The Seventh Biennial Conference of the Center for Working Class Studies

May 18-21, 2005, Youngstown, Ohio

New Working-Class Studies: Past, Present, and Future

Proceedings: Abstracts by Author P-Z

 


 


Caroline Pari, Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY, Revising Essay 1: Work and Social Class Identity 

The 10th Anniversary of the Youngstown Working-Class Studies Conference has inspired me to recall the last 10 years of my teaching writing at a community college in New York City.  Ten years ago, I was struggling to create a pedagogy that addressed social class issues.  It was an exciting time, charting unknown territory.  With new working-class studies, it continues to be both challenging and invigorating.

This paper presents a brief retrospective of my teaching of social class in my developmental writing and freshman writing courses. Then, I describe a recent semester with my English 101 course.  After a few weeks of reading essays, writing brief pieces, and engaging in class discussions, students compose an essay about Work and Social Class Identity.  For the essay assignment, I ask students to describe their view of class structure in American society, to provide personal work experiences that exemplify their concepts and to describe their social class identity.

I encourage students to express themselves in their own language, create their own imagery, and develop their own theories that do not rely on the standard pyramid image, or even terms such as upper class or middle class. I hope to get their own views of our societys class distinctions.  While in the past Ive always been impressed with the sophistication of my students sense of class differences, Ive recently noticed their lack of access to the actual vocabulary necessary to understanding social class and how it functions in our society.  At other times, students confused terms, concepts and ideas.  The writing I would have been happy with ten years ago now missed the mark.  But, with extensive revision, students papers that were filled with clichs, confusion, and simplistic conclusions turned into fascinating explorations into social class and a profound understanding of it in their lives.


Phil Picha, independent scholar, Lean Manufacturing: The Highest Stage of Capitalism?

Lean manufacturing models utilize continuous process improvement to eliminate waste (muda) in the production process.  Macro (formative) and micro (substantive) analyses of an ideal type Japanese Production System (JPS) transplant factory provide useful insights for understanding the economic success attributed to lean manufacturing techniques.  The exploitative aspects of the JPS model are explored within the context of hegemonic control devices experienced on the shop floor.  An assessment of dilemmas facing the lean model is presented for consideration concerning future prospects for the paradigm.


Peter Rachleff, Macalester College, Using Theater and Music to Connect College Students and Worker

How can those of us who teach in contemporary colleges connect our students, many of whom are from middle-class backgrounds or are being socialized/trained/educated to enter middle-class professions, with workers, whether blue collar, white collar, or service sector, and their organizations?  In my presentation as part of the panel Promoting Working Class Studies in the U.S. and the U.K., I want to discuss one recent project of mine and tease out what we might learn from it that is of wider applicability.

In the spring of 2004, a colleague from our Music Department and I designed and team-taught a new course, Telling Labors Story Through Music. We used readings, music, guest presenters, and collaboration with United Auto Workers Union Local 879 (Ford Truck Assembly, St. Paul) and its members, not only to immerse our students in labor history and the elements of working class culture that have found expression through music, but also to stage, at the college and at the UAWs union hall, Steve Jones newly written jazz opera, Forgotten: Murder at the Ford Rouge, 1937.  The course provided a cast for the musical, and rehearsals, residencies and workshops with Steve Jones himself and labor folksinger Bucky Halker, a union-led tour of the Ford plant, a class presentation by local union president Rob McKenzie, and discussions at the hall with rank-and-file union members about their lives and work, added to course readings, class discussions, listening assignments, and essay papers, to create a very effective learning experience for the students as well as a learning opportunity for the auto workers who met with the students and/or attended the musical.


Scott E. Randolph, Purdue University, Pain, Injury and Loss: 1930s Railway Claim Records and the Meaning of Work

How did industrial workers question their investment in the putative rewards and punishments of capitalism when the short and long-term retention or acquisition of employment no longer seemed secure?  Given the pervasiveness of unemployment and its apparent intractability, did other segments of society, such as those with relatively secure employment or landowners question their commitment to capitalism, or its corporate manifestations?  Did the Great Depression alter or transform cultural attitudes toward power and its application, outside the rubric of conservative liberal debates over the purpose of government and the threat/benefit of monopoly?

In order to propose some tentative answers to these questions I have interrogated a sample of the Erie Railroads Kent (OH) Division Claim Agent files from 1933 1941.  These records are significant because they include individuals from different and often antagonistic classes all of whom are interacting with the same industrial institution.  The records reveal some individuals, especially transients, whose interactions with the railroad are suffused with an awareness of the disparity between the company's power and their own.  Thus, they articulated their frustration and powerlessness in claims ("attacks') against the railroad.  Alternatively, their claims against the railroad might represent "lottery tickets" or picket signs against oppression.  That older enmities toward the railroad industry still have meanings is evident in the claims of landowners.  We also see glimpses of middle-class insecurities about the social and cultural transformations of the New Deal and the fundamental alteration of the symbiotic but perpetually uneasy relationships between the (at times) latent working class and the middle-class.


