Globalisation and Social Exclusion: The Sociology of Vindictiveness and the Criminology of Transgression

"The tendencies towards economic division and social exclusion now characteristic of America do seem to be hardening both in Britain and Western Europe. The racial and ethnic element here is prominent. In cities such as London, Manchester, Rotterdam, Frankfurt, Paris and Naples the position of the urban poor is worsening. Hamburg is Europe’s richest city, as measured by average personal income, and has the highest proportion of millionaires in Germany. It also has the highest proportion on welfare and unemployment – 40 per cent above the national average. A third of industrial jobs in and around the city have disappeared in the fifteen years up to 1994." (A Giddens, 1997, p.260)

"There are imaginary geographies which place imperfect minorities in marginalized locations: in a social elsewhere. These locations consist of protected zones which ensure the reproduction of those who inhabit them, who are separated from the majorities living outside. These geographies of exclusion associate elsewhere with that which is contaminated, filthy, offensive to morality and olfaction." (V. Ruggiero, 2000, p.1)

In The Exclusive Society (1999) I contrast the inclusive world of the post-war period of the 1950's and 1960's with the more exclusionary social order of late modernity in the last third of the twentieth century and beyond. Eric Hobsbawm's (1994) "Golden Age" of high employment, job security and stable marriage and community is contrasted with a more insecure and divided society that followed it. For whereas the Golden Age granted social embeddedness, strong certainty of personal and social narrative, a desire to assimilate the deviant, the immigrant, the stranger, late modernity generated both economic and ontological insecurity, a discontinuity of personal and social narrative and an exclusionary tendency towards the deviant.

In my research I started from the most immediate and apparent manifestations of social exclusion in late modern societies. I sub-divided these exclusions into three layers: the labour market, civil society and the State. Within the labour market I noted the decline of the primary labour market, the expansion of a secondary labour market characterised by insecurity, short-term contracts and multiple career trajectories and a penumbra of those on the margins, an underclass of those who are structurally unemployed and spend a lifetime idle or working for poverty wages. In short, what Will Hutton (1995) has characterised as "the 40:30:30 society".

Corresponding to this exclusion from the labour market was the exclusion from civil society: an underclass left stranded by the needs of capital on housing estates either in the inner city or on its periphery. Those who because of illiteracy, family pathology or general disorganisation were excluded from citizenship, whose spatial vistas were those of constant disorder and threat and who were the recipients of stigma from the wider world of respectable citizens. The welfare 'scroungers', the immigrants, the junkies and crack heads: the demons of modern society. And lastly, such a second class citizenship was demonstrated and exacerbated by the focus of the criminal justice system, by their existence in J.A. Lee's (1981) graphic phrase as "police property" and by the extraordinarily disproportionate presence of the immigrant and the poor within the penal system.

Such a dualism is captured by John Galbraith's (1992) contrast between the "contented majority" and an underclass of despair, with respectability on the one hand and stigma on the other, a world of civility and tranquillity over against that of crime and mayhem. It underscores much of the contemporary usage of the phrase 'social exclusion'. But it soon became clear to me that such a dualism was fundamentally misconceived. It echoed the conventional wisdoms of the subject, to be sure, but it did not adequately grasp the social and spatial terrain of the late modern city nor the dynamics of the actors who traverse it. It rightly suggests barriers and divisions but wrongly exaggerates their efficacy and solidity: it mistakes rhetoric for reality, it attempts to impose hard lines on a late modern city of blurred demarcation and crossovers. Furthermore, it neither captures the intensity of the exclusion - the vindictiveness -nor the passionate resentment of the excluded whilst painting a far too calm picture of the fortunate citizens - the included.

Let us first examine the components of the social exclusion thesis:

  1. THE BINARY: that society can be divided into an inclusive and largely satisfied majority and an excluded and despondent minority;
  2. MORAL EXCLUSION: that there exists a vast majority with good habits of work, virtuous conduct between citizens, stable family structures and a minority who are disorganised, welfare dependent, criminal and criminogenic, who live in unstable and dysfunctional families;
  3. SPATIAL EXCLUSION: that the excluded are isolated from the included, that stronger and stronger barriers occur between them and that these borderlines are rarely crossed. Furthermore, that the fortunate classes create guilded ghettos within which to systematically exclude the poor;
  4. THE DYSFUNCTIONAL UNDERCLASS: that the underclass is a residuum which is dysfunctional to itself and to society at large, both in its cost in taxes and in its criminogenic nature. It is the 'dangerous classes' of the Victorians underwritten by the taxes of the Welfare State;
  5. WORK AND REDEMPTION: that the provision of work will transform the underclass: changing their attitudes of mind, habits of dependency, cultures of hedonism, criminal tendencies and dysfunctional families and transport them into the ranks of the contented and the law abiding.

This thesis is held by writers of various theoretical and political dispositions: whether it is the "social isolation" of William Julius Wilson (1987), the "hyperghettoization" of Loic Wacquant (2001), the warnings of "Indian style reservations" by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray (1994), "the New Bantustans" of Mike Davis (1990), the language and rhetoric of New Labour's Social Exclusion Unit (1999), "the dual city" of Manuel Castells (1994), "the geographies of exclusion" of David Sibley (1995) or the New York of nightmares and dreams portrayed in Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities (1988). And parallel to the segregation of the poor is the self-imposed isolation of the middle classes whether it is in "the gated communities" of Los Angeles, so well publicised by Mike Davis (1990), or "the fortress city" of Susan Christopherson (1994), or "the hyper-anaesthetized play zones" which are the "flip side narrative of the ‘jobless ghetto’" (2000, p.91) of Christian Parenti.

I wish to contest this thesis not from a perspective that there are no widescale disparities in late modern society nor that areas of the city are not particularly blighted by crime and that their inhabitants experience social exclusion and stigmatisation. Surely all of this is true and should be a target and priority of any progressive policy. But the construction of the problem in a binary mode obfuscates the issue, whilst the notion of social exclusion ironically exaggerates the degree of exclusion whilst underestimating the gravity of the problem.


The Binaries of Social Exclusion

Society at Large The Underclass

The Unproblematic The Problem

Community Disorganisation

Employment The Workless

Independence Welfare Dependency

Stable Family Single Mothers

The Natives The Immigrants

Drug Free Illicit Drug Use

Victims Criminals

The danger of the concept of social exclusion is that it carries with it a series of false binaries: it ignores the fact that problems occur on both sides of the line, however much one has clusters in one area rather than another and, more subtly, it conceals the fact that the 'normality' of the majority is itself deeply problematic.

Thus in the first respect unemployment, poverty, economic insecurity is scarcely unknown outside the designated areas - indeed quantitatively they are overall more prevalent in the supposedly secure majoritarian heartlands of society than they are in the selected minority of 'excluded' areas. And the same, of course, is true of illicit drug use, community disorganisation, unstable family structures etc. In the case of the notion of 'the normal majority' it assumes that, in this world, class differentials are somehow insignificant, that paid work is an unambiguous benefit, that 'stable' family life is unproblematic, licit psychoactive drug use is less a problem than illegal drug 'abuse' etc. Furthermore, it assumes that the transition from the social excluded to the majority via the vehicle of work will miraculously solve all these problems.

But we can go further than this for there is widespread evidence that the culture of contentment - which John Galbraith (1992) talks of: a 'contented majority' who are all right thank you, doing fine and sharing little in common or concern for the excluded minority, are a myth. Note, first of all, Will Hutton's figures, 40:30:30, where the secure primary labour market is reduced itself to a minority, but it would be foolish to suggest that even this island of seeming certainty was secure, serene or self-satisfied. The demands for a more and more flexible labour force coupled with the leap forwards in automation and the sophistications of computer software caused great reverberations of insecurity throughout the employment structure. Redundancy, short-term contracts, multiple career structures have become the order of the day. Furthermore, as the recent Joseph Rowntree Foundation Report, Job Insecurity and Work Intensification (B Burchell, 1999), discovered, redundancy not only causes chronic job insecurity but the workers who remain have to work longer hours and expand their skills to cover the areas of those dismissed (op cit, p.60). For those in work the length of the working day increases: it is, of course, easier for the employer to ask more and more time when security of employment is uncertain. The market does not compete in hard places, it goes for the soft tissue of time and vulnerability. Moreover, whilst in the past the income of one wage earner was sufficient to maintain a family, the dual career family has now become a commonplace where both partners are immersed in the labour market. And if in the economic sphere precariousness and uncertainty are widespread so too in the domestic sphere: divorce, separation, single parenthood are endemic, with the pressures of work merely adding to the instability of the late modern family.


There is a strange consensus in recent writings about the underclass. Both writers of the right and the left concur that what one has is not a separate culture of poverty as earlier conservative and radical writers presumed (eg Edward Banfield, 1968 on the right, or Michael Harrington, 1963, on the left), but rather that what has occurred is a breakdown of culture. Thus William Julius Wilson (1987) in his influential ‘social isolation’ thesis points to the way in which whole areas of the inner city, having been formed around the previous needs of manufacturing industry, are left stranded as capital wings its way to find more profitable dividends elsewhere in the country or abroad. Whilst the middle and respectable working classes escape to the suburbs, the less skilled remain behind bereft of work and, indeed, role models which display work discipline and the values of punctuality and reliability. The loss of work, in turn, leads to a lack of ‘marriageable men’ who can earn a family wage and engenders the rise of single mothers in the ghetto – and the role model of the family, parallel to that of work, is likewise diminished.

