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Title: Work and the American Moral Imagination, 1865-2000
Authors: Suarez, Joel
Advisors: Canaday, Margot
Kruse, Kevin
Contributors: History Department
Keywords: Domination
Subjects: History
American history
Issue Date: 2019
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This dissertation is a study of the relationship between the transformation of work and the ever-shifting meanings of freedom. I examine how low-wage workers, policymakers, and intellectuals in the United States thought about work as it was dramatically transformed and how work’s transformations provoked new debates over the meaning of freedom. Drawing on congressional, labor, and local records as well as rarely-used activist archives, I show how the meanings of freedom have long been rooted in the experience of its opposite—in the myriad forms of domination found in slavery and coverture laws, in debt peonage and the private tyrannies of newfound industrial factories, in low-wage service work and in poverty. Although I explore debates over the transformation of work in the wake of abolition and industrialization up through the early twentieth century, the bulk of the dissertation grapples with the vexed relationship between work and freedom that was illuminated in the pitched ideological battles of the late twentieth century—in debates over automation, immigration, welfare reform, and globalization. In contrast to the standard historiography, I contend that this quest for and articulation of freedom continued past late-nineteenth-century debates over the “labor question” and well into the postindustrial era. I stress that—with deindustrialization, the demise of the labor movement, and the stagnation of wages—the experiences and effects of poverty played a growing role in shaping the understanding of the value of work and the meanings of freedom and unfreedom. This shift in the meaning of freedom coincides with the transition from labor-scarce industrial capitalism to the labor surplus that defined late twentieth-century capitalism. I tell this story by uncovering the ideas of immigrants and refugees, welfare recipients and care workers, anarchists and union workers, offering an intellectual history “from below” of the makings of freedom amid the experience of racial, gender, and class domination.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:History

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