Why is nobody talking about classicism

Discrimination on the basis of social origin: classism, please?

The term classicism is still not very common, although the phenomenon itself is an old one and is still enormously present. How is classicism, i.e. discrimination based on social origin, expressed? How do people from working class families feel when they make it to university? And what do degrading images and reports of poverty do to us? The recently published book "Solidarisch gegen Klassismus - organize, intervenieren, Umvertiegen", edited by Francis Seeck and the standard author Brigitte Theißl, examines these and other questions. Here you can read an excerpt from the book, the article "Medially excluded: Why classism must become a topic for journalism" by Brigitte Theißl.


"It's howling: the people who scream at him and what they look like. They are the ugliest people in Vienna, shapeless, misshapen bodies, straw-like, blunt hair, without a cut, unkempt, glittering T-shirts that stretch, training pants, Leggings. Pimple skin. Bad teeth, worn out shoes. The refugees from the Middle East are a nicer breed of people. And younger. " (Zöchling 2015)

In the summer of 2015, that summer that was once considered a shining example of civil society engagement and has meanwhile been reinterpreted as that which should not be repeated, an editor of the Austrian news magazine "Profil" embarks on a research trip. A trip to different places where refugees from Syria and Afghanistan are on their way to be able to cross the border to Austria and later Germany. Thousands of people post #refugeeswelcome on social networks, and volunteers have gathered at train stations to provide the exhausted arrivals with the bare essentials. Meanwhile, Heinz-Christian Strache, at that time still federal party leader of the FPÖ, stands at the Viktor-Adler-Markt in Vienna and incites against refugees, against "asylum fraudsters". In the report "Help for refugees: My friend is crying", she will describe the cheering crowd that the editor encounters as the "ugliest people in Vienna". She sees unkempt FPÖ supporters who have no money for expensive dentures or Bespoke suits. "The ugliness I have described is not an aesthetic category, but a moral one," the editor replies to her critics (Zöchling 2015). The Austrian Press Council sees it differently: The report violates point 7 of the code of honor for the Austrian press, the "protection against general denigration and discrimination", the committee decides.

Nazi orcs

It is nothing new that right-wing voters are often used to describing and depicting right-wing voters. Reports on election campaign events of the beer tent affinity FPÖ have always been popular in Austria. Journalists like to go to Vienna's outskirts or to rallies with a folk festival character and show people with dogs that have been pricked up or with the "glitter T-shirts" mentioned in the "Profile" report. A much-discussed article in "Vice" magazine in 2013 was also aimed at ugliness - whether from an aesthetic or moral point of view. "The Nazi Ork von Hellersdorf" was the headline of the author and featured a man who was standing in front of an asylum shelter in Berlin-Hellersdorf Arm raised in the Hitler salute, as a "shapeless and doughy figure", he spoke of "the dullest mob that has enough time and leisure on a Monday morning to chant right slogans instead of greeting the day with beer from plastic bottles, as is probably the norm ". "Dear Hellersdorf Nazis, please stop acting as if you were Germany, because you are not. You are simply uneducated, nothing more", so his final roll call (Brenner 2013).

From this message, which the author probably intended to be anti-racist, a bourgeois desire for distinction can be read out - the text is suitable as a classicist showpiece - at the same time it fails to recognize structural racism: Racism congeals to an educational gap, it becomes the problem of a supposedly 'unsightly' lower class instead to name it as a comprehensive form of discrimination and oppression. The examples outlined do not come from the boulevard, but from an Austrian quality medium ("Profil") and a lifestyle magazine ("Vice"). The latter falls through clickbait journalism (clickbaiting describes the phenomenon of using sensational headlines or images to motivate readers to click on the content and thus generate more advertising income. Why classism has to become a topic for journalism, author's note) , but usually not through inflammatory reporting and regularly criticizes racism as well as sexism and homophobia.

Classism, please?

The fact that the two texts passed the internal quality control suggests that classism as a form of "individual, institutional and cultural discrimination and oppression based on the actual, assumed or ascribed social or educational status" (Kemper / Weinbach 2009: 7) in German-speaking editors are hardly the subject of a quality discussion. Despite the increasing number of publications on the subject, this is hardly surprising: in German-speaking countries the concept of classism is only slowly beginning to establish itself, and it remains a marginal issue in anti-discrimination work as well. "When I started giving workshops on the subject of 'Classism' about eight years ago, the term was still completely unknown (or: it became unknown again). Exactly three people came to my first public workshop," says Tanja Abou, who under works as a social justice trainer in Berlin (Abou 2017: 1).

In addition, those affected by classicism are hardly networked or organized in interest groups. Political self-organization is the "most effective anti-classicism", writes Andreas Kemper, who wants Europe-wide "initiatives against poverty in old age, educational disadvantage for workers' children, unemployed and homeless initiatives, initiatives by single parents" (Kemper 2015: 30). Because even if there are various initiatives by single parents or homeless people in German-speaking countries, it is mostly organizations without sufficient financial and human resources that can only exert a very limited influence on political debates. The fact that Berlin passed its own state anti-discrimination law in May, in which social status was also recognized as a ground for discrimination for the first time, can therefore be read as great progress.

