Lads, chavs and pram-face girls: embodiment and emotion in working-class youth cultures

Kehily, Mary J. and Nayak, Anoop (2008). Lads, chavs and pram-face girls: embodiment and emotion in working-class youth cultures. In: Emotional Geographies of Education Symposium, Institute of Education, 6 Nov 2008, University of London.



The representational may be an important field for all young people, but for those positioned on the margins of social exclusion, representations may have particular significance in a climate where citizenship is dependent upon economic productivity and embodied forms of social capital. The visual and discursive in particular, commonly encodes lack of respectability through a condensation of negative signs that carry powerful affects. We consider how these ‘affective economies’ (Ahmed, 2005) are negotiated by young people through two case studies: ‘pram face’ teenage mums, and ‘chav lads’ from unemployed families.

Young mothers are signified in popular representations as ‘problematic’, profligate and unable to lift themselves out of the ‘cycle of poverty’. The stigma attached to early fertility is acutely felt by young women who fear being judged as ‘bad mothers’. In the case of young men their bodies can also be rendered abject through long-term unemployment and criminal activity. This is seen when young men from working- and non-working backgrounds fiercely contest the emotional politics of class in times of ‘risk’ and insecurity pointing to some enduring ‘structures of feeling’ (Williams, 1973). Through our analysis of young mothers and lower class young men we consider how crime, disease, dirt and promiscuity are ‘sticky’ signs that adhere to the bodies of disadvantaged young people regardless of their social practices. We argue that such tropes are imbued with affects that spill out into everyday life to produce symbolic and material geographies of youth. However, our ethnographic encounters intimate that young people are deeply aware of the visceral nature of these signs and attempt to displace such representations by re-imagining themselves as competent carers and active citizens. By disclosing this intimate ‘management of feeling’ (Hochschild, 2002) we aim to expose how studies of gender, class, youth and ethnicity can benefit from a closer engagement with affect and emotion.

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