Working-class writing: an essay collection
On 12 May 2015, five days after the Tories secured a parliamentary majority in the general election, the Guardian reported that David Cameron was "expected to lay out his plans for a parliament of 'blue-collar Conservatism'" to his cabinet. References to "working people" recurred in the election campaign, and Cameron's comments suggest that they remain a site of political dispute even after their votes have been counted, a category parties struggle to control and mobilize. "Working people" themselves have been conspicuously absent from this process, though, and the term "working class," with its radical connotations and history, has been relatively little used. Politicians and the media have been able to reproduce a series of stereotypes, representing on the one hand "respectable" nuclear families, centered on a male wage-earner and motivated by what Cameron describes as the "dignity of a job, the pride of a paycheque, a home of their own," and on the other a threatening underclass who are responsible for their own condition due to their lack of "aspirations" and deliberate embrace of drink, drugs and violence. Even those on the left often see the working class as a historical category, the residue of a lost labour movement, an ageing group of white, male manual workers rendered irrelevant by multiculturalism and industrial decline. There is currently an urgent need to explore the interpretation and representation of "working people," to challenge the unexamined terms of existing debates and the interests that have determined them. This book will analyze the contours and implications of the term "working class" and recover the marginalized voices of working-class writers who have attempted to describe and understand their own condition. In so doing, it will insist on "working class" as a dynamic category, continually reshaped by overlapping identities and changing material conditions, rather than a stable, conservative one constructed in opposition to ethnic, gender or sexual difference.
Class has been neglected in literary and cultural studies for the past few decades, and indeed Sally Munt traces its marginalization back as far as the nineteen-seventies, when "the CCCS [Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies] moved away from working-class (primarily youth) subjects and subcultures, to critique other social structures". The two necessary "interruptions" Stuart Hall identified in the work of the Centre, feminism and "race" studies, exposed the limitations of contemporary left-wing thought and practice, the forms of oppression it failed to recognize or address, but too often displaced rather than extended existing emancipatory theories. The process continued and intensified in many later forms of identity politics. This collection does not ignore the considerable political and interpretative advances made in the process, and insists on the intersections of class with gender, ethnic and sexual identities rather than reverting to earlier critical models from these categories were largely absent. It argues for a heterogeneous model of the working class that functions as a strategic rather than a descriptive term and is always mobilised within particular historical contexts. Working-class writing is essential to understanding this complexity, as it insists upon the specificity of working-class experience, which political, historical and sociological accounts often erase. This attention to the particular reveals the ways in which class intersects with other identities and allegiances, resulting in productive tensions, new forms of knowledge, political commitment and activism. We would particularly welcome chapters that explore the ways in which established conceptions of the working class writing and culture have been challenged and expanded by feminist, postcolonial and queer theory.
The book will be divided into two sections, the first concentrating on the theoretical issues raised by an engagement with working-class writing and the second on analyses of particular writers, movements and periods. Both sections are broadly conceived. Whilst the collection focuses on twentieth and twenty-first century British literature, we welcome transnational approaches. Possible topics include, but are not limited to:
- theories of working-class writing, including problems of definition, interpretation and evaluation
- canonicity and the idea of a working-class tradition
- working-class writing and periodization
- genres of working-class writing
- the spectre of "socialist realism"
- working-class writing and experimentation
- working-class writing and activism
- working-class writing in the academy
- working-class publication and republication
- the intersections of class, gender, sexuality and ethnicity
- cross-class encounters
- the working-class after Thatcherism
- representations of the underclass or lumpenproletariat