Notes on: Clarke, J.  Critcher, C., Johnson, R.  (eds) (1979) Working Class Culture: Studies in history and theory.  London: Hutchinson.

Dave Harris

There is a need to break with or reform past separations—between the past and the present, the theoretical and empirical, history and society, the cultural and the not cultural.

Chapter one Critcher 'Society, cultural studies and the postwar working class'

Sociologies of working class culture tend to overemphasise their passivity.  For example Young and Willmott 'appropriate working class culture in terms of a discrete sociological variable: in this case the family' (14), and Jackson and Marsden can be accused of the same reduction in the case of education, Hoggart as well in the case of the mass media.  No account was taken of the background of redevelopment of the East End in the first study, for example.  As a results, the 'crisis to which these texts [address]... is essentially that of a group of social democratic intellectuals faced with the contention that capitalism works'(15) [I think this applies to CCCS work too].  The discussion and criticism of the affluent worker approach follows.  Instead, we need to reassert the 'relation between…  changes in material life and the forms of working class consciousness and culture' (15).  There is a rational core or real basis to the culture of the affluent workers. 

Social democratic analysts failed to theorise capitalism was to disentangle the real from the superficial aspects of working class culture, because they were committed to an empiricist approach.  Nevertheless, the working class was rediscovered, but by 'scholarship boys and girls', in a move which was 'crucial to their own identity' (17).  Nevertheless, working class identity remained as a problem, a part of a more general set of problems arising from the 'crisis in social democratic thought'.  Some examples of chosen texts follow:

The Uses of Literacy.  This text resonated with left wing intellectuals with its critique of the quality of modern life and its concern with 'cultural classlessness'.  However, the methods can be criticised, and so can its defensiveness.  It is essentially a mass culture thesis, with links to Leavis and Elliott, but with an inversion of their claims: the real culture of the folk is urban and working class.  There is some circularity between the working class and its culture.  Militants are seen as 'atypical'.  It does penetrate to the notion of shared cultural meanings, and gives a sense of cultural struggle, but also displays political limitations and offers the danger of an 'eternal working class weltanschauung' (20).  However, it gives a better picture than embourgeoisment theories, and is preferable to sociological work on isolated aspects like attitudes and variables—a list culture is dynamic.

Coal is Our Life.  This comes out of the community studies tradition which usually operates with Fabian notions of social policy rather than attempting to explain working class culture directly.  This book is an exception because it does look at a structural context and at notions of ideology—'the expression of the class as representations of structural situations' (22).  The characteristics of a miner's life can be seen as a response to the wage system.  However, there is no self conscious method.  Bringing in women and families does show the connections between community and the 'broader national set of apparatuses or ideological fields' (23).

The rediscovery of poverty, associated with Titmuss and others can be seen as a theme in Coates and Silburn[?] Poverty: the Forgotten Englishmen.  This attacks the affluent worker thesis using a better method, although it is positivist.  There are examples of fine writing [talk up].  It focuses on structural deprivation and culture, and denies that the poor can be seen as lumpenproletarians: it is poverty that produces conservative effects, and also a poverty of cultural resources.  Elements of fascism and racism are also consequences.

The Affluent Worker studies [summarized well 28f].  The authors operate with a notion of a traditional working class that seems to be based more on sociology rather than history, and so never acts as a real benchmark, but rather as a 'clumsy post hoc generalization…  That tends to essentialism' (31).  The methods used operate with surface data only.  There are no data on families or workplaces, and this misses an important gap between generalized and localized attitudes.  The analysis is too literal, and develops ideal types.  It's not clear whether instrumentalism is always an option, and whether it is a cause or an effect of [social] privatization.  The definition of classes arises from a fusion of Marxism and sociology, and shows the authors have 'dip[ped] into a ragbag of concepts when confronted by empirical material requiring explanation' (33).  They display a 'failure of theoretical nerve', and really need to break from the 'self enclosed discipline of sociology…  into Marxism' (34).

Towards Socialism marks an important break, also indicated from the change from Universities and Left Review to New Left Review.  The volume includes debates and contributions from Hall and EP Thompson in terms of the relations between class consciousness and 'objective forces' (35), and this leads to Westergaard's criticisms of the old left orthodoxy about white collar work as well [as a conservative factor?] .  Anderson talks about crisis as an historical event, Williams on working class culture is a basic collective idea rather than individualist. The notion of a global class struggle appears, and this helps introduce Gramsci as providing a suitable set of theoretical concepts, for example hegemonic as opposed to corporate class consciousness.  This is supplied by Williams in a rather ideological way, however, as a failure of the working class to impose their own values.  Nairn discusses the need to break with the Labour Party, since historical analysis shows a failure of adequate theories emerging from Labour.  Labour has become the problem, and we need to dethrone it as the judge of the adequacy of working class culture.

