Refiguring class: the precariat in contemporary writing about Britain

Bromhall, R., 2019. Refiguring class: the precariat in contemporary writing about Britain. PhD, Nottingham Trent University.

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This thesis is about social class in post-2008 writing about Britain. Focusing on the work of several contemporary writers – including John Lanchester, Mohsin Hamid, and Ali Smith – the thesis seeks to examine the ways in which neoliberalism as an economic, cultural, social and political formation produces a new class subject: the precariat. The condition of precarity has received some attention in literary studies, but this thesis offers a theorisation of the constitutive form the character type of the precariat might take in seven main texts. The purpose of this, therefore, is to posit a revitalisation of class analyses in studies of contemporary literature.

After providing a theoretical mapping of neoliberalism, class, and the precariat across several disciplines in the Introduction, Chapter One interrogates Lanchester’s Capital (2012), arguing that its formal qualities both reflect the cultural concept of the classless society and anticipate its fragmentation into the precariat. The novel’s conclusion with the financial crisis as a moment of rupture signals the necessity of the subsequent chapters, which serve as literary case studies of each character type. Chapter Two reads the protagonist of Paul Ewen’s Francis Plug: How To Be A Public Author (2014) as a millennial by tracing the text’s focus on burnout, mental health, and the false promise of meritocratic ideals to identify his exploitation. Chapter Three focuses on Hari Kunzru’s Transmission (2004) and Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West (2017) and locates the figure of the migrant-refugee as characterised by a perennial mobility. Chapter Four examines Jonathan Coe’s Number 11 (2015) and identifies its engagement with austerity as economic and cultural violence. Finally, Chapter Five offers a brief, concluding discussion that brings the threads of the thesis together by considering Anthony Cartwright’s The Cut (2017) and Ali Smith’s Spring (2019) in relation to current class temporalities. Positioning precarity as existing in a ‘hyper present’, the thesis concludes by arguing the precariat is characterised by the post-crash cultural moment. Modulating Marxist and neoMarxist discourses, these chapters offer as a starting point an account of the ways in which class formation affects the novel in the 2004-2019 period.

Item Type: Thesis
Creators: Bromhall, R.
Date: September 2019
Rights: This work is the intellectual property of the author. You may copy up to 5% of this work for private study, or personal, non-commercial research. Any reuse of the information contained within this document should be fully referenced, quoting the author, title, university, degree level and pagination. Queries or requests for any other use, or if a more substantial copy is required, should be directed in the owner(s) of the Intellectual Property Rights.
Divisions: Schools > School of Arts and Humanities
Record created by: Jeremy Silvester
Date Added: 26 Nov 2020 11:00
Last Modified: 31 May 2021 15:12

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