One more working class hero
thesisposted on 2023-08-30, 13:41 authored by Dave Baigent
This thesis is a qualitative study of firefighters, and focuses on how firefighters, a predominantly male, white and able-bodied group with popular public support, form tight knit teams on and off the fireground, and their motivations for so doing. It is also a study of gender, which aims to describe and deconstruct masculinity. In part the thesis was undertaken with a view to assisting the fire service (specifically the few women who are firefighters) with its difficulties in relation to equal opportunities. One understanding the thesis provides is that firefighters bond around a common professional ethos: to provide an efficient service to help the public. To achieve this, firefighters form informal hierarchies through which they create protocols for firefighting, thus setting the standards for what comprises a ‘good firefighter’: a label firefighters test themselves against when they ‘get in’ to fight a fire. However, before firefighters can achieve this they must first access the skills of firefighting (which experienced firefighters are pleased to hand on), but only after a newcomer ‘fits in’ with the agendas of the informal hierarchy, some of which have little to do with firefighting. However, there is a second view, and this suggests that ‘fitting in’ and ‘getting in’ to pass the test of being seen as a ‘good firefighter’ also coincides with the way firefighters form their masculinity. This then provides a second common cause amongst firefighters, and so might explain why firefighters gather so successfully under the umbrella of their union to resist their officers’ attempts to deskill and cut the fire service. Cuts would limit firefighters’ ability both to fight fires as they currently do and to pass the test of being a ‘good firefighter’. Thus blocking a third central but unacknowledged element: that of masculinity. This analysis involves a discussion of class, and recognition that antagonistic relations between officers and firefighters are not only economic, but are also about petty dividends involving power, status and gender construction. The conclusion provides a comprehensive overview to suggest that firefighters form their masculinity by acting at work in the way they subjectively judge that they are seen, by themselves, their peer group and the public. In so doing, they set themselves apart from the ‘others’ who cannot meet their expectations. It is these ‘special people’, as identified by both firefighters and others that this thesis has studied, a group of ‘special’ men and women.
InstitutionAnglia Ruskin University
- Accepted version