New Working-Class Studies: Past, Present, and Future
Proceedings: Keynotes and Abstracts by Author A-G
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Mike Rose has taught for over 35 years at all levels of the American educational system. He is on the faculty of UCLA's Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, Division of Social Research Methodology. He has written a number of books and articles on language, literacy, schooling, and work including Lives on the Boundary: The Struggles and Achievements of America's Under prepared, Possible Lives: The Promise of Public Education in America, and The Mind at Work: Valuing the Intelligence of the American Worker.
Ruy Teixeira is a Senior Fellow at both the Center for American Progress and The Century Foundation. He is the author of five books including The Emerging Democratic Majority, written with John Judis and published in 2002, and America's Forgotten Majority: Why the White Working-Class Still Matters, written with Joel Rogers and published in 2000. He is also the author of hundreds of articles, both scholarly and popular, a weekly online column, Public Opinion Watch and a daily web log or "blog", Donkey Rising.
Attardo, Salvatore, Youngstown State University: Working-Class Humor: Myth and Reality
Barlow, Aaron, Kutztown University: 'My Bad': Film Vews of Racial Conflict and Resolution at the Turn of the Millennium: Freeway (Matthew Bright, 1996), 8 Mile (Curtis Hanson, 2002), and Babershop (Tim Story, 2002)
James R. Anderson, Michigan State University: The Golden Goose, The Cooked Goose, Donkeys, Elephants, and Sacred Cows: Manufacturing Employment and Inequality in the United States”
This paper examines patterns of expansion and contraction in U. S. manufacturing employment, as distinct from overall employment, over the entire twentieth century. The objective is to look at the political framework of changes in manufacturing employment patterns. The further and closely linked objective is to obtain insight into how the degree of inequality is influenced by the prospects for, and reality of, manufacturing job growth or shrinkage.
The thesis of this paper, spanning the entire twentieth century, is that there are unmistakable and striking disparities in patterns of manufacturing employment expansion and contraction between the two dominant political parties of the twentieth century. Democratic Presidents preside over almost all patterns of expansion in manufacturing employment, Republicans over patterns of contraction.
Another clear thesis emerges from this study of manufacturing employment. There appears to be a very close correlation between expansion or contraction of manufacturing employment, and the increase, decrease, or persistence of wage inequality. Since colonial times, and until the nineteen-eighties, manufacturing was recognized as the goose which lays the golden eggs of prosperity for all, so the correlation of manufacturing and reduction in inequality should not be surprising.
This thesis indicates that several sacred cows of conservative/state/imperial capitalism can be seen as either dead, or showing signs of an economic equivalent of mad cow disease. Further, the primary theses may provide new elements for a badly needed new intellectual paradigm to undercut and counter the destructively powerful paradigm of deregulation, which the political right has skillfully ridden to political power, and which, it might be argued, is a one word characterization of a crucial ideological transmission belt for inequality.
Attardo, Youngstown State University (CWCS Faculty Affiliate):
Working-Class Humor: Myth and Reality
Most representations of working class humor in mainstream media can be best described as the mediatic equivalent of “slumming.” In the presentation, examples of “authentic” working class humor, using a variety of sources including ethnographic studies of Sardinian (Italy) fishermen and labor cartoons from the US to show how the contents, style, and ideology of “real” working class humor cannot be incorporated in mainstream media, such as television and newspapers because it would clash radically with the standards of decorum, register and ideology of the media. Finally, the issue of the status of so-called working class humor in mainstream media (e.g., Roseanne, blue-collar comedians, etc.) will be addressed.
Sarah Attfield, University of Technology (Sydney, Australia): The Representation of Working-Class People in Contemporary Australian Poetry
Australia is often described as a ‘middle class’ nation and the existence of the working class is denied or masked by the use of euphemisms such as ‘battlers’. Working class people are rarely sympathetically represented in Australian cultural production, and are not often given the opportunity to present their own diverse experiences. Most art forms seem to be deemed as incompatible with working class life, and do not explore notions of class. This can be illustrated by considering how poetry that engages with everyday working class experience is often dismissed as being unliterary, and how some middle class poets misrepresent working class people in their attempts to write about ‘ordinary people’. The study of working class poetry also reveals some of the ways in which class impacts on people’s lives and provides a valuable opportunity to present working class experience to those who operate from a privileged class position. Working class poetry has not been the subject of extensive academic analysis in Australia, and is often dismissed as inferior, devoid of linguistic innovation, and relegated to the category of ideological propaganda. Bringing to light the continued existence of class inequality within Australia through examples of working class poetry and from the perspective of a working class person within academia will hopefully assist in changing attitudes which deny class in order to protect the interests of those who operate from a privileged position.
Aaron Barlow, Kutztown University: "'My Bad': Film Views of Racial Conflict and Resolution At the Turn of the Millennium: Freeway (Matthew Bright, 1996), 8 Mile (Curtis Hanson, 2002), and Barbershop (Tim Story, 2002)"
Racial and ethnic attitudes among the young today differ significantly from those of past generations, especially among the working poor of America. This fact has yet to be adequately addressed by educators or cultural commentators, most of whom continue to approach questions of race and ethnicity on the assumption that the under-thirties of today are carbon copies of their parents and that the immigration of the last decades has not had a critical impact on racial and ethnic attitudes. These movies (among others) present attitudes that may be confusing to older viewers, but that are commonplaces to the young. Just what are these changes in attitude, and how are they changing American culture?
