Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Paul Willis – Learning to Labor – summary - part 2

Paul Willis – Learning to Labor – summary
part 1 - 2
Learning to Labor: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs
The school system, argues Paul Willis in "Learning to Labor", has created for the working class "lads" a resistance towards mental labor and an attraction towards manual one. Manual labor belongs outside of school, and it holds the aura of the real adult world. Mental labor, on the other hand, demands too much and is perceived by the working class lads as penetrating areas which they consider as private. It has a threat of having to obey and conformism. Resisting mental labor is a resistance to authority and obedience that are part of attending school. Willis concludes that it is the lads' attempt to gain freedom from the system which ultimately leads them to low paining grunt work. Manual labor represents for them a type of masculinity and resistance to authority.

Following Marxist thinker Antonio Gramsci, Paul Willis distinguishes ideology, which operates on the consciousness, from "penetrations" that are a type of practical knowledge which is manifested in a collective cultural practice but is unarticulated. The working class lads actively criticize meritocracy, capitalism time perception and the individualist ideology that serve to reproduce their class position. According to Willis it is ideology which prevents penetrations from becoming something consistent, articulated and spoken. This is not due to the lads' agreement with hegemonic ideology, but because ideology is always well formulated, articulated and spoken while the lads' view of the world remains silent, and this silence is occupied by ideology.

Ideology however, according to Willis, is not the main reason which prevents the lads' counterculture from becoming a real oppositional force which can be channeled into active social change. Willis argues that cultural penetrations are repressed and are not politically articulated on account of basic and deep divisions in the social world. Three of the most important divisions discussed in 'Learning to Labor" are those that distinguish mental from manual labor, men and women and races. Capitalism conjuncts two structures: patriarchy and the meritocratic division between physical and mental labor. This conjunction is manifested in the identification of physical work with the social superiority of masculinity. For the working class lads discussed by Willis in "Learning to Labor", the division in which they find themselves in a favorable position (the gender one) changes the value of the distinction in which they are position in an unfavorable position (the division between physical and mental labor).

Willis argues that the working class lads reject mental labor not just on account of their experience at school, but also because such labor is perceived as feminine while manual labor is regarded as masculine. Working hard, physically, is thus perceived as an expression of masculinity, not of exploitation. Here, for Willis, patriarchy aids in the reproduction of manual workforce for the service of the capitalist system.

The final point made by Paul Willis in "Learning to Labor' is that the stability of the system is based on lower classes' reversal of the dominant values, for otherwise constant struggle and not willing subordination will be the social order of the day. It is the fact the people do not passively absorb ideologies and are active and creative social players that enable the system to function.   

Paul Willis – Learning to Labor – summary
part 1 - 2

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