Being Voiceless: Perceptions of class identity, misrepresentation and disconnect from a working class perspective

  • Leanne De Main

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Class has united and divided Britain for centuries and is widely accepted as a British fact of life. It is a subject which frequently occurs in academic research, the media, within Government, and wider public discourse; whether it is addressed directly, or represented indirectly, through other mechanisms and stereotypes. Longstanding problems such as relative poverty and inequality appear to be getting worse despite living in more affluent times. The gap between the rich and the poor is growing. If eroded further these issues could threaten cohesion and democracy. This thesis focuses on the social class at the ‘lower’ end of societal structures; the working class. Current literature finds that identifying and defining class boundaries is complicated, the working class are frequently demonised and perceptions need to be changed. Existing narratives claim that the working class are voiceless, disconnected and misrepresented. Some propose that increasing social capital is the answer, but judgements by academics and policymakers regarding the notions and types of social capital are often made without fully understanding the complexities of working class life.

This research makes a contribution to existing discourse by presenting the voice of the working class -perspectives not frequently explored in prior literature-in order to answer questions such as: How do the working class view their identity? What effect do negative external perceptions have on the working class? Who speaks for the working class and who actively listens?Does current social policy in the UK and the notion of social capital enable or hinder the working class to influence wider political structures? This research concentrates on one geographical area; Camp Hill, Nuneaton, Warwickshire. Camp Hill is a traditional ex-mining community which is officially recognised as being deprived and rates poorly on many local and national social, economic and health indicators. Stakeholders and residents of Camp Hill provided a wealth of information through interviews, focus groups, diaries and social media, the findings of which are examined through a critical realist, ethnographic lens.

The findings suggest that it is impossible to agree on a clear definition of working class, even from the perspectives of the working class themselves. Class is voiced through stories and lived experiences not economic, educational or occupational measures. This research highlights the problem of developing policy based upon flawed definitions and partial understandings. The findings confirm that the working class are perceived negatively and demonised ,reinforcing current literature. It goes further to recognise how negative media portrayals have led to apathy and helplessness within the working class in terms of how perceptions might be changed. There is a level of voicelessness and disconnect apparent within the working class; a continuum exists which identifies that, at one extreme, their voice is blocked, ignored or unheard. The other extreme recognises that they do not communicate their voice effectively, somewhat driven by a historical lack of trust in formal agency and a lack of confidence on whether their voice holds power. Social policy is often developed without fully understanding the lives of the working class, in terms of social networks, social capital and aspirations. Working class communities could be empowered to drive change from a grassroots level, although questions remain about how this can be achieved. This thesis presents a conceptual framework which draws together the key themes and demonstrates, through the frameworks barriers and linkages, the broader implications of a misrepresented and disconnected working class. In summary, this research broadly corroborates with existing literature but where it is weak in terms of self-determined working class perspectives, this thesis contributes by presenting greater working class voices from the working class themselves.
Date of Award2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Coventry University
SupervisorHarris Beider (Supervisor)

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