Work and the working class now
in The roots of populism
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This chapter shows how Owen Jones’s (2011) book Chavs documents the denigration of working-class solidarity and, in so doing, accounts for the rise of populist sentiment among the British working class. In popular news and entertainment media – amidst a landscape of exponential corporate consolidation – portrayals of the working class are transformed from a celebration of integrity in the face of adversity typical of the 1950s ‘kitchen-sink drama’, to a lampooning of feckless social welfare dependency and antisocial behaviour by the 1990s and beyond. Complementing Jones’s account of the denigration of working-class lives, Richard Sennett (2006, 2008, 2012) incisively portrays the demoralizing impact of neoliberal conditions of work. Most recently, these conditions have come to attention under the banner of the ‘gig economy’. While this economy is defended by the executives of disruptive start-ups in the name of corporate flexibility and employee choice, the stark reality of precarious employment readily undermines this rationalizing of employment casualization and worker precarity. In this connection, Angela McRobbie’s (2016) probing analysis of the ‘creative industries’ offers a further, devastating critique of the New Labour project. Contemporary work conditions offer thereby a powerful and concrete context in which the seeding ground of contemporary populism can be located.

The roots of populism

Neoliberalism and working-class lives

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