Chav-spotting in Britain: the representation of social class as private choice

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The word chav is a relatively new one in British English, used to describe a supposed social group defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “a young person of a type characterised by brash and loutish behaviour and the wearing of designer-style clothes … usually with connotations of a low social status”. Discourse on chavs in contemporary Britain has been widely implicated in the reinforcement of social inequalities. This article argues that a central element of such discourse is the representation of “everyday” British public experience as a practice of chav-spotting, of reading materials as signs of the private characteristics of those with which they are associated. This means reading class as a privately motivated phenomenon, as the product of the “choice incompetence” of chavs. This chav-spotting practice is viewed from two perspectives: (1) as a recontextualisation of class as the result of private choice; and (2) as a practice of sign-making by which meanings are articulated for publicly observable materials in accordance with (1).
Original languageEnglish
JournalSocial Semiotics
Early online date25 Jul 2012
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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