Call for Participation: ESRC Summer School in Corpus Approaches to Social Science

The ESRC Summer School in Corpus Approaches to Social Sciences was inaugurated in 2013; the 2014 event is the second in the series. It will take place 15th to 18th July 2014, at Lancaster University, UK.

This free-to-attend summer school takes place under the aegis of CASS (, an ESRC research centre bringing a new method in the study of language – the corpus approach – to a range of social sciences. CASS is investigating the use and manipulation of language in society in a host of areas of pressing concern, including climate change, hate crime and education.

Who can attend?

A crucial part of the CASS remit is to provide researchers across the social sciences with the skills needed to apply the tools and techniques of corpus linguistics to the research questions that matter in their own discipline. This event is aimed at junior social scientists – especially PhD students and postdoctoral researchers – in any of the social science disciplines. Anyone with an interest in the analysis of social issues via text and discourse – especially on a large scale – will find this summer school of interest.


The programme consists of a series of intensive two-hour sessions, some involving practical work, others more discussion-oriented.

Topics include: Introduction to corpus linguistics; Corpus tools and techniques; Collecting corpus data; Foundational techniques for social science data – keywords and collocation; Understanding statistics for corpus analysis; Discourse analysis for the social sciences; Semantic annotation and key domains; Corpus-based approaches to metaphor in discourse; Pragmatics, politeness and impoliteness in the corpus.

Speakers include Tony McEnery, Paul Baker, Jonathan Culpeper, and Elena Semino.

The CASS Summer School is one of the three co-located Lancaster Summer Schools in Interdisciplinary Digital Methods; see the website for further information:

How to apply

The CASS Summer School is free to attend, but registration in advance is compulsory, as places are limited.

The deadline for registrations is Sunday 8th June 2014.

The application form is available on theevent website as is further information on the programme.


“Fighting Words Are Rarer Among British Doctors”: ‘Metaphor in End of Life Care’ project findings featured in the New York Times

Key findings from the CASS-affiliated ‘Metaphor in End of Life Care‘ (MELC) project have been featured in the New York Times. Journalist Paula Span interviews Principal Investigator Elena Semino and compares findings from the UK-based project to her own experiences in the US. Whereas ‘British public health leaders and medical practitioners are more apt to talk about the end of life as a “journey” instead of a war, with “pathways” and “steps” instead of fights and weapons’, Span finds frequent references to battles ‘on websites for cancer organizations in the United States, like Susan G. Komen and the American Cancer Society’.

Read more about the team’s findings and Span’s comparison to discursive practices in the US by accessing the full article on the New York Times: Fighting Words Are Rarer Among British Doctors

Dispatch from YLMP2014


I recently had the pleasure of travelling to Poland to attend the Young Linguists’ Meeting in Poznań (YLMP), a congress for young linguists who are interested in interdisciplinary research and stepping beyond the realm of traditional linguistic study. Hosted over three days by the Faculty of English at Adam Mickiewicz University, the congress featured over 100 talks by linguists young and old, including plenary lectures by Lancaster’s very own Paul Baker and Jane Sunderland. I was one of three Lancaster students to attend the congress, along with undergraduate Agnes Szafranski and fellow MA student Charis Yang Zhang.

What struck me about the congress, aside from the warm hospitality of the organisers, was the sheer breadth of topics that were covered over the weekend. All of the presenters were more than qualified to describe their work as linguistics, but perhaps for the first time I saw within just how many domains such a discipline can be applied. At least four sessions ran in parallel at any given time, and themes ranged from gender and sexuality to EFL and even psycholinguistics. There were optional workshops as well as six plenary talks. On the second day of the conference, as part of the language and society stream, I presented a corpus-assisted critical discourse analysis of the UK national press reporting of the immediate aftermath of the May 2013 murder of soldier Lee Rigby. I was happy to have a lively and engaged audience who had some really interesting questions for me at the end, and I enjoyed the conversations that followed this at the reception in the evening!

What was most encouraging about the congress was the drive and enthusiasm shared by all of the ‘young linguists’ in attendance. I now feel part of a generation of young minds who are hungry to improve not only our own work but hopefully, in time, the field(s) of linguistics as a whole. After my fantastic experience at the Boya Forum at Beijing Foreign Studies University last autumn, I was happy to spend time again celebrating the work of undergraduate and postgraduate students, and early-career linguists. There was a willingness to listen, to share ideas, and to (constructively) criticise where appropriate, and as a result I left Poznań feeling very optimistic about the future of linguistic study. I look forward to returning to the next edition of YLMP, because from what I saw at this one, there is a new generation of linguists eager to push the investigation of language to the next level.

