The twenty-first century is an era increasingly being dominated by the logics of the neoliberal market, which goes accompanied by a declining welfare state and the subsequent emergence of the participatory society, all of which together lead to the paradoxical effect of a growing rather than a decreasing, new kind of poverty: debts. However, this ‘neoliberal poverty’ that debts are, is structurally made invisible through the strategy of depoliticization that favors this participatory policy. A contemporary and increasingly popular way of executing this strategy throughout the media, is the genre that British scholars labelled ‘poverty porn’, that upholds an anti-welfare message through representing poverty in a stigmatized, stereotypical, and individualized manner that neglects important structural causes of poverty. The case of the Dutch documentary series ‘Schuldig’ about people in debts in a neighborhood of Amsterdam, challenges this logic due to an approach that seems to offer an alternative to poverty porn and was acclaimed by many. Moreover, the series has contributed to opening up a public and political debate that effectively seems to tackle poverty. Goal of the current study is to examine the precise formula of Schuldig, through answering the research question ‘In light of conventional media representations of poverty, what makes the case of Schuldig a relatively novel and unique discourse about poverty?’, through the implementation of a discourse analysis on newspaper coverage on Schuldig as well as on the series itself. Starting from concrete elements that are evidence of the concept of poverty porn and the discourse of neoliberalism and participatory society, findings of the analyses show that the series Schuldig has adopted elements of poverty porn in such a way that it transforms so-called ‘judgement shots’, aimed to evoke moral disgust, into the conveyance of a message that favors the poor. Using the rhetoric of dissociating, “self-Othering”, the addition of context, and a multifaceted view of the poor, the case shows that the concept of poverty porn is not simply a black versus white issue, but can be implemented in more elaborate ways in order to foster a diverse debate that can lead to political and societal change. Moreover, with these findings, the case of Schuldig delivers a relevant contribution not only to the dominant portrayal of poverty, poverty porn, but also it sheds new light on more conventional media framing of poverty such as Iyengar’s thematic and episodic framing, and the Othering framing as posed by Krumer-Nevo and Benjamin (2010).

Additional Metadata
Keywords media, culture, society, neoliberalism, participatory society, depoliticization, poverty porn, Othering
Thesis Advisor I. Awad Cherit
Persistent URL
Series Media, Culture & Society
I. Rots. (2018, June 25). Guilty and in debts: Who is paying the bill? A qualitative content analysis of the portrayal of poverty in the documentary series ‘Schuldig’. Media, Culture & Society. Retrieved from