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Paul Willis, learning to labour

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Abstract

When I first read Learning to Labour (LTL) in 1979 I felt I had been enlightened. It evoked, very powerfully, the dignity that is fought for by those experiencing oppression. For the first time the working class were presented as strong, defiant, belligerent in their creativity, and humorous. It was a change from all the passive-victim categorisations of compensatory social policies. It made a lot of sense. It showed how young working-class men wield power. It also showed how they contributed to their own subordination. It pointed out that there were few dignified alternatives to their action. It didn’t blame them, or the working class in general. It demonstrated that young white workingclass men made history but not in the conditions of their own choosing, and in so doing their oppression and that of others was ensured.