Cherie Rankin, Illinois State University, Religion and the Working Class in Proletarian Fiction and Film

 

In Grace Lumpkins proletarian novel To Make My Bread, the dichotomy between religion as a source of comfort and a source of oppression is central to the struggle of the Gastonia textile mill workers.  On one hand, organized religion provides an emotional release for overtaxed workers and provided a close-knit community center; on the other, many worker churches are staffed by clergy who receive their paychecks from local mill owners, and the pulpit often becomes mouthpiece for mill management (a relationship established clearly in works such as Liston Popes Millhands and Preachers).  John Sayles film Matewan presents the church as a place of solace for abused, marginalized coal miners, but also as the wellspring of their activism; the pulpit becomes not only the source of Gods word, but also becomes the podium from which worker resistance and revolt can put forth a voice and be heard.  Finally, Pietro diDonatos Christ in Concrete explores the tensions between Christianity as the hope of tortured immigrant workers (and their families) and the reality of their lives, which ring again and again as unfair; that is, Christ as the giver of mercy and blessing stands out as a stark anomaly in lives full of physical and emotional pain as well as endless injustice. 

 

The characters in these works, caught between the reality of their daily lives and the promise of a much happier (but far-off) hereafter, take different directions in response, but most turn toward activism and socialism and away from religion to some degree, some completely (as is the case of Paul in Christ in Concrete).  In much the same way as Lumpkin did in her own life (going from fundamental Christianity to Communism and back again), these characters struggle with opposed systems of belief and how to reconcile the two in their lives.

Wendell Ricketts, independent scholar; Rick Laurent Feely, independent scholar; and, Rigoberto Gonzlez, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Book Presentation Everything I Have Is Blue: Short Fiction about Working-Class Life by More-or-Less Gay Men (Suspect Thoughts Press, 2005)

 

In this age of Will & Grace and gentrification, the dream market and gay investment advisors, not much is heard from working-class queer men. But the eighteen contributors to Everything I Have Is Blue: Short Fiction about Working-Class Life by More-or-Less Gay Men set out to change that. Work on the Everything I Have Is Blue anthology, the first collection of fiction (indeed, of any kind of writing) devoted to the experiences of more-or-less gay-identified, working-class men, began in 1998. The manuscript was rejected by 57 publishers before being accepted in 2003.

 

In this session, the editor, along with two of the books contributors, will present the book; read some of their work; and discuss the history of the Everything I Have Is Blue project, the issue of fictionalizing working-class and queer experiences, and the intersections of (homo)sexuality and class in literature. A study guide/readers guide will be presented along with suggestions for using Blue in working-class studies and LGBTQ studies courses.

 

The American and international writers collected in Everything I Have Is Blue include a professional trucker, a Texas prisoner, a librarian, a poet, several activists, a retired English professor, and a street mime, to name a few, and their contributions showcase a literature of depth and complexity that brings much-needed color to the palate of queer and working-class cultural and literary identity.


 

Richard Robeson, UNC-CH School of Medicine, Performable Case Studies:  Readers Theater at the Intersection of Art, Ethics, Pedagogy and Outreach

This workshop will introduce to a wider audience work based in different schools of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH), which make use of readers theater as an instrument of outreach and education.

Three different models for the use of readers theater will be presented, based on: (1) community outreach from within the UNC-CH School of Medicine; (2) pedagogical strategies in bioethics education in the School of Medicines Second-Year Humanities and Social Sciences curriculum; and (3) community outreach, education, activism and research ethics in environmental justice (EJ) issues from within the UNC-CH School of Public Health.

At the nexus of all three models is a set of principles that appeal to the goal of creativity that seeks to offer engagement with, rather than disengagement from, the world at large: (1) careful attention to the difference between art and propaganda; (2) dramatic art as particularly well-suited to the exploration of ethical issues; (3) the ethical issues that obtain during the telling or reconstruction of a story (case), especially when the main themes involve abuses of trust or power.

After opening remarks during which the history of this work (1988-present) is established (e.g. topics addressed, research methods, pedagogical imperatives in a professional school environment, creating original works from research data) examples from each of the three models will be performed, it is hoped, by session members.

Post-reading discussion will emphasize the broader application of readers theater to CWCS Conference themes.


Becky Rosenberg, University of Washington/Bothell, Education and the American Dream: A Course on Schooling and Social Mobility

What are the limits and possibilities of schooling for generating opportunity for poor and working class students?  What can the study of institution of schooling teach students about impediments to social mobility, even in times of deep popular belief in the power of education to transform lives?  How might we enable students from poor and working class backgrounds to interpret their own educational experiences as the exceptions who succeeded in college while siblings and peers may have been left behind?

We have attempted to address these (and other) questions in a course entitled Education and the American Dream.  In this paper, we will describe our work in developing and refining the course, particularly as we have introduced a culminating assignment in which students write a narrative that locates their own schooling within social class analyses. 

This course is offered at a campus created to serve place-bound and time-bound students and is affiliated with a major research university; consequently, many of the campus students are first-generation college students and many are returning adults experiencing their first successes in formal education.  While the campus faculty hold an explicit commitment to diversity across the curriculum, few other courses on the campus foreground social class as an analytical lens. 

The course is taught by a faculty member in Education (Jane Van Galen), with the collaboration of the Director of the campus Writing Center (Becky Rosenberg), and is open to K-12 and community college teachers, seniors from all campus majors, and post-baccalaureate teacher education students.   Through film, literature, poetry, popular music, autobiography, sociological theory, and empirical examinations of schooling, we draw students into examination of the ideologies of educational meritocracy from multiple perspectives.    We consider the personal, intellectual, social, and economic dimensions of class mobility, as we generate critique of the ground rules of success in school. 

