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De/Re-Fusing the Reproduction-Resistance Circuit of Cultural Studies: A Methodology for Reading Working-Class Narrative Author(s): Pamela FoxUniversity of Minnesota Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1354510 Accessed: 13 -05-2015 12:12 UTC Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at http://www.jstor.org/page/ info/about/policies/terms.jsp JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org. University of Minnesota Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Cultural Critique. http://www.jstor.org This content downloaded from 140.203.222.75 on Wed, 13 May 2015 12:12:59 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions " id="pdf-obj-0-3" src="pdf-obj-0-3.jpg">

De/Re-Fusing the Reproduction-Resistance Circuit of Cultural Studies: A Methodology for Reading Working-Class Narrative Author(s): Pamela Fox Source: Cultural Critique, No. 28 (Autumn, 1994), pp. 53-74 Published by: University of Minnesota Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1354510 Accessed: 13-05-2015 12:12 UTC

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at http://www.jstor.org/page/ info/about/policies/terms.jsp

JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

De/Re-fusing the Reproduction-Resistance Circuit of Cultural Studies: A Methodology for Reading Working-Class Narrative

Pamela Fox

In 1917, the Scotch coal miner-writer James Welsh published a

poetry

collection

entitled

Songs of a Miner.

Encouraged

by

George Bernard Shaw to write his own introduction-"say a bit of autobiography" (Welsh 7)-Welsh uneasily complied by furnishing the following statement:

My songs

are the

expression of the moods I happened

to be

them

in when I wrote them. I do not ask the world to

because a miner

them-there

judge is no credit in that-in

is a tendency already Miner I

poet."

am,

penned fact, I rather dislike the fact that there

in some quarters

poet

I

may be;

to dub one a "miner

the combination. "Ploughmen

poets,"appeal only

to the

but let the world not think there is virtue in

poets," "navvypoets," "miner

life. The

poet

aims

superficialities of

at its elementals.These I have tried

to touch, and let the world

say whether I have succeeded or no; I want to "stand on my

own legs." (12-13)

?

1994 by Cultural Critique. Fall 1994. 0882-4371/94/$5.00.

53

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54

Pamela Fox

Though ostensibly concerned with poetics, the passage sets up a central problematic surrounding class and cultural production that I believe has equal bearing on British working-class narrative

of the same period. Welsh's preoccupation with his own difference as a poet from the mining class compels him to make two simulta-

neous claims: he at once announces and resists

membership "minor" culture. Much like other writers (past and present) of

in his

marginalized groups, Welsh rebuffs the dominant literary world's

categorization of his work as "miner poetry."

He declares the liter-

ary to be his rightful territory and rejects "their" acknowledgment

(and seeming legitimation) of his outsider status. At the same time,

the poems themselves are undeniably and often

defiantly

marked

by his particular location within the social order. Inscribed with a

range of anxious gestures, they proudly claim, and just as insis- tently deny, their own class specificity. This essay, part of a lengthier study, attempts to understand

the above conflicted

position as a mode of resistance developed

working-class literary project.

  • I propose

within the modern British

a theory of working-class narrative based on novels produced

during a particularly charged period of British

working-class

culture-1890-1945-and which comprise a recognized, if long

neglected, working-class literary canon. While such a "culture" can never be monolithic, the specific constellation of historical forces

and events marking this span of time did

provide

certain situations

and mechanisms that fostered the development of an identifiable

class outlook: the rise of the

Labour Party and trade union activ-

1926; numerous depressions

ism, including the General Strike of

and the implementation

of the Welfare State; and the flourishing

through

the Labour

a specific

class sensibil-

efforts of its

largely

non-

housepainters,

 

by

promoted a "master narrative" of

literary

workers, seamstresses,

work has been overshadowed

of "Independent Working-Class Education"