Charles Murray (1984), writing from the opposite political perspective, comes to surprisingly similar conclusions. His causal sequences are, of course, very different: it is not lack of work that causes the problem but lack of willingness to work, engendered by an "over generous" Welfare State which creates ‘dependency’ amongst the poor. Such a dependency manifests itself in a lack of motivation to work and single mothers. Thus the effects on attitudes to work and the family are similar and the perceived consequences, a high rate of crime and incivilities, identical.

All of these assessments of the morals of the poor are those of deficit: in the recent writers they lack our values, in the earlier writers they have different values which are seen as deficient. And, as it is, all of them describe a fairly similar value system or lack of it, namely short term hedonistic, lacking in restraint, unwillingness to forgo present pleasures, aggressiveness and willingness to use violence to achieve desired goals. In short, a spoilt, petulant, immature culture at the bottom of the social structure.

In The Exclusive Society I set out to examine this picture of mores at the bottom of the social structure. I decided to look at the American black underclass as a test case for surely, if this thesis were true, it would be amongst these supposed outcasts of the American Dream that this distinct, localised and anomic deficit culture would be found. In particular I looked at Carl Nightingale’s (1993) brilliant ethnography of the black ghetto of Philadelphia, On the Edge. What Nightingale discovered confounded such an image. For instead the ghetto was the apotheosis of America. Here is full immersion in the American Dream: a culture hooked on Gucci, BMW, Nike's, watching television eleven hours per day, sharing the mainstream culture's obsession with violence, backing, at the time of the study, Bush's involvement in the Gulf War, lining up outside the cinemas, worshipping success, money, wealth and status - even sharing in a perverse way the racism of the wider society. The problem of the ghetto was not so much the process of it being simply excluded but rather one which was all too strongly included in the culture but, then, systematically excluded from its realisation. All of this reminiscent of Merton - but where, in a late modern context, the implosion of the wider culture on the local is dramatically increased. We have a process which I likened to bulimia of the social system: a society which choruses the liberal mantra of liberty, equality and fraternity yet systematically in the job market, on the streets, in the day to day contacts with the outside world, practices exclusion. It brands as 'losers' those who had learnt to believe that the world consisted of 'winners' and 'losers'.


Thus the underclass is constructed as an Other, as a group with defective norms who contrast with the normal majority. And here in this region lies all sorts of crime and incivilities. From this perspective of essentialising the other, the demand is to locate the problem areas: where exactly are the demons, so to speak? The powerful seek, in Tod Gitlin's poignant phrase, "to purge impurities, to wall off the stranger" (1995, p.233). Thus the underclass is said to be located within the clear cut ghettos of the inner city sink estates or the long lost satellite slums at the cities' edge (see Byrne, 1999). But, in fact, there is no such precision here: the poor are not as firmly corralled as some might make out. Thus, as Gerry Mooney and Mike Danson write, in their critique of the "dual city" concept, based on their research in Glasgow - a city, some would say, of extreme cultural and economic contrasts:

"The conclusion which is drawn from the analysis of poverty and deprivation in contemporary Glasgow presented here is not one which lends support to the dual city model. … This is not to deny however, that there is an uneven distribution of poverty in the city or that poverty is concentrated in certain areas. What is being contested is the usefulness of the dual city argument for our understanding of such distributions and the processes which contribute to it. …

The language of the two city/dual city argument is one which is seriously flawed by definitional and conceptual difficulties. Despite the continuing use of concepts such as polarisation, underclass,, exclusion and marginalisation, we are little clearer about the underlying factors which are viewed as contributing to such processes. In this respect the dual city perspective and its implicit arguments about growing socio-spatial polarisation are plagued by ambiguity and vagueness.

In discussions of the emerging 'tale of two cities' in Glasgow, the attention which the peripheral estates received does not relate directly to the levels and proportions of poverty to be found there. In part this is a consequence of reluctance to define adequately the areas or social groups concerned. Further within peripheral estates there is a marked differentiation between the various component parts in terms of unemployment, poverty and deprivation. This is almost completely neglected in the dominant picture of these estates which has emerged in recent years which stereotypes the estates as homogeneous enclaves of 'despair' or 'hopelessness'." (1997, pp.84-5)

Similarly, John Haggerdorn points to the variegated neighbourhoods in Milwaukee which he studied: "a checkerboard of strugging working class and poor families, coexisting even in the same block, with drug houses, gangs and routine violence." (1991, p.534). Maybe urban geographers of all political persuasions would like more of a clear cut cartography than is healthy but, in reality, the contours of late modernity always blur, fudge and cross over (see Young, 2001).

Manuel Castells advocates the concept of dual city as the fundamental urban dualism of our time:

"It opposes the cosmopolitanism of the elite, living on a daily connection to the whole world … to the tribalism of local communities, retrenched in their spaces that they try to control as their last stand against the macro-forces that shape their lives out of their reach. The fundamental dividing line in our cities is the inclusion of the cosmopolitans in the making of the new history while excluding the locals from the control of the global city to which ultimately their neighbourhoods belong." (Castells, 1994, p.30).

In this conception the rich live in late modernity whereas the poor are trapped in locality, tribalism and the past. Such a notion tied to that of a class divide based on information fails to grasp the cultural penetration of globalisation. For, as John Tomlinson points out:

"those marginalized groups for whom 'locality is destiny' experience a transformed locality into which the wider world intrudes more and more. They may in all sorts of ways be the 'losers' in globalisation, but this does not mean that they are excluded from its effects, that they are consigned to cultural backwaters out of the mainstream of global modernity. Quite to the contrary, it seems to me that the poor and marginalized - for example those living in inner-city areas - often find themselves daily closest to some of most turbulent transformations, while it is the affluent who can afford to retire to the rural backwaters which have at least the appearance of a preserved and stable 'locality'." (1999, pp.133-4)

Thus in terms of mass communication they are exposed to messages and commodities from all over the world, whilst the inner city area in which they live becomes multi-ethnic and diverse due to labour immigration. They are exposed to what Dick Hebdidge (1990) calls a 'mundane cosmopolitanism' just as real or perhaps more significant than the rich tourist who travels the world in a fairly sanitised fashion from chain hotel to chain hotel, from airport lounge to airport lounge. And cultures of distant places either through the media or on the streets become incorporated in the local cultures particularly of the youth (see Young, 2001, Back, 1996).


"What is not accepted, and indeed is little mentioned, is that the underclass is integrally a part of the larger economic process and, more importantly, that it serves the living standard and the comfort of the more favored community … The economically fortunate, not excluding those who speak with greatest regret of the existence of this class, are heavily dependent on its presence.

"The underclass is deeply functional; all industrial countries have one in greater or lesser measure and in one form or another. As some of its members escape from deprivation and its associated compulsions, a resupply becomes essential. But on few matters, it must be added, is even the most sophisticated economic and social comment more reticent. The picture of an economic and political system in which social exclusion, however unforgiving, is somehow a remediable affliction is all but required. Here, in a compelling fashion, the social convenience of the contented replaces the clearly visible reality." (John Galbraith, 1992, pp.31-2).

It is common to portray the underclass as not wanted, as a social residuum. They are the people who were left behind in the urban hinterlands as capital winged its way to places where labour was cheaper, they are those whose labour is no longer required and who, furthermore, are 'flawed consumers' as Zygmunt Bauman (1998b) would have it, whose income is insufficient to render them of any interest to those selling the glittering commodities of late modern society. They are the casualties of globalisation and the new technology: they are the useless class, a segment of society which has become detached and irrelevant. As Ralf Dahrendorf put it: "They are, if the cruelty of the statement is pardonable, not needed. The rest of us could and would quite like to live without them." (1985, p.20). They are not simply of little use because their presence has dysfunctions for the rest of society: they have no uses but great costs. These dysfunctions take two forms. Firstly, the underclass is a source of crime and incivilities, it is viewed as a dangerous class; secondly, the residuum are costly, an ever-increasing burden on the hard pressed taxpayer. Nor, for that matter, are they separate in such a strict spatial sense as is frequently suggested. Thus Zygmunt Bauman writes of Washington D.C.:

"One difference between those 'high up' and those 'low down' is that the first may leave the second behind - but not vice versa. Contemporary cities are sites of an 'apartheid a’rebours': those who can afford it, abandon the filth and squalor of the regions that those who cannot afford the move are stuck to. In Washington D.C. … there is an invisible border stretching along 16th Street in the west and the Potomac river in the north-west, which those left behind are wise never to cross. Most of the adolescents left behind the invisible yet all-too-tangible border never saw downtown Washington with all its splendours, ostentatious elegance and refined pleasures. In their life, that downtown does not exist. There is no talking over the border. The life experiences are so sharply different that it is not clear what the residents of the two sides could talk to each other about were they to meet and stop to converse. As Ludwig Wittgenstein remarked, 'If lions could talk, we would not understand them'." (1998a, p.86).

