Learning to Labor : How Working-Class Kids Get Working-Class Jobs
A landmark work in sociology, cultural studies, and ethnography since its publication in 1977, Paul Willis's Learning to Labor is a provocative and troubling account of how education links culture and class in the reproduction of social hierarchy. Willis observed a working-class friendship group in an English industrial town in the West Midlands in their final years at school. These "lads" rebelled against the rules and values of the school, creating their own culture of opposition. Yet this resistance to official norms, Willis argues, prepared these students for working-class employment. Rebelling against authority made the lads experience the constraints that held them in subordinate class positions as choices of their own volition.
Learning to Labor demonstrates the pervasiveness of class in lived experience. Its detailed and sympathetic ethnography emphasizes subjectivity and the role of working-class people in making their culture. Willis shows how resistance does not simply challenge the social order, but also constitutes it. The lessons of Learning to Labor apply as much to the United States as to the United Kingdom, especially the finding that education, rather than helping overcome hierarchies, can often perpetuate them, which is of renewed relevance at a time when education is trumpeted as meritocratic and a panacea for inequality.