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Class : Culture

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American Socialist Triptych

The Literary-Political Work of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Upton Sinclair, and W. E. B. Du Bois

Mark W. Van Wienen

"A meticulously researched, highly informed, carefully argued, and very accessible account of American socialism, socialists, and socialistic thinking, from the late nineteenth century through the 1960s . . . challenges the intellectual and political legacy of Werner Sombart's Why Is There No Socialism in the United States?, whose spirit still hovers over animated discussions about the 'failures' of socialism in the United States." ---James A. Miller, George Washington University "A valuable rethinking and reframing of the traditions of leftist literary scholarship in the U.S." ---Sylvia Cook, University of Missouri, St. Louis American Socialist Triptych: The Literary-Political Work of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Upton Sinclair, and W. E. B. Du Bois explores the contributions of three writers to the development of American socialism over a fifty--year period and asserts the vitality of socialism in modern American literature and culture. Drawing upon a wide range of texts including archival sources, Mark W. Van Wienen demonstrates the influence of reform-oriented, democratic socialism both in the careers of these writers and in U.S. politics between 1890 and 1940. While offering unprecedented in-depth analysis of modern American socialist literature, this book charts the path by which the supposedly impossible, dangerous ideals of a cooperative commonwealth were realized, in part, by the New Deal. American Socialist Triptych provides in-depth, innovative readings of the featured writers and their engagement with socialist thought and action. Upton Sinclair represents the movement's most visible manifestation, the Socialist Party of America, founded in 1901; Charlotte Perkins Gilman reflects the socialist elements in both feminism and 1890s reform movements, and W. E. B. Du Bois illuminates social democratic aspirations within the NAACP. Van Wienen's book seeks to re-energize studies of Sinclair by treating him as a serious cultural figure whose career peaked not in the early success of The Jungle but in his nearly successful 1934 run for the California governorship. It also demonstrates as never before the centrality of socialism throughout Gilman's and Du Bois's literary and political careers. More broadly, American Socialist Triptych challenges previous scholarship on American radical literature, which has focused almost exclusively on the 1930s and Communist writers. Van Wienen argues that radical democracy was not the phenomenon of a decade or of a single group but a sustained tradition dispersed within the culture, providing a useful genealogical explanation for how socialist ideas were actually implemented through the New Deal. American Socialist Triptych also revises modern American literary history, arguing for the endurance of realist and utopian literary modes at the height of modernist literary experimentation and showing the importance of socialism not only to the three featured writers but also to their peers, including Edward Bellamy, Hamlin Garland, Jack London, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Claude McKay. Further, by demonstrating the importance of social democratic thought to feminist and African American campaigns for equality, the book dialogues with recent theories of radical egalitarianism. Readers interested in American literature, U.S. history, political theory, and race, gender, and class studies will all find in American Socialist Triptych a valuable and provocative resource.

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Commerce in Color

Race, Consumer Culture, and American Literature, 1893-1933

James C. Davis

Commerce in Color explores the juncture of consumer culture and race by examining advertising, literary texts, mass culture, and public events in the United States from 1893 to 1933. James C. Davis takes up a remarkable range of subjects—including the crucial role publishers Boni and Liveright played in the marketing of Harlem Renaissance literature, Henry James’s critique of materialism in The American Scene, and the commodification of racialized popular culture in James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man—as he argues that racial thinking was central to the emergence of U.S. consumerism and, conversely, that an emerging consumer culture was a key element in the development of racial thinking and the consolidation of racial identity in America. By urging a reassessment of the familiar rubrics of the “culture of consumption” and the “culture of segregation,” Dawson poses new and provocative questions about American culture and social history. Both an influential literary study and an absorbing historical read, Commerce in Color proves that—in America—advertising, publicity, and the development of the modern economy cannot be understood apart from the question of race. “A welcome addition to existing scholarship, Davis’s study of the intersection of racial thinking and the emergence of consumer culture makes connections very few scholars have considered.” —James Smethurst, University of Massachusetts James C. Davis is Assistant Professor of English at Brooklyn College.

