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This review is from: Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class (Paperback)
I am very much in agreement with the excellent review by Christopher Pittard, so I won't waste time repeating his central points here. However, there are a few things I would add. Firstly, it is hard to know which I am most exasperated by, the book itself or the fawning praise it has received by some figures on the left that I imagined would know better. Some reviewers clearly have low standards; 'trenchant', 'important' and 'forensic' are not words that should be allowed anywhere near a reviewer's lexicon when assessing this book. Anyway, it's a long time since I have read a book that irritated me quite this much.
Like Pittard, I agree with Jones on some points and I regard myself as on the left. I also happen to know a bit about some of the subjects that Jones writes about. This makes it easier to spot the over-simplifications, gaps, lack of evidence and various other problems. I have annotated such problems on most of the pages of my copy (yes, it took a long time). The book reads as though written by someone who has spent too much time hanging around on the left, hearing the same old platitudes in meetings and bars. The over-reliance on newspaper clippings is a tell-tale sign of this. It turns the book into a 269-page Guardian-style rant (and we all know how tiresome those can be). Much of his 'evidence' consists of interviews with the great and good of politics (and some working-class people), splicing up the transcripts for whatever quote suits the point he is making. He does gives some other genuine and useful evidence but it is rare.
What most irked me was the unfailingly deterministic and patronising view of the working-class that Jones exhibits. It's common amongst many middle-class people so one shouldn't be too harsh on him I suppose, given his background. When you are on the outside looking in, you tend to over-emphasise the externals. However, it is a fundamental flaw to strip working-class people of their moral autonomy by blaming almost everything that happens to them on social conditions and the perfidious Tories (oh, and those sell-outs in the Labour Party of course). Coming from a working-class background myself, it doesn't surprise me that so many of them vote Tory. Mistaken it may be, but one can see that it's a relief from being treated like sheep by too many socialists. Tory individualism is deeply flawed in many ways, but at least it takes seriously the concept that we are, in fact, something more than members of a class. It is because of a sense of their own moral autonomy that the most vehement criticisms you will ever hear of fecklessness come not from the Daily Mail but from working-class people themselves. There is far more to that age-old phenomenon than media manipulation. This is also why Jones' claim that criticism of 'chavs' is disguised criticism of the working-class is so fundamentally misguided. He could do with reading more history. While he's at it he might care to look up Karl Marx's disgraceful view of the 'lumpenproletariat'. Now there's another middle-class intellectual who liked his categories.
It's a shame. There are interesting things to be said about the subject. I sympathise with some of the book's aims. It is also true that the working class in general has largely disappeared from the political and cultural landscape except as a series of caricatures. Unfortunately, Jones just provides another example of the left-wing versions of those caricatures. Never has it been more apparent that working class people need to get used to speaking for themselves again rather than leaving it to others. I'll exhibit my own personal prejudice here and say that the first step on that road is for more of them to do what I have done and get rid of their television sets. That's 28 hours a week (on average) of middle-class-controlled pap removed in one fell swoop. More time for reading (and criticising) books like this.
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Initial post: 29 May 2012 12:09:10 BDT
John F. Keane says:
Another reason for working class/lower middle class conservatism is that they live on the edge of underclass chaos. Also, their understanding of that chaos is far deeper than that of the detached middle classes. It isn't just a matter of poverty but also poor genes. Consider how Asians and Chinese usually escape the underclass in a few generations.
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