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The Construction of Images of People and Place: Labelling Liverpool and Stereotyping Scousers

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On 28th August 1207, King John created the Borough of Liverpool by granting its first charter. During the ensuing 800 years Liverpool has experienced a complex and changing social, economic and political history resulting in powerful images of the city and its people. This paper examines the labelling of Liverpool and stereotypes of Scousers. It explains how historical and contemporary events, and their coverage in various arms of the media, construct social and spatial imaginations of the city. This involves a more systematic contribution to the how and why dimensions of negative place imagery and social stereotypes, and enhances our understanding of the processes and issues affecting our interpretations of people and place. The analysis is both historical and contemporaneous in teasing out how previous and current events shape the perceptions of insiders and outsiders. This paper reveals that despite concerted efforts to re-brand Liverpool the city continues to face difficult challenges with ongoing bad publicity and negative place imagery.
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The construction of images of people
and place: Labelling Liverpool
and stereotyping Scousers
Philip Boland
*
School of City and Regional Planning, Cardiff University, Glamorgan Building, King Edward VII Avenue,
Cardiff CF10 3WA, United Kingdom
Received 23 November 2007; received in revised form 8 September 2008; accepted 10 September 2008
Available online 12 November 2008
On 28th August 1207, King John created the Borough of Liverpool by granting its first charter. During
the ensuing 800 years Liverpool has experienced a complex and changing social, economic and political
history resulting in powerful images of the city and its people. This paper examines the labelling of Liv-
erpool and stereotypes of Scousers. It explains how historical and contemporary events, and their cov-
erage in various arms of the media, construct social and spatial imaginations of the city. This involves a
more systematic contribution to the how and why dimensions of negative place imagery and social ste-
reotypes, and enhances our understanding of the processes and issues affecting our interpretations of
people and place. The analysis is both historical and contemporaneous in teasing out how previous
and current events shape the perceptions of insiders and outsiders. This paper reveals that despite con-
certed efforts to re-brand Liverpool the city continues to face difficult challenges with ongoing bad pub-
licity and negative place imagery.
Ó2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Introduction: images of the city
In an earlier issue of this journal Avraham (2000, p. 369)
called for ‘‘additional research on most of the factors that
affect cities’ images’’. This paper responds to that invita-
tion through an analysis of constructions of images of Liv-
erpool and stereotypes of Scousers
1
. How people interpret
places is determined not only through personal experi-
ence, but also through a variety of processes and informa-
tion sources (Bridge and Watson, 2003, pp. 7–9, pp. 14–17;
Gertner and Kotler, 2004, p. 51; Hubbard and Hall, 1998,
p. 21). There are different ways in which images, narra-
tives and discourses of the city are presented and these
can change over time (Hall, 2003, pp. 192–196). They
may include some or all of the following: literature, radio,
television, newspapers, internet, film, plays, opera, music
and photographs. McRobbie and Thornton (1995) refer
to the influential role the media play in ‘constructing
meanings’ (p. 561) about people and places, how this af-
fects the public’s mindset and ‘defines and distorts social
issues’ (p. 562). Following the rapid expansion of the var-
ious arms of the media (e.g. satellite television and the
internet) in recent decades it is important to note that
the media are ‘not separate from society’: rather, ‘‘social
reality is experienced through language, communication
and imagery’’ (p. 570). Avraham (2000, 2004) highlights
the mass media as powerful in presenting, constructing
and re-constructing images of people and place. Within
Britain, Aldridge (2003) analyses the methods used by re-
gional newspapers to create a ‘community of readers’ (p.
496) and the use of ‘attention-grabbing headlines’ (p.
498), while Quinn (2006) discusses the debate on biases
within television news. With respect to the Israeli-Pales-
tinian conflict, Frosh and Wolfsfeld (2007) examine how
places are ‘represented, constructed and imagined’ (p.
108) through the national media and the generation of
‘cultural knowledge’ (p. 113). These issues provide a use-
ful context for the analysis undertaken within this paper.
Those responsible for promoting cities as investment,
tourist and residential locations are keenly aware of the
0264-2751/$ - see front matter Ó2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
*
Tel.: +44 029 2087 5275; fax: +44 029 2087 4845; e-mail: Boland@
Cardiff.ac.uk
1
The most common definition of a Scouser is someone born in
Liverpool or who speaks with the distinctive local accent/dialect. Of
course there are dangers of bias and subjectivity when discussing your
home town, but the limited personal information drawn upon in this
paper is more factual than opinionated.
www.elsevier.com/locate/cities
doi:10.1016/j.cities.2008.09.003
Cities 25 (2008) 355–369
355
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power of the media. Obviously, the media cover a range
of activities and entities, but for the purposes of this paper
‘the media’ refers mainly to print journalism, television
programmes and the internet. The problem for many cit-
ies in the industrialised West is that following the severe
economic restructuring and associated social upheaval of
the 1970s and 1980s, they acquired negative images: capi-
tal flight, unemployment, disorder and crime. In the UK,
for instance, many northern cities such as Liverpool, Shef-
field, Manchester, Newcastle and Glasgow were symboli-
sed as places of decline, dereliction and degradation,
which undermined their appeal to investors. Local stake-
holders responded by developing image make-over strate-
gies designed to replace extant negative images with new
dynamic place imagery in order to lure investment, in-
crease tourism, attract shoppers and entice new residents
(on Liverpool see Madsen, 1992; Kokosalakis et al., 2006;
on Liverpool and Genoa see Nobili, 2005; on Glasgow see
Paddison, 1993; on Glasgow and Liverpool see Hudson
and Hawkins, 2006; on Manchester see Ward, 2000;
Young et al., 2006). This is reflected in the growth of a
substantial body of work on place marketing (Ashworth
and Voogd, 1990; Griffiths, 1998; Harvey, 1989; Holloway
and Hubbard, 2001; Jessop, 1998; Kearns and Philo, 1993;
Murray, 2001; Paddison, 1993; Ward, 1998) and place
branding (Dinnie, 2004; Evans, 2003; Hankinson, 2001;
Hannigan, 2003; Kavaratzis and Ashworth, 2005; Kotler
and Gertner, 2002; Olins, 2002; Papadopoulos, 2004).
These literatures evaluate the tools used to ‘re-image’,
‘re-invent’ and ‘re-position’ the city; in fact, as the ap-
proaches have become more sophisticated, there has been
a transition from ‘selling places’ to ‘marketing places’ to
‘branding places’. The current era is one in which develop-
ing a specific ‘local brand’ is deemed important in order to
compete in the global arena. Indeed, place marketing and
branding can be found in cities around the world: it is now
a global phenomenon.
Branding analysts specify the relationship between so-
cial and political events, culture and entertainment, televi-
sion and the media, and perceptions of place (Dinnie,
2004, pp. 108–109; Gertner, 2007, p. 4; Kotler and Gert-
ner, 2002, p. 251, p. 255). This generates deeply en-
trenched place imagery which can be positive and
negative; the problem with bad publicity is that it tends
to stick and the associated negative place imagery is diffi-
cult to overcome. As noted by Avraham (2000, p. 369):
‘‘an entrenched image...becomes an integral part of a ci-
ty’s symbolic characteristics’’. Similarly, Cox (2002, p.
148) explains how ‘‘places get stigmatised and this is justi-
fied in terms of the personal characteristics of people’’.
Another significant problem is that many events are be-
yond the control of those seeking to promote cities but
they are closely covered by the media and this results in
social and spatial stereotypes (Dinnie, 2004, p. 107). The
difficulty with stereotypes is they are extensively held
views ‘distorted, simplified, biased and reinforced’ by
the media and entertainment industries (Avraham, 2004,
p. 472; Gertner and Kotler, 2004, p. 51). Although authors
note the importance of various arms of the media in influ-
encing how we interpret cities, there is little detailed case
study analysis. This paper offers a contribution to that as-
pect of the literature with particular attention focused on
newspapers, news programmes, internet, comedies, dra-
mas and documentaries and their impact on social and
spatial imaginations of the city.
Liverpool is an instructive case study to examine how
these relationships play out in space, in particular how it
has battled with ‘‘often inaccurate or historical stereo-
types’’ (Hudson and Hawkins, 2006, p. 168). The paper
examines the construction of images of Liverpool and
Scouser stereotypes. It develops the literature in explain-
ing how important events and processes, and their cover-
age in the media, lead to the creation of powerful images
of people and place. This involves a more systematic con-
tribution to the how and why dimensions of negative place
imagery and social stereotypes, and enhances our under-
standing of the processes and issues affecting our interpre-
tations of people and place. The analysis is both historical
and contemporaneous, teasing out how previous and cur-
rent events shape the perceptions of insiders and outsid-
ers. This paper reveals that despite concerted efforts to
re-brand Liverpool, the city continues to face difficult
challenges with ongoing bad publicity and negative place
imagery. The methodology for the paper builds upon re-
cent survey work on images of Liverpool by Garcia
(2006) and Melville et al. (2007), other academic research
from Madsen (1992), Hudson and Hawkins (2006) and
Kokosalakis et al. (2006); various media sources and web-
sites plus sprinklings of the author’s local knowledge and
experience of being a Scouser
2
.
