Ackers, George (2016) The impact of deindustrialisation on masculine career identity: an intergenerational study of men from naval repair families in Medway, Kent. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

This thesis addresses the impact of deindustrialisation and the subsequent move to a post-industrial 'new economy' on skilled working class men and their sons and grandsons. The decline in manufacturing and growth of service-based jobs has prompted many social theorists to argue working-class men’s ability to construct meaningful careers and identities is becoming ever more limited. This thesis explores 27 career history interviews collected in South-East England from 13 former Royal Dockyard tradesmen and 14 of these men’s sons and grandsons. Closed in 1984, Chatham’s naval shipbuilding and repair yard had been the major employer for generations of men and their families for over 400 years. To explore this generational significance and consider the long-term, residual effect of deindustrialisation on male work identities a mutigenerational sample was used. In the process of doing thematic analysis, it became clear that cross-generational themes were being continued and reinterpreted by these men. Three intergenerational themes were central to the men’s explanations of how they tackled transition in their working lives. The first theme ‘getting on’ reflects evidence that the men’s career motivations and attitudes were primarily focused on upward career mobility and better job security. The second theme ‘personal adaptability’ was the men strategy of adapting skills and embodying new work identities to actualize their desire to ‘get on’. However in the transition to post-industrial employment, men did not lose their engagement with their trade learning and hands on work. The third theme ‘a craft outlook’ illustrates that men developed unpaid craft projects, to retain a ‘linear life narrative’ (Sennett, 1998), which gave meaning to their evolving careers and lives. These craft projects also created channels through which fathers, sons and grandsons talked about their growing and changing relationships with each other.

In light of these themes, this study generates four main findings. First although men had to deal with change in their careers this did not cause a rupture in their working identities. Instead they used powerful life themes (Savickas, 1997), to take ownership of their own working lives. So they navigated deindustrialisation and employment change in a manner that left many now viewing these transitions as positive in either personal and/or economic terms. Second, class and occupation were still fundamental to men’s identity. But, unlike career writers who suggest that a self-driven career is a middle class, professional notion this study found these men did construct sophisticated career narratives. That incorporated both their private and paid work, akin to Mirvis and Hall’s (1994) notion of a ‘protean career’. Third, the PhD finds that neither sample experienced a working class male crisis due to feeling they could not satisfy traditional gendered identities and masculine practices. Instead, intergenerational transmission was based on each generation making something of what had been passed to them, a process Bertaux and Bertaux-Wiame (1997: 93) term the ‘transmission of equivalents’. The replication of occupations was not the desire of any generation in this study. Finally, this study finds that craft had a continued and evolving meaning for the majority of men. Craft gave men practices on which to structure a linear life narrative, produce familial solidarity and create a powerful labour ethic of performing quality work. Overall findings from this research challenge the idea that most men were/are passive victims of industrial change. By contrast, the majority of men in this study managed to carefully adapt to and navigate the transition from industrial to post-industrial work.

Whereas this study only speaks for a section of the skilled working class, these findings suggest that the current literature needs to be modified in three ways. First, the manual working classes should not be considered a homogeneous or static group when responding to deindustrialisation. The skilled men in this study demonstrate a distinct experience of work transitions. Second, the experiences of the men were mediated by the regional employment context of the south-east, whereas the current literature is largely based on relatively isolated communities in the North of England or Celtic fringes. This studies results therefore questions the validity of generalising the impacts of this process at a national or international level. Third, unlike static studies of geographically located collective community experience, this research has followed generations of families. These individuals’ career stories reflect the important accounts of men who strategically moved away or commute to work outside these former industrial areas. Overall the omission of these factors has led to an over passive account of deindustrialisation and the move to the new economy, which robs many working-class men of their individuality and active agency.

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