Common pleasures : low culture in Sydney 1887-1914

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This thesis describes and analyses lower-class culture in inner-urban Sydney from 1887 to 1914 as it was enacted in three key institutions— the pub, the vaudeville theatre and the street. It proposes that resistance from below to the dominant order was commonly articulated through cultural codes and practices. Moreover these were historically specific, determined by contemporaneous facts and conditions. The historic period under discussion spans the transition from Victorian to modern culture. It saw the spectacular growth of the cities and confirmed Australia as an urban nation. It also saw the development of a self-conscious national culture shaped by a rural ethos. Despite the prominence of rural motifs in the ideology of nationalism it was in the cities that the forging of a truly national, though unvalorised popular culture was taking place. I am interested in the intersections of popular discourses and practices with those of the city and of modernity and in how they shaped the complex evolution of an urban lower-class culture. My approach in this thesis is interpretive and often impressionistic, though based on extensive use of sources. The term 'lower class' has been used in preference to 'working class' to reflect a focus on how the abstraction known as class was substantiated through cultural artefacts and practices rather than through relations to political or economic facts and conditions. Emphasis is on close scrutiny of the particular rather than the construction of a grand narrative, on everyday practices rather than the ideological framework which contains them. This represents a move away from, in Fiske’s words ‘the totalising structures and mechanisms of power to the heterogeneous practices of everyday life’.
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