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People like us? People like them? Contemporary media representations of social class

Wagner, Bernhard (2015) People like us? People like them? Contemporary media representations of social class. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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In this thesis, I discuss media representations of social class. My particular focus is on entertaining television formats and as an empirical example, I analyse the BBC Three docusoap People Like Us (2013l). To explore how social class is reflected in and impacts on the production of the programme, I conduct interviews with people participating in it, carry out a discourse analysis of its content and also attempt a small-scale audience research to get an understanding of how the programme was perceived. Theoretically, my research is framed by a Bourdieusian conception of social class and relevant related concepts like habitus, doxa and symbolic violence. I come to the conclusion that class divisions are clearly reflected and played out in the media field in multiple, interlinked ways. In the discourse analysis of People Like Us (2013l) I show how negative working-class stereotypes structure the programme narratively. I demonstrate how these stereotypical and reductionist images are artificially constructed and how they are linked with contemporary political discourses around class. Furthermore, I discuss how class hierarchies structure access to and power over the production of media output and underpin a division of labour that divides people into subjects and objects of representations largely along class lines. In the analysis of my empirical example, I explore the exploitative nature of this constellation and also the (moral) value that is attached to the respective class positions. Bourdieu makes the point that media representations are part of a wider class struggle. The analysis carried out in this research very much confirms this assessment, however, in the field of large-scale cultural production these battles are fought with very unequal weapons. The discourse analysis of my chosen empirical example explores, in connection with the conducted interviews with participants of the programme, a number of instances of very manipulative editing that cannot just be explained by the genre-typical requirements and the intention of the programme to entertain.

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