least able to change the political landscape. It is the white middle and upper classes, those with access to privileged channels of power and representation who could increase community cohesion and reduce conflict by fully democratising access to channels of representation and by tackling the rising socio-economic inequality.
This thesis aims to address these issues by exposing privileged power structures and undermining the way in which the ‘dysfunctional’ white working class is represented as an ‘ethnic’ issue. Another London uses its narrative structure to expose the classist construction of the white working-class identity. It aims to give voice to a group who have been lambasted and blamed for many of the ills of society whilst at the same time being accused of creating their own deprivation. ‘When a class fraction or the residents of a particular locality are categorised as ‘deprived’ or even ‘deviant’ or ‘dangerous’ or of low intelligence, what influence does that have on how they see themselves in relation to others, and on how they live their lives?’ (Rogaly and Taylor, 2009, p.36). As Dench et al explain whilst introducing their study of violent and racially motivated conflict between white working-class and Bangladeshi residents in London’s East End, ‘most local researchers…simply put everything down to racism. We felt that dismissing white behaviour as merely irrational constituted a failure of analysis’ (Dench et al, 2006, p.2; see also House of Commons Community Cohesion and Migration, 2008). As Dancygier suggests in her study of ‘immigrant-native’ conflict in the London borough of Tower Hamlets, ‘violent acts do not occur in a vacuum but are embedded in specific political contexts, economic conditions, and social environments’ (Dancygier 2010, p49). The restricted approach of academic and governmental studies that Dench et al refer to, those which fail to address Dancygier’s assertion, have left a gap in the literature which has been filled with negative cultural stereotypes that position the white working class as an ethnic, rather than a class, group, where in reality only a small minority adhere to the normative white working-class image (Beider, 2011).
The creative component aims to expose systems of recycled stereotypes and inaccurate constructions of white working-class identities, therefore attempting to refocus the wider discussion of social inequality back onto class divisions rather than ethnic and cultural conflict. By exposing the hidden power structures that allow for and create misrepresentative constructions of the white working-class identity, the novel will also question the same elites’ construction of other working-class ethnic and immigrant groups’ identities. Thus, reaffirming that the ‘poor white working class share many more problems with the poor from minority ethnic communities than some of them recognize. All the most disadvantaged groups must be helped to improve their joint lot. Competition between them, real or imagined, is just a distraction’ (Gavron, 2009, p.2; Feldman and Gidley, 2014).
As discussed earlier, defining the white working class can be a contentious issue. This is especially true when trying to place this collective group within the framework of British multiculturalism. Principally, one area of difficulty within this field is the study of ‘whiteness’ as a racialised concept. It is a subject that goes beyond the scope of this paper, yet it’s important to briefly discuss how it is being used within the context of both the critical and creative components of this thesis (For further discussions on the study of ‘whiteness’ and identity see Dyer, 1997; Frankenberg, 1997; Doane and Silva, 2003; Ahmed, 2004; Byrne, 2006; Garner, 2007; Karner, 2007; Sveinsson, 2009).
Firstly, it should be noted that discrimination towards the white working class is not based on their whiteness, but rather on their perceived cultural inferiority and their lifestyle choices (Hartigan, 2003; Sveinsson, 2009). As such, the concept of white privilege based on the presumption of a universal ‘white’ identity4 needs to be revised, making it ‘apparent that the privilege accrued is actually masking far more harmful inequalities affecting the vast majority of white people, through the disproportionate control of resources by tiny minorities’ (Garner, 2007, p.7). The socio-cultural construction of ‘white’ identity can only be seen through the prism of class and behavioural expectations. The ‘normative privileged identity’ (Garner, 2007, p.5) of ‘whites’, upheld by its invisibility, is continuously threatened ‘by the words, actions, bodies, and lifestyles of various strata of whites who reveal the tenuous and artificial nature of…social conventions by their inability to conform to the decorums of whiteness’ (Hartigan, 2003, p.96-97). The unmasking of hidden ‘white’ privilege through this process forces the elite to either admit being the recipients of white dominance or to find other ways in which to maintain ‘invisible’ white hegemony (Doane, 2003). The construction of the white working-class identity in terms of ethno-cultural conflict, and the rise and acceptance of the use of pejorative terms and descriptions such as ‘chav’ to describe the white working class in the media, are ways the elite have continued to preserve unequal, and uncontested, access to power. Firstly, negative epithets to describe the white working class are used to ‘distinguish an order of whites definable strictly by transgressions of the social expectations that maintain the unmarked status of whiteness and facilitate its claim to power and privilege’ (Hartigan, 2003, p.105; See also Haylett, 2001). Secondly, the construction of the white working-class identity in terms of its intolerance to other ethnic and immigrant groups serves to present the dominant white elite agenda as antiracist. However, this action actually ‘others’ the white working class, an act of discrimination in itself, and attempts to sustain elite whites’ moral and cultural superiority. As Sara Ahmed explains ‘the discourse of tolerance involves a presumption that racism is caused by ignorance, and that anti-racism will come about through more knowledge. We must contest the classism of the assumption that racism is caused by ignorance – which allows racism to be seen as what the working classes (or other less literate others) do’ (Ahmed, 2004, p14). After all, it is only those with access to power and channels of representation that can either put in place, or change, systemic discrimination. The white working class are essentially powerless when it comes to creating a system where everyone, regardless of background, has equal access to socio-economic and political power. Yet still, as Hartigan notes in his chapter in White out: the continuing significance of racism, the media focus disproportionately on the white working class in their representations of racism (Hartigan, 2003).
