Mining The Meaning: Cultural Representations of the 1984-5 Miners' Strike

Katy Shaw

Research output: Book/ReportBook - authored


From novels to plays, autobiographies to films, musicals to documentaries, the cultural history of the 1984-5 miners’ strike is one of contestation, claim and counter-claim. This innovative study analyses cultural representations of the miners’ strike produced not only during 1984-5 but in the twenty five years following the dispute. Examining a wide selection of popular texts from Brassed Off to Billy Elliot, Tony Harrison’s epic social poem ‘V’, to the 2009 BBC TV drama Margaret, the study spans cultural, literary, historical, social and media studies to provide the first ever analysis of the ways in which ‘the most significant post-war labour conflict of the twentieth century’ has been represented and why. Alongside this extensive range of published and popularised materials, the study will examine the largely unstudied writings of strikers whose actions authored the conflict. Strikers’ writings have not previously been deemed worthy of academic study yet this text offers strikers’ literature – from poems and songs to diaries and autobiographies – as evidence of a literary engagement with counter-discourses concerning the conflict. As the 1984-5 coal dispute drifts further into the past, it is important that representations of this seminal event in British social and political history are rescued from what E.P. Thompson calls ‘the enormous condescension of posterity’. Reasserting their contribution to existing histories of the conflict and their relevance to the continuing struggles of the twenty-first century, the text offers these larger unexplored representations as significant engagements in wider discourses operating internationally in literary and cultural studies over the past two decades. Re-thinking history as a chronicle of perspectives as well as ‘facts’, the text aims to amplify hitherto under-analysed representations of the strike and examine why strikers themselves set about writing their dispute. The study therefore seeks not only to address and reclaim new perspectives on the 1984-5 miners’ strike but to promote the juxtaposing of existing cultural representations with those of new competing counter-representations and heterodox – sometimes contradictory – ways of understanding the events in question. This innovative text will provide an exciting, challenging and accessible critical introduction to cultural representations of 1984-5 as well as analysing the ways in which these representations articulate an essential dialogic exchange of issues central to both the coal dispute and the development of literary and cultural studies over the past twenty five years. Focusing closely on the politics of form, the study will interrogate the significance of the mode, means and function of strikers’ writings as well as the alternative representations of the conflict propounded by established writers, musicians, artists and film-makers in the wake of the coal dispute. These representations are worthy of study due to the critical interventions they offer, their evidence of the cultural pressures and forces of not only the strike period but the post-strike years of industrial and labour change and their remarkable contribution to existing social, political and literary histories of the conflict. Engaging with these works, many of which have never been subject to previous academic analysis, the study will enable twenty-first-century readers to re-conceptualise paradigms of received wisdom concerning 1984-5. The significance of the competing representations offered by these very different cultural representations as they engage in a wider battle to ‘author’ the conflict is central to this study. Through a detailed analysis of these representations, as well as the socio-cultural contexts of their production and dissemination, the text will explore a range of cultural attempts to capture the sensibilities of late twentieth century society and contribute to an ongoing debate regarding cultural representations of this period of British history. Influenced by critical theory, the text will be the first secondary resource concerning cultural representations of the 1984-5 dispute available to the reading public the world over. Contents List: Introduction; Chapter One: Poetry and the Strike; Chapter Two: The Novel and the Strike; Chapter Three: Drama and the Strike; Chapter Four: Autobiography, Diary and the Strike; Chapter Five: Music and the Strike; Chapter Six: Film and the Strike; Conclusion; Appendices; Bibliography
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationNewcastle Upon Tyne
PublisherCambridge Scholars Press
Number of pages226
ISBN (Print)9781443837859
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2012


  • miners strike
  • poetry literature
  • contemporary
  • cultural studies
  • inter-disciplinary


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