Beyond the Council Estate: Cinematic Space(s) of the Working-Class.
CALL for SUBMISSIONS
Edited by: Katerina Flint-Nicol and Deirdre O’Neill
In British film, if ‘the image of the tower block silhouetted against the sky has become part of the basic vocabulary of British cinema, most often invoked as a visual signifier for the marginalised and menacing’ (Burke, 2007: 177), then predominately the ‘marginalised and menacing’ alluded to are the working-class. While the concept of class as an analytical framework in cultural and political discourse has been in crisis, representations of class across British film persist. From the 1935 British documentary, Housing Problems, to Rita, Sue and Bob Too (Alan Clarke, 1987), Attack the Block (Joe Cornish, 2011), The Selfish Giant (Clio Barnard, 2013), and the recent horror film His House (Remi Weekes 2020), both fictional and non-fiction screen narratives of the British working-class have developed to be synonymous with the setting of the council estate. As visual shorthand, the council estate has become a dominant signifier of poverty, criminality and deviance functioning to stigmatise the working class and obscure the structural determinants responsible for impoverishment.
Repeated constructions across audio visual mediums and screen genres reproduce and naturalise stereotypical and publicly imagined class identities, speaking more to political and media discourse (Tyler, 2013) whilst disrupting concepts of, and commitments to, authenticity and ‘making visible’ of working-class lives (Higson, 1986; Hill, 1986 & 2000); filmmaking objectives long associated with the British tradition of social realism. As a signifying practice and ‘normative spatial context’ (Edensar, 2015: 62), the council estate may have developed to be a key site for characterisation and narrative trajectory, aiding in the synergy between space, place, and identity (Hallam and Marshment, 2002). But as an ideological conductor (Burke, 2007) it also serves to confine the working-class as immobile, in decline, and ‘local’, explicitly contrasted to the neoliberal idea of self-managed mobility in an age of expansive globalisation. In essence, a ‘global other’.
Working-class space then is both conceptual and physical, functioning to demarcate the cultural and social boundary between ‘us’ and ‘them’ whilst justifying the stigmatisation of those who live on council estates by reference to the culture of the working class and situating them within political discourses that construct them as a dangerous underclass. This discourse of dangerous underclass is often racialised within a white centric media through tropes of immigration, black criminality, racist socio-political discourses and ‘geographical specificity’ (Malik, S and Nwonka C,J., 2017 )
But what other spaces do the working-class in British film inhabit and occupy? What spaces are they excluded from and what can we learn from their absence from certain spaces? To what extent have working-class spaces been colonised and what does the refiguring of such geographies into middle class spaces (gentrification) tell us about the way in which we understand space as socially produced? Can this dialectical play between absence and presence lead us to rethink the representation of class in British cinema by looking beyond the council estate?
From the anti-pastoral of the new British rural film as exemplified by The Goob (Guy Myhill, 2014) and Catch Me Daddy (Daniel Wolfe, 2014) to the liminal space of the seaside of Bhaji on the Beach (Gurinder Chadha, 1993) and Make-Up (Claire Oakley, 2019), films can function as sites of resistance to hegemonic perceptions and experiences of class, where spaces beyond that of the domestic and council estate and of the social realist filmmaking practice, enables transgression across boundaries of sexuality, gender and class (Wayne, 2006) and for different class stories to be told.
Addressing historical and contemporary representations, the objective of this edited collection is to rethink the British working-class onscreen and seeks a diverse range of perspectives and theoretical interventions for chapters on the cinematic spaces of the working class. Topics could include, but are not limited to:
- Class identities beyond social realism
- Colonisation of working-class space
- Class, space, and the absence of the working class
- Race, class, and gentrification
- Conceptual spaces
- Transgressive space and identities
- Sites of resistance
- Class and activism
- Tensions in classed geographies between public and private space
- Gendered space
- Architecture, identity, and film form
- Class, space, and nostalgia
- Space and historical shifts in class condition
- Space, film policy and regional filmmaking
- Class and sound
- Age, class, and space
- Council estates and territorial stigmatization
Deadline for chapter proposals: 30th September 2022.
Notification of acceptance: November 11th: 2022
Deadline for the submission of chapters: April 2023.
Burke, Andrew. (2007) ‘Concrete universality: Tower blocks, architectural modernism, and realism in contemporary British cinema’, New Cinemas: Journal of Contemporary Film, 5 (3): 177-188.
Edensar, Tim. (2015) ‘Sensing National Spaces: Representing the Mundane in English Film and Television’ in European Cinema and Television Cultural Policy and Everyday Life (eds.) I.Bondeberg, E. Novrup Redvall, & A. Higson, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 58-80.
Hallam, Julia and Margaret Marshment, eds (2000) Realism and popular cinema, Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Higson, Andrew. (1986) ‘Britain’s outstanding contribution to the film: the documentary-realist tradition’, in Barr, C. ed. All Our Yesterdays: 90 Years of British Cinema, London: BFI: 72-97.
Hill, John. (1986) Sex, Class and realism: British cinema 1956-1963, London: BFI.
Hill, John. (2000) ‘From The New Wave to ‘Brit-Grit’. Continuity and difference in working-class realism’ in Ashby and Higson, eds. British Cinema: Past and Present, London: Routledge: 249-60.
Hill, John. (2000) ‘Failure and Utopianism: Representations of the Working Class in British Cinema of the 1990s’ in Murphy, Robert (ed), British Cinema of the 90s, London: BFI Publishing: 178-87.
Malik, S and Nwonka C, J. (2017) ‘Top Boy: Cultural Verisimilitude and the Allure of Black Criminality for UK Public Service Broadcasting Drama in ‘Journal of British Cinema and Television 14:4, 423-444
Wayne, Mike. (2006) ‘Working Title Mark II: A Critique of the Atlanticist Paradigm for British Cinema’. International Journal of Media & Cultural Politics. 2006, Vol. 2 Issue 1, 59-73.