Part 5 – The Rise of the Far-Right and the Construction of the ‘Chav’
Part 5 of the novel is set in 2010 when Dean is twenty eight years old.
In the 2009 European Parliament Elections, the far-right BNP and the anti-immigration United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) secured roughly twenty-two percent of the vote12 between them, signalling what some media and academic commentators described as a shift to the right, away from the mainstream political establishment (Ford and Goodwin, 2014). The shift to the right, especially the increasing support for UKIP, should be seen as a continuation of the process of working-class disengagement from mainstream political parties, rather than just a simple expression of their position on immigration and minority ethnic groups (Gottfried, 2014). Since the advent of New Labour in 1994 there has been a significant shift in the voting groups that the two main political parties have targeted13. Both the Conservative and Labour Parties have attempted to appeal to the aspirational middle-class population, who they see as more likely to deliver a victory at the ballot box (Griffith and Glennie, 2014). Working-class voters, who would have previously been pivotal to any political party’s electoral success, have now ‘become spectators in electoral battles for the educated middle-class vote’ (Ford and Goodwin, 2014, p117). Political disengagement of working-class communities can be seen as a direct result of economic and political systems that are perceived to benefit the elite as opposed to the wider population (Gottfried, 2014). This was compounded in the aftermath of the 2007-2008 global financial crisis, where low-income groups suffered the largest loss in relative income. The lack of mainstream political concern, or at least a lack of communicated mainstream concern, further entrenched the perceived distance between the working class and the political elite, as well as the feeling that mainstream politicians neglected working-class issues and concerns (Ford and Goodwin, 2014), leaving little doubt that relative poverty has been a contributing factor to the success of far-right parties (Eatwell, 2010). As mainstream political parties have concentrated on courting the middle classes, far-right parties have exploited the fact that mainstream politicians are far less visible in working-class communities (Griffith and Glennie, 2014). By having a visible, and physical, presence in white working-class communities, far-right parties are able to exploit the disillusionment with mainstream political parties felt by low-income whites. Parties such as the BNP and UKIP can attract ‘voters who do not endorse extreme-right ideology, but who do want to express profound discontent with the status quo’ (Ford, 2010, p159). Extreme-right groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) tap into white working-class marginalisation in much the same way. Without a voice representing white working-class concerns in Westminster, a role previously undertaken by the pre-1994 Labour Party, many in this group feel politically isolated. The EDL exploit this by giving members a sense of empowerment through protest (Ramalingam, 2014). The xenophobic overtones of EDL’s central argument are clear, but they can be found rooted in the white working-class concerns that have been discussed above; ‘unfair’ treatment of whites, preferential treatment of immigrants and minority ethnic groups by those in authority, fears over social housing allocations and the rapid demographic changes occurring in traditionally white working-class areas as a result. Far-right parties gain inroads in white working-class communities by claiming to voice these concerns in the public sphere. As stated above, far-right party success in white working-class areas is often interpreted by media and political elites as a sign that the white working class share far-right parties’ xenophobic stance. Rather than analyse the underlying drivers of far-right party success, the media tends to concentrate on perceived white working-class racism, feeding off claims such as the EDL’s insistence that they are the voice of the English working class (Rogaly, 2011). In fact, it’s hard to ignore the influence the media’s propagation of negative stereotypes has had on the success of far-right parties and that success has become inter-connected the construction of white working-class identity (Eatwell, 2010).
One of the dominant concerns that is consistently accredited to the white working class is that of immigration. A 2013 survey carried out by the Royal Statistical Society and King's College London showed that respondents, 1,015 people aged 16 to 75, thought that immigrants made up 31 percent of the UK population, whereas the actual figure is closer to 13 percent (Paige, 2013). The fact that many local authorities don’t have accurate migration flow figures also contributes to people’s overestimation of the size of the immigrant and minority ethnic population (Griffith, 2014). This startling gap between perception and reality can be traced back to the way in which the media shapes public opinion. A clear example of this can be seen in the way the public perceive immigration in terms of a local or national issue. Ford cites a 2008 poll where 58% of the respondents claimed that parts of the country don’t feel like Britain anymore, but only 25% said this was true of their part of Britain (Ford, 2010). These statistics are echoed even more starkly in an Ispos Mori poll cited by Page, where 76% saw immigration as a national problem, whereas only 18% regarded it as a local problem (Page, 2009). It is clear from these studies that attitudes towards immigration are not generally based on direct experience, but rather on the media’s sensationalisation of the issue. Not least because ‘people don’t come into contact with “immigration”, they come into contact with people’ (Transatlantic Council on Migration, 2009, p361. Original in italics). The media frame the debate by homogenising immigrant and minority ethnic groups and ignoring the individual narratives, influencing public opinion, which in turn has an impact on government policy (Papademetiou and Heuser, 2009). Poll findings that indicate a large percentage of the British public exhibiting fears about immigration, frequently appear to influence more restrictive immigration policies, which in turn reinforces the public’s negative perception of immigration, causing a vicious cycle catalysed by media coverage (Saran, 2009). Or, as Ford puts it, ‘the successful communication of negative narratives about the dangerous consequences posed by immigrants, and the promotion of drastic solutions as the only way to protect from these dangers, may inflame public hostility and encourage support for radical parties’ (Ford, 2010, p155). There is disproportionate focus on illegal immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees in the media, where they are all conflated with potential criminal and terrorist activities (Buchanan and Grillo, 2004; Threadgold, 2009; Papademetriou and Heuser, 2009). This is exacerbated in times of crisis when the media overwhelmingly represents the most extreme positions, thus further polarizing public opinion and disregarding the human rights of the most vulnerable immigrants (Buchanan and Grillo, 2004; Papademetriou and Heuser, 2009). It is these extremes the media focus feedbacks into far-right party success through the homogenising of the white working-class community. Spokespeople from the BNP, EDL and UKIP, in media representations, become the voice of the white working class. As discussed above, support for a far-right party is most likely a manifestation of disengagement from mainstream politics rather than a committed belief to far-right policy, yet the media construct the white working class as the core supporters of the far-right movement and therefore the drivers of racism. However, concerns about immigration are not exclusive to the white working class. Citizenship Surveys between 2007-2011 showed a rise in minority ethnic groups’ support for lower levels of immigration, from 43 percent to 53 percent (Kaufman and Harris, 2014). A poll carried out for the IPPR concluded that, even though 60 percent of white working-class respondents preferred lower levels of immigration, even if it had a detrimental effect on the economy, it was not vastly different from that of middle-class respondents, where 47 percent also shared this view, with an average of 51 percent for all respondents (Griffith and Glennie, 2014). A positive slant on these statistics can be seen in the findings from a Populus poll commissioned by the BBC that found 71 per cent of white working-class respondents felt that immigrants fitted in if given enough time, compared to 76 per cent of white middle-class respondents (Gillborn, 2009). Even UKIP’s success is mostly predicated on white, employed homeowners who have little direct contact with poverty (Kaufman and Harris, 2014). As shown, the media’s attention on constructing the white working class as ‘social accessories’ and drivers of xenophobic far-right party policy is misleading at best. At worst if feeds back into the construction of blame narratives that position the white working class in direct conflict with immigrants and minority ethnic groups.
As discussed in the Introduction to this thesis, the construction of inter-ethnic competition as being the root cause of white working-class disadvantage diverts discussion away from the classist foundation of socio-economic inequality (Sveinsson, 2009). In fact, it could be argued that ‘the question of racism can fade in significance when the broader context of class marginalization is taken into account…[whereby] the class divisions among whites are more critical than their collective whiteness in theorizing their social relations to other groups’ (Levine-Rasky, 2013, p112). Those in poverty are often presented in relation to their ethnicity, rather than their shared socio-economic inequality. Focusing on the ‘whiteness’ of the white working class allows the class inequality experienced by immigrant and minority ethnic groups to be ignored, thus focusing on white and non-white competition for scarce public resources rather than investigating why there is a lack of public resources and how it came about (Bottero, 2009). As discussed above with regards to Muslims and the white working class, those with access to channels of representation construct and maintain socio-economic class privilege through a process of marginalisation. In relation to the white working class, this discriminatory practice, although emphasising ‘whiteness’, does not actually use ‘whiteness’ as a marker of inferiority. Rather the focus is on labelling behaviour and lifestyle choices as culturally inferior (Sveinsson, 2009; See also Introduction). Using privileged access to channels of representation, the middle and upper classes control how mass media influences public opinion, insomuch as creating consensus on desirable, and normal, lifestyle and consumer choices, and by doing so, mark behaviour and lifestyle choices that are different as abnormal, inferior and, as some commentators argue, disgusting (Levine-Rasky, 2013; see also Lawler, 2005; Skeggs, 2005; Haywood and Yar, 2006; Tyler, 2008; Webster, 2008; Adams and Raisborough, 2011). Development of the stereotyped image of the white working-class subject as an object of ridicule and contempt works to support middle-class identities, setting distinct boundaries between respectable middle- and upper-class whites and the white poor (Skeggs, 2005; Tyler, 2008; Webster, 2008). The figure of the ‘chav’ has emerged as one such designation that attempts to capture the essences of white working-class degeneracy. Appearing first on the internet, the label was quickly taken up by those with access to channels of representation and used to both entertain and reinforce middle-class identities through ironic and comic depictions of the ‘chav’ figure (Tyler, 2008). In an era where racist and sexist language have become taboo within public discourse, classist language has flourished (Webster, 2008). This influence feeds back into generational loops of class-based identity construction, most obviously in the way in which middle- and upper-class parents instruct their children. Whereas parents may teach their children to avoid racist or sexist language use, derogatory terms for the white working-class, such as ‘chav’, are tacitly condoned (Hartigan, 2003). In their 2007 study on children’s views of social difference, Sutton et al found that ‘‘chav’ was used specifically by…private schoolchildren to refer to children who lived on estates and who had parents who were unemployed, with poor parenting skills’ (Sutton et al, 2007, p13). The same children went on to blame estate parents for the bad behaviour of ‘chav’ kids, explaining how their own parents had warned them to avoid estate children, as they were violent and anti-social, effectively instilling a fear of the ‘chav’ into the private schoolchildren’s systems of class identity recognition (Sutton et al, 2007). Class-based labelling and judgements made and reinforced during childhood by middle- and upper-class parents, is continued through until adulthood. These same independent school students graduate to the talent pools that, as discussed in the Introduction, are used for recruitment into leading public bodies and institutions, bringing with them tacit acknowledgement and acceptance of class-based identities and boundaries.
Media representations of the chav are generally very similar, regardless of the outlet (Adams and Raisborough, 2011). These tend to show the chav figure as irrational, aggressive, lazy and immoral, partaking in excessive consumption of alcohol, drugs and unhealthy food, all contributing to the general depiction of a flawed consumer unable or unwilling to make the ‘correct’ lifestyle and cultural choices (Haywood and Yar, 2006; Adams and Raisborough, 2011)14. Through these representations, media elites make value judgements upon the white working class, as represented by the chav figure, ‘to assert distinction, recognition and distribute privilege, which in turn reproduces economic privilege’ (Raisbrough and Adams, 2008, p2.2). Consumer patterns become markers of class and uphold middle- and upper-class lifestyle and cultural choices as both normal and desirable, thus feeding back into blame narratives of low-income whites consciously choosing their perceived cultural deficiencies and their own self-induced cycles of poverty. Low-income groups are further marginalised from mainstream society as they are perceived to be unable to function as ‘meaningful…consumer-citizens’ (Haywood and Yar, 2006, p14).
Clothing becomes a visible marker of class in the public sphere. The chav’s ‘vulgar’ choices of attire become signifiers of inferiority, immorality and separation from the mainstream. Clothing and consumption patterns become ways in which individuals are recognised by those of other groups and as a result become determinants of exclusion or inclusion, acceptance or contempt (Haywood and Yar, 2006). Middle- and upper-class consumers not only use working-class cultural choices (e.g. clothing brands, supermarket chains, etc) to reinforce their own socio-cultural hegemony, they attribute judgements and value to working-class cultural and consumer choices to stigmatise them ‘as immoral, repellent, abject, worthless, disgusting, even disposable’ (Skeggs, 2005, p977).
In Part 5 of the novel, Phil Harris splits from the BFP and forms the extreme-right National Defence League (NDL). The group’s marches around Eldon and Addington attract media attention and Phil becomes the tacit spokesperson of the local white working-class community. Regardless of the low turnout for the NDL marches, the sensationalised media images become a symbol of the white estate residents, who, by association, are seen as supporters and drivers of the NDL’s xenophobic message. Georgina openly rejects the NDL and the fact that she should be seen to be represented by them in the public sphere. Yet with little or no access to the channels of representation, she, and all the other estates residents who reject the NDL, have no power to address mainstream perceptions of the white working-class community on Eldon and Addington, as racists and supporters of extreme-right groups. As such, Georgina and all the estate residents become homogenised into one single group, who are seen to be represented by Phil Harris and the NDL.
