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The uses of literacy. Aspects of…

The uses of literacy. Aspects of working-class life, with special… (original 1957; edition 1969)

by Herbert Richard Hoggart

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Title:The uses of literacy. Aspects of working-class life, with special reference to publications and entertainments
Authors:Herbert Richard Hoggart
Info:Pelican London, 1957.
Collections:Your library

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The Uses of Literacy by Richard Hoggart (1957)



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The Uses of Literacy examines the effect of the mass media on the English working class. It begins with a description of the working class, focusing mainly on the North of England where Hoggart grew up in poverty, as well as the habits of popular culture and daily life up to a generation before this book was published.
This book was one of the founding texts of the field of Cultural studies, and I think an important work in sociology and the understanding of contemporary literature. Despite it being very much a book of the 1950s, and the examples being drawn from this era, it retains wide relevance to current trends and attitudes.
In the second half of the book, the changes in working class culture that have been brought about by the changes in popular literature are then discussed. We have various elements at play here, from the changing nature of the news press and magazines, to the Americanisation of society through pulp novels, music and film. This has largely replaced the traditional type of literature, music and entertainment that was generated by the working class and which came from their experience. What we have is then an increasingly homogenous commercial content imposed by large publishers, which aims for the lowest common denominator and does not reflect the genuine experience of being working class. Hoggart examines the effect of this on society, morals, and working class life.
Nearly every aspect of change that had occurred when this book was published (1957), has now happened to an even greater degree, and not only to the working class. Articles in magazines, internet portals, and in newspapers are increasingly fractionated into bite-sized pieces, aimed at those with short attention spans or little free time for understanding nuance, together with the exact same style of content on social media. The last chapter deals with the experience of those who like Hoggart have largely left the working class through what was then the scholarship system and into non-working class jobs, and what sense of anxiety or alienation can sometimes be caused by this.
It would have been fascinating would Hoggart have still been around to write an update to this study in current times. ( )
  P_S_Patrick | Oct 2, 2017 |
British Working Class Anthrology: language, culture and reality interwoven.
  mdstarr | Sep 11, 2011 |
British Working Class Anthrology: language, culture and reality interwoven.
  muir | Nov 27, 2007 |
The classic work of analysis of English working-class culture.
  Fledgist | Jun 19, 2007 |
This book was first published in 1957 and was the earliest, and most effective, attempt to understand changes in British culture caused by “massification”. In it Hoggart argues that the appeals made by what he calls “the mass publicists” were made “more insistently, effectively and in a more comprehensive and centralised form today than they were earlier; that we are moving towards the creation of a mass culture, that the remnants of what was at least in part an urban culture “of the people” are being destroyed”. He examined cheap novels and magazines, popular newspapers and post war cinema and detected drift in all areas. The old, close, tightly knit working class culture was breaking up. In its place was emerging a mass culture composed of tabloid newspapers, the ascendency of media Barons such as Rupert Murdoch, advertising, and Hollywood. These forces colonised localities and robbed them of any distictiveness, being external to that which they dominated. His critique is not of popular culture, but of mass culture, which he distinguishes from popular culture as something that is imposed on the population from above. The value of “popular culture” is that it is self-created and so has a fundamental integrity, it is broadly sui generis, evolving according to its own laws and dictates rather than at the promptings of the mass media.

We must wonder whether, in this definition, there is any popular culture left, eliminated by the mass culture that has replaced it. In fact, all that Hoggart predicted has happened with speed and depravity. We live in an identikit world defined by the sameness of our high streets, the values we import from the media, and our patterns of behaviour and relating. As mass culture develops, propelled by new technologies, the profit ethic and the push for market share, and the manipulated tastes of individuals, we must wonder where it will take us next.
2 vote antimuzak | Sep 3, 2006 |
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Richard Hoggartprimary authorall editionscalculated
Garcias, FrançoiseTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Garcias, Jean ClaudeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Passeron, Jean-ClaudeIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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This book is about changes in working-class culture during the last thirty or forty years, in particular as they are being encouraged by mass publications.
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