We end the class with students reading their own narratives of education.  Students from poor and working-class backgrounds often tell their stories of schooling for the first time, after years of passing as effortlessly successful students.  They speak of the ways that they have come to understand the role of class in their educational aspirations and achievements, and of the tangled ways in which schools have worked both for and against their interests.

The presentation will include course materials and perspectives from students who have taken the course over the past several years.


Elizabeth Rudd, University of Washington/Seattle, "Idontwannawork Manufacturing Co.": Defining the FMLA for Human Resources Professionals

In the last few decades, human resources specialists have transformed from personnel secretaries into professionals actively seeking recognition for themselves as experts in "strategic partnership" with management.  In doing so, they are adopting a particular role in the relationships between capital, labor, and the state.  In this paper, I argue that as HR professionals grapple with implementation of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), they also help construct intersections of gender and class.  I was a participant observer in two FMLA trainings designed for HR professionals and in workshops and trainings relevant to FMLA at two meetings of a state-wide Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM). Although FMLA was specifically designed to help disrupt conventional gender roles in families, the discussions of FMLA that I observed tend to portray working-class men as the villains, employers as the victims, and gender and family issues as largely irrelevant.


 

Marie Gina Sandy, Ph.D. Claremont Graduate University, Engaging Conversations: The Ontario, California Grassroots Thinktank

This paper describes the structure and outcomes of a community-based grassroots thinktank located in Ontario, California that is based on the premise that people in neighborhoods can collectively engage in deliberative dialogues to determine research and outreach projects while cultivating skills of democracy and building social capital.   Blending some salient features of both Jane Addams Hull House and Saul Alinksy-style organizing, the Ontario Community University Partnership provides an innovative space that integrates local and expert knowledge where community members, city, faith-based and non-profit organizations, faculty and students work together to develop and implement activities that support the regeneration of community life while enhancing the quality of life for residents.  The driving force of the thinktank are the residents of the low and moderate income communities of Ontario, with the contributions of the university partners playing a supportive role. Some thinktank projects have led to more engaged political activism and advocacy, while others have not, but all have led to a greater participation in community life.

The author utilizes a conversational or hermeneutic approach to participating in community-based work that is also grounded in a sense of place; this approach provides an ethical lens that values friendship, solidarity, love, self-understanding, the ongoing cultivation of practical wisdom, and a sense that understanding always involves our participation.  The author contends that her participation in the think tank has also made her a better scholar and better able to perform in traditional academic settings. She hopes this work may provide food for thought for others considering ways of respectfully engaging in community work by cultivating their own engaging conversations.


Seth Sazant, Carleton University, Greedy Goons: Labour, Hegemony, and Fan Reactions to the NHL Lockout

In September, 2004, the National Hockey League (NHL) locked out its players.  This has provoked a strong collective reaction from Canadians and has received much coverage in the media far more than any other labour dispute in recent history.  The issue has brought relations of production in professional hockey to the fore relations which are often obscured in popular discussions of the sport.  This paper will examine fan reactions to the lockout, analyzing the political economic discourses in which they are embedded. 

Sport has long played a significant role in accommodating the working class to bourgeois hegemony.  In John Hargreaves seminal book Sport, Power and Culture, he discusses how the ruling classes used sport to both fragment subordinate classes and to reconstitute alternative, oppositional identities that are unrelated to class.  Considering the Canadian case, where hockey is central to the production of a unified national identity, the NHL lockout provides an interesting lens through which one can examine conceptions of labour reorganization. 

Fan reactions have tended to call attention to how the labour dispute is sullying the games purity and innocence or to player avarice.  In my paper, I will show how reactions comply with the hegemonic narratives of capitalism and consumerism while simultaneously demonstrating a desire for resistance.  This will be argued through two related points.  First, these reactions demonstrate an imputed separation of sport from the capitalist society in which the sport is embedded.  Second, the lament that hockey has succumbed to the principles of capitalist social relations shows a desire for entertainment that is beyond the reach of commodification.  These insights, however, are contradicted by professional hockeys development and continued operation in the context of capitalist social relations.


Andrea Sciacca, SUNY Empire State/Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Center for Labor Studies, Still Talking Trash:  Sweeping Up and Moving On

In my years as a Building Superintendent in the heart of New Yorks East Village, I was often forced to grapple with my own notions of class identity.  Was I a Super going to graduate school?  Or an Adjunct moonlighting in the building services trade?   Perhaps a graduate student with a secret life a sort of Super-Hero of unlikely origins; a code-breaker with access to different classes, destined to bring them together through healing revolution or both

As I saw myself defined through other eyes, I wondered more frequently why it mattered so much which identity was primary?  Why did I need to justify this class contradiction to myself or anyone else?  Why were others with whom I came in contact so quick to remind me of my lower class place, whenever it suited their need to assume a position of dominance?  What was so threatening about a female graduate student sweeping the stairs, painting the walls, or taking out the trash?  The answer, it seemed, was everything.

This experience led me down a road I had not planned to travel.  I found myself serving as advocate, outsider, and conspirator.  At times, I was larger than life at times I was nothing short of invisible.  On a daily basis, I encountered issues of expectation and performance with respect to race, class, and gender identities.  I witnessed a structure that thrives on compartmentalization devolve into a web of fear and rage.  I saw the promise of real change but also the defeat of a lonely victory feeling first-hand what it means to win the battle, but not the war.  I spent four years in New York Citys dirty trenches, armed with a tool-box and a lap-top, and I lived to tell the tale.


