As news of academic Richard Hoggart’s death emerged last week, there was a sense in obituaries and appreciations that the 95-year-old was a figure from the past, the relevance of whose work, most famously his 1957 book The Uses of Literacy, had waned over time.
My intellectual development continues to be defined by his writing, and all I can say to anyone who has yet to read his work is: do it now. We still need voices like his to articulate what is wrong, right now, with an official and media language that wilfully ignores the malign effects of class and poverty.
What, you mean we’re not all raking in the profits from real estate bubbles and tech innovation and exciting new ways to package risky mortgages?
Hoggart came to prominence at a time when a number of socially mobile writers and academics were able to take advantage of changes in society to give voice to their ideas. It was precisely because he was a social interloper that he was able to forge a new discipline – contemporary cultural studies – based on the need for individuals to look more closely at the information we consume and create, and to understand what it reveals about social relations.
We need Hoggart now because we have a deceptively flattened media and cultural landscape in which everyone is meant to take a bit, and like a bit, of everything. Twitter and Instagram give the impression of everyone having an equal voice, from the out-of-work plasterer to the millionaire art dealer. A grounding in Hoggart’s work blasts through that. He reminds us that access to culture widens and narrows according to who’s got the keys – and that is always the people with education, contacts and confidence.
Not to mention money. Don’t forget money. Money can do a lot to stand in for education. Fill your house with expensive art and rugs and tchotchkes and people will assume you have education.
There are a lot of good tributes on the Letters page.
• Martin Kettle (Report, 11 August) is right to stress the importance and influence of Richard Hoggart’s work, both in his written work and in the many posts he held, including vice-chairmanship of the Arts Council, from which he was sacked by Margaret Thatcher in 1982. For Hoggart, humane reading and humane education and humane culture and society should be open to everyone, and he deeply deplored those who saw themselves as privileged, not least the patrician William Rees-Mogg who, as chairman of the Arts Council, took it for granted that his journeys from London to his Somerset home and back should be provided by an Arts Council-funded chauffeur-driven car. Not something Richard Hoggart would ever have contemplated.
• In Richard Hoggart’s obituary, you recall that he wrote of seeing his widowed mother “standing frozen, while tears start slowly down her cheeks because a sixpence has been lost … you do not easily forget”. Reading Polly Toynbee’s article (Duncan Smith’s treatment of the disabled is monstrous, 11 April), it is apparent that IDS has forgotten the effects of poverty, if he ever knew. It seems very little may have changed since the 1920s.
If people remembered the effects of poverty, how would they be able to fill their houses with rugs and Etruscan pottery?