Go home, get a job, and pay some taxes to replace a bit of what you’ve wasted’: Stigma power and solidarity in response to anti-opencast mining activism in the coalfields of rural County Durham, UK

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Abstract

This paper explores the nexus of stigmatisation and environmental activism in the Campaign to Protect Pont Valley against open-cast mining in the northeast of England. Our analysis examines stigma power (Tyler 2013; 2015; 2020) as embedded in wider efforts to police and repress environmental dissent and defend core neoliberal values. Examination of qualitative interviews with campaigners, drive-past insults shouted at activists, online police statements and public responses, and online trolling of activists by mining employees and the wider public reveals stigmatisation to be a process of power, informed by neoliberal ideologies (of the threat and danger of worklessness) and reproduced through neoliberal power structures (the state, corporate power, and popular culture), shaped by the insecurities that are specific to social and political contexts. We show how the state mobilises stigma through ideologies associated with austerity and the hostile environment to delegitimate activism through association with worklessness/idleness and the inaccurate representation of activists as part of broader processes of criminalisation, policing, and management of protest. In an area renowned for its work ethic and high levels of unemployment, the work of environmental activists is dismissed as illegitimate, drawing on tropes associated with the disciplining of the so-called deviant working classes. The historical importance of coal and activism in the defence of the ‘mining way of life’ feeds into dominant narratives associated with work and individualism. Pride associated with coal mining is reconfigured and forms the basis of insults against those (working-class and otherwise) who are recast as ‘outsiders’, ‘wasting time and money’ in resisting environmental destruction. Lastly, we examine how activists were able to largely deflect stigmatisation through collective engagement, solidarity, and political analysis of the process they were subject to.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSociological Research Online
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 13 Sep 2021

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