Cfp Between XIII.26 (November 2023), “Images and representations of work in literature and visual culture”


Cfp Between XIII.26 (November 2023), Images and Representations of Work in Literature and Visual Culture
Edited by Raul Calzoni (University of Bergamo) and Valentina Serra (University of Cagliari)

Submission deadline: 2023-03-31 (Friday)
Estimated review response: 2023-07-31
Publication date: 2023-11-30 (Wednesday)

The topic proposed for the next thematic issue of «Between» is the artistic, literary and visual representation of work and its imagery, its conflicts and often utopian potential to revolutionize society.

Work in itself as a defining element of human identity is a topic that has caught the interest of numerous scholars, from philosophers to anthropologists, from sociologists to literary writers (Weil 1951, Terkel 1974, Hobsbawm 1964, 1984, 1998) and, in recent years, it has aroused renewed critical interest (Kocka 2001, Kocka-Schmidt 2015). Its artistic transposition, central above all in the 19th century novel, has become, over the centuries, a topic on which the discourse on the ontological dimension of the human being and their role within society has hinged.

Work, be it understood as pain or gratification, and whether it is agro-pastoral, mining, manual, bureaucratic or artistic, is a theme that has fascinated writers and essayists from every nation: from Charles Dickens (Hard Times, 1854) to Giovanni Verga (I malavoglia, 1881), from Émile Zola (Germinal, 1886) to Upton Sinclair (The Jungle, 1906), from Thomas Mann (Buddenbrooks, 1901) to Jack London (with the dystopian drifts of The Iron Heel, 1907 or with Martin Eden, 1909), from Maksim Gor'kij (The Mother, 1902) to John Steinbeck (Of Mice and Man, 1937), from Archibald J. Cronin (The Citadel, 1937) to George Orwell (The Road to Wigan Pier, 1937).

If, on the one hand, the absence of an active occupation was interpreted by the individual as a negation of social constraints (see the anti-bourgeois dimension in the productive sense of the Bildungsroman by J.W.v. Goethe, Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, 1795-1796, or of J.v. Eichendorff, Aus dem Leben eines Taugenichts, 1826), on the other, it has gradually become synonymous with a problematic deprivation of the individual’s identity, imposed by certain economic, social or political conditions (see Victor Hugo, Les Misérables, 1862 or, for very different reasons, Alfred Döblin, Berlin Alexanderplatz, 1929). Labour-related social issues, moreover, have also inspired the figurative arts of all times, as illustrated by famous paintings, such as Le Wagon de troisième classe (Honoré Daumier, 1862), Ozio e lavoro (Michele Cammarano, 1863), De Aardappeleters (Vincent van Gogh, 1885), Per ottanta centesimi! (Angelo Morbelli, 1893) or Il quarto stato (Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo, 1901).

Work in all its declinations from manual to immaterial, i.e. linked to the era of computers, and the reflections connected with it, including all those centred around major social and trade union demands, are a central theme in contemporary artistic creation. Labour is at the core not only of literary reflection denouncing child exploitation (Dominique Manotti, Sombre Sentier, 2010), precariousness, (illegal) immigrants (Marco Rovelli, Servi, 2009; Douglas Coupland, Microserfs, 1995; Alessandro Leogrande, Uomini e caporali, 2016) or the tragic work-related deaths (Marco Rovelli, Lavorare uccide, 2008), but also a central theme in many films, in the critical representation of the relationship between human beings and work, in its alienating (Charlie Chaplin, Modern Times, 1936) and oppressive drifts (Michael Winterbottom, In This World, 2002, Francesca Comencini, Mi piace lavorare - mobbing, 2003), in trade union and libertarian claims (Andrzej Wajda, Człowiek z żelaza, The Iron Man, 1981; Mark Herman, Brassed Off), or in the alienating dimension of unemployment (Peter Cattaneo, The Full Monty, 1997; Ken Loach, Riff raff and The Navigators, 2001). In the context of visual culture, comic strips (Ernest Riebe, Mr Block) and graphic novels, often centred on the representation of historical working-class claims, also prove to be particularly interesting (Gerry Hunt,1913. Larkin’s Labour War; Graphic History Collective, Direct Action Gets the Goods: A Graphic History of the Strike in Canada, 2019; Graphic History Collective, David Lester, 1919: A Graphic History of the Winnipeg General Strike; Graphic History Collective, Paul Buhle, Drawn to Change: Graphic Histories of Working-Class Struggle, 2016; Robin Folvik, Sean Carleton, Mark Leier, Sam Bradd, Trevor McKilligan, May Day: A Graphic History of Protest, 2012; Sean Michael Wilson, Robert S. Brown, The Many Not The Few; Paul M. Buhle, Nicole Schulman, Wobblies! A Graphic History of the Industrial Workers of the World, 2005).

