Series editor(s): Dr Patrick G. Coy
Subject Area: Sociology and Public Policy
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|Title:||Literary Activists and Battling Books: The Labor Problem Novel as Contentious Movement Medium|
|Author(s):||Larry W. Isaac|
|Volume:||33 Editor(s): Jennifer Earl, Deana A. Rohlinger ISBN: 978-1-78052-880-9 eISBN: 978-1-78052-881-6|
|Citation:||Larry W. Isaac (2012), Literary Activists and Battling Books: The Labor Problem Novel as Contentious Movement Medium, in Jennifer Earl, Deana A. Rohlinger (ed.) Media, Movements, and Political Change (Research in Social Movements, Conflicts and Change, Volume 33), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp.17-49|
|DOI:||10.1108/S0163-786X(2012)0000033005 (Permanent URL)|
|Publisher:||Emerald Group Publishing Limited|
|Article type:||Chapter Item|
Purpose – This paper extends research on social movement media by focusing on the use of a literary genre – realist fiction – namely, the labor problem novel in the context of the labor movement and countermovement in late 19th-century America.
Methodology – I do a close reading of a significant early dialogical cluster of such novels to address three key questions: (1) Field position of authors – What was the position of these labor problem authors in relation to the movement field and literary field and how did that positioning matter? (2) Genre selection – What was it about the realist novel that attracted labor problem partisans to it? (3) Internal content – How did authors shape the internal structure and content of their stories?
Findings – As literary activists, authors pivoted between the movement field and literary field selecting the novel for the special powers that it possessed relative to other historically available media. Authors produced stories with a good/evil binary attached to characters that stood for emerging social categories in young industrial America. During the Gilded Age (and beyond) the novel played an important role as medium for the labor movement and its opposition – characterizing collective actors, dramatizing forms of action, providing materials for claims of injustice or threats, solutions to social problems, and new categories and collective identities – all with powerful emotional appeal and entertainment value.
Implications – This study suggests that social movement scholars might expand their purview of cultural media used by movements and also take genre and its selection by activists seriously.
Originality – This study demonstrates how literature – realist fiction – has been shaped by movement agents and played an important, but under-appreciated, role in the struggle over cultural supremacy in the context of movement–countermovement dynamics.
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