Sherry Linkon, Georgetown University – Working Class Voters

29359Working class voters have been in the news during this election season.

Sherry Linkon, professor of English at Georgetown University, delves into deindustrialization and how it can affect this portion of voters this cycle.

I do research in two areas: working-class studies and scholarship of teaching and learning. In working-class studies, much of my work explores the cultural meaning and social costs of deindustrialization. I’m currently working on a study of contemporary American literature that reflects the continuing influence of deindustrialization on working-class people and their communities.

I’ve also done some research and writing on teaching about social class and supporting working-class students in higher education.

My work on teaching and learning focuses on students’ learning in the humanities. I’ve written about students’ struggles with interdisciplinary analysis, and I published a book about teaching literature in the context of the English major.

Working Class Voters

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In this year’s presidential election, the white working class has drawn attention from both the media and scholars.  While some express sympathy for the continuing economic struggles of the working class, others wonder why this key demographic can’t seem to move past deindustrialization.

Plant and mine closings left workers and their communities devastated, and both still struggle to recover from economic losses that began several decades ago. But the costs of deindustrialization are not only economic.  Industrial work provided other significant benefits: long-term employment allowed workers to buy homes, send their children to college, develop work-based social networks, and enjoy stable family and community lives.  Industrial workers also took pride in the expertise they developed through years of labor as well as in the tangible, valuable goods they produced. As writer Lolita Hernandez says, these jobs were never just about a paycheck.

This is why deindustrialization still matters, several decades after plants closed.  Deindustrialization has a half-life. As with radioactive waste, its potency decreases over time but it remains toxic despite our efforts to bury or forget it.  And toxic waste, it affects not only those who lost their jobs but also their children and the environment – social and physical – in which they grow up.

If we want to understand the half-life of deindustrialization, we should listen to the stories of those who still feel the loss of economic security but also of social networks and individual possibility.  Writers like Philipp Meyer, Christie Hodgen, and Angela Flournoy, to name just a few, take us inside the daily lives and perspectives of the children of deindustrialization.  Their characters, the children of former industrial workers, struggle to find decent jobs, to maintain long-term relationships, to feel worthy and capable. Deindustrialization literature gives readers access to these important stories.

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