Research Seminar: Scripting the Nation: Crisis Celebrity, National Treasures and Welfare Imaginaries in the Pandemic

We are delighted to welcome Jessica Martin and Kim Allen (University of Leeds) to present this week’s School Research Seminar.


Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, celebrities occupied a highly contested space within the popular and political imaginary. Whilst the mass suffering unleashed by the pandemic led some to herald the death of celebrity culture, many celebrities also took part in fundraising initiatives, public health campaigns and philanthropic ventures, with some taking on the status of ‘national treasure’.

In this presentation, we consider two figures who gained particular luminosity as ‘Covid Heroes’ for their charitable and campaigning work during the pandemic: war veteran Sir Captain Tom Moore and footballer Marcus Rashford.

Through a discourse analysis of UK national newspaper articles and television documentaries, we examine what ideological work these celebrities perform within times of heightened crisis.

The paper expands upon Chris Greer and Eugene McLaughlin’s (2020) theorisation of the ‘national treasure’ as an ‘ideological assemblage’ by bringing this into conversation with scholarship on the hegemonic function of celebrity, including ‘celeb-philanthropy’, within contexts of welfare reform (Allen et al., 2014, 2015; Jensen & Tyler, 2015; Littler, 2015; Martin, 2022) and sociologies of race, ethnicity and nationalism (Gilroy, 2004; Hall, 1993; Valluvan, 2019; Virdee & McGeever, 2018).

Identifying how Rashford and Moore play a crucial role in what Stuart Hall (1993) called ‘scripting a national story’ within the pandemic, the paper highlights the significance of ‘crisis celebrity’ as a site of hegemonic struggle over national identity, welfare, deservingness and belonging. 

About the speakers

Jessica Martin is a Lecturer in Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Leeds. A feminist researcher, her interests include gender, class and representations of feminism in times of escalating inequalities, postfeminism, contemporary celebrity culture and social inequalities more broadly.

Kim Allen is an Associate Professor in Social Inequalities at the University of Leeds. A sociologist of youth and education, Kim’s research explores young people’s education-to-work transitions, inequalities of gender and class, and austerity cultures.