Navigation

Identities Project

Article

This project analysed current theories of individualisation and the fashion for selfrepresentation on ‘reality’ television programmes.

People walking in front of columns.

About the project

This project was funded by the ESRC and the research team included Prof Beverly Skeggs, Dr Helen Wood and Dr Nancy Thumim.

This project analysed current theories of individualisation and the fashion for selfrepresentation on ‘reality’ television programmes. We began the project with two questions.  Has individualisation led to the demise of class, and secondly, but connected, has a shift in authority and legitimation occurred, where performing and displaying subjectivity in the public arena becomes a measure of a person’s value? We found that the refl exive self was widely promoted on television, but rather than signalling a detachment from class, these new techniques of individualisation actually strengthened and reproduced previous class (and gender and race) divisions in their encounters with audiences.

Key findings

  • We outlined how ‘reality’ television programmes extended the opening out of intimacy present in the broader cultural trend of ‘intimate citizenship’.
  • We mapped how the focus upon the individual’s accountability and the removal of classed histories in television representations parallels current policy changes on social exclusion.
  • Textual analysis identifi ed the blending of melodramatic and documentary techniques to generate a new mode of making ‘ordinary’ actors responsible for dramatic events.
  • Our methodological design makes visible how discourses of moral value generate immediate ‘affective’ responses and distanced refl exivity that are converted into moral judgements about people on ‘reality’ television.
  • We make visible key textual moments (‘judgement shots’) that incite audience responses through the ‘text-in-action’ method.
  • The empirical data reveal how a moral economy of personhood circulates amongst women who position themselves in relation to the success/failure visualised.
  • We outline how cultural attachments to ‘reality’ television contribute to the redrawing of discourses and performances of class through a focus upon moral value.

Publications

Making class and self throughtelevised ethical scenarios (PDF download)

ESRC Identities and Social Action Programme Launch (PDF download)