Affluent Workers Revisited: Privatism and the Working Class

Affluent Workers Revisited: Privatism and the Working Class

Affluent Workers Revisited: Privatism and the Working Class

Affluent Workers Revisited: Privatism and the Working Class


"Fiona Devine's important new book offers a qualitative re-evaluation of the Affluent Worker study conducted by John Goldthorpe and his colleagues in Luton nearly thirty years ago. Drawing on her intensive interviews with Vauxhall workers and their wives, Devine examines the motivations, processes and consequences of geographical mobility and explores working-class lifestyles and the extent to which they may be described as privatised or communal. Contrary to the predictions of the older study, Devine's findings suggest that working-class lifestyles are neither exclusively family-centred, nor entirely home-centred. No evidence of a singular instrumentalism appears; instead aspirations for material well being form a crucial component of a collective working-class identity, with criticism of the trade unions and the Labour Party being directed at their failure to change the distribution of resources in Britain." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved


In the post-war period of prosperity, numerous commentators argued that the working class had adopted middle-class norms and values as they enjoyed relatively high incomes and standards of living. Furthermore, affluence had undermined the cultural and socio-political distinctiveness of the working class. As a result of these changes, it was claimed, the class structure had changed. Goldthorpe and his colleagues set out to test this argument, which became known as the embourgeoisement thesis. This chapter examines the issues which the Luton team sought to address, the findings of their empirical research and criticisms of the study, before moving on to discuss subsequent research on the working class in modern Britain.

While members of the Luton team were fierce critics of the embourgeoisement thesis, it will be seen that their account of the demise of the 'traditional' working class and the rise of a 'new' working class, with its emphasis on changing values and aspirations, was remarkably similar to the thesis which they sought to challenge. Few commentators voiced this criticism when the series was published. It is only more recently, as commentators have re-evaluated accounts of changing working-class lifestyles, aspirations and socio-political perspectives from the vantage point of historical material on developments in the nineteenth century, that the the Luton teams' account of social change has been contested. That said, attempts to locate privatism among the nineteenth-century working class have effectively drawn attention away from the question of whether the concept of privatism adequately describes working-class life-styles and socio-political proclivities in the late twentieth century.


Accounts of the demise of the 'traditional' working-class occupational community took a variety of different forms in the late 1950s and early 1960s. As Marshall (1990: 103) has noted, 'some rooted their account in the sphere of production while others stressed changes in consumption'. The Luton team sought to refute both varieties of the embourgeoisement thesis, so it is necessary to explore each of these in turn.

In the field of industrial sociology, Goldthorpe et al. sought to address debates on the impact of technology on workers' industrial attitudes and . . .

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