Margaret Bayless, Lane Community College: Fat Cats and Underdogs: Work, Class and the American Dream – A Learning Community
This learning community came about in an effort to begin what some faculty members hoped would become a Working Class Studies Program even while education in Oregon faced (and continues to experience) draconian budget cuts. An American Working Class Literature and Film course, Writing 123: Research, Film and the American Dream, and an Economics course are presently offered under the umbrella of the Fat Cats and Underdogs title. Students must co-register for the Literature and Writing courses, which are team taught as an overload by two instructors. The other two courses are suggested.
We found that merely linking what at one time was six courses primarily focused on class issues, including a history and sociology class, required too many meetings and too much planning for instructors with heavy teaching loads and no financial support. What we created last year was the team-taught combined classes of Literature and Writing, which continues this year with twenty-four students who form a cohort, meeting six hours a week. The students read and discuss literature and film, including works from Paul Lauter and Ann Fitgerald’s Literature, Class, and Culture (until it recently went out of print), Maxine Hong Kingston’s China Men, and the films 10,000 Black Men Named George and Harlan County USA. They construct research projects that begin with responses to works collected in John Alberti’s The Working Life. As we discuss the writings and films in class, the students begin to see the fictional, analytical, historical, and ethnographic works as possible sources for their research and as different methods for exploring, examining, and challenging issues related to class status.
Angela Bilia, The University of Akron: Working-Class Pedagogy and the Politics of Power in First-Year College Writing
This paper attempts to define working-class pedagogy through curriculum and classroom practices informed by a Dewey-Freire model of democratic education that empowers students and engages them in active learning. In doing so, I explore how students’ social class and identity influence the negotiation of power and the shaping of class practices. Examining students’ reactions and resistance to the invitation to empowerment can engage us in a meaningful dialogue aiming at transforming education and the dominant culture that surrounds it by exploring ways to democratize schools and society.
Ron Briley, Sandia Preparatory School: Hollywood’s Jimmy Hoffa: The Corruption of American Labor
Since On the Waterfront (1954), one of the most popular Hollywood images of American labor has been that of earnest workers manipulated and misled by corrupt union bosses in cahoots with organized crime. This perception of American labor leaders is perhaps best exemplified in the controversial figure of Teamster President Jimmy Hoffa, who is the subject of one major biographical film and another fictionalized account drawing upon Hoffa’s life.
In F.I.S.T. (1978), Sylvester Stallone, fresh off his success with Rocky (1976), portrays Johnny Kovak, who begins as a humble truck driver and eventually assumes the presidency of the Federated Interstate Truckers. Although Kovak wants to do what is best for the working man, he succumbs to external pressures, displaying personal liabilities as well as structural weaknesses in the labor movement, and makes a pact with the devil in the guise of organized crime. In Hoffa (1992) starring Jack Nicholson in the title role, director Danny Divito provides a similar interpretation of the labor leader’s life.
Both films, however, fail to provide perspective on the working class culture and movement from which Hoffa sprang; choosing to focus upon the connections between labor and crime bosses. Accordingly, this paper, drawing upon Thaddeus Russell’s Hoffa biography, Out of the Jungle: Jimmy Hoffa and the Remaking of the American Working Class (2001), will seek to address the problems with Hollywood’s narrow depiction of Hoffa and the American labor movement.
Elizabeth M. Burke, John F. Kennedy University and T. Patrick Donovan, John F. Kennedy University: Navigating Class and Gender: Imagining Into Human Possibilities
Elusive and mercurial, the categories of sex, gender and class do not thrive when imprisoned within the confines of strict definitions. Today, in this post-9/11 world, the shape-shifting nature of these domains is even more apparent. As the forces of globalization wreak havoc on economies and displace working people all over the world, old definitions of “class” begin to dissolve and morph anew; as movements for domestic partnership rights, transgender equality, and same-sex marriage proliferate, crystallized sexual categories and their resultant gender roles have lost much of their meaning in a sea of ambiguity. For some this undulating terrain – whether in the workplace or in society at large – is unsettling, calling forth a great desire to restore stereotypic and polarized images of gender identity and sexual appropriateness. For others this destabilization of the social fabric heralds a crossing of a threshold into liminal space, a space characterized by unprecedented possibilities for humankind to creatively transform how it relates to itself and to the planet in the 21st century.
This workshop will engage differing concepts of sex, gender, and sexuality as they relate to the working class, the ways in which these problematized concepts inform one another, and where they intersect with notions of race and ethnicity. Together we will undertake deconstructing and navigating our contemporary landscape, where rigid and exclusive images of sex, gender and class are no longer workable (if they ever were), and where the restoration of a hyper-masculine, 1950’s stereotype in order to quell our fear of the unknown – whether that’s supported by religious fundamentalism or by evolutionary psychology’s “hard-wired DNA” theories – can only amount to a distortion of our full flowering as human beings.
Through discussion, dialogue, and writing exercises, we will co-create a space of mutual respect and curiosity from which to consider the personal and social consequences of these intersections. Drawing from workshop participants’ experience, we will initiate a process of inquiry – into self and society – as to how issues of gender and class identities shape us personally, assist or hamper our navigation through our present culture, and how we may liberate our minds and our bodies to imagine them differently going forward.
