The selective foregrounding of social structures in factual welfare television: A multimodal analysis

John Scott Daly

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review


Factual welfare television has been described as stigmatising and individualising – representing its participants as failures in a meritocratic society. This paper, however, revisits the 2014 British documentary Benefits Street and argues that it tends to humanise its cast, showing them as trapped in two social structures of benefits (i.e. the social security system) and street (i.e. the deprived local community). Using a multimodal critical discourse studies approach, the paper analyses the verbal, visual and sound tracks of the most popular episode to explore how these modes combine to portray the structure of benefits as stultifying, and the street as a restrictive community. These structures are selectively foregrounded at the expense of the wider, arguably more impactful structures of neoliberal austerity and welfare reform that characterised the political economy of Britain in 2014. The residents’ troubles, therefore, appear to be grounded in the two restrictive structures of benefits and street, and individualistic post-welfarism – surely implicated in their problems – becomes the solution.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1–19
Number of pages19
JournalSocial Semiotics
Publication statusPublished - 23 Feb 2022


  • Factual welfare television
  • multimodal critical discourse studies
  • neoliberalism
  • post-welfarism
  • reality TV
  • social class

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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