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Routledge History of the Working Class in the West

Harrison, Laura


Laura Harrison
Associate Professor of Modern History


Oliver Betts

Laura Price


The proverbial “interesting times” of the current shifting global landscape calls out, we believe, for a new edited collection that critically examines the working class. The UK’s vote to trigger Brexit, the surprise upset election of Donald Trump in the United States, the growing wave of populism and nationalism across the Western World, and recent global upheavals since, at least, the credit crisis, have all been ascribed to the working class. Variously imagined as forgotten, ignored, resentful, and tumultuous, the working class seem very close to the lips of commentators both in academia and beyond it. There is little better evidence of this than Joan C. Williams’ fascinating recent White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America, a text that originated in an impassioned article begun the very night Trump’s victory became apparent. From a variety of angles new questions are being asked about the working class in the industrialised west, who they are, what they want, what binds them together, and why they have been “left behind” or marginalised, that suggest the very real need for a historicising response. For none of these issues, as this volume intends to demonstrate, are new – all have significant purchase in the past.
Academic interest has matched this new popular interest in the working class. Whilst the relevance of class analysis in its traditional forms was questioned in the 1980s and 1990s, and different modes of interpretation reshaped disciplines across the humanities, a more multi-faceted understanding of class, and particularly the working class, has emerged in recent years. Celebrated and insightful new studies in history, such as Alison Light’s Common People, but also innovative new work in wider fields exemplified by Mike Savage’s sociological reassessment of Social Class in the 21st Century and Jack Linchuan Qiu’s re-examination of the haves and have-nots in present-day China through the lens of the growing “digital divide” all bear testament to a renewed academic interest in questions of class generally and of the working class especially. The demands of scope and of resources, always complex when dealing with marginalised groups such as the working class where source material can be sparse or patchy, has largely constrained many studies to a national context though, despite the increasing need for new studies that push beyond these national borders. Although such a task is daunting in scale, the potential is vital for the development of this rejuvenated field of inquiry, and as Sonali Perera’s efforts to outline a new understanding of global working-class literature in her No Country: Working-Class Writing in the Age of Globalization has shown, the research and analysis can be inspiring.
The study of working-class history is a field with an impressive pedigree but one that after a period of relative neglect as the new interpretative lenses of cultural history, gender, and race, superseded it, is experiencing a resurgence. This broad-ranging collection aims to synthesise these new efforts alongside a re-examination of the classic debates surrounding both working-class history and class as a tool of historical analysis. Designed to appeal to both the established scholar and the newcomer to the history of the working class, be that a family or local historian or student reader, the volume balances case studies of the working class in context with more theoretical explorations of the recent challenges to class-based analysis that continue to shape current scholarship.
At its heart lie three essential questions:
1. What is working-class history and what should it become?
2. What can a focus on working-class history reveal?
3. What are the possibilities of this research in the University classroom, the heritage world, and beyond?


Harrison, L. O. Betts, & L. Price (Eds.). Routledge History of the Working Class in the West. Routledge. Manuscript submitted for publication

Book Type Edited Book
Deposit Date Mar 22, 2024
Keywords working-class history; social history
Public URL