Rachel Burgess, Boise State University: Against Masquerading: Everyone in the Department Knows I’m of the Working-Class
The Docent explores issues of contrapower and professionalism in academia. The classroom is one of the major stages of performance in the academy. It is an often explosive site of contention where teachers can, and often do, receive the most resistance. When students burrow under the skin deeper than a chigger in summer, goading us to tactlessly respond with an unprofessional, but solidly witty retort, what do we do? Students engage in contrapower in tenebrous ways, and it is often exhausting to deal with. When we are not caught off guard, and the persistent undermining of our authority and intelligence has not quite reached breaking point, we respond to resistance evenhandedly and professionally. But when the first rude comment slides off of our tongues, regardless of a student’s impudent actions, we are sometimes the sole proprietors of the attrition.
Our experiences as members of the working-class undoubtedly influence how we manage our classrooms, how we teach, and how we relate to our students and colleagues. We often challenge and question unspoken conventions of academia and the culture that surrounds it—what with its language and codified notions of what is valued as acceptable in body and intellect—by working against and resisting these normative notions. There are ways in which academia negates who we are and undermines our intelligences. For some working-class academics, specifically adjuncts, our classrooms are the only places where we have some voice in how we work in this space. When contrapower makes an obnoxious entrance into our classrooms, it only seems right to remind it who we are.
Jean Burton, Wayne State University: The Deproletarization of Detroit
The “ghetto” was [is] not simply a physical construct; it was [is] also an ideological construct. Urban space became a metaphor for perceived racial difference.
The 1967 rebellions throughout the nation are often posited as the genesis of ‘white flight’ and the decline of urban areas. In particular the 1967 rebellion in Detroit is the subject of Thomas Sugrue in The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit. Sugrue, a historian, presents a historical account of conflict between white and black working class accelerated by the capitalistic aims of the automotive industry, real estate developers and government agencies prior to the ‘hot summer’ of 1967.
I aim to present in this paper a close read of The Origins of the Urban Crisis (Sugrue 1996) as my primary text for an analysis of the deproletarization of Detroit. I am a native Detroiter and my lineage is working class. I was present prior and during the 1967 rebellion, and will offer a counter to Sugrue based on personal experience and informal discussions with family and friends.
Lew Caccia, Kent State University: Animals as 18th Century Text: Socioeconomic Class Issues as Contextualized in Goldsmith’s Writing and Gainsborough’s Painting
In Oliver Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield, animals are used in some scenes to help advance the story. The use of animals develops the plot, defines the characters, details the setting, and maintains the humorous tone. Individually, the different scenes convey important points about the role of animals in eighteenth-century life and about socioeconomic class issues of that era. Furthermore, the socioeconomic issues reflected by Goldsmith’s literature have also been illustrated in country paintings, particularly the paintings of Thomas Gainsborough. The similarity of the messages conveyed by the two genres and their accurate depiction of real life-as verified by modern, non-fiction accounts-truly indicate that Goldsmith shaped his text to create not only an entertaining comedy but also a narrative art.
Scott Carter, Borough of Manhattan Community College and Rollins College: The Strength of Organized Labor and Functional Income Distribution in Developed Market Economies
The waning years of the twentieth century have seen a decline of both the strength of unions and remuneration to labor for most developed market economies (DME’s). This presentation introduces comparative empirical patterns of eight representative DME’s (Australia, Canada, France, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Sweden, and the USA). The evidence presented shows a dramatic decrease in the share of wages in national income for these countries beginning around 1979. Around this same time various indicators of union strength such as union density, role of worker presence in representative bodies at the enterprise level, bargaining influence, and industrial conflict evidenced a decrease in the strength of organized labor in these countries. This paper attempts to make the causal linkages between the decline in worker strength and that of the wage share. This functional distribution-worker strength linkage received a lot of attention in the 1940’s through the 1960’s but has gone relative unexplored in recent decades. Accordingly this paper revives some of the old debates and combines the wage share-worker strength nexus with some recent literature on the social unionism and the progressive potential the union movement can have on macroeconomic policies in advanced democracies. Indeed it is argued that a progressive union and worker movement has the responsibility of inserting itself into the policy debate in order to give voice to those most deleteriously affected by these developments and thus address the both causes and effects of the recent downward spiral of worker strength given the present crisis of neoliberalism. It concludes with a discussion of possible strategies organized labor can adopt to ameliorate this downward spiral and reinsert itself as a major actor in the development of each nation’s respective macroeconomic policy.
Renny Christopher, California State University, Channel Islands: Middle-Class Drag: Performing Gender Across Classes
This performance piece blends prose and poetry
I grew up a working-class boy, dressing in cowboy clothes, playing with my toy Winchester rifle (later a BB gun, later still a .22 rifle), my bow and arrow, my GI Joe. I played with toy tools my dad gave me until he taught me to use the real ones, and then I worked construction with him from the time I was eleven or twelve until I left for college at seventeen. There were only two problems with this working-class boy’s childhood: first, I wasn’t actually a boy, anatomically speaking, and second, for every hour I spent playing with guns and tools, I spent three or four hours with my nose “stuck in a book,” as my mother called it, working on becoming a nerdy intellectual, which was not an appropriate activity for a good working-class boy (or girl, for that matter). Thus I always felt divided and different, and my internal feeling was reinforced by how people responded to me.