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Dividing Lines

Class Anxiety and Postbellum Black Fiction

Andreá N. Williams

In Dividing Lines , Andreá N. Williams explores how African American literature in the late 19th century represents class divisions among black Americans. By portraying complex, highly stratified communities with a growing black middle class, authors dispelled popular notions that black Americans were uniformly poor or uncivilized. But even as the writers highlighted middle-class achievement, they worried over whether class distinctions would help or sabotage collective black protest against racial prejudice. Williams argues that the signs of class anxiety are embedded in postbellum fiction: from the verbal stammer or prim speech of class-conscious characters to fissures in the fiction's form. In these telling moments, authors innovatively dared to address the sensitive topic of class differences---a topic inextricably related to American civil rights and social opportunity. Williams delves into the familiar and lesser-known works of Frances E. W. Harper, Pauline Hopkins, Charles W. Chesnutt, Sutton Griggs, and Paul Laurence Dunbar, showing how these texts mediate class through discussions of labor, moral respectability, ancestry, spatial boundaries, and skin complexion. Dividing Lines also draws on reader responses---from book reviews, editorials, and letters---to show how the class anxiety expressed in African American fiction directly sparked reader concerns over the status of black Americans in the U.S. social order.

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Grassroots at the Gateway

Class Politics and Black Freedom Struggle in St. Louis, 1936-75

Clarence Lang

This is a theoretically sophisticated and thoroughly documented historical case study of the movements for African American liberation in St. Louis. Through detailed analysis of black working class mobilization from the depression years to the advent of Black Power, award-winning historian Clarence Lang describes how the advances made in earlier decades were undermined by a black middle class agenda that focused on the narrow aims of black capitalists and politicians. The book is a major contribution to our understanding of the black working class insurgency that underpinned the civil rights and Black Power campaigns of the twentieth century. ---V. P. Franklin, University of California, Riverside "A major work of scholarship that will transform historical understanding of the pivotal role that class politics played in both civil rights and Black Power activism in the United States. Clarence Lang's insightful, engagingly written, and well-researched study will prove indispensable to scholars and students of postwar American history." ---Peniel Joseph, Brandeis University Breaking new ground in the field of Black Freedom Studies, Grassroots at the Gateway reveals how urban black working-class communities, cultures, and institutions propelled the major African American social movements in the period between the Great Depression and the end of the Great Society. Using the city of St. Louis in the border state of Missouri as a case study, author Clarence Lang undermines the notion that a unified "black community" engaged in the push for equality, justice, and respect. Instead, black social movements of the working class were distinct from---and at times in conflict with---those of the middle class. This richly researched book delves into African American oral histories, records of activist individuals and organizations, archives of the black advocacy press, and even the records of the St. Louis' economic power brokers whom local black freedom fighters challenged. Grassroots at the Gateway charts the development of this race-class divide, offering an uncommon reading of not only the civil rights movement but also the emergence and consolidation of a black working class. Clarence Lang is Assistant Professor in African American Studies and History at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Photo courtesy Western Historical Manuscript Collection, University of Missouri, St. Louis

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Middle Class Union

Organizing the ‘Consuming Public’ in Post-World War I America

Mark W. Robbins

Middle Class Union argues that the period following World War I was a pivotal moment in the development of middle-class consumer politics in the 20th century. At this time, middle-class Americans politically mobilized to define for society what was fair in the growing consumer marketplace. They projected themselves as guardians of the producerist values of hard work, honesty, and thrift, and called for greater adherence to them among the working and elite classes. In this era and in later periods, they flexed their muscles as consumers, and claimed to defend the values of the nation.

Combining social history with interdisciplinary approaches to the study of consumption and symbolic space, Middle Class Union illustrates how acts of consumption, representations of the middle class in literary, journalistic, and artistic discourses, and ground-level organizing combined to enable white-collar activists to establish themselves as both the middle class and the backbone of the nation. This book contributes to labor history by examining the nexus of class and consumption to show how many white-collar workers drew on their consumer identity to express an anti-labor politics, later facilitating the struggles of unions throughout the post–World War I years. It also contributes to political history by emphasizing how these middle-class activists laid important groundwork for both 1920s business conservatism and New Deal liberalism. They exerted their political influence well before the post–World War II period, when a self-interested and powerful middle-class consumer identity is more widely acknowledged to have taken hold.