Jonathan W. Senchyne, Syracuse University, Crime Fiction and Commodity Fetishism

In a discussion of the confluence of working-class readers and crime fiction I hope to ask a set of questions that will bring genre study and materialist critique together over the subject, rather than to advance a finished claim on it. Such is the value of conferring in my assessment.1  I will use the popular television series CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) as a point of departure to discuss Marxs idea of commodity fetishism.  My inquiry begins by noting that in forensic dramas, such as CSI, the dead body always retains a trace of the event that produced it (the murder). These dramas assert that the trace exists, and that it always allows the detective to reconstruct the conditions of production (exactly how, when, where, and by whom the murder was committed).  For me, in the economy of Production (Murder) to Commodity (Body) to Consumer (Detective) and finally to justice (in both cases), there exists a fundamental problem in Marxist terms.  That is, to Marx, the commodity does not retain the trace of its production; rather, it always obscures them.  The question then becomes, does the forensic drama present a model of the commodity that elides an understanding of worker-produced commodities?  In this case these dramas metonymically reinforce capitalist ideology.  Or, on the other hand, do these narratives represent the detective as a Marxist critic, immune to commodity fetishism, and therefore able to recreate the conditions of production, disseminate them to the public, and, finally, arrive at justice?

[1] The verb to confer from which we draw the noun conference has two basic uses.  Used as a transitive verb it means, to bestow, and used as an intransitive verb it means, to consult.  I have been to many conferences where papers were given to bestow ones knowledge upon others, yet I imagine a more thoughtful model of scholarship where the constitutive act of conferring takes the form of consultation with others. In this, I think, lies the promise of Working-Class Studies as an organized body of scholars in conversation with one another.


Alessandra Senzani, Florida Atlantic University, What's the Worst that can Happen? So the Tornado picks up our House and Slams it down in a better Neighborhood: Humor and the Working Class in American Television Comedies 

This paper sets out to sketch a chart of the connections between humor and class in American television comedies. From The Honeymooners in the 50s and All in the Family in the 70s to contemporary series, sitcoms about working-class families have exploited humor to appeal both to the middle class and the working class. Indeed, the first is given the opportunity to enjoy its superiority and laugh at popular tastes and lifestyle, while the latter can finally identify with the characters on screen and laugh with them at issues to which they can relate. While the US television industry tends to erase class differences and tensions, at specific historical conjunctions sitcoms on the working class emerge and try to mediate conflicts that have become visible in the larger society. This paper will focus specifically on the late 80s and 90s representations of the working class in two American sitcoms, namely Roseanne and Married with Children 

The aim of this study is to investigate the tensions between hegemonic and oppositional meanings attached to gender and social class in the abovementioned sitcoms and hypothesize how humor plugs into these discourses and mediates the tensions between them. It will be shown that humor can function both as a containment strategy of oppositional discourses and as a subversive force able to deconstruct hegemonic discourses. The question addressed will thus be how effective subversive humor can be within television institutionalized discourses. The comparison between the two sitcoms will show that there is a limited space for agency and resistant meanings within television programs that contribute to create a validating and challenging representation of the working class.  

The ambivalence and tension between hegemonic and oppositional discourses is an intrinsic characteristic of the television industry and its need to reach a mass-audience. Humor constitutes one of the means to create such an ambivalent space for different decodings of the television message. Indeed, it relieves the anxiety and, to a certain extent, it minimizes the conflict. On the other hand, humor can also be a means to make a conflict visible. By being ambiguous and retractable, humor can bring out the contradictions between different hegemonic discourses from within, and thus question naturalized constructs such as gender and social class. As feminist theorists have long taught us, rather than appropriating and inverting the dominant discourse, we need to recontextualize and displace it through parody and masquerade, in order to unveil its non-naturalness. In my view, this property of humorous discourse makes it a privileged device to introduce resistant meanings and points of view into institutional discourses and thus also into TV programs. 


Timothy Sheard, Nurse Epidemiologist at SUNY/Downstate Medical Center, Independent Scholar/Author, The Private Eye as Transcendent Working-Class Hero

In this paper I analyze the figure of the classic private eye from the popular hard-boiled detective novels of the 1930's and 1940's.  While the engaging story line and the protagonists heroic qualities are the heart of the detective story, I contend that this uniquely American genre has a special symbolic appeal for its blue collar readers: that of the transcendent working class hero.  Working class readers love the classic private eye narrative precisely because its main character escapes the limits of his class but always returns to it, proud and free, if beat up and broke.

Many working class readers dream of escaping their class limitations because life in the working class is fraught with uncertainties and dangers.  Rent comes due, the boss can fire you at any time, and the pension fund could disappear in a puff of corrupt investment smoke.  In a class society, the ruling class artfully plays on these insecurities by weaving dreams of escape throughout popular culture.  The private eye, however, doesnt need to rely on luck or fate to escape the limitations of his class because he is by profession able to transcend those limits.  Unlike most working class people, he is just as much at home with a rich, cheating banker or a bejeweled heiress as he is with an auto mechanic or the local newsboy.  Corrupt politicians can't buy him; beautiful femme fatales can't seduce him, though he may dally for a time in their company.  In the end, however, he always returns to his humble office and his low rent bungalow, a choice that I argue functions as a critique of the Cinderella-like dreams of escape from the working class.  This characters unique appeal comes from his honor and desire to remain rooted in the working class, in spite of being able to move beyond its social limitations.    