From a ‘global city’ to a ‘pariah city’ to a ‘cultural
city’: changing perceptions of Liverpool
‘‘Liverpool’s history over the post-war period has been
nothing if not unpredictable. From post-war industrial,
social and cultural boom, to the brink of economic and
political meltdown in the 1970s and 1980s, and back again,
Liverpool has carved out for itself a unique history over the
past sixty years – acquiring admirers and detractors in
almost equal number, while the spirit of its people remained
unquenchable’’ (Murden, 2006, pp. 484–485).
The first point to make is the range and intensity of
images of Liverpool and Scousers. Such is the extent of
‘cultural knowledge’ that almost anyone in the UK, and
significant numbers across the world, would be able to po-
sit a view of the city and its people. One explanation is the
city’s ‘roller-coaster’ social, economic and political his-
tory, bound up in the changing relationship between the
global and the local (Meegan, 1989, p. 232). According
to Wilks-Heeg (2003, p. 36) Liverpool has the ‘‘dubious
claim to have descended from ‘world city’ to ‘pariah city’
during the course of the twentieth century’’. In particular,
the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s was a period during which
powerful images of the city and its populace materialised.
Liverpool’s development actually began in the 18th cen-
tury as a ‘‘major global seaport and commercial city’’
assuming the title of ‘New York of Europe’ (Belchem,
2
This author left Liverpool, like thousands of other Scousers, in search
of work which ultimately resulted in an academic career. He returns to
the city on a regular basis.
The construction of images of people and place: Labelling Liverpool and stereotyping Scousers: P Boland
356
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2006, p. 9, p. 15; Evans, 1991; Lane, 1997; Meegan, 1994;
Wilks-Heeg, 2003). Its growth was sparked by the transat-
lantic slave trade. During the 1700s, Liverpool was provid-
ing 75% of the country’s slaving ships and sometimes
transporting 50,000 slaves a year between West Africa
and the New World (Evans, 1991; Parkinson, 1991). This
earned the city the ignominious title of ‘‘slaving capital
of the world’’ (Belchem, 2006, p. 13). Reflecting a sense
of regret, if not shame, in 1999 Liverpool City Council
expiated for the city’s role in slavery (BBC Liverpool,
2007a). Equally important was the Industrial Revolution,
whereby Liverpool’s geographical positioning provided
the western ‘Gateway to Empire’ for British trade (Lane,
1997). By the early 20th century, Liverpool was the sec-
ond most important port in the UK after London (Parkin-
son, 1991). The riches generated during its maritime
heyday financed much of the city’s famous architecture.
The global economic restructuring of the 1970s and
1980s dealt a huge blow to the Merseyside economy and
Liverpool’s in particular. Many firms either closed down
or relocated. The city suffered employment haemorrhage,
poverty, population loss and declining GDP. Over time,
Liverpool represented a microcosm of Britain’s problems:
economic decline, urban decay, mass unemployment,
political militancy, social unrest and crime (Meegan,
1989, 1990, 2003; Merseyside Socialist Research Group,
1980; Murden, 2006; Parkinson, 1991; Parkinson and Rus-
sell, 1994). On the back of this, the city developed a seri-
ous image problem thereby negating attempts to attract
investors (Madsen, 1992; Meegan, 1994; Sykes, 2004).
‘‘Liverpool became virtually synonymous with urban so-
cial problems in the news media, feature films and televi-
sion drama’’ and a ‘‘destination for those seeking out
urban blight’’ (Jones and Wilks-Heeg, 2004, p. 344). For
example, Boys From the Blackstuff, written by local play-
wright Alan Bleasedale, was an important opinion-form-
ing television show. Screened in 1982, this critically-
acclaimed drama series detailed the lives of five unem-
ployed road layers (i.e. blackstuff), and was widely seen
as a critique of British society under the Conservative
Government of Margaret Thatcher. The most memorable
character, Yosser Hughes, was mentally disturbed by
unemployment and his inability to provide for his young
children. His oft repeated plea to employers to get
work—‘Gizza job’—quickly became a comedic but pe-
jorative external reference to place (Liverpool) and peo-
ple (Scousers). Feeding off this and news coverage of
the city’s unemployment problems, a regular chant belted
out at many English football grounds during the 1980s and
1990s alluded to receiving unemployment benefits and
went thus: ‘Sign on, sign on, ‘cos you’ll never get a job’.
This indicates a degree of social awareness among oppos-
ing fans and skill in re-working the lyrics to fit the melody
of Liverpool Football Club’s [LFC] official song You’ll
Never Walk Alone
3
. More generally, Yosser’s character
tapped into a wider social consciousness of the time when
mass unemployment was wreaking havoc on urban
Britain.
Stung by its poor image, since the 1990s Liverpool has
engaged in aggressive place marketing through The Mer-
sey Partnership and, more recently, Liverpool Vision, in
order to improve the city’s image as a place to ‘live, work,
invest, visit and shop’ (Liverpool Vision, 2006; The Mer-
sey Partnership, 2005). In most recent years, Liverpool’s
fortunes have improved with increased investment, falling
unemployment, employment growth and rising GVA per
capita (Liverpool City Council, 2004; Liverpool Culture
Company, 2007). The city is currently enjoying a period
of major transformation; using the standard measurement
of ‘urban regeneration’ (for a problematisation of this
concept see Lovering, 2007), the preponderance of cranes
dotting the city centre skyline is testament to this (e.g. the
massive Liverpool One retail-led development). It is a city
that is being re-positioned (as a ‘World Class City’) and
re-branded (as ‘The World In One City’), and the official
rhetoric claims it is now a city of culture, creativity and
competitiveness (see Boland, 2007). This has been partic-
ularly evident with the city celebrating its 800th birthday
in 2007 and hosting the prestigious 2008 European Capital
of Culture (see Jones and Wilks-Heeg, 2004; also Garcia
and Melville, 2007; Hudson and Hawkins, 2006; Kokosal-
akis et al., 2006; Nobili, 2005).
The reality is that, notwithstanding a period of eco-
nomic prosperity, Liverpool remains an acutely polarised
city on key socio-economic indicators; in fact, its geo-
graphic inequalities are actually increasing (see Health
is Wealth Commission, 2008). A study by Garcia (2006)
found that although there are currently more positive
press stories about Liverpool (e.g. Capital of Culture),
negative press coverage continues to focus on the city’s
unemployment and social issues. This indicates the com-
peting ‘cultural knowledges’ of the city.
‘Reputational assets’ of Liverpool: popular culture,
the port and sport
Internationally, Liverpool is synonymous with The Bea-
tles, widely regarded as the world’s most popular and
influential musical group (Du Noyer, 2004, pp. 15–49).
As the city’s number one tourist attraction each year, mil-
lions of people flock from around the world to visit key
locations and events held in the city celebrating the ‘Fab
Four’ (<www.beatlesstory.com>), with an annual contri-
bution of £20 million to the local economy (Du Noyer,
2004, p. 18). One local news programme recently reported
anecdotal evidence whereby overseas visitors with a lim-
ited command of the English language struggle to order
in a local bar but have no problem singing along to Love
Me Do or All You Need Is Love on the jukebox. There is
even a Beatles-themed Hard Days Night Hotel near the
world famous Cavern Club in Mathew Street, where the
band made their name in the 1960s. The impact of Elvis
Presley on Memphis, TN (<www.elvis.com/graceland>)
is another example of this symbiosis between performers
and place, and the global magnetism of place to adoring
fans. The significance of this was not lost on the city’s
3
The song was written by Rodgers and Hammerstein for their 1945
musical Carousel. It has been covered by many famous artists including
Frank Sinatra, Mario Lanza and Elvis Presley. In the UK it became a hit
in 1963 for local group Gerry and the Pacemakers and quickly became
the anthem for Liverpool Football Club.
The construction of images of people and place: Labelling Liverpool and stereotyping Scousers: P Boland
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marketing minds who, in 2001, renamed the local airport
Liverpool John Lennon Airport, in honour of one of the
city’s favourite sons (murdered in New York in 1980).
In 2005, Belfast followed suit after the passing of George
Best who, along with Pele
´and Diego Maradona, was one
of the world’s greatest footballers. Previous examples in-
clude John F. Kennedy (New York), Charles de Gaulle
(Paris), Leonardo Da Vinci (Rome) and Josef Strauss
(Munich).
Next is the pivotal role of the port in international trade
during the 18th–20th centuries and, related to this, the ci-
ty’s spectacular buildings, which form one of the most
internationally recognisable waterfronts. In 2004, UNE-
SCO inscribed Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City as
one of its 750 esteemed World Heritage Sites, in recogni-
tion of its important economic, cultural and architectural
history. Another is the phenomenal success of the LFC
during the 1970s, 1980s and 2000s on the domestic and
European stage, which has attracted significant support
from around the world. When Lucas Leiva joined LFC
from Brazilian club Gremio in 2007, he explained: ‘‘When
I heard Liverpool were interested I said ‘Yes’ straight
away. The club has won so many things and everyone in
Brazil knows about them’’ (Liverpool Football Club,
2007a). On this point, Garcia (2006) reveals that almost
80% of recent national press items on Liverpool relate
to sport, overwhelmingly to football. What these examples
show is that Liverpool developed national and interna-
tional ‘reputational assets’ (Anholt, 2005, p. 119) in popu-
lar culture and sport, the economy and urban design.