Working-class racism is primarily represented as masculine with little attention given to the role of women. This, however, ignores white working-class women’s participation in racially motivated violence and their involvement in the propagation of racist attitudes (Byrne, 2006). The lack of attention given to women in studies of working-class racism highlights a wider concern about research into the white working-class experience, that of gender (For further discussion see Skeggs, 2005; Byrne, 2006; Tyler, 2008). As such, it is important to understand how it is being used and addressed within the limited scope of the creative and critical components.
In academic literature, political and media representations, gendered readings of the white working-class experience tend to either ignore the role of women, conflate it with that of white working-class men, or stigmatise women as the extreme of cultural poverty and the major problem facing society. This was epitomised by Charles Murray’s condemnation of the single mother in his essays for The Sunday Times in 1989. As Tyler notes, ‘young unwed working-class mothers have always been a target of social stigma, hatred, and anxiety…The fetishisation of the chav mum within popular culture has a contemporary specificity and marks a new outpouring of sexist class disgust’ (Tyler, 2008, p.26). In an article for The Guardian, even famed feminist Germaine Greer used derogatory stereotypes to caricature white working-class mothers from Essex: ‘Essex girls usually come in twos, both behind pushchairs…The Essex girl is tough, loud, vulgar...She is not ashamed to admit that what she puts behind her ears to make her more attractive is her ankles’ (Greer, 2001). The white working-class subject has become an object of disgust and ridicule, but more explicitly the white working-class female. The chav mother has been constructed as immoral, unhealthy and a clearly identifiable problem for society (Skeggs, 2005).
The creative component attempts to address the issues raised above through the development of the central female characters in the novel. Their stories do not revolve around the male protagonist, but rather exist independently. They face their own challenges and make, as best they can, their own solutions. They also witness racism, marginalisation and violence from their own perspectives. They do not become a plot device for the male protagonist to bounce off, but rather rounded characters, non-dependent entities, that exist and move about in the same diegetic world of the novel. In creating fully developed female characters that play a central, independent role in the story, the creative component attempts to address the working-class experience without ignoring women or stereotypically stigmatising them. At the same time, the novel’s intention is to avoid the conflation of the female and male working-class experience, whilst recognising that they share many of the same concerns as a result of wider socio-economic inequality and limited access to positions of power within leading institutions and public bodies.
Another London offers an alternative to the role that the white working class (and, by association, other ethnic and immigrant groups) have been cast in by those with access to the channels of representation. It is an attempt to refocus the public debate onto Britain’s growing levels of socio-economic inequality and away from the current ‘blame’ narratives of self-imposed cycles of cultural and monetary deficits of the white working class, as well as accusations of ignorant working-class racism as the cause of ethnic conflict.
The chapters of the critical component provide social and creative context and theory, and are interlinked to the creative component throughout. Focusing on the study period (1991-2011) and location (inner East London), chapter one charts the major events paralleled in the creative component and how the white working-class response was represented in non-narrative media. Using existing case studies that cover the target period and location of the thesis, it argues that media representation played a major role in the creation of the perceived white working-class identity as self-perpetuating, culturally impoverished and racist, thus feeding into continuous cycles of marginalisation. In response, counter-narratives are produced within the white working class that constitute a ‘blaming’ of visible other ethnic and immigrant groups, resulting in a rise in the success of far-right political groups and ethnic conflict. It concludes by arguing that restricting access to channels of representation allows the privileged elite to create ‘imagined’ identities of marginalised groups, which feeds back into the rise of counter narratives, extremism and conflict, thus deflecting investigation into socio-economic inequality and systemic racism.
