chapter  1
14 Pages


In 1977 Paul Willis published his celebrated ethnography Learning to Labour:

how working-class kids get working-class jobs, in which he explored the pro-

cesses through which a group of young men („the lads‟) made transitions from a Midlands comprehensive school to the factory gates. Alongside their valoriza-

tion of manual over mental labour, one of the preconditions for the lads‟ confident rejection of the „educational exchange‟ (of subservience for qualifications) was the existence of apparently secure forms of low-skilled manual employment

awaiting them after leaving school. In modern Britain, as in most Western

industrialized societies which have pursued neo-liberal forms of economic

development, processes of deindustrialization and the emergence of globalized,

flexible labour markets have transformed the prospects of young people leaving school with few academic qualifications, as traditional working-class jobs have

been replaced by feminized, hyphenated forms of service sector employment

(Nayak 2006). Alongside this, a growing policy emphasis on educational par-

ticipation – usually couched in the rhetoric of the „learning society‟ – has seen those for whom schooling was always something to „get through‟ rather than „go into‟ spending extended periods in further education and training. While educational expansion and the new economy apparently offer such young peo-

ple opportunities to „reinvent‟ themselves (Walkerdine et al. 2001), the reality of growing-up working-class has often been one of growing insecurity and a

polarization of life chances vis-à-vis the wider population (MacDonald and Marsh 2005).