This eloquent expression of the dual city thesis is wrong, not in its sense of division, but in its sense of borders. For the borders are regularly crossed and the language spoken on each side is remarkably similar. The most obvious flaw in the argument is that of gender: maids, nurses, clerical staff move across into work everyday. Women, as William Julius Wilson argues in When Work Disappears, are more acceptable to the world outside of the ghetto than their male counterparts. It is after all "home boys" who stay at home. But bellhops, taxi drivers, doormen, maintenance men regularly ply their way across the invisible borders of Washington D.C. It is not, therefore, just through television that the sense of relative deprivation of the poor is heightened, it is in the direct and often intimate knowledge of the lives of the affluent.

David Rieff in Los Angeles: Capital of the Third World (1993) writes of the close physical proximity of the professionals and the underclass in Los Angeles, their interdependence yet the chasm that separates their lives. Frank Webster captures this well when he comments:

"Illustrations of this are easy to find. On the one hand, maids are an essential element of the professionals' lifestyles, to cook, to clean, to look after children, to prepare for the dinner parties held in the gaps found in the frenetic work schedules of those deep into careers in law, corporate affairs, trading and brokerage. The maids, generally Hispanics, ride the infamously inadequate public transit buses to points in the city where their employers may pick them up in their cars to bring them home to clean up breakfast and take the children off to school. On the other hand, visitors are often struck by how verdant are the gardens of those living in the select areas of LA. Often they make the assumption that 'anything grows here in this wonderful sunshine'. But they are wrong: Los Angeles is a desert and gardens need most intensive care to bloom. They get it from an army of mainly Chicano labourers which arrives on the back of trucks very early in the mornings to weed, water and hoe - for a few dollars in wages, cash in hand.

In spite of this dependence, which obviously involves a good deal of personal interaction, the lives of the two groups are very far apart. Of course this is largely because they occupy markedly different territories, with members of the poor venturing out only to service the affluent on their terms as waiters, valets, shop assistants and the like the underclass also inhabit areas which the well-to-do have no reason (or desire) to visit." (1995, pp.205-6).

The dual city where the poor are morally segregated from the majority and are held physically apart by barriers is a myth. The borderlines are regularly crossed, the underclass exists on both sides anyway, but those who are clustered in the poorer parts of town regularly work across the tracks to keep the well off families functioning. The work poor keep the work rich going: indeed, it is only the availability of such cheap ‘help’ that enables the dual career families to continue. The situation of the dual income family and their need for support is well documented in Nicky Gregson and Michelle Lowe's Servicing the Middle Class (1994). The class relations of this emergent form was well summarised by the Hunts when they wrote:

"Hired help on a single family basis involves a category of workers that must be paid out of the take home earnings of the nuclear unit. Consequently, the dual-career family is premised upon the increased use of a class of workers locked into a standard of living considerably lower than their employers … it would provide the 'liberation' of one class of women by the continued subjugation of another." (Hunt and Hunt, 1977, p.413)

Neither are the poor excluded morally, they are far from socially isolated, the virtues of work and the stable nuclear family are daily presented to them. For not only do they actually directly physically experience it in their roles of nannies, kitchen help, as waiters in restaurants and cleaners and bell boys in hotels – they receive from the mass media a daily ration of these virtues, indeed one that is in excess of that consumed by those who work in the primary labour market.



"Work is central to the Government's attack on social exclusion. Work is the only route to sustained financial independence. But it is also much more. Work is not just about earning a living. It is a way of life … Work helps to fulfil our aspirations - it is the key to independence, self-respect and opportunities for advancement ... Work brings a sense of order that is missing from the lives of many unemployed young men. ... [The socially excluded] and their families are trapped in dependency. They inhabit a parallel world where: income is derived from benefits, not work; where school is an option not a key to opportunity; and where the dominant influence on young people is the culture of the street, not the values that bind families and communities together. There are some estates in my constituency where: the common currency is the giro; where the black economy involves much more than moonlighting - it involves the twilight world of drugs; and where relentless anti-social behaviour grinds people down …" (A speech by Harriet Harman, then Minister for Social Security, at the opening of the Centre for the Analysis of Social Exclusion at the London School of Economics, 1997)

"The worker … feels only outside of work, and during work he is outside himself. He is at home when he is not working and when he is working he is not at home. His work, therefore, is not voluntary, but coerced forced labour. It is not the satisfaction of a need but only a means to satisfy other needs. Its alien character is obvious from the fact that as soon as no physical or other pressure exists, labour is avoided like the plague. … Finally the external nature of work for the worker appears in the fact that it is not his own but another person's, that in work he does not belong to himself but to some one else … It is the loss of his own self."

Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts,

1844 [1967, p.292]

To suggest that any work is better than no work and that work has this essential redeeming quality is bizarre in the extreme. Work, as John K. Galbraith so wryly commented in The Culture of Contentment, is largely repetitive and demeaning, the use of "work" by the "contented classes" to describe their highly paid, creative and self-fulfilling activities in the same breath as the low paid, oppressive chores of the working poor is a fraud of the first order. And to add to this the notion of the majority of work as an act of redemption, a liberation of the self and a role model to one's children, as our New Labour politicians and their Democratic cousins would maintain, is to add insult to injury.

Even for the working majority, the main virtues of work are the coffee break, the wage packet and the weekend. In fact the inherently boring and tedious nature of work seems to many people to be precisely the reason that one is paid to do it. It is what you definitely would not do if you were not being paid. Yet providing the hours are not too long and the wages high enough, a deal of some sort is being made based much more on the perceived obdurate, difficult and unchanging nature of reality rather than any ideas of redemption. There is always the teenagers' Saturday night, the forty-somethings' house and car, the 'real' world of home, kids and television. But such a realpolitik of desire is far from redemption. The confusion arises of course, as Galbraith points out, that for the contented classes work is indeed precisely that: it is

"enjoyable, socially reputable and economically rewarding. Those who spend pleasant, well compensated days say with emphasis that they are 'hard at work', thereby suppressing the notion that they are a favored class. They are, of course, allured to say that they enjoy their work, but it is presumed that such enjoyment is shared by any good worker. In a brief moment of truth, we speak, when sentencing criminals, of years at 'hard labor'. Otherwise we place a common gloss over what is agreeable and what, to a greater or lesser extent, is endured or suffered." (1992, p.33).

The élite workers of stage, screen and song, the sportsmen and women and the sizeable segment of the contented middle classes for whom the day is never long enough - for all of these, their identity is based upon work. Take work away from them and they flounder hopelessly: their ontology is work. But if one part of society defines work as what they are: the other very definitely defines it as what they are not.

Below the contented top of society, the broad mass of people who are, if anxious about job security, reconciled to the wage deal. But below that for the working poor the deal breaks down, the equivalence of selling time and buying leisure is frayed and insubstantial. To take family life as an example: the politicians' rhetoric about work sustaining the family and providing role models for the children is hollow if not downright cruel. For, in fact, the type of work available to many of the poor leaves little time for stable family relationships either to partners or to children, and has wide repercussions for community instability. As Elliott Currie puts it "less often discussed [than lack of work] but not less important, is the effect of overwork in poorly-paid jobs on the capacity of parents to provide a nurturing and competent environment for childrearing and on the capacity of communities for self-regulation and the maintenance of networks of mutual support and care." (1997, p.155).

To force people to work long and anti-social hours undermines the very 'basic' morality of family and community which the politicians of all persuasions are constantly harping on about. The way in which, for example, single mothers are forced into work at rates which scarcely makes affordable the childcare which long hours at work necessitates, suggests ideology at work rather than any genuine care for people. The single mother looking after her children is dependent, the same mother paid to look after your children is by some miracle independent and resourceful. The true motive, the reduction of the tax burden of the well-off, is as Galbraith suggests, thinly concealed by the rhetoric. Furthermore, the notion that such work provides role models for the children of the neighbourhood is implausible: much more likely is that they make crime and the illicit markets of drug dealing all the more attractive. If there are indeed "seductions of crime", as Jack Katz (1988) suggests, then these seductions are all the more sweet given the misery of the alternatives.


What I am suggesting is that both the unemployed and the working poor - what one might call the overemployed - experience exclusion from social citizenship. The first because they are denied basic economic substratum concomitant with the widespread expectations of what citizenship implies, the second because they experience the nature of their work, the hours worked and the remuneration, as unfair, as being outside of the norms of the wage deal - a fair day's work for a fair day's pay. They are, of course, part of the labour market but they are not full citizens. The dragooning, therefore, of people from one category of exclusion to another ("getting the people to work", as The Social Exclusion Unit (1999) put it with its cheerless double entendre) is experienced all too frequently not as inclusion but as exclusion, not as the 'free' sale of labour, but as straightforward coercion.

The "New Deal", therefore, is not the solution it is the problem, it is not inclusion it is palpable exclusion, the solution to the New Deal is engaging in the hidden economy, drug dealing, becoming a single mother - the solution is what the aptly named Social Exclusion Unit sets out as the problem (see Willis, 2000, pp.89-91).


Physical, social and moral boundaries are constantly crossed in late modernity. As we have seen, they are transgressed because of individual movement, social mobility, the coincidence of values and problems both sides of any line and the tremendous incursion of the mass media which presents citywide and indeed global images to all and sundry whilst creating virtual communities and common identities across considerable barriers of space. Boundaries are crossed, boundaries shift, boundaries blur and are transfixed.