First I discuss how my own reading habits led me to this genre, and then how my experience as a nurse and union activist led me to write hard-boiled detective fiction with a hospital custodian/union shop steward as the private eye.  Finally, I will contextualize the appeal of the hard-boiled private eye in terms of writing and publishing working class stories in general. 


Paul Sissons, University College London, Labour Market Change in Deindustrialized Areas: A Comparison of the UK and the U.S.

The focus of the presentation is the experience of deindustrialization in the Northeast of England and in Southwestern Pennsylvania since the 1980s. From the beginning of the 1980s some 10,000 coalmining jobs were lost in Northumberland, Northeast England (Beatty et al, 2005). In the 1980s the four biggest steel mills in the Monongahela Valley in Southwestern Pennsylvania shed some 20,000 workers (Pennsylvania Industrial Directory, 1980; 1990). These job losses in basic industries created huge job shortfalls, transforming local labour markets and local communities, and altering the economic, social and cultural landscapes. This presentation examines the different ways that communities have responded to this industrial decline in the UK and the US, focusing specifically on labour market adjustments.

Several types of adjustment can occur in a labour market in response to demand side changes (job creation and destruction). These include changes in the levels of net out-commuting, net out-migration, unemployment and economic inactivity (withdrawal from the labour market). The presentation estimates the scales of these adjustments in Northumberland and the Monongahela Valley over a twenty year period, to illustrate the differing responses to deindustrialization between the U.S. and the UK. It then outlines some of the questions raised by the differences, and how they will be addressed in my future research.


Tim Strangleman, Working Lives Research Institute, London Metropolitan University, New Working-Class Studies in the USA and UK Past, Present, and Future

Despite the long standing tradition of class analysis in the UK there has seemingly been a slowness to respond to some of the innovative approaches to the area that have coalesced around the Centre for Working-Class Studies conferences at Youngstown State University over the last decade, as well as latterly at Stony Brook SUNY. This paper is a reflection on the field of working class studies from the perspective of the UK. It will seek to understand the differences between the two countries tradition of discussion of class and serve to highlight some of the innovative work in the field in the UK. The paper will suggest that while Working class studies was born in the USA the approach it offers has been reflected in the work of many historians and sociologists in the UK over several decades. It is argued that this is a tradition that should be drawn on in the future.


John Paul Tassoni,  Miami University Middletown, Retelling Class at a Public Ivy and a Regional Campus:  A Case Study in Basic Writing

A case study of basic writing at Miami University, my presentation shows how concerns for working-class students manifested in the construction of a one-credit writing lab, English 001, which at-risk students, marked by disadvantaged educational backgrounds, would take concurrently with their mainstream writing courses.  Although the English Department required concurrent enrollment in the first-year writing sequence so as to avoid ghettoizing disadvantaged students, within 15 years of its first being offered, the course and the interests it was designed to address had been siphoned off from the English Department of the schools public ivy main campus to the Offices of Learning Assistance on the schools open-enrollment, regional campuses.

A focus on class highlights the attitudes, beliefs, and practices at the main campus that generated this siphoning as well as those at the regional campus that helped sustain it.  This focus also shows the ways social class plays out differently on the two different campuses: the ways elitist attitudes distance compositionists on the main campus from basic writing concerns, and thus, the working-class students with whom it has been associated; and the ways iconic discourse constructs those who work on behalf of basic writers on the regional campuses as working-class heroes, whose willingness to labor for sub-standard pay and little professional esteem often sets them in antagonist relations to compositionists who do want to lend their expertise to the basic writing enterprise. 


Carole Anne Taylor, Bates College, Depoliticized Class/rooms and the Moral Equivalence of War: Taking the Heat (or not)

An analogy between two supposed freedoms, the freedom of the press and academic freedom, suggests that how both have fared in time of war affects all teachers, notwithstanding the inequitable pressures on junior and adjunct faculty.  Rather than viewing particular infringements as departures from prior, established freedoms, I analyze institutional and intellectual practices that go well  beyond the fraudulently objective stance so well described by Howard Zinn and others.   Now, even once-frequent allusions to William Jamess call for the moral equivalent of war in something that would be as heroic as war, clear in its anti-war focus despite its moral elevation of war, have given way to a proudly tautological use of the phrase: nothing presents itself so heroic as war as new war.  When even anti-war sentiment becomes a validation for an evasive moral equivalence, what insights might we share about when and how to undertake the engaged, principled risks that have actual moral resonance?

Academic institutions living under the Patriot Act build upon a long history of promoting pedagogical self-censorship that in many ways resembles the self-censorship of the press, replete with evasive practices that stand in for moral accountability, and, in so doing, support the primacy of civility, collegiality, propriety, and other middle-class virtues that all too habitually become intellectual criteria as well.  Most teaching, after all, occurs within institutions that tout good teachers as those who listen and support, who provide balanced perspectives, and who evaluate students on the basis of a knowledge base free of ideology.  In such an atmosphere, teachers fear making students angry more than they fear even appalling educational ellipses; they fear the well-publicized images of classrooms as a place where teachers may rant at will and student-victims must submit or suffer evaluative retaliation.  This  generalized fear of not just overt public attack, but of an image repertoire that marks one as more ideological, argumentative, opinionated, or strident than ones colleagues, makes many of us defensive, self-protective.

