Women, men and deindustrialisation: an intergenerational study of trade workers from naval repair families in the south of England

    Project Details


    This research will produce the first study of female workers’ experiences of deindustrialisation and the generational impact that deindustrialisation has had on the identities and career prospects of women from dockyard families. This study will address the current picture of men as the norm in deindustrialisation and begin to challenge the presentation of men as representative of all workers. This approach will provide an original contribution to the relationship between gender and deindustrialisation in three main ways. First, this will gain a female perspective on former industrial work practices, cultures and spaces. Second, it will provide an account of women’s experience of redundancy and their subsequent career trajectories. Third, the accounts of these female workers’ daughters and granddaughters will provide a picture of the occupational values and aspirations passed to the next generation. Current knowledge has constructed all of these experiences through men’s voices. The proposed study will also compare the accounts of this sample to an equivalent generational sample of male Chatham Royal Dockyard trade workers and advance current knowledge of male only samples by offering an account of both women’s distinctive experiences and of the commonalities (and/or differences) of these with men’s experience.

    Literature on deindustrialisation does understand gender as a social construction. However, the focus on men only has inevitably produced a picture of gender as a binary that categorises men and women as intrinsically different, since it failed to investigate the commonalities between the experience of
    deindustrialisation of men and women, but also the potential discrepancies linked to the different roles attributed to men and women in society, rather than to their gender. Consequently, understanding workers as men only has led to the silencing of women’s voices and has left women as workers out of the discourse
    on deindustrialisation. At the same time, it has assumed, without a benchmark to measure these assumptions against, that men’s experiences of deindustrialisation were connected to their gender, and not to other factors, such as their labour market position, class and/or individual differences.

    The current literature on deindustrialisation suggests masculine work identities cannot seamlessly adjust to the economic change created by deindustrialisation (Mah, 2012; Linkon 2014 and Stranglemen 2016). Instead, it is argued that the legacy of industrial work constrains new generations of men, leading them to
    reject service sector work and search for employment in ever declining areas of manual work (Walkerdine and Jimenez, 2012; Nixon, 2009; Nayak, 2003). Further, a range of cross national studies have argued that this inadequacy contributes to a crisis of masculinity, resulting in more male aggression and protest masculinities (Connell, 1996). However, my own research of Chatham Royal Dockyard craft workers and their sons and grandsons suggests that families never wanted their sons to follow them into dangerous industrial employment (Ackers, 2014). Instead these families pushed their sons to focus on upward career mobility and better job security (Ackers, 2018). Therefore, the move into more gender neutral employment was not problematic. The proposed study wishes to explore if this more multifaceted relationship with industrial change and gender is comparable to how other craft workers – in this case women – understood the impact of industrial work and its loss.

    The termination of shipbuilding in Portsmouth marks the end of one of the oldest ship construction yards in the world and with it a profound change in generational work identity. At its peak, this industry directly employed 17,200 people with many thousand other local jobs dependent on the yard. The Royal Dockyard in Portsmouth had a predominantly male workforce but these were not male only spaces. Administration was the largest area of female employment. However, since the early 19th century, women had worked on flag and rope production. During both world wars, thousands of women were conscripted into industrial work in the dockyard. Day (1998) suggests that this was not simply a period of liberation; instead, women’s work was carefully regulated with restrictions in order to not disrupt the construction of skilled work as men’s work. Day (1998) concludes that whilst wartime employment did not disrupt most patriarchal culture and employment practices for this generation of women, it deeply shaped employment ‘ambitions for their daughters’ (Day 1998:378). It was not until 1969, though, that women were allowed to become apprentices at Portsmouth dockyard. However, the experience of working as a trades ‘woman’, has not been recorded in any published academic accounts, a gap that this study aims to fill.

