Inclusion or stigma?

Last Friday, Dr. Kathy Hamilton from the University of Strathclyde gave a seminar in Durham on ‘Inclusion or Stigma? Low Income families and coping through brands‘. The paper that the seminar was based on can be found here and the presentation that Kathy delivered can be found here or by clicking on the image below

The seminar was very well received and three things in particular struck me about Kathy’s presentation.

1. Household budgeting

Kathy noted that many of the households considered spending money on ‘brands’ (visible consumption) to be ‘non-discretionary’ and spending on goods and services consumed within the household (invisible consumption) was considered to be disretionary. This was a strategy to ‘protect’ the children in the household from bullying or stigma (or from obtaining the goods using illicit methods) and reminded me of Chris Warburton- Brown’s work on maternal deprivation. (If you haven’t read his blog, please do so here and his presentation at another of our seminars can be found here)

2. Exclusion

The presentation contained a couple examples of ‘strong’ versions of social exclusion. John Veit-Wilson (1998, p45) identified that ‘weak’ versions of the social exclusion discourse focus on changing individuals characteristics whereas stronger versions ‘also emphasise the role of those who are doing the excluding’. This was particularly the case with the lone parents who felt empowered and independent by caring for their children without the support of the father whilst the wider societal discourse of ‘single mothers’ saw them as reliant on welfare; and with the consumption practices that help inclusion at a micro (neighbourhood) level provoking the threat of stigma at a macro (wider societal) level. Here’s a good ‘applied’ example from the Sunderland Echo which reports that ‘Sunderland bar bans ‘chavs’ in bid to end trouble’. The manager of the bar states that there will be ‘no labels which are classed as undesirable‘ (my emphases)

3. Social Marketing

The pervasiveness of the market and the potential (or otherwise) of ‘social marketing’ generated a lot of discussion during the panel session. The idea that an activity (marketing) that is involved in generating the stigma and exclusion that we were discussing could also form part of a strategy to address the exclusion reminded me of a paper (on social capital) by Smith and Kulynych. They argue that:

there are many problems with using a vocabulary … drawn from the predominant economic model to overcome the deficits of this model (p160)

and that

the use of the language of the stock market to discuss … the amelioration of social problems reflect the seeming hegemony of capitalism (p166)

This ‘language of the stock market’ includes not only social marketing and social capital but also, for example, ‘ethical consumption‘, ‘social return on investment‘, ‘ethical finance‘ and ‘sustainable development‘. Smith and Kulynych propose that these terms:

serve to make the social, economic and political relations that characterize capitalism appear a largely natural and inevitable aspect of human activity, as well as to help legitimate these relations.

In other words, the market is often presented as the answer, no matter what the question. This approach, it could be argued, can also be seen in the ‘new approach’ to tackling child poverty in the UK.

But these are just some of my thoughts. As ever, we’re always keen to hear yours……


*Many thanks to Kathy Hamilton for leading the seminar, Nick Ellis for chairing it and to Alison Garnham, Jeremy Cripps and Victoria Wells for taking part in the panel discussion.

A couple of days before the event, Helen Goodman, the Shadow Media Minister, who was hoping to attend the seminar, called for curbs on advertising directed at children

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