The Historical Association Between Class Origins and Male Career Trajectories in UK Film Production
Atkinson, William James
The characterisation of the contemporary creative and cultural industries (CCIs) as ‘cool, creative and egalitarian’ (Gill, 2002) has been unpicked in recent literature (Grugulis and Stoyanova, 2012; Eikhof and Warhurst, 2013, Randle et al, 2015). A growing consensus suggests this is a meritocratic ideal rather than a reality, indicating CCIs are the domain of the white, male and middle-class (Randle, et al, 2015; O’Brien et al, 2016). The thesis is intended to inform a deeper historical understanding of some of the inequalities that persist in the contemporary CCIs. While some CCIs (radio, film and television) originated at the end of the 19th or the beginning of the 20th century, there is very little academic work which investigates the extent of egalitarianism or meritocracy in the film industry during much of the 20th century. The most robust historical study of class and employment in CCIs suggests that is likely that they have always been unequal, but points to a lack of historical data from which to evaluate the past (Banks, 2017). In order to contribute greater historical background to the sociological issue, this thesis therefore draws on an historical qualitative analysis of the film production careers of 37 men, from a mixture of working class origins (WCOs) and middle-class origins (MCOs) most of whose work began in the 1930s and ended in the 1970s. The primary source of data comprises oral history interviews from the British Entertainment History Project (BEHP) archive housed at the BFI Library. The research explores, specifically, work between 1927 and 1947 as the British Studio System emerged and many film occupations developed around the introduction of sound technology. The evidence suggests that certain structural arrangements, unique to the vertically integrated studios, provided some opportunities for working-class men in the past. However, these are shown to be exceptions that need to be qualified by a deeper understanding of the ‘fields’ (Bourdieu, 1984) that emerged around different film occupations within the studio system. To provide a deeper understanding of the ways in which career trajectories were mediated in different occupational settings, a Bourdieusian inspired, historical model of the association between class origins and male career destinations has been designed. Analysis of these careers highlights a long history of class-based inequalities that subsequently became embedded in employment practices and within many film production occupations and departments. Although careers during this period were enacted around different structural arrangements to those today, certain trends and associations between class background and opportunities were being shaped during the 1930s.
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