Holding On Together

Conversations with Barry

I have been thinking a lot about Barry recently. My guess is that re-entering British society has intensified some of these engagements. To re-enter is to once again encounter the finely-grained nuances and calibrations of an obsolescent class system. In examining the dress code and accent of each individual person you have the best indicator of class location and of the various resistances and loyalties that are embedded in this social structure. Barry Troyna's dress code was a mixture of avid Spurs supporter ''up for the cup'' and rapacious street punk. Likewise his accent and his speech reflected the argot of the Spurs' terraces. It was genuinely as if he had never been away.

In contradiction to the North American working class that I leave behind, pockets of English life still represent some of the resiliences and resistances that have been polished over many centuries. At its best, and of course I romanticize, the dress coding and argot of working class life can still capture the chirpiness, the carnivalesque elements of an enduring culture. To use a phrase of the moment, it is to have some experience of the ''flaneur''. What did this mean in the case of Barry? He knew full well that his appearance and language carried a cost in terms of his acceptance into the higher reaches of English professional society. So, was it simply a romantic yearning back, or holding on, to some mythical golden age of East End working class life? Or could there have been some intellectual and political purpose behind the ubiquitous jeans, feathered haircut and rhyming slang? Having talked in some detail with him about this, and sharing some ''insider knowledge'', it is perfectly clear to me that it was the latter. Barry was committed to the emancipation and empowerment of historically and structurally disadvantaged groups in British society and ''holding on'', as he did, in spite, or because of, the personal 'cost', was part of a succinct, specific and political life project to refine and reflect resistances, resiliences, and loyalties. He wanted to give something back.
In this paper I want to focus on Barry's concerns about the part that research might or might not play in the empowerment and emancipation of disadvantaged groups. I was lucky in that, in his last two years we spent a good deal of time working on a life history project in Canada which was particularly concerned to examine the potential for life history with regard to the education of racial ethno-cultural minorities (a project funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada).

Barry was enthusiastic about life history approaches and had used them both as a teaching strategy and in research. Nevertheless, questioning taken for granted assumptions and conventional wisdoms, always making everything problematic was ever his way and he had some important epistemological and ethical questions to ask about life history. In particular he was concerned, and it has to be said, sceptical, about claims that individuals and groups can achieve some degree of empowerment and emancipation through use of the methodology. Fortunately, some of the conversations that we had about these issues were recorded enabling me, to some extent, to revisit and reappraise the kinds of things that we were mutually exploring. Returning to a transcript of a tape also gives an opportunity to 'see' Barry at work as an interviewer and, in however slight a way, to recapture a sense of the man himself.
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Publisher: Trentham Books
Co-author: n/a
Subject: Life History
Available in: English
Appears in: Researching Race and Social Justice Education - Essays in Honour of Barry Troyna
Number of editions: 1

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