How to be a PhD student (by someone who just was), Part 2: Managing your work and working relationships

After submitting and successfully defending my thesis a few months ago, I’ve decided to share some ‘lessons learnt’ over the course of my 38 months as a PhD student. 

In Part 2 of this series, I’ll talk about best practices for structuring your work, managing your relationship with your supervisor, and my experience with teaching undergraduates. If you missed “Part 1: Preparing for the programme”, you can read it here


Structuring your work

I believe it’s healthy to treat your PhD—as much as possible—like a job. Like any job, a PhD has physical, social, and temporal boundaries.

Try to create a PhD ‘space’. Make use of your office if you’ve been given one at your university, and create a space within your home that is a ‘work area’ if you haven’t been given one. Working from bed, from the sofa, or from a café means that your PhD is infiltrating all areas of your life. While some degree of this is inevitable, it’s best to keep physical boundaries as much as possible, even if you can only keep it to your desk.

By the same token, making friends outside of your department or your field is helpful in many ways. I adore my friends from Linguistics and I couldn’t have finished my doctorate without them, but you wouldn’t solely hang out with friends from work when you’re at home, and this is the same situation. In a group of people who have a similar background, you might end up talking about your field ‘outside of hours’. This can be stimulating, but also exhausting. You may want to vent about your department, or talk about something other than your PhD or field, even trashy TV! It’s easier with friends from other areas. As a nice extra feature, the connections that you make outside of your field can also help you inside your field. I’ve had very good advice from friends working in statistics, gotten ideas from historians, and been inspired by literary scholars, even though I might never venture into these areas in the library.

If you can, also create a routine for yourself, even if this isn’t 9-5. It’s best if this routine involves physically moving locations, but even if it doesn’t, physically change something: take a shower, get dressed for work. Pick 8 hours within the day that you work best, and work during those hours. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you have a short day or miss days out entirely…a PhD is ‘swings and roundabouts’ as they say around here…it’s long enough that you will make up the time to yourself. As much as possible, take the weekends and holidays off. This might mean working longer than 8 hours on weekdays, but personally, I think it’s worth it. Many people study in a place far from where they grew up, and a PhD is one time in life where you can be flexible enough with your time to enjoy a bit of sightseeing and tourism.

During this routine, set clear goals for yourself. I’ve seen people arguing for and against writing something every day. I found it very helpful to set a daily word count goal for myself, then sit in front of a computer until I at least came close. The number isn’t important: at the start of my PhD, I aimed to write 200 words per day; at the end of my PhD, I was able to write 1,000 words per day. What is important is getting into a routine. You will sit down some days and feel horrible. You’ll have writer’s block. You will struggle through each word of those 200, and know that you’ll delete most of them. But it’s much easier to get 40 great words out of 200 bad ones than to write 40 words completely cold. I’ve written entire chapters three times as long as they needed to be, and hated them. But paring them down is cathartic—it’s like sculpting. The bonus is that when you get into the habit of writing every day, you slowly get into the habit of writing something good every day. Soon, you’ll be writing 100 words and keeping 50 of them. Then you’ll be writing 1,000 words and keeping 900 of them. The important part is keeping the pace: just write! Your supervisor will also appreciate having something tangible to mark your progress (see next section).

As far as the structure of my own work, there are three things that I would do differently, if I could do it all again:

