Bristol Anthropology and Archaeology Research Seminar: Ryan Davey
Dr Ryan Davey, University of Bristol
G.10 Lecture Room, 43 Woodland Road
Class and coercion in post-industrial Britain: an ethnography of a housing estate in south-west England
Studies of class in Britain tend to explore people’s emic identifications or to invoke Marxian theories of an antagonism between labour and capital. But what if something like class can also result from your relation to the coercive apparatus of the law?
This paper examines the link between legal coercion and class through ethnographic research with over-indebted households on an English housing estate. Many residents there, as in much of post-industrial Britain, have to rely on consumer credit sheerly to subsist and are consequently often in arrears.
This exposes them to an almost inescapable risk of legal enforcement, with sanctions such as household goods being seized. The same people often find themselves at risk of losing their homes or fearful of their children being taken into care.
For certain swathes of UK residents, then, political-economic changes including de-industrialisation and financialisation have led not only to economic precarity but also to an exposure to legal forms of dispossession – a condition I call “expropriability.”
Actual expropriations involve a conferral of legal fault, and so contribute to a wider structure of class-based denigration, while the condition of expropriability creates a population who waver radically in their commitment to certain dominant moral standards.