June 8, 2022
2022 Working Class Studies Association Awards for work produced in 2020 or 2021
Allison L. Hurst, Past President and 2022Awards coordinator
Each year, the Working-Class Studies Association (WCSA) issues a number of awards to recognize the best new work in the field of working-class studies. The review process is organized by the past-president of the WCSA, and submissions are judged by a panel of three readers for each of the categories of awards. The results now are in for the 2022 annual WCSA Awards for significant contributions to working-class studies in the previous two years of 2020 and 2021. The winners are listed below along with comments from the judges. Together these books and articles demonstrate the scope and vitality of cultural and scholarly production in working-class studies and serve as an inspiration to future work in the field.
CLR James Award for Published Book for Academic or General Audiences
There are two winners this year:
Winant, Gabriel. 2021. The Next Shift: The Fall of Industry and the Rise of Health Care in Rust Belt America. Harvard University Press.
Winant’s book does an excellent of exploring postindustrial decline, documenting the connection between the era dominated by union labor and the era dominated by the health care industry, focusing on one key industrial city, Pittsburgh. Scholarly yet very accessible, The Next Shift examines the relationship between the industrial and service economies, the ways both the steel and health care industries have been racialized, and how and why the U.S., with its unfinished New Deal, has diverged from other wealthy deindustrializing countries.
Berg, Heather. 2021. Porn Work: Sex, Labor, and Late Capitalism. University of North Carolina Press.
Berg’s book is an important study of pornography as work in the contemporary U.S., looking at the industry without stereotypes, as a part of the gig economy. Porn Work is a well written, theoretically nuanced ethnographic discussion of sex work in terms of precarious labor, shifting class positions, and the rejection of alienated labor.
Tillie Olsen Award for Creative Writing
Wilkinson, Crystal. 2021. Perfect Black. University Press of Kentucky.
Conjures an Affrilachian space in her lyrical writing and expands the sense of place that many diverse working-class people claim as home…In this collection of poems and one short prose piece, Wilkinson tells her story: the story of an Affrilachian woman whose mother is not able to care for her. The imagery is strong and fresh; the voice is natural yet commanding. The use of dialect in poems such as “The Water Witch on Reading” vocalize Black rural speech. A true achievement for a first book of poems…. I admired the ambition of the collaboration here, with the drawings and illustrations combining to give additional nuance and energy to the writing. I was also struck by how Wilkinson stayed true to her roots while on the journey to becoming the writer and academic she has become. A poem like “Bones” really stood out for me for its imagery and sound and the pure force of capturing her working-class world
John Russo & Sherry Linkon Award for Published Article or Essay for Academic or General Audiences
There are two winners this year:
Purser, Gretchen and Brian Hennigan. 2020. “Both Sides of the Paycheck: Recommending Thrift to the Poor in Job Readiness Programs.” Critical Sociology 47(3): 389-406.
This article is exemplary of academic working-class studies, with quantifiable, original scholarship that also captures and illustrates the lived experience of working-class people. Programs for “training” of poor people in job and financial “literacy” by professional middle class entrepreneurial types is ubiquitous in the late 20th/early21st centuries but the subject is rarely discussed. This study is concise and to the point, with a biting critique that pulls no punches with, again, both excellent field work and personal stories that illustrate its message. It delivers its message on “financially illiterate” subjects with irony, tenderness and insight into them, as well as into their clueless, classist, and racist “trainers.” Though a substantial sector of our society, “job and financial literacy training” is almost wholly invisible to the people of the professional class. This article stands as an exemplar of how well capitalism excludes and blames people on the bottom rungs of our economy for their plight.
Nichter, Matt. 2021.“’Did Emmett Till Die in Vain? Organized Labor Says NO!’: The United Packinghouse Workers and Civil Rights Unionism in the Mid-1950.” Labor 18 (2): 8–40.
This article’s re-positioning of the Emmett Till case in the context of working-class studies is insightful, and seamlessly unites civil and labor rights. Both the substantial research and the engaging style of writing made this article outstanding. It is particularly relevant to our current social moment and demonstrates the immense solidarity that can occur when Labor fights racism. It is also an important reminder to working-class studies scholars that the often-noted racism of white working-class workers can be, and has been, overcome to spectacular effect.
Studs Terkel Award for Media and Journalism
Walley, Christine and Chris Boebel for the digital humanities project ‘The Southeast Chicago Archive and Storytelling Project’.