As provocation to strengthening the shared energy of shared labor, I describe the highs and lows of courses that attempt to make the cultural baggage that readers bring to texts part of their subject matter.  In classes that read Carolyn Chute, Jim Daniels, Carol Tarlen, and Janet Zandy (among others familiar to Youngstown conferences) alongside Greg Sarris, Sherman Alexie, Sandra Cisneros, Martn Espada, June Jordan, and John Wideman, students must at least confront their own assumptions about the depoliticized nature of class/rooms and their own moral values and personal aspirations.  Finally, in hopes of feedback and the collective wisdom, I suggest a couple of  hypotheses about when and why teachers should choose to take the heat, even in a world of patly assertive moral equivalences that frequently disallow choice at all.


Michelle M. Tokarczyk, Goucher College, Not in Limbo:  American Working-Class Women and the Search for Home

Scholars of working-class literature have noted that one of the most pervasive themes in American working-class womens writing is the idea of home.  Janet Zandy identifies home as not only a physical space, but also an idea, a sense of community where the feeling of otherness ends, an inner geography where the ache to belong finally quits (Calling Home 1).  My critical study of Maxine Hong Kingston, Sandra Cisneros, and Dorothy Allison has led me to build upon and complicate Zandy's definition.  Home is not a simple comforting construct.  For working-class women, home is a place of origin, a place where they are comfortable.  Simultaneously, it is a place that disappoints and constrains, one from which many feel they must escape.  Yet completely rejecting ones origins can exact a high price.  In the words of Alfred Lubrano, it can leave one in Limbo, caught between a middle and working-class world without feeling at home in either.  Maxine Hong Kingston, Sandra Cisneros, and Dorothy Allison have all struggled to reconcile their working-class backgrounds with their more privileged current status.  They do so partially by making peace with their working-class communities and partially by forming new communities that will mirror the wished-for support of home and family.  Most importantly, these writers create a home, a safe space, through and in their writing.  My paper will explore the particular issues of home in each writers life and art and show how she resolves these issues through her writing as well as, sometimes, in her life.


Marcy Tucker, University of Central Arkansas, From Working-Class Student to Middle-Class Professor: Navigating a Rite of Passage in the Job Search

Among the many challenges that working-class academics face, the job search is perhaps one of the most neglected in our professions scholarship.  In many ways, the job search best exemplifies the dilemma so commonly articulated by working-class academics: We reside in a world in-between the culture of our upbringing and the middle-class culture of academia.  Once a student nears the end of graduate studies, securing a job in the academy serves as a rite of passage, yet the experience is fraught with contradictions and inequities, especially for members of the working class who lack the cultural capital necessary in navigating the job market.

This presentation focuses on many of the problematic practices associated with the academic job search and how communities of working-class scholars might face unique challenges that our middle-class peers do not as we enter this phase of professionalization.  It is informed by my own recent (2004) experiences in the job search and how I struggled with a flawed system of hiring that renders many candidates like me often feeling powerless and vulnerable, confused and demoralized.  I learned, as some of my colleagues did, that the conventions of academic hiring are often different in significant ways from job seeking in the real world.  This presentation addresses issues of self-representation, social expectations, networking, interview sites and interview practices, search committee failures, family pressures, and the expectations and mentoring of our degree-granting programs.


Jane Van Galen, University of Washington/Bothell, Education and the American Dream: A Course on Schooling and Social Mobility

What are the limits and possibilities of schooling for generating opportunity for poor and working class students?  What can the study of institution of schooling teach students about impediments to social mobility, even in times of deep popular belief in the power of education to transform lives?  How might we enable students from poor and working class backgrounds to interpret their own educational experiences as the exceptions who succeeded in college while siblings and peers may have been left behind?

We have attempted to address these (and other) questions in a course entitled Education and the American Dream.  In this paper, we will describe our work in developing and refining the course, particularly as we have introduced a culminating assignment in which students write a narrative that locates their own schooling within social class analyses. 

This course is offered at a campus created to serve place-bound and time-bound students and is affiliated with a major research university; consequently, many of the campus students are first-generation college students and many are returning adults experiencing their first successes in formal education.  While the campus faculty hold an explicit commitment to diversity across the curriculum, few other courses on the campus foreground social class as an analytical lens. 

The course is taught by a faculty member in Education (Jane Van Galen), with the collaboration of the Director of the campus Writing Center (Becky Rosenberg), and is open to K-12 and community college teachers, seniors from all campus majors, and post-baccalaureate teacher education students.   Through film, literature, poetry, popular music, autobiography, sociological theory, and empirical examinations of schooling, we draw students into examination of the ideologies of educational meritocracy from multiple perspectives.    We consider the personal, intellectual, social, and economic dimensions of class mobility, as we generate critique of the ground rules of success in school. 

We end the class with students reading their own narratives of education.  Students from poor and working-class backgrounds often tell their stories of schooling for the first time, after years of passing as effortlessly successful students.  They speak of the ways that they have come to understand the role of class in their educational aspirations and achievements, and of the tangled ways in which schools have worked both for and against their interests.

The presentation will include course materials and perspectives from students who have taken the course over the past several years.


Robin Veder, Penn State Harrisburg, The Making of an Icon: Weaver-Florists and the Representation of English Working-Class Docility and Independence

This paper takes up the iconic status of the 19th-century weaver-florist, romanticized and memorialized as a metonym for both lost artisanal independence and lost docility of English textile workers in the early 1800s.

