Class and Popular Culture (P4109)

30 credits, Level 6

Autumn teaching

While constructions of gender, sexuality, ‘race’ and ethnicity in popular media and culture have been subjected to increasing academic scrutiny in the last decade or so, class has been largely left off the agenda. The module attempts to redress this neglect. It centres on theorisations of class in the cultural sphere, and on a series of debates over the representation of class in a range of examples from popular culture. It considers both strategies of ‘othering’ groups such as the working class and underclass, and also representations of the ‘invisible’, taken for granted norm of middle-class identity. Topics covered may include: emotions and class – shame, hate, and envy, news, television reality shows and television drama, embodiment, education, aspiration and respectability.

This module will look at the way structures of representation have influenced the way class relations in Britain and the USA can be ‘seen’ and understood, and are thus reinforced. It will commence with a historical analysis of class from the nineteenth century, examining the emergence of Anthropology as an attempt to objectify and classify the internal ‘Dark Continent’ of Britain and Ireland’s poor. It will look at attempts to ‘clean up’ what was known as the ‘residuum’ through Edwin Chadwick’s sanitary report and subsequent social policy, including governmental eugenics and sterilisation courses; it will consider the nineteenth century practice of ‘slumming’, and also consider the eroticisation of the working man and woman by the middle class gaze, the representation of the prostitute (female and male) and the commodification of lower class bodies through their objectification and consumption. We shall look at campaigns to sanitise the lower classes by the middle classes such as through the Pear’s Soap campaign, an irony when one considers that the largest employment domain for the poor at that time was ‘service’ (cleaning the houses of the aristocracy and bourgeoisie).

The module will move through historical models (utilising Marxist theory and cultural theory), toward the twentieth century, thinking about how the lower classes became ethnicised/racialised as a group. It will consider the role of Irishness in the construction of the white poor, and also think about how postcolonial theory can help to explain national class alienation and othering. In the second half of the module we will think about more contemporary classed manifestations of popular culture such as the ritual of marching (St Patrick’s Day, the Orange Marches, Gay and Lesbian Pride), we shall also examine contemporary televisual texts to gain a richer understanding of paradigms of class representation, and we shall also look at case studies ranging from Tracey Emin’s art to middle-class traditions of hill-walking (the spectacle of the land, ownership of the ‘view’), and revisit popular media manifestations of the ‘common’, the ‘slag’, the ‘Essex girl’, the ‘hoodie’ and of module that enduring hate figure or folk devil – the ‘chav’.


100%: Seminar


100%: Coursework (Essay, Presentation)

Contact hours and workload

This module is 300 hours of work. This breaks down into 24 hours of contact time and 276 hours of independent study.

This module is running in the academic year 2019/20. We also plan to offer it in future academic years. It may become unavailable due to staff availability, student demand or updates to our curriculum. We’ll make sure to let our applicants know of such changes to modules at the earliest opportunity.