Paul Willis, Class Consciousness, and Critical Pedagogy: Toward a Socialist Future
Paul Willis’s Learning To Labor, published in 1977, marked a pivotal moment in the history of educational criticism.1 As Stanley Aronowitz acknowledged in his introduction to the book, Willis’s work represented a significant contribution to radical and Marxianinspired analyses of the function of schools while nonetheless challenging some of their basic presuppositions. In what was to be acknowledged as one of the most significant ethnographies of working-class youth culture, a pathfinding work that connected a humanistic study of everyday life with a sophisticated macropolitical analysis of the workings of ideology and social power, Willis sought to understand how ordinary, everyday mainstream cultures were produced and to explore the expressions of resistance that were aimed at dominant social forms. Learning to Labor uncoils in compelling detail the ideological tensions between an oppressed group (working-class “lads”) and the status quo (middle-class, white-collar “ear’oles”) in order to demonstrate the dynamic processes involved in the production, reproduction, and transformation of cultural meanings that constitute class-based ideology. Scuppering much of the ethnographic conventions of the time, Willis’s ethnographic study, both in theory and method, demonstrated how lived culture and the rituals of everyday school life among primarily nonelite groups contributed to the shaping of capitalist structures and social relations of power and privilege. One of the most noteworthy aspects of Willis’s work was its implacable openness to “experience” as well as its attempt to explore a theoretical basis for activist struggle (see Willis, 1978).