When Dean avoids an NDL protest, he is confronted by both a lone Muslim woman and a People Against Fascism (PAF) march. Although not part of the NDL march or in any way sharing the NDL’s ideology, Dean is recognised as being associated with racism and far-right support. The Police Officer, the PAF and the Muslim woman all identify Dean through the visible signifiers of ‘inferior’ consumer choices with regards to clothing and general appearance. The chav figure becomes emblematic of aggression, racism, degeneracy and inferior cultural choices. As such Dean is a symbol of fear for the lone Muslim woman and a symbol of disgust for the members of the PAF, one of which exhibits class contempt by spitting at Dean’s feet. Dean is recognised by his appearance and categorised instantaneously into the dangerous, deviant and inferior white working class. When seeing his image in the silvered mirror, Dean identifies the markers that determine his perceived socio-cultural value. He recognises the group that he is consciously and unconsciously associated with and rejects the idea that it represents him:
I’m so fucking white. Blotchy pink and white. Look at that crew cut hair. I scrape my hand over my head. It feels good, tight and cushioned. But it looks…I don’t know. I do know. It looks like all them other ones who hang out in the third courtyard in from the Prickworks. I’ve even got the same polo shirt and grey trackie bottoms. Even me white trainers ain’t different. I can’t move. The reflection holds me. It’s the face…The eyes are slant and the cheeks are puffed and pointy at the same time. And the mouth. I see my lips curl up to one side like an Elvis quiff. I’m sneering. Like I hate everything around me. Everyone around me. Like I hate myself. The face stares back at me and I know who it is. It’s Phil Harris. It’s all those fuckers in the NDL. It’s the BMX kids on Eldon and Addington. I’m them. I look like them and everyone in the whole fucking world sees me like it too…But I’m not like them. I’m not fucking like them…He isn’t me (Crewe, 2016, p226).
Both feared and loathed, by association to far-right groups and by adherence to media disseminated images and ridicule of the white working-class chav, Dean is marginalised through a process of racialization, where culture has been tied to his visible identity ‘in a hierarchical way’ (Garner, 2009, p48; See also Webster, 2008).
Part 6 – The England Riots and De-Racialisation
Part 6 of the novel is set in 2011 when Dean is 29 years old.
The marginalisation of the white working class, through the use of constructed blame narratives disseminated by media and political elites, is a continuing process whose roots can be found in the industrial revolution and the development of modern capitalism. Writing in 1821, just two years after the Peterloo Massacre15, William Hazlitt summed up the plight of the working class in relation to how they were represented by the media and political elites of the time:
When we see the lower classes of English people uniformly singled out as marks for the malice or servility of a certain description of writers – when we see them studiously separated like a degraded caste, from the rest of the community, with scarcely the attributes or the faculties of the species allowed them, - nay, when they are thrust lower in the scale of humanity than the same classes of any other nation in Europe…when we see the redundant population (as it is fashionably called) selected as the butt for every effusion of paltry spite, and as the last resort of vindictive penal statutes, - when we see every existing evil derived from this unfortunate race, and every possible vice ascribed to them – when we are accustomed to hear the poor, the uninformed, the friendless, put, by tacit consent, out of the pale of society – when their faults and wretchedness are exaggerated with eager impatience, and still greater impatience is shown at every expression of a wish to amend them – when they are familiarly spoken of as a sort of vermin only fit to be hunted down, and exterminated at the discretion of their betters: - we know pretty well what to think, both of the disinterestedness of the motives which give currency to this jargon, and of the wisdom of the policy which should either sanction, or suffer itself to be influenced by its suggestions (Hazlitt, 1821 cited in Byrne, 2005, p20, original italics).
As discussed above, those with access to channels of representation have continued in the same vein with regards to their depiction of the white working class, essentially upholding a socio-cultural system that works to construct the white working class as worthless (Lawler, 2005). The media’s depiction of low-income groups tends to focus on poverty as a result of lifestyle choices, which hinders a wider public understanding of the inequalities that cause poverty, and thus makes it more difficult to gather public and political support for anti-poverty policies (McKendrick et al, 2008). As discussed in the Introduction, economic inequality in Britain has increased consistently over the past twenty years. The 2014 State of the Nation report highlighted this using the example of child poverty where there has been an increase between 2009 to 2014 of 600,000 children in working-class families living in absolute poverty (Milburn and Shephard, 2014). The white working class are both culturally and economically marginalised from mainstream society, whilst at the same time portrayed as choosing their exclusion and blamed for many of society’s problems, such as racism, violence, criminality etc. ‘They have not been simply “excluded from society”, but…discarded by advanced capitalism’s global economic system and shorn of unifying political symbolism and the type of grounded political representation that understands their lifeworld’ (Treadwell et al, 2012, p14). Systematic marginalisation of a group in the political and economic sphere, combined with a lack of access to scarce resources, can have the effect of turning that group against the state (Dancygier, 2010). The 2011 England riots, as well as many other historical protests and riots, can be seen as an indirect, and to some extent direct, result of this process of marginalization and blame, which has led to the poorest low-income groups being politically and economically segregated from mainstream society, by media, political and financial elites. It is a process that can be heard echoed in the words of black leaders Malcom X and Martin Luther King Jr:
A riot is the language of the unheard (King cited in Rothman, 2015).
It could make me a very vicious and dangerous person…because of a society’s failure, hypocrisy, greed, and lack of mercy and compassion. Hence I have no mercy or compassion in me for a society that will crush people, and then penalise them for not being able to stand up under the weight (Malcolm X cited in Charlesworth, 2000, p177).
In his 1995 study on youth violence in Britain, psychologist Oliver James suggested that the current ‘winner – loser’ culture, where those in poverty are presented as socially deviant, is an indirect cause of violence amongst young people (James cited in Sutterlüty, 2014). Leading up to the England riots, the emergence of the chav as a figure of ridicule and disgust, especially in terms of their poor consumer and lifestyle choices, is similar to James’ observations two decades earlier (Sutterlüty, 2014). Continual disengagement with mainstream politics, continual homogenised and stigmatising representations in mainstream media, added to growing economic disparity, culminated in working-class outpourings of anger at the causes of socio-economic and political exclusion in the form of protests and riots (Treadwell et al, 2012; see also Sutterlüty, 2014). The riots took the form of direct and indirect demands for low-income working-class groups to be recognised, respected and treated as equal citizens (Sutterlüty, 2014).
Entrenched working-class disengagement from mainstream politics, a result of mainstream political parties targeting middle-class voters, was one of the key drivers behind the violence of the riots, where political demands failed to be articulated or had been previously ignored (Sutterlüty, 2014). Rather than analyse the underlying causes of the riots, mainstream media and politicians chose to pursue their usual representational regimes by degrading the rioters and, by association, the working-class groups they came from, thus continuing a process of stigmatisation that labels the working class as aggressive, violent and criminal (Sutterlüty, 2014; McKenzie, 2015). In the aftermath of the riots, mainstream media and politicians repeatedly used terms such as ‘morally bankrupt’, ‘feral’, ‘scum’ and ‘scum class’, recycling negative ‘cultures of poverty’ epithets to homogenise low-income groups, and using the riots as proof of degeneracy to legitimise further marginalisation of the working class and provide just cause for austerity measures that disproportionately target low-income groups (McKenzie, 2015). It is clear that leading politicians have avoided any attempt to understand the motivations of the rioters, and British Prime Minister David Cameron’s dismissal of the insurgents as simply criminals in need of punishment, is an unsatisfactory analysis (Sutterlüty, 2014). The way in which media and political elites have talked about the rioters follows an historical pattern of dismissing genuine working-class concerns expressed through conflict. One such example is then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s statement about the 1981 England riots that occurred in multi-ethnic inner city locations including Brixton in London, Handsworth in Birmingham, Toxteth in Liverpool and Chapeltown in Leeds; ‘What perhaps aggravated the 1981 riots into a virtual saturnalia…was the impression given by television that…rioters could enjoy a fiesta of crime, looting and rioting in the guise of social protest’ (Thatcher cited in Dancygier, 2010, p89).
In Part 6 of the creative component, Dean takes part in one of the riots that have spread to Addington High Street. As part of his unconscious desire to be an active citizen-consumer in order to obtain equality in the eyes of the middle and upper classes, he targets the consumer products that he is unable to purchase due to his economic exclusion from mainstream consumption patterns. However, when he witnesses the attack on Ghalia’s uncle’s shop, he realises how misguided destruction shaped the outpouring of anger at economic inequality. Both Dean and Ghalia come to understand the underlying causes of the riots, that of socio-cultural, economic and political exclusion of all working-class groups regardless of ethnicity. This is embodied in the scene directly after Ghalia leaves in the ambulance and Dean is interviewed by a reporter. She uses the same rhetorical structures as politicians when describing the rioters, but on this occasion Dean is able to confront her about the hypocrisy of her word use and the actions of the media in general:
Who the fuck does she think she is interrogating me? She’s only about twelve and probably comes from Surrey. What does she know about round here? And she’s trying to tell me what to think…
‘[You] wouldn’t be down here talking to me if this was a peaceful protest, would you?’
That’s all they show, the bad stuff. Gang killings or those NDL cunts or Islams burning flags. They ain’t interested in real people. What life’s really like here. Just extremes. Never the middle…I stare her in the eye and then turn to face the camera.
‘Fuck you’ (Crewe, 2016, p256).
Hegemonic systems of control utilised by the media and political elites uphold structures of inequality, which are the hidden drivers of violence and racially motivated conflict. Something that was significantly overlooked during the 2011 England riots was the fact that, ‘there is no indication whatsoever that ethnic categories were of any real significance in terms of the composition of rioting groups or the choice of targets…rioters exhibited such a diverse ethnic composition that they were linked with a process of deracialisation’ (Sutterlüty, 2014, p44). Clear evidence that the elite’s attempt to use inter-ethnic competition to account for the many concerns facing the white working class and, by association, all immigrant and minority ethnic groups, is misleading and an indirect, and to some extent direct, attempt to divert attention away from hierarchical structures that maintain economic and political hegemony centred in the white middle and upper classes.
The socio-cultural research discussed in this chapter forms the genesis of the plot and characters in the creative component. Tracing Dean’s trajectory from childhood through to adulthood allows the reader to follow his exposure to the development of counter-narratives amongst the white working-class community on Eldon and Addington. In Part One Dean experiences what he perceives as unfair treatment compared to that of Madu. As a result, he becomes disengaged with school and authority figures in general, feeding into the ‘unfairness to whites’ counter-narratives already present on the estates. In Part Two, these same counter-narratives, compounded with the mainstream media representations of estate whites as ‘social accessories’ to the murder, form the backdrop to his re-imagining of the murder he witnesses. Dean unconsciously tries to defend against the blame narratives that are being constructed by media and political elites, by providing a counter-narrative of black on black violence. In Parts Three and Four, the rise of the far-right party, BFP, on the estates coincides with increased ethnic tension and violence. The BFP’s prominence feeds into the counter-narratives of ‘preferential treatment for immigrant and minority ethnic groups’ and the mainstream blame narratives targeting Muslims. Dean becomes entangled in both, blaming Ghalia and, by association, all Muslims for barring his family’s access to social housing. The concerns Dean airs are constructed by both mainstream media and politicians, as well as far-right parties, as being caused by ethnicity, rather than as a result of poverty. Ghalia’s adherence to the construction of the homogenised white working-class chav, effectively affirms the ethnically charged blame narratives that sets up low-income groups as being in competition with each other. The racialisation of the white working-class subject through the construction of the chav figure is highlighted in Part Five when Dean is associated with the extreme-right NDL group because of the way he looks. The anti-fascist protest group’s members recognise Dean, which in their eyes justifies their outpourings of disgust for him. He is a chav, therefore racist. Part Six comes from the evidence that the 2011 England riots were not motivated by ethnicity, but by socio-economic exclusion. Poverty was the main cause of the riots and, to some extent, united low-income groups, regardless of ethnicity. The riots exposed hegemonic systems of white middle- and upper-class dominance, albeit limited and contained by the reiteration of simplistic blame narratives disseminated by media and political elites that posited the rioters as nothing but criminals, therefore avoiding any further analysis into the underlying causes of what can clearly be seen as political protest.
It is important to recognise that the novel does not claim omniscient insight or even the authority to accurately represent a white working-class community. However, by using opposing first and third person perspectives (discussed further in Chapter 3) it attempts to undermine and expose dominant groups’ representations of the white working class by juxtaposing expectations of homogenised white working-class lifestyles, with that of an individual actually living one. Thus the novel attempts to expose media and political elites’ construction of the white working-class subject as conveyed through the chav figure, therefore undermining the homogenising process that repetitive and narrow representations work to achieve. The novel, therefore, can be seen as a counter-narrative in its own right. It is not claiming to be representative of the working class, but rather a narrative that rejects the mainstream construction of a marginalised group and instead offers an alternative voice in the public arena. Rather than construction of the white working class being done by those at the top of the hierarchy, the novel attempts to look up the chain of power from the bottom, therefore exposing the foundations on which hegemonic structures stand. The creative component works with and against dominant forms of representation to expose their constructed nature and force a re-analysis of typified portrayals of marginalised groups as propagated by those with access to, and control of, channels of representation, leading public bodies and institutions. As such the novel attempts to refocus academic, political and public attention on the main underlying causes of political disengagement and far-right success, that of socio-economic exclusion; that all groups living in poverty share many similar concerns and the blame narratives constructed by those in power, do nothing but divert attention from the drivers of exclusion and racism. The novel tries to undermine the construction of the chav figure and reclaim individuality, respect and equality for members of the white working class, and, by association, all immigrant and minority ethnic groups living in poverty.
Chapter 2 - The construction of (white) working-class identity in narrative literary texts When it comes to its distribution, a literary fiction novel will have passed through a number of barriers to access the market16. Writers will usually require an agent to represent them to publishing houses, who in turn will market, advertise, print and distribute the book. As discussed in the previous chapter, these institutions are disproportionately controlled by independently educated middle- and upper-class elites. As such, the writers and novels selected for publication are, consciously or unconsciously, drawn from similar socio-cultural background as agents, publishers and, potentially, reviewers, who recognise and relate to the representational codes employed in the novels. In this way, the traditional route to mainstream representation in prose fiction literary novels can systemically exclude those from marginalised groups, a process similar to the way leading public bodies and institutions recruit senior employees. In addition, the few writers from marginalised groups who do gain access to mainstream markets through traditional routes have not been selected by their community, but by the middle- and upper-class elites who control the majority of the publishing industry. Therefore, mainstream literary representations of marginalised groups tend to be filtered through a middle- and upper-class prism rather than being generated directly, and democratically, from within the group itself.
For the reasons stated above, this thesis focuses on commercially successful authors whose novels have been distributed by mainstream publishers. Their selection for publication, marketing budget and large potential network for distribution are controlled by the middle and upper classes. As such, the typified representations of (white) working-class characters that mainstream authors conform to are disseminated across the established networks and readerships of the major publishing houses, ultimately feeding back into political and media representations of the (white) working class. It’s important to note, this thesis does not suggest that non-mainstream or alternative authors and publishers are not part of this process, but acknowledges their ability to influence mainstream representational codes is marginal compared to that of the major publishing houses and mainstream writers. However, non-mainstream publishers are more likely to provide their authors a space to challenge mainstream representation and can therefore offer alternatives to middle- and upper-class controlled depictions of ‘other’ groups. One example, discussed later, is Courttia Newland’s Society Within which works to undermine mainstream representations of poor black communities. This thesis, however, is predominantly concerned with writers that have the potential to impact mainstream representation beyond literature, hence the focus on authors distributed by a mainstream publisher.
This chapter argues that literature, as opposed to some other forms of narrative representation, has been, and still is, complicit in the marginalisation of the white working class through typified portrayals of white working-class characters and lifestyles, thus feeding back into the cycles of representation and the socio-cultural, financial and political exclusion summarised above and discussed in the previous chapter. Tracing examples of typified depictions of working-class characters from Charles Dickens up to the white working-class characters of more recent writers such as Martin Amis, this chapter will then look at a selection of contemporary novels set in London during the study period and demonstrate how the same tropes of working-class socio-cultural identity, and more specifically white working-class identity, are still used in the construction of working-class and white working-class characters, and how Another London responds and engages with them. This chapter continues by arguing that there is a lack of rounded and developed white working-class characters in British fiction and that contemporary authors continue to rely on typified representations rather than interrogate them, therefore remaining complicit in feedback loops that work to marginalise the white working class, which contributes to the maintenance of the existing socio-economic and political hierarchy. To conclude this chapter, an argument is put forward in support of the creative component. The novel works with and against prevailing representations of the white working class in literature in order to expose the dominant politico-cultural class assumptions about the lifestyles of the white poor, and, to some extent, all groups living in poverty. In doing this, the creative component, it is argued, opens up space in the public arena for both imagined and real individual voices from marginalised groups to be heard. Thus providing more direct access to channels of representation and an interrogation of the blame narratives that are used to maintain these groups’ socio-economic exclusion. In essence, shifting the focus from the excluded to who is doing the excluding with the intention of exposing hidden structures that maintain white middle- and upper-class privilege (Mount, 2004).
Whereas the modern realist novel’s origins date back as far as the eighteenth century, both film and popular music are predominantly post-war phenomena. They each gained mainstream popularity in the decade that followed parliamentary acts in education and welfare, as well as the formation of the National Health Service, which delivered working-class families greater access to education, longer life expectancy, shorter working weeks and disposable incomes17. As such, the working-class population became mass consumers of film and popular music in a way that they had not been consumers of the literary novel a century earlier. Film and popular music became potential outlets for working-class voices, seen in groups like The Beatles or in movements like the British New Wave, and continued through to contemporary musicians such as Plan B and The Streets and directors such as Ken Loach, Andrea Arnold and Shane Meadows, who all interrogate mainstream representations of the white working class in ways that their literary counterparts do not. As Tew argues, ‘authors may explore a sense of localised community in an increasingly disjointed world, but mostly through a middle-class prism, often with undercurrent hankerings for Bloomsbury’ (Tew, 2007, p89). However, it’s important to note that visual media and popular music are still in the majority control of the elite. This can be seen in current mainstream representations of the ‘chav’ as ‘irrational and/or mindless,…inarticulate or confused’ (Adams and Raisborough, 2011, p84). Television and media programmers ‘dumb down’ their output and then shift the blame to the working-class consumers, criticising who it was made for rather than who made it, using this as a tacit excuse to further restrict working-class access to, and control of, media production (Mount, 2004). What makes film and popular music different to literature is the fact that a large proportion of the market for these products is made up of working-class consumers. This stake in the production/consumption cycle gives rise to indirect influence and the potential for working-class voices to filter through, such as the examples given above. Literature, on the other hand, has remained essentially a middle- and upper-class market, where ‘the centre of the naturalist narrative paradigm is the perspective of the bourgeoisie and its vision of the other (lower) classes’ (Jameson, 2013, p149; See also Jameson, 1988; Carey, 1992; Tew, 2007). As such, access to publication and distribution through traditional channels is restricted for socially excluded groups. Marginalised sections of society, such as the white working class, minority ethnic and immigrant groups, and to some extent women, are underrepresented. Thus, as in mainstream media and politics, representations of excluded groups in literature generally fall within the accepted and typified portrayals expected by the middle- and, to an extent, upper-class dominated readership.
It could be argued, given the relatively small proportion of products and consumers that literature contributes to the narrative-based industries, that literature’s power to construct socio-cultural identities and to maintain financial and political hierarchies, is limited. However, this thesis argues that literature’s status as a middle- and upper-class cultural product of the educated allows it to disseminate and recirculate ideological representational structures to the elite, those with access to leading public bodies and institutions, therefore influencing government policy, and mainstream media and political representations of excluded groups. Thus contributing disproportionately, in relation to its market share in narrative-based industries, to feedback loops of representation. By exposing these connections, this thesis aims to highlight, and put forward for scrutiny, the ‘middle-class method of repressing reality…of leaving out, of strategic omissions, lapses, a kind of careful preliminary preparation of the raw material such that certain questions will never arise in the first place’ (Jameson, 1988, pp118-119). In literature’s case, how the construction of character within a novel can feed back into class identity politics, socio-cultural status, financial and political hierarchies. As Adams and Raisborough put it in their study of representations of the ‘chav’ figure in mainstream media, how typified portrayals of white working-class characters are used to hold ‘them in place (physical, imagined, and symbolic) and at a safe distance, whilst simultaneously establishing the morality and social standing of the valorized in group’ (Adams and Raisborough, 2011, p91), i.e. the white middle- and upper-class elite.
Fredric Jameson claims that central to this paradigm is the elite’s, conscious and unconscious, fear of losing their socio-cultural status and the economic and political privileges associated with it. This anxiety of decline manifests itself in depictions of working-class lifestyles and the misery that accompanies them (Webster, 2008; Jameson, 2013). These portrayals of working-class characters and environments are more specifically reflections of a continuing identity crisis in the author’s own class. By adhering to mainstream media and political representations of the white working class as being violent, racist and culturally inferior, middle- and upper-class writers assume the opposite position of their own class existence, as nonviolent, anti-racist and culturally superior (Tew, 2007). In The Political Unconscious,Jameson posits what could either be seen as the root cause or logical conclusion of this phenomenon: Whoever is different constitutes a threat and is therefore evil, yet ‘the essential point to be made is not so much that [they are] feared because [they are] evil; rather [they are] evil because [they are] Other, alien, different, strange, unclean, and unfamiliar’ (Jameson, 2010, p101, original italics). By highlighting the underlying motivations for an author’s narrative choices when representing other, oppositional groups, Jameson suggests that any given literary text cannot be viewed as independent and autonomous in itself, but rather as being ‘rewritten’ as part of a set of traditional interpretative functions during the process of its reading (Jameson, 2010). As suggested above, literature is primarily a cultural output of the white middle- and upper-class educated elite and is predominantly consumed by those who share the same socio-cultural identity. Therefore, as it is the same group that writes and rewrites through interpretation, literature becomes a process of reasserting the primacy of one hegemonic class. As Jameson puts it, ‘the aesthetic act is itself ideological, and the production of aesthetic or narrative form is to be seen as an ideological act in its own right’ (Jameson, 2010, p64). In this way, literature can be seen as complicit in upholding hierarchical socio-cultural structures that maintain financial and political privilege for the middle and upper classes, justified by the apparent degeneracy of the working class who cannot be trusted with power due to their socio-cultural and intellectual inadequacies.
As discussed above, literature has a disproportionate influence on the way in which the elite make assumptions and judgments about working-class lifestyles. A further reason for this is the concept of literary realism, which claims that representation is achievable though mimesis. This assertion, perpetuated by the producers and consumers of narrative prose fiction, works to construct the sense of a shared system of belief or common-sense (Jameson, 1988). In the case of this thesis, that shared system of belief includes the premise that it is morally justified to exclude the white working class from positions in leading public bodies and institutions because of their immoral and culturally deficient lifestyle choices. However, as Jameson argues, realism is nothing more than a set of traditional and pervasive codes that work to mask the underlying hegemonic class structures that permeate literature (Wood, 2009). Therefore, claims of accurate or authentic representation can be viewed as artifice rather than real or true.
This conclusion forces a re-evaluation of the act of narration in the realist novel, specifically free indirect discourse. The writer claims, consciously or unconsciously, to have access to the thoughts of the character, the ‘truth’ of their essence. When this character is a member of a marginalised ‘other’ group, such as the white working class, the claims of realism as representative feeds into the writing and rewriting through interpretation process, whereby the middle- and upper-class producers and consumers of literature, consciously or unconsciously, reaffirm their shared sense of belief in their own lifestyle choices as being normal and desirable by projecting the opposite and inferior cultural behaviour patterns onto the character in question. By assuming the writer possesses objective knowledge of the subject when accessing the ‘truth’ of their white working-class characters, white middle- and upper-class readers reaffirm their own class identity through comparison, which confirms their shared knowledge of the cultural inferiority of the white working class. Which ultimately reinforces their underlying, if not apparent, belief in socio-economic inequality. It is this process that writer and director Pier Paolo Pasolini criticised as being essentially class-based when developing his own theory of free indirect discourse.
The most odious and intolerable thing, even in the most innocent bourgeois, is that of not knowing how to recognize life experiences other than his own: and of bringing all other life experiences back to a substantial analogy with his own. It is a real offense that he gives to other men in different social and historical conditions. Even a noble, elevated bourgeois writer, who doesn’t know how to recognize the extreme characteristics of psychological diversity of a man whose life experiences differ from his, and who, on the contrary, believes that he can make them his by seeking subtle analogies – almost as if experiences other than his own weren’t conceivable – performs an act that is the first step toward certain manifestations of the defense of his privileges and even towards racism (Pasolini cited in Jameson, 2013, p178).
Not only is this process of ventriloquising an ideological action that reinforces the author’s own class’s socio-cultural status by implicitly denigrating characters and lifestyle choices from the ‘other’, lower classes, it also works to deny those other classes a voice in the public arena, the right to reply, or even the ability to speak. In this way, literature works to create and maintain what Gayatri Spivak (and Morris, 2010) calls the subaltern; those subordinate groups that are excluded from access to representation in areas of public discourse, including literature, which limits their ability to express themselves in the public arena (Bentley, 2008). As such, literature is complicit in its contribution to the feedback loops that maintain hegemonic socio-cultural, economic and political structures that privilege the white middle- and upper-class elites.
It should be noted here that the creative component of this thesis uses both first person and free indirect discourse in conjunction with distant third person techniques in an attempt to expose and interrogate the process highlighted by Pasolini above. There will be further discussion on this narrative technique in Chapter Three.
As argued above, realist literature has deployed a number of signifiers, such as violence, racism and cultural inferiority, in the creation of working-class characters, lifestyles and environments. The contemporary white working-class cultural identity, as discussed above and in the previous chapter, is constructed in mainstream media and politics through the same set of signifiers, which Webster claims are often associated with specific locations such as inner-city urban areas and estates (Webster, 2008). Both historically and, up to and including, the study period, novelists have reproduced these signifiers, as well as using free indirect discourse, to suggest ‘true’ working-class voices, in order to construct blame narratives that posit marginalised groups, such as the white working class, as the cause of their socio-economic and political exclusion.
One possible way to trace examples of this process in British fiction is to identify recurring ideologemes, what Fredric Jameson describes as ‘the smallest intelligible unit of the essentially antagonistic collective discourses of social classes’ (Jameson, 2010, p61). Ideologemes work as both a conceptual construction and as a narrative sign, a duality that incorporates concepts such as beliefs and opinions as well as minimal units of socially symbolic narrative acts (Jameson, 2010). As such, they can be seen as the inherited units of representation upon which the process of writing and rewriting through interpretation bases its narrative construction. As Jameson puts it, ‘by their respective positions in the whole complex sequence of the modes of production, both the individual text and its ideologemes know a final transformation, and must be read in terms of…the ideology of form, that is, the symbolic messages transmitted…by the coexistence of various sign systems which are themselves traces or anticipations of modes of production’ (Jameson, 2010, p61).
By identifying recurring ideologemes, the marginalisation of the lower classes in literature through conscious or unconscious typifications of character, lifestyle and environment can be traced from the present day back through to at least the nineteenth century (Mount, 2004). This chapter continues by selecting some key examples18 of recurring ideologemes of lower-class representation, starting with Charles Dickens (1812-1870) as one of the most prominent London based novelists to construct, interpret and portray working-class identities.
In a similar way to the stigmatisation of the white working class now, the Victorian working class that had emerged from the industrial revolution, were viewed as barriers to modernisation as a result of their physical and cultural degeneracy, attributes that were often associated with lower-income districts or slums (Webster, 2008; See also Chapter One). Many of Dickens’ novels contain descriptions of fictional lower-income districts such as this one taken from A Christmas Carol:
The ways were foul and narrow; the shops and houses wretched; and people half naked, drunken, slipshod and ugly. Alleys and archways, like so many cesspools, disgorged their offences of smell, and dirt, and life, upon the straggling streets; and the whole quarter reeked with crime, and filth, and misery (Dickens, 1858, p77).
Dickens embeds the lower-class population’s behaviours and lifestyles into the imagined squalor of their surroundings, intertwining the dilapidation of the slum with the culture and morality of its inhabitants, without any interrogation of how or why this group of people came to be living in such conditions. Instead of examining the socio-economic inequalities that could have contributed to these scenes, Dickens assumes the inevitability of working-class cultural and moral inadequacy, something self-fulfilling and self-perpetuating, essentially characterised as beyond redemption or help, rather than as a result of the socio-cultural and economic exclusion that was done to them by the ruling elites of the period (Orwell, 1968; Webster, 2008). This extract above, as with many other of Dicken’s descriptions of lower-class slums and characters, feeds back into the middle- and upper-classes’ fear of loss of hegemony, the fear of slipping into poverty and the rise of the working-class (Jameson, 2013). George Orwell’s analysis of David Copperfield emphasises just this; whereas the gifted, culturally and morally superior protagonist is able to escape his fate as a child labourer, the other lower-class boys are condemned to it. Of which, Orwell suggests Dickens has no qualms about: ‘Dickens is right in saying that a gifted child ought not to work ten hours a day pasting labels on bottles, but what he does not say is that no child ought to be condemned to such a fate, and there is no reason for inferring that he thinks it’ (Orwell, 1968, p419). The underlying assertion being that the majority ‘ordinary’ poor cannot and should not be redeemed. In other words, they should stay in their place as they do not have the moral, cultural or intellectual capacity to rise into the ranks of the middle classes.
This ideologeme can be traced through to another later Victorian novelist, George Gissing (1857-1903), who oscillates ‘between an implacable denunciation of the reformist-philanthropists and an equally single-minded indictment of the "poor" who cannot…be rescued or elevated’ (Jameson, 2010, p180). John Carey, in The Intellectual and the Masses, summarises Gissing’s approach as condemning the working-class for their lack of imagination and intellect, but at the same time arguing that they could not, or should not be given the opportunity to, elevate themselves through education, even though he was committed to the idea that literature and poetry were capable of doing just that (Carey, 1992). Specifically, it is the concept of unassailable vulgarity that Gissing repeatedly includes in his working-class characters and environments. Like Dickens, there are many such examples in his novels, one of the most obvious coming from the description of the slum market and its inhabitants in the openingchapter of Workers in the Dawn published in 1880. What marks this section out is that Gissing is describing a real place, Whitecross Street in East London. Unlike Dickens’s imagined locations, Gissing firmly places the assumed middle- and upper-class reader in a real context, purposely working to confirm the educated elite’s expectations of slum-life as well as cementing the connection between his imagined characters and the real-life inhabitants of low-income districts such as Whitecross Street19. In each of the extracts from Workers in the Dawn below we see repeated and expanded the very same ideologemes present in the extract from A Christmas Carol(all excerpts from Gissing, 1880):
The fronts of the houses…have a decayed, filthy, often an evil, look (p2).
Here, the dilapidation of the environment is set up as a mirror to be interwoven with the moral and cultural inferiority of the inhabitantsand their lifestyle choices, as reinforced by the extract below.
See how the foolish artisan's wife…lays down a little heap of shillings in return for a lump, half gristle, half bone, of questionable meat -- ignorant that with half the money she might buy four times the quantity of far more healthy and sustaining food (p3).
The artisan’s wife symbolises the irresponsible consumption habits of the poor. Whereas in the following extract, Gissing goes on to include dialect and ways of speaking as a signifier of poverty.
A vender of second-hand umbrellas…yells out a stream of talk amazing in its mixture of rude wit, coarse humour, and voluble impudence. "Here's a humbereller!" he cries, "Look at this 'ere; now do! Fit for the Jewk o' York, the Jewk of Cork, or any other member of the no--bility. As fo my own grace, I hassure yer, I never uses any other! Come, who says 'alf-a-crownd for this? -- No? --Why, then, two bob -- one an'-a-tanner -- a bob! Gone, and damned cheap too!" (pp4-5).
The vendor attempts at ‘proper’ diction leave him a figure of ridicule for Gissing and his educated readers.
[In the gin-palaces]…there are half-a-dozen young men and women, all half drunk, mauling each other with vile caresses; and all the time, from the lips of the youngest and the oldest, foams forth such a torrent of inanity, abomination, and horrible blasphemy which bespeaks the very depth of human -- aye, or of bestial – degradation (p6).
The alcoholic, sexually promiscuous, irreligious and, by implication, immoral customers of the gin-palace are all signifiers of cultural degeneracy and fecklessness.
It must be confessed that the majority do not seem unhappy; they jest with each other amid their squalor…And the very fact that they are unconscious of their degradation afflicts one with all the keener pity. We suffer them to become brutes in our midst, and inhabit dens which clean animals would shun, to derive their joys from sources from which a cultivated mind shrinks as from a pestilential vapour (pp8-9).
All of which, as the final extract demonstrates, are portrayed by Gissing as being inevitably part of their social-cultural environment; not only do they choose to be here, they like it. The cultural degeneracy of the working poor is therefore constructed by Gissing as self-imposed and self-perpetuating. There is no hope of redemption in Gissing’s eyes, and neither should there be any attempt to help them achieve it. Thus, the lower classes are identified as being ‘other’, or, as another of Gissing’s characters, Richard Mutimer in Demos20, notes, ‘The rich and the poor are two different races’ (Gissing, 1892, p97). For Gissing, as for Dickens, the classes are arranged according to a naturally occurring hierarchy (Vlitos, 2011), whereby the ruling class’s cultural identity is reaffirmed as normal, desirable and superior. Therefore, reinforcing the underlying belief that economic and political inequalities are justified.
Gissing’s fear of poverty and disdain for the working class is echoed in many of the modernist writers who followed him in the early twentieth century, specifically the belief that education could not redeem the poor or raise them out of their vulgar lower-class patterns of behaviour and lifestyles (For further discussion and examples see Carey, 1992; Mount, 2004). One key example from this period can be found in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway (1925) in the way she describes Mrs Dalloway’s daughter’s tutor, Doris Kilman. Despite her working-class background and poverty, Kilman has managed to pass a degree and remain independent. Indeed, given the time the book is set, Doris Kilman seems much less a barrier to modernisation, than a driver of feminine modernity. Yet, Woolf depicts her as ‘a monster of spite, envy and unfulfilled desire,…plain’ (Carey, 1992, p19), criticising ‘how she dressed…so insensitive was she, dressed in a green mackintosh coat. Year in year out she wore that coat; she perspired’ (Woolf, 2008). Woolf implicitly ridicules her socio-cultural background, lifestyle choices and, more importantly, her aspirations to improve herself through education. Woolf makes it clear that all Kilman’s attempts to raise herself out of the slums have been fruitless. She has learnt to play the violin, but it always sounds awful. She has education, but lacks the intellectual capacity to question religion. Woolf feeds back into the recurring ideologemes of Dickens and Gissing by separating her own class and that of Doris Kilman’s, placing them in opposition (Carey, 1992). Woolf reaffirms that both she and Mrs Dalloway are everything someone from Kilman’s low socio-cultural status can never be. Thus reinforcing the idea that socio-cultural status is part of the natural order, which feeds back into the underlying belief in economic and political inequality between the classes.
Philip Tew argues that even in purportedly socialist writers of the mid-twentieth century there can also be seen a conscious or unconscious embedding of working-class stereotypes, as described in the ideologemes discussed above. In the major post-war novels, socio-cultural identities of characters are overwhelmingly constructed from a middle-class perspective, where ‘human personality…seems too often simply a series of middle-class co-ordinates’ (Tew, 2007, p54). This implies a normal and desirable central position from which all other identities can be judged and repressed, creating the impression that only one ‘correct’ cultural pattern of behaviour and lifestyles exists (Jameson, 2010). For example, Tew highlights Iris Murdoch as a writer unable to interrogate the assumption of a natural class hierarchy. She ‘is stuck in a world projecting a sense of contemporary crisis, but one where the intellectual and political class remain secure in their superior vision of the world’ (Tew, 2007, p55). Her exclusion of working-class culture from her writing works to exclude lower-income groups from society as a whole, almost to the extent that she refutes their very right to existence, in order to reaffirm socio-cultural and economic hegemony and middle- and upper-class privilege (Tew, 2007).
As with Murdoch, the sense of contemporary crisis, a cultural decline into degradation and banality, assumed by many twentieth century writers, is suffused with blame narratives that posit the lower-classes and their flawed patterns of mass consumption as cause and effect of this phenomenon, whilst, through the ideological act of narrative production, holding their own classed existence up as the potential solution (Tew, 2007; Jameson, 2010). As discussed above, where the Victorian ruling classes accused the working class of being barriers to modernisation, towards the end of the twentieth century these blame narratives shifted to the white working class as drivers of cultural decline (See Chapter One for further discussion). As it was for Victorian writers and elites, this is articulated in a ‘“chain of signifiers”: familial disorder and dysfunction, dangerous masculinities,…antisocial behaviour, moral decay and quick to resort to criminality’ as well as ‘backwardness, degeneracy, over-fecundity, fecklessness’ (Webster, 2008, p307; p302). As seen in realism, modernism and the post-war writers, this trend, and the ideologemes associated with it, continued through into the work of more recent writers. One key example would be the white working-class character, Keith Talent, from Martin Amis’s21London Fields, who embodies all the signifiers mentioned above. This is how Nick Bentley describes Keith Talent in his book Contemporary British Fiction: ‘Keith is of limited intelligence and his cultural pursuits revolve around darts, football, pornography and TV. He is a violent petty criminal who preys on the weak and the vulnerable, mainly because he ‘failed’ to be ruthless enough to get into serious violent crime. He is a racist and abuses women’ (Bentley, 2008, p38). Taking examples from London Fields it is possible to trace direct parallels between Amis’s working-class characterisation and that of Gissing’s discussed above (All excerpts taken from Amis, 1989):
We parked under the shadow of the craning block — which sparked and flickered like ten thousand TV sets stacked up into the night. Keith hurried. He summoned the elevator but to his silent agony the elevator was dead or elsewhere. We climbed the eleven floors, passing a litter of sick junkies sprawled out on the stairs in grumbling sleep (p102).
The dilapidated environment in the first extract is interwoven with Keith’s character and appearance, highlighted again in the extract immediately below.
Then [Nicola] swivelled and inspected him, from arid crown to Cuban heels, as he cast his scavenging blue eyes around the room: Keith, stripped of all charisma from pub and street. It wasn't the posture, the scrawniness of the shanks and backside, the unpleasant body scent (he smelled as if he had just eaten a mustard-coated camel), the drunken scoop of his gaze - unappealing though these features certainly were. Just that Nicola saw at once with a shock (I knew it all along, she said to herself) that the capacity for love was extinct in him. It was never there (p72).
It’s also worth noting here that both the descriptions above are from the perspective of middle-class characters, Samson Young and Nicola Six, an awareness shared by the upper-class Guy Flinch, but never with the white working-class Keith. Keith is never privy to self-awareness in the way the other middle- and upper-class characters are, a point to be discussed in more detail later.
I wish to Christ I could do Keith's voice. The t's are viciously stressed. A brief guttural pop, like the first nanosecond of a cough or a hawk, accompanies the hard k. When he says chaotic, and he says it frequently, it sounds like a death rattle. 'Month' comes out as mumf. He sometimes says, 'Im feory . . .' when he speaks theoretically. 'There' sounds like dare or lair. You could often run away with the impression that Keith Talent is eighteen months old (p26).
As with the vendor in the Gissing extracts, Keith is ridiculed for his diction and inability to speak ‘properly’. Amis expands this mockery of ‘improper’ speech by ridiculing Keith’s lack of education, demonstrated in the extract below where Keith’s inability to spell or construct ‘correct’ sentences is ridiculed, by both Amis and the educated middle-class character of Samson.
The Keith Talent Story [was where] Keith logged his intimate thoughts, most (but not all) of them darts-related. For example:
You cuold have a house so big you could have sevral dart board
areas in it, not just won. With a little light on top.
Got to practice the finishing, got to. Go round the baord religiously. You can have all the power in the world but its no good if you can not finish.
Tedn Tendnen Keep drifting to the left on the third dart, all them fuckign treble fives (p177).