This is a path-breaking, collaborative digital humanities project by Walley, a professor of Anthropology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Boebel, a documentary filmmaker. Their project uses a range of research methodologies to interpret historical aspects of the working-class experience in the South-East side of Chicago, Illinois. It is accessible to a wide audience as a compelling work of public history. The interactive digital archive that Walley and Boebel created with the Southeast Chicago Historical Museum and web artist Jeff Soyk will be of enormous interest to labor activists, rank-and-file workers, and academics.
Constance Coiner Award for Best Dissertation
There are two winners this year:
Stevens, Rhiannon. 2021. Young People’s Access to Employment in Disadvantaged Communities in Wales. Cardiff University.
This is an important study of young working-class people in a de-industrialised town in Wales. Stevens uses the voices of the young people to show how class works to shape the ways young people understand their potential for employment and careers. The young people are affected by class stereotypes and deficit models that write them off. But they also show the importance of community and relationships for young working-class people. This ethnography is handled with care and sensitivity and Stevens centres the stories of the subjects. The thesis is clear and accessible and its message of hope and agency is to be applauded….This dissertation has promising methodologies of class analysis, of precisely the type we need in WCSA.
McAloney, Kim. 2021. Virtual Liberatory Women of Color Mentorship. Oregon State University.
The thesis uses personal narratives and poetry as well as traditional research to argue for the importance of mentorships for working-class women scholars of colour. The result is an affecting narrative that demonstrates the liberatory potential of such mentor relationships (what McAloney calls ‘liberationships’), and also outlines how mentorships can be maintained and fostered in an online environment (in this case, due to the pandemic). McAloney highlights the value of ‘women of colour ways of knowing’ and ‘endarkened feminism’ and shows how these ways of knowing operate to resist white supremacy and racial capitalism. The thesis fits in very well with the aims of working-class studies, to use narratives and to reveal the intersections of class, race and gender. And the work is engaging and accessible to read…Brilliant and necessary… polished and sophisticated while also being relevant to our field and pushing working-class scholarship to intersectional methods.
Jake Ryan and Charles Sackrey Working-Class Academics Award
There are two winners this year:
Fazio, Michele, Christie Launius, and Tim Strangleman, editors. 2021. Routledge International Handbook of Working-Class Studies. Routledge.
The Routledge International Handbook of Working-Class Studies, edited by Michele Fazio, Christie Launius, and Tim Strangleman, has won the 2022 Ryan Sackrey Award. The volume offers an invaluable contribution to understanding the experiences of working-class academics. Written by several scholars of working-class background, not only does this volume make substantial and impressive contributions to the field of Working-Class Studies but its various chapters on scholarly personal narrative, first-generation faculty, working-class teacher pedagogies, and activism in and out of the community college classroom map the many locations and innovations of working-class academics’ scholarship and teaching. In that the Routledge International Handbook of Working-Class Studies shows working-class academics doing their work—on the page, in the classroom, in their communities, and in interdisciplinary conversation with each other—it stands out as an example of what is possible now and for future generations of scholars of working-class backgrounds.
Baldwin, Davarian L. 2021. In the Shadow of the Ivory Tower: How Universities are Plundering Our Cities. Bold Type Books.
A first-generation scholar of working-class origins, Baldwin expands the interdisciplinary promise of Working-Class Studies by combining urban studies, critical university studies, and Black and Latinx studies to explore the phenomenon of rich universities gentrifying the neighborhoods in which they are not responsible community members but rather, increasingly, landlords. But what happens to the people who were already there, the poor and working-classes and people of color who might have crossed over into the academy to become scholars themselves but who instead are exploited as low-wage higher education laborers and overpoliced outsiders to the “UniverCity”? An investigation of an under-studied power grab, In the Shadow of the Ivory Tower tells an old story of class warfare in the new context of the knowledge economy, the universities that ground it, and the underclasses who pay.
Thanks to all the judges:
Sarah Attfield, University of Technology Sydney, Australia
Matt Brim, College of Staten Island, City University of New York
Jim Daniels, Alma College low-residency MFA Program
Jackie Goode, School of Social Sciences and Humanities, Loughborough University, UK
Michael Grimes, Louisiana State University
Scott Henkel, University of Wyoming
Barb Jensen, community psychologist, Minnesota
Lisa Kirby, Collin College
Ray Mazurek, The Pennsylvania State University, emeritus
Asia Muhammad, University of North Carolina at Pembroke
David Roediger, American Studies, University of Kansas
Jason Russell, Labor Studies, SUNY Empire State College
Joseph Sciorra, Queens College, The City University of New York
Michelle Tokarczyk, Goucher College
Joseph Varga, Indiana University
Jen Vernon, Sierra College
Christine Walley, MIT
Robert M. Zecker, Saint Francis Xavier University