Revisiting Sheppey and the Sheppey archive: Ray Pahl’s Divisions of Labour 30 years on



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Revisiting Sheppey and the Sheppey archive: Ray Pahl’s Divisions of Labour 30 years on

  • Dawn Lyon (University of Kent) and Graham Crow (University of Southampton)

The original study

  • Divisions of Labour (1984) based on an extensive, mixed methods project
  • Methods included essays written by 142 school leavers in May 1978 (mainly 16-year-olds, 90 boys, 52 girls), imagining themselves towards the end of their lives and looking back
  • Essays now archived at UK Data Archive
  • Speedy publication of ‘Living without a job: how school leavers see the future’ New Society 2 November 1978: 259-62; focus on themes of work, unemployment and family

The original study

  • Pahl acknowledges that article doesn’t do full justice to essay material which ‘would be extremely hard to interpret without some knowledge of the local context. As this improves, I may wish to modify my present interpretation’ (1978: 262)
  • Analysis of young people developed further in Claire Wallace’s For Richer, For Poorer (1987), based on ethnography and questionnaires
  • Analytical theme of contrasting myth and reality (Pahl 1984: ch.7; Wallace 1987: 14)

The original study

The original study

The original study

  • “One of the things about the Isle of Sheppey is that there does appear to be a slight low self-esteem amongst people, it tends to get put down by a lot of people, Islanders, and there’s lots of myths floating around. What was good about his [Pahl’s] report was that it cleared up a lot of those myths, showed them to be unfounded. One of the myths was that young people never want to travel off the island so their employment prospects are very low because they want to stay on the Island, they don’t want to travel. ”

The original study

  • “But in his report he found that a tremendous lot of people commuted off the Island. A lot of young people went to Canterbury College and to schools in Rochester and what have you, so that wasn’t really proved to be true. It’s true that if you ask young people if they haven’t been off the Island much, they’ve been schooled on the Island and their first thought is if they’ve got to get on a train and change here and change there, it’s going to be a mission, but that would be the same for anybody leaving school.” (2009 interview with an original adult study participant)

The original study

  • Important implication that responsibility for high levels of unemployment on Sheppey, including youth unemployment, in a period of recession are not because of lack of ambition – that would be blaming the victim
  • Need to be cautious around folk wisdom: ‘one of the first things I was told about Sheppey was that there were some people still living there who had never been off the Island’ (Pahl 1984: 144)

What do the 1978 essays say about space and time?

  • Revisiting archived material allows previously undiscussed themes contained in the essays to be explored, such as time and place
  • Some reproduction of negative local images, suggesting ambition to leave Sheppey:
  • ‘this domp of a place’ (Essay 64, male)
  • ‘living in a dump like Isle of Sheppey’ (73, male)
  • ‘I was now living in London away from the increasingly boring Isle of Sheppey’ (28, male)
  • ‘I would also dream of the day that I would leave the island for good’ (110, female)

What do the 1978 essays say about space and time?

  • Not all essays locate their authors’ imagined futures, but 55 of the 142 envisage geographical mobility beyond Kent:
  • London (12 essays)
  • Scotland (3 essays), Cornwall (3 essays)
  • Crawley, Derby, Devon, Doncaster, Dorset, Hampshire, Newcastle, Newmarket, Northampton, Norwich, Portsmouth, Reading, Wales (1 essay each)
  • USA (4 essays), Australia (3 essays), Germany (2 essays)
  • Cyprus, France, Italy, Tibet (1 essay each)
  • Overseas ‘seeing the world’ with Armed Forces (11 essays)
  • Image from Digimap. Used with permission
  • Mobility envisaged within the UK
  • 31 of 142 essays
  • Travel with the armed forces
  • 24 of 142 essays
  • Mobility envisaged beyond the UK
  • Image from maps-world.cn

What do the 1978 essays say about space and time?

  • But indications also of the ‘pull’ of the Island:
  • ‘we decided to stay on the island being as we both had our families here’ (99, female)
  • ‘me and my wife decided to move to the Isle of Sheppey back to my home’ (42, male)
  • ‘When I retired I bought a house in a quiet part of Minster and I settled down to laze away the years I had left’ (85, male)
  • ‘Working-class Islanders do have a strong commitment to their locality’ (Pahl 1984: 193)

What else do the 1978 essays tell us?

  • Essays written as a teenager may not be very ‘realistic’
  • Archive includes Ray Pahl’s notes about the essays, including (on a few)
  • ‘total fantasy’ (on 8)
  • ‘totally unrealistic idea of what he earns and what he gets – own house, car etc.’ (on 38)
  • And author of essay 64 asks ‘how can you right about something that has not happan or may never happan’

What else do the 1978 essays tell us?