Amis follows the patterns set by Dickens and Gissing, never interrogating the reasons why Keith is like he is or ever suggesting that he could, or should, be given the opportunity, through education or any other means, to raise himself out of his socio-cultural status.
His lunch consisted of Chicken Pilaff and four Bramley Apple Pies. His tabloid consisted of kiss and tell, and then more kiss and tell, and then more kiss and more tell. Aliens Stole My Boobs. Marilyn Monroe And Jack Kennedy Still Share Nights of Passion: In Atlantis. My Love Muscles Tightened From Beyond The Grave (p104).
In Workers in the Dawn the artisan’s wife is shown to be irresponsible in her consumption patterns. As demonstrated in the extract above, Amis does the same with Keith Talent’s food choices, but expands this into the world of mindless mass media consumption. The blame for this contemporary crisis of banality rests solely on Keith the consumer. Amis never once analyses the role of the producer in the consumption/production cycle of mass media, which as demonstrated in the previous two chapters, is in the majority control of the white middle- and upper-classes, not in the hands of low-income groups.
The peculiar difficulty with girls experienced by…Keith was [he] raped them. Or [he] used to. The main reason [he] didn't do it any longer was that rape, in judicial terms (and in Keith's words), was no fucking joke: you just couldn't ever come out a winner, not with this DNA nonsense. The great days were gone…Of course, Keith's rapes were to be viewed quite distinctly from those numerous occasions when, in his youth, he had been obliged to slap into line various cockteasers and icebergs (and lesbians and godbotherers). Rape was different. Rape was much more like all the other occasions…when he had candidly used main force to achieve intercourse (p168).
Finally, we have the construction of Keith as dangerously, and uncontrollably, sexually promiscuous, as opposed to Nicola’s empowering, and controlled, sexuality. Whereas Keith’s libido is interwoven with violence and aggression, Nicola’s is interconnected with liberation, empowerment and pleasure. The implication being that Nicola understands and uses sex, where Keith blindly consumes it. Keith’s sexual immorality is clearly highlighted by his propensity to rape women, shown in the extract above. Amis takes this to its furthest extreme in depicting Keith’s sexual exploitation of an underage girl, demonstrated in the extract below.
And Debbee? Little Debbee? Well, Debbee was special. Dark, rounded, pouting, everything circular, ovoid, Debbee was 'special'. Debbee was special because Keith had been sleeping with her since she was twelve years old (p51).
As can be seen, the underlying ideologemes in Gissing and the novels of Charles Dickens have gone on to be embedded, and expanded, in the work of Amis.
The charges of ‘typification’ and stereotyping levelled at Amis are usually countered with the claim that he is using irony to expose and question such stereotypes across society as a whole. One such argument is put forward by Nick Bentley: ‘All of Keith’s negative attributes can be identified in society (and more significantly within what is constructed as working-class culture by certain sections of the middle classes), however, Amis is…alerting the reader to the implications of uncritically accepting these stereotypes’ (Bentley, 2008, p39). However, if we take Jameson’s argument from The Political Unconscious as detailed above, then the reading of Amis’s work must go further than Bentley’s use of irony as a defence. Instead the analysis must consider the ideologemes that are embedded into his novels22 and how they function in the process of writing and rewriting through interpretation, how London Fields as narrative production is a socially symbolic act (Jameson, 2010). As mentioned above, Keith is never self-aware, never conscious of his failings or the low socio-cultural status he embodies, which is in direct contrast to the three other major characters, Samson, Nicola and Guy. Each of these are well educated and drawn from the middle and upper classes. They have their own failings and they each attempt to manipulate the other characters for their own ends, yet they are all given a level of self-awareness and perception that Amis denies the only major working-class character. Nicola, Samson and Guy are all conscious of their socio-cultural status and thus distinctly aware that Keith’s is lower. Underpinning all this is Amis’s suggestion that only those with education and self-awareness have the ability for self-expression, a vital component, implied by Amis, for being able to truly experience life. This concept parallels closely with Gissing’s own assertion that only through education, specifically knowledge of literature and poetry, can one feel the profundity of life (Carey, 1992). Insinuated by both Gissing and Amis is the idea that those without adequate education, most often found in the poorest groups in society, cannot understand or appreciate life. They stop just short of the logical next step; that these people do not deserve life.
Underlying Dickens, Gissing and Amis is the suggestion that the lower classes are unaware of their degradation, of their vulgar behaviours and lifestyles, but more importantly is that they have no desire to live any differently. They are the self-perpetuating cause of their socio-cultural status and economic and political exclusion. Amis, consciously or unconsciously, constructs the middle and upper classes as the only classes that can recognise, understand and interpret the contemporary crisis of society. In effect, the class of the writer and implicitly the assumed class of the reader. As Tew succinctly puts it:
Authors may explore a sense of localised community in an increasingly disjointed world, but mostly through a middle-class prism…Nevertheless, rather than being subsumed by the crisis of an increasingly complex culture, the characters and narrators in a range of contemporary writers…very specifically interrogate the crises of identity of their own class, its enculturation and the species of peculiarity liminal urban ontological existence that they at least imagine that they particularly have to endure (Tew, 2007, p89).
The typified construction of working-class characters - their vulgar patterns of behaviour and speech, their irresponsible consumption choices, their immorality and violence, their lack of intellect, their complacency about living in dilapidated environments, their lack of self-awareness, their self-perpetuating cultural degeneracy – are clearly present in the repeated ideologemes that have been identified from Dickens through to Amis. Feedback loops of representation have created stereotyped working-class literary content that has recurred from as early as the Victorian era to the present day. The cause of which, it could be argued, is derived ‘from a psycho-emotional imperative to fix other bodies into social and moral hierarchies; [to hold] them in place (physical, imagined, and symbolic) and at a safe distance, whilst simultaneously establishing the morality and social standing of the valorized ingroup’ (Adams and Raisborough, 2011, p91). In doing so, reinforcing the underlying belief that socio-cultural status as defined by class is a naturally ordained hierarchy, which feeds into the justification for limiting access to economic and political power for working-class groups.
Turning to contemporary British fiction, particularly work published and set during the study period, on the surface there seems to be a shift away from novels that deal with class identity. Instead, the politics of race, gender and sexual identity have become more prominent subjects (Bentley, 2007; Jameson, 2012; Lott, 2015). When class is addressed it appears, as discussed in the previous chapter, to be conflated with that of ethnicity, where working class is often seen to mean white working class (Lott, 2015). The urban, inner-city, estate-dwelling, white working-class subject has become, at least in part, racially constructed (Byrne, 2006). The key point being that the whiteness in question is connected only to socially excluded, poor and deprived whites, whereas the white middle and upper classes maintain an invisible or implicit whiteness (Webster, 2008; Rogaly, 2011; See Chapter 1 for further discussion). As such, the ideologemes of lower-class representation traced through the examples above have also been conflated with that of ethnicity. White working-class characters are still created in terms of their geographic connection to spatialised poverty, most often inner-city estates, where their inferior and immoral lifestyles are interwoven with urban decay, and are constructed as the self-generated and perpetuated cause and effect of their socio-economic exclusion (Webster, 2008). Yet, now the white working-class are also portrayed as the main proponents of racism (Webster, 2008; Lott, 2015). To see this process in action, below is a selection of key examples from contemporary writers that include either the ideologemes of Dickens et al or the conflation of these with the added ideologeme of the inherently racist, lower-class, urban white.
The housing estates looked like makeshift prison camps; dogs ran around; rubbish blew about; there was graffiti…The shops sold only inadequate and badly made clothes. Everything looked cheap and shabby (From The Buddha of Suburbia,Kureishi, 2009, pp223-224). As she steps from the bus the estate unfolds before her like a dark shadow, a vast landscape of council flats, barking dogs and worn-out grass. Filth is strewn everywhere, and a group of kids are playing what seems to be an organised game of football using a tin can instead of a ball. She walks past Bojangles, which she can see is a former Catholic church that has now become the estate disco, and then she passes the cracked and peeling outdoor swimming pool, which looks as though it has never seen water. Pretoria Drive leads to Pretoria Mansions, and she climbs the stinking urine-stained circular staircase to the third floor (From A Distant Shore23, Phillips, 2004, pp264-265).
In these first two extracts we can identify the same ideologemes that work to interweave spatialised poverty with the lower classes. The urban and moral decay of the working-class districts reflects that of the slums from earlier Victorian writers. They are dirty, uncared for by the residents, who, as a signifier of out-of-control bodies, even use the buildings as toilets. The motif of the feral dog highlights a lack of order or control. The closed church a signifier of an irreligious, and potentially immoral, local population. Poor consumption patterns are emphasised in the description of the unsuitable local shops, and more acutely in the implication of wasted money on alcohol and gambling, whilst poor diet choices are conflated with inadequate parenting skills. Each extract carries the signifiers of working-class patterns of behaviour and lifestyles and exhibit, embedded within them, the ideologemes identified in the previous section. In each of the novels the extracts are taken from, the writer has omitted any interrogation of the housing and environmental conditions of lower-income groups. There is no discussion on how or why the inhabitants live there, what economic or political factors that could have contributed to the assumed urban decay, or even if these estates are representative of all inner-city estates. As such, each extract carries the assumption that they are providing an accurate and normative representation of lower-income districts and their inhabitants. This supports the underlying assumption of a natural socio-cultural hierarchy and the implicit justification of economic and political exclusion. Another London responds by first allowing the reader to observe the condition of the Eldon estate and accepting the dilapidated nature of low-income districts, as seen in this extract from the opening of the novel:
His eyes followed the tarmac access roads that ran right angles between the rectangular concrete buildings and found the barren grass patch next to the overflowing bins. It was littered in takeaway wrappers, empty cans and bottles, and rolled up cigarette butts…Holding his breath past the damp corners, he raced down through the building three steps at a time (Crewe, 2016, p1-2).
In contrast to Phillips and Kureishi, the opening chapter of the novel continues to describe the estate through Dean’s eyes, where he unconsciously acknowledges the external factors – lack of investment and neglected duties by local government – that have contributed to the condition of the area, thereby recognising that the low-standards of living in low-income districts are not the sole choice or responsibility of their residents. This is demonstrated in the two extracts from the creative component below:
Everyone leaves their boxes and black bags on the floor. They try and put them in the bin, but there isn’t any space so they just put it next to it (Crewe, 2016, p5).
I climb through the U shape crack in the wall…There aren’t any lights and it’s pitch black. Mum said there used to be a park here, but they knocked it down to build another block. But there isn’t one. It’s just piles of rubbish and bricks and metal (Crewe, 2016, p55).
Another London uses typified descriptions of low-income areas, but undermines the blame narratives that position the working-class inhabitants as solely responsible. Instead it works to expose how politicians, those with the authority and power to change things at local and national levels, are also partly the cause of the problems associated with low-income areas.
In the extracts below, the typified portrayals of the working class are conflated with that of ethnicity in the construction of a white working class and white working-class characters. The first extract is taken from Monica Ali’s Brick Lane, first published in 2003. The book tells the story of a Bangladeshi woman’s life in London after coming to England to live with her husband. This extract is taken from the protagonist, Nazneem’s, early experiences of living on an east London council estate:
The tattoo lady had no curtains at all. Morning and afternoon she sat with her big thighs spilling over the sides of her chair, tipping forward to drop ash in a bowl, tipping back to slug from her can. She drank now, and tossed the can out of the window…She scratched her arms, her shoulders, the accessible portions of her buttocks. She yawned and lit a cigarette. At least two thirds of the flesh on show was covered in ink…The [designs] were ugly and made the tattoo lady more ugly than necessary, but the tattoo lady clearly did not care. Every time Nazneem saw her she wore the same look of boredom and detachment (From Brick Lane, Ali, 2007, p17-18).
Ali’s tattoo lady embodies the signifiers of lower-class lifestyles; poor consumption habits, excessive alcohol and nicotine abuse, overweight, badly dressed, ugly, lazy, and indifferent to it all. What sets this passage apart from the earlier extracts is the very visible contrast between the tattoo lady and the protagonist from Brick Lane, Nazneem; the attractive, curious, appearance-conscious, Bangladeshi immigrant, whose own henna tattoos are portrayed as an enhancement of her beauty. Implicit in this juxtaposition is the encoding of ethnicity onto white working-class patterns of behaviour and lifestyles. This early scene foregrounds the conflict between the Bangladeshi community’s ‘Bengal Tigers’ and the white working-class ‘Lion Hearts’ that appears later in the book. The latter are set up as demanding their right to use the community centre for pornography, drinking and gambling, whereas the former are purely in opposition to this, making more reasonable demands; no pornography, no drinking and no gambling. The white working-class community is represented through the ideologemes identified above, yet this time constructed as being in opposition to minority ethnic and immigrant groups, implicitly embedding racism in their cultural identity. This conflation of working-class identities with white working-class racism can be seen in many other examples taken from contemporary British fiction. The first of these returns to A Distant Shore,
Feroza was aware that her husband could no longer stomach the disrespectful confusion of running a restaurant. The sight of fat-bellied Englishmen and their slatterns rolling into The Khyber Pass after the pubs had closed, calling him Ranjit or Baboo or Swamp Boy, and using poppadoms as Frisbees, and demanding lager, and vomiting in his sinks, and threatening him with his own knives and their beery breath, and bellowing for mini-cabs and food that they were too drunk to see had already arrived on the table in front of them, was causing Mahmood to turn prematurely grey (From A Distant Shore, Phillips, 2004, p202).
In the extract above, racism is interwoven with poor consumption habits and excessive alcohol consumption, combined with violence and aggression. The extracts below further cement the inclusion of racism into the ideologemes that construct white working-class characters and culture:
The area in which Jamila lived was closer to London than our suburbs, and far poorer. It was full of neo-fascist groups. Thugs who had their own pubs and clubs and shops. On Saturdays they’d be out in the High Street selling their newspapers and pamphlets. They also operated outside the schools and colleges and football grounds, like Milwall and Crystal Palace. At night they roamed the streets, beating Asians and shoving shit and burning rags through their letter-boxes. Frequently the mean, white, hating faces had public meetings and the Union Jacks were paraded through the streets…The lives of Anwar and Jeeta and Jamila were pervaded by fear of violence. I’m sure it was something they thought about every day. Jeeta kept buckets of water around her bed in case the shop was fire-bombed in the night. Many of Jamila’s attitudes were inspired by the possibility that a white group might kill one of us one day (From The Buddha of Suburbia, Kureishi, 2009, p56)24.
The extract above combines the Dickens et al ideologeme of intertwining low-income locations with their inhabitants’ cultural inferiority, violence and immorality, with the notion of the intrinsic and organised racism of the white working class. Kureishi constructs violent racism as a symptom of cultural inferiority and conflates it with both poverty and white ethnicity. In response to the above, Another London uses the gang from Addington, in particular its leader Phillip Harris, as an example of the intrinsic racism that can be present in white working-class communities. A clear illustration for this is the scene where Dean asks Phillip Harris for a job:
‘Fucking shit hole, innit?’
…I follow his eyes and see the courtyard. It looks the same as mine. They all look the same to me…
‘Why’d anyone wanna live here? It’s full of scum. Pakis and fucking niggers everywhere.’…‘If I could, I’d skin every black fucker alive and set ‘em alight.’…‘I’d blow their arms and legs off and tell ‘em to swim back where they came from.’
‘Dean.’…‘Don’t forget you’re white.’
Fucking hell, I get it. He’s scared (Crewe, 2016, p100-101).
Whereas the extracts from Ali et al above indicate an intrinsic, irrational racism presented with little-to-no investigation as to why these opinions are held, Another London attempts to engage with the causes, whether justified or not, for the attitudes of characters such as Phillip Harris. The following extract taken from later in novel highlights the complex interplay between racism, social protest, legitimate concerns and perceived unfair treatment from those in power. During a chance encounter with Dean, Phillip Harris, the founder of the NDL, explains his position:
‘It don’t surprise me. When was the last time you heard of a white family getting a house round here?’…‘Everything’s going to the Muslims. Every last flat. Even the blacks are getting squeezed nowadays.’…‘You want to know why? ‘Cos the blokes at the top don’t really want them, do they?’…‘The rich people at the top let Muslims in because they want to pretend they’re sorry for all the stuff they did hundreds of years ago. But they don’t have to deal with them. They shove all the immigrants here and it’s honest white people like us who lose our rights as a result.’…‘And that’s it. They’re left here and forgotten by the Government. They all bunch together and don’t even try to join in with British culture. They don’t bother learning English, they just speak in paki to each other. You hear it on the bus and in the shops. It’s uncomfortable. It doesn’t feel like you’re in England anymore.’…‘But what gets me most is this Sharia law they want. It’s barbaric. All eye for an eye.’…‘For example. If they catch you stealing something, they’ll cut off your hand. Or if you blaspheme, they’ll rip out your tongue.’…‘If a woman gets raped, guess what, they blame her and stone her to death. You understand what I’m saying? You can rape up a woman and she’ll be the one who gets punished. You know what I’m saying? They’ll smash her to death with rocks with their own bare hands.’…‘Where’s the justice in that. It’s not a law. It’s evil. There ain’t a place in Britain for that’ (Crewe, 2016, p200-202).
The hypocrisy of middle- and upper-class blame narratives of innate racism amongst the white working class is exposed by Phillip Harris in this nuanced instruction to Dean about selling drugs to the white middle- and upper-class residents of the gentrified Brickworks:
He shouldn’t worry about the posh cunts from the Brickworks,…they were scared shitless of people from the estates…What’s more, they’d keep coming back, begging to buy more drugs from us, because what they were really, really terrified of doing, was going to the blacks for them (Crewe, 2016, p104-105).
Another London works to use and expose the ideologemes that conflate white poverty with that of innate, irrational racism and in doing so undermine the blame narratives that work to construct the white working class as the drivers of racism in Britain. This is clearly illustrated by the motif of white working-class characters, such as Dean and Georgina, recognising the contradictory arguments put forward by mainstream political and media elites when it comes to dealing with poverty, multiculturalism and racism.
And the talking heads on telly were no better. In one sentence they’d say we’re all equal, slag off the BFP and demand that we must respect everyone’s culture and religion. Then in the next breath, they’d go on about how headscarves should be banned and we should stop letting anyone with a different opinion in the country. No wonder the Muslim fuckers got it bad (Crewe, 2016, p168).
It made her sick to be deemed scum by the likes of the tabloid press, who’d chastise the white estate folks for concerns over Muslims and then run an article on the terrorist cell threat developing in every mosque in Britain (Crewe, 2016, p184).
Not only does Another London respond to contemporary literary portrayals of the white working class by exposing the embedded ideologemes in mainstream prose fiction, it also attempts to undermine the media and political blame narratives that work to uphold the elite’s assumed anti-racism – as well as their assumed ‘normal’ and ‘desirable’ lifestyles – by representing the white working class as being the drivers of racism and racist policies.
The construction of the white working-class identity as a set of signifiers can be seen in this extract from Caryl Phillips’ A Distant Shore:
Up ahead I see a group of four boys walking towards me. For a moment I consider turning about-face, but I do not wish to turn my back on them for I know they do not desire to use me well. It is better that I can see them. After all, I recognise them. They are strangely almost hairless, with egg-shaped heads and blue tattoos on their bare arms. They all wear polished boots, which suggests a uniform of some kind, but the rest of their clothes are ill-matched (Solomon/Gabriel describing his murderers in A Distant Shore, Phillips, 2004, p282).
In the above example, the signifiers of the white working-class subject are explicitly conflated with intrinsic violent racism, culminating in the racially motivated murder of Gabriel/Solomon, a refugee from Africa. Not only does Gabriel/Solomon ‘recognise them’, Phillips expects the assumed reader to as well. In Another London, recognition of type plays a central role in exposing the ideologemes that contemporary literary and media texts use to construct the white working-class identity. Dean’s first- and close third-person narration allows the implied middle- and upper-class reader to observe how members of a group they are likely to associate themselves with, recognise Dean as white working class and how they respond to the associated negative characteristics they assume him to have. The following extracts from the novel highlight three different moments that Dean is profiled as white working class by his appearance and therefore deviant, dangerous and racist. In the first extract, a group of women from the New Eldon Brickworks recognise Dean:
He heard some chatter from inside the Eldon Brickworks gate and watched as a group of three girls came out onto the main road. They were dressed down in jeans and T-shirts, their blonde hair let loose across their backs. They were playful and giggling, bouncing along the road arm in arm…One of the girls caught his gaze and pulled the rest in line. They threw him silent cautious glances and then hurried off along the street with their heads down (Crewe, 2016, p110).
In the second, it is a police officer who assumes Dean is with the NDL march:
‘Are you with them?’
The policewoman who was on the walkie talkie has come up behind us. I turn my head to follow her finger. She’s pointing at the bundle of people on Addington High Street (Crewe, 2016, p218).
In the final extract, the members of the anti-fascist PAF make the same assumption, prejudicing against Dean based on nothing more than his appearance. He is marginalised based on his socially constructed group identity, rather than judged as an individual:
More and more people are staring at me as they walk past…The ones on the other side of the alley are still shouting stuff I can’t make out, but all the others are giving me the proper evil eye…In the middle of the group a tall skinny young one slows down and he’s giving me a proper eyeballing…The skinny bloke pushes his way through towards me and some of the others are egging him on and whispering shit to him…Matey has got proper close now and is looking right down his nose at me…He snorts his nose, bends forward and spits on the ground in front of me (Crewe, 2016, p223-224).
Another London consciouslyexposes the ideologemes used in literary fiction as a means to undermine their assumed authenticity. This is in stark contrast to the literary extracts above which firmly embed racism into the lower-class ideologemes of Dickens et al, the feedback loops of which can clearly be seen in the representations of white working-class characters, communities and lifestyles. The mainstream media and political representations of the white working class as being violent, culturally inferior and the drivers of racism in England can be found throughout contemporary literature, confirming the argument that literature is complicit in the feedback loops of representation that work to exclude the white working class.
Most notable about the writers of the contemporary period is that although they are consciously interrogating racialised constructions of minority ethnic and immigrant characters and lifestyles, their, conscious or unconscious, embedding and conflation of racist and working-class ideologemes actually work to racialise the white working class. As such, contemporary writers feed back into the white middle- and upper-class hegemonic structures that keep narrative literature intrinsically linked to the socio-cultural construction of classed identities. The ideologemes that permeate contemporary literature work to construct the white working class as violent, culturally inferior and the main drivers of racism, are the same ideologemes that work to reaffirm the writer’s and assumed reader’s25 class as ‘other’ to the white working class, nonviolent, culturally superior and anti-racist. Therefore, justifying the restricted access to channels of literary representation for marginalised groups, such as the white working class.
The creative component of the novel attempts to address this paucity of a white working-class literary voice, specifically a voice from the study period and location. The novel consciously works with and against prevailing typifications of white working-class characters and lifestyles in order to interrogate the writing and rewriting through interpretation process as a socially symbolic act, confronting the prevailing assumptions of the dominant politico-cultural class about the lives and voices of the white working class. Thus, exposing the literary ideologemes that feedback into mainstream media and political representation of the white working class, and at the same time opening a space in the public arena for that excluded group to speak. Another London’s aims are similar to those of Monica Ali in Brick Lane, where the novel works to ‘provide a textual space in which the subaltern can speak,…an alternative form and medium through which that voice might be heard. [Where the writer] can produce a representative voice by adopting the marginalised position of the subaltern’ (Bentley, 2008, p85). A recent example that consciously interrogates the identity construction and politics of working-class inner-city life is Courttia Newland’s Society Within. Newland creates individual voices, each character with their own concerns and identity, where the ‘individual narratives build to show a discrete subcultural community that has its own lifestyles, concerns and ethical and moral frameworks’ (Bentley, 2008, p75; See also Chapter Three). As with Ali’s Brick Lane, Newland’s Society Within works to expose the hidden voices that exist in culturally rich and developed working-class urban communities. They both purposely interrogate typified representations of these low-income spaces and communities in order to open debate in the public arena for these hidden voices to be heard. However, neither novel investigates the role of the white working-class residents beyond that of the ideologemes examined above. Essentially, the creative component of this thesis attempts the same feat as Brick Lane and Society Within, but from the perspective of the white working-class subject and community. Another London aims to open up the space left by this gap in contemporary British fiction originating from the study period and location by exposing the hidden potential of the white working-class voice, which is as nuanced and complex as any other, and cannot and should not be reduced to a derogative stereotype. As Dean highlights in Part Six whilst talking to Ghalia after the fire:
I look at her hand in mine. It looks black against my pink mitt. But it’s the same shape. It’s got four fingers and a thumb. It’s what’s around us that makes the difference. Under her Paki dress she’s got a pussy and tits just like Georgina. She shits and pisses and has the painters in every month. We all do…Paki dresses and headscarves and suits and doors and rules and underwear and stupid cunts spouting off rubbish makes the differences…We hide the fact that we’re all the same and all equal. People like Phil Harris. Cunts like Al Queerdo who blew up the twin towers and the tube. I fucking hate them. I want to tell Ghalia. I want her to know that we’re not that. That I know she’s not that.
‘The NDL ain’t England. Don’t let it change you. It ain’t us. It ain’t like what it says on the telly. That’s not me’ (Crewe, 2016,
Chapter 3 – The use of first- and third-person narration in Another London As discussed in the previous chapter, the creative component attempts to rectify the lack of white working-class voices in contemporary literature, specifically from the study period and location. By interrogating typified representations of white working-class characters through the use and exposure of the ideologemes identified in Chapter Two, the novel seeks to challenge prevailing assumptions about white working-class lifestyles and behaviour that are commonly held by the dominant politico-cultural class.
Before a more detailed discussion can be provided, it is important to acknowledge a potential criticism that could be levied against the creative component, that of its authorship from within the British university system. It could be argued that there is an inherent contradiction for an author writing about a social group who have limited access to channels of self-representation whilst the author himself is working from a privileged position within the dominant politico-literary hierarchy, a process which could be seen as an ideological ‘instrument to stabilize the political balance and to reproduce social inequality’ (Hakemulder, 2004, p196; see also van Dijk, 1993). In response, this thesis argues that the intention of the creative component is not to claim omniscient insight or authority to represent the white working class, but rather to expose the dominant narrative ideologemes within British literary fiction that work to homogenise white working-class groups. As such, the novel attempts to individualise members of a marginalised group in a similar way to Monica Ali in Brick Lane (2003), Courttia Newland in Society Within (1999) and Caryl Phillips in A Distant Shore (2003), by providing ‘a textual space…[where the writer] can produce a representative voice by adopting the marginalised position’ (Bentley, 2008, p85). By exposing and interrogating dominant forms of white working-class representation, and by presenting individuated portrayals of white working-class characters, this thesis attempts to force a re-evaluation of the blame narratives and class disgust that are used to justify socio-cultural and financial inequality. Thus the creative component’s aim, in common with organisations such as The Sutton Trust and Joseph Rowntree Foundation26, is to open up public debate on access to, and control of, channels of representation, with the ultimate goal of developing greater democratic participation in modes of self-representation for members of the white working class, and, as a result, other marginalised groups.
