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					                                          The Uses of Literacy
                                                Richard Hoggart

     In deciding who would be “the working-classes” for the purposes of this survey my problem, as I saw
it, was this: the mass publications from which I draw most of my evidence affect far more than those
working-class groups of which I have a close knowledge; in fact, in so far as they tend to be “classless”
publications, they affect all classes in society. But in order to discuss the way in which these publications
affect attitudes, and to avoid the vagueness which almost inevitably results from talking about “the
common people,” it was necessary to find a focus. I have therefore taken one fairly homogeneous group of
working-class people, have tried to evoke the atmosphere, the quality, of their lives by describing their
setting and their attitudes. Against this background may be seen how the much more generally diffused
appeals of the mass publications connect with commonly accepted attitudes, how they are altering those
attitudes and how they are meeting resistance. Unless I am much mistaken, the attitudes described in this
first part will be sufficiently shared by many other groups which go to make up “the common people,” to
give the analysis a wider relevance. In particular, many of the attitudes I describe as “working-class” might
also be attributed to what are often called the “lower middle-classes.” I cannot see how this kind of
overlapping is to be avoided, and hope readers will feel, as I do, that it does not weaken the main lines of
my argument.
     The setting and the evidence as to attitudes are drawn mainly from experience in the urban North,
from a childhood during the ’twenties and ’thirties and an almost continuous if somewhat different kind of
contact since then.
     I admitted earlier that working-class people probably do not feel themselves to be members of a
“lower” group as strongly as they did a generation or two ago. Yet those I have in mind still to a
considerable extent retain a sense of being in a group of their own, and this without there being necessarily
implied any feeling of inferiority or pride; they feel rather that they are “working-class” in the things they
admire and dislike, in “belonging.” Such a distinction does not go far, but it is important; others may be
added, none of them definitive but each of them helping to give the greater degree of definition which is
needed.
    The “working-classes” described here live in districts such as Hunslet (Leeds), Ancoats (Manchester),
Brightside and Attercliffe (Sheffield), and off the Hessle and Holderness Roads (Hull). My fullest
experience is of those who live in the miles of smoking and huddled working-class houses in Leeds. Such
people have their own recognisable parts of the towns; they have, almost city by city, their own
recognisable styles of housing--back-to- backs here or tunnel-backs there; their houses are usually rented,
not owned. They are increasingly being moved on to the new estates now, but this does not seem to me at
present to affect strongly my main contentions as to their attitudes.
     Most of the employed inhabitants of these areas work for a wage, not a salary, and the wage is paid
weekly: most have no other sources of income. Some are self-employed; they may keep a small shop for
members of the group to which, culturally, they belong or supply a service to the group, for example as a
“cobbler,” “barber,” “grocer,” “bike-mender” or “cast-off clothing dealer.” One cannot firmly distinguish
workers from others by the amount of money earned, since there are enormous variations in wages among
working-class people; and most steel-workers, for instance, are plainly working-class people; though some
earn more than many teachers who are not. But I suppose that in most of the families described here a
wage of about £9 and £10 a week for the chief wage-earner, at 1954 rates, would be regarded as roughly
normal.
     Most of them were educated at what ought now to be called a secondary modern school, but is still
popularly known as “elementary” school. In occupation they are usually labourers, skilled or unskilled, or
craftsmen and perhaps apprentice-trained. This loose boundary includes, therefore, men who do what used
to be called “navvying” and other outdoor manual work, commercial and public transport workers, men
and girls on routine jobs in factories, as well as skilled tradesmen, from plumbers to those who perform the
more difficult tasks in heavy industries. Foremen are included, but office-clerks and employees in large
shops, though they may live in these areas, are on the whole better regarded as members of the lower
middle-classes.
     Since this essay is concerned with cultural change, my main means of definition will be less tangible
features of a working-class way of life than those named above. Speech will indicate a great deal, in
particular the host of phrases in common use. Manners of speaking, the use of urban dialects, accents and
intonations, could probably indicate even more. There is the cracked but warm-hearted voice, slightly
spitting through all-too-regular false teeth, of some women in their forties. The comedians often adopt it; it
suggests a heart which, without illusions or regrets about life, is nevertheless in the right place. There is a
husky voice which I have often heard, and heard only there, among working-class girls of the rougher sort;
it is known among the more “respectable” working-classes as a “common” voice. But unfortunately, I have
not sufficient knowledge to pursue this examination of manners of speaking.
     Cheap mass-produced clothing has reduced the immediately recognisable differences between classes,
but not as greatly as many think. A Saturday-night crowd leaving the cinemas in the city center may look
superficially one. A closer glance from an expert of either sex, from a middle-class woman or a man
particularly conscious of clothes, will usually be sufficient even nowadays for them to “place” most people
around them.
     There are thousands of other items from daily experience which, as will be seen, help to distinguish
this recognisably working-class life, such as the habit of paying out money in small instalments over
month after month; or the fact that, for as long as anyone except the old can now remember, almost every
worker has been on the “panel” at the local doctor’s, and so on.
    To isolate the working-classes in this rough way is not to forget the great number of differences, the
subtle shades, the class distinctions, within the working-classes themselves. To the inhabitants there is a
fine range of distinctions in prestige from street to street. Inside the single streets there are elaborate
differences of status, of “standing,” between the houses themselves; this is a slightly better house because
it has a separate kitchen, or is at the terrace end, has a bit of a yard, and is rented at ninepence a week more.
There are differences of grade between the occupants; this family is doing well because the husband is a
skilled man and there is a big order in at the works; the wife here is a good manager and very houseproud,
whereas the one opposite is a slattern; these have been a “Hunslet family” for generations, and belong to
the hereditary aristocracy of the neighourhood.
      To some extent there is, also, a hierarchy of specialisation in any group of streets. This man is known
to be something of a “scholar” and has a bound set of encyclopedias which he will always gladly refer to
when asked; another is a good “penman” and very helpful at filling in forms; another is particularly “good
with his hands,” in wood or metal or as a general repairer; this woman is expert at fine needlework and will
be called in on special occasions. All these are group services before they are professionally engaged on
the same work during the day. This kind of specialisation seemed, though, to be dying out in the large
urban working-class centers I knew even when I was a boy. A friend who knows well the smaller West
Riding urban working-class centers (such as Keighley, Bingley and Heckmondwike) thinks it is still quite
strong there.

				
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posted:9/6/2011
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