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In the last three years a new vocabulary of social class has emerged in Britain. The word “chav,” alongside its various synonyms and regional variations, has become a ubiquitous term of abuse for the white poor. This article explores the emergence of the grotesque and comic figure of the chav within a range of contemporary British media focusing on the role played by disgust reactions in the generation and circulation of the chav figure through popular media. Concentrating on the figure of the female chav, and the vilification of young white working-class mothers, this article argues that the “chav mum” is produced through disgust reactions as an intensely affective figure that embodies historically familiar and contemporary anxieties about female sexuality, reproduction, fertility, and “racial mixing.”
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Feminist Media Studies
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“Chav Mum Chav Scum”
Imogen Tyler
Published online: 18 Mar 2008.
To cite this article: Imogen Tyler (2008) “Chav Mum Chav Scum”, Feminist Media Studies, 8:1,
17-34, DOI: 10.1080/14680770701824779
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Class disgust in contemporary Britain
Imogen Tyler
In the last three years a new vocabulary of social class has emerged in Britain. The word “chav,”
alongside its various synonyms and regional variations, has become a ubiquitous term of abuse
for the white poor. This article explores the emergence of the grotesque and comic figure of the
chav within a range of contemporary British media focusing on the role played by disgust reactions
in the generation and circulation of the chav figure through popular media. Concentrating on the
figure of the female chav, and the vilification of young white working-class mothers, this article
argues that the “chav mum” is produced through disgust reactions as an intensely affective figure
that embodies historically familiar and contemporary anxieties about female sexuality,
reproduction, fertility, and “racial mixing.”
The reason Vicky Pollard caught the public imagination is that she embodies with such
fearful accuracy of several of the great scourges of contemporary Britain: aggressive all-
female gangs of embittered, hormonal, drunken teenagers; gym slip mums who choose to
get pregnant as a career option; pasty-faced, lard-gutted slappers who’ll drop their
knickers in the blink of an eye ... these people do exist and are every bit as ripe and just a
target for social satire as were, say, the raddled working-class drunks sent up by Hogarth in
Gin Lane. (James Delingpole 2006, p. 25)
Disgust and contempt motivate and sustain the low ranking of things, people, and actions
deemed disgusting and contemptible. (William Miller 1997, p. xiv)
KEYWORDS social class; race; gender; news media; internet forum; blogs; emotion; affect;
humour; comedy; single mothers
In the last three years a new vocabulary of social class has emerged in Britain.
The word “chav,” alongside its various synonyms and regional variations, has become a
ubiquitous term of abuse for white working-class subjects. This article explores the
emergence of the grotesque and comic figure of the chav within a range of contemporary
British media: primarily television comedy, Internet fora, and newspapers. Bringing together
current sociological research on social class and recent feminist theoretical writing on
emotions, I consider how social class is emotionally mediated, focusing on the role played
by disgust reactions in the generation and circulation of the chav figure. The article begins
Feminist Media Studies, Vol. 8, No. 1, 2008
ISSN 1468-0777 print/ISSN 1471-5902
q2008 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/14680770701824779
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with a short account of the figurative methodology I develop and employ in my analysis
of the chav figure, before considering some specific examples of the chav figure within
contemporary British media. Concentrating on the figure of the female chav and the
vilification of young white working-class mothers, I explore how the “chav mum” is
produced through disgust reactions as an intensely affective figure that embodies
historically familiar and contemporary anxieties about sexuality, reproduction and fertility
and “racial mixing.” In the conclusion, I argue that the level of disgust directed at the chav
is suggestive of a heightened class antagonism that marks a new episode in the dirty
ontology of class struggle in Britain.
Figurative Methodology
Social classifications are complex political formations that are generated and
characterised by representational struggles. Indeed, all processes of social classification,
including gender, race, and sexuality, are mediated. It is my contention that these
representational struggles are often played out within highly condensed figurative forms.
In this article I use the term “figure” to describe the ways in which at different historical and
cultural moments specific “social types” become over determined and are publicly imagined
(are figured) in excessive, distorted, and caricatured ways. It is my contention that the
emergence of these figures is always expressive of an underlying social crisis or anxiety: these
figures are mobilised in ways that attribute superior forms of social capital to the subject
positions and social groups they are implicitly or explicitly differentiated from. In terms of
classed identities, we can understand the emergence of the chav figure as an intrinsic part of
a larger process of “class making” which attempts to distinguish the white upper and middle
classes from the white poor. These processes of class differentiation are particularly fraught
within a social and political present in which some of the traditional visible markers of class
difference, such as access to branded consumer goods and access to higher education, have
been eroded. Although, as I shall argue in my conclusion, the chav figure should also be
understood in the context of deepening economic inequality and class polarisation in Britain.
The methodological approach to media analysis I develop here, centres on tracking
the repetition of specific figures within and across different media. This figurative approach,
adapted primarily from Ahmed’s account of stranger fetishism (2000) and the work of
feminist science studies scholar Castan
˜eda (2002) links the etymological (a focus on
meaning) with the ontological (ways of being in the world). As Claudia Castan
˜eda writes:
A figure, from this point of view, is the simultaneously material and semiotic effect of
specific practices. Understood as figures ... particular categories of existence can also be
considered in terms of their uses—what they “body forth” in turn. Figuration is thus
understood here to incorporate a double force: constitutive effect and generative
circulation. (2002, p. 3)
This approach refuses any binary distinction between the material and the semiotic,
signs and signifying practices are understood as having material effects that shape the
appearance of and our experience of others. As Castan
˜eda notes, this concept of figuration
“makes it possible to describe in detail the process by which a concept or entity is given
particular form—how it is figured—in ways that speak to the making of worlds” (2002, p. 3).
When applied within a media studies context, this suggests that we should understand
mediation not only as representational (in a more structuralist sense) but as a constitutive
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and generative process. A figurative methodology makes it possible to describe—zoom in
on—appearances of a figure within specific media and contexts, whilst also insisting that
it is through the repetition of a figure across different media that specific figures acquire
accreted form and accrue affective value in ways that have significant social and political
impact. This approach is needed precisely because it is only when a range of different
media forms and practices coalesce that these overdetermined figures materialise.
The movement of the classed figure of the chav across a range of media is, I will argue,
propelled by emotional responses. Specifically, I will argue that we need to consider the role
of the emotion, disgust, in the mediation of social class. The build-up of negative emotional
residue around the figure of the chav not only grants this figure a set of loaded meanings
but is also more fundamentally constitutive of this figure. Negative emotions and associated
moral judgments become harnessed to the figure of the chav and the disgusting qualities
attributed to this figure slide into corporeal qualities so the figure of the chav becomes
animated and takes on the appearance of having a life of its own (see Ahmed 2000, p. 5; Ngai
2002, p. 573). Disgust reactions are central to the ability of this figure to materialise, to “body
forth” and to become meaningful. Moreover, as I will argue, this class disgust is invoked and
deployed in instrumental ways, marking difference and blocking social mobility.