Johnson, R.  Culture and the Historians

This discusses the impact of the theoretical debates between Althusser and Gramsci on labour history.  We can see a 'crisis in hegemony' developing in the late 1880s and 1890s (43), and a search for a new settlement especially to take account of the emerging labour movement.  This led to an interest in economic history, however, rather than tracing the development to the economy itself.  For example the history of social institutions undertaken by Fabian campaigners, including history or trade unions, local government, voluntary associations and the Labour Party.  This offered moralistic and instrumental accounts rather than exploring the lived dimensions of working class life, because of  'no feeling for the rank and file'. This is not surprising, since these were middle class intellectuals, and conventional political organizations were the focus: those organizations also acted as 'the only ground of a more or less equal encounter' (47).  [People like Williams and Thomson were to find this ground in adult education, and some later lefties in the idealised Open University].  There was also an [imagined?] 'contemporaneous relationship between the writers and those of whom they wrote' (47).

There were exceptions, however, such as the Hammonds who were 'so critical…  of the culture of their own class…  that they were able to stand quite outside it and see the rationality of popular responses'[just what a lot of university radicals need to do]

In the 1970s, there was the rediscovery and the emergence of debates about Marxism, largely through the work of Cole, who had criticized humanist Marxism as metaphysical.  This led to a vague economic determinism instead. However, there was little substantive connection with Cole's history, although there was some use of his narrative, especially to criticize Althusser (51).  This was because many of Cole's books were actually written for a popular audience and for adult education courses.  There are ambiguities as well, for example the largely mechanical relations of the state of the economy and political responses so that affluence led to reformism, while depression led to revolt, with no cultural mediations. 

We can then examine the tradition of Communist Party historians of the 1950s, including Dobb and Torr (54f).  They are for the rich understanding of the complexity of economic determinism, but offer very little on political or ideological specifics, which were seen as representing social classes directly.  But they did examine culture, and it was exciting writing.  However, there was a focus on leaders, while the class itself was seen as a combination of 'elemental forces plus juntas'(58).

Hoggart and Williams did most to reclaim the notion of culture, and the emergence of working class intellectuals helped the Left overcome their anxieties.  They saw the 'importance of adult and working class education as an arena in which these relations were worked out' (59).  Their own work on popular culture saw it as 'proto-political', as a primitive, archaic or transitional form of social protest [and E.P. Thompson's Making... is included in this].  In the 1970s, the same notions were applied to the present forms of protest.  However, the work also returned to Lenin and his contributions on the notion of the labour aristocracy: 'It has therefore been necessary [!] for a new cohort to retrace that path…  out of Hobsbawm and into an encounter with Gramsci '[poor Gramsci!  Everyone has to be forced to read him!].  However these new histories were just added to the old ones and did not transform them.  Perhaps it was easier to break with the old conceptions using the new grounds rather than the familiar ones, but working class culture was often assumed to be familiar, homogeneous rather than fragmented, and divisions like that between the public and private were accepted as natural.  The new interest in notions like political and ideological levels, and in more detailed research, lead to a focus on experience, especially of the oppressed, and an emphasis on 'ethical humanism'(65).  We can detect similar trends in sociology.

An adequate history of the future requires a break with the old conceptions not a new empiricism, and must not evade theoretical challenges.  The latter emerged from the New Left Review's project to import books on continental Marxism.  Gramsci was rapidly assimilated, but simplified, as in the work on the different problematics.  Althusser's work led to debates within Marxism, but it still looks asymmetric, with no proper theory of culture as such, as a whole.  This split in British Marxism deepened, with Thomson and Williams seen as 'cultural Marxists', and those influenced by Althusser as 'structuralists'.  This led to the work on problematics [Hall?].  The rejection of the claim that structuralism was more scientific than culturalism lead to a proliferation of positions rather than a synthesis.  However, structuralism remained as important, with its  emphasis on forces rather than experiences, and this led to problems of terminology: 'culture' was too general, as was the 'working class', and there was a tendency to reduce experience to class.  Working solutions to these dilemmas led to the decision to continue to study with the best means available; to carry on as culturalists with acknowledgement of the limitations; or to merge the two and attempt synthesis.  [Johnson's gloss on Gramsci in this discussion suggests that '"hegemony" is in effect Althusser's "reproduction"; but…  without the functionalism…  The normal state…  is a state of massive disjunctions and unevenness, for example from "survivals"' 233]

Johnson, R.  'Really Useful Knowledge': radical education and working class culture 1790-1848.

