Working class community in the era of affluence : sociability and identity in a Yorkshire town, 1945-1980
Thesis or dissertation
- © 2011 Stefan Ramsden. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.
This thesis presents a qualitative case-study of the impact of post-war affluence on working-class ways of life in the small town of Beverley, focussed particularly on sociability and identity. The thesis argues that sociological and historical concern with the decline of forms of ‘traditional working-class community’ amongst mobile populations in the 1950s and 1960s has obscured recognition of the continuing importance and vitality of local community for many working-class people in this period.
Those who argued that there was a decline of community during the age of affluence (approximately 1955-1975) posited a transition from ‘traditional’ to new forms of working-class life – the present thesis suggests that in so doing, authors exaggerated both the communality of the ‘traditional’ working classes and the individualism of newly affluent workers. In Beverley, individualism and status divisions existed alongside communal sociability and mutuality in working-class streets before the age of affluence. The rising living standards of the 1950s and 1960s did not coincide with an appreciable shift towards ‘privatised nuclear families’.
I am not arguing only for continuity. In the years of austerity of the 1940s, prior to the affluent decades, some streets were the focus of female sociability and mutual assistance to an extent not apparent in the 1970s. From the 1950s, rising wages, improved housing, and the availability of consumer goods such as cars and televisions allowed many to engage in new forms of sociable leisure. Post-war ideological emphasis on the companionate marriage and child-centred parenting also influenced social behaviour. But companions for both new and old forms of sociability were largely family, friends and acquaintances who also lived in the town – Beverley as a whole remained a remarkably complete social world for many of its residents.
The thesis explores connections between structural features, local social networks, and an apparently strong sense of ‘Beverlonian’ identity during the affluent era. Beverley was a relatively small town with considerable demographic continuity, and residents reported that it felt like a knowable community; post-war council and private housing estates were built close to older neighbourhoods and therefore did not disrupt the social networks and connection to place of those who moved into them, as was often the case in larger cities; a range of industrial workplaces and a civil society of clubs and associations were contexts for the formation of local social networks and also gave residents a sense of their town as a distinct community with its own history and a measure of self-determination; civil society promoted the idea of a town community discursively through civic ceremony and in the pages of the local newspaper.
- Department of History, The University of Hull
- Reid, Douglas A.; Macleod, Jenny, writer on history
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