Class Disgust
In The Anatomy of Disgust, William Miller argues that:
Emotions are feelings linked to ways of talking about these feelings ... Emotions, even
the most visceral, are richly social, cultural, and linguistic phenomena ... Emotions are
feelings connected to ideas, perceptions and cognitions and to the social and cultural
contexts in which it makes sense to have these feelings and ideas ... They give our world
its peculiarly animated quality; they make it a source of fear, joy, outrage, disgust, and
delight. (1997, p. 8)
For Miller, emotions are feelings mediated, affects animated. The term animation is
particularly provoking here—to animate something is to breathe life into an inanimate
figure. The idea that emotions are animating is a useful way of analysing how figures are
brought to life and endowed with affect through mediation (see Ngai 2002). This is
particularly revealing in the case of social class, for social class is often represented through
caricatured figures—the toff, the yuppie, the public school boy, the suburban wife, the flat-
capped working man, the gypsy, the chav—figures that are often communicated in highly
emotive ways. One of the ways in which social class is emotionally mediated is through
repeated expressions of disgust for those deemed to be of a lower social class. As Miller
argues, disgust sustains “the low ranking of things, people, and actions deemed disgusting
and contemptible” (1997, p. xiv).
An everyday definition of disgust would be: an emotion experienced and expressed as a
sickening feeling of revulsion, loathing, or nausea. The physicality of disgust reactions means
that the communication of disgust draws heavily on metaphors of sensation. As Miller notes,
disgust “needs images ofbad taste, foul smells, creepy touchings, ugly sights, bodily secretions
and excretions to articulate the judgments it asserts” (1997, p. 218). Disgust is always
“a response tosomething” (Miller 1997, p. 8); we do not “feel disgusted in the abstract” (Ahmed
2004, p. 85) and our disgust reactions are often revealing of wider social power relations.
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Sociologists Lawler and Skeggs have analysed the role of middle-class disgust (for the
working classes) in the formation of social class in Britain. Their accounts of class disgust are
unusual, for whilst disgust has often been central to descriptive depictions of social class
in Britain, less attention has been paid to the role of emotions in the formation of class
identities (see Lawler 2005). There has been a considerable amount of scholarship,
influenced by Pierre Bourdieu, on taste and class, but emotions have been marginalised
within class research. Whilst there is now a growing call for work on social class to take
the role of emotions more seriously, the relative absence of research on class disgust is
also interesting because social class has become something of a disgusting subject
(see Adkins & Skeggs 2005; Lawler 2005; Sayer 2002).
Social class virtually disappeared as a central site of analysis within cultural and media
studies in the late 1980s, a disappearance that was mirrored by a similar retreat from class
within wider social and political discourse (Skeggs 2005, p. 45). This is not to say that class
distinctions, however we measure them, have been eroded or are in decline. On the
contrary, class disappeared as a central site of analysis at precisely the same time as
economic polarisation reached unparalleled depths in Britain (Skeggs 2005, p. 45). As Skeggs
suggests, the disappearance of class as an analytic category occurs alongside the rise of
political rhetoric of inclusion, classlessness, and social mobility, whilst terms such as “social
exclusion” and “the underclass” rapidly took the place of terms such as “working class” (2005,
p. 47). As Skeggs argues, social class is displaced and effaced within these vocabularies in
ways that have enabled an “abdication from acknowledging class relations” (2005, p. 54). As
the acknowledgement of class inequalities has been suppressed within contemporary
Britain, the history and specificity of class cultures, class identities, and class struggles have
been increasingly repudiated. These changes have made academic research on social class
seem increasingly “out of date.” In particular, as the term “working class” has been
incrementally emptied of meaning, teaching and research into issues of class inequality is
now often viewed as “paranoid” or felt to be embarrassing and even shameful (see Sayer
2002). In the last two decades academics from working-class backgrounds and, perhaps
most perversely, those who work within disciplines that were founded upon research on class,
such as cultural studies and sociology, experience their own class origins as a “dirty secret.”
If social class “directly articulated” and as “the object of analysis, has largely
disappeared” (Skeggs 2005, p. 46) both within the academy and in wider social and political
discourse, portrayals of class differences have nevertheless persisted within popular culture.
However, according to Skeggs & Wood (2004), popular representations of the working class
have also been recoded or “re-routed” in ways that avoid explicit reference to social class.
Lawler notes that, “What has changed in recent years is less the sentiments than the explicit
naming of class as such” (2005, p. 437). Whilst I agree that explicit naming of social class was to
some extent repressed or transcoded from the 1980s onwards, I want to argue that this
situation has shifted. In particular, the emergence of the figure of the chav has made class
differences and antagonisms explicitly visible in contemporary Britain. Indeed, the apparent
level of disgust provoked by the figure of the chav is suggestive of a deeper shift in class
The Figure of Chav
Chav, and its various synonyms and regional variations (including Pikey, Townie,
Charver, Chavette, Chavster, Dumbo, Gazza, Hatchy, Hood Rat, Kev, Knacker, Ned,
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Scally, Scumbag, Shazza, Skanger), have become ubiquitous terms of abuse for the
white poor within contemporary British culture. Since 2003 we have seen the emergence
of an entire slang vocabulary around chav, which includes terms such as chavellers cheques
(giro and benefit payments), chavtastic, chaving a laugh (laughter at chavs), chavbaiting,
chavalanche (large group of chavs), chavalier (chav car), chavspeak, chavspotting and
acronyms, such as “Council Housed And Violent,” “Council Housed And Vile,” and “Council
House Associated Vermin.” Folk etymologies have sprung up to explain the term: some
sources suggest that the term chav might derive from a distortion of a Romany word for a
child, (chavo or chavi), or that it may have originated in the Medway town of Chatham.
Others argue that chav is an historical East End of London term for child, while others
suggest it emerges from the term charver, long used in the north east of England to
describe the disenfranchised white poor (see Nayak 2003). As criminologists Haywood and
Yar argue, all these etymological accounts suggest that the term chav “has always been
connected with communities who have experienced social deprivation in one form or
another” (2006, p. 16). In current parlance, the term chav is aligned “with stereotypical
notions of lower-class” and is, above all, “a term of intense class-based abhorrence”
(Haywood & Yar 2006, p. 16).
Chav News
One of the primary sites within which the chav figure has been constituted is
newspapers. Writing in The Edinburgh Evening News in 2004, the year in which disgust and
fascination with chavs peaked in the British press, journalist Gina Davidson pronounces:
And we will know them by their dress ... and trail of fag ends, sparkling white trainers,
baggy tracksuit trousers, branded sports top, gold-hooped earrings, “sovvy” rings and the
ubiquitous Burberry baseball cap. Throw them together, along with a pack of Regal, and
you have the uniform of what is being described as the UK’s new underclass—the chav.
Call them what you will, identifying them is easy. They are the sullen youths in hooded
tops and spanking-new trainers who loiter listlessly on street corners and shopping malls,
displaying an apparent lack of education and an all too obvious taste for fighting; the
slack-jawed girls with enough gold or gold-plated jewellery to put H Samuel out of
business. They are the dole-scroungers, petty criminals, football hooligans and teenage
pram-pushers. (2004, p. 14)
Davidson’s invocation of “dole-scroungers, petty criminals, football hooligans and teenage
pram-pushers” illustrates how the chav figure comes to embody in a condensed form a
series of older stereotypes of the white poor. In particular, the use of phrases such as “petty
criminal” and “dole-scroungers,” conjures up debates from the 1980s and 90s about the rise
of a socially excluded “underclass.” However, one of the things that distinguishes the figure
of the chav from previous accounts of the underclass is the emphasis on the excessive
consumption of consumer and branded goods. Indeed, within news media accounts of the
chav, this figure is primarily identified by means of his or her “bad,” “vulgar” and excessive
consumer choices—cheap brands of cigarettes, cheap jewellery, branded sports tops,
gold-hooped earrings, sovereign-rings, Burberry baseball caps. As Hayward and Yar argue
“the ‘chav’ phenomenon recapitulates the discursive creation of the underclass, while
simultaneously reconfiguring it within the space of commodity consumption” (2006, p. 16).