Germany's cheekiest unemployed

The form in which journalists report on social inequality, exclusion and poverty, how those affected by classicism are portrayed in TV documentaries or reports, or how they remain completely invisible, has a decisive influence on our ideas as recipients. Mass media act as a socialization authority, they "convey ideas of the world and are involved in the transmission of stereotypes over generations", formulates the communication scientist Martina Thiele (2015: 50).

Stereotypical classicist reporting has many faces. While in some contributions the devaluation of people who receive social welfare happens very subtly through hidden accusations, brutal, classicistic reporting in the boulevard has a long tradition. "There are Hartz IV recipients at 'Bild' only in lazy", headlines the critical "Bildblog" 2019 in a post that summarizes the concentrated load of classicism in "Bild" in a ruling by the German Federal Constitutional Court. "Is laziness no longer punished?" Asked the "Bild" at the time and reported on the everyday life of a German who had been unemployed for twenty years: "Germany's laziest Hartz IV recipient (unemployed for 20 years) about his comfortable everyday life: ' I usually get up around noon '"(" Bildblog "2019).

For decades, the "Bild" newspaper has been running a real campaign against the unemployed and Hartz IV recipients, which culminated in reporting on Arno Dübel, the "cheekiest unemployed in Germany". Christian Baron and Britta Steinwachs show in their 2012 study "Lazy, cheeky, brazen. The discrimination of unemployment by picture readers" (cf. Baron / Stone wax 2012).

Ashamed and exhibited

Reality TV formats and scripted reality shows are playing a similar game with classic - often interwoven with racist - stereotypes, which demonstrate and teach the unemployed and those affected by poverty, exhibit their worlds and continue to work on the neoliberal narrative 'Everyone is the smith of his luck'. Media scientist and sociologist Irmtraud Voglmayr describes the phenomenon as "the appearance of the 'new lower class' on reality television and the intimacy of their way of life". Gender also plays a central role, as shown by the Austrian reality soap "Teenagers Become Mothers". Reality television produces "new gendered meanings of class, carried out on the body of women" (Voglmayr 2015: 46 f.).

So it is young mothers whose supposed irresponsibility is exhibited in the ATV production, debtors and single mothers appear in yet different formats, who are shamed and instructed by experts. Such TV formats, the protagonists of which are often shamed in satirical programs, acted "as moral barometers" for what is considered acceptable in a society, says the British cultural scientist Angela McRobbie. "My thesis is that this line has shifted significantly in the past few years. The earlier distinction between 'self-inflicted' and 'no-fault' poverty no longer exists today, the tone on social media platforms is becoming more aggressive, women are being portrayed in the media who allegedly wrongly receive social benefits, have too many children or behave 'shamelessly' ", said McRobbie in an interview (Theißl 2017).

How does respectful poverty reporting work?

But beyond documentary soaps and scripted reality, reporting on poverty is also shaped by stereotypes. "Too often, children are forced into negative role clichés, prejudices are reinforced by the way they are reported, or children and young people are instrumentalized (for political debates)," was the result of an Austrian media study on socially disadvantaged children and young people with regard to tabloids (poverty conference 2017 : 46).

Instead of discussing poverty and social exclusion as structural problems with consequences for society as a whole, the media often focus on individual fates - stories of people who are not portrayed as experts in their life situation, but as victims. "Distributive justice is a topic that affects all people in a society," formulate the experts at the poverty conference, who created guidelines for respectful poverty reporting (poverty conference 2014). In the guideline, the editors offer journalists hints on how to achieve respectful poverty reporting that portrays poverty but does not exhibit it; perceive those affected by poverty as experts; embeds poverty and social exclusion in their social framework instead of staging them as an expression of individual failure. (Brigitte Theißl, November 10th, 2020)


Abou, Tanja (no year): Classicism. Or: what do I actually mean when I speak of classicism? An approximation. (pdf) (June 20, 2020)

Baron, Christian / Steinwachs, Britta (2012): Lazy, cheeky, brazen. The discrimination against unemployment by BILD readers. Münster: Edition Assemblage.

Brenner, Basiliko (2013): The Nazi orc from Hellersdorf. (6/20/2020)

The Poverty Conference i.a. (2018): Warning. Devaluation has a system. The struggle for recognition, appreciation and dignity. (pdf) (June 20, 2020)

The Poverty Conference (2018): Guide to Respectful Poverty Reporting. Writing and reporting on poverty. (6/20/2020)

Kemper, Andreas (2015): "Classicism!" is called attack. Why we should speak of classism - and why this has not happened so far. In: Change of course 4 / 15.S. 25-31.

Kemper, Andreas / Weinbach, Heike (2009): Classicism. An introduction. Münster: Restlessness.

Theißl, Brigitte (2017): Angela McRobbie: "We look down on poor people". (6/20/2020)

Thiele, Martina (2015): Media and Stereotypes. Contours of a research field. Bielefeld: Transcript-Verlag.

Voglmayr, Irmtraud (2015): Gendered classes. Media representations of precarious "teenage mothers". In: Change of course 4/15. Pp. 46-52.

Weischenberg, Siegfried / Malik, Maja / Zöchling, Christa (2015): Help for refugees: My friend is crying. (6/20/2020)