Liverpool Culture Company (2002, p. 801), the agency
responsible for implementing the 2008 Capital of Culture
programme, explains:
‘‘Ask an American what they think of Liverpool, and they
will answer ‘emigration and the Beatles’; a European –
‘football and the Beatles’; someone from the UK will
respond with football, the Beatles, and possibly something
less positive’’.
Scouse humour and the ‘calm down’ caricature
The most positive ‘cultural knowledge’ of Scousers is their
friendliness and comedic qualities. Murden (2006, p. 423)
explains how Liverpool ‘‘developed its long-standing rep-
utation for humour – the scouser being, according to leg-
end, the one with all the backchat and jokes’’. Reflecting
on his experience as a non-local researcher Meegan (1989,
p. 228) explains that although ‘Scouse humour’ is ‘‘all but
mythologized...there is no doubting its existence’’. The
distinctive Scouse wit is conveyed through normal social
interactions with people from the city (e.g. work, holidays
and visits to Liverpool) and through the media, comedians
and writers. Another is LFC fans’ banners, which are
noted for their biting humour; see for example the ironic
blasphemy captured in Figures 1 and 2 that have adorned
football stadia around the UK and across Europe
4
.Avra-
ham (2000, p. 365) suggests the dominance of television in
people’s daily lives has heightened the creation of stereo-
types of people and place. Liverpool is a good example of
this. During the 20th century, Liverpool/Merseyside pro-
duced a string of successful comedy performers
5
who
helped create and sustain the image of Scousers as natu-
rally funny. In the 1980s and 1990s, Brookside (a local
television ‘soap opera’
6
) added to this through the story-
lines, phraseology and actions of several of its central
characters. In fact, they almost certainly inspired Harry
Enfield’s
7
Scousers satire sketch and the cries of ‘calm
down, calm down’. Type Scousers into any internet search
Figure 1 LFC supporters’ religious banners.
Figure 2 Same as for Figure 1.
4
Image 1 refers to Jamie Carragher (JC) or Carra as he is known locally
– note the play on the Biblical JC, and the simulation of chapter and
verse (his squad number is 23). Image 2 refers to Robbie Fowler whose
nickname was ‘God’ due to his perceived infallibility in scoring goals.
Both Carragher and Fowler are Scousers; the former still plays for LFC
but Fowler has moved to other clubs as he nears the end of his playing
career.
5
Examples include Arthur Askey, Tommy Handley, Tom O’Connor,
Jimmy Tarbuck, Leonard Rossiter, Ken Dodd, Les Dennis, Stan
Boardman, Freddie Starr, Kenny Everett, Alexei Sayle and Paul
O’Grady (as his alter-ego Lilly Savage).
6
A ‘soap opera’ is a fictitious television programme that is shown
regularly during the week. The most famous in the UK is Coronation
Street which has been running since 1960; Brookside’s lifespan ran from
1982 until 2003. ‘Aussie soaps’ have become very popular in the UK, for
example Neighbours (which helped catapult Kylie Minogue to global
musical fame) and Home and Away. They follow the success of other
imported ‘soaps’ like Dallas and Dynasty from America in the 1980s.
7
Harry Enfield is a successful British television comedian who has
written and starred in many hit comedy shows.
The construction of images of people and place: Labelling Liverpool and stereotyping Scousers: P Boland
358
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engine and you will find depictions such as those in Fig-
ures 3 and 4. Since the 1990s, this caricature has become
part of comedy folklore in the UK and helped shape per-
ceptions of Scousers as pugnacious, if not pugilistic. With-
out question, the most frequent jocular response directed
at Scousers is ‘calm down, calm down’; in fact, it is almost
a universal cultural symbol of Scousers. Murden (2006, p.
469) explains how the ‘‘violent, argumentative...badly
dressed scouser caricatured by Harry Enfield was how
the world now viewed the city’s inhabitants’’.
Political radicalism and social unrest
The significance of social and political events and disasters
and how they are reported by the media affects image
construction (Avraham, 2000, pp. 364–365). This has been
particularly evident in Liverpool. First, during the 1960s
and 1970s Liverpool developed a reputation for radical
trade unionism (Madsen, 1992, p. 634; Murden, 2006, pp.
431–434). For example, in 1966, Labour Prime Minister
Harold Wilson labelled striking local seamen ‘‘a band of
communist agitators holding the country to ransom’’ (ci-
ted in Murden, 2006, p. 432). The most recent high profile
example was the Dockers’ Strike between 1995 and 1998,
which was one of the longest in British industrial relations
history; subsequently made into film by local writer Jimmy
McGovern. Second, the ‘race riots’ of 1981 were sparked
off by socio-economic disadvantage and tensions with the
police force among the black community in Toxteth
8
(Murden, 2006, pp. 440–445; Scraton, 2007, pp. 25–30;
on black identity and racism in the city see Christian,
1997, 2000, 2008; Frost, 1995, 2000; Uduku, 2003). The dis-
turbing scenes of social upheaval, violent street confronta-
tions between black and white youths versus the police,
and use of CS gas for the first time on the UK mainland
cast the city in the national news spotlight. The then-
Chief Constable of Merseyside connected the riots to
pathological flaws in local people. He argued the ‘true
Liverpudlian’ possessed a ‘turbulent character’ that was
‘proportionately tougher, more violent’; this was care-
lessly linked to large scale in-migration from Africa,
Ireland, China and the Caribbean (cited in Scraton,
2007, pp. 27–28). To this day, in some quarters of the
media and British society there remains a stigma
attached to Toxteth (likewise for St. Paul’s in Bristol
and Brixton in South London). National political reaction
was swift and the Secretary of State for the Environment,
Michael Heseltine MP, became dubbed the ‘Minister
for Merseyside’ as he coordinated Government action
on the ground through the Merseyside Task Force
(Couch, 2003, p. 114). Scraton (2007, p. 28) explains that
following the riots, external commentators’ views became
extremely negative, casting a shadow over the city and its
people:
‘‘Liverpool people had a negative reputation, their natural
and cultural inheritance being aggression and belligerence,
but within the broad categorisation lay subcategories of
greater lawlessness and violence’’.
Third, between 1983 and 1987 the left wing ‘Militant
Tendency’ gained control of Liverpool City Council. This
led to some heavy negative national and local media cov-
erage, plus open criticism from the national Labour Party
leadership and a stormy, and ultimately fruitless, confron-
tation with the Thatcher Government. Couch (2003, p.
117) says of the ‘Militant era’: ‘‘The mid-1980s were a per-
iod of local political turmoil in Liverpool’’. Ben-Tovim
(2003, p. 232), a former local councillor, argues: ‘‘The city
council was deeply, nearly terminally, wounded by this
experience’’. It was a controversial period in which the
City Council appeared politically radicalised and finan-
cially irresponsible (Parkinson, 1985, 1988, 1990), despite
the progressive nature of some of the policies (Meegan,
1990). Fourth, on May 29th 1985, UEFA held its Euro-
pean Cup Final at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels, Bel-
gium between LFC and Italian club Juventus. Prior to
satellite and cable television only flagship matches such
Figure 3 The ‘calm down’ caricature Sources: <http://
images.google.com>.
Figure 4 Same as for Figure 3.
8
‘Tockie’ or the ‘South End’ (reflecting its geographical location within
the city) is richly diverse containing indigenous families and many others
originating from Africa, China, the Caribbean, Wales and Ireland. This is
where my father’s family settled after leaving Dublin, Ireland in the
1930s.
The construction of images of people and place: Labelling Liverpool and stereotyping Scousers: P Boland
359
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as these were screened live. Before the game, 39 Juventus
supporters died as a wall collapsed after a charge by Liv-
erpool fans, viewed by millions of people across Europe
and beyond. The behaviour of sections of the Liverpool
fans was inexcusable, but LFC did raise serious questions
over the suitability of the stadium, ticketing arrangements
and inadequate policing for such a high profile event. The
Heysel tragedy led to the banning of English clubs from
European competitions for five years, because English
football hooliganism, at home and abroad, was rife in
the 1970s and 1980s.
Collectively, these incidents brought significant nega-
tive media coverage of the city. The riots and Heysel asso-
ciated the city with mob violence and hooligan behaviour,
while political and union militantism were the subject of
negative campaigning by the Government and the na-
tional press. Writing in the early 1990s, Madsen (1992,
p. 634) said: ‘‘The conventional wisdom of Liverpool is
that it is strike-bound, bankrupt, run-down, wasted, hope-
less and run by loony left-wingers’’. Looking through a
retrospective lens, Murden (2006, p. 469) reflects: ‘‘eco-
nomic decay, unemployment, poverty, riots, strikes and
radical politics all made Liverpool bad news, representa-
tive of the dark side of Thatcher’s Britain’’. This is
evidence of social stereotyping and stigmatisation, a dif-
ferent form of ‘cultural knowledge’ that has dogged the
city for many years and proved very difficult to shift.