[Note that this particular version with its pagination appears as chapter one in Dale, R. et al. (eds) (1981) Education and the State vol 2: Politics, Patriarchy and Practice, Basingstoke: Falmer/Open University Press]

Work like EP Thompson's shows the persistence of a number of popular educational traditions, including radical press, local associations, and families.  With the press, there was still the distance between the writers and the audience, and this probably influenced the (un)popularity of particular types of radicalism.

The radical dilemma focused on education.  On the one hand, there was criticism of 'provided' education, including those proposals made by the state, which radicals opposed.  However, this led to struggles to generate a more general understanding and a practical grasp of the issues.  Radicals also developed alternative educational goals, generally based around the notion of 'really useful knowledge'.  The development of education was seen as a political strategy [by both sides?].  There was also quite a 'vigorous and varied' range of educational practice at the time.  Adult education was provided mostly to educate parents, but there was no real distinction between adult and other forms of education before the development of the 'middle class culture of childhood'.

The typical part of the dilemma was that knowledge was widely sought as a use-value, but the poverty of existing resources, both quantitative and qualitative, led to struggle about the growth of facilities.  Education promised liberation, but it also threatened subjection (5).  Some of it seemed to offer useless knowledge, supporting the tyranny of factory owners or priests.  This led to people like Paine and Cobbett deriding school routine and opposing the 'ideology and rationale of schooling by which all evils were ascribed to "popular ignorance"' (6).  Even the most promising new forms of the 1830s, including Mechanics Institutes and other schools, some provided by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, were suspect and this led to parodies of the useful knowledge they offered.  Instead, radicals tended to rely on their own collective enterprise—genuinely radical education for Johnson.

Radicals addressed the issue of the form of education, whether it should be informal, and this led to proposals by Owen for counter institutions.  Educational pursuits were not to be separated in separate organizations, but were to be seen as improvised, ephemeral.  Education was not the same as school.  We could find knowledge in books, but it was also available in nature and from life, and this was the basis for a whole struggle and contestation about educational policy.  These resources were outside the control of capital.  For example, literacy could be developed in families, neighbourhoods, in workplace discussions, even in Sunday schools.  The radical press was to play a role.  There were travelling lecturers and educational networks.  However, these were limited and fragile so that the 'working class intellectual was (and is) a rare creation' (8).

The radical press was the epitome of radical education.  It got particularly closely linked to Chartism.  It was a very flexible medium, and could be read again and again, or read aloud to different levels in the audience.  One example was the Northern Star, a journal which also provides the best source of Chartist thought.  However, it also had genuinely educational content, containing reviews, notices of lecturers, criticisms of schools and schoolmasters and discussion of new provisions such as Sunday schools.  It was in the business of enlightenment.

A major theme in the content provided turned on the notion of really useful knowledge.  This notion opposed capitalist conceptions of utility, recreation and diversion.  Real knowledge was practical and relevant to experienced problems of life.  There was no time for 'wilful abstractness or abstruseness, a failure to speak plainly' (9).  Preaching was opposed, and the demand expressed for intellectual work 'for us'.  Education was to be comprehensive in every sense, not 'confined by monopoly or control'.  Yet useful knowledge was never just pragmatic—'knowledge was not just a political instrument; the search for "truth" matters' (10). 

There were priorities, though, especially the struggle for emancipation.  This involved an interest in political knowledge.  Paine was still popular, but the state was different in the 1830s, taking more of a role in disciplining capitals and accumulation, and attacking the defences of the poor rather than pursuing notions of natural rights [as a modernizing strategy, as in America].  Natural rights became focused on power struggles between property and the working classes, not between the aristocrats and the people as in Paine.  Issues like mobilizing actual majorities and forming actual groups became important.  Useful knowledge also required an understanding of social science, based on the rights of man, populism, and the class nature of the state.  Owenism offered analyses of community and the origins of altruism, arising after education.  The Cooperative Society was based on reason as a contrast to capitalist irrationality: this arose because nasty institutions corrupt people and can affect socialization.  Reason also led to opposition to the family, school, and church.  Finally, knowledge of economics was required to understand poverty and exploitation.  Conventional economics saw profits as a tax, capital as a mere factor in production, and any exploitation as arising from exchange.  Cooperation would cut out the middleman.  Again, reasonable combinations of [or possibly substitutions for] exchange, class and the state, and domination would produce better characters as a social effect.

