The working class in mid-twentieth-century England

Community, identity and social memory

Author: Ben Jones

The idea of Brighton as a hot-bed of radical class-consciousness in inter-war Britain is an unconventional one. That the dominant images of working class England in the middle years of the twentieth century are 'northern' or metropolitan is thanks to a flowering of community and cultural studies for which the research of Mass Observation provided important antecedents. This book argues that a consideration of Richard Hoggart's critics allows us to open up an important set of questions for discussion. It commences with an exploration of class identifications in England since the 1940s. The experience of and meanings attached to class change for individuals across their lives in relation to historically shifting formations of class within cultures. The book then focuses on the twin modernising forces which reshaped working class neighbourhoods in the period between the 1920s and the mid-1970s: slum clearance and council housing. It explores the ways in which people's senses of belonging to and identification with particular neighbourhoods were formed. Conflicts over the transgression of neighbourhood norms regarding acceptable behaviour, arguments over children's noise, over help which went unreciprocated, debts which went unpaid and domestic or intra-family violence were also a feature of neighbourhood life. Through the contested, multivalent remembered experiences of past communities, the complex, relational construction of social memories can be seen. The book also explores the dynamics of working class household economies and examines the continuities which existed between the modern council estates and older districts in terms of cultures of economic and emotional resourcefulness.

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