Working Class Culture

Working-class culture is a range of cultures created by or popular among working-class people. The cultures can be contrasted with high culture and folk culture, and are sometimes equated with popular culture and low culture (the counterpart of high culture). Working-class culture developed during the Industrial Revolution. Because most of the newly created working-class were former peasants, the cultures took on much of the localised folk culture. This was soon altered by the changed conditions of social relationships and the increased mobility of the workforce, and later by the marketing of mass-produced cultural artefacts such as prints and ornaments, and events such as music hall and cinema.

The politics of working class culture

Many socialists with a class struggle viewpoint see working class culture as a vital element of the proletariat which they champion. There are a variety of ways this is viewed. One organization which was based on this was Proletkult, which was founded in Russia shortly after the February Revolution. One of its main proponents was Alexander Bogdanov who had been co-leader of the Bolsheviks with Lenin. He was involved in a struggle retain the independence of Proletkult following the Bolshevik coup in October 1917. His erstwhile ally, Anatoly Lunacharsky, had rejoined the Bolsheviks and was appointed Commissar for Education. Proletkult contained both Bolsheviks and their critics.

Some states that claim to be communist have declared an official working class culture, most notably socialist realism, which aims to glorify the worker. However, glorification of the worker in abstract is seldom a feature of independent working class cultures. Other socialists such as Lenin believed that there could be no authentic proletarian culture free from capitalism, and that high culture should not be outside the experience of workers.

Working class culture developed during the Industrial Revolution. Because most of the newly created working class were former peasants, the cultures took on much of the localised folk culture. This was soon altered by the changed conditions of social relationships and the increased mobility of the workforce, and later by the marketing of mass-produced cultural artefacts such as prints and ornaments, and events such as music hall and cinema.

Portrayals in popular culture

Working class culture is extremely geographically diverse, leading some to question whether the cultures have anything in common. Working class culture has been portrayed on TV shows such as Roseanne, Good Times, Married...With Children, All in the Family, Family Guy, The Simpsons, South Park and Shameless in which American families struggle to pay for basic needs. In the United States, working-class culture is sometimes associated with Southern culture. Thus, shows like The Dukes of Hazzard, King of the Hill or The Beverly Hillbillies can be seen as examples of that culture. The English TV show Shameless highlights working class life in a Manchester suburb as does its American namesake set in Chicago. TV shows such as Regular Show, Beavis and Butthead and The Office portray working class friends. SpongeBob SquarePants is a very well-known TV show featuring a working class titular character. Happy Tree Friends has a working class beaver character named Handy.

One of Australian pub rock singer Jimmy Barnes' more popular songs, "Working Class Man" references working class culture and hardships.

Along with lad culture in the U.K., some youth subcultures such as skinheads, mods, punks, rockers and metalheads have been associated with working class culture. In the U.S., especially, some White Americans have reclaimed the usually derogatory term redneck as an identifier with working class White Americans. Many may deliberately embrace redneck stereotypes but choose to avoid usage of the word due to its frequent association with negative attitudes such as racism. Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour are among the most popularized examples of redneck culture being embraced ironically.

Some sports such as rugby league football, darts and association football, which is sometimes referred to as the working man's game, are associated with the working class in the U.K. In the U.S., ten pin bowling, American Football, basketball and baseball are associated with the working class.

Further reading

  • Navickas, Katrina, "What happened to class? New histories of labour and collective action in Britain," Social History, May 2011, Vol. 36 Issue 2, pp 192-204.
  • Rose, Jonathan, The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2001.

See also


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