'The race for space': capitalism, the country and the city in Britain under Covid 19

Jilly Boyce Kay, Helen Wood*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article draws on the work of Raymond Williams (1973) to argue that under covid-19 the dominant ‘ways of seeing’ the countryside and the city in Britain have been a key way of obscuring the structural violence of capitalism through which the virus is experienced. Cultural narratives of ‘exodus’ from urban areas have abounded in British media, fuelling a material ‘race for space’ as the middle class rush to buy up rural properties. Across social media, the ‘cottagecore’ aesthetic has proliferated, offering privatised solutions to the crisis through nostalgic imagery of pastoral escape. Nineteenth century discourses of the city in which bodies become transcoded as ‘dirt’ were rearticulated: the racialized bodies of migrant workers were framed as ‘modern slaves’ in the ‘dark factories’ of Leicester; this became the nation’s ‘dirty secret’ which needed to be ‘rooted out’’ and blamed for the spread of the virus. We argue that these binary narratives and aesthetics of a bountiful, white countryside and an infested, racialized city are working to obscure the deep structural causes of poverty, inequality and immiseration. We develop Williams’s analysis to show how these cultural imaginaries also help to sustain the gendered and racialized division of labour under capitalism, arguing that the country-city distinction, and the material inequalities it obscures, ought to become a more central focus for cultural studies itself.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number2
Early online date24 Nov 2021
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2022


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