What does the study of
everyday life reveal about the nature of politics and identity in the past?

Everyday life not only represents
past political policies but also how they were implemented, the public reaction
and how successful it was on a micro level. Even if policies were successful in
urban-centric areas, their outreach is harder to determine using a macro view of
governments alone. Politics doesn’t always consider the nature of individual
identities because of its collective nature, it can be argued that, by nature,
identities – especially within small communities – are collective because
industry underpins the communities’ identity. The market town Redruth is a key
example for this, having changed its industrial identity over the 18th
and 19th century. First when they became a copper ore source for big
businesses during the Industrial Revolution and second when employment
plummeted as copper ore began to be imported – causing many to emigrate to mines
in the Americas for example. Macro politics didn’t regard the town’s industrial
everyday as an identity within itself – so it was lost. Socio-industrial
identities are lost on wider politics because, as with mining, these identities
aren’t exclusive to one region. World War One was a huge factor in highlighting
the political interrelationships (or lack therein) between communities and the core
areas like London. Key issues like distribution of food resources from Cornwall
to London for instance cemented T.C. Agar Robartes’ idea that, Cornwall was a was
a nation within itself. 1 Nevertheless, the success of my analysis rests on who’s identity I am highlighting, and how much this is influenced
by collective memory.

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!


order now

The decline of labour
support in the Welsh mining valleys of Llanelli and Pontypool is an example of
how, unlike macro history, micro analysis of the everyday shows, the connection
between location and identity. 2And, while this isn’t unique to Britain, it was the main cause for working
class mining families involved in the 1910 Cambrian strikes’ to remain loyal to
the liberal party in a radicalistic pre-World War One political climate. Local
electorates used the everyday
concerns of the local community in their campaigns – showing us what they were
concerned with. Local accounts and the contradictions of local newspapers give
us a better sense of how changes were or weren’t received and implemented. However,
local accounts are still limited by a lack of concern (insouciance) prominent among
rural areas and younger generations. This assumed inferiority of younger voters
isn’t necessarily just a cultural by-product of our patriarchal hierarchy. It
has origins in generational patterns within industry. As the Welsh case study
showed, most boys followed their fathers footsteps in the mining industry. Even
in the 2016 Brexit referendum young voters were the focus of campaigns with the
argument that, disillusioned with its long term socio-economic impact on
everyday things such as taxes, they wouldn’t vote. Moreover, this highlighted the
extent to which Western media were more concerned with consumerist politics and
trying to stabilise import taxes not our
dangerous freedom away from the EU’s environmental or human rights policies. As
well as our need to maintain a form of individualism of mini nations within
nations. Arguably, the EU has the capacity and the agenda to raise public
consciousness on issues like climate
change more than the British government as a freestanding hegemonic authority. Even
if the British government does have more of an influence to do so.

The nature of everyday
life can often reveal how changes leading up to crisis’ – taking the instability
of the Cornish economy for instance – made the ‘crisis’ more inevitable then
the label of ‘crisis’ assumes. Arguably, its underlying economic instability
rests in its seasonal dynamic as a tourist town – its primary function is to
sustain its identity in a sphere accessible to ‘outsiders’. In my eyes, this is
the reason that the spill of 18,000 tonnes of crude oil across the Cornish
coastline on the 18th March 1967, was regarded as a ‘middle class
concern’. 3 Cornish tourism is by its nature middle class
as it the working-class tourists had less leisure time and working class locals
had less time to devote to the clean-up. The impact (or lack of it) of the
event – as shown in oral interviews of locals –  like walking home with sticky shoes forced them to change their everyday.
4 In the case of Welsh liberal decline, the working-class mining
community did become more engaged in everyday politics. They were genuinely
concerned with avoiding another economic crisis (known through collective
memory) and surviving for the sake of future generations in such a patriotic
political climate.5 In both cases, there is a
pattern in which each community feels the need to validate the shift in local politics towards raising a
consciousness about it. Nevertheless, the ways in which they go about doing so
cannot be put down to class alone and applying class assumptions so liberally
to both events is too reductive.

Amid the Torrey Canyon oil
spill, newspapers served as an example of how peoples language drew parallels
between management of the spill and the war effort. Five 1000lb bombs were
dropped – an atypical masculine response, but also one in which oil company BP
“handily” could provide. 67 Aside from being a battle with nature, the tanker had literal
connection with the war because its route was changed from the Persian Gulf to
Western Europe post-war. 8 In some sense, this need to justify the attention given to the spill is
in itself middle class, and still is. Short term action was taken in a
conservative fashion; just getting the job done with no regard to sustainable
detergents and there was huge focus on the animals involved – almost to distract from this inappropriate
response to what should have been an absolute responsibility. Moreover, its
focus in an intellectual environment still assesses the event at too much of a
distance. Our tendency is to see those involved as susceptible to the masculine
political sphere of the 60’s. This is dangerous because it allows us to justify
the masculine approach to ‘all the men getting the clean-up done’ as an
alternative to accepting the guilt that should have followed. In doing so, we
also risk seeing the ‘disaster’ as a ‘them’ and ‘us’ situation – suggesting
that we are both more responsible and technologically advanced, which is no
doubt how those involved would’ve also chosen to see it. Long term, the political
clean-up had worse implications than the physical clean up because younger
generations saw it as acceptable to see such instances as temporal – something
which would exist in their time
alone.

Regardless, we need to
consider the context. Despite using Foucault’s method of analysing the micro
and applying it to the macro, each case is, to an extent, geographically
specific. While the Welsh ‘khaki’ election of 1918 was influenced by its
post-war context it was influenced in a completely different way to that of
Torrey Canyon. If anything, the Cornish incident caused a separatism from the
capital because ‘outside’ experts introduced cornwall to its own landscape when
bringing in new methods to help the clean up (even though they hindered it
because oil naturally degrades over time). 9

On the other hand,
sometimes context can cause us to overlookthe role of minorities, which,
especially if a supressed group, may only
have an everyday perspective to tell. When the vote was extended to women
in 1918, there was the potential of an extra four million supporters to be
gained. However, when this is broken down, although some Welsh women in 1918
did have freedom from the patriarchy in the sense that those in rural areas
were involved in the day to day manual labour on farms before the liberation of jobs during World War Two; on a whole
there was not such a large proportion of women who could actually vote. The age qualification barrier that only women over 30 who met a property qualification could vote
was a ‘compromise to ensure they stayed a minority’. 10 And this is particularly true when considering the percentage of Welsh
farming towns in which farming estates were bought and owned by the man of the
house. 11 Furthermore, even those who could vote were, as were their communities,
restricted and pressured by the community itself, to their local electives. Of
which, more likely than not didn’t represent
the national political agenda of their party – adding to the idea of Wales as a
nation itself due to its geographical position isolating it from London by
nature.

Thereby, although studying
the private everyday gives what is sometimes a left behind history of
minorities in particular, studying politics in the public eye combined with more private reactions can
reveal how everyday life is organised. 12 This reveals an appreciation of the mundane which is to some extent all
the history that some social groups had. Taking a more social approach to
identity, I agree with Lefebvre in drawing attention to how groups organise
their leisure time as, to take it a step further this often explains the nature
of politics. For example the loss of community celebrations brought by -the emigration
within the Welsh mining industry or the ‘war effort’-esque takeover of peoples’
private leisure time in cleaning seabirds as a community in the Seven Stones
case. And, in turn this led to more demanding proposals and political
involvement from said communities. As Lefebvre highlighted, to truly transform the
study of everyday life we have to the de-alienate human beings. 13 But, in turn, how much a political society didn’t appreciate the ‘importance of human agency’ and downtime as
a part of maintaining the everyday, explains how wider political agendas like
that of…weren’t engaged in in people’s
private everyday lives. 14 The rise of 21st century communication to some extent
reveals this rise in social engagement with politics – particularly after the 1st
major mess media election of 1918 had debate raised bigger questions in British
political consciousness itself. 15

 

 

 

1 Dr Garry Tregidga, “Everyday Politics”, HIC1600:
People’s History I, Everyday Life, Exeter
University, Penryn Campus 2017

2
Paul Steege and others, “The History Of
Everyday Life: A Second Chapter”, The Journal Of Modern History,
80.2 (2008), 358-378 .

3  Timothy Cooper, and Anna Green, “The Torrey Canyon Disaster, Everyday Life,
And The “Greening” Of Britain”, Environmental History, 22 (2016), 101-126

4 Timothy Cooper, “The
Anniversary Of Torrey Canyon; 50 Oral History Interviews”, Exeter
University, Penryn Campus 30th November 2017

5
Timothy Cooper, “Waste And ‘Everyday Environmentalism’ In Modern Britain”, Open
Library Of Humanities, 3.2 (2017) .

6
Patrick, Barkham, “Oil Spills: Legacy Of The Torrey Canyon”, The Guardian, 2010

accessed 3 December 2017

7Everyday Life, And The “Greening” Of Britain”

8
Everyday Life, And The “Greening” Of Britain”

9 “The
Anniversary Of Torrey Canyon; 50 Oral History Interviews”

10
 Martin Farr, “Waging Democracy; The British General
Election Of 1918 Reconsidered” (Senior Lecturer in Modern and
Contemporary British History, University of Newcastle, 2017).

11
“Waging Democracy; The British General Election Of
1918 Reconsidered”

12
Andy Bennett, Culture And Everyday Life (London
u.a.: Sage Publ., 2006), pp. 26,27.

13 Henri Lefebvre, Critique
Of Everyday Life (London: Verso, 2014).

14
 Piotr Sztompka, “The Focus On Everyday Life: A New Turn
In Sociology”, European
Review, 16.01 (2008), 3 .

15 John Callaghan, Steven Fielding and Steve
Ludlam, Interpreting The Labour Party (Manchester University
Press, 2003).