Work Package 3

WP 3 – Class, Precarity and the Social Dimensions of Literature

Class is back. In the early 2010s, Mike Savage and his research team tried to redescribe the British class system collaborating with the BBC to make the great British Class Calculator where users by answering a number of questions could figure out where they belong in the class system. Interest in this was overwhelming. Within a week after the launch of the calculator in April 2013, more than 7 million people had clicked on the web page; one in five of the adult British population. As Savage et al concluded: “social class is now a very powerful force in the popular imagination once again”, but in slightly different ways from the traditional well-established British class system: the great interest in and the answers to the survey paid evidence to a new deep insecurity about class status and belonging. Therefore, when we talk about class today, and in this work package, we are not just interested in the working class. We also want to talk about people that find themselves in-between classes, the middle classes and the new class of the precariat.

This WP meets to investigate class in its many facets with a focus on new theories exploring the relationship between class, cultural production, social formation and personal identities. While open to all concerns related to class, we focus on some of the following issues (the list will grow as it reflects wp members’ interests): the precariat as a new class and precarity, class affect, gender and class (feminism and masculinity studies), places and spaces of class, age and class, class and the welfare state, class and the genres of literature (including sci-fi, cli-fi and life-writing). Having been deemed dead and dealt with by politicians in the 1980s and 1990s, perhaps culminating with Tony Blair proclaiming the class war over in 1999, our sense is that class is back in new forms and with new cultural expressions that may also call for new methods and approaches in the present climate of a certain skepticism about strong critique.

WP 3 leader: Prof. Peter Simonsen

1 Ph.d. project: Literature, unemployment and precarious labour (Occupied)

The project studies contemporary novels about the unemployed or short term contract employed. What narrative strategies are used to convey such precarious lives, and how may these strategies inspire particular forms of empathy, recognition or attachment? 

1 Assist. prof.: Recognizing the Precariat?: Narratives on Alcohol as Social Disease (Occupied)
The project analyzes and compares narratives about the precariat’s alcohol consumption offered by literary fictions, the media (reality television) and in public campaign material. How do these narratives recognize or misrecognize the precariat’s alcohol culture? 

Postdoc-project 1: Aligning literary analysis with new political history (Occupied)
The project will compare the approach of “literary analysis” with the German School of Neue Politikgeschichte and what V. Schmidt within the social sciences has labelled discursive institutionalism. These approaches share a focus on texts but conceptualize them in different ways (as actor, as communication, as path dependency). The project will have a theoretical-methodological focus aiming at developing cross-disciplinary frameworks for the analysis of “political” texts. 

Postdoc-project 2: A literary analysis approach to welfare semantics (Occupied)
Combining literary analysis with social science methods, this project will analyze why some ideas/narratives/concepts become hegemonic and sticky and others do not. This has been a theoretical challenge to scholars studying the role of ideas and political semantics. Why do Scandinavians love the welfare state whereas “welfare” in the US context triggers negative images of dependency, un-deservingness, and even totalitarianism?  

Members of WP 3

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