Chapter Two takes the social context laid out in Chapter One and analyses how it is depicted in narrative literature, a form of representation that is also dominated, in terms of production, distribution and consumption, by a privileged elite. Using Fredric Jameson’s ideologeme theory of narrative construction, the chapter briefly traces recurring representations of the working class in literary texts from Charles Dickens through to a closer analysis of white working-class representations in prose fiction covering the study period and location. By highlighting the repeated absence of representations of white working-class characters outside stereotypical imagined identities, the chapter argues that literature has failed, and continues to fail, to confront privileged access to the creation of a group’s identity through narrative. Thereby conforming to the social context outlined above, where perceived self-imposed cultural-economic poverty leads to anti-social behaviour and racism, rather than it being a result of politico-economic dominance. The chapter concludes by arguing that the creative component undermines misrepresentations of the white working class in literature and exposes prejudiced assumptions about their lives amongst the producers, distributors and consumers of prose fiction.
Chapter Three analyses the narrative structure of Another London and how it succeeds in exposing the elite’s marginalisation of the white working class through the construction of typified white working-class identities that maintain middle and upper-class dominance. It goes on to argue that the reality created through first person narration exposes the constructed omniscient reality created through the third person narration, thus forcing the reader to re-evaluate their assumptions about the perspective of the third person narrator. The argument presented in chapter three is that the tension created through the use of first and third-person narration exposes the dominant forms of white working-class representation in prose fiction.
The creative component of this thesis fills a gap left by prose fiction, that of white working-class representation. Working with the critical component, the novel exposes power structures that are upheld by access to channels of narrative and non-narrative representation. Breaking the feedback loops of white working-class identity portrayals and analysing the production of counter narratives within this group, the thesis aims to expose the marginalisation of the white working class by a privileged elite and undermine the commonly held assumptions that the white working class are the cause of their own socio-economic poverty. Thus, opening a wider debate on privileged positions of representation and the marginalisation of the white working class and, by association, all under-represented groups.
Chapter 1 - The construction of (white) working-class identity in mainstream media and politics.
The inclusion of a distinct set of white working-class characters in the creative component is central to underscoring the fact that, although the white working class may share some characteristics, they are not a homogenous group and cannot be pigeon-holed into a single other whiteness by the ruling elite. As such, the novel contains a host of central, secondary and tertiary white working-class characters who each have their own history, opinions, systems of belief, fears, loves and hates. The lives of white working-class people follow independent trajectories, which are mostly limited by their lack of access to elitist public bodies and institutions (Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, 2014b), rather than the perceived self-imposed cycles of cultural and economic poverty. The creative component therefore consciously works against prevailing stereotypes of white working-class patterns of behaviour. Constructing the white working class as a single group also homogenises the way they are represented and presented by those with access to channels of representation. Non-narrative representation – television shows, news articles, political speeches and reports, comedy routines and sketches, etc. – of the white working class feeds into narrative representation and creates caricatures of the white working class in literature rather than fully developed and rounded characters. Chapter Two continues this argument in much greater detail, but it is important to note here that the non-narrative representation of the white working class discussed in this chapter directly and indirectly influences the narrative representation of the white working class in contemporary literature.
This chapter focuses on the geo-temporal setting of the creative component of the thesis; inner East London between 1991 and 2011. It draws on a number of socio-cultural case studies, outlined below, that cover or cross the timeframe and location of the novel.
Roger Hewitt’s White Backlash and the Politics of Multiculturalism (2005) draws on extensive ethnographic research to investigate the link between the racially motivated murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence in 1993 in Eltham, East London - as well as the resulting UK-wide review of institutional racism - and that of the perceived local white working-class communities’ backlash against multiculturalism. He also discusses the role of multiculturalist policies in local schools and their effect on white working-class children’s formation of identity and perception of race. Throughout he examines how both of these contributed to the development of counter-narratives5 within white working-class communities.
The New East End: Kinship, Race and Conflict, written by Geoff Dench, Kate Gavron and Michael Young and published in 2006, traces the post-war changes in demographics, housing and local government policy in London’s East End. They investigate how these factors, along with media and political representations of local white working-class communities, have contributed to a perceived increase in competition for scarce state-controlled resources and conflict between the ‘traditional’ white working-class inhabitants and the newly arrived influx of Bangladeshi immigrants.