Working Models: Intellectual Work, Postwar Fiction, and the Resources of Cultural Studies
Author: Steven Gotzler
Degree: Ph.D. in Literary & Cultural Studies, Carnegie Mellon University, 2021
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, that 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’ 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 in compelling ways 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.