The material politics of stereotyping white trash: flexible class-making

Marjo Kolehmainen

First Published December 1, 2016

Social Class

Link to online article: The Sociological Review

This article provides a detailed analysis of novel forms of class-making in Finland, with special emphasis on emerging threads on ‘white trash’ in a popular discussion forum. The article is based on an empirical study, the data for which were gathered by making online observations and extracting discussion threads on white trash. There is no consensus in the data on the meaning of the term white trash. While the stereotypes concerning the alleged group of white trash have been linked with tastelessness, poverty or immorality in studies conducted in other countries, popularity and ordinariness are also associated with it, as are expensive and exclusive consumer choices. On the one hand, the term is used to reproduce class stigma, illustrating how class is made through racialisation. On the other, the phrase is used in new and flexible ways. However, the debate greatly focuses on taste and thus grounds itself in struggles over classification in consumer culture, which may further privilege middle-class definitions of class. The article concludes that the examination of taste offers a novel route for the study of privilege, as an investment in keeping one’s tastes unreadable to others may be an asset in the struggle over classifications.

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