  1. Decide on a reference manager and stick to it diligently from Day 1. At the start of my degree I used EndNote for reference management, as this was offered for free by my university and came in both desktop and web versions. For my whole first year, I used EndNote to create an annotated bibliography—an extremely useful tool when drafting your literature review. However, EndNote began crashing on me, and papers were no longer available. In my second year, I stopped keeping track of references and just kept haphazard folders of PDFs. In my third year, I just used in-line citations, believing that sources would be easy to find later on. Not true! The month before submission I decided to make the leap to Mendeley, a truly amazing (free) reference manager that allows you to build and share libraries, store your PDFs, search other people’s collections, and select from a vast array of output styles (I favour APA 6th edition). The transition was extraordinarily painful. Exporting from Endnote was problematic and buggy, scanning PDFs in Mendeley was error-prone, and finding the corresponding works for those in-line references was impossible in some cases. I wasted a solid week just before submission sorting out my references, and this really should have been done all along. It would have been so painless!
  2. Master MS Word early on. In my final year, I finally got serious about standardising the numbering of my tables and figures, which means that in the eleventh hour, I was still panicking, trying to make sure that I had updated everything to the proper styles and made appropriate in-line references to my data. Had I set my styles earlier on and made the best use of MS Word’s quite intuitive counting and cross-referencing mechanisms, I would have saved myself days of close reading. If you are using MS Word (sorry, I can’t say anything about LaTeX) and you are not using the citation manager or cross-reference tool, learn how to do that immediately. Today. Your library might have a class on it, or, like me, you can brush up in an hour of web searching.
  3. Put down the books earlier. At a certain point, you need to generate new research and make a novel contribution to knowledge. Your first year and much of your second year will be dedicated to making sure that a research gap exists, and that you can pay tribute to all of the giants whose shoulders you will be standing on. However, burying yourself in a library for three years reading everyone else’s great works is a good way to paralyse yourself. Of course you will always need to keep up with the times, but a certain point, your rate of writing will overtake your rate of reading. If I could do it again, I would follow a pattern more like this:


After the first year, you won’t be missing anything totally fundamental. After the second year, you won’t be missing anything peripheral. If, in the third year, you’ve missed something very fresh, your examiners will point it out. But the more important thing is to make a contribution. Most of the PhD is research, not literature review. Your supervisor will be able to help you with this, and with other things (but not really others), as I discuss below.

Managing your relationship with your supervisor

Continue reading

“My research trip to the CASS centre” by visiting PhD student Anna Mattfeldt

Several times a year, the ESRC Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science welcomes visiting researchers, from PhD students to professors. Past visitors include Will Hamlin (Washington State University, USA) and Iuliia Rudych (Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg, Germany); current visitors include Laurence Anthony (Waseda University, Japan) and Anna Mattfeldt (Heidelberg University, Germany). Before returning to her home university, Anna wanted to share a few thoughts about her experience here at CASS:

I am a PhD student from Heidelberg who has just spent eight wonderful weeks at Lancaster University on a research trip. Before I went, some friends and colleagues asked me why I would go to so much trouble when I could just as easily write my thesis back home in Heidelberg. In the following post, I will try to answer why a research trip to another country and another university was the right decision for me – and why I can absolutely recommend it to other PhD students as well. I would also like to thank my main supervisor, Prof. Ekkehard Felder, for giving me the great chance to spend these eight weeks of research here at Lancaster.

I am doing my PhD at the German department of Heidelberg University. We have been doing corpus linguistic research in discourse analysis for quite some time, with big thematic corpora like HeideKo that were collected for research and teaching purposes. A bilingual corpus project, focusing on the depiction of Europe in German and Hungarian newspapers, is currently under way with the German department of The ELTE in Budapest, Hungary.

We approach data from a mainly qualitative point of view, accompanied by quantitative analysis. We focus on so-called “semantic battles” in a pragma-semiotic approach, which means we try to find instances of disagreement or agreement between speakers and how they are played out on the linguistic surface-level. Some may come up so often in specific discourses that they can be seen as central to the discourse. We are interested in the concepts behind the discourse, and how we can deduce them from the actual linguistic devices used in texts.

In my PhD, I am looking at environmental media discourses (especially concerning Hurricane Sandy and hydraulic fracturing, the so-called “fracking” in the US, the UK and Germany), in order to do a linguistic discourse analysis. Moreover, I am trying to find a way to detect conflictive topics and concepts in the various discourses. So, for a project that focuses different languages, corpora, research questions, I need corpus linguistic software, like WMatrix, AntConc, CQPweb and WordSmith. My co-supervisor, Prof. Busse, recommended a stay with the ESRC Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science at Lancaster University. The CASS centre at Lancaster is known for its high scientific expertise with huge corpora and different kinds of software. This is why I came up with the idea to also look for support somewhere else.

Hence I sent an email to Tony McEnery. To my great delight, after sending in a few documents, I was actually invited to come and do some research here. After figuring everything out at work, sending applications for scholarships to fund all this and chatting online with local property owners, I finally arrived on the 15th February and spent eight amazing weeks here.

