‘Chavs’ round-up

with 8 comments

My book ‘Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class‘, published by Verso, is now out. It’s a slightly bizarre feeling that it’s actually hit the bookshops – I started writing it back in December 2009, which now seems like another age. And I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t been a nerve-wracking few weeks: it’s such an important issue that it’s better not to write it at all than screw it up. (I hope I haven’t).

But so far so good. It was the Times’ ‘Book of the Week’ on Saturday although, I’m afraid, the review is behind the paywall.

Polly Toynbee talked about it in her column yesterday:

“A superb and angry new book, Chavs by Owen Jones, published next week, pulls together the welter of evidence on the demonisation of the working class. Read it for a strong analysis of the conspiracy to deny the very existence of a working class, even to itself. New Labour colluded with this vanishing act but Ed Miliband’s espousal of the “squeezed middle” may be tiptoeing towards giving a voice back to the great disappeared.”

And Michael White has also mentioned it in a piece on class on Monday.

You can also hear me debating with the Telegraph’s James Delingpole on whether posh people are an oppressed minority (yes, seriously) on BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme, broadcast on Monday.

Richard Seymour has also written a really fascinating piece on ‘chavs’ and class over at Leninology; and I’ve read an absolutely fantastic piece on ‘chavs’ and council tenants, written by two housing policy experts. Thoroughly recommended.

If you want to hear me rambling about the book, here are some upcoming events. My first event is at Stoke Newington Literary Festival this Saturday at 4pm at Abney Hall. I’m very privileged to be doing the event with the journalists Johann Hari and Suzanne Moore. You can book tickets here – and say hello if you come along.

Above all I’d be really interested to hear people’s thoughts on the book when they’ve had a chance to have a shufty. If this book has any purpose, it’s to get people talking about class again – however small my contribution to that will be.

And, finally, I’m writing a post later which will try to answer ‘is chav-bashing really attacking working-class people?’

Written by Owen Jones

June 1, 2011 at 11:44 am

8 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Hi Owen – It’s the Comment desk of The Independent here. Simon O’Hagan speaking. We’re interested in your writing for us. Might you get in touch? I’m and 020 7005 2394. Many thanks. Simon

    Simon O'Hagan

    June 1, 2011 at 2:21 pm

  2. I do hate this silly middle class liberal left straw man that that the term “chav” popularly refers to “the working class”. In mainstream usage, amongst actual working class people, the term “chav” relates to a particular subculture who very often don’t work, and who therefore by definition are not “working class”.


    June 2, 2011 at 12:50 pm

  3. The white, working class has been demonised for too long. And I’m sorry, but it has to be said that New Labour, as well as pandering to big business and middle England, also pandered to ethnic minority groups and their own self interests. It is this that has resulted in the WWC feeling disenfranchised, and voting for extreme right parties like the BNP, because they are the only parties that are willing to have a debate about immigration, jobs, wages etc (I’m not saying I agree with their policies on immigration btw)
    There was a documentary about Oldham a few weeks ago, and the white population of that town were angry that all the new schools, houses and amenities were being provided in the Asian part of the town. The same complaint was heard during a documentary in Luton. If Labour hadn’t decided to actively discriminate against the white, working class, none of this would have happened. Instead, their complaints were ignored, and they were routinely treated as lazy, benefit scroungers who were racist and held backward views. Now, the chickens are coming home to roost.


    June 6, 2011 at 3:30 pm

  4. The white “working” class seems to be the one remaining group in society not protected by political correctness, as it is seen as “fair game” for exploitation and ridicule. Just think of recent TV series like “Ny big fat gypsy wedding”, “Only way is Essex” or the odious Jeremy Kyle who makes a fortune off the back of this exploitation in the form of a human zoo.
    I wrote an article on the subject for my blog back in 2008:

    Would welcome any comments. Very much looking forward to reading Owen’s book.


    June 6, 2011 at 10:43 pm

  5. I don’t think the appropriateness or not of the word ‘chav’ is actually the main theme of the book, to be honest, and I hope discussions about the issues it raises don’t get derailed by everyone dissecting the whys and wherefores of Little Britain or Catherine Tate.

    As an east London/Essex person myself (albeit a poncy middle-class Guardianista one), I’m regularly riled by the snobbish derision the county gets, and I think there’s probably a piece to be written about the relationship between the east London/Essex corridor and the City of London, which, for people growing up where I did, was almost as automatic and unthinking employment choice for people leaving school as going down a pit or into a steelworks once would have been elsewhere. It didn’t mean the despised Essex Classes were actually the ones making the big economic decisions in the City though – but working in offices and admin and on trading floors there were just where the jobs were, especially once east London and the Essex estuary’s own industries (print, Ford’s etc) went tits up

    Tom Davies

    June 7, 2011 at 10:04 pm

  6. [...] Since my first update, there’s been lots of interesting stuff about the book – and themes of class – in the press. The Independent made it their ‘Book of the Week‘: Jon Cruddas’ review was very thoughtful and I’m glad he picked on the book’s key purpose – “to reintroduce class as a political variable.” [...]

  7. I’m coming at this from a slightly different angle than Owen. I’ve been living in a council high rise for the last 19 years, located in a ward in a northern town dubbed the benefits capital of the universe! Personally I’ve been quite exercised by anti-social behaviour from various neighbours in the last few years. For some relief / therapy, I ended up penning my angst in an underground newsletter some 5 years back when the concept of chav was all the rage.

    Bringing my sociological imagination to bear on the matter (with some satire for good measure) I concluded that traditional leftist takes on the working classes were either hopelessly romantic or in complete denial. It stuck me that a writer like Michael Collins (The Likes of Us) was onto something when he recognised the innate small c conservatism and deferentialism of a group of costermongers.

    There is a more canny pocket of realism intermingled with Marxist romanticism, given Marx’s original take on the lumpenproleteriat who were recognised as the counter-revoluntary social refuse of the C19th, or even on the ironic ‘ragged trousered philanthropists’.

    The penny has been slow to drop but socialism’s traditional agency and base has proved quite illusive and whilst writers like Andre Gorz grasped at the new possibilies afforded by post-industrialism, those alternative scenarios have also failed to materialise (indeed the retreat from class-based politics into identity – post-modernism has compounded the marginality of the indigenous working class).

    There’s a vast and depressing catalogue of working class decadence – evoked colourfully by writers as diverse as Francis Gilbert or Theodore Dalrymple. Or course Dalrymple’s political preferences (the big stick of the market) don’t seem the answer, indeed the latterday market fundamentalists are highly complicit in the subsequent anomie. But traditional moral panic explanations are clearly inadequate, along with much leftist thinking from Rousseau onwards.

    I suggest permisstic takes on human nature from Hobbes to John Gray are more discerning of our fiobles and therefore a Blue Labour paradigm may be onto something (even though it will inevitably be trojan-horsed and co-opted by the Blairites).

    Andrew Wallace

    June 19, 2011 at 10:20 pm

  8. Thanks so much for finally bringing attention to a predjudice which has sunk so far beneath social radars. I get tired of explaining to people why using the word chav is essentially the same as saying ‘common’. I think it is awful that snobbery is so accepted now people don’t even realise they are doing it. A very big well done

    Cath Quinn

    July 2, 2011 at 12:08 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,252 other followers

%d bloggers like this: