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The Affluent Society

Questions to prepare for seminar:

  1. In what respects did the emergence of the ‘affluent society’ see a challenge to existing class values and status-systems in Britain?
  2. In what respects did the emergence of the ‘affluent society’ see a challenge to existing tastes in Britain?
  3. Why and how was gender so important to the ‘affluent society’?
  4. Was the ‘affluent society’ just a myth? If so, what function does it serve?

Core Reading:

  • Selina Todd, ‘Affluence, Class and Crown Street: Reinvestigating the Post-War Working Class’, Contemporary British History, 22 (2008), 501-18.
  • Joe Moran, ‘Milk Bars, Starbucks and the Uses of Literacy’, Cultural Studies, 20 (2006), 552-73.
  • Please also read at least one of the keys works listed below, and ideally also something on gender.


Further Reading:

  • On the ‘affluent society’: Lawrence Black and Hugh Pemberton (eds.), An Affluent Society? Britain’s Post-War ‘Golden Age’ Revisited (2004); ‘Contesting Affluence’ Special Edition of Contemporary British History, 22 (2008); Vernon Bogdanor and Robert Skidelsky, The Age of Affluence, 1951-1964 (1970)
  • On the politics of affluence: Lawrence Black, Redefining British Politics: Culture, Consumerism and Participation, 1954-70 (2010) – ebook; Lawrence Black, The Political Culture of the Left in Affluent Britain 1951-64: Old Labour, New Britain? (2003) – ebook; Mark Jarvis, Conservative Governments, Morality and Social Change in Affluent Britain, 1957-64 (2005); Nick Tiratsoo, Reconstruction, Affluence and Labour Politics: Coventry, 1945-60 (1990)
  • More generally on the implications of affluence for well being: Avner Offer, The Challenge of Affluence: Self Control and Well Being in the United States and Britain (2006)
  • On the challenges to the ‘common culture’: R. Hewison, Culture and Consensus: England, Art and Politics since 1940 (1995); A. Aldgate, ‘Alfie’, History Today, 40, 10 (1996), 50-4. For a less positive view of the changes to working-class culture: R. Hoggart, The Uses of Literacy (1957); Jonathan Rose, The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes (2001).
  • On the emergence of a distinct youth culture: Bill Osgerby, Youth in Britain since 1945 (1997); Bill Osgerby, 'From the Roaring Twenties to the Swinging Sixties: Continuity and Change in British Youth Culture, 1929-59', in B. Brivati & H. Jones (eds.), What Difference did the War Make? (1995); Peter Bailey, 'Jazz at the Spirella: Coming of Age in Coventry in the 1950s', in B. Connekin, F, Mort & C. Waters (eds.), Moments of Modernity: Reconstructing Britain, 1945-1964 (1999), 22-40; L. Heron (ed.), Truth, Dare or Promise? Girls Growing up in the Fifties (1985)
  • On implications for women: Angela Partington, ‘The Days of the New Look: Consumer Culture and Working Class Affluence’, in Jim Fyrth (ed.), Labour’s Promised Land? Culture and Society in Labour’s Britain, 1945-51 (1995), 247-63; Dolly Smith Wilson, ‘A New Look at the Affluent Worker: The Good Working Mother in Post-War Britain’, 20th Century British History, 17 (2006), 206-29; Stephanie Spencer, Gender, Work and Education in Britain in the 1950s (2005); Carolyn Steedman, Landscape for a Good Woman.
  • On the deepening culture of consumption: John Benson, The Rise of Consumer Society in Britain, 1880-1980 (1994); Matthew Hilton, Consumerism in Twentieth-Century Britain: The Search for an Historical Movement (2003); Frank Mort, 'The Commercial Domain: Advertising and the Cultural Managements of Demand', in B. Connekin, F, Mort & C. Waters (eds.), Moments of Modernity: Reconstructing Britain, 1945-1964 (1999), pp. 55-75; Paul Johnson (ed.), 20th Century Britain: chapter 1 Introduction; chapter 14 'The New Consumerism'; chapter 17 'Austerity and Boom'; & chapter 18 'The Golden Age, 1955-73'.
  • On gambling: M. Clapson, A Bit of a Flutter (1992)
  • On suburbanisation and urban development: Mark Clapson, Invincible Green Suburbs, Brave new Towns: Social Change and Urban Dispersal in Post-War England (1998); Guy Ortolano, ‘Planning the Urban Future in 1960s Britain’, Historical Journal, 54 (2011), 477-507
  • On popular culture: A. Marwick, ‘The “Cultural Revolution” in Britain’, Journal of Contemporary History, 19 (1984), 127-52; A. Marwick, ‘Six Novels of the Sixties’, Journal of Contemporary History, 28 (1993), 563-91; A. Aldgate, Censorship and the Permissive Society: British Cinema and Theatre, 1955-65 (1995).
  • Primary Sources.

    • Richard Hoggart, The Uses of Literacy (1957)
    • Colin MacInnis, Absolute Beginners (1959)