Book review: Worktown

IN the late 1930s, the Lancashire mill town of Bolton was the subject of a new kind of research to see how its inhabitants worked and lived.

An unconventional anthropologist who’d started by studying indigenous tribes in the South Pacific, Tom Harrisson decided to treat the working class in a similar way by studying their habits. The book details how 90 observers recorded minute details of everyday life.

The book also details how his experiment grew into the wider Mass Observation study.

Harrisson saw a gap between how he heard working people talking about the King’s abdication and how the media reported feelings to be in the country. Class and class issues run throughout the book.

There are parallels with today where the voice of the working class seems to be drowned out in any election debate, and the fat cats seem to be getting fatter. It’s a timely, readable reminder that while everything changes, everything also stays the same.

* David Hall, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, €29.50, ebook €18.99


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