The CASS centre has helped me a lot in my research, especially with tricky data. I was also confronted with lots of interesting ideas, and I loved the atmosphere of picking one another’s brains and inspiring one another. I liked the working atmosphere, the many interesting talks that were given, and the wonderful library with all the literature of the different fields, and last but not least the beautiful campus in an idyllic landscape. I was inspired to work more closely with quantitative approaches and to see how they could be used to see the bigger concepts “between the lines”. I also got a lot of my analysis done, made a lot of progress and still managed to see a bit of England as well during the weekends.

Thus, I can wholeheartedly recommend going abroad during a PhD for a research trip:

  • You get to talk to experts who can help you find solutions for the challenges you have been stuck with.
  • You get lots of new ideas just by talking to different people, being in a new environment or experiencing a different research philosophy.
  • Believe it or not, it immensely furthers the writing process to work in a new environment without any distractions.
  • If you are going to a country with a different language than your own, it is a great opportunity to brush up your language skills.
  • You broaden your horizons by living abroad, not only as far as your PhD is concerned.

So if you feel that you can profit in any way by going abroad, I recommend you do that – and hopefully come to Heidelberg! If you have any further questions concerning my project or visiting Heidelberg University for your own research trip, just send me an email (anna.mattfeldt at

Are you interested in being a visiting researcher/scholar at CASS? Email us at cass(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign) to discuss research aims and availability.

Changing Climates: Crossing Boundaries

Last Friday (28th), CASS had the pleasure to host a cordial meeting in which researchers from CASS and the University of Bergen got together to discuss about their ongoing research on discourses surrounding climate change.

The Norwegian team runs the NTAP project (Networks of Texts and People) which aims to explore the flow of information across online social networks with a view to understanding how knowledge develops and how opinion is shaped. Among other topics, the project examines the dynamics of discussions in the blogosphere around the various issues related to climate change.

Dag Elgesem and Andrew Salway – the principal investigator and scientific co-ordinator of the NTAP project respectively – provided an overview of the main goals of the project, state of affairs, expectations and their next steps. The Technical consultant and programmer for the project, Knut Hofland, talked about the data and the process of collecting it, describing various issues and decisions made along this process. Lubos Steskal, the project’s post-doctoral fellow, presented an interesting graphical representation of bloggers’ interactions which offers the researcher a clear indication about how communities are formed as well as whether and how they interact with each other. Samia Touileb presented a sample of her ongoing PhD project which uses grammar induction techniques to capture typical expressions used in blogs that discuss climate change.

Tony McEnery and Carmen Dayrell represented the CASS centre. Tony McEnery first provided a general broad view of the centre’s activities and staff by briefly mentioning its various projects. He also talked about some techniques commonly used in corpus-based discourse analysis to extract and manipulate the data. As expected, more attention was paid to the Changing Climates project. Having the climate change sociologist John Urry as its principal investigator, the project aims to contrast how climate change is discussed in news printed media in Britain and Brazil. Carmen Dayrell presented the current stage of the project. Her talk revolved around the composition of the corpora used in this study and a preliminary analysis of the data.

This was an excellent opportunity for these researchers to exchange ideas and experiences, expand horizons and learn about other approaches, perspectives, and views. We hope this first meeting will encourage and foster fruitful enhanced collaboration between these research teams.

iCourts and CASS formalise collaboration, begin first joint project

Last week, I had the honour of returning to iCourts, a centre of excellence for international courts dedicated to investigating the role of international courts in globalising legal order, as well as their impact on politics and society. iCourts is funded by the Danish National Research Foundation and located at the University of Copenhagen. During this visit, I signed the Memorandum of Agreement that iCourts and CASS have concluded, formalising collaboration between the two centres based on our joint interest in the corpus investigation of language in the context of law.


The first joint CASS-iCourts research project, “Decoding the rule of law: Corpus-based discourse analysis of the construction of achievements of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia” has just received funding from the University of Lancaster’s Research Committee under the ESRC’s Radical Futures in Social Science programme. On this project, Anne Lise Kjær (associate professor, iCourts) and I (senior research associate, CASS) are digitising U.N. documents, updating semantic lexicons to deal more effectively with field-specific terminology, and then analysing millions of words of legal language to investigate constructions of abstractions such as ‘the truth’. Some of our findings will be presented at CADAAD 2014 in Budapest, in a paper titled: “Key semantic domain analysis as a method of exploring underlying ideologies and self-representation strategies in legal texts”.

