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Not single spies but in battalions: a critical, sociological engagement with the idea of so-called ‘Troubled Families’

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Tracy Shildrick



This is the authors' accepted manuscript of an article that has been published in its final definitive form by John Wiley & Sons Ltd., 2016.

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


Recent political and popular discourses in the UK have drawn upon a range of different concepts and powerful and easily recalled sound bites to describe groups who are disadvantaged and who are portrayed as undeserving. The labelling of disadvantaged groups in negative terms and in order to support punitive policies has a long history and not just in the UK. From the racialised ‘underclass’ discourses popular in the US to the recent discourse around ‘Troubled Families’ in the UK, there is a long tradition of labelling disadvantaged groups in such ways that they are alleged to be poor because of their dysfunctional cultures, anti-social behaviours and destructive family life-styles. Drawing on interviews collected with different generations of deeply disadvantaged families we offer one of the first, empirical, sociological accounts of the problems and troubles that some families can face – over decades and over generations. We use this empirical case study by way of illustrating how these negative discourses successfully pave the way for punitive policy interventions and how they also have implications for how disadvantaged groups are treated and for personal wellbeing.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Shildrick T, MacDonald R, Furlong A

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: The Sociological Review

Year: 2016

Volume: 64

Issue: 4

Pages: 821-836

Print publication date: 01/11/2016

Online publication date: 17/10/2016

Acceptance date: 11/08/2016

Date deposited: 21/11/2017

ISSN (print): 0038-0261

ISSN (electronic): 1467-954X

Publisher: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


DOI: 10.1111/1467-954X.12425


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