Against this backdrop, the next issue of «Between» welcomes contributions aimed at reflecting on the (especially contemporary) perception of work in literary production and visual culture. 

Possible topics of investigation include:

  • The Industrial Revolution, changes in society and work today
  • The ethos of work; the existential dimension of work; work and identity; work and dignity
  • Frustration in work; alienation in/of work
  • Work and slavery; exploitation of child labour
  • Work and the role of women in society
  • Work and class struggle (working-class, proletarian-revolutionary, social-fascist literature)
  • Work and (anti-)fascism/(anti-)Nazism (work as revolution/resistance)
  • Work and unemployment, work and strikes, trade union struggles
  • Labour, utopia and dystopia (socialism; socialist realism)
  • Work and migration, Gastarbeiter, Apartheid
  • Work-related deaths

Essential bibliography

Akademie der Künste (Hrsg.) (1962), Zur Tradition der sozialistischen Literatur in Deutschland. Eine Auswahl von Dokumenten, Ost-Berlin-Weimar: Aufbau Verlag
Beech, Dave (2021), Art and Labour. On the Hostility to Handicraft, Aesthetic Labour and the Politics of Work in Art, Brill
Deutsche Akademie der Künste (Hrsg.) (1962), Zur Tradition der sozialistischen Literatur in Deutschland. Eine Auswahl von Dokumenten, Ost-Berlin-Weimar: Aufbau Verlag
Friedrich, G. (1981), Proletarische Literatur und politische Organisation. Die Literaturpolitik der KPD in der Weimarer Republik und die proletarisch-revolutionäre Literatur, Frankfurt a. M.: Peter Lang
Gallas, H. (1974), Teorie marxiste della letteratura, Bari: Laterza (titolo orig. Marxistische Literaturtheorie. Marxistische Literaturtheorie – Kontroversen im Bund proletarisch-revolutionärer Schriftsteller, Neuwied und Berlin: Luchterhand Literaturverlag, 1971)
Hobsbawm, E. (1964), Labouring Men: studies in the history of labour, Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Hobsbawm, E. (1984), Worlds of Labour: Further Studies in the History of Labour, Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Hobsbawm, E. (1998), Uncommon People: Resistance, Rebellion and Jazz, Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Kocka, J. (2001), “How can one make labour history interesting again?”, «European Review», 9, pp. 201-212
Kocka, J.; Schmidt, J. (2015), Arbeiterleben und Arbeiterkultur. Die Entstehung einer sozialen Klasse, Bonn, Verlag J.H.W. Dietz Nachf. 
Lukács, G. (1976), Scritti di sociologia della letteratura, trad. it. di Giovanni Piana, Milano: Mondadori, 1976 (titolo orig. Schriften zur Literatursoziologie, Neuwied et al.: Luchterhand, 1961)
Luggin, B. (1997), “Un nodo storiografico. Il seguito operaio e popolare del nazismo”, «Studi Storici», 3, pp. 693-713 
Menger, M. (2016), Der literarische Kampf um den Arbeiter: populäre Schemata und politische Agitation im Roman der späten Weimarer Republik, Berlin-Boston: De Gruyter, 2016
Terkel, S. (1974), Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do, New York: Pantheon Books
Weil, S. (1951), La condition ouvrière, Paris: Gallimard
Waithe, M. - White, C. (Eds.) (2018), The Labour of Literature in Britain and France, 1830-1910, London: Palgrave Macmillan


Monographic issues (magazines)

«Narrativa», 31/32 (2010)

«Tincontre. Teoria Testo Traduzione», numero monografico 15 (2021), Il lavoro nelle raccolte di racconti dagli anni Ottanta a oggi <>

Web Sites