This chapter uses data collected from four months of participant-observer research
at a college outside Wolverhampton. I also spent one month at youth clubs in two
other communities outside Wolverhampton.
Michael Kaufman ( 1987) calls this "the triad of men's violence."
I do not mean to suggest that fighting is exclusively male; during my research
among upper middle-class American teenagers ( Canaan, 1990) I heard about fights
between young women, which other studies explore in more detail (e.g. Campbell, 1984)., Nor do I mean to suggest that violence is limited to working-class males. My
data on American upper middle-class young men in the longer version of this chap-
ter suggest that they develop forms of verbal violence that are much more insidi-
ous than those of working-class British young men.
The research which I conducted can only loosely be termed ethnographic. Unlike
the more traditional anthropological ethnography on American suburban upper
middle-class teenagers ( Canaan, 1990) which I wrote, this research was neither
long-term nor very extensive. Yet just as an anthropological ethnography, it was
qualitative and aimed to tease out the terms and strategies with which working-
class young men constructed some aspects of their identities.
From the earliest days of the Industrial Revolution until recently, Wolverhampton
has been a central site for the manufacturing and distribution sectors of the British
economy. However, these sectors are currently diminishing in importance as the
service sector of the economy expands. The manufacturing that remains is moving
away from old industrial cities such as Wolverhampton. That which is left relies on
a smaller workforce. The level of unemployment in Wolverhampton has been rela-
tively higher than elsewhere in the country and this is especially true for young
people. In the early 1980s one-third of all young people were unemployed ( Willis
et al., 1988).
Names of communities and of the young people to whom I talked are pseudonyms.
Exceptions include: Griffin ( 1985), McRobbie ( 1981), McRobbie and Garber ( 1976)
and McRobbie and Nava ( 1984).
Other data for this study and my prior study of white middle-class suburban Amer-
ican young people ( Canaan, 1990) suggest that young people have contradictory
ideas about the "natural" and "cultural" components of their conduct. Sometimes
they emphasize one component, at other times the other, and sometimes they ac-
knowledge both. Further research is needed to clarify in what circumstances they
emphasize these factors.
The criterion of hardness does not simply constitute the most powerful group of
young men in school. Other male groups are also ranked by hardness. The next
hardest group occupies the middle rung. Those at the bottom rung who "just ay
there" probably seem invisible because they do not fight and therefore do not
When I gave this chapter as a paper at the University of Exeter, Jeff Meiners noted
that his students use a third criterion, "looking hard," that is, dressing in a way
which conveys hardness.
If these "soft" qualities axe not contained, males may feel very threatened. Inter-
estingly, Holloway's ( 1984) male subjects use the term "soft" as a verb to describe