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"The aboriginal people of England"

The culture of class politics in contemporary Britain

Gillian Evans

This article explores the legal precedent of the case of Mandla versus Dowell-Lee (Mandla v Dowell-Lee 1983) to explain how the far right British National Party mobilizes ethnic strategies and specifically the category of “indigenous Britons,“ to turn post-colonial multiculturalism on its head and thereby disavow the realities of a post-industrial, multiracial working class in Britain. The article argues that the historical moment in contemporary Britain is characterized by a shift away from the politics of social class toward collective organization and sentiment based on ethnicity and cultural nationalism. Drawing on ethnographic and historical research, conducted between 1998 and 2000 on the post-industrial Docklands of Southeast London, the article explains an exceptional local area case study, which proves the rule about the growth in influence in the first decade of the twenty-first century of far-right politics in post-industrial urban areas of Britain.

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Introduction

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.

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Karima Kadi-Hanifi

This interdisciplinary paper is about applying Adult Education methods of learning and teaching to higher education. I argue that higher education students need to be stimulated via interactive methods that improve their motivation and lead them to question the value system/s that exist around them. A Freirean approach as used in the teaching of Adult Literacy and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) was applied to a group of 'elite' students at the University of Birmingham who were taking a language foundation course. As a sociolinguist and ESOL practitioner from a black perspective, I argue that the understanding of concepts of language and racism, imperialism and social class can best be facilitated using such an approach. Taking groups of students through this learning journey is challenging for higher education practitioners and the results add a relatively new dimension to the collective reflection on learning and teaching in higher education today.

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Jeanette Edwards

Local family historians in the north of England are not only intent on "finding" their ancestors but in adding "flesh" to the bones of genealogy. Many are as interested in the social life of their ancestors as they are in their family tree or pedigree and, through their research, they excavate particular social and classed histories which combine discourses of land, labor, love, and loss. As well as deepening a sense of the workings of class in England, their research renders class identity more contingent than other contemporary public and media-driven versions. This article argues that family history and genealogical research destabilizes readings of English class identities as fixed, bounded and inescapable by revealing the vagaries of fate and chance and by making explicit other relevant and overlapping social distinctions in the provenance of one's ancestors.

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Mariano González-Delgado and Manuel Ferraz-Lorenzo

This article explains the approach to mass consumption developed in social studies textbooks in the early years of the transition to democracy in Spain. It begins by examining the way in which school textbooks represented consumer society and mass media in the late 1970s. This is followed by an in-depth explanation of the reasons that led the authors of these textbooks to choose one theoretical framework over another. Above all, this article emphasizes the complexity and variety of the historical materials used to represent consumer society, and how this process of social construction is reflected in the textbook content of the time.

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Russell J. Dalton and Willy Jou

Few aspects of politics have been as variable as partisan politics in the two decades since German unification. In the East, citizens had to learn about democratic electoral politics and the party system from an almost completely fresh start. In the West, voters experienced a changing partisan landscape and the shifting policy positions of the established parties as they confronted the challenges of unification. This article raises the question of whether there is one party system or two in the Federal Republic. We first describe the voting results since 1990, and examine the evolving links between social milieu and the parties. Then we consider whether citizens are developing affective party ties that reflect the institutionalization of a party system and voter choice. Although there are broad similarities between electoral politics in West and East, the differences have not substantially narrowed in the past two decades.

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'Worklessness'

A Family Portrait

Gillian Evans

Inspired by the examples of Stewart (1996) and Weston (2009), this article is an experiment in narrative form. It portrays the 'cultural poetics' (Stewart 1996) of lives lived in and through experiences of poverty in contemporary London and considers the potential of long-term participant-observation fieldwork, and the development of relations of mutual obligation in the field, to create a collaborative anthropology de fined by a politics of mutually transformative action. The article enters into debate about the effects of changing structural inequalities, which differentially impact on the post-industrial urban neighbourhoods of the U.S.A., the U.K. and Europe (Waquant 2008; 2012). Waquant's work is taken to be a rallying cry for Europe and the U.K. to wake up from the American Dream of neo-liberalism. The 'utter desolation' (Waquant 2012: 66) of life in the worst of the U.S.A.'s post-industrial urban housing projects and, to an extent, in France, demands a reaction from and suggests (especially post-August 2011 riots), that the time is now to debate how to prevent further deterioration in British cities. The article should be read as two parts in conversation with each other. The first section is an experiment in narrative form and hence the reader is asked to bear with and consider the fruitfulness of the departure from conventional scholarly form. In the second part of the article academic insight is drawn out in more standardized form, with a more usual engagement with literature, highlighting of relevant points and movement towards the formation of argument.

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Social Quality in China

An Analysis of the Evaluation of Different Classes

Cui Yan and Huang Yongliang

Since the end of the 1990s, when European scholars put forward the social quality theory, related research has been recently and increasingly carried out in China. At present, Chinese society has entered a new stage of development, and the main demands of the population have gradually changed. For theoretical and practical reasons, it is highly attractive to strengthen the research on the social quality of China in order to meet new public demands and expectations and to promote the improvement of social quality through the implementation of effective politics and policies. Based on empirical data, this article comprehensively analyzes the cognition of different layers of China’s population and the change of the four conditional factors of social quality on the overall development of society.

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Didier Gazagnadou

In this article, the author investigates, from an anthropological point of view, why many Iranian women (and even some men) resort to rhinoplasty – that is, surgery to alter the appearance of the nose – for cosmetic purposes. When did this phenomenon begin in Iran? Which social classes and ages are concerned? What is the relationship between this practice and Iranian society in general? Is it the result of foreign cultural influences? What comparisons can be made with other cultures? Born of a micro-sociological case, these interrogations address the anthropology of Iranian society, which, like many others, has been engaged for several decades in an ‘exchange process’ that today is commonly known as globalisation.

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Disrupting the Invisibility of Working-Class Girls

Redemption, Value, and the Politics of Recognition

Stephanie Skourtes

At a time when individualized narratives have replaced structural explanations like social class to account for inequality, girls who are on the urban fringe are not only made invisible but are under-valued as contributing members to a future, individually oriented society. This article offers a visual disruption in order to re-value the stigmatized, working-class girl by applying the concept of use-value to identify the girls' redemption narratives as an agentic process that is expressed affectively. Drawing from an ethnography of urban, working-class girls who utilize social services, this article reveals how class as culture operated along with other classification systems to inscribe the girls as a problem. Recognizing this, each girl had a redemption tale to tell so as to recover a sense of self; the self-narratives revealed alternative value systems that provided collective and practical value to them.