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Masculinity and the British mining industry from nationalisation through to pit closures

Peirson-Webber, E. (2022) Masculinity and the British mining industry from nationalisation through to pit closures. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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To link to this item DOI: 10.48683/1926.00114995


Since the 1842 Mines Act, the underground world of the British coal mine had been the exclusive preserve of men and boys. This thesis explores how the British mining industry influenced how its workers understood and expressed their masculine identities. The nationalisation of the British mining industry in 1947 was heralded as a new dawn for both the industry and its workers, yet within fifty years it had been privatised and just one per cent of its workforce remained. In the intervening period major changes within the industry impacted how and where miners worked, as mechanisation escalated and as some coalfields contracted. In the year-long miners’ strike, from March 1984 to March 1985, over 180,000 miners came out in protest against prospective pit closures. These events are well known, and many historical accounts have been written of them. What is less clear is why so many men felt strongly about the industry, and so compelled to act to prevent its demise. It is only through understanding how the industry shaped its workers and how men brought meaning to their work, that we can appreciate how through pit closures men lost not only a job but also a close homosocial community, and for some, a sense of who they were as men. This thesis draws on forty new oral history interviews, written testimonies, published and unpublished memoirs, industry-related publications and films, and the material culture of the mining industry and its communities. My four chapters are structured to reflect the masculine life-journey in the pit. Through exploring the relationship between mining fathers and their miner sons, I argue that the industry influenced familial relationships and roles. The second chapter explores men’s understanding of their embodied masculinity, and how their relationship with this changed as the industry was mechanised. Reflecting on the hegemonic masculine culture of the pit in the third chapter, I demonstrate how this shaped men’s attitudes towards risk and injury. The camaraderie between miners has been observed in many studies of the industry. Yet, few have explored how this camaraderie was defined, experienced, and manifested. In the final chapter I argue that men’s definitions of camaraderie were polysemic, reflecting both jovial relations with co-workers and an emotional bond that compelled some men to act to protect the welfare of colleagues. I also challenge one-dimensional understandings of miners’ camaraderie by arguing that not all men accepted, or were accepted into pit culture, and such men often had a different experience of the industry. Alternatively, I argue that for some miners, the industry exerted a strong influence on their masculine identity, which following pit closures, they were forced to renegotiate. Throughout this thesis I foreground subjective experiences to highlight the heterogeneity of mining lives and demonstrate how stereotypes of miners as hypermasculine and militant trade unionists overlook the ambivalences of men’s lived experience.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Thomlinson, N.
Thesis/Report Department:Department of History
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Humanities > History
ID Code:114995

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