Author Archive

Extreme neoliberalism: Will Smith and mathematics

Written by Heather. Posted in News

Neoliberalism, the marketisation of everything, including ourselves, runs through our data. Indeed we’ve encountered several of examples of  ‘extreme neoliberalism’ where celebrities find ever more excessive and expressive ways to convince us that their wealth and success derive not from luck or privilege but from superhuman levels of hard work and self-transformation. In a recent example, US actor Matthew McConaughey used his Oscars speech to tell us that his hero is himself in ten years, writing his success as the result of endless striving. However, it is the actor, musician and celebrity dad Will Smith who continues to provide the most compelling examples of extreme neoliberalism. Memorably, he once assured us that his commitment to sickening hard work is such that he would rather die than get off a treadmill before someone else. In this post Heather focuses on her favourite example from Will Smith in which he claims that he can choose the answer to two plus two.

The Homeward Bound Campaign: Using celebrity culture to promote social justice issues

Written by Heather. Posted in News

No question, celebrity culture is fascinated with mothers and motherhood, from bad mums, good mums, reformed bad girl mums, out-of-control mothers, to the domineering ‘mumager’ and so on. Oftentimes, these images of celebrity mothers are shaped by gender, race and class ideologies; that makes some kinds of mothers more desirable or respectable than others, typically white, heterosexual, middle-class mothers. Celebrity motherhood has become big business too, as many women have created lifestyle brands using their mothering style as a selling feature (see Gwyneth Paltrow, Jessica Alba, Jessica Simpson, Tori Spelling, just to name a few). For some of these women, pregnancy became their ticket to public reformation; allowing them to transition from “bad girl” to “happy, fulfilled, doting mother”. However, many are also very critical of this celebration of celebrity motherhood for creating even more unrealistic standards/ideals for the average woman who does not have the privilege of being helped by a staff of nannies, cooks and trainers. In this guest post, Natasha Patterson explores what a new Canadian campaign to support single mothers, has to say about debates on celebrity motherhood and about parodying celebrity culture to promote women’s issues.

What do young people think of Beyoncé?

Written by Heather. Posted in News

beyonce 1This is the third of a series of posts exploring what the young people in our group interviews had to say about key global celebrities. Here Heather looks at the talk about singer and actor Beyoncé. Elsewhere on the website you can read what our participants had to say about Bill Gates and about Will Smith. If you’re interested in how we analysed our data to arrive at this account then follow this link, here I focus on how and why it appeared to be compulsory to like, even love, Beyoncé.

Celebrity Teachers? Tough Young Teachers, social class and inspiration

Written by Heather. Posted in News

We are now coming to the end of the reality TV series Tough Young Teachers. This show, screened by UK publicly-funded youth channel BBC Three, focuses on the lives of six beginning teachers in ‘challenging’ London schools. We see these new teachers taking their first lessons. We hear their frustrations and their triumphs. We follow their progress through the ups and downs of the year. This makes good television, as the number of excited tweets each week using #ToughYoungTeachers indicates. However, among the enthusiasm is a strand of critique and concern coordinated by TeacherROAR, for the show focuses not on any first year teachers but on those who enter teaching through a relatively small but rapidly expanding route into teaching: Teach First. Politically popular with both the Labour party and the Conservatives, Teach First brings many fantastic – mostly young – people into teaching. So why the resistance? While Michael Gove may see this as yet more evidence that many teachers are leftie ‘enemies of promise’ more interested in ideology than in supporting young people, in this post Heather shows why we really should be concerned about Teach First and its celebrity teachers.

Character, Values and Celebrity Culture

Written by Heather. Posted in News

Celebrities make the headlines with such regularity, you could be forgiven for concluding that as a society, we are completely obsessed by celebrity culture. We consistently volunteer an interest in the things celebrities do or say – particularly when their antics are less than admirable. There tends to be a sense of ambivalence about our attitudes towards celebrities: they are either adored or exalted; defended or attacked; glorified or demonised; derided or revered. In this guest blog post, Gary Walsh from Character Scotland, explores the relationship between young people, celebrity culture and character education.

Good Luck Laura and New CelebYouth Research Post

Written by Heather. Posted in News

At the end of February, our researcher Laura Harvey leaves her research post on the CelebYouth project to take up a permanent lectureship in sociology of media at Surrey University. Kim and I are really sorry to see her go but also feel very lucky to have worked closely with her over the last 16 and a half months. At an individual and project level, we have benefited enormously from her contributions. Happily Laura will continue to be involved in the project.

While she is irreplaceable, we are going to do our best and are advertising for a three month full-time researcher position from mid April to mid July to work with us. This person will have a focus on analysing the celebrity case study data but will also be involved in a wide range of other aspects of the work. If you’d like to apply or know anyone who might be interested in the job, the details are available through Brunel web recruitment: If you select School of Sport and Education under ‘category’ when you search, it should come up. It will be advertised on from tomorrow. This post may suit someone with a background in education, media studies, cultural studies or sociology. The deadline for applications is in a couple of weeks on 12th February. Do contact me at if you have any questions.

Burka Avenger: a new superhero?

Written by Heather. Posted in News

Young people are at the heart of the CelebYouth research, whose lives are surrounded by various cultural influences such as celebrities, music, video games and superheroes. In this post the project’s administrator Bazgha Sultana, explores a new female superhero ‘The Burka Avenger’. Superheroes are an iconic part of our culture and have a significant impact on children, young people, indeed on all of us. Many such as Iron Man and Batman featured in the young people’s celebrity talk, suggesting that these superheroes are extremely powerful and fascinating and give inspiration, protection and hope.

Our top posts of 2013

Written by Heather. Posted in News

As 2014 begins, we thought we’d borrow an idea from Sociological Imagination and look back on our top posts of 2013. There are many possible ways to measure this – most tweeted, shared on facebook, viewed, commented upon, etc., or some hybrid of these But we’ve kept it simple using the number of unique visitors as supplied by Google Analytics. The top 10 below, captures the CelebYouth mix of our own blogs and guest posts, covering the findings of the project, reflections on our methodology and on the experience of doing a research project more broadly, and discussions of education policy and celebrity culture.

In 10th place we have… 


  • School of Sport and Education, Brunel University
    Kingston Lane, Uxbridge, Middlesex, UB8 3PH


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