Dominant Ideologies: A Study of Social Class and Status in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries in West Terrace Cemetery, Adelaide, South Australia

Author: Owen Hems

Hems, Owen, 2016 Dominant Ideologies: A Study of Social Class and Status in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries in West Terrace Cemetery, Adelaide, South Australia, Flinders University, School of Humanities and Creative Arts

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Despite recent claims of a classless society, or that class is ‘dead’ (see, for example, Beck 1986 and Pakulski and Waters 1996), it remains fundamental to understanding and interpreting the recent past. In some ways the denial of class has been compounded by the nature of archaeology and the historical record, both of which have traditionally served middle class interests and perspectives. Despite this, several archaeologies of class have challenged and contradicted existing interpretations and histories by revealing the stories of the working classes and minority groups that had been misrepresented or ignored by the dominant history. However, such a study of class has yet to be undertaken in the archaeology of South Australian cemeteries.

This thesis seeks to address this gap through a study of memorialisation practices (headstones, grave furniture and printed death and other funeral notices) in nineteenth and twentieth century Adelaide, South Australia. Physical monuments from West Terrace Cemetery, and other, written, forms of commemoration, such as death notices, In Memoriams and obituaries, were analysed to understand the individual, personal, response to death, and the broader social structures and ideologies which structured, and were embodied in, individual practices, ideas and emotions. Through this understanding, it is argued that commemorative practices and the cemetery in the nineteenth century played an active role in maintaining and legitimating the dominance of the middle class, as well as reflecting growing class consciousness and conflict as different classes asserted their own views, tastes and practices. This changed in the twentieth century, however, as the growing privatisation of grief and disassociation of class identities that followed the First World War and Great Depression caused commemorative practices to become increasingly uniform, denying the existence of class. The dominance of the middle class was then masked through ideologies of individualism, gentility and respectability that identified the right characteristics that were the key to success and social status, denying class and the barriers and social determinants of success. These ideologies maintained and reproduced the social structure, as adhering to ideals of respectability was the key for individuals to gain and maintain their social status.

Keywords: Social class, social status, West Terrace Cemetery, cemeteries, Adelaide, South Australia, historical archaeology, archaeology, respectability, gentility

Subject: Archaeology thesis

Thesis type: Masters
Completed: 2016
School: School of Humanities and Creative Arts
Supervisor: Heather Burke