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Negotiating stance within discourses of class: reactions to Benefits Street

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>03/2016
<mark>Journal</mark>Discourse and Society
Issue number2
Volume27
Number of pages20
Pages (from-to)195-214
Publication statusPublished
Early online date5/11/15
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

In this article, we examine the way that audiences respond to particular representations of poverty.
Using clips from the Channel 4 television programme Benefits Street we conducted focus groups
in four locations across the United Kingdom, working with people from different socioeconomic
backgrounds who had different experiences with the benefits system. Benefits Street (2014) is an
example of reality television where members of the public are followed by film crews as they
perform everyday tasks and routines. Our choice to focus on this particular programme was
prompted by the huge media response that it received when it was broadcast; Benefits Street
generated 950 complaints to regulatory watchdog Ofcom and was referred to as ‘poverty porn’.
We focus on the way that viewers of this programme produce assessments of those on benefits,
analysing the discursive strategies used by our participants when evaluating representations of those
on benefits. Specifically, we consider how the participants in our study construct their own stance
and attribute stance to others through naming and agency practices, the negotiation of opinion
and stake inoculation. We invited our participants to judge the people they saw on screen, but
they went beyond this. They used clips of the programme as stimuli to collaboratively construct an
overarchingly negative stereotype of those on benefits. We conclude that Benefits Street is not just
an entertainment programme, but is rather a site for ideological construction and the perpetuation
of existing stereotypes about benefit claimants. The programme (and others like it) invites negative
evaluations of those on benefits and is thus a worthy site for critical linguistic analysis.