College movement all

contributed

to

ity.' And that culture gradually class pride and rebellion in the

professional

writers-mill

miners, union

varieties

authors.2

organizers-whose

of socialist and protest fiction produced by middle-class

But while novels such as Robert Tressell's The

Ragged

Trousered

Philanthropists(1914), Ellen Wilkinson's Clash (1929), and Walter

Greenwood's

Love on the Dole (1933)

have been

read as either

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De/Re-fusing the Reproduction-Resistance

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55

straightforwardpolitical tracts

or more recently

suppressed by

as

examples of a

culture,

dominant

marginalized, radical discourse
I

am interested in making sense of

dynamic

narratives

at work: the

encoding

governed by

tics and writing.

ogy through

While often

theme, as well as

els contain contradictions that

another,

equally important,

gestures

in

of dominantdesires and

a restrictivemodel of class-conscious poli-

directly challenging

dominant ideol-

occasionallythrough form, the nov-

finally

evoke

highly complicated

it

seems to me,

Class shame,

and conflicting forms of protest.

emerges as a strikinglypowerful

ing as a whole, competing

the

presentation

of

counterforce in this body of writ-

to shape

with a more militant discourse

The

working-classexperience.

following pages

will situate

stance of

 

of these texts in relation

theory-what

via an

I

call the

episode

to a particular

"reproduction-

Dole,

will

of Love on the

resistance circuit"-and,

demonstrate how the shame counterforce operates along gender

lines during a specific historicalmoment.

Theorizing British Working-Class Culture:

Birmingham's Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies

Seeking to understanding

dominated,

along

resistance as a with dominant,

complicated sign of

positions-I

needs

pro-

to begin

refusal-of

pose that any cultural theorizing about resistance

by attending to the variety of ways in which members of marginal

or subordinate groups redefine what is at stake for themselvesas

they "mediate" cultural and economic forces.

intentioned,

of dominant values

the danger of obscuring long to such subcultures.

Though usually

well

theories that categorically condemn the reproduction

and celebrate "counter-hegemonic"

acts run

or devaluing the desires of those who be-

This

danger is perhaps most pronounced

in cultural studies

work developed

class formation,

during the

hegemony,

1970s and '80s addressing issues of

and

opposition.

The

late capitalist

transformation and incorporation

of Western

working-class

cul-

tures, long

a source of anxiety among Marxist intellectuals, had

rendered the

term

"working

class" a

problematic

in

very

category

critical theory, posing dilemmas not only of definition, but of value.

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56

Pamela Fox

In response to this "crisis," cultural theorists have attempted to challenge the conservative stamp that had until recently stigma-

tized contemporary working-class culture by demonstrating its di- versity and, most importantly, reclaiming its potential for agency. The Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) has

been at the forefront of such an enterprise: though hardly a single

"school" of thought,

as Stuart Hall has recently reminded

us,3

its members have accomplished some of the most influential and promising work in the area of subcultural resistance. And since it has more or less determined the future course of studies

specifically centered on British working-class culture, I am con- cerned primarily with the model of opposition which it devised and

which we have subsequently social and cultural

Pierre Bourdieu,

"inherited." Contesting

developed

by

theories of

reproduction

Louis Althusser,

Samuel Bowles, and others,4 resistance theory

Birmingham-style draws on the insights of Gramscian social the- ory, earlier British cultural theory developed by Richard Hoggart,

Raymond Williams, and E. P.

Thompson,

and

post-structuralist

Marxisms to devise a highly flexible, rich model of class culture(s) that always preserves the efficacy (as well as contradictions and het-

erogeneity) of material, lived "experience." Through its combined

ethnographic and semiotic methodologies, the CCCS has

pro-

duced enormously useful, sensitive readings of "profane" working-

class cultural forms and fields-be

they studies of industrial shop

floor practices, television spectatorship, female students' classroom

behavior, or subcultural "style."5 I want to stress the value of

class experience

the CCCS approach to working-

and underscore its centrality to my own thinking

about class culture. Though its mission has obviously evolved and

expanded, cutting across (sometimes methodologies such as media studies,

competing) disciplines and

psychoanalysis, ethnogra-

phy, and "English," it has to my mind been most effective at illus-

trating the drawbacks, as

well as uses, of post-structuralist theory.