Certainly, it is arguable that changes in the configuration of social class in Britain and shifts
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in traditional markers of social class (such as accent or education) have made it more difficult
to ascertain class difference. In the context of shifting class definitions, the vilification
of the chav can be interpreted as a symptom of a middle-class desire to re-demarcate class
boundaries within the context of contemporary consumer culture. However, the attempt to
demarcate class difference through practices of consumption is not a new phenomenon.
Moreover, it is important to note that depictions of the white working class have
always pivoted on appearance and, in particular, on a perceived excess of (bodily)
materiality. Indeed, newspaper accounts of chavs vividly recall Victorian and Edwardian
accounts of the dangerous, immoral, and libidinal lower classes. As Keith Haywood and
Majid Yar note:
just as was the case in the 19th century, when terms such as “moral wretch,” “degenerate
poor,” “depraved nomad,” and “savage outcast” all ultimately came to be incorporated
under the umbrella term “dangerous class,” the word “chav” is increasingly acting as a
ubiquitous structural category—a soft semantic target for those keen to rebadge the
underprivileged and socially excluded among us as a new form of feckless underclass.
(2006, p. 17)
Within news media accounts of chavs, older iconographies of the excess and horror of the
lower classes are reanimated within a rush of descriptions of sullen, hooded, loitering,
unemployed, pram-pushing, intoxicated youths. Through the figure of chav a new publicly
sanctioned wave of middle-class contempt for the lower classes is bodied forth. Consider
for instance, the following extract from a Sunday Telegraph article titled “In Defence of
It’s official: the classless society is finished. After decades in remission, the most infamous
of British vices—snobbery—is making a comeback ... They are the non-respectable
working classes: the dole-scroungers, petty criminals, football hooligans and teenage
pram-pushers. They are also the kind of people one would not dare mock face-to-face ...
Chavs are often poor, but they are not weak: on the contrary, they are in the cultural
ascendant. They are tough enough to take a little ribbing. And for the rest of us—too
frightened to take them on in person—there is a delicious release to be had from laughing
at them. (Jemima Lewis 2004, p. 23)
In this article, journalist Lewis argues that mockery of chavs marks the return of traditional
snobbery. Identifying herself as middle class she identifies the chav as “the non-respectable
working classes.” Contrary to claims that “directly articulated” class distinctions have
disappeared, this overt class-naming demonstrates how the emergence of the figure of the
chav is part of a resurgence of the explicit naming of social class within British media.
Lewis’s article is indicative of the many thousands of descriptions of chavs published within
British newspapers since 2003, accounts in which class differences are not seen as
irrelevant, outmoded or shameful to articulate but are openly and aggressively explored
through virulent unapologetic stereotyping. (Note that Davidson in The Edinburgh Evening
News clearly borrowed from Lewis, reproducing the phrase, “dole-scroungers, petty
criminals, football hooligans and teenage pram-pushers.” This is suggestive of the ways in
which electronic media and the availability of newspaper articles online, encourages a
particular kind of “cut and paste” approach that uses repetition in ways that intensify the
focus on fetishised social figures.)
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Broadsheet newspaper articles on chavs tend to fall into two groups: articles by
journalists such as Burchill that are highly critical of the new vilification of the working
classes and articles by journalists such as Lewis that overtly celebrate this “new snobbery”
and offer vivid descriptions of the “delicious release” afforded by class disgust. From 2003
onwards, these two opposing broadsheet positions on chavs have been played out in an
ever growing series of articles which—through response and counter-response—struggle
over and simultaneously invent the figure of the chav.
In a 2006 The Times article titled, “A conspiracy against chavs? Count me in”
Delingpole mocks the “hand-wringing prose” of “humourless, Polly Toynbee-style Lefties”
who defend chavs. Delingpole describes chavs as “disgusting, selfish, violent underclass
specimen[s]” and articulates his class disgust in terms of “a socially necessary” snobbery.
As he writes:
As a member of probably the most discriminated-against subsection in the whole of
British society—the white, middle-aged, public-school-and-Oxbridge educated middle-
class male—I see no reason why ... the Vicky Pollards and the Waynes and Waynettas
our world have got it coming to them. If they weren’t quite so repellent, we wouldn’t need
to make jokes about them, would we? The function of satire is not only to make us laugh,
but also, with luck, to draw our attention to the things that are wrong with the world and
help mock them into extinction. (James Delingpole 2006, p. 25)
In a perverse appropriation of identity politics, journalists Delingpole and Lewis both claim
middle-class identity as a site of injury and oppression (subject to terrorisation by violent
chavs) and thus actively defend (and reproduce) upper middle-class entitlement. These
accounts of middle-class injury recall Brown’s claim that access to political power is
increasingly premised on the ability to define yourself as injured (1995). This “middle-class
injury” is of course laced with black humour. As Delingpole states, the function of this
“chav-baiting” is to “mock them into extermination.” Economic inequality, class-based
discrimination and open snobbery are made palatable through claims that this vicious
name calling is “ironic” or has a “satirical” function.
Menninghaus argues that laughing at something is “an act of expulsion” that closely
resembles the rejecting movement of disgust reactions. Disgust and laughter are, he notes
“complementary ways of admitting an alterity” (2003, p. 11). Like disgust, laughter is
community-forming, it is often contagious and it generates proximity. Laughter is always
shared with a real or imagined community. Laughter is often at the expense of another, and
when we laugh we effectively “fix” the other, as the object of comedy. Laughter moves us
both literally and figuratively, we are averted, moved away from the thing, the object or
figure, we laugh at. In the case of laughter at those of a lower class, laughter is boundary-
forming. It creates a distance between “them” and “us,” asserting moral judgments and a
superior class position. As Miller notes, “Laughing habits turn out to be one of the crucial
clues we use to get a fix on a person’s moral and social competence” revealing an
individual’s “social place” and their aspirations, where they would like to be placed (1997,
p. 83). These newspaper accounts of chavs employ a “combination of parody and serious
intent” (Billig 2001, p. 277) to produce a disgust which is not simply reactive but is
constitutive of social class. Laughing at chavs is a way of naming, managing and authorising
class disgust, contempt, and anxiety. The expression of class disgust within newspaper
articles on chavs is deliberate and self-conscious, it is a feigned disgust performed both
for our entertainment and as a means of asserting middle-class identity claims. In the online
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vocabulary of chav-hate, we can further discern the ways in which class disgust is
performed in ways that are community-forming.
Chav Online
The website, urbandictionary (n.d.) is an online slang dictionary that functions as an
unofficial online authority on English language slang. Urbandictionary was created and is
owned by a former computer science student Aaron Peckham, who launched the site in 1999
to compare slang used by students in California. Urbandictionary is modelled on an internet
forum in which (unregistered) users post definitions of new or existing slang terms, which are
then reviewed by volunteer editors before being published. Visitors to the site vote on
definitions (which can include images and sounds) by clicking a thumb-up or thumb-down
icon and these postings are then ranked according to the votes they have accrued: The tag
line of urbandictionary is “Define your World.” The website currently hosts 300,000 definitions
of slang terms and is ranked as one of the 2,000 highest web traffic sites in the world. The site
profile states that 65 per cent of the users are under 25. There were 368 definitions of the term
chav posted on the site at the time of writing this article, and I have listed below a small
number of indicative phrases taken from some of the most highly ranked posts.
