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Study Notes

Classic Texts: Fiona Devine "Affluent Workers Revisited" 1992


Last updated 18 Apr 2019

Devine carried out interviews with manual workers in the late 1980s to test ideas set out by Goldthorpe & Lockwood 20 years before.

The original "Affluent Workers" study, by Goldthorpe & Lockwood in 1969, presented the idea of a new working class that was sociologically very different from the traditional working class of previous generations. While the traditional working class was communal, interested in solidarity as a class and was critical of capitalism (and supportive of trade unions and the labour movement) they argued that new working class was quite different. This class, they suggested was much more individualistic, supportive of capitalism and aspirational for themselves and their families.

In testing these conclusions, among workers in the same town and industry, 20 years later, Devine disagreed with the conclusions from the 1960s. She dismissed the idea of a new working class - the people she interviewed had many traditional working-class values. She also found evidence of working-class people disliking aspects of capitalism. However, she did find that they no longer necessarily thought of the Labour Party or trade union movement as theirs or that they could deliver a more equal or just society.

She also said that she did not find evidence of what Goldthorpe & Lockwood called privatised instrumentalism. She agreed that people's lives were not as communal as in previous generations, they were not as isolated and home-based as Goldthorpe & Lockwood had predicted.

She did, however, find evidence of working-class families being increasingly affluent and aspirational. They did, as Goldthorpe & Lockwood had suggested, want to "better" themselves and their families and acquire consumer goods, brands and luxury items. However, this did not mean that they were unconcerned about the welfare of others.

The idea of the affluent worker - the aspirational C2s - was important in the 1980s, partly because of Politics. C2 workers had traditionally been expected to vote Labour but many voted for Margaret Thatcher's Conservatives in the 1980s, particularly in the south-east of England. However, Fiona Devine's research suggests this was more complicated than a complete change in values and the arrival of a new working class.

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