politicizing

of the

up the category "resistance"

strenuously argued for the

the material without

The Center recognizes that post-structuralism's

cultural terrain at large has opened

to entirely new possibilities, yet it has

necessity

of re-rooting that cultural field in

collapsing back into a reductive economist model. Its intent to

preserve the integrity of working-class subjectivity demonstrates

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De/Re-fusing the Reproduction-Resistance Circuit

57

the wisdom of refashioning, rather than discarding entirely, the

Williams/Thompson

legacy. I am particularly indebted to the pio-

neering work of feminists affiliated with CCCS who have broad-

ened the resistance theory agenda even further by studying the role of gender difference within British working-class culture.6 The complexity of the CCCS's aims, however, can get lost or

stripped down in the process of theorizing/investigating when "re-

productive" or "recuperative" tendencies

of a particular subcul-

ture become

somewhat simplistically marked out and separated

from "resistance" gestures. Even an astute cultural critic like Paul Willis, who is usually careful to avoid such tendencies, encourages

this approach in his theoretical "program" surrounding working- class cultural production:

What is

specificallymissing

and should be our

positive task is

some notion of the

"counter-hegemonic" cultural principle

that might link forms of Cultural Production into their own

connected

know more

ideology against

exactly

forms of

oppression-and

so to

what are, and how to hold and

develop,

the counter-hegemonic moments and practices

sionally just

flood over and are

gone.

It is that

principle,

or

position

which occa-

hegemonic

op-

if resis-

principles and cultural forms, which is vital to

of the articulationof differences of

develop

finally tical domination of capital and other structures. ("Cultural

Production" 65)

tance is to be

more than a formal moment in the dialec-

And

all too

often,

in

theoretical

following of mad scramble to uncover

texts

the

CCCS's lead

"counter-

have engaged

a kind

hegemonic" or "emancipatory" practices that absolutely, categori-

cally contest dominant cultural directives. Henry Giroux's influential work in radical and "border"

ped-

agogy, grounded early on in the CCCS framework, affords one concrete example. I single it out here not to challenge its commit-

ment to a truly

liberatory

and "ethical" intellectual

praxis

but to

make that praxis more flexible and viable. Giroux's model of "dia-

lectical

utopian

knowledge," for instance, capturing both "ideological and

moments"

(Theory

36),

seeks to

give

the

"traditionally

difference:

discover, their

voiceless" a way to speak, and hence

"working-class students, women, Blacks, and others need to affirm

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58

Pamela Fox

their own histories through the use of a language, a set of social

relations, and body of knowledge

that critically reconstructs and

dignifies the cultural experiences that make up the tissue, texture, and history of their daily lives" (37). But those experiences are only

"dignified,"

gressive"

it seems, through their "reconstruction" into a "pro-

tradition. For, the argument continues, "it is important

that students come to grips with what a society has made of them,

how it has incorporated them ideologically and materially into its

rules and logic, and own historiesin order

what it is that they need to affirm and reject in their

to begin the process of struggling for the con-

ditions that will give them opportunities to lead a self-managed existence" (my emphasis, 38).

The basis of their choice-what

to "affirm," what to "reject"-

appears clear-cut. But perhaps only for those not directly im- mersed in the process. Giroux's scheme appears to allow little legit-

imate room for survival, getting by-the state in between momen- tary demystification and cataclysmic transformation. Whether

determining the criteria of "authentic" working-class student resis- tance or laying the foundation for a postmodern educational cur- riculum, he formulates what is finally a prescriptive mode of class agency. His most recent work, making much more visible uses of

feminist theory, places greater emphasis upon the value of "differ- ence" and cites the risks of "reduc[ing] the issues of power, justice,

struggle, and inequality to a single script" (Introduction, Postmod- ernism 49). Still, I remain troubled by the evaluative distinctions of

his evolving approach. Who finally decides upon the identities that students are allowed to "reclaim"?7As Willis's own 1990 inquiry

into the "symbolic creativity" of working-class youth recognizes,

"the ordinary people of common culture have not been

queuing

up to join the left intellectuals" because "the critical or counter-

hegemonic

impulse" can "seem dismissive of those very cultural

materials which hold the prospect of advance and [another kind

of] emancipation" (Common Culture 158-59). He advises those who

practice "armchair semiotics"

ism

(6) and other modes of postmodern-

to legitimate, rather than bemoan, the "contradictory empow-

erment" (159) of consumerist culture.