In The Political Unconscious, Fredric Jameson argues that ‘the production of aesthetic or narrative form is to be seen as an ideological act in its own right, with the function of inventing imaginary or formal "solutions" to unresolvable social contradictions’ (Jameson, 2010, p64). As such, the process of writing the creative component can be analysed in terms of it being a socially symbolic act, whereby the inclusion and usage of ideologemes can be exposed and interrogated alongside the author’s interpretation of the socio-political order. The process by which the author approached the writing of the novel consciously acknowledged Jameson’s proposition. Before constructing the narrative or developing any characters, the author did extensive research into the socio-cultural and politico-economic background of white working-class groups over the study period and location, which culminated in Chapter One of the critical component of this thesis. From this vantage point, the author wrote the creative component, allowing storylines and characters to develop out of the research and to evolve through the writing process itself, in terms of plot and narrative technique, creating meaning through the relationship between the real world of the research and that of the fictional world of the novel. Narrative texts are not individual entities, but exist within the wider body of the literary canon, reflecting the social order in which they were written (Jameson, 2010). As such, it is possible to trace and identify recurrent ideologemes that have permeated literary texts through to contemporary authors. Analysing the creative component using the same technique allows this thesis to identify, expose and interrogate recurrent ideologemes within the creative component, whilst at the same time locating the text within the contemporary canon.
A parallel example of this process can be seen in Courttia Newland’s Society Within. In the first chapter, a gang of black boys who live on an estate are described when the female protagonist, Elisha, first encounters them:
She peered to her left and saw a group of boys loafing, their hands in their pockets, cracking jokes, smoking and sipping from bottles of Dragon Stout…The youths began to call.
‘What’m baybi! Baybi!’
‘Ay – ay, don’t go on like dat! Yuh lookin’ nice y’nuh star! Me only waan chat t’yuh, wha’ gwaan?’
Ignoring their cries, Elisha walked on…, but as she was a newcomer their hormones would be screaming at them to ‘try a ting’ (Newland, 2000, pp7-8).
The gang are initially constructed in terms of typified lower-class black characters; unemployed, lazy, sexually promiscuous, with poor consumption habits demonstrated through their alcohol and tobacco use, all intensified through the juxtaposition of the stereotypical lower-class black ‘street’ dialect and the ‘correct’ use of English in the descriptive prose. Yet, throughout the rest of the book, Newland works to undermine these signifiers by differentiating the boys, individuating their narratives to reveal a unique ‘subcultural community that has its own lifestyles, concerns and ethical and moral frameworks’ (Bentley, 2008, p75). Through the identification of the ideologemes that construct working-class characters, Newland is able to interrogate typified representations and force a re-evaluation of assumptions about the lifestyles of poor black communities living on inner-city estates. The creative component of this thesis attempts the same feat for white working-class communities living in comparable conditions. As with the characters depicted in Society Within, the creative component works to individuate the white working-class characters, most specifically Dean, the protagonist, in order to force a re-evaluation of the hegemonic social order that posits the white working class as a culturally inferior group, whose socio-economic exclusion is a lifestyle choice, rather than a result of systemic inequality.
Given the construction in media, politics and literature of white working-class lifestyles and behaviours as culturally inferior (see Chapters One and Two), the creative component consciously acknowledges, and works to counter, assumptions about white working-class characters held by the imagined middle-class reader. As Wayne Booth claims in The Rhetoric of Fiction: ‘If an author wants intense sympathy for characters who do not have strong virtues to recommend them, then the psychic vividness of prolonged and deep inside views will help’ (Booth, 1983, pp377-378, original italics). In other words, the individualisation of a marginalised voice moves the character beyond the sociological and into the psychological, the point where representational meaning can occur in narrative, in the sense that ‘the psychological impulse tends toward the presentation of highly individualised figures who resist abstraction and generalisation, and whose motivation is not susceptible to rigid ethical interpretation’ (Scholes et al, 2006, p101; see also Currie, 2010 and Jameson, 2010). The novel’s conscious attempt to shift perceptions from a typified reading of white working-class characters to a de-homogenised, individuated reading, works to exploit Jameson’s concept of rewriting texts through the interpretation process (See Jameson, 2010 and Chapter Two), where the reader’s ‘real-life’ assumptions about the lifestyles and behaviours of white working-class groups are exposed and challenged through their own interpretation of the characters’ lifestyles, behaviour and choices within the ‘fictional-world’ of the text.
Howard Sklar, in The Art of Sympathy in Fiction: Forms of Ethical and Emotional Persuasion, claims that emotions, in particular sympathy and compassion, felt by a reader in response to a fictional character can have ‘ethical implications beyond the experience of reading itself…[Although] directed towards imaginary individuals, they may lay a foundation for emotional and ethical sensitivity in real life’ (Sklar, 2013, p9; See also Hakemulder, 2004 and Kuiken et al, 2004). This process allows the reader to recognise the emotional and psychological experience of a character, providing a route to identification and re-evaluation of pre-existing assumptions about a person/character from a particular excluded/’other’ group. Although readers will possess existing ‘interpretive frames and experiences to the reading of a given text, the narrative itself provides its own counterweight to personal presumptions by “persuading” readers to feel and to evaluate characters in particular ways’ (Sklar, 2013, p59). According to Gregory Currie (2010) in Narratives and Narrators: A Philosophy of Stories, this re-framing of the reader’s interpretive perspective will not only involve a re-evaluation of a character’s behaviour and lifestyle choices, but also a re-evaluation of the reader’s systems of belief in relation to the character’s social group. As with Booth and Sklar, Currie argues that ‘sustained imaginative engagement with a vividly expressed and highly individuated mental economy through a long and detailed narrative can…be expected to have…finely-tuned imitative consequences, with correspondingly powerful results in terms of framing’ (Currie, 2010, p104). Narratologists have regularly pointed to focalisation27, ‘seeing’ from a character’s perspective, as a technique to achieve this re-framing effect, inducing the reader to view the narrative from a perspective that is not their own (Sklar, 2013; See also Bal, 2009 and Fludernik, 2009). Sklar suggests that this re-framing effect is similar to the process of defamiliarisation, where readers are forced to reassess their ‘familiar’ assumptions about the fictional/real world as a result of shifts in perspective of the narrative’s focalisor, which ‘may challenge readers to re-construct their representations of that character’s feelings or attitudes’ (Sklar, 2013, p69). Kuiken et al (2004) discuss a set of phenomenological studies they undertook to investigate how defamiliarisation can lead to what they call ‘self-modifying feelings’ in the readers of literary texts (See also Miall and Kuiken, 199928):
At times, readers of literary texts find themselves participating in an unconventional flow of feelings through which they realize something that they have not previously experienced—or at least that they have not experienced in the form provided by the text. When this occurs, the imagined world of the text can become unsettling. What is realized (recognized) also may become realized (made real) and carried forward as a changed understanding of the reader’s own life-world (Kuiken et al, 2004, pp268-269).
The novel uses stylistic techniques to complement and augment this effect, in particular the shift in perspective from third-person to first-person narration29. Firstly, as discussed above, the prolonged access to first-person, psychologically-motivated internal narration gives the impression that the character has a more highly developed sense of self-determination, distancing them from the external perspective, in the sense of them being the product of an author (Currie, 2010). Secondly, the changes in perspective act as a stylistic technique to induce defamiliarisation from the reader’s real-world experience and expectations, forcing them to re-evaluate their pre-existing notions of the character. This is achieved through the formalistic shift in point of view, but also as a result of the shift in focalisation from the ‘dual-voice’30 narrator of the third-person perspective to the individualised voice of the first-person character-narrator.
An example of this process can be seen in Caryl Phillips’ novel A Distant Shore where the story of Solomon/Gabriel, an African refugee, is narrated in both the first and third-person. The formalistic shift augments the defamiliarisation that is induced by the sympathy and compassion that Phillips’ elicits from the reader by shifting their perspective/assumptions about refugees’ lifestyles, morality and choices from the external to the internal, thus forcing the reader to re-evaluate their pre-existing notions about real-life asylum seekers. Through first-person narration, Phillips allows a distanced reader to experience the trauma of war through the eyes of Solomon/Gabriel and therefore to understand why he wants to escape. He is shown to be hardworking and conscientious rather than the perceived notion of an asylum seeker who gets ‘something for nothing’. Phillips, through first-person narration, manages to elicit sympathy, compassion and understanding from the reader by allowing them to feel the discrimination Solomon/Gabriel faces from his point of view. Thus, Phillips potentially shifts the reader’s opinion of refugees and their plight.
The creative component of this thesis attempts the same process for white working-class individuals through the internalised first-person narration of the protagonist, Dean. A clear example of this can be seen in Part Five of the novel where Dean and his sons get caught between the opposing rallies of the National Defence League (NDL) and People Against Fascism (PAF). As the PAF march passes Dean, one of their members spits at his feet, insinuating that he is part of the NDL and therefore racist. This accusation is made based on Dean’s physical appearance and dress, thereby profiling Dean as sharing, or at least complicit in, the NDL’s belief system. As discussed in Chapter One, the majority of media and political representations of the white working class repeatedly position that group as the cause and perpetrators of white racism in Britain, as opposed to the non-racist white elites of the middle- and upper-classes. These typified representations form the pre-existing consensus and assumption of middle-class lifestyles, behaviours and cultures as being normal and desirable. As discussed in Chapter Two, the imagined reader of this thesis, as positioned by the creative component, is from the socio-politically dominant middle- and upper-classes, meaning that their interpretive framework for reading literary texts is formed by the dominant, normalised and desirable, socio-cultural behaviours and lifestyles which they see themselves as, and the white working class as not, adhering to. By narrating this scene from Dean’s internalised first-person perspective, the creative component works to force a re-evaluation of the pre-existing assumptions about the white working class that the reader may hold. Firstly, as it does throughout the book, the narration shifts from third to first person. This stylistic technique provides a technical augmentation of the defamiliarisation that the scene, as narrated from Dean’s perspective, creates in the reader. The implied middle-class reader associates themselves with an anti-racist stance (See Chapter One), which in the context of the fictional world is in line with that of the PAF members. By narrating from Dean’s ‘outsider’ point of view, the reader is positioned outside of their familiar ‘real-world’ perspective and distanced from the group they assume to share, in part, a belief system with. This shift from the third-person ‘dual-voice’ to the first-person character narration also works to distance the reader from their implicit identification with the third-person narrator/author, who is seen to occupy a similar position to the reader in the socio-cultural hierarchy. This process alters the way the reader interacts with the narrative, from spectating the third-person narration to identification with the character in first-person narration (Oatley, 1999; See also van Peer and Pander Maat, 1996). Identification with an individuated character can elicit emotions of sympathy and compassion from the reader, enforcing them to re-evaluate their judgements of the character within the fictionalised world. As discussed above, these self-modifying feelings can instigate changes in the reader’s attitudes to parallel/comparable real-life situations. In the case of the creative component, the reader’s assumptions about white working-class communities, as depicted in the typified representations of the white working class by those with access to channels of representation, are exposed and challenged, forcing the reader to re-evaluate their pre-existing beliefs and assumptions about the lifestyles of the white working class, and, as a result, interrogate the systems that maintain socio-cultural, political and economic inequality. Being able to ‘see’ and ‘feel’ the scene unfold from Dean’s point of view provides the reader with an alternative, defamiliarised perspective of the situation as ‘seen’ and ‘felt’ by a member of a marginalised group. As opposed to typified representations of white working-class characters such as Keith Talent from London Fields, the character of Dean is self-aware with a nuanced interiority that allows him to question his own behaviour, his position in society and the world around him. He is neither feckless or lazy, but rather a hardworking, responsible father who exists as best he can within the socio-economic landscape that he is born into, rather than the assumed ‘normal’ and ‘desirable’ socio-economic world of the middle and upper classes from which he is restricted access to. Thus the white working class are de-homogenised, Dean becomes an individual, distanced from stereotypical generalisations, and the reader re-evaluates their previously held assumptions about people from white working-class communities.
