Willis, Paul

Willis, Paul

Bio: (1950-) British sociologist and theorist of culture. Paul Willis received his Ph.d. from the University of Birmingham, worked at the Center for Contemporary Studies in Culture, and then taught at several British universities, and today he teaches at Princeton University in the United States. He is best known for his work in interdisciplinary cultural studies. Willis studied many topics: education, consumer culture, socialization, music, leisure, and youth culture. In the book Learning to Labor: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs  (1977), Willis studies how cultural values ​​shape pupils' attitudes toward education and work. The fieldwork of this study was conducted in Birmingham. Willis opposed the hypothesis that children from working-class families, due to academic failures, recognize their own intellectual limitations, and then, as a result, they accept jobs with limited chances for career advancement. He spent a long time with a group of white boys from working-class families.

He came to the conclusion that they understood very well the system of authority that exists in the school, but that they actively fought against it, and one of the ways of fighting was constant conflicts with teachers. They saw school as a hostile system that they could manipulate. The hostile attitude they had towards the authoritarian system at school, with constant attempts to provoke and manipulate, they kept latter on because they had the same attitude towards work. They were happy to have a paid job, but did not expect to get any pleasure or sense of accomplishment from the work, nor did they have the desire to pursue a career. Remaining in the class of parents, for these children, was a product of cultural reproduction because the subcultural pattern, which was accepted during childhood, continued to operate when entering the labor market. In this group of boys, Willis also found extremely macho behavior - expressing aggressive masculinity by using sexist language about girls, establishing a very clearly defined framework of acceptable behavior for boys, and harassment and physical aggression concerning homosexuals.

Willis also studied the impact that rising unemployment had on young people in Britain in the early 1980s. He came to the conclusion that in areas where there is high unemployment, the vast majority of young people experience long-term poverty, and delays in leaving their parents' homes and forming marriages, which lead to their isolation, frustration, demoralization, and family conflicts.


Main works

Learning to Labor: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs  (1977); 

Profane Culture (1978);

Culture, Media, Language (1980);

Schooling for the Dole (1984);

The Social Condition of Young People in Wolverhampton in 1984 (1985);

The Youth Review (1988);

Moving Culture (1990);

Common Culture  (1990);

Nuevas Perspectivas Criticas en Educacion (1994);

The Ethnographic Imagination (2000);

Learning to Labour in New Times (2004).

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