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The University of Southampton
Geography and Environmental Science

Feeling the Squeeze: Ordinary Austerity in Low-to-Middle Income Households in North Tyneside Seminar

2 December 2015
Shackleton Building 44, Lecture Theatre B

For more information regarding this seminar, please email Nathaniel O'Grady at N.O' .

Event details

The ‘squeezed middle’ is a term that has attracted a great deal of attention since Ed Miliband’s struggle to define it on the BBC’s Today programme in November 2010. Using a phrase we’ve heard repeatedly since, Miliband described the “people who work hard and want to get on” and depicted an evocative emotional landscape of dashed dreams, anxieties, and fears. The ‘squeezed middle’ are not poor, but nor are they well-off. They are often too rich to get much help from the welfare and benefits system, but not in a position to really flourish in a market economy. These are families who are doing OK, are ‘getting by’, but for whom a single knock (reduced working hours, rising food and fuel prices, rent increases, ill-health, family separation) might be enough to make them start to feel vulnerable and insecure. These are not families in crisis – in contrast to the tragic reports of austerity suicides and mental health emergencies – but they are increasingly struggling. In many ways, they are in the middle and, in this sense, their experiences of austerity and recession are very ordinary. The wider project on which this paper is based focuses particularly on how these families’ everyday relationships help them to negotiate these social and economic challenges and to achieve (or maintain) material and emotional security. In this paper, though, my focus is on exploring in much more detail what the ‘squeeze’ feels like for the low-to-middle income families I worked with in North Tyneside. Based on something approaching free narrative interviews, I pay attention to these families’ stories of being squeezed, listening carefully to their language, their sentiments and their explanations to sketch out the emotional landscapes of ordinary austerity. In the framing of this paper, I connect my analysis of these narratives to ideas loosely clustered around emotional geographies, affect, and the psychosocial to begin to develop what I identify as a psychosocial geography of austerity.

Speaker information

Professor Alison Stenning, Newcastle University. School of Geography, Politics and Sociology

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