The socially excluded do not, therefore, exist in some ‘elsewhere’ cut off spatially, socially and morally from the wider society. To suggest this is not to say that physical barriers do not occur. Traffic is often scheduled so as to cut off parts of town, transport systems leave whole tracts of the city dislocated from the rest, and gated communities occur both in the fortunate and unfortunate parts of the city. It is not to deny that a characteristic of late modern society is the setting up of barriers, of exclusion. Nor is it to suggest that cultural divisions are set up with society propelled by misconception and prejudice. Indeed the discourse about social exclusion with its binary structure is itself part of such an attempt to construct moral barriers and distinctions. Rather, it is to say that such physical parameters are exaggerated, that the virtual communities set up by the mass media easily transcend physical demarcations, and that values are shared to a much greater extent than social isolation theorists would suggest. Of course subcultural variations exist within society but that’s what it is, subcultural: a variation in accentuation of core values rather than a deficit or difference in value.

The binary language of social exclusion fundamentally misunderstands the nature of late modernity. Here is a world where borders blur, where cultures cross over, hybridise and merge, where cultural globalisation breaks down, where virtual communities lose their strict moorings to space and locality. The late modern city is one of blurred boundaries, it was the Fordist city of modernity which had a segregated structure, a division of labour of specialised areas, a Chicago of concentric rings. Now the lines blur: gentrification occurs in the inner city – deviance occurs in the suburbs. It is a world of globalisation not separation, of blurring not strict lines of demarcation, it is culturally a world of hybrids not of pedigrees, of minor not major differences – the very decline in the physical community and rise of its virtual counterpart means that it is impossible for an underclass to exist separately.

Once again none of this is to suggest that considerable forces of exclusion do not occur but the process is not that of a society of simple exclusion which I originally posited. Rather it is one where both inclusion and exclusion occur concurrently – a bulimic society where massive cultural inclusion is accompanied by systematic structural exclusion. It is a society which has both strong centrifugal and centripetal currents: it absorbs and it rejects. Let us note first of all the array of institutions which impact the process of inclusion: the mass media, mass education, the consumer market, the labour market, the welfare state, the political system, the criminal justice system. Each of these carries with it a notion of universal values, of democratic notions of equality and reward and treatment according to circumstance and merit. Each of them has expanded throughout the century and has been accompanied by a steady rise in the notion of citizenship encompassing greater and greater parts of the population in terms of age, class, gender and race. And within the period of late modernity the mass media, mass education and the consumer and labour markets have, in particular, increased exponentially. Each of these institutions is not only a strong advocate of inclusive citizenship, it is also paradoxically the site of exclusion. The consumer markets propagate a citizenship of joyful consumption yet the ability to spend (and sometimes even to enter) within the mall is severely limited, the labour market incorporates more and more of the population (the entry of women into paid work being the prime example) yet, as André Gorz (1999) has so astutely stressed, precisely at the time when work is seen as a prime virtue of citizenship, well paid, secure and meaningful work is restricted to a tiny minority. The criminal justice system is on paper a paragon of equal rights. The British Police and Criminal Evidence Act, for example, governs amongst other things the powers of stop and search. It is a veritable cameo of neo-classicist notions of equality of citizens in the face of the law and the need for ‘democratic’ suspicion, yet on the streets, in practice, policing is indisputably biased in terms of race and class (see Mooney and Young, 2000). Politics is an hourly interjection of radio and television, the mass media speak on our part for "the common good", and "the average" man and woman – they even parade and interview joe public with regularity yet the vast majority of people feel manifestly excluded from political decision-making. Indeed even the tiny minority of active party members often feel impotent and uninfluential. Mass education is the major transmission belt of meritocratic ideas, it is the nursing ground of equal opportunity yet, as subcultural theorists from Albert Cohen to Paul Willis have pointed out, its structures serve to reproduce class divisions, and to exacerbate resentment. Lastly the mass media has a pivotal role. It has grown immensely and occupies a considerable part of waking life, in 1999, for example, the average person in England and Wales watched 26 hours of television, listened to 19 hours of radio every week, and read, on top of that, mass circulation newspapers and magazines. That is 40% of one's waking life is spent on watching TV or listening to the radio, rising to 60% of your free time if you are lucky enough to be in work. The lower down the class structure – the more socially excluded if you want – the citizen, the more mass media is consumed. Thus, paradoxically, cultural inclusion is the inverse of structural inclusion. The media carry strong notions of the universal citizen and they, of course, depict the other institutions: the world of consumption, work, education, politics and criminal justice. Yet despite this overall commitment to social order the very stuff of news is the opposite: disorder, breakdown, mayhem, injustice (see Young, 1981). To take the criminal justice system as an example: crime and police stories are a staple of both factual and fictional mass media and the miscarriage of justice is a major theme. From the murder of Stephen Lawrence to the Cincinnati riots, from the Guildford Four to Rodney Hill, police prejudice, corruption and incompetence is paraded daily. The mass media is a spectacular noticeboard of exclusion – it has all the characteristics of a bulimic narrative: it stresses order, justice and inclusion (the backcloth of the news) yet it highlights disorder, injustice and exclusion (the foreground). The contrast between a bulimic society and an exclusive society can be seen if one compares Western liberal democracies (and perhaps the new South Africa) with an explicitly exclusive society, the South Africa of Hendrik Verwoerd and P W Botha. Here one had explicit spatial and social exclusion, a multi-culturalist apartheid based on racist distinctions, a controlled mass media which refused (on the whole) to report police brutality and which extolled divisions. It was both exclusivist culturally and exclusivist structurally (see Dixon, 2001).

The phenomenon of cultural globalisation fundamentally ratchets up this process of bulimia. Television drama, news, advertisement, contains not only plot, story and product but a background of expectancies and assumptions. First world culture permeates the globe and carries with it notions of equality, meritocratic values, civil liberties – it proselytises not only expectancies of standard of living but notions of freedom and citizenship.

I want to suggest that it is the bulimic nature of late modern societies which helps to explain the nature and tenor of the discontent at the bottom of the social structure. It is rooted quite simply in the contradiction between ideas which legitimate the system and the reality of the structure which constitutes it. But the tensions between ideals and reality exist only because of the general and manifest awareness of them. Both the punitive anger of the righteous and the burning resentment of the excluded occur because the demarcation lines are blurred, because values are shared and space is transfixed, because the same contradictions of reward and ontology exist throughout society, because the souls of those inside and those outside the ‘contented minority’ are far from dissimilar, sharing the same desires and passions, and suffering the same frustrations, because there is no security of place nor certainty of being and because differences are not essences but mere intonations of the minor scales of diversity.

The very intensity of the forces of exclusion is a result of borders which are regularly crossed rather than boundaries which are hermetically sealed. No caste-like social order would be as transfixed with crime nor so ready to demonise and pillory the other. For it is an altogether unsatisfactory exclusion: borders and boundaries are ineffective; they create resentment but do not achieve exclusivity. For the ‘excluded’ regularly pass across the boundaries whether physically or virtually: they sense injustice, they know about inequality, whereas those ‘lucky’ enough to be ‘included’ are not part of the ‘culture of contentment’ which John Galbraith famously alludes to, rather they are unsure about their good fortune, unclear about their identity, uncertain about their position on the included side of the line.

But to understand the nature of the forces of exclusion, the barriers set up to man the social structure, we must go further and look at the predicament of the ‘included’.


We have discussed in the process of bulimia how the excluded are included in the norms, and social world of the wider society. But we can blur the binaries further for we must now understand how the social predicament and experience of the insiders parallel those of the outsiders and how this process is the key to understanding some of the most fundamental antagonisms within late modern society.

In order to understand this we must first of all distinguish the two basic facets of social order within advanced industrial societies. First of all the principle that rewards are allocated according to merit, that is a meritocratic notion of distributive justice. Secondly, that people’s sense of identity and social worth is respected by others, that is justice of recognition. When the first is infringed we speak of relative deprivation and when the second is violated we talk of misrecognition and ontological insecurity (see Young, 2001, Fraser, 1997). If we examine the terrain of late modernity in these key areas of distributive justice and justice of recognition we find a high degree of uncertainty. My assessment is that in both these areas late modernity brings with it a sense of randomness: a chaos of reward and a chaos of identity. To take distributive justice first of all, the unravelling of the labour markets and the lottery of who finds themselves in each sector, the rise of a service industry consisting of diverse and disparate units, the seemingly random discontinuities of career, the profligate and largely unmerited rewards in the property market and in finance, all give a sense of rewards which are allocated by caprice rather than by the rules of merit. My suggestion is that a generation which has been extensively instructed in the values of meritocracy are confronted with chaos in the market of rewards and this engenders a feeling of relative deprivation which does not have the easy comparative points of position in industry within standardised careers characteristic of Fordism, mass manufacturing industry and the Golden Age but is instead more individualistic in its envy, more internecine in its rivalry.

Secondly, in the area of recognition, of sense of worth and place, of ontology, there has been a parallel chaos. This is fuelled very largely by the widespread discontinuities of personal biography both in the world of work and within the family, coupled with the undermining of a sense of locality – of physical place of belonging (see Young, 2001). This disembeddedness (see Giddens, 1991) creates an ontological insecurity – an identity crisis: the most ready response to this being the evocation of an essentialism which asserts the core, unchanging nature of oneself and others. This consists of two stages, firstly an insistence of some essential and valued qualities (whether cultural or biological) which are associated with the individuals in question (whether of masculinity, ‘race’, class, religion or ethnicity), and secondly the denigration of others as essentially lacking these virtues (see Young, 1999). Furthermore, that such a process of mobilising negative essences with regards to others creates prejudices, exclusions and stereotypes within society which further fuel the feelings of ontological insecurity of others.

