Social transformation in the United Kingdom: appropriation, class and identity
(P28)
Location G
Date and Time 11th December, 2008 at 08:30

Convenors

Elizabeth Hart liz.hart052@googlemail.com
Cathrine Degnen (Newcastle University, UK) cathrine.degnen@ncl.ac.uk
Gillian Evans (University of Manchester) Gillian.Evans@Manchester.ac.uk
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Short Abstract

The aim of this panel is to synthesise ideas about social transformation and identity which in different but related ways are the subject of ongoing discussion and debate amongst anthropologists and others concerned with social change in the UK.

Long Abstract

The aim of this panel is to synthesise ideas about social transformation and identity which in different but related ways are the subject of ongoing discussion and debate amongst anthropologists and others concerned with social change in the UK (see for example, Macdonald et al. 2005).

Appropriation is conceptualised as the creative process of coming to terms with - narrating, remembering, sense-making and learning about - the profound implications of socio-economic and political change.

Themes include:

- how notions of belonging and of self are mediated through discourses of 'knowing' and about place in the former coalfields of South Yorkshire (Degnen)

- how recent interest in Family History and genealogical research in the UK deepens contemporary understandings of social class and renders class identity more arbitrary (Edwards)

- the social and political position of the white working classes in contemporary Britain (Evans)

- narratives of loss and displacement amongst former pottery workers (Hart)

- how forms of low-status hospital work and a discourse of working-class masculinity are individually reconstrued to express intimacy and solicitousness, even gentleness (Rapport)

- the formation and inheritance of interracial identities (i.e 'mixed-race') (Tyler)

References

Macdonald, S., Edwards, J. and Savage, M. (2005) Introduction: Community, Continuity and Change in the Study of Britain: A Festschrift for Ronnie Frankenberg Sociological Review, 53, 587-602.

Chair: Pnina Werbner
Discussant: Marilyn Strathern

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

'Max' and 'Wardy': Masculine porters appropriating gentleness and solicitude in a Scottish hospital

Author: Nigel Rapport (St. Andrews University) rapport@st-andrews.ac.uk

Short Abstract

This essay offers an interpretation of the intimacies and attachments expressed in the working practices of hospital porters. In this overwhelmingly male, occupational grouping, a gentleness and a solicitousness can be found which might be seen to belie the rude, masculine forms in which it is expressed.

Abstract

This essay offers an interpretation of the intimacies and attachments expressed in the working practices of hospital porters as they go about their daily rounds in a Scottish medical institution. In this overwhelmingly male, occupational grouping, undertaking tasks deemed largely peripheral to the skilled and prestigious purpose of the institution that employs them, a gentleness and a solicitousness can be found which might be seen to belie the rude, masculine forms in which it is expressed. In the form of teasing and reciprocal challenging that takes up much of the spoken interaction among porters during the working day --who is the laziest, the most effeminate, the best at drinking, sex, skiving off work, fighting or playing football-- can also be found the ambiguous expression of knowledge and affection for one another. In the intricate forms of mutual teasing and challenging, heads and bodies metaphorically touch: intimate emotions and relations are given ambivalent expression.

Indeed, there is a distinct discourse of porters openly reaching out to one another in the Hospital, in friendship and mutual support: hope, warmth, love, fear, grief and pain are quite explicitly adverted to. In the context of two porters' stories in particular, the essay recounts a more gentle discourse of mutual solicitude, exploring how it sits alongside the more conventionally masculine teasing and bravado in an uneasy partnership.

FOR SALE: housing market, labour market and community relations in Endcliffe, Sheffield

Author: Massimiliano Mollona (Goldsmiths College) m.mollona@gold.ac.uk

Short Abstract

The paper discusses community relations in an area of urban deprivation of Sheffield (UK) focusing on the local housing and labour markets as two technologies of relatedness and on the discourses of class and culture (here in the specific form of ‘race’) as two interlocking registers of appropriation which shape local policies and politics.

Abstract

Endcliffe is an area of ‘urban deprivation’ of Sheffield where relations between the white, Pakistani and Yemeni ‘working-class’ communities are fraught with tensions and conflicts revolving around job opportunities and housing allocations. The paper explores local notions of housing and labour markets, two ‘mechanisms’ through which relations between people, things and environment are made visible and durable, often leading to unequal forms of appropriation and distribution. In particular, the paper discusses two registers of appropriation in Endcliffe – one based on cultural identity and the other based on class stratification – and claims that the interlocking discourses of class and culture (here in the specific form of ‘race’) in Endcliffe led to local political tensions and to ineffective council-level policies.

Cultural Politics and the White Working Classes in Britain

Author: Gillian Evans (University of Manchester) Gillian.Evans@Manchester.ac.uk

Short Abstract

Exploring recent media controversies about the alienation of the white working classes in Britain, this paper analyses contemporary cultural politics in order to consider the analytical utility of concepts such as class and culture now that they have become common ethnographic terms.