While I was at iCourts, I also delivered a three-hour workshop on the topic of “Corpus Tools in Legal and Social Science Research”. The first hour of this was dedicated to a lecture introducing fundamental techniques in corpus linguistics, suggesting ways in which these might be helpful in analysis of legal texts. Three tools developed at Lancaster University – CQPweb, Wmatrix, and VARD – were introduced, and a walkthrough was provided demonstrating their basic functionalities. In the second hour, participants partook in guided exercises with provided data sets of legal language, designed to familiarise them with the tools and techniques. In the final hour, participants were welcomed to either continue on the advanced sections of the guided exercise, or to begin work on their own data. At this point, several participants were guided in the installation of AntConc, an additional tool that has been updated in association with the corpus linguistics MOOC and optimised for learners. Using this tool, attendees were able to experiment with techniques in non-English data, specifically in Norwegian, Spanish, and French.

Check back periodically for the latest developments on the collaboration between iCourts and CASS, and for early access to research findings.

New CASS: Briefing now available — Opposing gay rights in UK Parliament: Then and now

CASSbriefings-gayrightsOpposing gay rights in UK Parliament: Then and now. How has the expression of opposition to gay rights changed in Parliamentary speeches in recent years? How are discussions of gay people involved in these changes? To what extent could these arguments be seen as homophobic? Read this CASS: Briefing of a diachronic corpus-based discourse analysis to find out more.

New resources are being added regularly to the new CASS: Briefings tab above, so check back soon.

How to be a PhD student (by someone who just was), Part 1: Preparing for the programme

In December 2013, after three years and two months of work, I submitted my PhD thesis. Last month, I successfully defended it, and made the (typographical) corrections in two nights. I’m a Doctor! It’s still exciting to say.

pottsphdA PhD is certainly not easy — I’ve heard it compared to giving birth, starting and ending a relationship, riding a rollercoaster, making a lonely journey, and more. I relocated across the world from Australia to begin mine, and the start was marked by the sadness of a death in the family. It’s been a whirlwind ever since; throughout the course of my degree, I taught as much as possible, I researched and published outside the scope of my PhD, and in April 2013, I began full-time work in the ESRC Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science.

The question that I get most often is a question that I found myself asking for years: how? How do you do a PhD? How do you choose a programme and keep from looking back? How do you keep close to the minimum submission date (or at least keep from going beyond the maximum submission date)? How do you balance work and study? I’d like to share a short series (in three installments) about my degree and my lessons learned. There are many resources out there for people doing PhDs, but I wasn’t able to find any that described my experience. I hope that this might help some others who are [metaphorical representation of your choice] a PhD. Before beginning, I’d just like to stress that these resonate with my personal experience (and with those of many of my friends), but won’t align with everyone’s circumstances.

The first installment is five pointers about what to do when applying to a programme.

Continue reading

Twitter’s reaction to the Benefits Britain live debate

Benefits Street was a series of television programmes broadcast by the Channel 4 outlet between 6th January and 10th February 2014 which, as Channel 4 have claimed, “sparked a national conversation about Britain’s welfare system”. The programme focussed on a community of people living in the economically deprived area of Winson Green, Birmingham and specifically documented the families and individuals that inhabit James Turner Street.

Following the series of pre-recorded, documentary-style programmes (the last episode of which was aired on 16th February 2014), Channel 4 hosted a live debate entitled Benefits Britain which featured a range of public figures and those who were documented in Benefits Street. This report looks at a set of data collected on the date on which the Benefits Britain debate aired (17th February 2014).


The data selected to analyse reaction to this series were Tweets, or short ‘micro-blogs’ that offer users the opportunity to voice their opinions and network with other viewers (e.g. using @ replies or # topics) in real-time. Tweets were collected from 00:00am on Sunday 16th February 2014 (the date of the final airing of Benefits Street) until 23:59pm on Saturday 22nd February 2014 (totalling one calendar week worth of Twitter data).