Both crime and punishment are areas greatly affected by these uncertainties. Relative deprivation especially when coupled with misrecognition and disparagement can readily lead to crime. The classic instance is economic marginalisation of a group accompanied by police harassment. But relative deprivation can also occur where someone higher in the class structure looking down can see undeserved rewards unmatched with the disciplines of work and restraint. Further just as the relative deprivation of the poor can lead to crime, the deprivation of the more wealthy can lead to feelings of punitiveness.


As we have seen, the hard working citizen of the majority perceives a world where rewards seem allocated in a chaotic fashion. These rewards have become so diffuse that it is difficult to see rhyme or reason in society at large; hostility at this chaos of rewards tends to focus on the very rich or those at the bottom of the structure. That is those who are very obviously paid too much for the amount of work they do and those who are paid for doing no work. That is it fastens on the more obvious violators of meritocratic principle, namely the super rich and the underclass. The antagonism towards the idle rich and, for example, members of the Royal Family or company directors who allocate themselves incommensurate rewards, I have documented elsewhere (see Young, 1999).

The underclass, although in reality a group heterogeneous in composition and ill defined in their nature, is a ready target for resentment (see Gans, 1995, p.2; Bauman, 1998b, pp.66-7). Re-constituted, rendered clear cut and homogenous by the mass media, they became a prime focus of public attention in the sense of stereotypes: "the undeserving poor", "the single mother", "the welfare scrounger" etc., and an easy focus of hostility. Such stereotypes derive their constitution from the process of essentialising, so prevalent because of the prevalent crisis of identity. That is of negative images, the very opposite of the ‘virtues’ of the included thus casting the social world into the binary mould which I have discussed previously. Thus if the chaos of reward creates ready hostility towards the underclass, the chaos of identity grasps upon them as a phantasmagoric Other with all the opposite characteristics of the world of honest hardworking citizens and a ready prop to ontological security.

But note the paradox, here, an underclass which is, in fact, very similar to the rest of society, generates antagonism and distancing. The poor become more like the more wealthy, at the same time as they are ‘othered’ by them; the degree to which the poor become more like the rest, the more they resent their exclusion. Indeed, as we shall see, it is the narrowing of cultural differences which allows resentment to travel both ways along this two-way street. Thus, Zygmunt Bauman, insightfully notes how it is the very similarity of aspiration which the underclass has which exacerbates their dislike just as it is this self-same aspiration, thwarted, which creates discontent amongst the excluded. Thus in his critique of Laurence Mead he writes:

"The underclasses offend all the cherished values of the majority while clinging to them and desiring the same joys of consumer life as other people boast to have earned. In other words, what Americans hold against the underclass in their midst is that its dreams and the model of life it desires are so uncannily similar to their own." Further, and the other side of the coin, "it is logic of consumer society to mould its poor as unfilled consumers" yet these are becoming increasingly inaccessible to the poor" and moreover "it is precisely that inaccessibility of consumer lifestyles that the consumer society trains its members to experience as the most powerful of deprivations" (1998b, p.73).


Feelings of discontent, of unfairness both in terms of material reward and recognition are experienced either when cultural differences diminish or when those that were once similar began to be regarded differently. That is because discontent relates to relative, not to absolute deprivation (see Runciman, 1966). Thus discontent rises: when migrants are assimilated or when lower classes are granted citizenship or when ethnic groups, once separate, become part of the mainstream, coupled with blockages of social mobility, limited access to privileged labour markets and public prejudice and denigration – in short, an incomplete meritocracy. The importance then of the ethnographies of Carl Nightingale (1993) on the black underclass of Philadelphia and Philippe Bourgois (1995) on the Puerto Ricans of the East Harlem barrio of New York City, is that they root discontent in the narrowing of cultural differences. In the first case Nightingale traces how much of African-American culture of the South is lost in the assimilated generation growing up in the Northern cities and, in the second, how it is the second generation Puerto Rican immigrants becoming more ‘American’ who experience the greatest discontent.

Thus the breakdown of spatial and social isolation in late modernity, which I have documented: a consequence of globalisation, the mass media, the consumer market, mass education leads to a diminishing of cultural differences and rise in discontent both within nations and between nations.


'Oh tell me brave Captain why are the wicked so strong? How do the angels get to sleep when the devil leaves his porch light on?' Tom Waits, 'Mr Siegal', Heartattack and Vine, Asylum, 1980

Relative deprivation downwards, a feeling that those who work little or not at all are getting an easy ride on your back and your taxes, is a widespread sentiment. Thus whereas the ‘contented’ middle classes may well feel sympathy towards the underclass and their ‘relative satisfaction’ with their position translates into feelings of charity, those of the much larger constituency of discontent are more likely to demand welfare to work programmes, stamp down on dole ‘cheats’, etc. Such a response, whatever its rationality, is not in itself punitive: it is at most authoritarian but it is not necessarily vindictive. But tied to such a quasi-rational response to a violation of meritocratic principles – is frequently a much more compelling subtext which seeks not only to redress a perceived reluctance to work but to go beyond this to punish, demean and humiliate. (See Pratt, 2000; Hallsworth, 2000).

The key features of such resentment are disproportionality, scapegoating, and stereotyping. That is the group selected is seen to contribute to the problems of society quite disproportionally to their actual impact (eg teenage mothers, beggars, immigrants, drug users) and they are scapegoated and depicted as key players in the creation of social problems. Their portrayal is presented in an extraordinarily stereotypical fashion which bears little relationship to reality. Thus in The Exclusive Society I note how there seems to be a common narrative about such depictions of late modern folk devils in which is common from ‘single mothers’ to ‘drug addiction’ (see Young, 1999, p.113).

Svend Ranulf in his pathbreaking book Middle Class Psychology and Moral Indignation (1938) was intrigued by the desire to punish those who do not directly harm you. Such "moral indignation", he writes, is "the emotion behind the disinterested tendency to inflict punishment [and] is a kind of disguised envy" (1964, p.1). he explores this emotion using the concept of "resentment" which was first used by Nietzche in his condemnation of the moral basis of Christian ethics and developed by Max Scheler in his Das Ressentiment im Aufbau der Moralen (1923). Resentment has within it the impulse, as Merton put it, to "condemn what one secretly craves" (1957, p.156). Ranulf’s innovation was to locate resentment sociologically and to tie the source of envy to restraint and self-discipline. Thus he writes:

"the disinterested tendency to inflict punishment is a distinctive characteristic of the lower middle class, that is, of a social class living under conditions which force its members to an extraordinarily high degree of restraint and subject them to much frustration of natural desires" (1964, p.198).

It cannot be an accident that the stereotype of the underclass: with its idleness, dependency, hedonism and institutionalised irresponsibility, with its drug use, teenage pregnancies and fecklessness, represents all the traits which the respectable citizen has to suppress in order to maintain his or her lifestyle. Or as Albert Cohen famously put it, "The dedicated pursuit of culturally approved goals, the eschewing of interdicted but tantalizing goals, the adherence to normatively sanctioned means – these imply a certain self-restraint, effort, discipline, inhibition. What effect does the propinquity of the wicket have on the peace of mind of the virtuous?" (1965, p.7). such a social reaction is moral indignation rather than moral concern. The demons are not the fallen and the pitiful which fixate the philanthropist, rather they, at once, attract and repel: they are the demons within us which must daily be renounced. Thus the stereotype of minorities is not a wholly negative identity, for as Homi Bhabha reminds us, in a telling phrase, it is a "complex, ambivalent, contradictory mode of representation as anxious as it is assertive" (1993, p.70).

The rigours of late modernity extend such restraints and insecurities far beyond a narrow class band. A large part of the population are subject to relative deprivation and ontological uncertainties and on top of this the pressures and restraints necessary to function exacerbate this even further. To survive in the late modern world demands a great deal of effort, self-control, restraint. Not only is the job insecure and poorly paid, the hours worked are long – extra hours are expected as a sign of commitment and responsibility – children are often not seen for long after the long commute home – people talk of ‘quality time’ as a euphemism for ‘little’ – the weekends seem short and enjoyment has to be snatched often with the liberal aid of alcohol. The dual career family more and more becomes a norm with the planning both of adults’ and children’s schedules that this entails.

Let us summarise the restraints:

  • increased working hours (see Schor, 1992; Gorz, 1999)
  • increased intensity of work (see Burchell, 1999)
  • increased commuting (see Knox, 1995)
  • dual career family (see Taylor, 1999; Gregson and Lowe, 1994).

It is the experience of restraint and sacrifice which turns simple displeasure (a sense of unfairness) into vindictiveness. Furthermore, as the climate of work pressure and job uncertainty pervades a wide swathe of the class structure: it is not restricted to the lower middle classes – which Ranulf pinpointed, in line with much of the thinking at the time with its concerns about the rise and social basis of fascism (see also Luttwak, 1995). Moreover this climate of restraint exists on the top of the problems of job security and fairness of rewards and the crises of identity – we thus have a three layered process, each layer contributing to the process of the demonisation of the underclass:

  1. SENSE OF ECONOMIC INJUSTICE: the feeling that the underclass unfairly live on our taxes and commit predatory crime against use fuels the dislike and fear of the underclass;
  2. CRISIS OF IDENTITY: The underclass readily become a site for establishing identity by asserting the binary them and us where ‘us’ is normal, hardworking, decent and ‘them’ is a lacking of these essential qualities. It is such essentialism which demonises the underclass – constituting them as a homogenous, clear cut, dysfunctional entity;
  3. THE SITUATION OF RESTRAINT: It is the projection of all the problems of restraint that supplies the content of the demonisation: the various supposed facets of underclass life; teenage pregnancy, single mothers, substance abuse, criminogenic cultures, highly racialised (immigrants, asylum seekers).

