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Conspiracy of Good Taste: William Morris, Cecil Sharp, Clough Williams-Ellis and the repression of working class culture in the 20th century

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“The Conspiracy of Good Taste is a passionate analysis of the way working class culture has been appropriated and sanitised by middle class mediators of taste.” Richard Turner

Janet Zandy had this to say about the first edition: “In The Conspiracy of Good Taste, Stefan Szczelkun writes forcefully of the oppression of classism on working-class people: ‘What I learned was the central and murderous denial of our intellectual capacity which is at the heartless core of class oppression ’Calling for a ‘liberatory people-orientated culture,’ Szczelkun urges working-class people to reconnect ‘to the hidden working-class personal and cultural histories that produced us and find ways to heal ourselves from the terrible legacy of hurt left by class oppression.’ “

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“The Conspiracy of Good Taste is one of those books you read and put down inspired and empowered.
 As working class people we can find ourselves going against our own instinct regarding class; as a result of the media bombardment against our identity .The constant mockery of class masks the power and importance of our class across the world and through all creative cultural spheres.  Stefan Szczelkun’s book the Conspiracy of Good taste sheds light on the way class oppression is worked and managed against us.
This book as been an important part of my learning. Hatred of an oppressor class comes through education not from inarticulated frustration.”   Brandon Spivey. 2016

“The most substantial and important contribution to the site, however, is the revised version of his book ‘Conspiracy of Good Taste: Class Oppression and Culture’ (Working Press, 1993; with a new Conclusion added in 2001), laying bare the role of professional arbiters of artistic value in modern Western society – dictating from above acceptable forms of expression and lifestyle, thereby disallowing the creation of culture and the material lifeworld by ordinary people from the bottom-up, and consequently softening us up for the intimate government of everyday life. The British examples of William Morris and the Arts & Crafts proto-fascist purification of vernacular design, Cecil Sharp’s sad evisceratation of folk culture, and Clough Williams-Ellis’ bureaucratic wage-slave housing plantations illustrate the early tactics used – firstly to tame the rebellious dispositions perenially rooted in working-class culture; then as templates for the more sophisticated imposition of consumerism to short-circuit the re-emergence of its autonomy." Tom Jennings

128 pages, Paperback

First published October 12, 1993

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About the author

Stefan Szczelkun

22 books30 followers
Latest book:
'Dementia Painting' April 2023.
'Exploding Cinema 1991 - 1999: culture and democracy' was published in 2021 - a short version of my PhD dissertation at RCA.
'SiLENCE! the great silencing of British working class culture' plus related photoboooks on UK Plotlands and other stuff. See Openlibrary link above for full list of books.

Most of my books are available as ebooks or PDFs. If you contact me I will send you a review copy.

Whilst having my year out from my architecture course in 1969 I came across The Scratch Orchestra and although not a musician I joined with glee and experienced the power of collective improvisation. This did result in a publication, but much later. By 1971 I was back at college in Portsmouth attempting to finish my course whilst living in a van. Architecture did not seem to be located in human needs… So I decided to take John Cages’ advice and ‘start from scratch’. Before architecture came shelter so I started collecting stuff on basic forms of shelter making. That turned into collecting scrapbooks of material on our basic life supports - shelter, food and energy. It was a revelation to me because I was finding my own categories and structuring knowledge for myself rather than following existing classifications.

I had the good luck to take my collection into Unicorn Bookshop in Brighton at an opportune time. The poet proprietor of Unicorn, Bill Butler, could see the potential for a British version of The Whole Earth Catalogue. The first completely hand-drawn ‘Survival Scrapbook 1 Shelter’ came out early in 1972. ‘Survival Scrapbook 2 Food’ came out later that year and ‘Energy’ in 1974. They sold well and the rights were sold to Schocken in NY. I was sent on a 37 radio and TV talk show tour of America and they sold by the thousand.

The next thing I got into was a concept of ’Total Ability’ where the idea of ‘going back to first principles’, which my school physics teacher used to bang on about, was applied to human functioning. It started when I came across a page-long description of standing in a classic book on Yoga. What if I collected things like that on all our human abilities… creating a sort of self-knowledge through doing. Anyway that project was bought by a big publisher called Wildwood House. But then they went bust and as the Seventies progressed the bottom fell out of the hippie alternative market as things got less visionary. So ‘Sense -Think - Act’ got put on the shelf until Gordon Joly turned up and offered to publish it as a Wiki on his own backyard server. From there it was finally made into a self-published paperback book.

But to return back to the Eighties… By then I felt a need to explore who I was. And I still hankered after the peer collectivity I’d experienced in the Scratch Orchestra. First of all I decided that I should follow my inner mojo and be an artist rather than a half-hearted professional architect. Help for my confused state of being came in the form of a class conscious form of co-counselling. Through this I came to realise I was still as working class as my family, in spite of my pretensions to be an author and artist! I joined a newly formed Brixton Artists Collective with other working class artists and started running radical and inclusive exhibitions in three railway arches. It was a breath of fresh air compared with the stuffy art world.

The next thing was I realised was that I was still Polish. In spite of losing the language and being second generation I was still an immigrant with attitude. Two practical actions came out of this almost simultaneously.

The first was meeting a Polish artist in Lincolnshire, through the mail art network, (Leszek Dabrowski) and realising I could do with being part of a Polish artists group. Then I met Kasia Januszko living in my squatted street in Kennington and with her help the project took practical shape. The group, called ‘Bigos: artists of Polish origin’ ran from 1986 to 1997 with touring

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Author 16 books191 followers
March 21, 2016
Stefan Szczelkun is the publisher of Working Press, the press that published this. He was in the Scratch Orchestra & participated in the 8th International Neoist Apartment Festival in London in 1984 - wch is where I 1st met him. The subtitle of the bk is "William Morris, Cecil Sharp, Clough Williams-Ellis and the Repression of Working Class Culture in the 20th Century". Right. Stefan does a great job of explaining how working class culture gets sanitized by supposedly 'friendly' forces. Just tidying up a bit, wot?! I quote from this bk in my own essay entitled "Low Classical Music". Good onya mate!
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