Other elements in useful knowledge included science and literature.  Owen's ideas on education were remarkably progressive, for example by seeing the idea of a skill much more widely, to include mind and body.  This provided a role for a book learning as well as developments in competence required to make a living.  Current state education was seen as offering the opposite of useful knowledge—knowledge is abstracted from its context and teaching was coercive.  Owen advocated local skills to make a living, for example helping farm labourers develop husbandry and engage in a 'cottage economy'.  He denied that ignorance just arose from illiteracy, and debunked the educated as literate but still unwise.  Literacy was important, to defend the poor against the literate rich [Cobbett is the main example here], but efforts to develop it would limited to the limited horizons of the small producer and the family.  However, at least this made it based directly on experience.

The real problem was the monopoly on or distortion of knowledge as a feature of capitalism.  This included protecting the 'secrets of the trade', and this in turn produced an early splits between mental and manual labour.  An emphasis on science would be more productive, and this was being argued in 1832 (15).  Political or moral science on the other hand was seen as apologetic.  Cooperative activity was a way out, helping to unify split roles, and to properly reclaim knowledge that was restricted in capitalism.

The popularity of these ideas can be assessed by looking at the growth of Chartism.  That movement did feature local leadership, and there were activist intellectuals deliberately out to educate members.  Gramsci's notion of the organic intellectual is useful here.  But how organic were Chartist intellectuals?  There was a close relation 1816 - 40s, seen for example in the class origin of Chartist leaders, which was mostly indigenous (16): however, there were very 'few open roads to cooption' for intellectuals anyway (16).  The extent of organicism can also be tested by the links between theory and practice, according to Gramsci, on whether theory is based on problems in experience.  19th century radicals did qualify on this text as well, although again there was no other rival source of socialist theory, with the possible exception of Paine.  Radicals formed loose organisations, so they were not so open to bureaucratic alienation, and this preserved a useful informality, and a mix of non academic bits.

Clarke, J.  Capital and culture: the working class revisited

The affluent worker should be seen as produced by a specific transformation rather than as a general trend.  It seems to be capital derivationist any way.  We need to consider the political and the ideological as forms in which economic struggles are fought out etc.  What has happened is a Fordist form of capital accumulation has led to deskilling and the growth of service industries; geographical shifts and instructions of locality; cultural changes such as those which undermine working class community [Cohen is cited here, presumably P. Cohen on skinheads?].  We have to remember however that those communities have many forms rather than one classic archetypal one.  This form of capital accumulation has lead to problems as well which include working class apathy, which have produced as a response 'community work, community skills, community liaison' (240).  Educational expansion involves political and ideological interpellation through notions of equality and achievement, and this shows the extent of negotiation around provision provided by capital.  We can see the emergence of youth sub cultures also as a representational consequence, again this shows the cultural variability of affluence.  Changes in family patterns have arisen through a double subordination of women in both family and labour markets, and this in turn has led to an increased attempts to police child rearing: social reconstruction is seen as enshrining the ideal nuclear family.  Changes in shopping have produced the rise of the consumer: even pubs now 'interpellate a new identity for the drinker—that of "consumer" rather than "member"' (245).  It is these changes in marketing and consumerism that have produced affluence, not political practices and changes.  The recomposition involved includes adding ethnic labour on top of an already subdivided working class, and reinforcing divisions such as those between roughs and respectables, although these are now threatened by standardisation (247).

So there has been a variety of processes at the e.p. and i. levels, and these produced a cultural transition from one uneven ensemble to another.  Continuities with the past include persisting shopfloor solidarity, as in Willis [below] , since the wage relation persists.  However there have been struggles around the resources for resistance and struggles over skill, which produced new solidarities and foci of resistance, such as struggles against the machine rather than the foreman, scorn for scientists as much as capitalists, the emergence of shopfloor wage bargaining.

There is also more variety in cultural reproduction, together with greater attempts at articulation, which have led, for example to different specific lived experiences of the relation between home and work (249).  A continuity here is provided by the sexual division of labour, both in work and in terms of concepts such as respectability, or links to working class resistance.  Leisure has been standardized and desegregated.  Reconstructed femininity serves as a stimulus to consumption.  This has affected the quality of reproduction, and led to more [social, personal] privatization. Locality also persists, even for youth, as a metaphor for change and resistance—for example used by older workers to discuss the impact of migrant labour [with a reference to Policing…].