Such a process is, of course, not that of simple envy. The lawyer does not want to be a junkie, the professional woman certainly did not want to be a teenage mother, the bank manager could not countenance being a street beggar, the life of the new wave traveller does not instantly draw the careful couple from Croydon [an English suburb]. Certainly not: for both real and imagined reasons, the lives of such disgraced ‘Others’ are impoverished and immiserised. No one would want to swap places with them. But their very existence, their moral intransigence, somehow hits all the weak spots of our character armour. Let us think for one moment of the hypothetical day of the hypothetical ‘included’ citizen on the advantaged side of the binary: the traffic jam on the way to work, the hours which have been slowly added to the working day, the crippling cost of housing and the mortgage which will never end, the need for both incomes to make up a family wage, the delay in having children so that the woman’s career can get established, the fear of biological timeclocks and infertility, the daily chore of getting the children to school across the crowded city, the breakdown of locality and community, the planning of the day of two careers and two children (thank God for the mobile ‘phone!), the lack of time with the children, the fear of missing out: ‘they’ve grown up before you knew it’, the temptations and fears of the abuse of alcohol as a means of enjoyment, in the time slots between the rigours of work …

It is surely not difficult to see how an underclass who, at least in stereotype, are perceived as having their children irresponsibly early, hanging around all day with their large families, having public housing provided almost free, living on the dole, staying up late drinking and taking exotic, forbidden substances and on top of all that committing incivilities and predatory crimes against the honest citizen, are an easy enemy. They set off every trigger point of fear and desire.


Resentment is more than just unfairness when someone receives a reward disproportionate to their merit. Resentment is when someone short circuits the whole marketplace of effort and reward, when they are perceived as getting exactly what they want without any effort at all – or more precisely exactly what you want and can only achieve with great effort. But there is an extra twist to this: an additional ratchet up of the situation. Because the equation of merit and reward has shifted in late modernity from an emphasis on merit to a focus on reward. Effort, delayed gratification, meriticious progress towards a goal has given way to immediacy, gratification now, short term hedonism. Work may well be valued, as André Gorz suggests, but hard graft is not. The whole tenor of a society, based on a lavish underwriting of credit, an economy based on the exhortation to possess now, is that of a consumer society based on instant gratification. The old values of hard work leading to a deserved reward – the Keynsian formula of working hard and playing hard, characteristic of the Golden Age of modernity (see Young, 1971) gives way to a society where the consumer is the paragon and spontaneity the king. Restraint, planning and control of behaviour may be the necessary undergirding of the included citizen but there is no one out there to admire or congratulate such sacrifices. Furthermore, there is a strange irony here because, whatever the political perspective on the underclass, whether they are seen to have alternative values or a lacking of them, their behaviour is seen to epitomise spontaneity, short-term hedonism, lack of planning, immediacy. All the classic statements with regards to lower class culture highlight this combination, whether it is Walter Miller writing in the nineteen fifties or Charles Murray writing today. And if those on the right see this as a collation of individual failures those on the left see it as a fairly rational plan of action given the unpredictability and insecurity of any long-term future. For if everything is uncertain you might as well enjoy yourself whilst you can.

The circle becomes complete: just as the excluded absorb the values of the wider society which both incorporates them and rejects them, the values of the wider society and the margins begin to converge. The central ethos of late modern capitalism becomes like the ethos of the ghetto. Conservative commentators, of some acuity, have noted this convergence. William Kelso, for example, argues against Wilson’s isolation thesis that "the problem with the black underclass is not that it is isolated from mainstream values but that it has adopted an exaggerated version of society’s emancipated and often chronic culture" (1994, p.173). and Myron Magnet, the author of The Dream and the Nightmare (1993) and reputedly a great influence on President George Bush II, locates the problem of the underclass not in their individual failings but in the influence of the new middle class values which have devalued all the things which would get you out of poverty (such as hard work and marital stability) and valued all of the things which keep the poor in poverty (taking drugs, personal liberation, valuing leisure rather than work). What these writers fail to do is relate these values to the changes in late modern capitalism and to the exigencies of life today. Not only do such market values of immediacy permeate all corners of society, the situation and predicament of people become more similar and favours short-term solutions and immediate pleasures. Thus Gabriel and Lang, in their insightful study of the late modern consumer society note how:

"The weakening of the Fordist Deal suggests to us that Western consumerism has entered a twilight phase. During the high noon of consumerism, the face of the consumer was clear … The pursuit of happiness through consumption seemed a plausible, if morally questionable, social and personal project. Today, this is far more problematic. The economic conditions have become fraught … insecurity is experienced across social classes … Proponents of consumerism live in the hope that tomorrow will see another bright day. We think this vision is the product of wishful thinking …

"A far more realistic picture is that casualization of work will be accompanied by casualization of consumption. Consumers will lead precarious and uneven existences, one day enjoying unexpected booms and the next sinking to bare subsistence. Precariousness, uneveness and fragmentation are likely to become more pronounced for ever-increasing sections of Western populations. Marginality will paradoxically become central." (1995, pp.189-190).




But what of the underclass? Precisely the same forces that shape the resentment of those higher in the structure to those below, serve to constitute the feelings of exclusion in the lowest point of the structure. Thus relative deprivation and a crisis of identity affect both parts of society although the direction of the hostility so conjured up and the poignancy of its impact are very different indeed.

In the case of the underclass the acute relative deprivation forged out of exclusion from the mainstream is compounded with a daily threat to identity: a disrespect, a sense of being a loser, of being nothing, of humiliation. The source of this systematic disrespect lies, of course, in the dynamics of deprivation, identity crisis and restraint amongst those in the secondary labour market - the precariously included which I have outlined above. It is crystallised in particular in the institutions of policing, where the poor become the overwhelming focus of police attention, a 'police property', which serves to help constitute collections of youths, street gangs as a group and where the police become central characters in the narrative of the streets. It is important to underline how the humiliation of poverty and the humiliation of lack of respect interact - that is problems of gross economic and status inequality - both on a day-to-day level and on an ideological level. To take the latter, first as Bauman has pointed out (2001), income inequality and status inequality (and in turn the politics of redistribution and recognition) are not separate arenas but misrecognition and disrespect justifies income inequality. Thus the poor are seen to be inadequate, dependent, have the wrong personal skills and attitudes as if in a social vacuum and in more extreme cases poverty is simply rationalised as a product of biology or culture.

It is the double stigma of poverty and lack of respect which shapes the life of the underclass. And all of this, of course, not in a situation of alienation from the mainstream society but the very reverse. For social bulimia involves the incorporation of mainstream social values of success, wholehearted acceptance of the American (or First World) Dream, and a worship of consumer success and celebrity. It is this cultural incorporation which puts the sting into the humiliation of exclusion - it is much easier to ignore a system one despises than one that one believes in.

How is such a double stigmatisation reacted to? Let us first note that the situation of poverty in late modernity would seem to be qualitatively different than that in the past. Bauman (Bauman and Tester, 2001), for example, contrasts the dignity, solidarity and self-respect of many working class people in the Great Depression of the Thirties. And, as for crime, accounts of that time stress its utilitarian nature (to tackle directly material needs) and the external targets of crime rather than crime within the group (see Hood and Jones, 1999). Further, as John Haggerdorn (1991) has indicated, a shift in the nature of youth gangs occurs from ones that were a popular, and a functional part of the community to ones which are conflictful and dysfunctional.

Today the poor seem to exist in self-blame and mutual hatred (see, for example, Seabrook, 1988, Sennet and Cobb, 1972), Loic Wacquant talks of the Hobbesian nature of the ghetto poor ('You just gotta be alert Louie in this neighbourhood here. You gotta be alert - know what it is? It's the law of the jungle. Louie: bite or be bitten. And I made my choice long time ago: I'm not gonna be bitten, by no one. Which one do you choose?' Former gang leader of the Black Gangsters Disciples, L. Wacquant, 1998, p.133), which is reiterated in Philippe Bourgois' harrowing 'Just Another Night in a Shooting Gallery' (1998).

And crime, of course, becomes internecine rather than directed at the wealthy. There is no shortage of punitive violence amongst the poor. The homicide rate, for example, for blacks in the United States is 8.6 times that of whites and one must remember that the vast majority of black homicides (94 per cent) are intraracial - black upon black (see Mann, 1993; DeKeseredy and Schwartz, 1996). And in Donald Schwartz's study of inner-city Philadelphia over a 4 year period (1987-1990) a staggering 40 per cent of black men in their twenties had been to a hospital emergency room at least once for some serious injury resulting from violent assault (Currie, 1996; Schwartz et al, 1994). It would be more precise to use statistics by class but these are few and far between and whilst undoubtedly blacks are much poorer than whites, the existence of a not inconsiderable black middle class in the United States, with a considerably lower homicide rate, serves to significantly soften these figures - dramatic as they are. The poor predate the poor quite apart from their markedly unfavourable predicament as victims of corporate, white collar and State crimes.

