Folk Opposition

Folk Opposition

From Ridley Scott to Raoul Moat: why the left must recapture the imagination of the British folk populace.


For David Cameron and Big Society Tories, folk culture means organic food, nu-folk pop music, and pastoral myths of Englishness. Meanwhile, postmodern liberal culture teaches us that talking about a singular folk is reductive at best, neo-fascist at worst. But what is being held in check by this consensus against the possibility of a unified, oppositional, populist identity taking root in modern Britain?

Folk Opposition explores a renewed contemporary divide between rulers and ruled, between a powerful elite and a disempowered populace. Using a series of examples, from folk music to football supporters’ trusts, from Raoul Moat to Ridley Scott, it argues that anti-establishment populism remains a powerful force in British culture, and asserts that the left must recapture this cultural territory from the far right as it begins to rebuild democratic representation from the bottom up.


"... eminently readable, highly intelligent, and attractively wide-ranging. And the slagging off [of me] is well justified."

~ Terry Eagleton, Distinguished Professor of English Literature at the Universities of Lancaster and Notre Dame

"While an invaluable new contribution to the progressive patriotism debate, Alex Nivens Folk Opposition not only has a brilliant title (there must be a 2012 T-shirt idea in that??) but also provides a much needed critique of the cosily pastoral versions of Englishness that an oppositionalist alternative requires too."

~ Mark Perryman, Philosophy Football/Socialist Unity

"At the heart of Folk Opposition ... is a call for the left to look to folk identity as inspiration for new networks of working class solidarity. It’s an important suggestion, and one that recognises the metropolitan left’s chronic inability to connect with life outside the M25 ... Niven’s book is also a lament for the theft of folk culture – co-opted as it has been by an acutely southern elite ... As Niven says, the lionisation of this painfully upper middle class clique is indicative of the fact that we apparently care neither about the creative industries being dominated by the offensively moneyed, nor about the fact that they are currently amusing themselves by siphoning through the rubble of English heritage in order to find something marketable."

~ Josh Hall, The Line of Best Fit

"... one of 2011s most incisive polemics ... In the broadsheet supplements, the cultural drift towards the homespun and quaint is painted as a politely political riposte to the commercial homogenisation of Britain. Alex Nivens Folk Opposition exposes this attitude as naïve, presenting the current fad for the pastoral, too often conceived of as a miraculous de-alienation of work, as an excuse for failing to attend to complex ideological issues ... [Nivens] writing riles energetically against the fanciful ConDem grand narrative, which assumes that the (apparently inexorably) worsening economic crisis can be weathered so long as we keep faith in Great British Values like, well, unremunerated volunteerism on heritage railways and eating bacon cut from that pig down the road that your children used to believe was Babe."

~ Joe Kennedy, The Quietus

"... a provocative, timely, and moving work ... it seems to avoid the potential risk of merely ratifying defeat as the ground of new forms of struggle, and of the linked danger of simply dismissing the limits of past forms of struggle. It also has the benefit of trying to work through the relation of the empirical working class to the idea of the proletariat (or other political form of left agency), while avoiding condescension and hostility to that actually-existing working class ..."

~ Benjamin Noys, No Useless Leniency

"Why do we recoil from the word ‘folk?’ The term’s closeness to Hitler’s ‘Volk’ easily transports us into fear of the uniform crowd. Yet there is another vision it invokes: that of a pastoral idyll, blushing milkmaids and lads with beer tankards, as off-putting as our notion that anyone concerned with ‘folksiness’ is certain to be a cardigan-wearing, vinyl-playing peace-pusher. Alex Niven’s Folk Opposition can be read as an 81-page rebuttal to these knee-jerk reactions by way of careful historicisation and incisive cultural analysis." ~ Niki Seth-Smith, Public Policy Research

"Intellectual Rock Stars and Philosophical Princes of Darkness out to wrest the mantle of More Theoretically-Anti-Humanist-Than-Thou are themselves rather a stale tradition, and the virtue of [Folk Opposition] is that rather than worrying after some transformative subjectivity which will bring about the post-Capitalist transition, its significantly more interesting, and genuinely more Socialist, in its basic humility. Where are interesting things happening? Where and what are the resurgent vestiges of communalism and mutualism and how are these to be supported and encouraged, to what extent should actually existent and emergent practices lead the way rather than a top-down theoretical models that ultimately produce little more than a flurry of intellectually gratifying debate. The books call, effectively, is for intellectualism to be a handmaiden to grassroots movements."

~ Carl Neville, The Impostume

"... this book seems to potentially touch upon something that has interested me for some time. A reawakening of mass solidarity that the papers and ruling elite have been so successfully preoccupied with destroying for years upon years, a force which looks like becoming increasingly weaker as communities come together as a dominant power outside of the propaganda machines that have been so effective in making us all despise each other for decades."

~ David Lichfield, charity worker, Newton Aycliffe

"There is a better future and Alex Niven draws inspiration from the past to show us how to get there. David Cameron's wrong, we're not all in this together. But most of us could be."

~ Kevin Maguire, New Statesman / Daily Mirror

"A fascinating and knowledgeable writer who accurately dissects the cultural tensions and uncertainties that define his generation and mine."

~ Robin Carmody, Sea Songs

"Perfect timing and spot on. It's a relief to have such a worthy and passionate advocate for the north who sees through the 'apocalypse of shit' (to quote La Grande Bouffe) we've been deluged with for so long."

~ Tom Pickard, Poet

Alex Niven
Alex Niven Alex Niven was born in Northumberland in 1984. He is currently writing a D.Phil on the poet Basil Bunting at St John's College, Oxford. A fo...
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