The working class has been addressed in a number of voices—as the nation, as the bearer of traditional values in Thatcherism, by various 'sub ensembles' of the ideological repertoire.  As a result, there is no homogeneous entity, and constant requirements for transformation.

Blanch, M.  Imperialism, nationalism and youth

Policing youth is part of a general attempt to manage working class culture 1890-1918, especially through notions of imperialism and nationalism.  Some historical material on youth symbolics appears on page 104 F.  There was an attempt to organize youth to combat in discipline, to respectabilize  and delocalize them, to reconstitute them as divisions within a nation rather than as a class.  Detailed analysis ensues, for example of the Boys' Brigade and the reactions it attracted from rough and unskilled working class members: this is a classic example of an 'attempted resocialization', which paradoxically put off the unskilled in particular, and which showed uneven responses according to class and gender [same with Scouts] .  Nevertheless, such attempts did have an effect especially when combined with the schools and the press, which featured similar ideologies: national efficiency and fitness, authority and hierarchy, the need to deal with outside enemies.  The convergence between these networks of school and church did provide a sort of unity which did affect the working classes.  We can see them supporting nationalist parties, and even joining adult organisations like the Territorial Army, and, of course, enrolling in 1914 to 18.

Taylor, P. Daughters and mothers—maids and mistresses: domestic service between the wars

There was a boom in domestic service in the 1930s, and this was important in reproducing conservative attitudes.  The practice had attracted both cultural and ideological support, for example in managing [generational?] transitions from family to family.  This chapter is based on 40 personal accounts of what domestic service was like.  Poverty was clearly a factor in persuading people to become domestic servants.  The demand for them mostly arose from an Edwardian interest in conspicuous consumption.  The families of origin were often harsh for the girls, who had to obey their mothers: this was as a kind of training for service producing 'instinctive obedience'.  Childhood ended early for these girls.  They were socialized into the family where they worked and into relations with their employers.  Their mothers deferred to their employers.  The employers themselves maintained a strong distance between them and working class culture, policing habits of appearance and speech.  They tended to address servants as if they were children or animals, using particular tones of voice and methods of address, including a kindly or hectoring tone (further examples 134), and this effectively excluded them at the same time.  Responses were varied, from full acquiescence, to various elements of resistance.  The latter was particularly common among those who had never been keen to be domestic servants, who were bright or radical: it often took the form of 'answering back'.  Domestic servants did commonly see themselves as being exploited.  The whole analysis shows how underlying class relations can take on extra forms of subordination [in particular occupations].

Wild, P.  Recreation in Rochdale 1900-40

There is early evidence of the penetration of capitalism, such as the rise of the dance hall and the cinema to replace the pub, music hall and chapel.  There was also the development of holidays.  Cinemas actually change their patterns of ownership, and these even developed super cinemas.  The new forms of recreation involve 'limited commitment and an essentially casual usage' (159), and developed around more specialized functions and premises, permitting concentration and centralization.  There was some potential for reappropriation, however, but generally, the developments show that there was now an important stake for capital in the private sphere.

Willis, P.  Shopfloor culture: masculinity and the wage form

We need an anthropological definition of culture, and to see that work is at the heart of lived culture in Britain.  Cultural discourses work through the direct experiences of production.  These affect the whole culture, for males at least.  Work dispossessed its people, it's boring, and this leads to a search for meaning, as an exercise of skill for example [I have recorded lots of talking up, page 188].  To survive is seen as a demonstration of bravery, pride and masculinity, even in light jobs.  Pride involves managing the task and the machinery, through skill and competence.  There is often a struggle to gain informal control, collectively and to win or fiddle [developed well in de Certeau].  You also need to cope on the shopfloor in using language, coping with jokes, especially practical jokes.  The emphasis is on practice, with the disdain for theory, supported by lots of apocryphal stories [some of these appear in Learning to Labour—come to think of it, this might be a chapter in that book!]: This is a partial recognition of the hollowness of much theory, and also that labour is treated as a commodity, but also as a special one—and this leads to some criticisms of the wage form.

The whole culture appears as 'naturally' male.  Labour is empty of any stigma for concern the outside, so a 'transformed patriarchy has filled it with significance from the inside' (198).  This explains the other elements.  Jobs become the property of proper men rather than the logic of the production system, masculinity is a matter of becoming rather than being, confined to women (197).  This stance is also influence trade unions struggle, with its stories of bluff, conflict, short termism, and openness to being bought off or symbolically placated.  The whole stance arises from the 'interlocked grip of masculinity and the wage form'.

more social theory