Family Sociology's Paradoxes

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 selfesteem 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:
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
 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
 Cyprus, France, Italy, Tibet (1 essay each)
 Overseas ‘seeing the world’ with Armed Forces (11
Mobility envisaged
within the UK
31 of 142
Image from Digimap. Used with permission
Travel with
the armed
24 of 142
Mobility envisaged beyond
the UK
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
 Essays written as a teenager may not be very
 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
 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
 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
 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
 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
 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
 And strong ambition to own one’s own business:
 ‘At 32 I opened my own café in Sheerness High Street’
 ‘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)?
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)