The Left Behind
: Representations of Working-Class Masculinities in British Culture 1945-1989

  • Matthew Crowley

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This study offers an analysis of representations of white, heterosexual, working-class
masculinities in British culture between 1945 and 1989. As the period that saw the
establishment of the Welfare State, and the construction and breakdown of the post-war
consensus in British politics, this is a period of great significance in the formation and
maintenance of working-class masculinities and their correspondent representations.
The study aims to reinstate class as a central precept in the study of British cultural
representations and uses Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of ‘habitus’ and Judith Butler’s
concept of ‘performativity’ to demonstrate that the categories of class and gender are
discursively constructed (Bourdieu, 2008: 170, Butler, 2008: 206). In doing so the research
is able to draw from Michel Foucault’s archaeological methodology to engage with the
discursive formations that constitute these categories and thus engage with both the
historical continuities and the historical discontinuities, or ruptures, that constitute the
category of ‘working-class masculinity’ in any given period. Within this process Raymond
Williams’s concept of ‘structures of feeling’ is employed as a practical means of charting
these discursive shifts within cultural representations (1977: 132).
The texts studied here clearly demonstrate the extent to which the historical shifts,
which become apparent as ‘structures of feeling’ and are loosely aligned with decades
here, created a different, often divergent, set of demands within the category of ‘workingclass
man’. These demands were both novel, in that the desires, expectations and
aspirations of working-class men altered over time, and familiar, as for much of the latetwentieth
century these demands remain rooted in the performative practices of what I
term a ‘traditional’ working-class masculinity. The study charts the loss of these ‘traditional’ working-class masculinities as postmodern culture, ‘disorganized capitalism’
and the ‘crisis of the knowable community’ eroded or irrevocably altered the precepts
upon which they were founded (Lash and Urry, 1993: 229, Williams, 1974: 14).
The study shows the ideological nature of the categories of ‘working-class
masculinities’ and demonstrates that what was, would, and could be said about workingclass
men profoundly altered between 1945 and 1989. Ultimately the study demonstrates
how this shift in discourse effected what it meant to be a working-class man in Britain.
Date of Award2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorDeborah Philips (Supervisor)

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