Chavs ... the cancer of the United Kingdom
They live in estates, feeding off our taxes through benefits, which they spend on countless
rings, thick gold chains, cigarettes and alcohol.
Chav: a type of person who lacks the intelligence to be able to speak or write proper
english, uses words, if they are proper words such as “blingin,” “mingin” etc
Favourite jobs of chavs: drug dealer, McDonalds worker, prostitute, page 3 “model.”
Disgusting, dirty, loud, ugly, stupid arseholes that threaten, fight, cause trouble,
impregnate 14 year olds, ask for money, ask for fags, ... steal your phones, wear crap
sports wear, drink cheap cider and generally spread their hate.
A social underclass par excellence. The absolute dregs of modern civilization
The only good chav is dead one. The only thing better than that is a mass grave full of
dead chavs and a 24 hour work crew making way for more.
All chavs are disgusting scum. (urbandictionary n.d.)
As Ahmed notes, “to name something as disgusting is performative” in that “it generates
the object that it names” (2004, p. 93). We can see how disgust is both performative and
performed in the internet forum urbandictionary. This disgust speech generates a set of
effects, which adhere to, produce, and embellish the disgusting figure of the chav: chavs
are white, live on council estates, eat junk food, steal your phones, wear crap sports wear,
drink cheap cider, they are the absolute dregs of modern civilisation; a social underclass par
excellence, chavs are disgusting. The dictionary format is significant here because—like the
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accompanying veneer of irony—it grants a strange authority to the dehumanising bigotry
of the posts. Urbandictionary illustrates how class disgust is not simply felt but actively
generated through repetition. Through the repetition of this disgusted response, the
negative properties attributed to chavs make this figure materialise as representative of a
group that embodies those disgusting qualities, a group that is “lower than human or civil
life” (Ahmed 2005, p. 97). As users add to and build a comprehensive definition of “the
chav” within the urbandictionary site, they interact with one another and a conversational
environment emerges. The voting system works on this site as a form of peer authorisation
that encourages users to invoke more and more intense and affective disgust reactions.
As Ngai suggests, disgust involves an expectation of concurrence, and disgust reactions
seek “to include or draw others into its exclusion of its object, enabling a strange kind of
sociability” (2005, p. 336). This sociability has a particular specificity within online
communities in which anonymity gives community members license to express their
disgust in extreme and virulent ways. The interactivity of these internet forums, and the real
and illusory immediacy they transmit, makes online forums intensely affective communal
spaces/places within which disgust reactions can be rapidly shared and accrued.
Computer linguist Golder notes that “More and more, web users are moving from
simply consuming content on the web to creating it ... in the form of discussion boards,
weblogs, wikis, and other collaborative and conversational media” (2003, p. 2). Golder
argues that as the web becomes more “writable,” through, for example, the development
and dissemination of shared annotation software, web users become increasingly
“empowered” by the ability “to engage more deeply with web content by actively
participating in its production” (2003, p. 2). Within “new media” spaces such as
urbandictionary, we are not only viewers but active users who can enter and affect
representational spaces and places. In the case of chavs, visitors to the site can not only
read about them, but have the power to invent the chav as a knowable figure. The chav
thread on urbandictionary and similar chav-hate forums work to materially constitute the
exaggerated corporeality of the chav figure. These are sites in which class disgust is actively
generated—class live. With each new post, there is an accruement of disgust. Each post
breathes life into the squalid and thrillingly affective imaginary body of chav. Class-making
within these fora can be understood as a process of corporealisation as the chav figure
becomes animated in increasingly condensed forms.
Dirty White Chavs
Class disgust is intimately tied to issues of racial difference and chav disgust is always
racialising: “[chavs] are almost always white,” “the chavettes have ... a large 3 seater
second hand pushchair, with 3 different coloured children in it.” These figures constitute an
unclean “sullied urban” “underclass,” “forever placed at the borders of whiteness as the
socially excluded, the economically redundant” (Nayak 2003, pp. 82, 102 103). Whilst the
term chav is a term of abuse directed almost exclusively towards the white poor, chavs are
not invisible normative whites, but rather hypervisible “filthy whites.” In a way that bears
striking similarities to other national stereotypes of the white poor such as the US “white
trash” figure, the chav foregrounds a dirty whiteness—a whiteness contaminated with
poverty. This borderline whiteness is evidenced through claims that chavs appropriate
black American popular culture through their clothing, music, and forms of speech, and
have geographical, familial and sexual intimacy with working-class blacks and Asians and
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immigrant populations. This “contaminated whiteness” is represented by the areas in which
chavs allegedly live and their illegitimate mixed-race children as well as, more complexly,
by their filthy white racism. Metaphors of disease, invasion, and excessive breeding that
are often invoked in white racist responses to immigrants and ethnic minorities are
mobilised in white middle-class accounts of chavs as a means of differentiating their
“respectable whiteness” from that of the lower classes (see Nayak 2003, p. 84). The process
of differentiating between respectable and non-respectable forms of whiteness attempts to
abject the white poor from spheres of white privilege. The figurative function of the chav
as a marker of racial and class difference is made most explicit through the excessively
reproductive body of the chavette.
Chav Mum
There is a repeated emphasis within news media and internet forums on the sluttish
behaviour and multiple pregnancies of the female chav. Many of the urbandictionary (n.d.)
posts focus on the spectacle of the chavette’s excessively reproductive body.
Human equivalent of vermin ... Most reproduce by the age of 14, sometimes younger.
[Chavs] are almost always white, and very skinny, where the chavettes are usually
overweight, with large stretchmarks on their stomachs from excessive baby having.
A chavette will have one baby every year from the age of 13.
The chavettes have ... a large 3 seater second hand pushchair, with 3 different coloured
children in, all at different stages in the chav development, with caps already fitted and
ears pierced.
Whilst young unwed working-class mothers have always been a target of social stigma,
hatred, and anxiety, the fetishisation of the chav mum within popular culture has a
contemporary specificity and marks a new outpouring of sexist class disgust. The gossip
website popbitch famously determined celebrity chav mothers as “pramface.” Now a
popular term of abuse, urbandictionary (n.d.) defines pramface as, “a woman who looks so
young she ought to be pushing a pram around a council estate in the shittiest part of
town.” The chav mum or pramface, with her hoop earrings, sports clothes, pony tail
(“Croydon facelift”) and gaggle of mixed race children, is the quintessential sexually
excessive, single mother: an immoral, filthy, ignorant, vulgar, tasteless, working-class whore.
This figure of chav mum circulates within a wide range of media, celebrity media, reality
television, comedy programming on British television, consumer culture, print media,
literature, news media, films, and “chav hate” websites. I want to briefly consider two
instances of the chav mum figure: Vicky Pollard, a fictional comedic television character
from the phenomenally successful BBC comedy series Little Britain (2003 2006) and the
appearance of the chav mum within the internet forum “chavscum.”
The creation of actor/writers Matt Lucas and David Walliams and writer Andy Riley,
Little Britain has had three series—twenty-one episodes—to date and has been a huge
commercial success for the BBC.
The format of Little Britain is a compilation of character-led
sketches. These sketches are linked by a voice-over (spoken by the actor Tom Baker) which
details absurd “facts” about Britain. The sketches are set in a series of real and fictional
locations in Britain including the Scottish highlands, Wales, the English countryside and
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inner city council estates. The Vicky Pollard sketches are set in the fictional town of Darkley
Noone and her character is played by Lucas, a white upper middle-class comedy actor in his
mid-thirties. Pollard is an over-weight moody teenage girl who is usually dressed in a
pink Kappaetracksuit, wearing badly applied make-up with some of her long, bleached
blonde hair pulled back into a “scrunchy.” Pollard speaks in an incomprehensibly fast
regional (Midlands) accent and much of the comedy derives from Lucas’ performance of
incomprehensible teenage banter. The Pollard sketches are often set in public institutions,
such as schools, municipal swimming pools, Young Offenders Institutions and court rooms,
and they invariably involve Pollard producing humorously nonsensical responses to the
“serious questions” she is asked by various public authority figures—teachers, policemen,
doctors, and social workers (see Figure 1).
In this extract from a sequence from series one, episode six (Little Britain 2003), Vicky
is at the Doctor’s surgery, where she is told she is pregnant.
Doctor: OK Vicky, you can put your clothes back on. Well, after having a good look at you
it’s pretty obvious to me what the diagnosis is.
Vicky: I got the lurgy. Yeah I know because there was this whole fing cause I was down the
arcade and Kelly flobbed on Destiny and a bit of it landed in my hair because Kelly hates
Destiny because Destiny told Warren that Kelly pads her bra. It’s true—Nathan reckons he
put his hand down there and pulled out a bag of Jelly Tots.
This scene invites the viewer to take up the subject position of the exasperated middle-class
professional as they gaze at Vicky, the incurably sub-literate, sexually promiscuous,
Figure 1
“Vicky and her teacher,” publicity still, Little Britain (copyright BBC),
comedy/littlebritain/gallery/wallpaper.shtml#7 (15 January 2008).
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pregnant, teenage chavette. By episode three, series three of Little Britain it is revealed in
her “online c.v.” that Vicky has had “at least 13 children.” Publicity stills for Little Britain
depict Vicky posing with a multiple pushchair filled with six white and mixed race babies
and young children against a bleak council estate backdrop.
The term “Vicky Pollard” has taken on an extraordinary resonance, often replacing the
term “chav” as a synonym for this imagined social type it independently populates negative
newspaper and internet forum accounts of white working-class girls and young women.
According to James Delingpole in The Times:
The reason Vicky Pollard caught the public imagination is that she embodies with such
fearful accuracy several of the great scourges of contemporary Britain: aggressive all-
female gangs of embittered, hormonal, drunken teenagers; gym slip mums who choose to
get pregnant as a career option; pasty-faced, lard-gutted slappers who’ll drop their
knickers in the blink of an eye. (2006, p. 25)
Delingpole’s extraordinary condemnation of young working-class teenage mothers is
authorised by his innovation of the figure Vicky Pollard who he describes as “fearfully
accurate.” Journalist Diamond similarly writes in the tabloid newspaper The Daily Star:
“Britain’s teenage girls have become a generation of rowdy Vicky Pollards who binge drink,
do drugs and have under-age sex ... Just like Little Britain’s bad girl Vicky” (2006, p. 29).
Walliams and Lucas support this reading of Vicky as representative of a genuine social type.
Interviewed in a Daily Star feature they “admit they play ‘spot the Vicky Pollard’ when
they’re out and about.”
David, 34, and Matt, 31, who plays the character, say you can find her type lurking on every
street corner ... “People always say they know a Vicky Pollard. There are even Vicky
Pollards on the road where I live and we always point to them when we see them.” (Mark
Jefferies 2005, p. 3)
“Vicky Pollard” is increasingly used as a shorthand within “serious” debates about the
decline of social and educational standards. For example, in a 2006 speech to the annual
conference of the Professional Association of teachers, Lawson, chair of the association,
warned teachers that nursery nurses with few qualifications and poor social skills risked
creating a generation of “Vicky Pollards”: “I don’t want to trivialise this in any way at all, but
we don’t want a future generation of Vicky Pollards” (2006). As “Vicky Pollard” becomes
entrenched and condemned as a negative figure she takes on a force and reality which
conceals her origins as a fictional television character played by a white middle-aged man.
Indeed, the movement of this fictional figure from scripted television comedy into news
media, political rhetoric and onto the streets foregrounds the disturbing ease which the
chav figure shapes social perception and comes to be employed in instrumental ways. Vicky
Pollard is chav mum par excellence. Incoherent, “loud, white, excessive, drunk, fat, vulgar,
disgusting” she embodies all the moral obsessions historically associated with young white
working-class mothers in one iconic comic body (Skeggs 2006, p. 965).
Class-based disgust reactions work not only to give meaning to the figure of the chav,
but more complexly to constitute a category of being—chav being. Within media
outpourings of class disgust, disgust is attributed to and becomes a property of the figure
being produced: “aggressive,” “embittered, hormonal, drunken teenagers,” “gym slip mums,”
“pasty-faced, lard-gutted slappers.” So whilst the figures of the chav and chavette have a
virtual existence within Internet forums and television shows, the chav takes symbolic shape
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as a form of being in ways that have felt material and physical effects upon those interpellated
as “chav.” We can think here of the way in which “signs of chavness,” such as the wearing
of chav identified clothes or labels have been increasingly used to police access to public
spaces, such as nightclubs and shopping centres since 2003: A BBC online news headline from
2004 reads “‘Chav ban’ plan to deter thefts: Police are trying to cut crime in shops—by
banning customers wearing ‘Chav’-style clothes” (“Chav Ban” 2004). What these “Chav Bans”
demonstrate is the ways in which the figure of the chav materialises and is realised in
everyday practices. The figure of the chav is imbued with negative affect, this affect then
travels, it circulates and leaks out into public space and shapes everyday perceptual practices
foregrounding the disturbing ease with which imagined “emotional qualities slide into
corporeal qualities” (Ngai 2005, p. 573). Chav disgust is felt and lived.
The figure of chav mum has a particular contemporary resonance in terms of
anxieties about fertility and motherhood and is used instrumentally to classify bodies
according to more or less desirable forms of reproduction. The figure of the chav mum
appears repeatedly on the cult website chavscum (2003 ), where judgments are
continually made about the ability of the young mothers depicted to be “proper parents.”
The chavscum website was launched in 2003 and at its peak registered 80,000 hits a day.
The website’s tagline reads “Chav Scum: Britain’s peasant underclass that is taking over our
towns and cities.” The chavscum website is organised around bulletin boards with titles
such as “Chav of the Month,” in which a member sends in photographs and newspaper
clippings about chavs, that other members then post comments about. In December 2005,
one of 154 uploaded “chav of the month” images was a scanned copy of a sensationalist
newspaper article (reproduced from The Daily Mail) about a teenage mother who has
become pregnant for the second time by a black immigrant father. Here are some extracts
from the thread of posts commenting on this newspaper article:
Yuck disgusting ... It is extremely sad that this “youff” seems to be getting away with this,
shouldn’t he be in a detention centre or something, or better yet, the Gambia. We have
enough home grown trash here without the need for imports. What a sad excuse for a
country we have.
Eeek!!, I feel sick.
Good God ... They should sew her fanny up, and then hit her in the face with a pick axe.
Once again, This is the true scum we hate. The mother should have been charged with
child neglect, and the baby factory brat taken into care.
