This paper draws on twelve months of ethnographic fieldwork in Higher Blackley, North Manchester, England, to explore the ways in which individuals and groups who identify themselves and are identified as 'white', 'working class' and 'English' resist what they perceive as dominant ideas and discourses, deeply unsettling of their 'Englishness'. Perceptions and expectations of 'fairness' underpin social relations in Higher Blackley and this paper will explore perceptions of dominance through the local idiom of fairness. I explore how sentiments of belonging in this area are then imaginatively transposed onto national and international levels.
The last ASA Network of Applied Anthropologists (APPLY & Anthropology in Action) meeting was held at the IUAES Conference (2013) at the University of Manchester. This meeting was and is, to my mind, an important one for a couple of reasons. Hosted by Dr Jonathan Skinner (Roehampton), it involved looking at the ways in which anthropological knowledge may be used in a corporate environment as well as produced in fieldwork on alternative tourism and migrant leisure.
This article uncovers the distinction between calls of the far right to address what they consider to be an imbalance in political representation in Britain and local frustrations in Higher Blackley, North Manchester, England about feeling ignored by local and national government. Exploring how voting for the far right is used strategically in an attempt to communicate political disenchantment with the Labour Party, the article explains the shift in voting patterns as a protest against Labour rather than as a statement of affiliation with the core values of the British National Party. The extent of residents' anger is revealed as they explain the “unfairness“ of politicians' general neglect of the kind of people who live in Higher Blackley. This is compounded by perceptions of the preferential and “unfair“ treatment given to people from ethnic minorities. The article explains how the labeling of residents of Higher Blackley as white working class is rejected as also being “unfair“ because it ascribes negative attributes, wholesale, to the very people who were once respected for their participation in a Labour movement of their own making. The ethnographic idea of “fairness“ is revealed in the article as the opposite of labeling/fixing and as the acknowledgement of contingency, chance, and choice.
The middle class-ification of Britain
Jeanette Edwards, Gillian Evans and Katherine Smith
The articles collected in this special section of Focaal capture, ethnographically, a particular moment at the end of the New Labour project when the political consequences of a failure to address the growing sense of crisis among working-class people in post-industrial Britain are being felt. These new ethnographies of social class in Britain reveal not only disenchantment and disenfranchisement, but also incisive and critical commentary on the shifting and often surprising forms and experiences of contemporary class relations. Here we trace the emergence of controversies surrounding the category “white working class“ and what it has come to stand for, which includes the vilification of people whose political, economic and social standing has been systematically eroded by the economic policies and political strategies of both Conservative and New Labour governments. The specificities of class discourse in Britain are also located relative to broader changes that have occurred across Europe with the rise of “cultural fundamentalisms“ and a populist politics espousing neo-nationalist rhetorics of ethnic solidarity. This selection of recent ethnographies holds up a mirror to a rapidly changing political landscape in Britain. It reveals how post-Thatcherite discourses of “the individual“, “the market“, “social mobility“ and “choice“ have failed a significant proportion of the working-class population. Moreover, it shows how well anthropology can capture the subtle and complex forms of collectivity through which people find meaning in times of change.
Mette Louise Berg, Hülya Demirdirek, Albert Doja, Leyla J. Keough, Orvar Löfgren, Kacper Pobłocki, Peter Skalník, Gavin Smith, Banu Nilgün Uygun, Katherine Verdery and Judith Whitehead
Biographical notes on contributors