How Malthusian ideology crept into the newsroom: British tabloids and the coverage of the ‘underclass’



Harkins S & Lugo-Ocando J (2015) How Malthusian ideology crept into the newsroom: British tabloids and the coverage of the ‘underclass’. Critical Discourse Studies, 13 (1), pp. 78-93.

This article argues that Malthusianism as a series of discursive regimes, developed in the Victorian-era, serves in times of austerity to reproduce an elite understanding of social exclusion in which those in a state of poverty are to blame for their own situation. It highlights that Malthusianism is present in the public discourse, becoming an underlining feature in news coverage of the so-called ‘underclass’. Our findings broadly contradict the normative claim that journalism ‘speaks truth to power’, and suggest instead that overall as a political practice, journalism tends to reproduce and reinforce hegemonic discourses of power. The piece is based on critical discourse analysis, which has been applied to a significant sample of news articles published by tabloid newspapers in Britain which focussed on the concept of the ‘underclass’. By looking at the evidence, the authors argue that the ‘underclass’ is a concept used by some journalists to cast people living in poverty as ‘undeserving’ of public and state support. In so doing, these journalists help create a narrative which supports cuts in welfare provisions and additional punitive measures against some of the most vulnerable members of society.

poverty; journalism; underclass; critical discourse analysis; Britain; newspaper discourse

Critical Discourse Studies: Volume 13, Issue 1

FundersEconomic and Social Research Council
Publication date31/12/2015
Publication date online28/08/2015
Date accepted by journal25/04/2015
PublisherInforma UK Limited

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Dr Steven Harkins
Dr Steven Harkins

Lecturer, Communications, Media and Culture