DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA (2008)
Working with the Body examines representations of labouring bodies in circulation amongst working people from the 1830s to the end of the nineteenth century. It traces the mediating role of the literary in positioning the labouring body as a central signifier in the formation and destabilization of nineteenth-century working people’s subjectivities. I argue that both literatures produced for and composed by working people construct working-class interiority by separating subjectivity from the labouring body that performs physical work. A nuanced relation of
possession or denial of possession towards bodies that do manual labour informs working people’s understanding of their own class, race and gender identity. The ownership of the body or its suppression develops importance as a contested zone of meaning in liberal discourses and working-class texts alike so that the ability to possess, exchange, critique, present or deny any relation to labouring bodies defines the liberal working-class subject. Such a subject/body duality results in a continuous flux between the attribution of interiority and the denial of interiority, production of the liberal individual and the production of mere bodies. This separation of subject and body is unstable, threatening to collapse into each other, so that the process of separation has to be constantly reinforced.