It is not only, therefore, that the included, the more comfortably off, are punitive and blaming of the underclass, the poor are self-blaming and punitive to each other. How does this come about? I would point to two factors: the chaos of reward, which I have mentioned previously, and the shift from a politics of class to a politics of identity and with it the rise of celebrity.

In any other society the chaos of reward might be experienced merely as the arbitrary nature of destiny and fate: the random allocations of lady luck. But in a society where meritocracy is pronounced in every television programme, media and schoolyard, such a chaos is felt as an unfairness. In the Fordist structures of high modernity such unfairness involved comparisons between the serried ranks of roughly equivalent jobs in industry, in the public bureaucracies. The rise of the service industries, of part-time contracts, of outsourcing to a myriad small firms, the short time nature of any job and the decline of the lifelong narrative of work, each stage with a predictable increase in income, make such large scale comparisons less possible. Relative deprivation once in Runciman's (1996) phrase 'fraternal', comparisons between individuals on equivalent level or disputes between levels of reward, becomes 'egoistic' - comparisons between atomistic individuals.

The effect of the chaos of reward is, of course, exerted throughout the social structure. For the included, however, there is one frontier what seems clear and distinct, that between those that work and those who are 'work shy' - the chaos of reward, therefore, underwrites the targeting of the underclass. But for those at the bottom of the structure lack of work looks like self-failure and the allocation of the meagre state handouts and provisions on the basis of need rather than 'merit' generates divisions between individuals and frequently between ethnic groups.

Whilst poverty is deplored, success is celebrated. The rise of celebrity, the extent to which it replaces notions of class and traditional conceptions of authority is a key transformation in late modernity. Laurence Friedman in his brilliant book The Horizontal Society (1999) points to the distinguishing features of the celebrity. They are famous, of course, but also they are ordinary and familiar. People feel they know them, that they can speak directly to them. Above all:

"a celebrity society of mobility. The boy from the ghetto can earn millions as a basketball player. The kid next door can become a rap star or a task-show host. The girl down the block can become another Madonna or a Hollywood star. Celebrities can communicate easily with ordinary people. They do not speak an arcane, élitist language. This is because they are ordinary persons" (1999, pp.34-35).

And Friedman stresses the sense of accident or fate seemingly behind celebrity. Anyone might become a celebrity: "Fixity has vanished. Lightning can always strike. Anything can happen. Anything does." (ibid., p.35). The celebrity is like us, is talented but lucky, is chosen by us not imposed upon us - but most important of all the celebrity deserves their money and their prestige. The success of celebrity echoes the chaos of reward. As Bauman puts it:

"No longer the moral tales of a shoeshine boy turning into a millionaire through hard work, parsimony and self-denial. An altogether different fairy tale instead, of chasing moments of ecstasy, spending lavishly and stumbling from one stroke of luck to another, with both luck and misadventure being accidental and inexplicable and but tenuously related to what the lucky and unlucky did, and seeking luck, as one seeks a willing lottery ticket, in order to chase more fun and have more moments of ecstasy and spending more lavishly than before." (Bauman and Tester, 2001, p.118)

And, of course, the luck of celebrity is enacted in the instant fame of Big Brother or the speedily fabricated success of Pop Idol.

There seems little doubt that the poor celebrate the celebrity. The conspicuous consumption of the ghetto to the immersion in the mass media, the values of luck and excitement, and even the fact that a few of their number escape to become stars of music, sport and entertainment - all make for a close attraction. As for the wider society I have more reservations: the need for daily restraint, the valuing of meritocratic achievement, the emphasis on hard work despite the general debt based accentuation on consumption now all make for a certain ambiguity rather than undiluted enthusiasm. Despite this the pre-eminence of the politics of status and identity and the emergence of celebrity as the apex point of stratification over the older politics of class and arguments over redistribution is a general phenomenon (see Fraser, 1997; Bauman, 2001). It is detrimental in several ways: it conceals the massive divisions in society between the super-rich, on one hand, and on the other those that sell their labour or are unable to do so, and the possible alliance between them, by collating wealth and celebrity it presents as natural that only a few people are the focus of overwhelming financial and status privilege.

Let us conclude this section by the astringent comments of Laurence Friedman on celebrity:

"Very little seems to be left of the old class-based rage - rate at the cruel, unfair way the world distributes its goods; it has been extinguished, except for a few dying embers. Not many people, it seems, connect their own sufferings and privations, their own hunger and longings, with the wealth they see all around them. To the contrary, the money of the rich smells sweet to them. For Marxists, capitalist wealth was blood money, money squeezed from the sweat and muscles of starving workers, money poisoned by poverty, disease, and death; money was greed, exploitation; it was man's oppression of man. Contemporary money is radically different; magically, it has been washed clean of these bad associations. The public mind connects it with fun: with the world of sports and entertainment. The new (and glamorous) rich are movie stars, rock-and-roll musicians, baseball and soccer players, heroes of TV sitcoms. These are indeed the most visible rich. They breed no resentment. Indeed, the masses seem all too eager to contribute their share of the rents and the tributes. …

All this has a profound effect on politics as well as on policies. It explains why, in the 1990s, a politics of low taxes flat taxes, or even no taxes has become so popular; the progressive income tax has been radically flattened out; death taxes are cut or (in California) eliminated; yet masses of people, who themselves barely scrape by, who have no job security, let alone an estate to worry about, go to the polls and reelect the rich and the representatives of the rich. They refuse to throw the rascals out or to storm the Bastille. Indeed, these masses direct their hatred and disgust, in the main, not against the blatant rich but against those who are worse off than they are: the poor, racial minorities, immigrants, and everyone who is the total inverse of a celebrity. The lifestyle of the rich and famous is the opium of the masses." (1999, pp.46-7).



'I'll chill like Pacino, deal like De Niro, Black Gambino, die like a hero'

Rakim 'Juice (know the Ledge) (Nightingale, 1993, p.184)

Carl Nightingale's ethnography of the black Philadelphian underclass making the brave, almost audacious leap of understanding that the culture of the ghetto is not one of isolation and alienation but involves a wholehearted yet desperate embracing of mainstream American values. And indeed all the portfolio of values are available out there: the stress on consumption and immediacy, on machismo, on the use of violence as a preferred means of settling problems both in movies and in military adventures (and more recently in movies about military adventures) and in racist stereotypes and divisions. Nightingale sees such a process as an overaccentuation of the mainstream (rather like Matza and Sykes' (1961) celebrated depiction of juvenile delinquency and subterranean values) - and that this is compensatory, of easing the pains and humiliations of poverty and racism. Although I think this description of ghetto values is perceptive and accurate, I worry about the rather psychologistic causality here, with for example the invocation of 'psychic relief' and the notion that further psychological pain comes from religitimating the very values which "created their hurtful memories" (see, for example, 1993, p.218, 55n). In this it is remarkably similar to the 'reaction formation' invoked forty years earlier by Albert Cohen in his classic Delinquent Boys: The Culture of the Gang (1955). It might be useful if we return to the two stigmas which the underclass confront, that of relative deprivation (poverty and exclusion from the major labour markets) and misrecognition (lower status and lack of respect). Both of these are forms of humiliation with poverty amongst abundance the most humiliating stigma of all; as Bauman puts it "a meta-humiliation of sorts, soil on which all-round indignity thrives, a trampoline from which multiple humiliation is launched" (Bauman and Tester, 2001, p.154). Such a crisis of identity, a need to combat a feeling of being a 'nobody', a 'loser', a worthless person produces precisely the same process of essentialisation which I have described earlier, experienced by those who are part of the socially included - however precariously and tenuously. But it is done with a much a greater intensity and with a different context and outcome. That is the generation of a notion of hardness, a fixity, a difference of self based on gender (eg hypermasculinity), ethnicity, 'turf' (locality), and age (eg the gang). This is seen most in hypermasculinity where, as Nightingale points out, by the fifth or sixth grade "the bright eyes of the boy students start to glaze over in preparation for assuming a tough look" (1993, p.47). The children metamorphose before one's eyes. And such a process of essentialising oneself is greatly facilitated by essentialising others. But not the rich and the celebrated as we have seen, not vertical but horizontal divisions: by men against women, by ethnic group against ethnic group, by gang against gang, by locality against locality. Even the essentialising projections of the better off, the othering of the poor becomes utilised by the poor to essentialise themselves. The widespread self referral as 'nigga', the cult of 'badness', the ethical inversion of 'motherfucker', 'pimp' or 'b-boy'.