I finish the knot in my tie,
slide the clip into place,
check out the effect in the mirror.
I look like a little girl playing dressup
in her father’s clothes. Except, my father
never wore clothes like these—fine-woven
shirt, silk jacket, slacks and wingtips.
My dad wore blue jeans or painter’s pants,
a cap with “Ford” embroidered on the front.
For dressup, his shirts had snaps instead of buttons.
I dressed in miniature imitation of him when I was small,
learned to stand like him, walk like him, cock my head the way he did,
gestures that don’t fit in this jacket and tie
any better than my female body does….
Joan Clingan, Prescott College: Without Reservation: Exploring Alexie’s Toughest Little Indians—Working Class or Just In-din?
In the 1993 short story collection, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Sherman Alexie portrays characters, who, with minimal exception, tend to be reservation bound like those in much of his poetry and his novel Reservation Blues. Though life on the reservation virtually necessitates working- or poverty-class subsistence, class difference is all but imperceptible.
In his two recent collections, The Toughest Indian in the World (2000) and Ten Little Indians (2003), Alexie takes more of his characters off the reservation and into multi-ethnic and decidedly classed urban settings. Like Esther Belin’s From the Belly of My Beauty and Louis Owens’s Bone Game, Alexie’s portrayals of urban Indians in these collections span economic class. Alexie gives us metropolis dwelling Indians whose vocations include students and teachers, various types of writers, and of course lawyers. Yet how perceptible is class when the social status of those same individuals is colored by dominant stereotypes of the Indian—urban or otherwise? What is the class status of a man who is an Indian and who is a lawyer and who wears braids, when he enters a working-class urban Indian bar?
Though the intersection of class and ethnicity is one of the central topics in contemporary literary scholarship, the de-contextualized assimilation of class into ethnicity among Indians has seen little discussion. The word “class” didn’t even appear in a 2002 issue of MELUS dedicated to Native American Literature. This paper will explore how Alexie addresses class in his two most recent short story collections.
Victor Cohen, Carnegie Mellon University: Hard-Boiled Crime Fiction at the Birth of the Cold War
In this paper I argue that the crime fiction of Communist columnist and reporter Paul William Ryan, written late in the 1940s, represents not only an instance in which a mass-produced literary genre was used to popularize a radical social critique, but that these novels attempted to bridge the growing gap between the radical left and the American working class which began at the onset of the Cold War. In the years immediately following WWII, hard-boiled crime fiction was more famously the home of Mickey Spillane’s ultra-conservative private eye, Mike Hammer, and Raymond Chandler’s isolated loner, Philip Marlowe. While Chandler’s private writings indicate he was obsessed with avoiding politics, Spillane’s fiction shows an almost hysterical drive to engage with them from the right, and together these two authors (the latter the authority on the genre during this era, and the latter its best-selling writer) outline a rhetorical field for hard-boiled crime fiction that was anything but welcoming for perspectives rooted in a working-class left politics. However, the fact that a famous columnist for the West Coast Communist press like Ryan saw opportunities for political engagement in this genre speaks to a vision of this form as a dynamic space capable of harboring a very different set of politics from the ones it most obviously represented. Likewise, his work suggests a view of hard-boiled crime fiction as an organic conduit for political engagement with a working class readership, and helps us today gain a sense of the importance of this segment of popular literary culture during this decade for the left.
In particular, this paper looks at Ryan’s three crime novels, The Lying Ladies (1946), The Bandaged Nude (1946), and Many a Monster (1947). I first broadly outline the post-war political landscape for the organized left and the working class, and then discuss these novels in relation to the particular set of tensions this moment witnessed, and also how Ryan worked against the dominant pressures of the form emblematized by its most famous and successful practitioners such as Spillane and Chandler.
Margaret Costello, Ampere Electical Contracting: Power, Gender, and Style: Current Experiences of a 20-year Veteran Electrician
I grew up with bricklayers, concrete blocks and blueprints. As a licensed master electrician, female companionship at my job level has been the exception rather than the rule for 20 years. Questions raised as a “diversifying worker” within the building trades reach far beyond gender.
- Electricity teaches me that environments are controlled rather than innately static.
- What ideological controls need to be questioned and updated in response to the present?
- What questions fall between the cracks of political ideology and the lives of building trades workers?
Adam Criblez, Purdue University: The Death of the Know-Nothings in Chicago: Ethnicity, Alcohol, and the Lager Beer Riot of 1855
During the 1850s, massive immigrations swept through America’s interior. Newly arrived immigrants, especially Germans and Irish, competed with American-born citizens for jobs, social status, and public space. This situation created a growing tension in American cities that led to the formation of the Know-Nothing party, a virulently anti-Catholic political coalition bent on maintaining American hegemony over its foreign-born competition. In Chicago, these ethnic and social class tensions between nativist citizens and ethnic immigrants boiled over in the spring of 1855 in the aptly named Chicago Lager Beer Riot.
On April 21, 1855, hundreds of angry German saloonkeepers marched on the Chicago courthouse, eagerly awaiting the verdict of a test case brought against eight of their brethren charged with distributing alcohol on Sunday, a violation of the so-called Sunday Law aimed at curbing public drinking. The ensuing riot, eventually necessitating military intervention, witnessed at least one death, numerous injuries, and created a legacy of mob violence in Chicago. The psychological effects of the riot, however, greatly transcended its limited physical impact on the city. The Lager Beer Riot signaled the demise of the Know-Nothings in Chicago and hastened sweeping political changes ushering in the ascendancy of the Republican Party. Yet despite its immense social and cultural impact on Chicago, it is often overlooked in Chicago’s tumultuous history of riots and political corruption. The rioting, demonstrating the vicious collision of public drinking and immigration, two key aspects of antebellum America, was unique to Chicago but its legacy and psychological effect was universal.
Charles Cunningham, Eastern Michigan University: Union, Revolution, and Working-Class Identity in Thomas Bell's Out of this Furnace
While a 1976 reissue of Thomas Bell's Out of this Furnace (1941) has remained in print ever since, the novel primarily enjoys a regional reputation as an account of the unionization of the steel industry and of the experience of Slovak immigrants in the Pittsburgh area. I will argue, however, that its value extends beyond the regional, because it raises important questions for working class studies. The novel focuses on a complex of issues, including class conflict and class identity, ethnic prejudice and ethnic experience, and the relationship between union struggle and a lasting "freedom" for the steelworkers. It chronicles not just the workers' coming to consciousness of their exploitation but their coming to see themselves as worthy of having better lives, a pre-condition for unionization. The process Bell describes thus complicates Lukacs's distinction between a working class in-itself and for-itself in ways that remain relevant. The novel climaxes with the establishment of the CIO steelworkers' union, which represents a victory over company intimidation, ethnic prejudice (often fomented by the companies), and the workers' doubts about their own power. Yet, in the midst of the celebration, it also asks how the union movement can be sustained under changing economic conditions and without structural changes in society itself. Thus, Out of this Furnace both chronicles the enormity of the historic struggles of working people to live better lives and anticipates some of the problems and setbacks familiar today.
Jim Daniels, Carnegie Mellon University: Detroit Tales: Short Fiction from the Motor City
A reading from Detroit Tales. The stories in Detroit Tales aren't just tales about Detroit—they are tales about urban, working-class America. In these stories, people struggle both to remain in the city and to escape the city. The three main forces in this book are the city, the workplace, and the automobile. In their cars, the people in these stories negotiate the territory between work and home. The conflicts arise in the characters' impulses to veer off their well-worn paths. What can they do? Where can they go? What forces pull them away, and what forces pull them back? In attempting to answer these questions, the characters search for what can provide them with spiritual sustenance. Often, the relief from the drudgery of their daily lives is provided in the fleeting dazzle of fireworks or Christmas lights, but they take what they can. If these stories have one unifying theme, it's that escape is not the answer. When the pulls of friendship and love and personal responsibility draw us back to our ordinary homes and our ordinary jobs, we must trust those pulls, and we must lead those lives with as much dignity as we can muster.
Anthony Dawahare, California State University/Northridge: Working-Class Studies in 1930s
This paper will address the ways in which Depression-era working-class studies challenges a variant of working-class studies today, namely, that which is contained by academic discourses and institutions with ties to the State and multinational corporations.
Ray DeCarlo: Operation Iraqi Freedom and a Critical Geopolitical Eye: American Cartoonists Powerful Critique of U.S. Foreign Policy
This paper is a tribute to the many American political cartoonists whose talent, courage and wit have not only reported events and policies in a truthful and comical manner, but have also demonstrated courage by standing for what they believe to be the truth. It begins with a brief background of the use of images to report the truth. The nature of political cartoons will be explored as well as their use in the recent turmoil in Iraq. Through the use of a “critical geopolitical eye” in their images in American newspapers, the cartoonists have helped to shape American public opinion. Although the images at times depict a stereotypical view of Islam and the Arab world, they nearly always show the current U.S. foreign policy in the light of the world’s view. Before the initial “shock and awe” phase of the invasion of Iraq began there were cartoons that separated the Hussein regime from Al Qaida, a few questioned the existence of weapons of mass destruction. The cartoons forced their viewers to consider wider implications and consequences of “Operation Iraqi Freedom” by challenging the prevalent ways of looking at and therefore understanding the war and the changing state of global interaction. Selected cartoons syndicated in U.S. newspapers from the years 2002 through 2004 will be analyzed. Conclusions will be reached about the significance of political cartoons in the field of geopolitics.
William DeGenaro, Miami University: Social Class and the Student Body on Main Campuses and Regional Campuses
In this presentation, I discuss some of my own experiences working as a tenure-track faculty member within a multi-campus university system. Specifically, I sort through some of the hierarchical dimensions of how main campuses and regional campuses communicate with one another. Though administrators and other constituents of the system rarely use social class as an explicit or deliberate lens for understanding the different dynamics of the campuses, issues of class are ever-present. Indeed, those issues of class inform the rhetoric that various constituents use as they discursively construct campus identities.
First, administrators and faculty and staff members frequently use a “student body” trope for differentiating between campuses, referring to the distinct character of the student body on the branch campuses. This kind of rhetoric invariably gets knowing nods from fellow constituents—not surprising, given how class is literally written on the bodies of students on both the main and the regional campus. In Unbearable Weight, Cultural critic and feminist Susan Bordo has revealed how the body becomes a cultural image capable of taking active roles in identity formation. Queer feminist and fiction writer Dorothy Allison has described how social class is one of the key factors determining how the body reflects one’s identity. The “student body” on the main campus is often pampered, white, and extremely skinny, while the “regional campus” body is more likely to be of color and of size and have the markings of various kinds of labor (blue-collar, maternal, etc.). These are physical markings, apparent to the naked eye, so it is obvious why discussion of “student body” has become such a dominant trope.
My presentation analyzes the absence of class in the discourse used by constituents of both campuses. Using the theoretical work of Bordo and Allison, I argue that more explicit and thoughtful attention to issues of class in this discourse would be more productive. The “student body” trope has outlasted its usefulness, becoming a euphemism. In particular, I argue that a nuanced class consciousness that acknowledges that the “body” is different (in part) because of a different class affiliation could serve transformative and even activist functions on regional campuses, helping the regional campuses (proudly) define themselves as “working class.”
Page Dougherty Delano, Borough of Manhattan Community College/CUNY: Sweater Wars: Sex, Class and the Nationalization of Morality in World War II
Traditional literary studies tend to perpetuate a view that American women on the World War II home front were ineffectual, removed from national concerns, focused on bobby pins and food rationing. A companion view suggested that women were overly sexed, and careless to the point of being enemies of the state, as seen in the alarm about teenage promiscuity, “amateur” prostitutes, the rising rate of venereal disease, gossipy, selfish women who could thoughtlessly pass on information about troop movements, and a high absentee rate which deemed women workers removed from the war effort. Working class women in particular were often viewed as loose, outside the acceptable (or respectable) parameters of citizenry. Narratives that embed women as citizens, or keep them legitimately excluded, are clearly at stake here.
Narratives about loose women, about “sex in the factories”—as a Time article announced, about the sweater wars allow us to examine more closely the ways that working class women were marginalized and kept from the master (masculine) narrative of wartime. Texts written by women who worked in factories, a smattering of fiction from the war period about working class women, women’s journalistic commentaries, and contemporary news articles about women workers in wartime reveal concerns about working women that complicated wartime narratives. Additionally, I look at wartime discussions of morale and morality to suggest that the anxiety about women’s independence during wartime needed to be contained by emphasizing their ‘essential’ bent towards dependence and immorality. In an increasingly centralized government and economy, a mobilized society nonetheless required imagination, new ways of doing things, and individual initiative, but representations of the war period reveal the many ways women were kept from this realm.
Suzanne Diamond, Youngstown State University: An American Pathology: Erased Histories in Two Hollywood Film Adaptations
The 1951 film, A Place in the Sun, and the 1999 film, The Talented Mr. Ripley, share a quintessentially American preoccupation with the quests of ambitious but disadvantaged central characters. Accordingly, the opening scenes in both films effectively compel empathetic attachment toward these characters and their plights: A young Montgomery Clift, in the earlier movie, is first depicted on a roadside, thumbing a ride out of middle-American obscurity under the intimidating shade of an Eastman Company billboard. This scene amounts to a cinematic template for an identically compelling opening scene in Ripley, where an earnest Matt Damon plays piano under the intimidating shade of a socialites’ gathering, dressed in a borrowed sport jacket with a university emblem. Employing these opening tableaux, both films direct their viewers’ focus towards the pathos of outsiderhood and the ascendant futures presumably merited by their underclass protagonists.
Treating the plights of either protagonist skeptically requires information about characters’ pasts which is critical to the novels’ plots but curiously omitted from both film adaptations. It would be useful, for instance, for the film viewer to know that Dreiser’s Clyde Griffiths had abandoned the scene of a fatal automobile accident or that Highsmith’s Tom Ripley had engaged in forgery and extortion, both prior to the pathos-inspiring situations employed to open the two films. I argue that these and other omissions from the film plots evidence an American meta-narrative, a mystification about origins with deeply relevant political implications; that the future is everything and that the past is—or should be—irrelevant is urged by each movie’s plot. Whereas the novels equip critical readers to interpret characters’ dismissals of their histories as an “American pathology,” the films implicitly join their protagonists in this selective, skewed and self-serving worldview, a phenomenon which curtails the critical response to social mobility upon which the source novels had insisted.
Durrenberger, Penn State University: A Dialogue Between Academics
and Activists (roundtable)
Public Intellectuals and Working-Class Struggles: Where do we go from here?
Paul Durrenberger received his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois, Urbana in 1971 and is a Professor of Anthropology at Pennsylvania State University. He has done ethnographic fieldwork with tribal and peasant people in northern Thailand, Iceland, Alabama, Mississippi, Iowa, Chicago and Pennsylvania. He studies political-economic systems. He is also an applied anthropologist who has researched labor unions, and a member of the American Anthropology Association’s newly formed Labor Commission. Paul’s latest book, co-authored with Suzan Erem, is entitled Class Acts: An Anthropology of Service Workers and Their Union.
Other panelists in this roundtable include Suzan Erem, Staughton Lynd, Jennifer Nicols, and Rob O'Brien. With a focus on working-class advocacy, this roundtable takes a critical look at the relationship between scholarship and activism today. We will open a dialogue between activists working outside of academia, and scholars who attempt to lobby for the interests of working-class and poor people from their positions within the Ivory Tower. Drawing from the biographies and experiences of panelists and audience members, we will posit the question of whether, and to what extent, the feeling of a need to "exit" academia, in order to support social change in the "real world," is as strong today as it was a generation ago. Building toward a constructive dialogue, this roundtable discussion will also focus on concrete examples of how alliances between labor and social justice activists working inside and outside of academia might be strengthened.
Terry Easton, Emory University: Atlanta’s “New” Working Class: Latino Day Laborers
Latinos in the South work in a variety of occupational settings, including onion and tobacco fields, carpet factories and chicken processing plants, hotels and restaurants, construction sites and private homes. In the early stages of the recent Latino migration to the South, men sent money home to support their families in Mexico and Central and South America; more recently, women and children are arriving in greater numbers to join their husbands and fathers. These men and women generally labor where working conditions are dirty and dangerous, health benefits are few, and wages are low. In addition to these workplace issues, Latinos in the South encounter language barriers, cultural differences, and xenophobia.
The hiring, working, and living conditions of Atlanta’s Latino day laborers comprise the primary subjects of this presentation. Latino day laborers wait for work at street corners and in for-profit temporary staffing agencies and non-profit hiring halls. They labor primarily in the construction, landscaping, and hospitality industries. Day laborers who wait for work on street corners sometimes get paid less than promised, or they don’t get paid at all. If Latino day laborers are injured at a jobsite, they likely won’t have health insurance or workers’ compensation insurance. Robberies and beatings of Latino day laborers are not uncommon, but these incidents are seldom reported to the police. In this paper, I discuss the plight of Atlanta’s Latino day laborers within the framework of contingent employment, race relations, and local and state codes and legislation.
Erem, Pennsylvania State University: Public Intellectuals and
Working-Class Struggles: Where do we go from here?
A Dialogue Between Academics and Activists (roundtable)
Suzan Erem is freelance writer for unions and nonprofits. She spent more than a dozen years working as a union organizer and staff representative, eventually serving seven years as the communications director of a 25,000-member SEIU local in Chicago. She also served for many years as an elected (volunteer) leader in the National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981 until recently stepping down. She is currently finishing up an NSF grant with Paul Durrenberger studying unions and democracy, and they have begun work on their next book about Charleston longshoremen. Her book, Labor Pains: Inside America's New Union Movement, was applauded by Barbara Ehrenreich who said, "I love it! It's about time somebody wrote about union organizing as the adventure it truly is!"
Other panelists in this roundtable include Paul Durrenberger, Staughton Lynd, Jennifer Nicols, and Rob O'Brien. With a focus on working-class advocacy, this roundtable takes a critical look at the relationship between scholarship and activism today. We will open a dialogue between activists working outside of academia, and scholars who attempt to lobby for the interests of working-class and poor people from their positions within the Ivory Tower. Drawing from the biographies and experiences of panelists and audience members, we will posit the question of whether, and to what extent, the feeling of a need to "exit" academia, in order to support social change in the "real world," is as strong today as it was a generation ago. Building toward a constructive dialogue, this roundtable discussion will also focus on concrete examples of how alliances between labor and social justice activists working inside and outside of academia might be strengthened.
Anthony Esposito, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, and Anthony Peyronel, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania: Bruce Springsteen: Working-Class Hero or Corporate Shill?
Throughout his iconic career, Bruce Springsteen has been recognized as a champion of the working class. His 1975 release, Born to Run, focused on the blue collar images of the Jersey shore and resonated with a national audience. In fact, panelist Anthony Esposito has previously argued that Born to Run should be recognized by working class studies scholars as a teaching tool and critical artifact relating to the concepts of community, culture, class, and communication. And Springsteen’s more recent work, including the 2002 release, The Rising, and his 2004 tour in support of John Kerry’s presidential campaign, has only enhanced Springsteen’s status as an advocate of working class causes. Still, critics have sometimes attacked Springsteen as being a prime example of the greed and hype that drive “corporate rock,” especially in terms of his relationship with long-time producer/manager Jon Landau. Is Springsteen the poet laureate of blue collar America, or simply a front man for the corporate interests of the recording industry? In this presentation, the panelists will examine these conflicting aspects of the Springsteen persona.
This presentation will attempt to locate Mark Twain and his writings within Renny Christopher and Carolyn Whitson’s broad definition of working-class literature as “works written by working-class people about their class experience.” To place Twain within this definition, the presenter will broadly apply aspects of Christopher and Whitson’s theoretical outline of working-class literature to Twain and two of his major works, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. After a brief discussion of Twain’s working class background, the presenter will discuss the role that journey plays in Huckleberry Finn in capturing working-class culture and language on the Mississippi.
The remainder of the presentation will use historical analysis of labor struggles during the Gilded Age to understand Twain’s jarringly conflicted portrayal of workers in Connecticut Yankee. Twain’s satire of Arthurian England can also be seen as a biting commentary on the class conflict created by the Industrial Revolution. Consequently, his characterization of serfs in feudal England as “white Indians” and “dupes” may at first appear contemptuous of Industrial workers; however, these sentiments actually reflect Twain’s own internal class conflict, one rooted in his working-class sensibilities and his ambition to be part of the business elites of his era. This personal division between the go-getter businessman Samuel Clemens and the radical democrat Mark Twain is not only reflected in the disorienting (and self-destructive) split personality of Connecticut Yankee’s narrator—it is illustrative of the deep class divisions in America during the Gilded Age, the fault lines of which continue to cause tremors in our own time.
