Tuesday, May 1, 2018

"Class, Politics, and the Decline of Deference in England, 1968-2000"

New from Oxford University Press: Class, Politics, and the Decline of Deference in England, 1968-2000 by Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite.

About the book, from the publisher:
In late twentieth-century England, inequality was rocketing, yet some have suggested that the politics of class was declining in significance, while others argue that class identities lost little power. Neither interpretation is satisfactory: class remained important to "ordinary" people's narratives about social change and their own identities throughout the period 1968-2000, but in changing ways.

Using self-narratives drawn from a wide range of sources--the raw materials of sociological studies, transcripts from oral history projects, Mass Observation, and autobiography--the book examines class identities and narratives of social change between 1968 and 2000, showing that by the end of the period, class was often seen as an historical identity, related to background and heritage, and that many felt strict class boundaries had blurred quite profoundly since 1945. Class snobberies "went underground", as many people from all backgrounds began to assert that what was important was authenticity, individuality, and ordinariness. In fact, Sutcliffe-Braithwaite argues that it is more useful to understand the cultural changes of these years through the lens of the decline of deference, which transformed people's attitudes towards class, and towards politics.

The study also examines the claim that Thatcher and New Labour wrote class out of politics, arguing that this simple--and highly political - narrative misses important points. Thatcher was driven by political ideology and necessity to try to dismiss the importance of class, while the New Labour project was good at listening to voters--particularly swing voters in marginal seats--and echoing back what they were increasingly saying about the blurring of class lines and the importance of ordinariness. But this did not add up to an abandonment of a majoritarian project, as New Labour reoriented their political project to emphasize using the state to empower the individual.
--Marshal Zeringue