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The Poverty Law Canon

Exploring the Major Cases

Marie A. Failinger and Ezra Rosser, Editors

The Poverty Law Canon takes readers into the lives of the clients and lawyers who brought critical poverty law cases in the United States. These cases involved attempts to establish the right to basic necessities, as well as efforts to ensure dignified treatment of welfare recipients and to halt administrative attacks on federal program benefit levels. They also confronted government efforts to constrict access to justice, due process, and rights to counsel in child support and consumer cases, social welfare programs, and public housing. By exploring the personal narratives that gave rise to these lawsuits as well as the behind-the-scenes dynamics of the Supreme Court, the text locates these cases within the social dynamics that shaped the course of litigation.
 
Noted legal scholars explain the legal precedent created by each case and set the case within its historical and political context in a way that will assist students and advocates in poverty-related disciplines in their understanding of the implications of these cases for contemporary public policy decisions in poverty programs. Whether the focus is on the clients, on the lawyers, or on the justices, the stories in The Poverty Law Canon illuminate the central legal themes in federal poverty law of the late 20th century and the role that racial and economic stereotyping plays in shaping American law.
 

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Transcribing Class and Gender

Masculinity and Femininity in Nineteenth-Century Courts and Offices

Carole Srole

Drawing upon census data, trade periodicals devoted to stenography and court reporting, the writings of educational reformers, and fiction, Srole allows us to better understand the roles that gender and work played in the formation of middle-class identity. Clearly written and thoroughly researched, her book reminds us of the contradictions that both men and women faced as they navigated changes in the labor market and sought to realize a modern professional identity. ---Thomas Augst, New York University Transcribing Class and Gender explores the changing meanings of clerical work in nineteenth-century America, focusing on the discourse surrounding that work. At a time when shorthand transcription was the primary method of documenting business and legal communications and transactions, most stenographers were men, but changing technology saw the emergence of women in the once male-dominated field. Carole Srole argues that this shift placed stenographers in a unique position to construct a new image of the professional man and woman and, in doing so, to redefine middle- and working-class identities. Many male court reporters emphasized their professionalism, portraying themselves as educated language experts as a way to elevate themselves above the growing numbers of female and working-class stenographers and typewriter operators. Meanwhile, women in the courts and offices were confronting the derogatory image of the so-called Typewriter Girl who cared more about her looks, clothing, and marriage prospects than her job. Like males in the field, women responded by fashioning a gendered professional image---one that served to combat this new version of degraded female labor while also maintaining traditional ideals of femininity. The study is unique in the way it reads and analyzes popular fiction, stenography trade magazines, the archives of professional associations, and writings by educational reformers to provide new perspectives on this history. The author challenges the common assumption that men and women clerks had separate work cultures and demonstrates how each had to balance elements of manhood and womanhood in the drive toward professionalism and the construction of a new middle-class image. Transcribing Class and Gender joins the recent scholarship that employs cultural studies approaches to class and gender without abandoning the social history valuation of workers' experiences. Carole Srole is Professor of History at California State University, Los Angeles. Photo: A female stenographer working for an actuary in 1897. Courtesy Metlife Archives.

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Vanishing Moments

Class and American Literature

Eric Schocket

Vanishing Moments analyzes how various American authors have reified class through their writing, from the first influx of industrialism in the 1850s to the end of the Great Depression in the early 1940s. Eric Schocket uses this history to document America’s long engagement with the problem of class stratification and demonstrates how deeply America’s desire to deny the presence of class has marked even its most labor-conscious cultural texts. Schocket offers careful readings of works by Herman Melville, Rebecca Harding Davis, William Dean Howells, Jack London, T. S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein, Muriel Rukeyser, and Langston Hughes, among others, and explores how these authors worked to try to heal the rift between the classes. He considers the challenges writers faced before the Civil War in developing a language of class amidst the predominant concerns about race and slavery; how early literary realists dealt with the threat of class insurrection; how writers at the turn of the century attempted to span the divide between the classes by going undercover as workers; how early modernists used working-class characters and idioms to shape their aesthetic experiments; and how leftists in the 1930s struggled to develop an adequate model to connect class and literature. Vanishing Moments’ unique combination of a broad historical scope and in-depth readings makes it an essential book for scholars and students of American literature and culture, as well as for political scientists, economists, and humanists. Eric Schocket is Associate Professor of American Literature at Hampshire College. “An important book containing many brilliant arguments—hard-hitting and original. Schocket demonstrates a sophisticated acquaintance with issues within the working-class studies movement.” --Barbara Foley, Rutgers University

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