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Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class [Paperback]

Owen Jones
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (227 customer reviews)
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Book Description

6 Jun 2011
In modern Britain, the working class has become an object of fear and ridicule. From Little Britains Vicky Pollard to the demonization of Jade Goody, media and politicians alike dismiss as feckless, criminalized and ignorant a vast, underprivileged swathe of society whose members have become stereotyped by one, hate-filled word: chavs. In this groundbreaking investigation, Owen Jones explores how the working class has gone from salt of the earth to scum of the earth. Exposing the ignorance and prejudice at the heart of the chav caricature, one based on the medias inexhaustible obsession with an indigent white underclass, he portrays a far more complex reality. Moving through Westminsters lobbies and working-class communities from Dagenham to Dewsbury Moor, Jones reveals the increasing poverty and desperation of communities made precarious by wrenching social and industrial change, and all but abandoned by the aspirational, society-fragmenting policies of Thatcherism and New Labour. The chav stereotype, he argues, is used by governments as a convenient figleaf to avoid genuine engagement with social and economic problems, and to justify widening inequality. Based on a wealth of original research, and wide-ranging interviews with media figures, political opinion-formers and workers, Chavs is a damning indictment of the media and political establishment, and an illuminating, disturbing portrait of inequality and class hatred in modern Britain.

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Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class + The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone + Injustice: Why Social Inequality Persists
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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Verso; 1 edition (6 Jun 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 184467696X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844676965
  • Product Dimensions: 2.4 x 14.6 x 23.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (227 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 115,646 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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The stereotyping and hatred of the working class in Britain, documented so clearly by Owen Jones in this important book, should cause all to flinch. Reflecting our high levels of inequality, the stigmatization of the working class is a serious barrier to social justice and progressive change. --Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson, authors of The Spirit Level

It is a timely book. The white working class seems to be the one group in society that it is still acceptable to sneer at, ridicule, even incite hatred against. ... Forensically, over 304 pages, Jones seeks to explain how, thanks to politics, the working class has shifted from being regarded as 'the salt of the earth to the scum of the earth'. --Carol Midgley, Times

Superb and angry. --Polly Toynbee - Guardian

About the Author

OWEN JONES has worked in the British Parliament as a trade union lobbyist and parliamentary researcher. He is currently writing a PhD on the history of blue-collar America and the rise of the New Right. He lives in London.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
606 of 680 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A missed opportunity 8 Aug 2011
I've read some remarkable reviews of this book in the press, most of which comment on how acutely it makes its argument, the forensic detail with which Jones writes, and the wonderful style he employs. Unfortunately, I didn't see much of any of these, and ultimately found this book frustrating. Not because I disagreed with the overall argument - far from it - but rather because at times it's a blunt analysis framed bluntly. It left me feeling that we on the left really need a much better voice than this.

First, the good points, of which there are some. Jones starts promisingly with some astute points about Dewsbury and how it differs from the media representation during the Shannon Matthews case. An early chapter on 1980s contexts for modern class politics is passionate and useful, if something of a primer for those who have never heard of the miners' strike. The real value of the book lies in its critique of the concept of meritocracy, in a passage that will challenge the thinking of many. Jones also effectively deploys some useful statistics and makes some valuable observations about the effects of the misperception of the median salary (21,000, since you ask, although a better editor would have meant that we didn't have to be told this at least four times).

These points aside, however, the rest of the book is seriously undermined by three major problems:

Firstly, there's the way in which the book presents the working class themselves. Jones is right to challenge the conservative assumption that the working class remain so through choice, a lack of ambition, aptitude, and so on. The problem, however, is that Jones goes too far in the other direction, to the extent that the working class seem to be little more than passive economic victims.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I like Owen Jones. His articles for the Indy are always good value and he talks a lot of sense on Twitter and elsewhere, providing a rare socialist voice from and for the young. Perhaps my hopes for this book were too high as a result, but ultimately I found it a little disappointing. While the premise is a good one - the way many politicians demonise the working classes to distract attention from policies that do them harm - the book is let down by Jones' occasional habit of not concluding his own arguments. For example, he rightly says that football has moved away from its working-class roots, but after acknowledging the problems with hooliganism in the 80s, he then moves onto something else. So what point was he making? On another occasion, he holds up the Jade Goody - Big Brother incident as an example of how the media portrays the working classes, while quickly dismissing her racist behaviour on the programme, which would surely have attracted greater criticism from the likes of Jones, had it come from anyone else. Presumably Jones' aim in writing this book was to win new converts to his way of thinking, rather than just preaching to the converted, but these sorts of inconsitent arguments are likely to mean he fails to do so.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Time for the exploited to rise up. 31 Jan 2013
I've been wanting to read this for a while, and have finally got round to it. It's an interesting book and very timely in the effort that Jones is making to rescue the depiction of the poor from the clutches of the right wing. Having read this back to back with The Shock Doctrine (a far more disturbing and wide-ranging book) I feel suitably angry and want to do something about it, but frustrated at the lack of a viable strategy for tackling those heartless bastards who run the world.