Criminality, ‘scallies’ and ‘chavs’
The print medium has an insatiable appetite for crime sto-
ries, and certain cities become synonymous with crime
(Avraham, 2000, p. 366). Garcia (2006) found that, after
football, the most frequent reference to Liverpool in the
national press was crime, drugs and violence. Since the
1980s, the most common media coverage has been car
crime and theft, fuelling the widely-held perception of
the city as a hotbed of ‘shell-suited scallies’: ‘scally’ de-
rives from the Irish word scallywag and refers to working
class youths involved in petty crime; their archetypical
dress code is designer tracksuits and trainers (e.g. Lacoste,
Nike, Adidas, Reebok, YSL). Once again, this feeds Brit-
ish urban comedy, where almost every joke about Liver-
pool and Scousers ends with a thieving punch-line.
Murden (2006, p. 483) bemoans how the city ‘‘sadly re-
mains the tragically poor butt of countless bad jokes about
moustaches, tracksuits, accents and thieving’’. In the same
way that some comics allege Irish stupidity or Jewish
thriftiness, Scouse ‘scallies’ are drug dealers or pilferers
of car stereos and hub-caps. Again, the internet is littered
with visual manifestations of Scouse ‘scallies’ such as
those shown in Figures 5 and 6. Television programmes
have featured prominently in this cultural representation.
In addition to Brookside, Carla Lane’s Bread was a popu-
lar 1980s sitcom about a Scouse Catholic family abusing
the welfare system. However, the show ‘‘received a mixed
reception in the city due to the feeling that it traded on
stereotypical depictions of the semi-criminal scouse
scrounger’’ (Murden, 2006, p. 466). During the 2000s,
The Royle Family has been a hugely successful British
comedy series. The patriarch is Jim Royle; idle, uncouth
and work-shy while his friend Twiggy (clad in ‘trackie
top’ and trainers) provides the family with ‘knocked off
gear’ (stolen goods). Setting aside the quality of the
performances, it is worth noting that both the actors
9
and characters are Scousers. This reinforces external
imaginations of Scousers as lazy, thieving unemployables,
and is a serious distortion of local social reality.
The reaction to Scousers in Cardiff has been particu-
larly interesting. During the construction of the new
Wembley Stadium in London, LFC won several major
trophies at the Millennium Stadium in the Welsh capital
(between 2000 and 2006 it hosted a range of sporting
events normally reserved for London). Enthusiasm for
Scouse humour and friendliness was a common topic of
conversation amongst local residents and those working
in the city’s service economy (e.g. shops, pubs, clubs,
eateries, hotels, taxis). However, there was also a
Figure 5 The ‘thieving’ caricature Source: <http://
images.google.com>.
Figure 6 Same as for Figure 5.
9
Ricky Tomlinson (who found fame as Bobby Grant in Brookside)
plays Jim, while Geoffrey Hughes (who made his name as Eddie Yates in
Coronation Street) plays Twiggy.
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significant degree of social stereotyping, albeit with a
comic bent. On several occasions friends of this author
mischievously suggested they were planning to park their
cars in the nearby city of Newport to avoid criminal dam-
age, predicted rising crime levels in Cardiff city centre
with ‘Scousers in town’ and not forgetting the almost
incessant mimicking of ‘calm down’. Sure, in one sense
this is harmless and playful repartee but it also emphasises
the continued existence of entrenched Scouser stereo-
types amongst the British public.
According to one person who works with young people
in the theatre business, the symbolism of the city with
criminal activity affects external perceptions of place
and the attitude of the area’s youth in that place:
‘‘Young people are even starting to live up to the negative
images of Liverpool portrayed in the media. We’ve got just
as good a sense of humour as people in other parts of the
country, but if you can tell me a Scouse joke that doesn’t
involve crime, I’d love to hear it. There was a joke in one
of the papers the other day, which was: ‘‘Why does the river
Mersey run through Liverpool? Because if it walked it’d get
mugged’’. You could tell that joke about any river through
any city in the country, but they keep getting told about
Liverpool. People from outside become scared to come to
Liverpool when they see things like that’’ (cited in BBC,
1998).
The latest stereotype connects to the ‘chav culture’.
One internet poster submitted this perceptive social
observation: ‘‘You cannot fail to spot a chav in Liverpool,
especially in the city centre’’ (<www.chavtowns.co.uk>).
‘Chav’ is a derogatory ‘catchall epithet’ that pathologises
the dialect/phonetics, consumption tastes, skin tone, mor-
al fibre, comportment/deportment, eating establishments,
fashion garbs, fecundity traits and residential locales of
sections of the British white working class (see Haywood
and Yar, 2006; Nayak, 2006; Webster, 2008). Teenagers,
some also labelled as ‘hoodies’
10
, are portrayed as lacking
respect, ignorant, unintelligent and blamed for increased
levels of urban crime (e.g. shoplifting, mugging, car theft),
and antisocial behaviour (e.g. drinking, drug taking, van-
dalism, intimidation). Interestingly, whilst the ‘chav’ has
become a figure to be castigated and lampooned (Hay-
wood and Yar, 2006), the ‘hoody’ attracts a certain degree
of fear in society: ‘‘a signifier of disgruntled, malevolent
youth, scowling and indolent...uniform of the trouble-
maker’’ (MacLean, 2005). This is the latest example of
‘folk devils’ of youth culture feeding ‘moral panics’ in con-
temporary society (McRobbie and Thornton, 1995). The
derision heaped upon the ‘chav culture’ is particularly evi-
dent in sardonic newspaper coverage (Daily Mail, 2006;
Pearlman, 2006; The Sun, 2008) and hostile internet for-
ums (<www.chavtowns.co.uk>,<www.chavscum.co.uk>,
<www.chavworld.co.uk>) that ridicule the delinquency
associated with the public housing that makes up British
‘council estates’, e.g. unwed mothers, feral teenagers,
drugs and alcohol abusers, benefit cheats and ‘scroungers’
(for more sympathetic journalistic coverage see Burchill,
2005; Harris, 2006, 2007). ‘Chavs’ are also caricatured in
popular British television sketch shows, for example
Vicky Pollard
11
in Little Britain (<www.littlebritain.tv>)
and Lauren Cooper from the Catherine Tate Show
(<www.catherinetateshow.co.uk>). Notwithstanding mid-
dle class snobbery towards interaction with ‘chavs’ (Clark,
2008; Harris, 2006), the high jinks of ‘posh kids’ and even
the future King of England have involved dressing up in
mock ‘chav style’ (Larcombe, 2006; The Sun, 2007). More
disturbing is the invective, animosity and bile from certain
elements of the print medium towards Britain’s ‘white
trash’ (Nayak, 2006) or ‘new underclass’ (Haywood and
Yar, 2006) which is heavily racialised (Webster, 2008). In-
deed, one social commentator accuses perpetrators of
engaging in ‘social racism’ towards those most margina-
lised in society (Burchill, 2005).
With respect to Liverpool, the ‘chav’ label is casually
but firmly attached to inhabitants of impoverished hous-
ing estates in the city with high levels of criminality,
unemployment, economic inactivity, benefit recipients
and single parenthood. However, whilst the ‘chav’ adjec-
tive is reserved for the working classes, it can also be a
weapon to attack successful people and celebrities (Hay-
wood and Yar, 2006). In Britain, David and Victoria
Beckham, aka ‘Posh and Becks’, are the most high profile
‘celebrity chavs’ (Pearlman, 2006), along with glamour
model Katie Price (aka Jordan) and husband Peter An-
dre, former ‘soap’ actress Daniella Westbrook, reality
television contestant Jade Goody and, maintaining the
Liverpool connection, Wayne Rooney, wife Coleen
McLoughlin, Steven Gerrard, wife Alex Curran and for-
mer Brookside actress Jennifer Ellison. Rooney and Gerr-
ard are globally renowned professional footballers who
play for Manchester United and Liverpool respectively,
and the English national team. In particular, Rooney’s
rise from the tough working class district of Croxteth to
multi-millionaire football star, and his partner’s appetite
for retail therapy and concomitant dress style, has at-
tracted significant negative media coverage (e.g. Daily
Mail, 2006; The Sun, 2005). Although ‘scally’ and ‘chav’
are used interchangeably, there is a qualitative difference
in terms of attire, for example, the sportswear brands
donned by ‘scallies’ would be Reebok and Lacoste
whereas ‘chav’ street apparel is Burberry and McKenzie.
Another dimension is that ‘scally’ is a local colloquialism
with a particular local meaning (e.g. ‘loveable rogue’),
whereas ‘chav’ is more generic to working class housing
estates across Britain and has a much more sinister sub-
text (i.e. ‘white trash’).
Guns, gangs, drugs and tragedies
Liverpool has also acquired a reputation for gun crime
through gang violence and geographical control over the
lucrative illegal drugs trade (‘turf wars’). During the
mid-1990s, it became the first mainland city in the UK
to have openly armed police officers patrolling the streets,
10
‘Hoody’, or hooded sweatshirt, refers to persons wearing the hood up
over their head, a popular street style amongst elements of British youth.
