CfP: From Proletariat to Precariat: Working-class writing 1930s to date, Birmingham, 26 June 2020 (deadline 30 April)

From Proletariat to Precariat: Representations of Class and Identity in Working-class writing from the 1930s to the present

Department of English, University of Birmingham

 26th June 2020

 We invite submissions to an interdisciplinary conference on working -class fiction, to be held at the University of Birmingham in June.

In a recent Guardian article Tim Lott laments the death of the English working-class novel and likewise that of the English working-class literary novelist. He qualifies his pronouncement, by remarking the delineation ‘English’ is used advisedly, for ‘the same is not true of Scotland’. Nevertheless, he may have also appended the modifiers ‘White’ and ‘Male’ before ‘English’ so as to complete the chain of associations traditionally linked to working-class writing. Touching on the subject matter of working-class narratives, Lott notes how ‘stories of “the streets” now tend to come from post-colonial voices that explore ethnic, religious and cultural identities’ where class is unlikely to be the primary concern’. This is unfortunate, for issues of class and individual identity are generally interconnected and overlapping, and ought not be seen as mutually antagonistic. Owing to what Richard Hoggart called ‘experiential wholeness’; the ways lives are shaped by ‘many different orders of things all at once’, working-class fictions frequently offer themselves as resources from which to construct a sense of imaginative solidarity, promoting what Zadie Smith refers to as ‘an extension away from yourself, into other people’ or, to paraphrase Hoggart, they serve to remind us that we are not alone.

This one-day conference will probe beyond the traditional conventions and assumptions of a working-class writing, to clear a space for the exploration of intersections between class, race, gender and politics. We invite proposals for papers of 20 minutes on any aspect of working-class fiction from the 1930s to the present. Topics might include:

  • No more hard work, no more work? AI and The Universal wage;
  • Shame and Respectability;
  • Working-class women writers;
  • From Colliery to Call-Centre: The changing face of the workplace;
  • Identity politics (race, gender, class);
  • Working-Class Cinema: Documentary Cinema and Film;
  • Austerity fiction;
  • The Domestic Scene;
  • We also welcome papers from creative writers and artists engaging with working-class issues.

Submissions from postgraduates and early-career researchers are particularly welcome. Please submit abstracts of no more than 300 words to: RCH554@student.bham.ac.uk by 30th April 2020. Please also include a brief biography, and indicate whether you would consider chairing a panel.