The author is an angry young man, and that means that the book frequently has a strident edge and is inclined to bang home the same statistics and arguments again and again. His target audience is quite clearly the lay socialist and he lets us have it with both barrels. That's no bad thing, but it tends to position his argument in the same tradition of easy claims and blinkered ideology that he so frequently criticises on the other side. No sensible reader would disagree that the mass media and their political lickspittle always argue from the specific to the general in their attacks on the working class. The likes of Shannon Matthews, as Jones points out very effectively, are always presented as typical of a wider demographic. Yet Jones plays the same game when he talks of the rich and powerful, and even the 'middle class', as if they were homogenous. It's a self-defeating rhetorical strategy and disappointingly obvious.

Part of the problem of the book is that Jones buys into the class labels he writes about too easily. Even in the preface he provides two opinion polls one of which gives a result of over half the population self-classifying as working class, while the second poll has 71 percent identifying themselves as middle class.
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301 of 367 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Class War 6 Jun 2011
By Diziet TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I hesitated to title this review 'Class War' - it seems so out-of-date, so 'old Labour'. But that is what this book is about. It is about the sustained economic, social and ideological attack on the majority of the population of this country.

The idea of 'chavs' is, these days, so pervasive that as I read the first few chapters, I had my doubts. The book seemed merely an apologia for a post-industrial lumpenproletariat, a group of alienated misfits beyond the reach of the rest of society. But Jones' analysis is far wider, deeper and more powerful than that and deserves as wide an audience as possible.

The book starts with a shocking comparison between the media coverage of Shannon Matthews and Madeleine McCann. The point is forcefully made that the coverage clearly showed a deep-rooted class prejudice - and ignorance. The McCann's come from the same class as the majority of journalists, leader writers and 'opinion formers'. The same journalists have virtually no experience of the world of Shannon Matthews. Jones makes the point in a quote from Kevin Maguire of the Mirror:

'Increasingly, the lives of journalists have become divorced from those of the rest of us. 'I can't think of a national newspaper editor with school-age kids who has them in a state school,' [Maguire] reflects. 'On top of that, most journalists at those levels are given private medical insurance. So you're kind of taken out of everyday life.' (P27)

Jones continues:

'More than anything, it is this ignorance of working-class life that explains how Karen Matthews became a template for people living in working-class communities.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars an important work.
This is probably the most important political book of the early 21st century.
It maps out a chilling change in British politics.
Published 8 days ago by Doug Segal
2.0 out of 5 stars Novocaine for the Socialist Soul
Ah, dear Owen Jones, the boy wonder of the chattering classes.

Whenever the serious political commentary shows want to lighten the mood they hire the country's number... Read more
Published 14 days ago by Dingbat
5.0 out of 5 stars Good
Very interesting. I'm dipping in to it rather than reading from beginning to end. Much as I like and admire Owen I think he's a bit too far to the left for me !
Published 1 month ago by Plushrose
5.0 out of 5 stars This book has been a long time coming
I wish every politician, journalist, school teacher, lecturer, HR and Recruitment Professional would read this book. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Jules
5.0 out of 5 stars A realistic view of us from one of their own
70 billion in unpaid taxes owed to the government from the rich in one year, but I'm an underclass scrounger because I'm too ill too work and tax money keeps me alive? Read more
Published 1 month ago by Michael Hood
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect book.
An excellent balance between anecdotes facts. Very well written and a consistently strong argument showing social problems resulting from neoliberalism and the Thatcher years. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Caelan Gill
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good read
Well constructed argument on what the working class face today in modern Britain. Definitely recommend it to anyone interested in working class politics. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Conor Cheyne
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read!
Excellent critique of modern capitalism. Owen Jones tells it how it is. Superb and a refreshing political thinker to watch.
Published 2 months ago by Lorraine Bremner
4.0 out of 5 stars Great arguments supported with evidence - gets repetitive though.
This book refutes all arguments used to justify the demonisation of the working class - it does it well; a lot of evidence is used to support the arguments made. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Antony Fenner
5.0 out of 5 stars Eye opening
If you're working class as I am this is a rather depressing read. To find out that you're paying for the mistakes of a group of out of touch privileged heartless c***s and that... Read more
Published 2 months ago by BritReader
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