Abjection Made Manifest: The Grotesque Televisual Construction of the Contemporary British Underclass

COPE, Louise Mary (2019). Abjection Made Manifest: The Grotesque Televisual Construction of the Contemporary British Underclass. Doctoral, Sheffield Hallam University.

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Link to published version:: https://doi.org/10.7190/shu-thesis-00352


This thesis investigates how the process of abjection is manifest in the grotesque visual imagery used to depict a configuration of the contemporary underclass: the ‘benefits scrounger’. Both the theoretical foundation and the analysis undertaken in thisresearch are based upon the psychoanalytical notion of the abject, as conceived by Kristeva (1982), and the grotesque as a representational mode, as theorised by Bakhtin (1984), considered as mutually constitutive categoriesthat intersect at the evocation of disgust. It is argued that ‘poverty porn’ programmes perpetuate abject-grotesque imagery and rely on an aesthetics of disgust to construct a figure of the contemporary British poor which coincides with neoliberal ideology, as well as being consistent with historical contempt for the poor. The overarching research philosophy of this thesis is social constructionism: the aim being to detail how the notion of the ‘underclass’ has been socially constructed and mediated; along with exploring the potency of this construction and its implications on the public consensus on benefits claimants. Also considered are the ways in which the participants in poverty porn texts construct the Self in relation to the stigma attached to being a benefits claimant, or a ‘benefits scrounger’. In contemporary Britain, there has been a return to the notion of a feckless and dangerous underclass, who are blamed for a plethora of social issues such as economic decline, draining NHS resources, and rioting. These narratives, combined with neoliberal governmentality, shift the blame of such issues from structural to individual. Thus, constructing a homogenous group such as the ‘underclass’ as abject – outside the boundaries of ‘normal’ society – is necessary to this process: depicting them as a contemporary grotesque leaves them devoid of public sympathy. This research draws upon qualitative and interpretive methods centred on a critical hermeneutics, which when combined with social constructionism lays the analytical foundations for a framing analysis of televisual texts. The textual analysis of twelve poverty porn texts, all broadcast on Channel 5 between 2014-2017, focuses on two predominant representational categories: the Abject Maternal and Grotesque Embodiment. This thesis presents an explorative and original abject-grotesque framework which is utilised to analyse the visual, ideological, discursive and narrative elements of poverty porn. Thus, the overall intention of this research is to promote a greater understanding of poverty porn: investigating how it has been instrumental in constructing the abject-grotesque figure of the benefits scrounger; and how this contributes to deepening social inequalities. The scope of this research is to provide an analytical framework for which future representations of the poor can be interpreted against.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Thesis advisor - Cere, Rinella [0000-0002-6048-6036]
Additional Information: Director of studies: Dr. Rinella Cere
Research Institute, Centre or Group - Does NOT include content added after October 2018: Sheffield Hallam Doctoral Theses
Identification Number: https://doi.org/10.7190/shu-thesis-00352
Depositing User: Colin Knott
Date Deposited: 13 Apr 2021 15:57
Last Modified: 03 May 2023 02:04
URI: https://shura.shu.ac.uk/id/eprint/28509

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