Life on road: symbolic struggle & the munpain

Bakkali, Yusef (2018) Life on road: symbolic struggle & the munpain. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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This project began back in 2013. It has sought to understand the life worlds and biographies of young urban people engaged with life on road; oscillating between the minutia of their day to day lives and broader structural happenings connected with the continued onslaught of neo-liberalism. The use of the term road is a UK specific expression which is more broadly understood as ‘street culture’.

The findings of this study reveal a group who in many ways strongly embody neo-liberal values of consumerism, meritocratic status attainment and individualism; yet are broadly seen as anti-establishment and often find themselves at the centre of moral panics. The heightened presence of; poverty, non-corporate masculinities, violence and criminality associated with road life (issues which many participants felt acutely) are often used as the metaphoric irons wielded by the powerful to brand the mark of abjection on urban youth. However, by examining the spectacular and everyday stories of those on road this study identifies a situated ‘logic of practice’ in actions which more powerful observers claim symbolise individual deficit and failing.

What becomes evident is that young people on road are engaged in a ceaseless symbolic struggle of performative negotiation with abjection and material deprivation. Coining the terminology ‘munpain’ (shorthand for pain of the mundane) I demonstrate how many exceptional young people navigate treacherous trajectories whilst striving all the time for recognition, respect and dignity. On this journey they seek to ameliorate their situations, negotiating stigmas attached to; unemployment, poverty, drug use, familial breakdown, race, gender, single parenthood and many more. This process involves a wide array of strategies and forms of cultural expression including; crime, violence, coolness, music and conspicuous consumption – creating a vibrant but often transient and destructive cultural landscape.

This study suggests that monocultural hegemony, expressed through the preservation of an outdated and inaccurate canon in contemporary Britain, unleashes vast waves of symbolic violence on those who personify forms of cultural and stylistic difference. In a globalised world moving through the late modern period we live in a nation bursting with difference, as many struggle to come to terms with it, the powerful seem to have mobilised around this crisis by enforcing an externally imposed narrative. Embodying difference in Britain today can entrench and exacerbate material hardships adding to exclusion and abjection. Those on road however exhibit a ceaseless ambition for equitable inclusion (often described as ‘going legit’) via cultural and economic projects aimed at adjusting the status quo; epitomizing ways in which class struggle, albeit more complex and individualised, lives on in 21st century Britain.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Law, Politics and Sociology > Sociology
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 20 Feb 2018 12:37
Last Modified: 20 Mar 2019 10:09

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