'Placing' the Experiences of White Working Class Men in Elementary Occupations
Leverhulme Foundation, Emeritus Fellowship
Principal investigator: Professor Ruth Simpson
This interdisciplinary research sets out to explore the work experiences of white working class men, born in the UK and employed in manual work that conforms to the standard definition of ‘elementary’ occupations i.e. physical jobs that require a minimum level of general education and/or on the job training.
Drawing on Bourdieu’s Theory of Practice as a theoretical frame, it focuses in particular on the role of geographical place, as a materialization of social relations and practices, in the ‘lived experiences’ of a group that has been largely overlooked in terms of both public policy and the academy. In contrast to the spatial mobility of the middle class domain, members of the male, white working class have faced particular challenges, often seen as ‘left behind’ by global forces, the erosion of key, localised reference points (e.g. secure, low skilled work) as well inward migration that has created greater competition for jobs. Little is known, however, about the role of place, as a constellation of opportunities, processes and spatial relationships in shaping ‘lived experiences’.
Drawing on an ethnographic approach, the research accordingly seeks to establish how place is implicated in work history, geographical and occupational mobility, future aspirations and attitudes of this neglected group. The research focuses on two, large coastal towns: Blackpool (Lancashire) and Hastings (East Sussex). While geographically distinct, both areas have experienced long-term decline in income levels and employment opportunities and have been identified by the Government as within the top three ‘problem’ coastal areas. In addressing the role of place on the lived experience of disadvantage, the research has potential to contribute to a deeper understanding of inequality inside and outside of work – an understanding that will be of benefit to policy makers with an interest in the fair distribution of resources regionally as well as to local community groups and employer associations within these two areas.