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Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class

Bestselling investigation into the myth and reality of working-class life in contemporary Britain
In modern Britain, the working class has become an object of fear and ridicule. From Little Britain’s Vicky Pollard to the demonization of Jade Goody, media and politicians alike dismiss as feckless, criminalized and ignorant a vast, underprivileged swathe of society whose members have become stereotyped by one, hate-filled word: chavs.

In this acclaimed investigation, Owen Jones explores how the working class has gone from “salt of the earth” to “scum of the earth.” Exposing the ignorance and prejudice at the heart of the chav caricature, he portrays a far more complex reality. The chav stereotype, he argues, is used by governments as a convenient fig leaf to avoid genuine engagement with social and economic problems and to justify widening inequality.

When Chavs was first published in 2011 it opened up the discussion of class in Britain. Then, in the public debate after the riots of that summer, Owen Jones’s thesis was proved right—the working class were the scapegoats for everything that was wrong with Britain.

This new edition includes a new chapter, reflecting on the overwhelming response to the book and the situation in Britain today.

Reviews

  • “A passionate and well-documented denunciation of the upper-class contempt for the proles that has recently become so visible in the British class system.”
  • “Timely … Jones seeks to explain how, thanks to politics, the working class has shifted from being regarded as ‘the salt of the earth’ to ‘the scum of the earth.’”
  • “Persuasively argued, and packed full of good reporting and useful information … Jones makes an important contribution to a revivified debate about class.”
  • “A work of passion, sympathy and moral grace.”
  • “A lively, well-reasoned and informative counterblast to the notion that Britain is now more or less a classless society.”
  • “Eloquent and impassioned.”
  • “A bold attempt to rewind political orthodoxies; to reintroduce class as a political variable … it moves in and out of postwar British history with great agility, weaving together complex questions of class, culture and identity with a lightness of touch. Jones torches the political class to great effect.”
  • “Superb and angry.”
  • “Seen in the light of the riots and the worldwide Occupy protests, his lucid analysis of a divided society appears uncannily prescient.”
  • “As with all the best polemics, a luminous anger backlights his prose.”
  • “A trenchant exposure of our new class hatred and what lies behind it.”
  • “The stereotyping and hatred of the working class in Britain, documented so clearly by Owen Jones in this important book, should cause all to flinch. Reflecting our high levels of inequality, the stigmatization of the working class is a serious barrier to social justice and progressive change.”
  • “Jones's analysis of the condition of the working class is very astute … A book like this is very much needed for the American scene, where the illusion is similarly perpetuated by the Democrats that the middle-class is all that matters, that everyone can aspire to join the middle-class or is already part of it.”
  • “Everybody knows what a chav is, it seems, but no one is a chav. But then it's a word unlike any other in current usage... A new book, Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class, by first-time author Owen Jones … has thrown the word into the spotlight all over again.”
  • “A blinding read.”
  • “[A] thought-provoking examination of a relatively new yet widespread derogatory characterization of the working class in Britain … edifying and disquieting in equal measure.”
  • “A fiery reminder of how the system has failed the poor.”
  • “Impassioned and thought-provoking … I genuinely hope his voice is heard.”
  • “Passionate, angry and articulate, Chavs rail[s] against the cynical slandering, by politicians and the media, of working people.”
  • “What makes Chavs a work of art is precisely [its] power of demonstrating the deceptive nature of the premise of an all-encompassing neo–middle class. Far from being classless, British society is defined by an effort to undermine and demonize the underprivileged.”
  • “A highly readable and very important book.”
  • “A long overdue look at the state of the class war in Britain today.”
  • “Reminds us of the potential political and economic power that exists largely untapped in British society.”

Blog

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    Drawing from examples from the history of British post-War immigration policy, Wail Qasim considers the relationship between racism, economic migration and state policy. Wail Qasim is a writer and campaigner. They tweet @WailQ.


    In the absolute furore that has followed Britain’s decision to leave the EU, there is one clear issue that has emerged as the central concern: immigration. Those from across Europe, who chose to build lives and lay down roots here in the UK, have now been sent a clear message of hostility from this country. Indeed, anyone who appears foreign to Britons is now a possible target for racial abuse and assault in public, whilst property owned by supposed foreigners, such as the Polish Social and Cultural Association and Kashmir Meat and Poultry, a halal butcher in Walsall, have also come under attack.

    All the while, the referendum has triggered multiple stages of official discussion over the lives of immigrants. Throughout the campaign, people were used as political bargaining chips, and now, whilst also suffering from an increase in racist harassment, continue to be fodder for negotiations between both parties at home and state leaders across Europe. It is difficult not to think that this will be used as an opportunity to tighten the nets of our immigration system more widely, affecting all those who rely on a precarious right to be in the country.

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  • The Myth and Reality of Brexit and Migrants

    Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi is a journalist and writer-in-residence at Lacuna. Through interviews with Thamer, a Syrian refugee, and Mahalia, a survivor of domestic violence and migrant, Omonira-Oyekanmi demystifies two common narratives in the Brexit campaigns that play on anxieties around immigration and resources. 

    The official campaign to leave the European Union was based on two xenophobic myths, woven into public discussion. Subtlety was unnecessary because these ideas around immigration had been decades in the making: the media led the narrative, the public understood it and politicians whipped it out whenever things got tricky.

    Myth One: Take Back Control

    The first myth was that leaving the EU would shield Britain from the refugee crisis and stem the flow of people seeking sanctuary on these shores. This undertone was made explicit by Nigel Farage’s ‘Breaking Point’ poster, which pictured Middle Eastern refugees queuing at Europe’s borders. The subheading read: “We must break free of the EU and take back control.” There was little ambiguity. Taking back control was about keeping this particular group of people out. And this is what many voted for. This is regrettable. Because in reality Brexit will have no bearing on those seeking sanctuary from war and persecution.

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  • Thoughts On the Sociology of Brexit

    Will Davies, author of The Happiness Industry, provides an analysis of the demographics of Brexit. This article originally appeared at the Political Economy Research Centre blog and is reproduced here with the permission of the author.  



    The Geography Reflects the Economic Crisis of the 1970s, Not the 2010s


    It became clear early on in the night that Leave had extraordinary levels of support in the North East, taking 70% of the votes in Hartlepool and 61% in Sunderland. It subsequently emerged that Wales had voted for Leave overall, especially strongly in the South around areas such as Newport. It is easy to focus on the recent history of Tory-led austerity when analysing this, as if anger towards elites and immigrants was simply an effect of public spending cuts of the past 6 years or (more structurally) the collapse of Britain's pre-2007 debt-driven model of growth.

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