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About this book

This timely book examines austerity's conflicted meanings, from austerity chic and anti-austerity protest to economic and eco-austerity. Bramall's compelling text explores the presence and persuasiveness of the past, developing a new approach to the historical in contemporary cultural politics.

Table of Contents

Frontmatter

1. Introduction: Austere Times

Abstract
This book is about the meanings of austerity. In it, I argue for an understanding of austerity as a site of discursive struggle between different visions of the future. This site of struggle extends beyond party politics and debates about economic policy into environmental, anti-consumerist, and feminist politics, into the terrain of media, consumer, and popular culture, and into people’s everyday lives. Focusing predominantly on the UK context, I explore the ways in which the historical era of ‘austerity Britain’ (1939–54) has been used as a representational resource and point of comparison and analogy in the discourse of austerity that emerged in the wake of the 2007–8 global financial crisis. And I show how ‘1eft’-political (green, red and feminist) orientations to austerity discourse, and to diverse uses of the past in the present, are tied up with longstanding assumptions about the relationship between history, culture and politics. In this introduction, I set out some of the reference points and critical contexts for this argument, drawing attention to certain tensions and antagonisms within austerity discourse.
Rebecca Bramall

2. On Being ‘Inside’ Austerity: Austerity Chic, Consumer Culture, and Anti-austerity Protest

Abstract
On Friday, 24 April 2009, official figures from the Office of National Statistics revealed that the British economy had shrunk ‘at the fastest rate in 30 years’ in the first three months of that year (Kollewe, 2009). The figures were seen as throwing into question Labour Chancellor Alistair Darling’s more optimistic budget forecast, issued just a few days previously. That evening, the lead story on Newsnight (a current affairs programme) was the inevitability of ‘very substantial cuts in public spending’. ‘How will our lives change to cope with this new age of austerity?’, the programme asked. This was by no means the first time the phrase ‘age of austerity’ had been used to describe the new era of spending cuts, but it is a useful and representative instance to recall, because many of the themes and tropes with which we have become familiar were present in that edition of Newsnight, including the use of historical analogy. As Kirsty Wark explained in her introduction to the programme’s studio debate: ‘[t]his is the era of the new austerity, harking back to the post-war age of austerity when shortages and restrictions meant people had no choice but to “make do and mend”’. As if to underline the credibility of this comparison, David Kynaston, historian and author of a book about Austerity Britain 1945–51 (2008a), joined Wark to discuss how people would ‘cope’ with the coming crisis, along with television presenter Kirstie Allsopp.1
Rebecca Bramall

3. The Past in the Present: History, Memory, Ideology, and Discourse

Abstract
At the heart of contemporary austerity culture is the idea that there is an analogy to be drawn between our post-recessionary, deficit-cutting times and Britain in an earlier age of austerity. This historical analogy has been reiterated, secured and made meaningful in a very wide range of texts and contexts, resulting in a culture that is saturated by reference to ‘austerity Britain’ (see Figure 3.1). As I showed in the previous chapter, consumer culture has in particular been a critical site for the communi-cation of ideas about ‘austerity’. In retail and other consuming spaces, austerity is something that can be bought and consumed; it is associated with particular experiences and has distinct effects. In the context of this allusive and homologous discursive formation, images, scenarios, narratives and other signifying resources associated with austerity Britain have tended to be used to address the concerns of the present, rather than to explore, investigate, or commemorate the past. The history of austerity Britain is rarely opened up as an object for discussion in these texts and contexts, but is instead used, borrowed, referenced. It is seen as a resource that can be put to work to produce new meanings, in relation to emergent issues.
Rebecca Bramall

