Friday, June 1, 2018

Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite's "Class, Politics, and the Decline of Deference in England, 1968-2000"

Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite did her undergraduate degree in history at St Hugh's College, Oxford, and her MPhil and PhD at St Catharine's Collage, Cambridge, supervised by Jon Lawrence. She was subsequently a Junior Research Fellow at Clare College, Cambridge before moving to University College London where she lectures in Twentieth-Century British History. She is also an interviewer for the History of Parliament Trust's oral history project, and co-editor of Renewal: a journal of social democracy.

Sutcliffe-Braithwaite applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Class, Politics, and the Decline of Deference in England, 1968-2000, and reported the following:
Page 99 turned out to be pretty representative of the overall arguments and themes of the book. It falls in the conclusion to the fourth chapter, which looks at a collection of oral history interviews gathered in the mid-1980s with several generations of people from across Britain. Many of the things these interviewees talked about exemplified broader patterns of ‘class talk’ in the late twentieth century. Ambivalence was a marked feature of their answers: what people said about class varied with context and could seem contradictory. And ‘another reason for uncertainty about “class” was the widespread perception that there had been major changes in the “class” structure across the twentieth century’ – with, especially, suburbanisation and changes in the occupational structure. These changes seemed to many interviewees to have created ‘a large “ordinary” group in society which had to work for a living but which was, nevertheless, in the “middle”: not workless but also not privileged’. Many people, both white-collar and blue-collar, were keen to stress their ordinariness and authenticity, and to reject the idea that class snobberies played an important role in their lives.

What’s missing from this page is the point that I excavate elsewhere: that though many people wanted to sign up to this less snobbish, more democratic outlook on society, in fact, there were pervasive class judgements going on in late twentieth-century Britain: they had often just gone ‘underground’. And the other thing that’s missing from this page is a link to politics: another key argument of the book relates to how vernacular discourses of class linked – or didn’t link – to political languages. When it comes to the 1980s, what I suggest is that while Thatcherite languages of class were in some ways similar to the sorts of things the interviewees in this chapter were saying, that wasn’t because Thatcher profoundly influenced what people thought. There were other roots and sources for changing popular perceptions of class, often linked to individual and family experiences of social mobility and social change.
Learn more about Class, Politics, and the Decline of Deference in England, 1968-2000 at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue