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

Steven Harkins*, Jairo Lugo-Ocando

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)78-93
Number of pages16
JournalCritical Discourse Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016


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

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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