In this paper, I present a brief social history of Spitalfields and Manchester weavers who were also florists, with an explanation of how these two occupations were mutually functional during the pre- and early industrial periods. Workshop architecture, work schedules, and the production of flowered silks were some of the reinforcing characteristics for these two occupations.

Then, using Stuart Halls theory of representation as the production of shared meanings, I investigate the circulation and purposes of stories about such weavers. Since the early 19th century, social commentators and social historians have circulated stories valorizing weaver-florists. Some, such as Edward Church (Report from Assistant Hand-Loom Weavers Commissioners, 1835-1839) praised the weaver-florists of Spitalfields for their docility. Others, like Edmond Holmes (Freedom and Growth, 1923) took weavers floristry as proof of intelligence and independence. The flexibility and persistence of this working-class icon makes it a valuable representation for understanding the evolution of working-class studies in the long 19th-century.

This  new video on race and class is part of a rich history of Black American documentaries and African stories. This longstanding tradition, which also intersects with literature throughout the diaspora, summons the work Ghanaian TV director Bill Marshall, African-American documentary filmmaker Stanley Nelson, Burkino Fasos Daniel Kollo Sanou, and the father of African cinema, Ousmane Sembene, the Senegalese director of Moulaude, which also probes female genital mutilation as well as other aspects of everyday African village life. Wassup touches on taboo subjects resurrected by women writers like American-born Alice Walker and Kenyan-born Leah Muya. While Wassups lyrical language  is Creative Nonfiction, one also hears the lilting oral poetry of the Enanga epic tradition of the Bahaya of Tanzania, the Maasai of Kenya and the hip-hop lingo from brothers and sisters from the South Side of Chicago.


Kathleen A. Welsch, Clarion University of Pennsylvania, Writing Memoirs: Connecting the Lives and Lessons of Working-Class Parents to Academic Children 

This presentation offers participants both a reading and an opportunity for writing and discussing memoir as a means of making connections between academics and the lives of their working-class parents.

The first half of the session offers a collective reading from memoirs by academic women in which they examine the influence of higher education on their relationship with working-class parents, as well as the influence the lessons and language of home have had on their academic lives.  (Those Winter Sundays: Female Academics and Their Working-Class Parents University Press of America, December 2004.)  Each presenter will read an excerpt from her memoir, which explores the relationship between academic daughter and working-class parent, the value and power of bringing the lessons and language of working-class parents into the academy, the ambivalence associated with a parents sacrifice for the success of the academic child; the balancing act of straddling the worlds of academia and home.

In the second half of the session, the readers will lead the audience in an introductory memoir-writing exercise, to be followed by a read aloud session and discussion of the value of memoir as a means of addressing class issues.


Stan West, Columbia College/Chicago, A Snapshot into Working-Class  African-American and African Films 

Voices of Kamba craftsmen, Kikuyu women workers, and Enanga waiters are the first sounds we hear as East Africans greet African-American educators, writers and other workers with the slang salutation wassup in a new documentary Wassup East Africa. In this 50-minute digital documentary shot on a consumer model Sony camera and edited on a two-year-old laptop, Wassup East Africa asks the rhetorical question, Can any of us who are four generations or more away from the old country really go back home?

The answers from both African Americans and East Africans may surprise you. Through the lens of working-class and middle-class Blacks from America, Kenya and Tanzania, this universal theme is filtered through a seemingly African-centered prism. Too often, universality is only explored from a Eurocentric, ruling-class perspective. Wassup East Africa is different. With colorful shots of Maasai, East Africas most traditional group, and  in-your-face interviews with New Age Negroes from Chicago, the viewer is forced to juxtapose those seemingly different social positions, with some perhaps noticing obvious differences and others maybe inferring that there are more things in common than in conflict. Cultural imperialism is noticeably absent.

Issues of Arab slavery, European colonialism, American consumerism, East African female genital mutilation, Rwandan and Sudanese refugees, the oft-romantic notions of Black Americans about the so-called Motherland, draconian U.S.-government-imposed travel advisories, and whether or not Africans even want Black Americans to come back home are just a few of the hot button issues explored by zany documentarians Stan West, a middle-aged author-journalist-educator-activist and Yves Hughes Jr., a 22-year-old recent art school graduate. After holding focus groups with Black filmmakers and White Mormons at this years Sundance Film Festival, West and Hughes premiered Wassup in Oak Park, a tony, tolerant, suburb west of Chicago, and now Youngstown State Universitys Working-Class Studies Conference.

This new video on race and class is part of a rich history of Black American documentaries and African stories. This longstanding tradition, which also intersects with film and literature throughout the diaspora, summons the work Ghanaian TV director Bill Marshall, African-American documentary filmmaker Stanley Nelson, Burkino Fasos Daniel Kollo Sanou, and the father of African cinema, Ousmane Sembene, the Senegalese director of Moulaude, which also probes female genital mutilation as well as other aspects of everyday African village life. Wassup touches on taboo subjects resurrected by women writers like American-born Alice Walker and Kenyan-born Leah Muya. While Wassups lyrical language  is Creative Nonfiction, one also hears the lilting oral poetry of the Enanga epic tradition of the Bahaya of Tanzania, the Maasai of Kenya and the hip-hop lingo from brothers and sisters from the South Side of Chicago.


