Willis, P. Learning to Labour

Cultural theorist Paul Willis’ Learning to Labor discusses counter-school culture, the “general and personalized opposition to authority” of the institution of school (Willis, 122). The actors of counter-school culture are the “lads”. Opposition occurs as an “aversion of the usual values held up by authority”, and is mainly expressed as a style in clothing and action, such as disregard for rules such as not smoking. (Willis, 125). The “lads” ostracize conformists whom they call “ear’oles”, who support the “idea” of teachers; “having invested something of their own identities in the formal aims of education…” they expect teachers to uphold authority (Willis, 125). Willis states, “The opposition [of the lads] can be understood as a classic example of the opposition between the formal and informal”, the formal is the school and its formal structure; the counter-school culture, “is in the zone of the informal” its infrastructure is the social group (Willis, 128). Willis explains counter-school culture in the working class context is preliminary to “the culture most of its members are mostly destined for- shop-floor culture” (Willis, 130). A main theme of shop-floor culture is, “the massive attempt to gain informal control of the work process” and output of production, just as the lads try to control their work environment (Willis, 131). Willis says, “the rejection of school work by ‘the lads’…is paralleled by a massive feeling on the shop-floor, and in the working class generally, that practice is more important than theory.” This, he explicates is the class function of knowledge, where in the working class, “theory is asked to be in close dialect with the material world…” however in the middle class its selective application is the means for upward social movement (Willis, 132). (D Swint)


Willis, P. 2009 (1981). Learning to Labour, pp. 122-133 in Hechter & Horne, Theories of Social Order: A Reader (Second Edition). Stanford University Press.
Wikipedia. Paul Willis