11
Matt Lucas, the impersonator, is middle class and attended an
expensive private school, a world away from ‘chav’ life on council estates
and education at local comprehensive schools.
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following the contract execution of a local hardman and a
spate of reprisal gangland shootings. At the time, national
press reports claimed this violent image was a factor in
‘scaring off’ German electronics firm Siemens from invest-
ing in the city (Barnett, 1996). A particular concern for lo-
cal policy makers is the power of television. On viewing a
programme on the local underworld, featuring real-life
bouncers and gangsters, then Leader of Liverpool City
Council expressed his unease: ‘‘What concerns me is that
it harms our city’s image and puts off potential investors
who might get a distorted image of Liverpool’’ (Mike Sto-
rey cited in Kennedy, 2000, p. 4). Another example is
Mersey Blues, which followed Merseyside Police Force
in its daily battle with routine and organised crime and
no doubt added to the view of Liverpool as a haven for
criminality, and especially illegal drugs activity. Murden
(2006, pp. 469–470) describes how ‘‘the perception that
Merseyside was some sort of criminals’ playground
spiralling out of control was seemingly endlessly re-
peated’’. Despite its illegality, the drugs trade is extremely
entrepreneurial, connecting to Chatterton’s (2000, pp.
394–395) point that various types of creativity within the
city are not officially recognised because they involve pro-
test, crime, subversion or social agitation. The National
Criminal Intelligence Service regards the Liverpool drug
scene as very powerful, with local criminals mastermind-
ing drug smuggling into the UK (NCIS, 2003; also Boland,
2008; Barnes et al., 2000; Johnson, 2007). Speaking in the
late 1990s, Detective Superintendent Keith Anderson,
head of the National Crime Squad in the North of Eng-
land, explained:
‘‘In Merseyside we are looking at 10 to 15 people we con-
sider to be at the top of the criminal tree. The Liverpool
scene has been very influential. In the last 3 years Customs
estimated that the Merseyside area was responsible for 80%
of heroin brought into this country. These people have a
real impact on Merseyside. They are the people who have
contacts abroad and they are making a fortune from crime’’
(cited in Campbell, 1998, p. 4).
A series of social tragedies has also placed the city in
news headlines and profoundly affected the city, further
negatively impacting on the ‘cultural knowledge’ of Liver-
pool. In 1993, two 10-year-olds snatched and brutally tor-
tured to death toddler James Bulger. The realisation that
these boys were capable of a crime ‘that shocked a nation’
bore heavily on the city’s soul, and quickly became an
international crime story (BBC, 2001; <www.guard-
ian.co.uk/bulger>). Scraton (2007) explains how ‘‘public
outrage was heightened as the nation became a collective,
armchair voyeur’’ via television and ‘baying’ newspaper
coverage (p. 107), whilst politically it fed the growing
‘moral panic over threatening children’ (p. 124). In July
2005, these painfully sore civic wounds were re-opened.
Teenager Anthony Walker was barbarically killed be-
cause his skin colour was black (BBC, 2005), and the
sheer horror of this murder again created deep distress:
‘Shame On Our City’ (Liverpool Echo, 2005). The story
became massive and headlined the globally watched Sky
News (Sky, 2005), national and local newspapers dis-
played shocking front pages (see Figures 7 and 8) and na-
tional journalists made comparisons with the high profile
murder of Stephen Lawrence
12
(Herbert, 2005; Mulch-
rone, 2005; Rayner and Narain, 2005; Thomas, 2005). An-
other international news story concerns local youngster
Michael Shields. Whilst on holiday in Bulgaria in May
2005, he was arrested and later convicted of attempting
to murder a local barman during a street brawl by throw-
ing a paving slab on his head. Shields has constantly pro-
tested his innocence (another Scouser admitted to the
crime but later retracted his confession), but the unsuc-
cessful court case and ongoing campaign to clear his name
again finds the city the subject of unwanted media focus
(e.g. The Independent, 2005)
13
.
During the summer of 2007, the city once again domi-
nated national media outlets for the wrong reasons follow-
ing the dreadful killing of 11-year-old Rhys Jones,
Figure 7 National and local media front pages following
Anthony Walker’s murder Source: <http://images.google.com>.
Figure 8 Same as for Figure 7.
12
In April 1993 at a bus stop in Eltham, South London, 18-year-old
Stephen Lawrence was stabbed to death by a group of white youths in a
racially motivated attack. A Crown Prosecution Service case and a
private prosecution by his family both collapsed; no-one has been
convicted of his murder.
13
In December 2006, Bulgarian authorities allowed Shields to serve the
remainder of his 10-year sentence in Britain; he will be freed in 2010
pending good behaviour. He is currently at Haverigg prison in Cumbria.
The campaign to secure his release involves local politicians,
websites (www.myspace.com/innocentmichaelshields;<www.michael-
shields.uwclub.net>;<www.freemichaelshields.com>) and the Liverpool
Echo (<www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/liverpool-news/liverpool-campaigns/
michael-shields>).
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mistakenly shot by a teenage ‘hoody’ (BBC, 2007a; Sky,
2007a). Police explained Rhys was an innocent victim
caught in the crossfire of a bitter territorial feud between
local drugs gangs from the estates of Croxteth and Norris
Green. As with the Bulger and Walker cases, Liverpool
was faced with coming to terms with another shameful
event (Liverpool Daily Post, 2007; Liverpool Echo,
2007). Prominent national and local figures were minded
to express their views to the media. Chief Constable of
Merseyside Police Bernard Hogan-Howe: ‘‘For me it is
the most shocking event in my 20 years of service’’ (Liv-
erpool Echo, 2007), Prime Minister Gordon Brown: ‘‘A
heinous crime that has shocked the whole of the country’’
(Channel 4, 2007), Leader of Liverpool City Council War-
ren Bradley: ‘‘The public outcry in the city’’ (Sky, 2007b).
While local residents voiced communal disgust, anger and
fear, one referred to the murder as ‘‘terrible, horrendous,
unbelievable’’ (BBC, 2007b). This is another example
whereby social events, that generate extremely negative
and unwanted attention on the city, are beyond the con-
trol of those promoting the city. Incidents such as these
only serve to reinforce the existing external image of Liv-
erpool as a place of violence. More generally however,
Rhys’ murder is part of an alarming trend in Britain’s cit-
ies (e.g. Manchester and especially South London) where
there have been a growing number of teenagers shot dead
or stabbed to death during 2007 and 2008 (BBC, 2008a;
Sky, 2007c), leading to intense political and media debate
on ‘gang/gun culture’ (Home Office, 2007; Sky, 2007d;
Sky, 2008; <www.london.gov.uk/gangs>). The Govern-
ment responded with the £1 million Tackling Gangs Ac-
tion Programme aimed at reducing gun crime in four
UK cities: Liverpool, Manchester, London and Birming-
ham (Guardian, 2007).
National print media and local reactions to ‘the
truth’: the ‘self-pity city’?
Since the 1980s, there has been an uneasy relationship be-
tween the city and some national newspapers, tabloid and
broadsheet. Reflecting on the economic and social prob-
lems experienced by the city in the early 1980s, the Daily
Mirror said: ‘‘They should build a fence around and
charge an admission fee. For sadly, it has become a show-
case for everything that has gone wrong in Britain’s major
cities’’ (citied in Lane, 1997, p. xiii; Wilks-Heeg, 2003, p.
44). In 1991, The Independent reported that an estate
developer in Grantham, England (Margaret Thatcher’s
birthplace) wanted to rename a street from Liverpool
Close to Ipswich Gardens because, it alleged, sales were
poor compared to other street names (Madsen, 1992, p.
633). However, the events surrounding a football match
on Saturday April 15th 1989 irreversibly damaged the ci-
ty’s relationship with one newspaper. At the Hillsborough
Stadium in Sheffield, England LFC met Nottingham For-
est in a semi-final of the Football Association (FA) Cup.
In total 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives after thousands
were allowed to enter already crowded areas of the
ground. The Hillsborough tragedy traumatised the city
(Scraton, 2005). The Taylor Report into Britain’s worst-
ever sporting disaster blamed poor police control, recom-
mended the conversion of football stadiums to all-seaters
and removal of barriers at the front of stands (Scraton,
1999, p. 9, pp. 128–129, 2005, pp. 188–189).
During the media coverage of the horrific events at
Hillsborough, The Sun printed its infamous ‘Truth’ article
(less sensationally carried in other tabloids and even some
broadsheets). It inaccurately informed that LFC ‘yobs’
had caused the Hillsborough disaster, stolen money from
the pockets of dead bodies and urinated over them, and
beaten up police officers giving the kiss of life to the most
severely injured (Scraton, 1999, p. 10, pp. 112–116, 2005,
p. 184). A common thread running through social and
political commentary was the deliberate link made to
drunken, loutish hooligan behaviour (Scraton, 2007, pp.
70–77). Such scandalous reporting compounded the an-
guish felt by survivors, including this author, and the fam-
ilies of those who died (such as family friend Patrick ‘Big
Pat’ Thompson RIP), and profoundly affected the mood
of the city with a palpable outpouring of civic anger.