4. Dig for Victory! Eco-austerity, Sustainability, and New Historical Subjectivities

Abstract
In the summer of 2007, the Imperial War Museum London ran an allotment project with The Royal Parks, setting up a ‘victory garden’ in St James’s Park, London. The rationale for the project rested on a perceived relationship between the priorities of Britain during the Second World War years, as epitomized by the ‘dig for victory’ campaign, and the ‘things that we are concerned about today - having access to fresh healthy food, being active and living sustainably’ (Imperial War Museum London, 2008: 1). This project typifies an articulation identified in the introduction to this book as a particularly critical one, namely the drawing of a connection between sustainability politics and austerity, via the historical period of ‘austerity Britain’. It is not an isolated example, but one of many projects, texts and contexts in which ‘dig for victory’ has been activated in recent years. In this chapter, I consider this conjunction of austerity, history and sustainability. I take the injunction to ‘dig for victory’ as a starting point for a consideration of the place of historicity in environmental and anti-consumerist politics. Focusing in particular on the urban agricultural projects with which ‘dig for victory’ has become associated, I consider how austerity discourse might inform British consumers’ understanding of agricultural systems, and the role it might play in the constitution of consuming subjects.
Rebecca Bramall

5. The State of Austerity: Governance, Welfare, and the People

Abstract
This chapter is concerned with how the ‘state’ is represented in austerity discourse. There is a strong consensus - on the left, in ‘anti-austerity’ discourse - that the state is what is at stake in the age of austerity. For those on the left of the political spectrum in Britain (and many other places in the global North), the term ‘austerity’ has come to signify a process in which the state is being ‘scaled back’, ‘rolled back’, or ‘dismantled’ (Blackburn, 2011: 19; Taylor-Gooby and Stoker, 2011: 14; Hall et al., 2013: 9) via a programme of ‘cuts’ to welfare in its many forms and broadest sense - services, benefits, and infrastructure. Through a ‘withdrawal of the state’, the coalition government is seen to be ‘seeking to embed in the UK a stronger neoliberal approach to social policy’ (Grimshaw and Rubery, 2012: 105; see also Macleavy, 2011; Hall, 2012). Commentators also tend to agree that this programme is ideologically motivated, rather than economically necessary (Wren-Lewis, 2011: 5). For the Conservative Party, it is argued, ‘a shrunken state is the prize’. If the coalition government is only to last a term, the Tories seek to leave behind ‘permanent change to the state, not just taking a wrecking ball to its fabric, but planting anti-state knotweed in the national mind’ (Toynbee, 2012a).
Rebecca Bramall

6. Turning Back Time: Feminism, Domesticity, and Austere Femininities

Abstract
A double-page spread in the Guardian Weekend magazine pictures ‘this season’s utilitarian homewares’ (2011: 60–1). While no human model is present, the selection of objects, which include a linen apron, an enamel peg bucket, a ‘housekeepers’ box, and a scrubbing brush, conjure a feminine subject. This subject is historicized via the coding of most of the objects as ‘retro’ products, for example through their presentation as reproductions of mid-century domestic props, or through their incorporation of wartime slogans such as ‘dig for victory’. The Guardian feature pins down the historical subjectivity in question more specifically by including a tea towel from the Imperial War Museum London shop adorned with the slogan ‘Housewives! Please finish travelling by 4 o’clock and leave the buses, trams and trains free for war workers’.
Rebecca Bramall

7. Afterword: Austerity and After

Abstract
This book represents an attempt to develop a conjunctural analysis of ‘austerity’, focusing on the ways in which the past - the historical era of ‘austerity Britain’ - has been put to work in the present. I have sought to offer an alternative to the ‘for’ and ‘against’ paradigm of austerity by drawing attention to the diverse ways in which social actors have made use of concepts of austerity, and in which audiences and consumers have responded to these mobilizations. At the same time, this conjuncture has served as a case study for the elaboration of a series of arguments about ‘left’ (green, red, and feminist) political uses of the past, and the assumptions about history that adhere in theoretical reflection on these political movements. In this afterword I want to sum up the conclusions I have drawn in relation to these two objectives, before turning to two themes I have yet to address adequately. These themes relate to the discursivity of austerity, and to its periodization: what comes ‘after’ austerity?
Rebecca Bramall

Backmatter

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