Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Paul Willis – Learning to Labour – summary - part 2

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

The school system, argues Paul Willis in "Learning to Labour", has created for the working class "lads" a resistance towards mental labour and an attraction towards manual one. Manual labour belongs outside of school, and it holds the aura of the real adult world. Mental labour, 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 labour 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 labour 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 Labour" are those that distinguish mental from manual labour, 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 Labour", 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 labour).

Willis argues that the working class lads reject mental labour not just on account of their experience at school, but also because such labour is perceived as feminine while manual labour 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 Labour' 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.   

Suggested further reading:


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

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