Elizabeth Fones-Wolf, West Virginia University, and Ken Fones-Wolf, West Virginia University: Religious Inspiration in the Making and Unmaking of the American Working Class
Exit polls from the 2004 Presidential election made clear just how important religion is (and has been) as a political force, not just in the South but also among the swing-state voters in states like Ohio and Missouri. The polarization of the nation into red and blue states underscores even deeper divisions between the more traditional morality of rural America and the modernist impulses of cosmopolitan urbanites. Lost in the broader picture are the ways that religious issues have divided working people and diminished the political voice of the labor movement and the working class more generally. This should not be surprising. Throughout the industrial era, Christianity, of both the Protestant and Catholic varieties, has been crucial to the making as well as the unmaking of American working-class solidarity.
This paper will explore the influence of Catholicism and Protestantism in the making and the unmaking of the labor movement in the critical era of the CIO. Christian social justice ideas in the 1920s and 1930s provided a powerful critique of American capitalism and helped justify the labor movement’s demand for social and legal reform. At the same time, this Christian social message was not without limits for the working class. Religious groups expected workers and their unions to adhere to certain principles and codes of conduct in exchange for their support. When labor failed to meet those standards Christian clergy could rescind their backing and counsel their followers to sever connections with unions. Thus, religious inspirations helped both make and unmake the advances associated with the New Deal industrial relations system, suggesting important lessons for the working class of today.
Douglas A. Fowler, Youngstown State University: Jobs in Between the Cracks: Poems in Remembrance of “Good” Work
I wrote these poems to celebrate all those jobs I’ve had jammed in, around, and after college—steelworker, custodian, machinist and cabinet maker; digging a line on a north Idaho fire and work as a farm hand. The poems become a requiem for the loss of this kind of good work—that temporary historical condition in which many of us were lucky enough to spend our intellectually formative years¾a fortunate time in which we enjoyed the harvest of American labor’s struggle. I will always consider these jobs a central part of an authentic education and I want my writing to be a way of making this experience part of that voice crying out a need for meaningful work amidst our new managerial and retail landscape.
At eighteen I was a steelworker, paying dues to USWA Local 2243, and on the contract pay-scale with full benefits. Now we send our kids to work in malls for minimum wage. Good work assumes conditions of justice. It can also encourage connections with land, water, air, and how things are really made. Consider the following:
I have a geologic map of the Mesabi Iron Range:
color-coded bedrock like books,
each page in blue-gray hematite,
signatures of red jasper where bacteria
bloomed, died off, bloomed again
in the tides of a former world,
like the work
that now only comes and goes
in the open-pit Hull-Rust-Mahoning Mine,
a name like the rusted hulls
of lake-boat iron-ore freighters
bound for Cleveland;
bound for Ashtabula.
I’ve lived in Ohio’s Mahoning Valley
and looked into liquid iron’s unearthly heat,
prepped the iron molds poured full of liquid steel,
rode brakeman on a narrow-gauge pulling ingots.
We lived off iron, drove on roads of iron slag,
and breathed in
that metal mined
in the red Mesabi Iron Range.
The Working-Class Academics discussion list (WCA) came into being in 1994. Barbara Peters founded the list after an unpleasant encounter on the Women’s Studies listserv demonstrated the need for a place where academics from poverty and working-class backgrounds could connect with one another. Since that time, the WCA has attracted hundreds of subscribers through little more than word-of-mouth publicity (there is a simple website and there has been sporadic interest by the press). Subscribers include undergraduate and graduate students, active and retired faculty members, professional staff people and a few administrators.
Much of the traffic on the list has involved questions and advice about surviving in the academic world and in the world “back home.” Practical suggestions, moral support and inspiring tales have helped members as they’ve chosen majors, dropped in and out, interviewed, gotten jobs, felt alienated, published, felt like imposters, gotten tenure, gone on strike, been fired, achieved middle-class incomes, taught courses, drowned in debt, mentored students, and interacted with the folks back home. There have also been many discussions about defining social class—figuring out where one fits (many people join the list by posting their biography and then earnestly asking whether or not they belong). In addition to much sharing of academic resources, there have also been discussions of many poverty-class/working-class issues and themes—including music and food (a cookbook has been in the works for several years now).
This largely qualitative analysis takes us through the labyrinth of the close to 2000 messages posted between March 2003 and March 2005.
John Gudmundson, Medaille College: A Culture of Uncertainty: Icelandic Immigrant Workers and the Quest for Place
The search for place was common among late nineteenth century working-class immigrants, particularly Icelandic Americans during a prolonged time of transition between the loss of home in Iceland and founding of home in America. As homesteads and communities were established, dismantled and re-established throughout the mid-west, Icelandic immigrants endured a lingering sense of displacement in their continued quest for home.
Further to Kristjana Gunnars and Bill Holm's discussions of perpetual exile and marginality in Icelandic America, an analysis of the poems, essays and letters by nineteenth century farmer and poet Stephan G. Stephansson reveals a strong desire for place and suggests an even deeper culture of uncertainty – a condition that proved problematic in the settling of America.
Moreover, the juxtaposition of disparate poetic forms and literary genres in Stephansson’s texts reflects a number of enduring struggles unique to the Icelandic American experience: the widening chasm between remembered and invented homelands, a growing conflict between uncertain ethnic identity and cultural assimilation, and an underlying tension between the dual roles of marginal immigrant and everyday worker. These ongoing conflicts are crucial defining points in the Icelandic immigrant’s quest for place - before, during and after the founding of home.
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