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Economic Martyrs and Moralised Others: The Construction of Social Class in UK Media during the 'Age of Austerity'
  • Lee Marsden
Lee Marsden

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This paper describes the key findings of a PhD study which critically analyses the construction of social class within UK media during the period 2010-2016-part of the 'age of austerity'. Focusing upon 240 newspaper articles covering 6 topics (emergency budget, welfare reform, workfare, bedroom tax, food banks, and zero-hour contracts), the study provides critical insights into how class is constructed in an important context: namely that of economic downturn and rising inequality. The findings suggest that a pro-austerity discourse dominates the coverage. Here austerity is described as necessary, and the idea of 'unavoidable scarcity' forms the basis for a 'moral divide' between a vague ingroup-the 'ordinary hardworking people', defined by their idealised struggle and selfless sense of duty-and an exploitative 'other'. This both legitimises austerity and masks its broader impact. As the impacts become more apparent, however, challenges to the dominant narrative begin to appear. In the course of these challenges, the struggle inherent to class is placed back on the agenda, and class is increasingly constructed as an 'anxious concept'-a slippery slope down which one might fall.