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Working Models: Intellectual Work, Postwar Fiction, and the Resources of Cultural Studies

posted on 25.04.2022, 17:03 by Steven GotzlerSteven Gotzler

 This dissertation charts an alternative intellectual history for British cultural studies. Historical  narratives of the field have predominantly framed cultural studies through politics and as theory. In  contrast to these trends, I propose two alternative frames for historicizing British cultural  studies: as labor and through literature. Framing cultural studies as labor helps us situate its practical  commitments alongside other traditions of intellectual work—in socialist feminism, Black  radicalism, and ecology—which have been overlooked by accounts of the rise of cultural studies that  focus solely on the milieu of the British new left. Similarly, framing cultural studies through literature  demonstrates how postwar writers leveraged literary form to tell stories about work whose narratives  of domestic discontent, racial estrangement, and historical nature trouble our dominant assumptions  about why intellectuals work, how intellectuals work, what counts as intellectual work and, finally,  who counts as intellectuals and who does not. In each chapter, I pair historical case studies of postwar intellectual cultures that reveal the work of  women, people of color, and rural/regional communities outside of the British new left with  readings in postwar fiction that incorporate perspectives from beyond the confines of  conventionally constructed working-class politics. First, I pose the work of postwar socialist  feminists against an interrogation of the melodramas of reproduction offered by kitchen sink novels  like Lynn Reid Banks’ The L-Shaped Room (1960) and John Braine’s Room at the Top (1957). I then put  the radical legacy of Pan-Africanism in dialogue with stream-of-social-consciousness novels  dramatizing the experience of Windrush migration like Samuel Selvon’s The Lonely  Londoners (1956) and George Lamming’s The Emigrants (1954). Finally, I connect the rise of new  forms of ecological consciousness to the visions of environmental knowing offered by historical  novels of Welsh industrialism like Raymond Williams’ Border Country (1960) and Menna  Gallie’s Strike for a Kingdom (1959). In each case, I derive models of intellectual work—as corporeal  lodgings, entangled estrangement, and communities of energy—that mirror, in mediated form, the  practical challenges faced by mid-century intellectuals laboring within movements for women’s  liberation, anti-racism, and environmentalism. In doing so, this dissertation makes three interventions. The first questions how we position  historical narratives about cultural studies, and why that matters. The second argues for a renewed  Marxian framework for understanding the role of the intellect within human labor processes, and, by  extension, an expanded sense of our culturally constructed definitions of ‘intellectual work.’ The  third argues that readings in the novel can help us construct models for cultural studies’ practice by  offering explicitly imaginative provocations that generate useful insights about embodiment, social  ontology, and environment-making. Taken together, these interventions map an alternative  framework for apprehending British cultural studies’ past. Ultimately, I argue, they also provide vital  resources for the renewal of cultural studies as a tradition of intellectual practice in the present.  




Degree Type




Degree Name

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Jeffrey J. Williams

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