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Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class [Paperback]

Owen Jones
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (240 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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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 (240 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 55,441 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

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
624 of 699 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A missed opportunity 8 Aug 2011
Format:Paperback
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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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Time for the exploited to rise up. 31 Jan 2013
Format:Paperback
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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306 of 373 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 Five Stars
Beautifully crafted and scarily true.
Published 5 days ago by Mc Closkey
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Excellent. Well written and backed up with thought provoking evidence and historical perspectives.Alll politicians should read it.
Published 11 days ago by Andrew Dean
2.0 out of 5 stars Two Stars
what a rant!!
Published 13 days ago by teacherfi
5.0 out of 5 stars A powerful, timely and important book
I cannot recommend this powerful book highly enough to anyone who is even remotely interested in politics or society. Read more
Published 14 days ago by Christabelle
5.0 out of 5 stars Everyone should have access to this book to remind them ...
Everyone should have access to this book to remind them how to challenge the medias influence on our thinking
Published 17 days ago by Anne Rees
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Repetitive but very readable.
Published 28 days ago by Jackie gooding
5.0 out of 5 stars Review of CHAVS
This book was a excellent read, with crude and sometimes biased references throughout. A seemingly eye opening account of how the working class and other social groups are... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Sam Hillier
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought-Provoking
Bought this book for a general read, and it turned out to be extremely helpful for my degree in Criminology and Social Policy. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Jenni
3.0 out of 5 stars A hard read
Meticulously researched and referenced, and jam packed with some amazing facts and figures. It is clear the author put a huge amount of work in but I found myself wanting the... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Matt Shinn
4.0 out of 5 stars Good read but too idealistic
I admire Owen Jones but cannot help but think that he is one of those people without peripheral vision. He can see his way and no other way will do. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Christina Quinn
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