F**king scum ... Stupid little sluts like this make my blood boil, you’ve only got to read
the article things like “I didn’t have any ambitions” “I might go back to school but not for
5 years.” Disgusting, ugly, stupid, benefit scrounging slag!!!
She left school at 12 to have some scumbag fella’s baby, and will probably have babies
every year for the rest of her life. And what work do you expect she will do? Absolutely
bugger all that’s what. Well, if YOU think that’s an acceptable life and ambition for a young
girl in this day and age of supposed equality, you might as well just lie in the gutter and
open your legs right now you daft bint. Have a nice life being a baby machine.
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This slut practically represents Britain today and shows just how sh!t this once great nation
has become ... sad, really sad that that new born baby is going to get gonorrhoea all
over its thick retard face when its born.
Teenage Scrounging Chav Mothers. God help us, They are breeding, Filth, Scuzzers,
Slappers, and more Filth. (“Chave of the Month” December 2005)
The mass vilification and mockery of the chav mum can be understood in relation to
what Wilson and Huntington (2005, p. 59) have argued is the emergence of a new set of
norms about femininity, in which the ideal life trajectory of middle-class women conforms
to the current governmental objectives of economic growth through higher education and
increased female workforce participation. We can clearly ascertain how the chav mum
figures middle-class values through disgust for the sexuality and excessive reproduction of
the lower classes within this thread of comments, take this post: “If YOU think that’s an
acceptable life and ambition for a young girl in this day and age of supposed equality, you
might as well just lie in the gutter and open your legs right now.” The chav mum represents
a thoroughly dirty and disgusting ontology that operates as a constitutive limit for clean,
white, middle-class, feminine respectability: “an acceptable life and ambition for a young
girl in this day and age of supposed equality.” However, the comic and disgusting chav
mum is haunted by another figure, that of the infertile white middle-class middle-aged
woman. For whilst the chav mum represents a highly undesirable reproductive body, this
figure can also be read as symptomatic of an explosion of anxiety about dropping fertility
rates amongst the white middle classes. Indeed, the disgust for and fascinated obsession
with the chav mum’s “easy fertility” is bound up with a set of social angst about infertility
amongst middle-class women, a group continually chastised for “putting career over
motherhood” and “leaving it too late” too have children. The figure of the chav mum not
only mocks poor white teenage mothers but also challenges middle-class women to face
their “reproductive responsibilities.”
The Thrills of Slumming It
In this article, I have argued that the affective body of chav moves through popular
culture on a wave of continually repeated disgust reactions. The disgust and mockery of
chavs is intimately bound up with, and authorised by, comedy and the community forming
power of laughter. I would like to finish this article by reflecting on chav disgust as a highly
simulated form of “class slumming.” In April, 2006 the front page of The Sun featured Prince
William dressed up as a chav with the headline, “Future Bling of England.” This story details
how the future king: “joined in the fun as his platoon donned chav-themed fancy dress to
mark the completion of their first term” at Sandhurst military academy. William, we are told,
“went to a lot of trouble thinking up what to wear” (white baseball cap, sweatshirt, two gold
chains) and was challenged to “put on a chavvy accent and stop speaking like a royal”
(Larcombe 2006, 8). In similar class cross-dressing events across Britain, upper and middle
class university students regularly hold “chav nites,” in which they dress up as chavs and
chavettes. Female students push cushions under tight tops to feign pregnant chav bellies,
carry plastic bags from the cut price food superstores Asda and Aldi, drink cider, and enjoy
the affect of being an imaginary chav. Photographs of these chav student nights populate
internet sites and ironically it is often these images of “students playing chav” that are
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reproduced on chav hate websites such as chavscum, where they are vilified as “authentic
chav” images.
Carnivalesque chav nights held in student union bars across contemporary Britain play
out class warfare on campus. It is notable then that “the student” has emerged as the most
clearly definable “opposite” of the chav. Students at Leeds University have gone to the
lengths of making a comedy feature film, titled Chav! (2005): the story line involves
the university being invaded by tracksuit clad chav zombies, who threaten to “infect” the
middle-class student protagonists. Pictured clawing at the doors of the university, the chavs
pursue the students through lecture theatres and seminar rooms before finally being
defeated by the playing of the dance music associated with white trash chav culture. This film
can be read as an allegory of wider social anxiety about the feared social mobility of the lower
classes and also as an attempt, authorised through comedy, to keep those imagined “class
others” out of the social institutions once thoroughly demarcated as sites of class privilege.
These examples of ironic class-passing represent a new era of “slumming it”: virtual
slumming, slumming on-line, slumming nights out. This class slumming recalls the
nineteenth-century Victorian slummers, who descended on the East End of London in their
thousands in pursuit of abject close encounters and touristic tastes of the illicit pleasures
associated with the immoral, urban white poor. However, what differentiates Victorian and
contemporary forms of “slumming it,” is that there is no veneer of moral imperative. “Chav
slumming” doesn’t pretend to be sociological, there is no ethnography, no gathering of
knowledge about the poor, no charity, no reaching out to touch, and no liberal guilt; there
is nothing but disgust and pleasure. Through communal fun and laughter the upper and
middle classes attempts to secure themselves, mark their difference and enjoy a fix of affect.
Chav Pride
Despite relentless demonisation, the chav has become an increasingly complex figure
and some of those interpellated as filthy chavs have now reclaimed the term as an
affirmative sub-cultural identity. This trans-coding of chav is most visible within popular
music acts, such as white teenage rapper Lady Sovereign and the acclaimed pop icon and
urban poet Mike Skinner (who releases records as The Streets). The self-identified white
working-class journalist Burchill has declared chav hate a form of “social racism” whilst also
repeatedly attempting to transcode and claim for herself an affirmative chav identity (see
Burchill 2005). Whilst in 2005, the tabloid newspaper The Sun, a central propagator of chav
hate, ran a “Proud to be Chav” campaign.
Nevertheless, this “chav pride” is deceptive, for
like the US term “white trash”—now widely adopted as an affirmative identity category
within celebrity culture by figures such as white rapper Eminen—this “white pride” works as
an enabling identity category only for those who have acquired enough cultural capital and
social mobility to “rise above the filth” and accusations of “filthy racism.”
Social inequalities have dramatically increased in Britain in the last 30 years with
increasing economic polarisation between the wealthiest and the poorest social classes
(see Dorling et al., 2007). It is within the context of deepening economic inequality that we
need to view much vaunted claims of the democratisation of popular media. The minimal
opportunities for economically marginalised groups to communicate their experiences and
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identities within mainstream forums suggests there has been little if any shift in the alliance
between elite media industries and traditional social institutions and hierarchies: class
allegiances reproduce social inclusion and exclusion in a seemingly unbreakable cycle
of class privilege. Certainly within the representational regimes which dominate within
contemporary Britain social class is only visible in highly stereotyped and often antagonistic
forms. Whilst the mockery and derision of many marginal groups is now widely considered
to be in “bad taste,” the caricaturing and mockery of the working classes is encouraged and
celebrated, as so much “reality programming” reveals. As Barbara Ehrenreich argues:
While ideas about gender, and even race, have moved, however haltingly, in the direction
of greater tolerance and inclusivity, ideas about class remain mired in prejudice and
mythology. “Enlightened” people, who might flinch at a racial slur, have no trouble listing
the character defects of an ill-defined “underclass,” defects which routinely include
ignorance, promiscuity, and sloth. (1990, p. 7)
As Miller (1997) suggests in the quote with which I began this article, class disgust not only
motivates but sustains “the lower ranking” of peoples. The figure of the chav is mobilised in
ways that justify the continued division of society into those who can speak, act, and feel
and those who are “spoken for.” Being identified as “chav” not only means having the place
you live, the way you speak, the clothes you wear, your culture, habits, and lifestyle subject
to perverse misrepresentation, mockery, and derision but also actively blocks your social
mobility. In the final instance, the cumulative effect of disgust at chavs is the screening of
the disenfranchised white poor from view; they are rendered invisible, inaudible or, like
Vicky Pollard, laughably incomprehensible.