These included street burnings of the newspaper, a boy-
cott of its sale and purchase, furious phone-ins on local
radio stations, and irate letters to the Liverpool Echo,
while Merseyside MPs voiced disgust in the House of
Commons. The place and its people felt savagely
wronged. The Sun’s editor at the time, Kelvin MacKenzie,
made a radio apology the day after the item appeared in
press and again in 1993 whilst giving evidence to a com-
mittee of the House of Commons. In 2004, the newspaper
made a belated formal apology to the city and the be-
reaved families. However, the scars still run very deep
(see Figures 9 and 10) and numerous local retail outlets
still refuse to stock the newspaper (see Figures 11 and
12). Most locals feel the apologies were a cynical ploy to
boost sales that had plummeted since 1989 and had little
to do with genuine remorse. This cynicism is substantiated
by MacKenzie’s retraction of his original apology, claim-
ing that at the time he simply ‘told the truth’ (The Inde-
pendent, 2006). Perhaps even more insensitively, he also
informed that his initial apology was forced upon him
by Rupert Murdoch, the newspaper’s owner and global
media mogul (BBC, 2007c). Obviously, this adds more
pain to the families who lost loved ones at Hillsborough.
Following this episode, locals developed a strong sense
Figure 9 LFC supporters’ banner about Hillsborough and the
‘Truth’.
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of distrust towards the print medium (Murden, 2006, p.
470). In truth, there is a history of suspicion towards ‘out-
siders’ (agents and agencies of the state, academics,
researchers and media representatives) due to external
coverage of the city in the 1970s and 1980s (Meegan,
1989, p. 224, p. 225, p. 228). Scraton (2007, p. 73) suggests
certain newspaper stories about Hillsborough sullied the
city’s image: ‘‘the media coverage developed two distinct
but closely related themes: consolidation of the myths sur-
rounding the disaster and Merseyside’s ascribed negative
reputation’’. The reporting of Hillsborough by sections
of the media is one of the most grotesque distortions of
‘the truth’ in British social history.
Another aspect of Scousers’ character has received
unflattering public attention. This is their perceived sense
of injustice; the words ‘moaners’ or ‘whingers’ are phrases
voiced to this author over the years. In July 2004, Boris
Johnson, then a Conservative Party MP and now Mayor
of London, ghost-wrote an editorial in The Spectator mag-
azine criticising the city’s expression of ‘disproportionate
grief’ over the beheading of Liverpool hostage Ken Bigley
in Iraq. This was blamed on the ‘deeply unattractive psy-
che’ among locals who display a penchant for ‘‘wallowing
in their victim status...[and] shared sense of tribal griev-
ance’’ (BBC, 2004). Evidence of this, he argued, can be
traced back to local reactions to the Hillsborough tragedy
that blamed the police, rather than irresponsible drunken
fans arriving late for the match (Guardian, 2004). John-
son’s factually incorrect and highly tactless leader caused
a huge amount of upset and angry reaction in the city and
rapidly became a national news story. Finding himself
caught up in a ‘media firestorm’ Johnson apologised and
his then boss in the Conservative Party, Michael Howard
MP (himself a fan of LFC), sent him on a flagellatory visit
to the city to express contrition (Johnson, 2004). Alex Fer-
guson, manager of Manchester United (LFC’s arch-riv-
als), made a similar, but less inflammatory, comment
during a private supporters’ club meeting on the on-field
conduct of his star player Wayne Rooney: ‘‘Rooney’s
from Liverpool and everyone from that city has a chip
on their shoulder, so if an injustice is done to him on
the pitch, of course he is going to react’’ (cited in the Daily
Mirror, 2005).
In this interpretation, Scousers are aggrieved about how
society has treated them, feeling unfairly wronged by the
world. Sykes (2004, p. 8) offers some clarification here,
explaining that local people see themselves as victims
not of unfortunate circumstance per se, but of a ‘‘nega-
tively oriented discursive image within national space’’
creating widely accepted, but locally resented, stereotypes
of people and place. Murden (2006, p. 470) talks of how
‘‘Liverpool the ‘Self-Pity City’ became a common tabloid
accusation—a false perception that would be hard to
shift’’. With respect to Hillsborough, Scraton (2007, p.
75) recalls how media reporting referred to ‘‘a public dis-
play of self-indulgence, self-pity and mawkishness’’. The
reaction to Ken Bigley’s death, Hillsborough, James
Bulger, Anthony Walker and Rhys Jones are actually
examples of community spirit rather than communal
self-pity. On Rhys Jones’ murder, Liverpool footballer
Jamie Carragher explained: ‘‘One of the best things about
this city is that people pull together when it matters most
and this is one of those times’’ (Liverpool Football Club,
2007b). However, what is also true is that the identity of
Rhys’ killer was well known in the city, amongst police,
residents and even schoolchildren, and yet no-one came
forward with firm evidence to arrest the gunman, due to
fear of gangland retribution. For outsiders, this
undermines the traditional sense of community that has
historically characterised Liverpool (Daily Mail, 2007).
Some nine months later, a 17-year-old youth was charged
with murder and several others with assisting an offender
(BBC, 2008b).
‘Macro myths’ and Liverpool as a ‘maligned city’?
Collectively, the incidents covered thus far and their cov-
erage in the media fed deeply ingrained images of Liver-
pool and stereotypes of Scousers, what Sykes (2004) calls
‘word of mouth cliche
´s’ and ‘macro myths’. In terms of
people, these range from friendly and humorous to argu-
mentative, thieving, violent, lazy scroungers. In relation
to place, they include crime ridden, an economic basket
case and politically militant to lively, exciting, scenic and
cosmopolitan. Unfortunately, for many outsiders: ‘‘It was
a city to be pitied, ridiculed and reviled’’ (Murden, 2006,
p. 469). Rohrer (2002) argues that Liverpool is ‘a much-
maligned city’ where ‘‘much of the knocking that has
created Liverpool’s stereotypes emanates from the
Figure 10 Same as for Figure 9.
Figure 11 Local campaign banner against The Sun newspaper
Sources: <http://images.google.com>.
The construction of images of people and place: Labelling Liverpool and stereotyping Scousers: P Boland
364
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London-centric media’’. More generally, the same point
is raised by Avraham (2000, p. 364) on the role of the
national media in constructing ‘stereotypes, generalisa-
tions and myths’ about places. Even New Labour politi-
cians have been caught making ill-judged remarks;
addressing a meeting on crime prevention in Milton
Keynes, then-Home Secretary Jack Straw joked: ‘‘You
know what Scousers are like, they are always up to
something’’ (BBC, 1999). Clearly not all the blame lies
at the door of the media, or politicians-cum-comedians,
as they did not create the incidents involving Heysel,
Bulger, Shields, Walker or Jones; but the media do bear
responsibility for how Liverpool is portrayed. Often they
are guilty of creating or reinforcing existing stereotypes
of people and place—for example the national media
coverage of economic decline, Hillsborough, murders
and more recently drugs, crime and ‘chavs’. Take this
opening extract from a Sunday broadsheet section enti-
tled ‘Greetings from Gun City, UK. The mean streets
of Liverpool’:
‘‘It seems to be Liverpool’s destiny always to be setting
new benchmarks for urban barbarity. The city that brought
you the Toxteth riots, Heysel, the murder of James Bulger
and, last spring, the rape of a five-year-old girl by a 14-year-
old boy, has in the past year staked a plausible claim to
being the gun capital of the country’’ (Popham, 1996, p.
2, emphasis added).
Scraton (2007, p. 77) offers this evaluation of how the
city came to be viewed:
‘‘The cynical response of the media was to denigrate the
compassion felt by many people... During the coverage
of the James Bulger murder, the seal was set on the negative
reputation of Liverpool, transmitted on television and
reported in newspapers and journals worldwide. Plays, tele-
vision drama, autobiographies, disaster texts, articles, fea-
tures, comment pieces, editorials, chat shows, news items,
political interviews and reviews each provided vehicles for
the persistence of the myths of Hillsborough and the sys-
tematic, almost obsessive, denigration of the city of Liver-
pool and those inhabiting the Merseyside region’’.
Local, national and international views of the city
Studies of local residents (Hall, 2003) and specifically
young people (Goldson, 2003) reveal they are very aware
of these social stereotypes. In Speke and Dingle, two of
the most impoverished districts of the city, locals are con-
scious of negative external images of Liverpool, but also
negative images of their areas within the city due to levels
of physical decay and crime. This has led to unpleasant
and resented comparisons made, internally and externally,
between Speke and war-torn cities abroad. It also feeds a
feeling of being isolated from the outside world with
‘blame directed at them’ for their own predicament (Hall,
2003, p. 203). Locals are frustrated with these negative
images and feel helpless in their attempts to convey posi-
tive stories to the national media. Notwithstanding this,
estates such as these have a strong sense of community
spirit, forged during the economic restructuring of the
1970s and 1980s (Meegan, 1989, pp. 226–231). This sense
of community extended to what locals call ‘burying our
own dead’; recalling his childhood in 1970s-80s Liverpool,
this author remembers house-to-house collections to help
bereaved families with funeral costs (see also Meegan,
1989, p. 228). This collective compassion helped bind peo-
ple together, especially during a period of high unemploy-
ment and social problems.
During Hall’s (2003, p. 200) study one local resident
opined:
‘‘There’s a poor image being portrayed by the media of Spe-
ke, if you look at it, it has been classed as Beirut, Sarajevo,
houses from Hell. Speke is not Sarajevo; Speke is quite a
nice estate. The only problem is that you have these people
who come flying in from here, there and everywhere who
actually don’t live on the estate and can’t see the good
things that actually happen on the estate, nor can they
see the potential of what is going to happen over the next
few years’’.
Similarly, on his analysis of local youngsters Goldson
(2003, p. 150) reports:
‘‘[T]he overwhelming consensus among young people
within and across the focus groups was that the popular
external image of Liverpool was negative. The young peo-
ple felt that media representations of Liverpool – in both
news and drama – serve to perpetuate stereotypical images
underpinned by constructions of criminality and feckless-
ness. ‘Scouser’ has become a term of ridicule and insult’’.
Liam Fogarty, a local writer and broadcaster, has pro-
posed replacing Scouser with the older term Liverpolitan.
The justification is that Scouser has acquired too many
negative connotations in the national media and British
society (e.g. ‘Scouse scally’, ‘Scouse whinger’, ‘Scouse
scrounger’ and ‘Scouse thief’) and therefore a more neu-
tralised label for residents of the city is required to over-
come damaging stereotyping (BBC Liverpool, 2007b).
The audience reaction to this proposal (made during a live
BBC debate) was not enthusiastic, and many pointed to
the global appreciation of and affection towards Scousers.
In fact, there are interesting nuances in local, national and
international images of Liverpool. Put simply, the interna-
tional images are positive, national ones are positive and
Figure 12 Same as for Figure 11.
The construction of images of people and place: Labelling Liverpool and stereotyping Scousers: P Boland
365
Author's personal copy
negative while locals stress the positive but are acutely
aware of the negative (see Melville et al., 2007; also Sykes,
2004). Liverpool’s image amongst international visitors is
extremely positive, focused exclusively on The Beatles
and football, and to a lesser extent the city’s port. Na-
tional visitors also had strong images of the city and its
people which were fed by personal experience, specific
events and national press and television coverage. Positive
images included locals’ friendliness, sense of humour and
helpfulness and the quality of place, i.e. an exciting, vi-
brant and cultured city. In contrast, the negative images
reflected the unsavoury behaviour of local people (e.g.
thieving ‘scallies’), place characteristics (e.g. violent, dirty,
deprived) and a hangover from earlier decades (e.g. radi-
calism, riots). Locals were eager to stress the range of po-
sitive attributes of the city and its people, but were
sensitised to negative images that still cloud Liverpool in
the national psyche (also Hall, 2003). They also suggested
that some of the negativity was more specific to Liverpool
(e.g. levels of poverty, inequality and multi-generational
unemployment) while other problems were common to
other parts of Britain (e.g. anti-social behaviour, drugs
and crime). The feeling amongst local people surveyed
is that the re-imaging and re-branding of Liverpool, espe-
cially through the Capital of Culture, is geared to external
audiences and those able to make financial profit, rather
than local people (Melville et al., 2007, pp. 11–15).
Reflecting on their findings, Melville et al. (2007) argue
that despite recent improvements there is still a problem
with Liverpool’s image within Britain:
‘‘[T]he city is still a victim of its recent past and the marked
negative representations that have prevailed in the media
for the last three decades...this continues to have a major
bearing on national perceptions today’’ (p. 5).
‘‘A particularly strong message emerging from all partici-
pants was their belief that Liverpool was misrepresented
in the mainstream media and that direct experience of the
city and its people was the best way to overcome outdated
stereotypes’’ (p. 16).
Currently, there are contrasting television-driven ‘cul-
tural knowledges’ of Liverpool. During specified times
during the daytime and evening Hollywood TV, Informa-
tion TV and Info TV2 (Sky digital channels) provide the
official gloss of the city in its role as the European Capital
of Culture (see also <www.liverpool08.com>). Through
this medium, we can savour stunning views of the regen-
erating city centre, glean information of exciting initia-
tives underway and observe local dignitaries lauding the
success and impact of Liverpool08 (the Capital of Culture
logo). However, a rather different spatial narrative of the
city was presented by the BBC’s Panorama team (BBC 1,
2008). The programme focused on exposing the existence
of worrying youth sub-cultures – revolving around drugs-
guns-gangs-crime—in impoverished estates in the city.
Whilst not questioning the journalistic integrity of the
researchers, documentaries of this nature have a specific
remit, it not agenda, to adhere to. Setting aside issues
regarding the generalisability of findings from only two
housing estates, the programme did offer an alternative
cultural interpretation of Liverpool in 2008. As a deliber-
ate counter-culture to Liverpool08, this programme
showed the stark reality of local youngsters performing
and glorifying their street activities. Moreover, it is impor-
tant to note the recurrent themes which continue to rein-
force external images of Liverpool as a place of
criminality, drugs and violence. The reality is that it offers
a different cultural view of Liverpool in 2008 and in so
doing questions the legitimacy of Liverpool as a ‘cultural
city’, or at least it is an acknowledgement that different
cultures operate in different spaces in the city. Like earlier
examples, this programme would have been very difficult
viewing for those re-imaging and re-branding Liverpool.
Conclusions
This paper has responded to Avraham’s (2000) call for
more analysis of the factors which shape images of the
city. It has discussed how the ‘cultural knowledge’ of Liv-
erpool and Scousers is constructed. Key factors include
television, comedy, events and tragedies, and their cover-
age by the media. During the 1970s and 1980s the most
prevalent negative images related to economic decline,
unemployment, welfare dependency, social problems,
crime and political radicalism. They adversely affected
private sector interest, the economic fortunes of the city
and the plight of its inhabitants. Indeed, in some quarters,
these perceptions persist. More recently the city is por-
trayed as a place of urban violence and criminality, espe-
cially gang crime and illegal drugs activity. This flies in the
face of current attempts to re-brand Liverpool as a crea-
tive, sophisticated, exciting, cultured city.
For place marketing and branding literatures, the paper
develops our understanding of the importance of the med-
ia in constructions of images of the city. It is a powerful
communication tool, not only through news coverage, film
and documentaries because light-hearted programmes can
be equally, and in some cases more effective, in creating
or reinforcing social and spatial stereotypes. Events and
their media coverage create legacies which are difficult
to shake off, and Liverpool is instructive here. The paper
explains how important historical and contemporary
events and processes, and how they are played out in
the media, lead to the creation of powerful images of peo-
ple and place. It reveals the diversity and intensity of Liv-
erpool’s images, and offers a more systematic contribution
to the how and why dimensions of negative place imagery.
In an era of sophisticated marketing and branding there
remain ongoing challenges with negative place imagery.
It is not as straightforward as it may seem and more atten-
tion needs to be given to the causal factors and processes
that lead to the construction of negative images of the
city. This paper does not suggest that responsibility rests
entirely with the media. Clearly, they have an important,
and in many cases instrumental, role in how they portray
people and place; however, cities, or more accurately peo-
ple therein, are also culpable in the sense that they create
events from which images and stereotypes are con-
structed. It would be easy to simply blame the media,
and many locals do; this, however, only captures some
of the story.
The study also shows that the current fad with re-brand-
ing cities is highly selective and sanitised to satiate external
The construction of images of people and place: Labelling Liverpool and stereotyping Scousers: P Boland
366
Author's personal copy
audiences, and thereby does not reflect more realistic real-
ities of life in the contemporary city. What this paper has
shown is the importance of television broadcasting, print
journalism and online sources in contributing to the con-
struction of powerful images of people and place, whether
it be newspapers, news programmes, fictional ‘soaps’, com-
edy shows, websites or dramas based on real life events.
Ending on matters of theoretical contribution, the paper
develops the concept of ‘cultural knowledge’ in explaining
how the city and its people are ‘represented, constructed
and imagined’ through a detailed analysis of the labelling
of Liverpool and stereotyping of Scousers.
Acknowledgements
The author would like to thank Jon Anderson, Paul Bo-
land, John Lovering, Kenneth Leatherbarrow, Pete Shir-
low, Scott Rodgers and the anonymous referees for
comments on an earlier version of this paper. This paper
is dedicated to the memories of Philip Boland (senior)
RIP and Sea
´n Murray RIP.
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Further Reading
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The construction of images of people and place: Labelling Liverpool and stereotyping Scousers: P Boland
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... In February 1993, two ten-year-old boys abducted and murdered James Bulger, a twoyear-old in the Bootle region of Merseyside (Boland, 2008;Girling, Loader and Sparks, 1998;Hay, 1995). The public saw film footage of the abduction on the television, and it stimulated people's emotions because, despite seeing the crime, they were unable to stop it (Hay, 1995). ...
