What Ever Happened to the Working Class?
Rediscovering Class Consciousness in Contemporary Literature
An International Symposium at the Institute of English Studies, Senate House.
17 September 2015
Between Ed Miliband’s squeezed middle and tabloid diatribes against the underclass, the working class has seemingly disappeared from critical discourse in literary and cultural studies. Nevertheless issues of class, class consciousness, classlessness, and new configurations of class such as new affluent workers, the emergent service sector, and the precariat continue to form a rich source for novelists, poets and dramatists.
This interdisciplinary and international conference aims to bring together researchers and academics working in the fields of the literature and culture of the working class.
After the heyday of working-class literary studies in the 1950s to the 1980s with critics and theorists such as Louis Althusser, Etienne Balibar, Terry Eagleton, Fredric Jameson, Georg Lukàcs, and Raymond Williams helping to reconfigure the canon, working-class writing as a literary category seemed to slip from critical analysis. In its wake a series of critical paradigms around gender, sexuality, ethnicity, postcolonialism, postmodernism, ecocriticism, and disability studies, important as they have been, have tended on the whole to shift class contexts from centre stage.
The rich period of working-class fiction, drama and poetry during the same period has perhaps been underplayed in the following decades. Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Room at the Top, Look Back in Anger, A Taste of Honey, and poetry by Tony Harrison, Tom Leonard and Barry Tebb now appear as works from a golden age in the exploration of working-class life. However, a significant number of writers continue to locate plots and characters in working-class contexts. In fiction, novelists such as Monica Ali, Martin Amis, Pat Barker, Bernardine Evaristo, James Kelman, Andrea Levy, Courttia Newland, David Peace, Irvine Welsh, Zadie Smith, Alan Warner, Sarah Waters, Alex Wheatle, and Jeanette Winterson have continued to explore, construct and represent working-class life. Simon Armitage, Jackie Kaye, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Philip Levine and John Cooper Clarke have maintained the legacy of working-class poetry in differing ways, while dramatists like Caryl Churchill, David Eldridge and Roy Williams have developed approaches that develop the ‘kitchen-sink’ dramas of the 1950s and 60s.
One of the aims of the conference is to bring together those working to reintegrate and re- articulate class back into the fields of literary studies and cultural politics more broadly, with the aim of establishing a new set of critical approaches that foreground issues of class.
We welcome proposals for 20-minute individual papers, or 1-hour panels, from academics and researchers working primarily in the fields of twentieth- and twenty-first century literature and culture who have research interests in exploring issues of class. Papers may be on broad topics or on individual authors, and although the focus of the conference will be on contemporary literature and culture, we also welcome proposals that offer contemporary re- assessments of working-class literature from all periods.
Although many of the literary texts cited above have UK settings, we also welcome papers on the representation of working-class life from all parts of the world, and are indeed interested in the way in which class identities circulate internationally.
We are also open to the possibility of including a strand of creative practice into the conference, so would welcome 20-minute presentations/performances/films or displays from literary writers (fiction, poetry or drama), or film makers, photographers, visual artists, musicians or other creative practitioners.
Abstracts should be 250-300 words in length and emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org by 28th April 2015.