Edward N. Wolff, The Levy Economics Institute of Bard College and New York University and Ajit Zacharias, The Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, Class and Household Economic Well-Being in the United States, 1989-2002

The official measure of economic well-being in the U.S. is pre-tax money income which leaves out crucial determinants of living standards. Utilizing the information base constructed for the Levy Institute Measure of Economic Well-Being (LIMEW), we analyze the economic well-being of households differentiated by their class status. The LIMEW includes, in addition to labor income, income from wealth, net government expenditures (government expenditures incurred on behalf of households less taxes paid), and value of unpaid domestic labor. Such a measure allows us to analyze labor market outcomes in conjunction with workers' accumulation of assets (or debt), effects of government policies with respect to spending and taxation, and changing demands placed on working adults by childcare and housework.

We deploy two taxonomies of class in our analyses. The first is based on a distinction between capitalist households and non-capitalist households while the second is a class-location schema for employee households. Our main interest is to distinguish between those in authority positions and those in subservient positions. However, we also identify cross-class households. With the class schema and well-being measure we have developed, we examine (a) disparities in well-being among households differentiated by class location, and other key demographic characteristics; (b) overall economic inequality as shaped by intra- and inter-class inequalities; and, (c) the role of government expenditures and taxation in reducing intra-class and inter-class disparities.


John L. Woods, Purdue University, High Stakes and Last Stands: Global Unionism and the 1976 Rubber Industry Strike 

The labor struggle between the United Rubber, Cork, Linoleum, and Plastic Workers and the Big Four rubber producing companies catapulted Akron, Ohio and the URW onto the world stage.  The rubber industry strike of 1976 has been called High Stakes, Long and Bitter, The Losing End, and finally, the United Rubber Workers Last Stand. One important aspect of the strike that begs inquiry was the involvement of the International Federation of Chemical and General Workers Unions (ICF) based in Geneva, Switzerland.  The ICF pledged its support of the URW through the use of boycotts, refusal of overtime, and other work actions.  This paper will examine the effects of this support and attempt to place it within the larger context of the evolving structural, technological, and labor relations milieu of the mid-1970s.


Jennifer L. Worley, Bowling Green State University, Keeping Community: Economics, Culture, Landscape, and Identity in a Deindustrialized Town 

America's communities are exemplars of the changes that have permeated our society, particularly the dramatic social and technological changes of the second half of the 20th century. Nowhere is this change more apparent than in declining communities such as those found along the Ohio River in eastern Ohio and West Virginia and in the Monongahela Valley of western Pennsylvania. Building upon research that explores how economic decline affects communities and their residents, this paper focuses on the connections between local economies, working- class culture, landscape, and community identity. Specifically, I explore the ways in which residents of Martins Ferry, one community along the Ohio River, perceive their communitys identity in the aftermath of deindustrialization. Focusing on the community as a symbolic locale and landscape of meaning, I use a qualitative approach that combines intensive interviews with historical, demographic, and economic information about Martins Ferry. Three elements critical to how residents perceive and define their community are (1) the towns economic past, present, and anticipated future; (2) the cultural life of the community, particularly its working-class character, strong church affiliations, and its reliance on the reputation of the towns football team; and (3) the built environment, or physical features of the town.  I present a model of community identity that takes into account these three crucial elements as well as the role of reputational entrepreneurs, those journalists and community leaders who regularly articulate the communitys identity to the public. 


Janet Zandy, Rochester Institute of Technology, Gendered Class and Laboring Bodies: Readings

What are two hands worth?  Janet Zandy reads excerpts from Hands: Physical Labor, Class, and Cultural Work (Rutgers 2004).  This book links forms of cultural expression to labor, occupational injuries, and deaths.  It centers what is usually decenteredthe complex culture of working-class peopleand reveals the flesh and bone beneath the abstractions of labor, class, and culture.

Factory hands. Field hands. Illegal hands. Redundant hands.  The death of the hired hand. . . . Human beings reduced to working parts, just so many hands. . .  .`

Hands speak.  In sign language they do the work of tongue and voice box.  In greeting, they iterate multiple meanings.  They augment orality.  They reveal identitythe long fingers of the pianist, the rough, stubby hands of the bricklayer.  The most advanced technology cannot completely eliminate the daily tasks performed by hands.  Hands are reductive identifiers and lucid maps to the geography of human complexity.


Tom Zaniello, Northern Kentucky University, The Wal-Martization of Labor Film

In the last five years, the number of films devoted to globalization has escalated dramatically, but few subjects have generated as many specific films as Wal-Mart. It is now apparent, as a conference on Wal-Mart at Santa Barbara predicted in 2003, that Wal-Mart is the paradigmatic corporation of the 21st century, just as the Pennsylvania Railroad represents the 19th century, while General Motors epitomizes the first half of the 20th and Microsoft the second half.

I will survey (and show clips from) a number of films of the last three years which attempt to take the measure of Wal-Marts impact on work in America and China (the source of almost 80-90% of Wal-Marts products), especially the companys virulent anti-union policy, its depressed wage scale, its cut-throat competitiveness, and its domination of retail business in all the markets it penetrates.

Virtually all the films suggest that Wal-Marts manipulation of issues of class are part of its success: it recruits from an enormous pool of needy workers (mostly women), it targets its sales pitch to workers and the working poor, and it dismisses the environmental and anti-sprawl activists as hopelessly middle class. Some of the films also concede the aspects of savvy business strategy that propelled Wal-Mart to the head of its classits data analysis at the checkout counter, its product supply lines, its alliance with the Chinese business community, and its promotion of non-university trained managers.