Topics in Literature and Society: The World of Work
Studying and writing about work is a relatively new enterprise, one that has produced an explosion of data, theory, manifesto, critique, fiction, memoir, and dream. Readings will include a wide variety of texts: fiction, poems, memoirs, essays, films, photographs, and ethnographies. We’ll also read a few key texts in the sociology of work, including E.P. Thompson’s examination of time and work, and Frederick Taylor’s studies of motion and management. We’ll first look at work as labor and, sometimes, burden, reading portions of such texts as Arlie Hochchild’s Second Shift, Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, Mike Rose’s The Mind at Work and Studs Terkel’s classic Working, as well as narratives of war, factory labor, food service, and undertaking. (Yes, the work with bodies.) We’ll also read poems by Philip Levine and Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Next, we’ll look at work as a source of energy and joy. We’ll read some classic essays by women exploring the nature of work in art and science, and some recent work on the creative life, from choreographers and poets to woodworkers, all of whom find deep satisfaction in their very hard work. Writing assignments will include methods and genres from both the humanities and social sciences. You’ll write short pieces in response to the readings, a reflective piece on your own work history, an oral history of a worker and a questionnaire. There will be a take-home final.