    The city of Portsmouth, like many industrial areas, has undergone a regeneration and rebranding process over the last three decades. This redevelopment has centred on the transformation of a large area of the former Dockyard and Harbour into Gunwharf retail centre and Spinnaker Tower as well as the Dockyard heritage centre housing the Mary Rose Museum. At the heart of this regeneration and rebranding has been economic change. The primary focus of this agenda has been to offset the decline of industrial production by developing new areas and types of work, such as light engineering, information technology, and, in particular, jobs in the service sector. This transition has made Portsmouth more dependent on what has traditionally been constructed as ‘feminine’ employment in customer facing service work. In my sample of men from Chatham dockyard low skilled service work was largely avoided as this did not offer a level of income men felt they needed to retain their positions as family providers. It will be explored if the trade women in this study avoid lower status and paid work after deindustrialisation.

    A comparative study: This study of Portsmouth dockyard will provide an exciting and original account on which to produce the first comparative study of the impact of deindustrialisation on men and women in the South of England. Chatham and Portsmouth are both in the South and were part of the same industry, but, in geographical and chronological terms, these places are significantly different. Geographically, Chatham's close proximity to London was fundamental to the new employment men found in my first study. Portsmouth, in comparison, is outside of the commuter belt, being over an hour and a half from London by train. Therefore, the opportunities and appetite for moving away from Portsmouth to find work could well be less than in Chatham. Chronologically, Chatham dockyard closed in 1984, so men’s accounts of their
    career transitions and wider lives were based on over twenty-five years of their lives since. In contrast, Portsmouth dockyard workers have experienced redundancy far more recently, from 2014. This consequently reflects a more initial stage of deindustrialisation and within the context of the new socio-
    political period of ‘austerity’ and ‘Brexit’. This makes Portsmouth the ideal context for this comparative study in which factors beyond gender binarism will be explored.

    Aims and objectives: This study aims to address the sociological significance of female changing work identities. It asks: how does deindustrialisation impact the work identity of a generation of mother’s (who worked in the Royal Dockyard) and the generations of their daughters and granddaughters (who never worked in the Royal Dockyard)?
    Its objectives are:
    • To produce an innovative qualitative female account of generational career transition with the potential to re-frame/redirect deindustrialisation and gender studies. This will result in the roundtable presentation ‘similarities and differences: women's experience of deindustrialisation’ at the international conference “The Working-Class Studies Association Conference 2020, 3-6 September, University of Iowa”.
    • To develop an original kinship intergenerational methodological approach, to map work identity post deindustrialisation: This will result in the first major comparative study of deindustrialisation in the South of England and will be published by academic publishers (as discussed with Palgrave Macmillan).
    • To develop educational resource ‘learning from the women and men of the dockyard’ to inform key stage 4 and 5 students, improve their knowledge of local history and social issues. This will be printed and distributed by ‘The Thinking Schools Academy Trust’ across Portsmouth and Chatham (costs and
    distribution agreed in principle by the Trust’s head of Design technology).

    This study will use a kinship intergenerational approach to explore the generational significance of the Dockyard and consider the residual effect of deindustrialisation on female work identities. This will provide a valuable innovative methodological perspective for research on deindustrialisation in two ways: first, this method is not tied to a geographical community, so it has the ability to account for workers’ movement, both in spatial and social mobility terms. This feature of deindustrialisation has been neglected in current research. Second, this method directly considers the intersection between gender, class and generations. The same methodological approach as my research on Chatham will be used. This will allow data to compare and contrast the impact of deindustrialisation in these two former dockyard areas. Career history interviews and intergenerational family dialogues were chosen as they allow the research to explore the biographies of dockyard workers, and how these relate to the career histories and work identities of other generations of their female families. There are four steps to undertaking this research as are outlined in the plan of action.
    Effective start/end date1/06/191/10/23


    • British Academy: £6,490.00


    • careers
    • craft
    • deindustralization
    • domestic work
    • habitus clivé
    • intergenerational transmission
    • occupational and class values
    • social mobility
    • working class