To do this, we used the Twitter API to collect any tweets which contained in their content any of the following terms (note: the terms are not case sensitive, so terms can contain upper or lower case words without affecting data collection):

  • Benefits Britain
  • #BenefitsBritain
  • James Turner
  • Benefits Street
  • #BenefitsStreet

This query returned 81,100 tweets which came in at a total of 1,501,938 words (tokens).



The #benefitsbritain hashtag was the most frequent token in the corpus featuring in 45,400 (3.02%) of all tweets. Channel 4 adopted the #BenefitsBritain hashtag immediately following the end of the Benefits Street programme which used the #BenefitsStreet hashtag, although this hashtag was used less (0.86%) of the time during the time in which the corpus was collected.

Several concerns are frequently expressed by users of the #BenefitsStreet hashtag. It was found that the word people is the most frequent ‘content word’ in tweets containing the #BenefitsBritain hashtag occurring in 15.2% of those tweets and occurs most frequently in the word cluster people on benefits. This cluster is associated with a number verbs including are, should, and have, which appears to be involved in ways of evaluating who people on benefits are as well as their (perceived) behaviours.

Who people on benefits are

Some appear to be challenging the stereotype that benefits claimants are workshy or lazy:

  • #benefitsbritain Some people on benefits are good people who’ve gone through a bad time not everyone on benefits are scumbags.
  • don’t think people should comment on things until they have been in that situation. Not all people on benefits are lazy etc!#BenefitsBritain
  • #BenefitsBritain am so annoyed that that show has stigmatised all people on benefits are scum when we all aren’t IT’S SO ANNOYING!!!!!

Some argue the absolute opposite:

  • #BenefitsBritain kiss my ass i think most people on benefits are lazy and need to get a damn job!!!! Cut all benefits for able bodies people

Or assume that claiming benefits is a result of a lack of skills or underlying criminality:

  • Half the people on benefits are unemployable stop there benefit and they commit crime and it costs more to imprison them #BenefitsBritain

And some are somewhat more ambivalent:

  • #BenefitsBritain Not all people on benefits are lazy, but if it becomes a lifestyle its dangerous territory, idle minds are the devils work.

What people on benefits do

In terms of evaluating what people on benefits do, a number users question the (perceived) behaviours of those claiming benefits:

  • Fail to see why some people on benefits are allowed to spend their money on drink, cigarettes and drugs #BenefitsBritain
  • watching the debate #BenefitsBritain most people on benefits have a criminal record now who wants to give them people a chance no one

Others propose possible restrictions on (perceived) social and spending behaviours:

  • Why don’t people on benefits have vouchers instead of money? Then they wouldn’t spend it on drink and drugs #BenefitsBritain
  • I stand by the fact that people on benefits should not have children when they cant afford to feed themselves. #BenefitsBritain
  • Agree with the guy who said people on benefits should be given food stamps #BenefitsBritain

Or suggest certain behavioural conditions be fulfilled in order to claim benefits:

  • People on benefits should be made to go out&do something before they get money volunteering or something!! #BenefitsBritain #BenefitsStreet
  • Active people on benefits should earn their benefits through voluntary work to assist the community #BenefitsBritain
  • People on benefits should only get paid if they do voluntary/training work. Then there is some progress in their lives. #BenefitsBritain

Some argue that people are workshy:

  • People on benefits have lacked the ability to work hard in education there for getting a low paid job or none at all #BenefitsBritain
  • #BenefitsBritain all people on benefits should get of their arse and work like the rest of us do everyday

Or have a grudge against those who work:

  • What is it that some people on benefits have against working class people who’ve been successful? #benefitsdebate #BenefitsBritain


Two specific names were also frequent in tweets using the #BenefitsBritain hashtag.

The first is the host of the Benefits Britain debate, Richard Bacon. Mainly, those who spoke about Bacon brought his abilities as a host into question. One of the more creative and less direct insults being:

  • Richard Bacon is a cross between Jeremy Kyle & Kilroy! @Channel4 would have been better off getting @rickedwards1 hosting #BenefitsBritain

The second person featuring frequent was (White) Dee, a prominent personality in the Benefits Street programme. Mainly, the response to her was positive. Although, there were some negative reactions:

  • #BenefitsBritain always the governments fault -what nonsense Dee will never look at herself and see what a lazy scroungers she is
  • My view on #BenefitsBritain Richard Bacon is a cock oh and White Dee is a sweaty lazy cow


Aside from the #BenefitsBritain hashtag, the next most frequent token in the corpus was the determiner ‘the’. The fourth most frequent token was the word ‘to’, which can be interpreted either as a preposition or as part of infinitive verbs. Looking at clusters in which to occurs revealed that in fact to occurred within a number of infinitive verb forms. I look here at the 3 most frequent: to be, to work, and to get, to see how infinitives work within the #BenefitsBritain tweet corpus and what ideas they are used to express.