As discussed above, the creative component’s shifting perspective between third- and first-person narration is a stylistic technique that augments the defamiliarisation process. It has also been argued that first-person narration creates stronger identification between the reader and the character as opposed to when a character’s thoughts and ‘feelings are reported by someone else (usually an invisible narrator) who implicitly claims to have access to the character’s inner world’ (van Peer and Pander Maat, 1996, p144). The second of these points also contains a further reason for the creative component’s use of both third- (more specifically, free indirect discourse31) and first-person narration, that of the author/narrator’s implied claim to intimate knowledge of the character’s thoughts and feelings. As mentioned in Chapter Two, it has been argued by a number of critics that free indirect discourse is misleading in its proclaimed objective omniscience, and that it reifies, unavoidably, the existing hegemonic social order (Jameson, 2013; For further examples see Richardson, 2006, particularly his discussion of Phillipe Sollers’ novel Drame (1965)). Another criticism of free indirect discourse, centred around the assumption that the third-person narrator is able to know and imitate a character’s voice, thoughts and feelings in order to create identification and emotional response in the reader, is made by Gregory Currie who argues that the author/narrator’s implicit claim that character-orientated narration in free indirect discourse has a direct emphatic effect is potentially false: ‘it is not universally true that character-oriented narration raises to salience the point of view of that character; it may have the effect of raising to salience the perspective of the other character, the one we empathize with’ (Currie, 2010, p145)32. Following the discussion above, that a reader’s emotional interaction and response to a literary text can have implications beyond the fictional world of the narrative, Currie’s argument could also be extended in the same way. The author/narrator’s ability to shift the emphatic effect onto another character whilst seemingly appearing to imitate/have intimate knowledge of the protagonist’s voice, thoughts and feelings can have the effect of reinforcing an opposing point of view to that of the main character. This becomes important when the protagonist is a member of a marginalised group and the shifting emphatic effect may end up reproducing and reinforcing ‘familiar’ and ‘normalised’ feelings towards that character, and by extension their (‘fictional’ and equivalent ‘real’) social group, which in turn works towards the ‘maintenance and legitimation of dominant power and ideologies’ (van Dijk, 1993, p125). It could be argued that even if ideological stances are a part of free indirect discourse, they may not inherently favour any particular socio-cultural or political bias (Richardson, 2006). However, as this thesis argues in Chapter Two (and indirectly in Chapter One), British literary fiction is disproportionately dominated (written, distributed and consumed) by the middle and, to a lesser extent, upper classes. Therefore, the use of free indirect discourse when depicting characters from a marginalised group will disproportionately result in the (conscious and unconscious) reproduction of ideologemes that reinforce the existing socio-cultural and politico-economic hegemonic order. As such, the creative component’s combined use of third- and first-person narration works to undermine this process by exposing the class-based ideologemes found in free indirect discourse through the foregrounding of stylistic techniques that induce a defamiliarisation process in the reader.
The creative component exploits the nature of realist fiction by portraying aspects of a world familiar to the reader that are ‘perceived as part of a conceptual frame and ultimately integrated into the world the readers know’ (Fludernik, 2009, p55). Its narrative meaning is established though the relationship between a reader’s response, the author’s conscious and unconscious intentions, and the stylistic construction of the literary text itself (Nunning, 2008). In this way the novel works to create a connection between its fictional world and the real world of the reader, predominantly by eliciting emotional responses through first-person narration and defamiliarisation techniques (Sklar, 2013). That the creative component is a prose fiction literary text is central to this thesis in the sense that literature is a unique medium, compared to other narrative forms such as film or theatre, in its ability to portray thoughts and feelings from directly within the character through techniques such as first-person narration, which create identification with a marginalised, ‘outsider’ character, forcing a re-evaluation of a reader’s beliefs and assumptions about that character, and, as result, the fictional and real socio-cultural group to which the character belongs. As Miall and Kuiken (1999) conclude from the results of a number of empirical studies they undertook: ‘during literary reading, the perspectives that we have, perhaps unthinkingly, acquired from our culture are especially likely to be questioned…This points to the adaptive value of literature in reshaping our perspectives and providing us with greater flexibility, especially by impelling us to reconsider our system of convictions and values’ (Miall and Kuiken, 1999, p127). Through the de-homogenising of an marginalised group and the individuating of characters from that group, the novel aims to reshape assumptions and to force a re-evaluation of how that group fits into the socio-cultural and politico-economic hierarchy of a democratic country.
Conclusion In 2015, novelist Tim Lott, the son of a West London greengrocer, wrote an article for the Guardian criticising the lack of white working-class writers and novels from London and the South of England in general: ‘It is as if the working class south of Manchester does not exist in literary terms, despite London and the south-east containing some of the worst areas of deprivation in Europe’ (Lott, 2015). In 1999, his novel White City Blue was published, a critical and commercial success that went on to win the Whitbread Award for Best First Novel. The book tells the story of Francis Blue who, similar to Lott, is a white working-class man who grew up in inner West London. The protagonist, the son of a coal man, has managed to gain a university degree and is a successful and affluent estate agent. His three friends, whose relationships with Francis are the focus of the novel, are all from the white working class; Nodge - a taxi driver, Tony - a hairdresser, and Colin - a low-level I.T. worker. It might be expected that a writer from a white working-class background, who grew up in inner London and has recently been openly critical of the restrictions white working-class writers and stories face from the publishing industry, would be conscious to avoid clichéd or stereotypical representations of white working-class communities and individuals. Yet, the ideologemes identified in Chapters One and Two of this thesis can be found embedded in White City Blue. One such example from the book comes when Francis describes the White City Estate when he visits Colin who lives there:
the smell of chips and junk-fed babies, small cascades of ripped and discarded lottery tickets, rattling beer cans sucked dry by collapsing scumbags (Lott, 2000, p89).
Similar to the descriptions of working-class districts seen in the work of writers from Charles Dickens through to Caryl Phillips, the estate reflects the culturally inferior lifestyles of the residents. Lott constructs them as disgusting with the use of the derogatory term ‘scumbag’, poor consumers with the reference to chips, alcohol and ‘junk’, petty gamblers and bad parents. His prose, similar to Amis, caricaturises the estate residents, going beyond pure visual description and thus invoking vivid judgemental assumptions through embedded ‘known’, rather than ‘seen’, tropes. Lott continues the theme with Francis worrying that the children on the estate are going to attack him, damage his BMW or steal his computer, adding criminality to the list of identifiers of estate inhabitants. He describes his potential assailant as a ‘white Reeboked, stone-washed, malnourished welfare burden’ (Lott, 2000, p89). In this description Lott adds the signifiers of dress and appearance to the list of deficiencies that are ascribed to the poor. Finally, by calling the estate residents ‘welfare burden’, he includes feckless, lazy and unemployed to characteristics that complete the novel’s representation of working-class estate residents. Most apparent is the anticipation of the ‘strivers’ and ‘skivers’ narrative, the modern equivalent to the deserving and undeserving poor, which has been used by the elite from at least the time of the industrial revolution through to the modern era. Lott’s usage of these ideologemes re-affirms that cultural assimilation, the acceptance of middle- and upper-class lifestyles as ‘normal’ and ‘desirable’, is the only way to improve oneself and escape, what is defined by the ideologemes as, an inferior class. Francis’s financial success and assumption of middle-class consumer habits and behaviours is constructed in the novel as positive and desirable. The residents of the estate, the class Francis has left behind, are constructed as negative, deviant and inferior. Thus re-enforcing the socio-cultural, and as a result the politico-economic, hierarchy.
The creative component of this thesis consciously works to confront and expose ideologemes such as those found in White City Blue. Dean, the protagonist, grows up on the inner city Eldon estate which in many ways conforms to the identifiers found in other literary texts. It is uncared-for, messy and dilapidated, but in Another London the description of the estate, caused by lack of local authority investment rather than inhabitants desiring their neighbourhood to be in poor condition, is not used to reflect the residents’ behaviour and lifestyle choices. Instead, the novel works to represent an alternative culture that exists within its means and the systemic restrictions placed upon it by the elite. For example, Dean for the most part of the book is unemployed in the conventional sense, yet he is far from feckless. He rejects unfair and discriminatory ‘zero-hour’ contracts33 that target those in poverty (yet are accepted by the UK government) and instead displays his entrepreneurial, and to an extent community-minded, temperament by doing shopping runs for the elderly estate residents to earn his living. When he works for the gang from Addington as a drug dealer, he doesn’t do so because he has a commitment to their ideology or because he purposely wants to break the law, rather it is because he has little opportunity to earn a living through legitimate means. It also shows Dean’s industrious nature, he works long and unsociable hours in order to earn money to contribute to supporting his family. From a middle- and upper-class perspective, Dean is an unemployed criminal, but viewed from the perspective of those living in poverty with few opportunities for social mobility, Dean is a hardworking and responsible father.
As with any piece of research, there are limitations to the scope of the critical component of this thesis. Although discussing them in the Introduction, the concept of white ethnicity, class and gender and their representation in media, politics and contemporary literature would be an area that could be investigated further (See Byrne, 2006). Another such area is that of class and language use. This thesis discusses how portrayals of improper, non-standard English use have been exploited by authors such as Gissing and Amis to ridicule the working class, within the context of a collection of ideologemes that permeate literary texts, as well as media and political representations of the (white) working class. The role of language use and dialect as a barrier to social mobility has been the subject of a number of papers (For examples see Charlesworth, 2000; Milroy, 2007), yet it would be worthwhile investigating how this manifests itself in contemporary literature from the study period and location34. In a similar way to how Courttia Newland in Society Within explores the non-standard language use of working-class black teenagers living on an inner-city London estate, the characters and voices of the creative component were influenced by the critical research into both (white) working-class communities and voices, and how they have been ridiculed by authors such as Gissing and Amis. However, a full survey of contemporary (white) working-class dialects and their representation in contemporary literature sits outside the scope of this thesis. Therefore, further research on how the voices of the London-based white working class are represented in literature would be a natural extension to this thesis, both in terms of creative and critical output.
Like Francis Blue, I grew up in a white working-class family. My father was a farmhand and subsequently a school caretaker, my mother was a part-time cleaner and full-time housewife. The main difference between myself and Francis Blue is that I grew up in rural Dorset, rather than urban inner London. Rural poverty and urban poverty are experienced in very different ways35, something I recognised when living for three years on a predominantly white working-class council estate in inner North London. I have lived in white working-class communities for the majority of my life and have seen the way this group is represented in media and politics, especially when these portrayals appear to caricature and ridicule people that I know personally, family members and friends, people who I recognise as having very little opportunity to represent themselves in the public arena, or even the right to reply to media and political elite’s typified representations. It is for these reasons that I wanted to write this thesis, to open up wider public debate about the right to democratic access to channels of self-representation for members of the white working class, and by extension every marginalised group.
While writing the creative component, I had two major considerations. The first was the recognition of the complex and fluid nature of my own social status. Through the UK’s university system, I’ve managed to gain academic qualifications, culminating in this PhD thesis, which have given me the potential for a successful career, social mobility and the ability to move out of the working class. I’m currently employed as a University Lecturer, a far more middle-class profession than traditional working-class jobs. This transition in my socio-cultural and economic status is similar to that of Tim Lott’s who, although having written two London-based novels36 set amongst the working class, now describes himself as ‘no longer working class… [with] little idea what life in the poorer parts of England is like any more’ (Lott, 2015). This recognition of class shift suggests that both myself and Tim Lott must re-evaluate whether we consider ourselves to be working- or middle-class writers. However, I would argue that these two positions do not reflect the state of flux writers such as myself or Tim Lott find ourselves in. Lott described this situation in an article for The Guardian: ‘In leaving the working class, I have always been living somewhat on the outside of the middle – no longer of the milieu in which I grew up, yet never quite fitting in to the social level to which I was "rising"’ (Lott, 2014). Yet, rather than ‘not fitting’ in either social class, I see myself as a writer - and Another London as a novel - bridging the gap between the two. Having grown up in a working-class family and environment, my experiences of working-class lifestyles and behaviours are first hand and, although the working-class characters of Another London are presented in a middle- and upper-class medium, they are not written from a middle-class perspective. I cannot claim to be the voice of the working class, but I can claim to be a voice from the working class, who is communicating within an elitist form. Although my social-cultural status has shifted and will continue to shift further, and my work as a writer and the subjects I explore are likely to reflect that change, the experiences and memories of growing up amongst the working class cannot be altered. As such, they will always offer a genuine and authentic working class voice, even if my social class is both fluid and complex.
The second major consideration I had, was the fact that I cannot claim authority to represent a particular group, even though I was born into, what would be categorised, as that group. One reason is that no group, such as the white working class, is homogenous. The concept of consigning people to a group is contentious at best and should be viewed with caution, hence the ‘fuzzy set’ definition of the white working class used by this thesis. As individuals we do not experience interactions with a group, we experience interactions with other individuals. It is this concept that I’ve attempted to address with the novel, to de-homogenise the concept of the white working class, to individuate members of this group and to show thsat as individuals they are not so different than any other individual from any other ethnicity, gender or class, particularly when it comes to non-monetary concerns such as hopes, fears, aspirations and internal conflicts. Typified representations obscure this and work to create difference between groups, resulting in demonisation, exclusion and the acceptance of inequality by those with the power to change the situation. Ultimately it enforces cultural assimilation as the only route to social mobility, rather than finding cultural similarities with which to work towards integration and a more democratic society.
Through the process of de-homogenisation, we re-humanise and individuate others. People who were previously seen as nothing more than an identikit member of a particular group, possessing only the characteristics assumed of that group, become individuals. And it is far harder to discriminate against an individual than it is a group who have been constructed as degenerate, undeserving, feckless, racist, criminal, culturally inferior and even disgusting. As such, this thesis works to question the exclusion of groups such as the white working class and to work towards removing the barriers to socio-cultural and politico-economic equality. It is important to note that this thesis does not argue that middle- and upper-class lifestyles and behaviours are wrong, rather that the lifestyles, behaviours and cultures of working-class groups are not inferior to them. The purpose of the creative component has been to open up this debate in the mind of the individual reader, to have them question their assumptions about the behaviours and lifestyles of the white working class, and to re-evaluate the socio-economic hierarchy that is re-enforced through negative, typified representations of those living in poverty.
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