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Study ”Learning to Labour”, Learn to do “ethnography”

What was the underlying youth culture in the 1960s in Britain? What was the bottom culture like in the 2010s in Beijing? What do the two cultures bring to the youth at different times and in different countries? And what is the core of cultural studies? How to do ethnographic studies? Are there any problems that need to be clarified or supplemented after the book “Learning to Labour: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs” being published for 40years? Around these issues, invited by Sociology of Education Salon, Nanjing Normal University, the famous British sociologist Paul·Willis presented two academic seminar in reference room 404, south Ting Ka Pin building, on November 30th, 2016 and December 1st, 2016. The topics are “Two Moments: The Cultural Studies in England in the 1960s and the Three Spaces in Beijing in the 2010s” and “Q&A on Learning to Labour” repectively.

The seminar was chaired by Prof. Tianjun Cheng, Director of the Research Center for Educational Sociology, Nanjing Normal University. Nearly 40 teachers and students attended the seminar, including Prof. Kangning Wu, Prof. Xuehong Qi, Prof. Yue Yang and Prof. Shuihong Gao from Najing Normal University, Prof. Xiaoxing He from Nanjing University, Doctuoral students majoring in Educational Sociology and members in Sociology of Education Salon.

Prof. Willis graduated from University of Cambridge and University of Birmingham. He was a former social/cultural ethnography professor in Keele University and a professor in the Department of Sociology in Princeton University, America. Currently, he is a professor in the Department of Education in Beijing Normal University, and also the founder and senior editor of ETHNOGRAPHY Journal. He is world-renowned for his studies on sociology, ethnography and culture. The book “Learning to Labour: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs” published in 1977 established his “breakthrough” historical position in ethnography, anthropology and educational sociology. In 1978, he published his doctoral dissertation “Profane Culture”, in 1990 “Popular Culture”, in 2000 “The Ethnographic Imagination” and some other academic works, to discuss how to use ethnography to truthfully show “the living daily life”.

At 2:00 p.m. on November 30th, Willis started the first seminar on the topic of “Two Moments: The Cultural Studies in England in the 1960s and the Three Spaces in Beijing in the 2010s”. Combing his own life experiences and academic research in different countries and at different stages of life, Willis compared the British working-class culture in the 1960s and the bottom culture in Beijing, China at the beginning in this century. He pointed out that there are many similarities between these two cultures, especially in the bottom culture. Both of the two countries are in the trend of industrialization, market economy development, consumerism and urbanization, and both of them experienced many of the same or similar cultural issues. What makes them different are the distinctive material and symbolic representations made by the creators in the bottom cultures of the two countries. The former included Hippie Culture, drug abuse, sexual indulgence, anti-school culture and so on. The latter included city worship, commodity fetishism, overuse of the Internet and some others. When it comes to methodology, Prof. Willis emphasized that ethnography should be an indispensable tool in cultural studies.

In the next exchange links, teachers and students speak enthusiastically, thinking collision intense. Mr. Gao Shuihong commented on the use of internet in modern China from the angle of human relationship and relationship, and asked the position of cultural researcher. The material basis of the constraints; HeXiaoXing teacher with his experience and the Chinese social trust mechanism and other aspects of Chinese culture research focus on material order reasons, and asked the symbolic order of the inherent development of logic; WuKangNing teacher from the historical dimension of time and space The Similarities and Differences of China 's Social Stratum. Willis combined theory and practice made a meticulous response.

At 9:00 a.m. on December 1st, the second seminar discussed Prof. Willis’s famous book “Learning to Labour: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs” and ethnography studies. The Q&A between Prof. Willis and our students were quite active and insightful. The relationship between teachers and students and the student movement in China and UK, the differentiation and the way out of the followers and violators in the bottom of schools, the success and failure of the College Entrance Examination in China under the perspective of class, family register and region, problems on the data analysis and theoretical construction in ethnography studies and so many other issues leaded the intense discussion between Prof. Willis and teachers and students. In addition, Prof. Willis elaborated on the specific practices and techniques on the pre-research, case selection, data collection and analysis, theoretical construction and research writing in the course of ethnographic studies based on his years’ field research experiences. He emphasized that ethnographic research is a multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary practice. 

At last, Prof. Tianjun Cheng summed up the two seminars. He held the view that these two academic seminars between Prof. Willis and the teachers and students in Nanjing Normal University inspired us deeply. Also, the rigorous scholarly attitude and the humor- friendly attitude to life of Prof. Willis worthed our learning. Prof. Tianjun Cheng thanked Willis for his excellent reports and in-depth discussions, and he hoped that there would be more exchanges in the future.