By Mark O'Brien
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Value in a personal view of class

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Issue 415

In his review of Lynsey Hanley’s Respectable (June SR), Carlo Morelli makes the perfectly correct observation that the book is not informed by a Marxist analysis of class relations.

In his impatience with this fact, however, Carlo kind of misses the most important thing about the book: this is one person’s reflections upon her own life.

Hanley shares with her audience the numerous put-downs in her early life and the sense of suffocation she felt at the limited opportunities on offer to her.

There is an anger, a quiet fury even, which pervades the whole book. Despite this, Hanley writes about her life with a wry sense of humour.

She does also draw upon social theorists to make more searching observations about the experience of class. Richard Hoggart, Raymond Williams and Basil Bernstein all make appearances, for example.

In the end Hanley’s “way out” was an individual route that went through university and onto journalism. Hanley also shares some political opinion.

Many of her comments, I suspect, would find agreement among readers of Socialist Review. She is utterly dismissive for instance of the notion of the “white working class” and the obsession this construction holds for Labour Party strategists.

She points out that the notion of social mobility is, and always was, about the individual “getting over” the class limitations they face (with help from the state) and, as she puts it, “becoming middle class”; so leaving behind the working class person they were (and really still are).

This is, as she says, a lamentable retreat from the social democratic ideal of abolishing the obstacles of class altogether — for everybody.

Finally, for anyone who’s interested, pop music features heavily. So who were you into in the 1980s: Erasure or the Pet Shop Boys? It mattered at the time!

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