If we fail to do so, we endorse, it seems to me, a critical stance with a limited notion of "resistance" as a class tool and survival

strategy. Contestation, disruption, opposition, transgression, sub-

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De/Re-fusing the Reproduction-Resistance

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59

version-all

have become

which

"keywords" in our profession for de-

a range

of

marginalized groups

can

scribing practices by

suggest Despite their attentiveness

some sense of both action and refusal. But refusal of what?

to (and frequently direct experience

with) class-based cultural differences, resistance theorists tend to

answer that question by proceeding from what are essentially dom- inant assumptions and values. Experiencing as well as sacrificing

privilege, they can afford to accept the premise that incorporation is equivalent to defeat or regression. The Left stamp of approval

thus falls on those behaviors, tendencies, and gestures that not only resist domination, but do so for decidedly progressive aims. The necessity of such a perspective seems patently, even absurdly,

obvious for all of us working to accomplish social change; yet it also risks misreading or dismissing the needs of those who occupy

"minor" cultures. The very notion of a reproduction-resistance

"circuit," the two

practices logistically

linked but

conceptually op-

erating in opposition to one another, can fail to accommodate the

class culture we are attempting to reveal or

represent.8 They can-

expression

not be split so decisively: opposition can be at once the

of "repressive moments inscribed by the dominant culture" and "a

message of protest against their existence"

(Giroux, Theory 103). working-class litera-

opposition

or

Before I turn to recent theoretical analyses of

ture itself, let me illustrate this alternate mode of

transgression as it manifests itself in one fictional text.

Love on the Dole:

Expose, Exposure, and Working-Class Cultural Space

My reading

of resistance in modern British working-class fic-

public/private compound

of relations that de-

communities be-

tion is framed by a

veloped with particular urgency in working-class

tween the turn of the century and World War II due to the logistics

surrounding

has usually

social, domestic, and leisure

practices. As we know, it

been in the best interest of dominant culture to mystify

public spheres.

Creating an illu- classed and gen-

the nexus between private and

sory, neat division between the two, it conceals

dered structures of

power underlying their ostensible separation.

But while the working-class writers I study occasionally make it

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60

Pamela Fox

part of their political project to expose

and explore

the connec-

tions between social and domestic worlds, they also betray their

own fascination with the myth.

Indeed, this body of work registers a strong desire to separate the public and the private, at a time when their actual conflation

was especially visible-and

painful-in

working-class lives. (I am

thinking here of the frequent sharing of actual household living space between neighborhood families, as well as the much more

global implementation

of the

"Welfare State."9) The convergence

of domestic and social arenas reinforced an emphasis on commu-

nal experience and values, but at the same time placed a high pre- mium on private space-both material and psychological. Within

working-class culture, the attempt to invent a public/private con- struct can thus mean much more than simply succumbing to domi-

nant ideology. Permitting control over class borders, that construct

protects against exposure of a stigmatized class identity, meeting

very real need

a

to seal off from view one's own lived, seemingly

"dirty,"working-class experience. Exposure, in fact, proves to be both a mission and an

appre-

hension in these texts. Early 20th-century working-class narratives typically strive to tell an authentic story of class existence, count-

ering popular images or explanations of class divisions. Novelists

such as Robert Tressell, James Barker, or Ellen Wilkinson make

affirmative use of their

marginality by re-presenting reality, rewrit-

to insist upon their own dignity.

ing versions of history and conflict

Yet often, the very strategy they rely on-the process of demystifi-

cation-results

in an overdetermined

act of "exposure" that not

only claims to reveal the "truth" about class power, but also finally

unveils the self-contempt that can underlie

working-class subjec-

tivity. In these novels, the "stripping" of illusions about the En- glish class system necessitates both a celebration and denial of

class-based differences: they document

pride

in their collective,

oppositional identity while at the same time establish their generic

humanity

becomes a

(i.e., "we're just like them").

double-edged

In the process,

"exposing"

exposure

certain

un-

act of resistance,

desirable qualities that reaffirm their marginalized status.