  • But also some distancing from fantasy:
  • The author of essay 96 imagined herself working in a shirt factory and dreaming that she would ‘go off to Canada and marry a rich millionaire and…live happy ever after….but instead I met Robert’, who was a year younger. Married and moved to near Doncaster and had 4 daughters, working as a bar assistant. Husband a motor bike racer. ‘Although I didn’t mind Robert going racing, I was always sure some kind of accident would happen and it did’. Robert confined to a wheelchair and needed care so author gave up job to look after him, but said this was all she ever really wanted. She imagined by the end of her life having 4 daughters all grown up with children of their own.

What do the 2009-10 essays tell us?

  • Issues further complicated by bringing in material collected in 2009-10 from a more diverse group of different ages: not simply comparing like with like
  • In addition, modes of communicating have changed as technology has developed
  • Patterns of youth transitions have changed in the intervening 3 decades, e.g. greater chances of going to University, and longer life expectancy – several are written by people imagining themselves living into their eighties

What do the 2009-10 essays tell us?

  • Interesting continuities e.g. in geographical mobility, with moves envisaged to Australia, Alaska, California, Miami, Canada, New Zealand, Spain, Greece, Italy, Africa, and (within UK) Scotland, Yorkshire, London, Liverpool, Colchester, Stoke, Sussex
  • Rich imagination: ‘I became an inventor and designed many objects…When I was 32 I designed the very first hover-car’ (male)
  • Career as palaeontologist ‘I discovered a new type of dinosaur, it was even named after me, a Suddsapophalus’ (34, male)

What do the 2009-10 essays tell us?

  • Continuities in importance of ‘family’, especially children and grandchildren as focus of attention
  • ‘I’m going to have a family a boy and a girl, girl called Alice and don’t no about the boy, have a proper white wedding get a big house and support my family’ (male)
  • ‘I’m a widow with 4 children and 8 grandchildren and love our get togethers’ (female)
  • ‘When I turned 26 I had the best boyfriend ever and… I was pregnant. I had my baby and I called her Hope. I got married when I was 37 and my 11 year old was my bridesmaid’ (female)
  • Continuing relevance of discussions from 1970’s/1980’s study about family and marriage and how these are affected by economic change

What do the 2009-10 essays tell us?

  • Continuing importance of family as a route into work:
  • ‘Finally getting through collage with all my grades including a A in product design, all I now had to do was get a job at my grandad’s work’ (male);
  • ‘After being at college I started work on the farm where my dad got me a job’ (male)

What do the 2009-10 essays tell us?

  • And strong ambition to own one’s own business:
  • ‘At 32 I opened my own café in Sheerness High Street’ (female);
  • ‘Then I started my own company. It was very successful. I made millions’ (male);
  • ‘After a few years and many promotions, I had enough money to start up a business of my own’ (male);
  • ‘by the age of 24 I had fulfilled my dream of becoming my own boss’ (6, male);
  • ‘I don’t want to just work for someone in a hairdressers, I want to be able to have my own salon’ (63, female)

Concluding thoughts

  • Material links in to wider on-going debates generated by use of this and other techniques about young people’s ambitions, aspirations, plans, strategies, expectations, dreams, fantasies, and the best ways of capturing these
  • Different interpretations by different members of the research team regarding ‘hope’ and ‘constraint’
  • It would be fascinating to get accounts of what actually happened in the lives of the 1978 essay writers now aged 48
  • In particular, what would they say about views expressed on ageing: ‘at 40, I can safely say my life had ended’ (4, male); ‘by 50 I was old’ (129, female)?

References

  • Anderson, M. et al (2005) ‘Timespans and plans among young adults’ Sociology 39(1) 139-55
  • Brannen, J. and Nilsen, A. (2002) ‘Young people’s time perspectives: From youth to adulthood’ Sociology 36(3) 513-37.
  • Brannen, J. and Nilsen, A. (2007) ‘Young people, time horizons and planning, A response to Anderson et al’ Sociology 41(1) 153-60.
  • Himmelweit, H. et al (1952) ‘The views of adolescents on some aspects of the social class structure’, British Journal of Sociology 3(2) 148-72
  • Pahl, R.E. (1978) ‘Living without a job: how school leavers see the future’ New Society 2 November 1978: 259-62
  • Pahl, R.E. (1984) Divisions of Labour (Oxford: Basil Blackwell)
  • Thompson, R. and Holland, J. (2002) ‘Imagined adulthood: resources, plans and contradictions’ Gender and Education 14(4) 337-50.
  • Veness, T. (1962) School Leavers: Their Aspirations and Expectations (London: Methuen)
  • Wallace, C. (1987) For Richer, For Poorer: Growing up in and out of work (London: Tavistock)


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