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The persistence of memory: history, family and smoking in a Durham coalfield village

THIRLWAY, JANE,FRANCES (2015) The persistence of memory: history, family and smoking in a Durham coalfield village. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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This thesis is an ethnographic account of smoking practices in a former mining village in North East England which I call Sleetburn. My aim was to understand the link between poverty and smoking but my fieldwork led to wider issues of class and stigma as it became clear that smoking took place in the context of wider values. I start by contrasting prevailing values in the village with the middle-class privileging of social and geographical mobility, the denigration of close family ties as atavistic and the importance attached to ‘raising aspirations’ and discuss how local people negotiated these contradictions. Sleetburn had a long history of mobility but circular ‘there and back again’ mobilities were misrecognised as stasis. A close network of family and friends provided practical support, extending in space across neighbouring villages and across time in layers of memory which overlaid the visible space. Historically informed expectations of jobs were low; people had ordinary aspirations to happiness and security and reclaimed agency by carving out spaces of autonomy at work. Education provided little reward historically and was therefore ‘something to get through’. Imaginable futures depended on what was visible locally; social mobility through education led to geographical mobility and was easily obscured or coloured by emotional loss. In this wider context, smoking carried little stigma but was tied into emotional memories of parental smoking which made it difficult for continuing and indeed ex-smokers to distance themselves definitively from cigarettes, with relapses common even after many years cessation. The two main factors which facilitated smoking cessation were mobility, which created distance from parental memories, and urgent health threats to self or family which remade the once friendly and familiar cigarette as alien and dangerous. Those who continued to smoke were not so much ‘hardened smokers’ as discouraged quitters in a community where chronic ill-health (often linked to occupational exposures) was a commonplace for smokers and never-smokers alike.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:"smoking", "tobacco", "mining villages", "class", "stigma", "memory", "family", "aspiration", "emotional landscapes", "County Durham"
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Anthropology, Department of
Thesis Date:2015
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:28 Jul 2015 14:44

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