1. I began to develop this figurative approach to media analysis in previous research on the
production and circulation of the figure of the asylum seeker within news media,
humanitarian literature, and theoretical texts (see Tyler 2006).
2. See Law (2006) on the Scottish specificities of the term Ned.
3. Waynes and Waynettas is a reference to a fictional family called “The Slobs” from a popular
BBC comedy series called Harry Enfield and Chums which screened in the 1990s. Vicky
Pollard can certainly be understood as a descendent of the character Waynetta Slob.
4. In 2004, 1.3m DVD copies of series one were sold, making it the best-selling DVD title in
Britain that year. Little Britain has been nominated for and has won a series of awards,
including two BAFTA Awards in 2005 for Best Comedy Performance and Best Comedy
Programme. It has garnered a worldwide audience and is currently aired in most of
continental Europe, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Scandinavia, India, Pakistan,
Malaysia, and Singapore. Although pitched at an adult audience, research conducted by the
Radio Times magazine revealed that Little Britain was British children’s second favourite
television comedy programme in 2005, despite it being screened after the 9pm watershed.
5. For a publicity still of Vicky Pollard with pushchair see
6. See examples of the “Proud to be Chav” (n.d.) campaign at The Sun archive online.
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Imogen Tyler is a Lecturer in the Sociology Department at Lancaster University. Her
research focuses on the intersections of gender, race, and class in the formation of
social and cultural identities. She has a particular interest in social marginality and
“border identities.” Imogen co-convenes the feminist media studies research group at
Lancaster University. Recent publications include “The Selfish Feminist: Public Images
of Women’s Liberation” (Australian Feminist Studies, vol. 22, no. 54, 2007) and with
Bruce Bennett, “Screening Unliveable Lives: The Cinema of Borders” in Transnational
Feminist Encounters in Film and Media (Palgrave, 2007). She is currently completing a
monograph on the theme of social abjection. See for further
details. E-mail:
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This chapter explores intertextual and intermedial encounters between imaginative literature and archaeological knowledge in Western Europe in the second half of the twelfth century. Several of the popular ‘romans d’antiquités’ from this period, such as the anonymous Roman d’Eneas (c. 1160), Benoît de Sainte-Maure’s Roman de Troie (c. 1165), and Heinrich von Veldeke’s Eneit (1170–1788), feature elaborate ekphrastic descriptions of the tombs of legendary heroes and warriors. Although the romances of antiquity are works of fiction, their descriptions of ancient burial practices reflect the influence of written accounts of actual tomb openings and exhumations in the preceding century. Thus, the description of the burial of Pallas in the Roman d’Eneas is partly modeled on the chronicler William of Malmesbury’s account of the discovery of the ‘real’ tomb of Pallas in Rome, c. 1045. Similarly, in the Roman de Troie , the tomb of Hector with its distinctive enthroned burial is based in part on accounts of the opening of the tomb of Charlemagne by Otto III in the year 1000. Reading these romances alongside their archaeological intertexts sheds new light on the complex historical awareness of these literary works and the interpretative communities that received them.
Not every person who gives birth is a woman or mother. However, legal frameworks in many countries insist that they are. This chapter demonstrates that legal frameworks around pregnancy, childbirth and parenthood are often repronormative in their effects, maintaining the hegemonic sex/gender order at the expense of the dignity of trans people who have given birth to their own children. To explore why and how these repronormative effects persist, this chapter explores two case studies of trans men who have given birth in the UK and Israel respectively, and the legal battles they faced to be recognised as fathers who have given birth. It pulls together sociological and legal scholarship to critique existing legal frameworks in Europe and beyond and explore potential solutions to the barriers they create. It concludes by placing these arguments in a wider sociological and political debate around trans and reproductive rights.
This article takes the rupturing of normative, linear, reproductive time that occurs in the event of miscarriage as a potentially generative philosophical moment—a catalyst to rethink pregnancy aside from the expectation of child-production. Pregnant time is usually imagined as a linear passage toward birth. Accordingly, the one who “miscarries” appears as suspended within an arrested journey that never arrived at its destination, or indeed, as ejected from pregnant time altogether. But here I propose to rethink both pregnancy and miscarriage through the lens of “suspended time”—a theoretical move that shifts the accent from the future as the dominating frame of reference to the lived present. Drawing on work by Kathryn Bond Stockton, Lauren Berlant, Lisa Baraitser, and others, the article explores overlooked temporalities of pregnancy and miscarriage that operate not in the mode of futural projection or futural loss, but rather through present-oriented forms of adjustment and sensing, attachment and intimacy, maintenance and care. By “suspending the future,” then, we can resist the oppositional framing of pregnancy and miscarriage, because if pregnant time is not represented in exclusively future-oriented terms as being-toward-birth, then miscarriage need not be understood as pregnancy's undoing.
Drawing upon findings from a qualitative project exploring welfare stigma in the lives of women in Merseyside, this article examines experiences of stigma and resistance strategies among the mothers interviewed. The article provides insights into how gendered stigma manifests in the lives of mothers reliant on social security benefits in the present era of continued welfare reform. The mothers’ experiences of stigma are argued to revolve around the devaluation of caring labour, the perception that benefits are undeserved and the notion of ‘bad motherhood’. Furthermore, the article contributes to knowledge about stigma resistance strategies, including acknowledging the value of care and rejecting blaming narratives. Nonetheless, it is argued that owing to the power and pervasiveness of structurally-imposed stigma, individualised resistance strategies are limited and mothers must also engage in everyday stigma management techniques.
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Drawing on interviews with welfare claimants living in Essex, UK, this article examines the material and symbolic effects of the UK government’s 2012 Welfare Reform Act, and it highlights the participants’ interpretations of and responses to that. In reaction to their sense of material and symbolic exclusion, participants made moral claims for their inclusion through a notion of social citizenship based on collective reciprocity and care. They claimed to have paid-in to the national purse in various material and moral ways until circumstances outside of their control meant they could no longer do so. They thus asserted a moral-economic right to social inclusion and an ensuing right to receive adequate, non-stigmatised, and non-punitive welfare. These moral-economic claims differ from other, more public, counter-narratives to welfare reform and government austerity, and they assert a clear but subtle opposition to the market-bound logic of the reform .
