Struggles for value: value practices, injustice, judgment, affect and the idea of class

Authors


(Corresponding author email: b.skeggs@gold.ac.uk)

Abstract

This paper is about the struggle for value by those who live intensified devaluation in the new conditions of legitimation and self-formation, by which the self is required to repeatedly reveal its value through its accrual and investment in economic, symbolic, social and cultural capitals. It explores how this value struggle is experienced: felt affectively, known and spoken through discourses of injustice. Drawing on a small research project, which uses the British New Labour government's Respect Agenda as an evocative device to provoke discussion, the paper details how those positioned as already marginal to the dominant symbolic, presented as ‘useless’ subjects rather than ‘subjects of value’ of the nation, generate alternative ways for making value. It examines how the experience of injustice generates affective responses expressed as ‘ugly-feelings’. The conversion of these ‘ugly feelings’ into articulations of ‘just-talk’ reveals how different understandings of value, of what matters and what counts, come into effect and circulate alongside the dominant symbolic. The issue that most angered working-class respondents is how they are positioned, judged, blamed and held responsible for an inheritance over which they have no control, ‘an accident of birth’. They were acutely aware of how they were constantly judged and de-legitimated and how practices such as selfishness and greed were legitimate for others. Showing how they refuse to authorize those they consider lacking in value but with authority and in a position to judge, the paper demonstrates how class relations are lived through a struggle, not only against economic limitation but a struggle against unjustifiable judgment and authority and for dignified relationality. The paper reveals a struggle at the very core of ontology, demonstrating how the denigrated defend and make their lives liveable; an issue at the heart of current austerity politics which may have increased significance for the future.

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