Abstract

Whilst Bermondsey people lament the death of an industrial, inner-city community based on closely knit ties of kinship and residence or 'born and bred' criteria of belonging - and are preoccupied with trying to defend their way of life - learning 'how to have an explicit cultural identity', to be a 'new ethnic group' in order to compete in a multicultural social climate - the political and economic struggles which have historically defined what it means to be working class in Britain are forced into the background. This highlights the present danger, which is that even as we celebrate multiculturalism in Britain or wonder whether it has past its sell-by date, little emphasis is placed on those institutions - political or economic - through which relatively poor people - black, white and Asian - might once have come together to know themselves collectively as working class.

Eager to capitalise on this shift in the political landscape the British National Party promotes an agenda of racial and cultural nationalism, gaining votes in areas of the country where the white working classes feel increasingly at unease about a Labour government which no longer speaks their language and whose policy makers focus, meanwhile, on 'community cohesion' and national integration. Exploring recent media controversies about the alienation of the white working classes in Britain, this paper analyses contemporary cultural politics in order to consider the analytical utility of concepts such as class and culture now that they have become common ethnographic terms.

Museum mediated memories and the urban working class

Author: Elizabeth Carnegie (Sheffield University) e.carnegie@shef.ac.uk

Short Abstract

This paper considers the representations of working class communities within urban museums and considers way in which their memories may be appropriated or actively sought to serve the wider aims of local government-funded institutions.

Abstract

In this paper I explore the potential for museums to act as spaces in which to interpret the lives of ordinary men and women and the legacies and biases of such representations. Through consideration of collecting and display processes, I question whether it is possible to create 'warts and all' views of working class experiences whilst remaining sensitive to participant's needs and fears of exposure. I argue that working class memories may be appropriated or actively sought to serve the wider aims of local government-funded museums and that community consultation to inform displays is subject to self-censorship, community collusion in 'stigma management' and the curatorial decision making process of local government officers. Thereafter, I consider the impacts of such histories on participants and question whether their histories and indeed museum spaces are appropriated for middle-class leisure.

Ancestors, class and contingency

Author: Jeanette Edwards (University of Manchester) jeanette.edwards@manchester.ac.uk

Short Abstract

to follow

Abstract

This paper focuses on the recent and burgeoning interest in Family History and Genealogical Research (FHGR) in the UK (a ‘pastime’, it is said, second only to gardening). In the north of England, local family historians are not only intent on 'finding' their ancestors but in adding ‘flesh’ to the bones of genealogy. They are as interested in the social lives of their ancestors as they are in family trees and, through their research, they excavate particular social histories which juxtapose land, labour and love. As well as deepening a sense of class identity (as Paul Basu argues for Australian genealogists), FHGR in England also renders class identity a more arbitrary phenomenon - a result of ‘fate’ or a ‘chance event’ unearthed in the search. From this perspective, genealogical research acts as a leveller, smoothing out differences and inequalities between people which, in other fora, are construed as innate. From another perspective, it firms-up existing social distinctions imagined now in the provenance of one’s ancestors.

Interracial genealogies and memories of slavery

Author: Katharine Tyler (University of Exeter) k.tyler@exeter.ac.uk

Short Abstract

This paper explores how the narration of slave histories, ancestries and memories come together in the genealogical and autobiographical accounts of members of mixed-race families.

Abstract

This paper explores how the narration of slave histories, ancestries and memories come together in the genealogical and autobiographical accounts of members of mixed-race families. To do this, I draw upon my recent anthropological study with members of mixed-families of white and black African Caribbean British descent. I am interested in the role played by the creative remembering and appropriation of slave histories and ancestries in the weaving of genealogical accounts about who 'we' are, where 'we' come from and how 'we' are connected in the postcolonial present. In so doing, I draw on the 'new' kinship studies within anthropology and sociological work on 'race', diaspora and genealogy to analyse how images and scripts of the slave past can be put to work to confront racism through the making and breaking of relationships across colour-lines. In this way, my work shows how the idioms of genealogy, such as ancestry, origins, inheritance, biology and culture have the potential both to reinforce and destabilise ideas about the constitution of racial identity. My account reveals how the theoretical lens of genealogy illuminates the slippages and chains of transactions between poetics and politics, memory and history, the colonial and the postcolonial, autobiography and wider social critique, the biological and the social, and nation and diaspora within British mixed-raced genealogical imaginations.

'Knowing', being and self in post-industrial South Yorkshire

Author: Cathrine Degnen (Newcastle University, UK) cathrine.degnen@ncl.ac.uk

Short Abstract

This paper considers how, in the face of a profound re-ordering of the social due to the collapse of the coal industry, both claims to belonging and notions of the self are mediated through a discourse of 'knowing' people, places and pasts.

Abstract

The former coalfields of South Yorkshire are undergoing profound socio-economic transformation, mirroring post-industrial shifts experienced across the UK. Locally, people speak vividly and at length about the changes they encounter in their daily lives, whether it be in forms of sociability, characteristics of living places, the landscape, technologies in the home and at work, or in ways of being. Thus, the 'what was' is held within the 'what is', co-residing in both comforting and uncomfortable ways. This paper seeks to better understand such everyday experiences and forms of meaning through the concept of 'knowing'. 'Knowing', used to refer to both people and places, is about more than prior relationships. It has special resonance to experiences of self and of belonging, and is inescapably traced by temporality.