The aesthetics of class in post-war Britain
Existing histories of post-war Britain offer limited perspectives on how, why and where working-class culture became the subject that Raymond Williams described as 'a key issue in our own time'. Little of the work that has attended to this issue has examined it beyond its anthropological sense as 'a whole way of life'. In contrast, a concept of the 'aesthetic' is enlisted here as an apposite way of approaching the idea of culture in its more limited sense, defuied by Williams as 'the arts and learning - the special processes of discovery and creative effort'. This thesis locates the issue of working-class culture in the context of the postwar settlement as an aspect of the mentalites of Welfare State Britain. It suggests that there was a re-imagining of the majority as part of a wider, democratic reconceptualisation of the public and cultural spheres. This idea is explored through the study of a range of contemporaneous projects designed to describe, validate, reclaim, rejuvenate and indeed generate an 'authentic' working-class culture. These projects include the wartime activities of the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA), the post-war Folk Revival, the work of Richard Hoggart, radio producer Charles Parker, Arnold Wesker's Centre 42 project and how creative practices pursued in post-war education engaged with concepts of working-class culture. The aesthetic framework is enlisted also to the framing of the discourses, assumptions and idealism that impelled these projects. What is revealed are the historically specific conceptualisations of class, culture and politics that informed and limited this work, the Utopian ambition behind it and the manner in which ordinary people were represented and encouraged to represent themselves.