To be

The infinitive verb to be was frequently found being used in a number of interesting ways.

Users were excited that the Benefits Debate was going to be interesting:

  • #BenefitsBritain this is going to be interesting!

And frequently challenged the stereotype that only poor people are drug addicts, as with this retweet:

  • ‘Billionaire’s Row residents are as likely to be drug addicts as people on Benefits Street’ says MP Chris Bryant

When found in the cluster need to be people and work again became central to debate:

  • Finally people talking about politics. Reality is we need to be paying people a living wage vote labour #benefitsstreet
  • Benefits is like a Government Drug. These people need to be weaned off the drug and get a job! #BenefitsBritain #BenefitStreet

To work

The infinitive to work not only most frequently occurs in the word cluster want to work, but is also closely associated with different ways of referring to people, either through pronouns (they, everyone, I), or the most frequent ‘content word’ in the corpus, people. As such, the formation want to work is found in tweets expressing general opinions about the desirability of work:

  • Some people do want to work but it’s not as simple sick people are getting harassed to work when they are not fit #BenefitsBritain
  • Majority of disabled and unemployed people want to work #BenefitsBritain #BenefitStreet
  • I am so sick of hearing, make work pay, incentivize people to work. People want to work. The jobs don’t pay a living wage #benefitsbritain

Moreover, want to work is strategically used in straw man arguments against the idea that people want to work:

  • These people clearly want to work? Really??? has he watched the same programme? #BenefitStreet #BenefitsBritain

And frequently collocates with the negative forms such as don’t, doesn’t in examples such as the following which express the idea that those people claiming benefits see work as undesirable:

  • Let’s be real most of the people on the programme don’t really want to work anyway #BenefitsBritainIf we’re being fair…there are also A LOT of people on benefits who definitely DON’T want to work… #BenefitsDebate #BenefitsBritain
  • #BenefitsStreet there is an inherent problem with some ppl in this country; they don’t want to work! Send them overseas; no benefits
  • #BenefitsBritain Not all people on benefits want to work just come #skelmersdale for the next series. Wont need no editing or bribes!!

To get

To get is the third most frequent infinitive verb formation and occurs most frequently in the phrase to get a job. Underpinning how this phrase is used is a moralised debate surrounding (un)employment which naturalises and elevates the status of employment and the employed and alienates and derides unemployment and the unemployed; having a job makes you good, having no job makes you bad. This is borne out by the data.

This includes talking about the difficulty of getting a job:

  • “#BenefitsBritain makes a lot of valid points, you need experience to get a job, you need experience to get experience! Can never win!”

Structural/political issues:

  • #benefitsstreet #BenefitsBritain is all the fault of #thatcher who closed everything down then #cameron who makes it difficult to get a job

And corruption:

  • #BenefitsBritain to get a job it’s not all what you know its who you know #thesystemsfucked

As well as reactions against pressure to work within a climate where work is hard to find:

  • These guys on Benefits Britain thinking it’s so easy to get a job. Get back to reality you stuck up twats! #BenefitsBritain #BenefitsStreet

However, most of the uses of the to get a job phrase target jobseekers and construct them in relation to prejudices and assumptions about the (un)employed:

  • Why is everyone too scared to stand up and say ‘work harder to get a job/off drugs/off drink’? #BenefitsBritain
  • #benefitsstreet this show makes me so angry.. Get off your fat ass and try to get a job instead of sponging off the country
  • Fuck this Benefits Street debate is making me angry. Lazy twats need to get a fucking job.
  • #BenefitsBritain kiss my ass i think most people on benefits are lazy and need to get a damn job!!!! Cut all benefits for able bodies people


This data highlights a kind of moralisation of (un)employment, where ideologies underpinning this moralisation are both reinforced and challenged. The data reveals a number of apparently stable linguistic formations used to talk about unemployed benefits claimants, which appear to have revealed aspects of the ideological underpinnings of the debate.