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Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class Paperback – 1 May 2012


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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Verso Books; 2nd Revised edition edition (1 May 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844678644
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844678648
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 2.6 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (285 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 608 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'Superb and angry.' --Polly Toynbee, Guardian

'A work of passion, sympathy and moral grace.' --Dwight Garner, New York Times

'Persuasively argued, and packed full of good reporting and useful information - [Jones] makes an important contribution to a revivified debate about class.' Lynsey Hanley, Guardian; 'A timely book.' Book of the Week, The Times; 'A blinding read.' Suzanne Moore, Guardian; 'It moves in and out of postwar British history with great agility, weaving together complex questions of class, culture and identity with a lightness of touch.' Jon Cruddas, Book of the Week, Independent; 'A lively, well-reasoned and informative counterblast to the notion that Britain is now more or less a classless society.' --Sean O'Hagan, Observer

About the Author

OWEN JONES has worked in the British Parliament as a trade union lobbyist and parliamentary researcher. He lives in London.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

677 of 760 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Pittard on 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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324 of 396 people found the following review helpful By Diziet TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 6 Jun 2011
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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22 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Simon Scarrow on 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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