Negotiating stance within discourse of class: reactions to Benefits Street

PATERSON, Laura, COFFEY-GLOVER, Laura and PEPLOW, David (2016). Negotiating stance within discourse of class: reactions to Benefits Street. Discourse and Society, 27 (2), 195-214.

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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.

Item Type: Article
Research Institute, Centre or Group: Humanities Research Centre
Identification Number: 10.1177/0957926515611558
Depositing User: David Peplow
Date Deposited: 05 May 2016 13:05
Last Modified: 19 Oct 2016 23:37

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