In particular, episodes

exposure-often

and representations

body

of

rative

of the

itself-function

literal or figu- as eruptions

of anxiety about class location: revealing the sense of vulgarity or

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De/Re-fusing the Reproduction-Resistance

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61

shame that working-class characters strive to conceal from each other, the scenes ultimately convey the desire to establish intra- class divisions. These writers seek seemingly self-created and self-

contained parameters in order to resist membership in a mass cul-

ture read

as "Other," even as they often understand the distorting

practices of dominant ideology that are responsible for such a

reading. But perhaps most importantly, the "new" selves that are constructed are conspicuously gendered; conventional markers of

femininity and masculinity become especially coveted, as well as scorned, in this writing. In these texts' utopian moments, a fixed

working-class identity becomes exchanged for a fixed gender iden- tity, the "absence" of one making the other possible. Walter Greenwood's novel of the '30s, Love on the Dole, pro-

vides one particularly noteworthy example. Following the lead of several turn-of-the-century texts, it foregrounds the very "prob- lem" of class consciousness in modern working-class communities, pitting the vision of a socialist organizer against the sense of de-

spair pervading an entire Manchester neighborhood assailed by economic depression. In Hanky Park, everyone experiences fears,

disappointments, and dissatisfactions, "each keeping his discontent in his own bosom as though it were a guilty secret; each putting

on a mask of unconcern."'0 But the "guilty secret" extends beyond

mere restlessness or disgruntlement-it

includes the disgrace re-

flected in class powerlessness, in lack of control.

This is strikingly evident in the exposure scene that climaxes the early portion of the narrative. In that scene, the young protag-

onist Harry Hardcastle finds himself desperately seeking admis- sion into the circle of adult male workers, admission that he be-

lieves is signified most immediately by a pair of overalls (rather

than boyish knickers) and by visible streaks of facial

grime.

For

Harry, dirt is a status symbol, an emblem of masculine class com-

munity. He hopes to attain this sign of distinction through his

beginning

apprenticeship

at the engineering

plant, but while he

oily

machin-

finally gets hold of the

pants, he is denied access to the

ery that makes "dirtiness" possible. He thus secretly applies the

grease himself one day before walking home, only to be discovered

by the Other representative of working-class

culture in this narra-

tive: not its idealized masculine valor, but its actual deviancy. Tom

Hare, a "foul-mouthed, untidy boy" who was "obsessed with mat-

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62

Pamela Fox

ters sexual" and "thought nothing of exposing himself in front of the boys" (51), sneeringly proceeds to "expose" Harry's charade to

the rest of the men by exposing the hidden

part

of his body which

is unmarked-void of grease-and hence seemingly class-less. In

the process, however, the episode reveals Harry's actual working- class identity all too clearly:

They all laughed and closed in on him. Sam Hardie's

like

arms encompassed

ape-

him. In a moment, he was on his back,

struggling impotently, and bawling hysterically. His cries were

drowned in the roar of

laughter that rose when rough hands

screamed,

up with a pot of red paint,

tore at his trousers and exposed his nakedness. He

struggled frantically.Somebody

a brush and

grease; ever exposed. (52)

ran

anonymous hands daubed it on him wher-

The men mock his desire to be authentically marked, yet Harry's "impotence" already serves as his true class sign, an altogether dif- ferent sort of "stain" or marking (and their real target). It becomes

a clearly gendered episode concludes:

sign as well. Played out like a rape scene, the

Harry, sobbing,

covered his

oily painted

nakedness, drew on

his overalls and retired to the lavatoriesto wipe away as much

of the mess as he could. He felt that never

any of the apprentices his

girlish screaming?

lap?