In this article, we explore how women in different social classes had differential access to resources and services to enhance their ‘wellness’—resulting in classed roles in alcohol consumption. We analyse data from a qualitative study on alcohol by midlife women in South Australia and employ the analogy of a ‘toolkit’ in order to understand the structural patterning of ‘wellness tools’. Bourdieu's relational model of class guides our exploration of women's inequitable opportunities for wellness. Higher social class women had ‘choices’ facilitated by bulging wellness toolkits, such as yoga, exercise and healthy eating regimens—alcohol consumption was not essential to promoting ‘wellness’ and did not have an important place in their toolkits. Middle‐class women had less well‐stocked toolkits and consumed alcohol in a ‘compensation approach’ with other wellness tools. Alcohol consumption received positive recognition and was a legitimised form of enjoyment, fun and socialising, which needed counterbalancing with healthy activities. Working‐class women had sparse toolkits—other than alcohol—which was a tool for dealing with life's difficulties. Their focus was less on ‘promoting wellness’ and more on ‘managing challenging circumstances’. Our social class‐based analysis is nestled within the sociology of consumption and sociological critiques of the wellness industry.
Editing techniques used in Factual Welfare Television (FWT) in the UK undermine narratives of hardship and structural inequality in representations of the living places of welfare claimants. This research identifies the affects of a televisual syntax – or ‘visual grammar’ – of spatial stigma in FWT. Using original data generated in a study of Channel 5’s documentary series On Benefits (2015–2019), we conduct a visual grammar analysis to argue that cutaway editing, which inserts camera shots of toilets, canine excrement, and fly-tipping into programmes, undermines potentially sympathetic representations of poverty communicated via narrator voiceovers, and/or verbal testimonies of participants. Our findings show that cutaway editing is a significant feature in the production of On Benefits and is oppositional to the articulated narrative. The research concludes that cutaway editing in FWT generates disgust towards the living places of benefits claimants, which is productive of a powerful visual grammar of spatial stigma.
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This article explores the nexus of stigmatisation and environmental activism in the Campaign to Protect Pont Valley against open-cast mining in the northeast of England. Drawing on Imogen Tyler’s work, our analysis examines stigma power as embedded in wider efforts to police and repress environmental dissent and defend core neoliberal values. Examination of qualitative interviews with campaigners, drive-past insults shouted at activists, online police statements and public responses, and online trolling of activists by mining employees and the wider public reveals stigmatisation to be a process of power, informed by neoliberal ideologies (of the threat and danger of worklessness), and reproduced through neoliberal power structures (the state, corporate power, and popular culture), shaped by the insecurities that are specific to social and political contexts. We show how the state mobilises stigma through ideologies associated with austerity and the hostile environment to delegitimate activism through association with worklessness/idleness and the inaccurate representation of activists as part of broader processes of criminalisation, policing, and management of protest. In an area renowned for its work ethic and high levels of unemployment, the work of environmental activists is dismissed as illegitimate, drawing on tropes associated with the disciplining of the so-called deviant working classes. The historical importance of coal and activism in the defence of the ‘mining way of life’ feeds into dominant narratives associated with work and individualism. Pride associated with coal mining is reconfigured and forms the basis of insults against those (working class and otherwise) who are recast as ‘outsiders’, ‘wasting time and money’ in resisting environmental destruction. Finally, we examine how activists were able to largely deflect stigmatisation through collective engagement, solidarity, and political analysis of the process they were subject to.
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This article argues that the decline of the ‘underclass’ discourse in the UK, and the rise of the ‘chav’, are not unconnected. We contend that there are numerous homologies between the meaning content, objects and tenor of these two terms, and suggest that the ‘chav’ represents a popular reconfiguration of the underclass idea. However, we are also keen to note the way in which the concept of social marginality is reconfigured in this substitution. Specifically, we argue that the discourse of the underclass turned crucially upon a (perceived or real) pathology in the working classes’ relations to production and socially productive labour. Its emergent successor, the concept of the ‘chav’, is in contrast oriented to purportedly pathological class dispositions in relation to the sphere of consumption. In a bid to highlight this shift we consider the emergence of debates upon social marginality and consumption practices, and attempt to locate popular media discourse surrounding the ‘chav’ within this frame, including the various ways in which purportedly pathological consumption practices serve to organise this form of social classification.
Disgust (Ekel, dégout) is a state of high alert. It acutely says "no" to a variety of phenomena that seemingly threaten the integrity of the self, if not its very existence. A counterpart to the feelings of appetite, desire, and love, it allows at the same time for an acting out of hidden impulses and libidinal drives. In Disgust, Winfried Menninghaus provides a comprehensive account of the significance of this forceful emotion in philosophy, aesthetics, literature, the arts, psychoanalysis, and theory of culture from the eighteenth century to the present. Topics addressed include the role of disgust as both a cognitive and moral organon in Kant and Nietzsche; the history of the imagination of the rotting corpse; the counter-cathexis of the disgusting in Romantic poetics and its modernist appeal ever since; the affinities of disgust and laughter and the analogies of vomiting and writing; the foundation of Freudian psychoanalysis in a theory of disgusting pleasures and practices; the association of disgusting "otherness" with truth and the trans-symbolic "real" in Bataille, Sartre, and Kristeva; Kafka's self-representation as an "Angel" of disgusting smells and acts, concealed in a writerly stance of uncompromising "purity"; and recent debates on "Abject Art."
Questions of asylum and immigration have taken centre stage in national and international debate and figure prominently in the domestic political agendas of wealthy states and nations. In Australia, Europe and the US, harsh and punitive asylum and immigration laws are being enacted incrementally and asylum-seekers are subject increasingly to detention. Through a focus on the detention of asylum-seekers in the UK, this article makes a critical intervention in current theoretical debates around asylum.Focusing on the writing of Giorgio Agamben, this article suggests that within political and cultural theory, there has been a turn to the figure of the asylum-seeker (and the refugee) as a trope for theorizing the political constitution of the present. By opening up a critical dialogue between humanitarian, media studies and abstract theoretical accounts of immigration detention, this article produces a critique of the ways in which theory appropriates the figure of the asylum-seeker.
Whether in characterizing Catherine MacKinnon's theory of gender as itself pornographic or in identifying liberalism as unable to make good on its promises, this text pursues a central question: how does a sense of woundedness become the basis for a sense of identity? Brown argues that efforts to outlaw hate speech and pornography powerfully legitimize the state: such apparently well-intentioned attempts harm victims further by portraying them as so helpless as to be in continuing need of governmental protection. "Whether one is dealing with the state, the Mafia, parents, pimps, police, or husbands," writes Brown, "the heavy price of institutionalized protection is always a measure of dependence and agreement to abide by the protector's rules." True democracy, she insists, requires sharing power, not regulation by it; freedom, not protection. Refusing any facile identification with one political position or another, Brown applies her argument to a panoply of topics, from the basis of litigiousness in political life to the appearance on the academic Left of themes of revenge and a thwarted will to power. These and other provocations in contemporary political thought and political li
The paper attempts to explain the unease and evasion that sociologists commonly encounter when asking lay people about class. It is argued that these responses derive from varying degrees of awareness of the morally problematic nature of class. This has been obscured by contemporary sociology's tendency to explain behaviour by reference to interests and power or custom and to overlook lay moral sentiments. That the responses are reasonable is shown by an analysis of a) the injustice of class, b) its effect in distorting moral sentiments, and c) the injuries caused by class. Combinations of self-justification with acknowledgement of undeserved advantages and disadvantages result in ambivalence and embarrassment about class, though this may not preclude class pride. The analysis of these moral sentiments is then developed further in relation to studies of the struggles of the social field, in the work of Bourdieu and others, commenting on his shift from a hermeneutics of suspicion to a hermeneutics of sympathy in The Weight of the World. It is argued that what is at stake in these struggles is not only differences in material wealth and recognition but differences in ability to realise commitments and valued ways of living.