HCCW: Working Class Cultural Labor of the Central Valley

Jan Goggans
Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts
UC Merced

What roles do music, literature, fashion, and food have in the contemporary life of the worker who produces, distributes, and consumes them? While traditional explorations of class have long begun with a Marxist model emphasizing institutional formations of resistance, the new working class studies model calls for a broader understanding of work and class, looking at “how class works for people at work, at home, and in the community.” Understanding class as a subjective position as well as an economic position is particularly relevant to work in California’s central valley since it opens working class studies to a wider range, one that includes economics and material culture. Focusing on this site of exploration, this Working Group reformulates California studies by intersecting with a new concept of labor studies – an intersection that allows us to rethink both. Our focus on cultural expression by the working class in the central valley revolves around a mix of the contemporary and historical, allowing a range of UC scholars to work at defining a new cutting edge of labor, working class and cultural studies, an intersection made especially rich through material culture in this diverse and understudied region of California.

The Working Group experienced some difficulties around the budget, and in particular the approval by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) for community-based interviews (what IRB would call working with “human subjects”). The Working Group persisted, however, and designed a program of events and projects for the upcoming year. The budget issues have been resolved, and the group is looking forward to September, when they will host an exhibit at the Merced Multi Cultural Center entitled “Central Valley Threads: Picking out Strands of Life and Art in the Central Valley” (with accompanying website and Facebook page). Alongside this major activity, the Working Group members will continue their individual projects in ways that engage the public in new and exciting ways. Those who produced Open Country, for example, are interested in conducting oral histories with elderly music fans as well as creating a “video jukebox” that allows for increased audience participation. Those working on issues of food and food production will be looking at the issue of hunger and homelessness, combining text and sound to create an entirely new product geared to their viewing publics.