Then

shirt

again in the face. What would

of his

patched

undershirt

knickerbockers!

could he look think of

they

and ragged

They

now

there was the

would know that he wore the abominable things underneath

his overall. What an

altogether humiliating episode ....

to identify

himself with

This

to happen when he wished

the boys!

Both

mount to

his "nakedness" and

his exposed

raggedness.

both

vulnerability

are

clearly

tanta-

Both signify a lack of respect- and feminization within the

ignore

the passage's own of working-class

ability that encompasses

poverty

social order. But the reader, unable to

nearly "hysterical" reaction to the shamefulness

identity, interprets the significance of the attack scene differently

than Harry, who afterwards

proudly

believes he's

experienced

a

type of initiation ritual that ensures "Y'll be one of us!" (53). He

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De/Re-fusing the Reproduction-Resistance

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63

will be, but to his misfortune. We see that the valorized form of working-class masculinity sought after in the novel is nothing more

than an ideal or fiction. In the end, choice but to be Tom Hare.

working-class men have no

Here, Greenwood refines the relationship between class and gender outlined above. For working-class men like Harry, a fixed class identity initially depends upon, but finally precludes, a fixed gender identity. They may theoretically equate working-class con-

sciousness with masculine

symbols and power, yet in daily lived

experience,

that consciousness can be reduced to impotence or a

defeated kind of brutality. Shameful markers of class difference thus become articulated through the absence of traditional gender markers, signifying debasement rather than "comradeship." Working-class women characters in this novel and others undergo an even greater conflict with gender identity, since from the begin-

ning they are essentially masculinized by their working-class posi- tion. Though they celebrate the power that this confers upon

them, they simultaneously struggle to re-make themselves so that

they can experience the privileges of a distinctly middle-class, indi- vidualized, feminine identity.1 The subtextual agenda of this fic- tion dictates that both become, in the words of Greenwood's social- ist, "Men and Women in the fullest sense of those terms." While attempting to offer their own master narrative of conflict, these

novels thus move dialectically between the rejection of and longing for more familiar, dominant master narratives of identity and progress. As resistance theorists, we must be willing to understand what such cultural forms do for those who feel and are dispos-

sessed and the alternate kinds of "emancipations" they permit. We may not "celebrate" but should acknowledge them as vehicles of

resistance.

Theoretical Readings of Working-Class Fiction:

"Deconstructive Guerrilla Warfare"?

I have chosen to concentrate on narratives from the earlier

part of the century precisely because they have come to take on a

particularly symbolic

meaning

for theorists

operating

within the

cultural studies paradigm. On the one hand, novels from the '20s

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64

Pamela Fox

and '30s continue to be associated with a once cohesive, self-

conscious, and radical working-class literary tradition. Their argu- ably militant content, however, is nearly cancelled out by their "conservative" realist form. Though realism's subject matter and style were viewed during the inter-war years as direct affronts to

the reactionary politics of high modernism, they have been trans- formed into a problem for contemporary critics who view realism as an inescapably dominant form. The novels' reinscription of indi- vidualism through a more or less conventional narrative pattern, not to mention their often outdated and masculinist notions of

class consciousness, resistance.

seriously compromise their status as texts of

The need to defend realism as an appropriate mode for oppo- sitional writing has thus loomed large in recent critical discourse,

to the point where the post-structuralist renewal of interest in working-class narratives began by assuming that it had to justify

the validity of studying these texts at all. The novels have

thereby

become the most dramatic locus of what I view as an ambitious "rehabilitation project" conducted by theorists and critics since they function as a convenient site of both the most, and the least,

opposition within a particular moment in working-class culture.

Post-structuralist readers can

identify

"reproductive"

elements

within any given narrative's structure while at the same time un-

ravel that structure to demonstrate the narrative's subtextual sub- version of capitalist