Dissent Over Discourse: Labor History, Gender, and the Linguistic Turn

Historians influenced by post-structuralism and the linguistic turn and feminist historians concerned to incorporate the category of gender into historical analysis have recently challenged the categories, methodologies, and questions of labor history as it has been practiced in the United States for the past thirty years. Those operating under the influence of the linguistic turn have challenged labor history's foundational assumption of class as both a category of analysis and as a social formation constituted primarily by material and productive relations. They have argued that class and class interest are constituted culturally and discursively rather than materially. Feminist critics have called attention to the importance of gender both as a subject of analysis and as an analytical lens through which to examine the ways in which class and class relations have been constituted on the basis of sexual difference. Their goal is to interrogate the ways in which notions of masculinity and femininity shaped relations of subjugation and domination and governed mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion in work and in the labor movement. These challenges to the field have led some to charge that labor history is undergoing an epistemological crisis. Recent work by labor historians of France in Lenard Berlanstein's collection, Rethinking Labor History: Essays on Discourse and Class Analysis and by feminist American labor historians in Ava Baron's Work Engendered: Towards a New History of American Labor has taken up these challenges and demonstrates the potential of these new analytical frameworks to awaken new debates and produce new knowledge in the field. Essays in both collections suggest that labor history is less in crisis than it is in the process of an epistemological and methodological rebirth.

Add new comment

Plain text

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.