... However, the murder challenged this concept, as people questioned their abilities at differentiating between innocent and delinquent children and young people (Hay, 1995). The Bulger case also led to discussions about the characteristics of children and young people who lived in urban areas (Boland, 2008;Hay, 1995). Hay (1995) suggested that the media portrayed children and young people from urban areas as deviants (Hay, 1995). ...
... Hay (1995) suggested that the media portrayed children and young people from urban areas as deviants (Hay, 1995). Boland (2008) mentioned that Liverpool, as the location of the murder, was significant because it was stereotyped as being in economic decline, with high levels of welfare dependency, social problems, and crime. Hay (1995) remarked that the Bulger murder made parents' more fearful about their children's safety, and they took extra measures to protect them. ...
Thesis
Full-text available
A topic neglected in the academic literature is an exploration of police officers’ perspectives on policing anti-social behaviour involving children and young people. The purpose of this thesis is to contribute to bridging that gap in the existing literature. This thesis describes a qualitative study that collected data by conducting semi-structured interviews with serving police officers from a United Kingdom police service. The academic literature indicated that the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 resulted in considerable changes to policing anti-social behaviour. Therefore, this study wanted to capture the police officers’ perspectives of policing anti-social behaviour before and after the implementation of the Act. Therefore, serving police officers who began their service prior to the legislation were recruited. A key finding of this thesis is that the legal definition of anti-social behaviour is imprecise. Consequently, police officers defined and interpreted anti-social behaviour differently according to their unique worldviews. However, this study found that a key component of police officers’ definitions of anti-social behaviour is their understanding of respect. Police officers tended to define anti-social behaviour as conduct that showed disrespect or was inconsiderate to other people. This study found that since the mid-1990s, the police officers had noticed changes in the policing of anti-social behaviour involving children and young people. The types of changes they noticed included the demand for policing anti-social behaviour due to the public’s expectations, and the policing priority given to it. Police officers perceived that ‘traditional’ anti-social behaviour involving children and young people gathering in public spaces was now less prevalent and instead, a larger policing issue was the emerging phenomenon of cyber anti-social behaviour. The police officers indicated there had been changes in the police service’s response to the anti-social behaviour of children and young people. Police officers suggested there were differences in their discretion to informally resolve anti-social behaviour incidents because of an increase in accountability for their response to it. Additionally, the ethos had moved away from criminalising children and young people for anti-social behaviour, and instead, offering them conditional social support to help them desist. The multi-agency response to anti-social behaviour provided new insights into the causes of it and the vulnerability of children and young people. This study identified that police officers held contrasting perspectives about their organisation's approach to anti-social behaviour involving children and young people. There are implications for further research on the policing of anti-social behaviour. The research findings indicated that now academics need to be careful about using terms such as ‘the police view’ because police officers have multiple different perspectives on anti-social behaviour. Additionally, the focus of the literature was on ‘traditional’ anti-social behaviour caused by children and young people in public spaces, however that needs reviewing because of the emergence of cyber anti-social behaviour. Furthermore, the literature tends to link anti-social behaviour with low-level crime. However, due to the recent association between anti-social behaviour, child criminal exploitation and child sexual exploitation, the relationship between it and criminal offences requires revision.
... Rodríguez-Pose uses Liverpool as an example of a place in economic decline, but it can also be noted for the rich social meanings attached to the city. Boland (2008) finds that locals were highly "sensitized to negative images that still cloud Liverpool in the national psyche, " from the "the unsavory behavior of local people (e.g., thieving 'scallies'), place characteristics (e.g., violent, dirty, deprived), and a hangover from earlier decades (e.g., radicalism, riots)." This "territorial stigmatization" (Wacquant, 2008) is made apparent both in locallevel interactions (Hall, 2003) and through the UK's national entertainment and news media environment, in which people are often confronted with the judgments of outsiders: since the 2000s, online "Crap Towns" surveys, where anyone can vote on and describe the worst places in Britain, have become fodder for bestselling books and the national news (Gilmore, 2013). ...
Article
Full-text available
A popular explanation for the recent success of right-wing populist candidates, parties and movements is that this is the ‘revenge of the places that don’t matter’ (Rodriguez-Pose, 2018). Under this meso-level account, as economic development focuses on increasingly prosperous cities, voters in less dynamic and rural areas feel neglected by the political establishment, and back radical change. However, this premise is typically tested through the analysis of voting behaviour rather than directly through citizens’ feelings of political trust, and non-economic sources of grievance are not explored. We develop place-oriented measures of trust, perceived social marginality and perceived economic deprivation adapted from Gest et al (2018). We show that deprived and rural areas of Britain indeed lack trust in government. However, the accompanying sense of grievance for each type of area is different. Modelling these as separate outcomes, our analysis suggests that outside of cities, people lack trust because they feel socially marginal, whereas people in deprived areas lack trust owing to a combination of perceived economic deprivation and perceived social marginality. Our results speak to the need to recognise diversity among the ‘places that don’t matter’, and that people in these areas may reach a similar outlook on politics for different reasons.
Article
This paper explores the lived space of entrepreneurial urbanism in Ørestad, a 1990s mega-project still under development on the edge of Copenhagen. Drawing upon in-depth interviews, interactive map-making and critical discourse analysis, it shows that imaginaries of urban competition, place branding and cosmopolitanism have only superficially been internalized by residents as part of their lived space in Ørestad, even revealing contradictory everyday practices and experiences. Rather than the cosmopolitan metropole and connected city space it was conceived to become, the district is experienced as a disconnected housing satellite without much street life, as a stepping stone to something better by reducing home to exchange value, and as an area with a community based in opposition. A sense of place identity and place attachment does exist for many Ørestaders but it is born out of ‘do-it-yourself mentality’ and reaction to a sense of ephemerality. The lived space of entrepreneurial urbanism in Ørestad can only partly be understood by what the district is, but much more by what it is not – i.e. by what it lacks from the perspective of its residents.
Article
Liverpool English, or “Scouse”, is reportedly spreading into surrounding areas including the Wirral. Interviews with adolescent female speakers on the Wirral revealed that certain language features are perceived as sounding more or less “Scouse”. Some features were also strongly associated with a stereotypical “Scouser” identity that speakers evaluated negatively and explicitly denied. Others were associated with sounding like a Liverpool speaker and evaluated positively. We conclude that there are multiple and embedded repertoires perceived by these speakers: a “Scouse” repertoire associated with solidarity, locality (Liverpool) and coolness and the repertoire of a “Scouser” which is associated with being unintelligible, non-posh and annoying.
Chapter
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In a recent survey of trends in a wide range of European cities, Parkinson and Harding argue that 'the years to 2000 will be an age of entrepreneurial cities' (1995: 66). This trend continues a general movement over the last decade 'towards greater entrepreneurialism, more intense inter-urban competition and the conscious promotion of place-specific development strategies' (1995: 67). Moreover, as these authors suggest, this involves more than an objective trend in urban economic development policy; for being an 'entrepreneurial city' has also become a central element in many cities' self-images and/or place marketing activities. This is well-illustrated by the reworking of the thematic of the 'entrepreneurial city' as a key feature of urban discourses connected with the 'enterprise culture' in Britain, North America, and the antipodean outposts of neo-liberalism. Nor is this thematic restricted to neo-liberal discourses: entrepreneurial city strategies can also be linked with neo-corporatist, neo- statist, or even community-based modes of governance. But it is usually conceded that the eventual success of all such strategies will still depend on market forces.
Chapter
This concluding chapter discusses Liverpool's prospects in the new millennium. The Port of Liverpool, for example, is undergoing rapid transformation with plans of new cultural and leisure facilities. The city is also becoming a leading site for call centres, new factories. Its potential as a major tourist centre is also being increasingly acknowledged. Liverpool has also been developing a reputation for innovation in community-based regeneration. Finally, the chapter discusses the role of civic and political leadership in the development and regeneration of Liverpool.
Chapter
This chapter discusses the settlement and integration of Black or ethnic minorities in Liverpool. First, it gives a brief historical background and overview of the settlement and development of the Black and Asian community in Liverpool. It then evaluates the quality of life and everyday experience of the city's Black community. The chapter also presents case studies on the life experience and quality two communities, the Somalis and the Chinese, focusing on the areas of housing, employment, education and health.
Chapter
This chapter discusses the decline of Liverpool from ‘world city’ to ‘pariah city’ during the course of the twentieth century. It begins with a brief discussion of the similarities between the development of the global economy in the period 1870–1914 and more recent patterns of globalisation. It then discusses the role of the merchant class in the growth of the colonial system and governance of Liverpool. Finally, the chapter examines the economic decline of Liverpool, arguing that its central role in the colonial economic system underpinned its development as a key node in the nineteenth-century global economy.
Chapter
This chapter evaluates the extent, nature and consequences of poverty in relation to young people in urban settings. It focuses on two concentrated poverty areas in Liverpool — Dingle and Speke. The chapter examines the conceptualisations of disadvantaged and excluded youth in relation to their neighbourhoods and their perspectives on area-based regeneration initiatives. Finally, the chapter assesses the impact of state policy on youth poverty and considers the potential for youth participation within area-based regeneration.