From empowering the shameful to shaming the empowered: Shifting depictions of the poor in 'reality TV'

Alana Barton, Howard Davis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (journal)peer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)
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Poor-blaming and poor-shaming have become intrinsic parts of the neoliberal order. For neoliberal discourse to enter and to dominate wider public ‘common sense’, vehicles of ‘populist language’ are required and the mass media has taken a central place in propagandising neoliberalism through their narration of poverty. This article focuses on so-called ‘reality TV’ and its neoliberal framing of the poor, particularly since 2007 and specifically in its generation of support for, and acquiescence in, ‘austerity’. We argue that what these programmes provide is a representation of poverty which is politically expedient but socially divisive. As criminologists, we suggest that this representation symbolises the intensification of what Cohen (2002: xxi) noted as the prominence of ‘“welfare cheats”, “social security frauds” and “dole scroungers” as fairly traditional folk devils. Further, we argue that an intensification in the denigration of the poor and the marginal in these programmes can be traced across three phases, from 2009 onwards, defined by their key features. Whilst not neatly discrete, these phases mirror the neoliberal political shift from welfare to punishment. They manufacture ‘epidemic problems’ that are seen to require urgent remediation. Yet the status and nature of these problems are defined through deception and the forms of intervention required are determined through individualised and moralised neoliberal prescription.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)191-211
Number of pages21
JournalCrime, Media, Culture
Issue number2
Early online date24 Nov 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2018


  • Austerity
  • benefits
  • neoliberal
  • poverty
  • reality TV


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