The humiliation of poverty finds its 'magical' solution in the cult of consumerism, in children who learn the trademarks BMW, Nike, Gucci from an early age, who value designer labels, watches, and blatant jewellery. For, unlike the labour market, the consumer society allows easy and universal entry - the sneakers and gold chains are within reach. The American poor eat their way to obesity in pursuit of the American Dream. Yet they are flawed consumers, the market welcomes micro-consumerism just as it flaunts wealth whilst excluding the poor. The response of consumerism merely exacerbates relative deprivation rather than alleviating it. And as for the hardened response of hypermasculinity, such cultures of toughness as Paul Willis pointed out in his classic Learning to Labour (1977) merely traps them in the lowest part of the structure (see Moore, 2002; Kersten, 2001). Thus in In Search of Respect (1995) Philippe Bourgois details with grim fascination how the street-identity cultivated by the men from El Barrio which incorporates limited social skills, assumed gendered arrogance and involved an intimidating physical presence, rendered them well nigh unemployable in the burgeoning FIRE service sector of Manhattan, appears clumsy and illiterate to their often female supervisors:

"They cannot walk down the hallway to the water fountain without unconsciously swaying their shoulders aggressively as if patrolling their home turf. Gender barriers are an even more culturally charged realm. They are repeatedly reprimanded for offending co-workers with sexually aggressive behavior." (Bourgois, 1995, p.143. See also the discussion in Jay McLeod's Ain't No Makin' It, 1995)

The major point of all of these ethnographers who work in social reproduction theory is that it is not simply that structures oppress the agents, the social agents themselves contribute in a pyrhhic fashion to their exclusion and oppression: "In the process, on a daily level [of searching for respect] they become the actual agents administering their own destruction and their community's suffering" (Bourgois, 1995, p.143).


"He looked at the briefcase filled with money, the grocery bag filled with cocaine, the briefcase and the bag side by side in the corner of the room. Funny how neither one meant a dam thing to him. The money couldn't buy him anything better than he had right now, than he had felt that afternoon: the risk of just taking something you decided was yours, the head-up feeling in your stride afterward when you were walking away. The ride … It was all about the ride.

"… Cooper was going to take this ride as far as it would go 'cause it felt good. Course, he knew the way it was going to end, the same way it always ended for guys like him who never had no chance, and didn't give a good fuck if one came along. The point of it all was to walk like a motherfuckin' man; if you had to, go down like one, too.".

George P Pelecanos (1998), King Suckerman.

London: Serpent's Tail

"As a criminal I have been a lamentable failure. Whatever money I have gained by crime, I could have earned as a labourer in half the time I have spent in prison. My character, which is uncompromising and addicted to taking risks, was a guarantee that I could not be a success as a thief or a bandit. But money has always been a secondary goal; crime has always been directed to more powerful objectives. I took to crime as a course which was dictated by life itself; success or failure in the actual commission of criminal acts was never a matter of much concern to me, nor did they stand in the way of what I was really seeking, which was a particular kind of life style.

Also I am not a really materialistic person. Money has never been, or ever will be, my primary object. Inside or outside, I was always liked by my own kind. My life was always exciting and dramatic; wherever I was, I was part of the action. Psychologically, I had the satisfaction of personifying the counter-culture with which I identified myself, and I found this was confirmed by my notoriety and prestige. I embodied the supreme virtue of the criminal underworld, and I revelled in the greatest compliment it can bestow - gameness'."

John McVicar, McVicar: By Himself. London: Arrow, 1979, pp.197-8

I have noted how the response of the included to the poor is more than simply a meritocratic desire to ensure that benefits are drawn fairly and work is not actively avoided. There is a vituperative quality posited on the back of the rationale of control. Similarly with regards to crime, the punitive turn has a vindictiveness which goes beyond the principles of neo-classicism and deserved punishment. Just so with crime: the criminality of the underclass is not simply a utilitarian affair involving the stealing of money or property for food or drink or drugs for that matter - although all of these devices are part of the motivation. Violence is not a just simple instrument for persuading people to part with their cash nor a management technique in the corporate world of organised crime. Drug use is not a prosaic matter of the pleasures of the poor - an alternative psychoactive experience to gin and tonic or a light and bitter, after a hard day at the office. Rather it has, all of these have, a transgressive edge, they are driven by the energies of humiliation - the utilitarian core is often there, but around it is constructed a frequent delight in excess, a glee in breaking the rules, a reassertion of manhood and identity. It is this that the cultural criminologists - Ferrel (1997), Presdee (2000), Hayward (2002) for example - have highlighted in their critique of neo-liberal criminology (eg Felson, 1998, Garland, 2001) with its depiction of crime as an outcome of rational choice which occurs in a situation of easy opportunity within a rubric of institutions of weak control (see Young, 2002).

In this revision of the conventional liberal wisdoms of the causes of crime we need to look back at the classic texts. For Robert Merton (1938) crime was an alternative route to the American Dream. In his famous typology it was an 'adaption' or an 'adjustment' where the 'strain' of not having access to legitimate opportunities led to recourse to illegitimate avenues. The goals of success were unaltered, the cash to achieve them merely was achieved by illegal means. Jack Katz in his Seductions of Crime (1988) (the major influence on the new cultural criminology) points out that the Mertonian vision of crime simply does not fit the phenomenology of crime: the versatility, the zest, the sensuousness of the criminal act. He points to the attractions of evil, the ways of the 'badass', the transformative magic of violence. All of this is very much to the point, but in his correct emphasis on the neglected foreground of infraction, the heightened mental state of the offender, he rejects the structural background, any such determinism he sees as a gross materialism, a liberal apologia which attempts to link too easily structural poverty to crime - bad background to bad behaviour. I think Katz throws the baby out with the bath water, to simply invert the conventional wisdom by highlighting agency and rejecting structure. Yet we have already seen in our discussion of social reproduction theory and the ethnographies of the underclass, how structure and agency interplay. Our job is to emphasise both structure and agency and trace how each constitutes the other (see Giddens', 1984, discussion of structuration). The structural predicament of the ghetto poor is not simply a deficit of goods - as Merton would have had it - it is a state of humiliation. And crime, because it is driven by humiliation not by some simple desire to redistribute property, is transgressive. The theory of bulimia which I have proposed involves incorporation and rejection, cultural inclusion and structural exclusion, as with Merton, but it goes further than this, emphasising that this combination of the acceptance followed by rejection generates a dynamic of resentment of great intensity. It is Merton with energy, it is Katz with structure.


For Merton (1938) crime was an alternative route to the American Dream and this prognosis was developed by Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin, so that for the citizen cut off from legitimate opportunities and where illegitimate chances were readily available, criminal behaviour was as normal as going out to work. The rich subcultural tradition that followed Merton represented today by theorists such as William Julius Wilson (1982, 1994), carry forward this analysis presenting forcefully the notion of crime occurring where there is 'social isolation' from the world of work.

Loic Wacquant's hustlers, for example,

"do not … experience … rejection from the labour market as a major trauma. This is because holding a stable and well paid portion, a 'legit job' liable to guarantee a modicum of security, has never been part of his horizon of expectations: where marginalization becomes part of the order of things, it deprives one even of the consciousness of exclusion." (1998, p.13)

Anyway, legitimate jobs simply do not compete with the criminal.

"What good would it be to take the 'legit route' when the resulting rewards are so meager and almost as uncertain as those more immediate and palpable even if they come at high risks, offered by the street economy?" (ibid., p.14)

Contrary t o this, I have argued throughout that marginalisation does have an impact. Bourgois' crack dealers, for example, are far from unaware of the world of legitimate work. They are ridden with self-doubt about their exclusion, had fantasies about being a "normal working nigga", had been in work, and had been humiliated by the world of work. Simultaneously wanting to be legitimate and despising it but far from being oblivious of it (see 1995, Ch.4). it is this humiliation that leads to the transgressive nature of much crime, however utilitarian its core. It is this transgression which means that although crime may be a substitute for work it is rarely like work as many theorists would like us to believe. For example, it is not just the psychotropic qualities of cocaine that make cocaine dealing an erratic, violent and irascible affair, nor do the international aspects of its trade make the cartels like the corporations that deal in margarine or aluminium.


I have argued against the use of binaries, against the current discourse on social exclusion which contrasts an included citizen who is contented, secure and ontologically certain over against the excluded member of the underclass who lacks all of these positives. I have criticised the notion of the dual city where lines are not crossed and where each part of the binary inhabit different moral universes. None of this dismisses the very real physical and social exclusions which rack late modern societies and the system driven stigmatisation and othering which characterise these relations. But such an intensity of exclusion – and the corresponding resentment of the excluded – is propelled by the similarities of values and the transgression of borders. The world of late modernity abhors separateness just as it avidly sets up barriers. Globalisation means nothing if it does not imply transgression: of a world brought closer together and the diminishing of cultural differences. How often does one have to say there are no strict lines of demarcation in late modernity? Even in the most ethnically segregated cities of the West – Washington, Philadelphia and Los Angeles – the barriers are daily breached by the mobility of labour and the all pervasive penetration of the mass media. The values of the majority constitute the normative life of the minority and generate the bulimia which fuels their discontent. The very similarity of the underclass, indeed its over-identification with the values of consumerism and hedonism, sets itself up almost like an unwitting target for the resentment of the included. Each facet of their behaviour mocks the daily restraints of the included. Yet there is fascination here as well as disliking and fear. The culture of the underclass with its compensatory masculinity, resorts to violence and rampant individualism – all over accentuations of the wider culture and, then, in turn influences film, fashion and popular music. The culture of the excluded becomes the culture of the included or at least the young and those precariously included who grow to be a larger and larger part of the population. Hypermasculinity resonates far out of the ghetto: the swagger and misogyny of rap stirs the resentment of the white poor and extends further to the swathes of young men in the respectable and lower middle classes who no longer can feel continuity and certainty in their lives. The borders are transgressed, the boundaries are criss-crossed, the centre begins to resemble the margins just as the margins the centre.


May, 2002


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