In Richard Hoggart’s 1957 tome, The Uses of Literacy, a foundational text for what is now called ‘cultural studies’, Hoggart investigates the meanings of working-class life in the early and middle years of the twentieth century in relation to the narrowed views available to people who were both only marginally literate, and who lived within a more or less subsistence economy — certainly not, that is, within a realm of material privilege and plenty. This is a world in which the menfolk work long hours for low pay in heavy, dirty industry, and where the women ‘get by’ on what their husbands can earn; a world of anonymous streets of identical red-brick terraced houses; the lives here are not understood as ‘individual lives’ at all, but are instead figured as typical, or even stereotypical — or, more crudely, as the life of the herd, hemmed in by both material circumstances and the limited vocabulary for emotions and thought that are the consequence of poor education. In setting out the working-class life that he himself experienced as a child, Hoggart was acting in good faith, I believe. He thought that he was telling a kind of truth about lives lived in scarcity, want, hardship and sorrow; these were also lives in which deprivation was not always experienced as deprivation. His analysis of this kind of life is one that associates it strongly with the lives of the non-literate peoples analysed by Walter Ong in Orality and Literacy. ‘Life’, for these people ‘is very much a week-by-week affair, with little likelihood of saving a lump sum to fall back on’, and no possibility of planning for — or even imagining — a better future (Hoggart 1992, 44). It is a life of monotony and sameness, week-in, week-out, with each day measured by the task it requires (wash day, ironing day, cleaning day, shopping day).
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