Millwall Football Club: Pathologization of the White Working Class

Last week The Telegraph newspaper reported that a college in Brighton were planning a field trip to observe “working class culture” in action at a football match:

“To anyone else, a trip to a football match would merely be a chance to see some sport played.

But for sociology students at one sixth form college, it has been billed as an educational opportunity to see racism, homophobia, hyper masculinity and working class culture in action.

Varndean College in Brighton is offering AS-level sociology students the chance to watch Brighton and Hove Albion take on the “notorious” Millwall Football Club at their home team’s American Express Community Stadium.

A poster for the trip on Friday says those involved will be able to see “gender performance” in action, including types such as “the new lad” on show.

There will also be a chance to observe “issues around sexuality, race and ethnicity,” “women challenging gender norms” and to “even talk to football fans,” it promises”.


Former students familiar with the local area having attended school and sixth form near to Millwall FC criticised this proposed trip:

Edwin Magombe:

…This is ridiculous, I really hope a group of Millwall fans turn up to the Sociology class in Brighton unannounced to observe the natural habitat of the misguided hipster and snobbish lecturer who could never quite make it beyond lower middle class… seriously what’s wrong with people?

Frank Frost:

“Seems like the the Varndean College still hold onto their past grammar school mentality. I’m a Millwall season ticket holder, Black, in the middle class, no criminal record, never experienced racism in or around the stadium, and I go with my sister. The course director should apologise. This approach is just breeding the next wave snobbery to wash over Brick Lane and Camden.

Dr Garth Stahl, currently lecturer at University of South Australia’s School of Education, but who previously taught at a 11 to 18 school in southeast London where many of the students were Millwall fans:

“Brighton’s Varndean College offering students the chance to observe the crowds of the “notorious” Millwall Football Club where they may possibly observe “racism” and “homophobia” certainly presents an interesting venture into experiential learning. Unfortunately such a venture – depending on how the pedagogy is delivered – runs the risk of pathologizing white working-class culture further for these AS-level sociology students. Students are already exposed to a ubiquitous pathologization of the white working-class which is ever-present in UK culture. This is partially fueled by a morose pop culture fascination with social class and “poor” behaviour as seen in the popularity of recent television shows such as Channel 4’s Educating Essex. Varndean College’s efforts are reminiscent of the 2007 controversies concerning Glenalmond College in Perthshire where students from privileged backgrounds made mock videos of Etonians ‘chav hunting’ young men in sporting apparel. While Varndean College students may gain a more nuanced study of “lad culture” and gender performativity upon their trip to Millwall, I would also hope their teachers push them to examine such behaviours with a certain criticality. Considering working-class culture as both highly contextual and historically constituted is essential when considering why certain behaviours are validated through social collectiveness and why they continue to be of fascination to certain outsiders”.

Categories: Rethinking The World, Uncategorized, Visual Sociology

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2 replies »

  1. The poster was very clumsy but the idea of taking young sociologists to a football match (or an opera house, or anywhere they might not usually go) is pretty good one – the problem is that it seems they’ve been prepped on what to expect to see when they get there.

  2. This is an interesting critique. The sociology of “doing gender” certainly requires direct observation. This collection of responses raise an interesting point about access to participants in field research and participant observation. Working class events are more public and accessible (free or relatively inexpensive for a field trip or to carry out field research). Sociology mostly studies working and middle classes mostly because of our discipline’s concern with socio-economic disadvantage, and yet there’s something to be said about access and power.

    As researchers we often have a higher level of education than the people we study, or we otherwise have a relatively greater socio-economic status than our interviewees. Studying the upper classes through ethnography is harder. We don’t have easy access. It would be harder to organise a group to study a private school soccer match or it would be more expensive to go to the opera or some other cultural event associated with elites. Professor Michael Gilding made this point in his book “Secrets of the Super Rich.” He felt the power imbalance shifted in trying to organise interviews with people on the Business Review Weekly “Rich List.” It was tough to get them to agree to be interviewed for sociological research, mostly because they’re not used to it and as he found, because they are distrustful of academia. The interviews were hard to manage as a result (though data were interesting).

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