Accepted Paper:

Resisting mutuality: multiculturalism and the controvery about the white working classes in Britain  


Gillian Evans (University of Manchester)

Paper short abstract:

Exploring current controversies about the knock-on effects of de-industrialisation and globalisation, this paper argues that the creation of the white working class as 'a new (and most marginalised) ethnic group' is the logical outcome of the political vacuum created by multiculturalism's right-wing implications and new-Labour's effort to hold the centre ground in politics.

Paper long abstract:

Whilst Bermondsey people lament the death of an industrial, inner-city community based on closely knit ties of kinship and residence or 'born and bred' criteria of belonging - and are preoccupied with trying to defend their way of life - learning 'how to have an explicit cultural identity', to be a 'new ethnic group' in order to compete in a multicultural social climate - the political and economic struggles which have historically defined what it means to be working class in Britain are forced into the background. This highlights the present danger, which is that even as we celebrate multiculturalism in Britain or wonder whether it has past its sell-by date, little emphasis is placed on those institutions - political or economic - through which relatively poor people - black, white and Asian - might once have come together to know themselves collectively as working class.

Eager to capitalise on this shift in the political landscape the British National Party promotes an agenda of racial and cultural nationalism, gaining votes in areas of the country where the white working classes feel increasingly at unease about a Labour government which no longer speaks their language but talks of 'community cohesion' and national integration. Exploring recent controversies about the position of the white working classes in Britain, this paper argues that at the margins of the mutuality, which was multiculturalism's promise, there is profound alienation from a society which dreams of equality but no longer understands how social relations are structured in practice.

Panel W078
Mutuality's margins: contesting cosmopolitanism in the rescaled city