Tuesday 24 April 2018

On first looking into Richard Hoggart's The Uses of Literacy

On first looking into Richard Hoggart's The Uses of Literacy

There is a little piece of mine that has proved popular, and useful...
O’Sullivan, P. (2004). On First Looking into Mercier’s The Irish Comic Tradition. New Hibernia Review, 8(4), 152–157.

It can be downloaded from my Archive at...

It looks at the importance of a specific book, Vivian Mercier’s The Irish Comic Tradition, in my own life - it is part book review, part autobiography.

I could write a companion piece, On first looking into Richard Hoggart's The Uses of Literacy.  In fact, astute readers have already spotted that Richard Hoggart is there in my Mercier article - and I will leave it to new readers to spot the relevant sections.

So...  Hoggart, The Uses of Literacy - part ethnography, part autobiography.

I am prompted to think again about Hoggart and his Uses, by - at last - getting round to reading the biography by Fred Inglis...

Inglis, F. (2014). Richard Hoggart: virtue and reward. Cambridge: Polity.

The book is visible here...

There are many reviews...  See, for example...

Fred Inglis's book is, in its own way, as unique a thing as Richard Hoggart's, and - as reviewers have noted - has its own oddities.  Inglis, p 228, comments on later Hoggart offering, 'the kind of thing old buffers say as they switch off the ten o'clock news...' - but himself gives us more than enough old bufferisms.  In a sense fair enough - for he clearly feels  he must at least comment on the destruction of the kind of university, and the kind of public life, that Hoggart helped shape.

Looking at my own notes about Richard Hoggart...  Let me just mention Laurie Taylor's Thinking Allowed BBC radio programmes, Wed 26 Aug 2009...

Richard Hoggart
'Laurie Taylor discusses the life and work of leading cultural commentator Richard Hoggart, asking why his time is coming again.
Hoggart's evidence in the Lady Chatterley trial changed censorship for ever, his influence on the Pilkington Committee established the norms of public service broadcasting still in operation today and his academic work led to the invention of cultural studies in the UK.'

Laurie Taylor is particularly nonplussed by the Uses of Literacy's attack on milk bars - and milk bars, from this distance, do seem a comparatively innocent 1950s experience.

(There is an appreciative comment from Laurie Taylor on the back cover of Inglis, Richard Hoggart: virtue and reward.)

Milk bars also haunt a nice article by Joe Moran...
Cultural Studies
Volume 20, 2006 - Issue 6
Joe Moran
Pages 552-573 | Published online: 17 Feb 2007

Fred Inglis does touch, a little bit, on the international significance of Hoggart and Uses of Literacy.  He is good on Claude Levi-Strauss's appreciation of Hoggart, p 126-7, p 174.  He puts Uses of Literacy alongside Tristes Tropiques.  But, p 127, he quotes another commentator who, in 1957, praises Hoggart in order to disparage Camus (and Sartre).  The logical thing would be to put Hoggart alongside Camus.

And there is, indeed, a tradition of doing just that...  


The two (or three) careers of Richard Hoggart
From the foundation of cultural studies to the appropriations of French sociology
by Claire Ducournau

And I do like this thesis by William Nicholas Padfield - which outlines a French tradition of ‘intellectuels de première génération’, that is writers and intellectuals from relatively 'humble origins', and again puts Hoggart alongside Camus.  And alongside Bourdieu.

Padfield, W. N. (2015). “L”ascension sociale’ and the return to origins: reconstructions of family and social origin in the writings of Albert Camus, Annie Ernaux, Didier Eribon and Édouard Louis. Manchester Metropolitan University. Retrieved from

What seems to have gone un-noticed, in discussions of Hoggart, his critiques of the 'Americanisation of British youth culture' (including those wicked milk bars), and his naming of 'scholarship boy ambivalence', is the Americanisation of Richard Hoggart...

Our entry point there is Richard Rodriguez...

There is an article, 1974, which anticipates the book of 1982...

Rodriguez, R. (1974). Going Home Again: The New American Scholarship Boy. The American Scholar, 44(1), 15–28.

Rodriguez, R. (1982). Hunger of memory: the education of Richard Rodriguez, an autobiography. D.R. Godine.

(The book is now widely visible, and increasingly visible in the secondary literature.)

The article introduces Hoggart and the Uses of Literacy, p 17, as Richard Rodriguez tries to find a perspective on his own experience...  'For the child who moves to an academic culture from a culture that dramatically lacks academic traditions, looking back can jeopardize the certainty he has about the desirability of this new academic culture. Richard Hoggart's description, in The Uses of Literacy, of the cultural pressures on such a student, whom Hoggart calls the "scholarship boy," helps make the point...  ...he must choose between the two worlds: if he intends to succeed as a student, he must, literally and figuratively, separate himself from his family, with its gregarious life, and find a quiet place to be alone with his thoughts...'

Richard Hoggart is quoted at length in the book, and becomes a sort of guru figure, commentating from the past as young Richard Rodriguez shapes his future.

There is a Wikipedia entry on Richard Rodriguez...

And this recent Paris Review is helpful...

And, of course, our scholarship boy is also our scholarship girl, and perhaps faces even more complexity than her male counterpart...  Let me recommend this nicely written, beautifully paced, article by Laura Rendón...

Rendón, L. I. (1992). From the Barrio to the academy: Revelations of a Mexican American “scholarship girl.” New Directions for Community Colleges, 80(80), 55–64.

'It was during my first year of graduate school at the University of Michigan, far away from the Laredo, Texas, barrio where I spent my youth, that I read
Richard Rodriguez’s (1975) poignant essay, “Going Home Again: The New American Scholarship Boy.” Reading this story of how the academy changes
foreigners who enter its culture (more than it is changed by them) inspired a powerful emotional response in me. My own odyssey through higher
education had taken me along an unusual path...'  And she quotes from Richard Rodriguez essay the very lines that I have just quoted, above, about chosing between two worlds.

Rendón finds Hoggart through Rodriguez...

Oddly enough, I found Rodriguez through Irish Diaspora Studies - I was following some thoughts about nuns and Irish Christian Brothers...  And Rodriguez says, Hunger of Memory, p 122, his mother's family name is, 'inexplicably Irish', Moran.

Patrick O'Sullivan
April 2018

September 2018

My attention has been directed towards Joe Moran's web site...

The full text of his article,
Milk Bars, Starbucks and the Uses of Literacy
is available there...

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