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Über dieses Buch

This book analyzes the discourse generated by pundits, politicians, and artists to examine how poverty and the income gap is framed through specific modes of representation. Set against the dichotomy of the structural narrative of poverty and the opportunity narrative, Lemke's modified concept of precarity reveals new insights into the American situation as well as into the textuality of contemporary demands for equity. Her acute study of a vast range of artistic and journalistic texts brings attention to a mode of representation that is itself precarious, both in the modern and etymological sense, denoting both insecurity and entreaty. With the keen eye of a cultural studies scholar her innovative book makes a necessary contribution to academic and popular critiques of the social effects of neoliberal capitalism.

Inhaltsverzeichnis

Frontmatter

Chapter 1. Introduction

Abstract
How we think about inequality is determined by the ways the gap between the rich and the poor is depicted in the media. This introduction examines the politics of representation through the lens of three indigent individuals whose stories have received unprecedented media coverage. Lemke distinguishes three narrative frameworks shaping the public’s understanding of poverty: the binary of “the undeserving and the deserving,” the “culture of poverty” thesis, and the “systemic failure” thesis. To expand our epistemology of poverty and inequality, Lemke introduces the concept of precarity and precariousness. The primary texts at the heart of each the following chapters reveal specific elements of precariousness: the economic, the social, the generic, the formal, and the socio-cultural.
Sieglinde Lemke

Chapter 2. Discourse: The Great Inequality Debate

Abstract
Examining a broad spectrum of media articulations, Lemke charts America’s booming public debate on economic inequality from a cultural studies perspective. This survey examines viral videos, talk shows, op-eds, academic studies, and political cartoons that give voice to precarity and its discontents. Differentiating three stages in the genealogy of this debate (2000 –2015) Lemke inspects the main actors within the knowledge production on the Great Divergence. Narratives on gaping class divisions are compounded with the stalemate between the liberal and the conservative narrative of inequality. Lemke argues that political and economic polarization is often linked to a gender-based divide. Her analysis of the inequality and poverty discourse facilitates a better understanding of the growing class awareness and class anger driving the 2016 election.
Sieglinde Lemke

Chapter 3. The Documentary: Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed and David Shipler’s The Working Poor

Abstract
Chapter Two examines Barbara Ehrenreich’s trailblazing book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America (2001) and David Shipler’s The Working Poor: Invisible in America (2004), which have introduced millions of middle-class readers to a previously invisible class. The heart-wrenching life stories vicariously facilitate a cross-class encounter while implicitly shattering both the myth of the American Dream and the culture-of-poverty narrative. By applying the methodologies of literary studies, Lemke examines the use of narrative voice, humor, documentary modes, and vernacular realism in these best-selling reports, which also articulate a psychosocial critique of capitalism and a holistic approach to fighting poverty. Both exposés qualify as precarious texts in the sense that they plead for changing the conditions they describe.
Sieglinde Lemke

Chapter 4. The Icon: Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother

Abstract
Chapter Three closely examines the most famous visual plea to end poverty. Dorothea Lange’s black-and-white portrait depicting a precarious farmworker during the Great Depression, Migrant Mother, has had a sustained impact on the American consciousness, spurning a host of stories on its production, distribution, and reception. Lemke offers the most comprehensive reading of this particular icon of destitution to date. She discusses the often-neglected visual ambiguity that gives Lange’s photo a titillating aura, while at the same time thwarting a voyeuristic gaze. Unleashing a precarious mode of looking, this famous portrait of a working-poor American becomes textually precarious, which makes it a prototype of precarious representations in contemporary documentary photography.
Sieglinde Lemke

Chapter 5. The Precarious Gaze: Contemporary Documentary Photography by Jeff Wall and Tom Stone

Abstract
Jeff Wall, one of the most influential photographers working today, stages photographs of homelessness (Night) and day laborers (Men Waiting) to capture what art photographers usually eclipse. Wall’s “near documentary” photographs render the precarious realities almost invisible, but nonetheless make aspects of precariousness palpable by eliciting a precarious gaze. The lesser-known documentary photographer Tom Stone depicts a wide range of homeless men and women, usually in black-and-white and from up close in order to draw attention to the eyes, and thus the humanity, of his homeless subjects, while the accompanying captions offset the viewer’s initial impression. This experience of ambiguity allows for the symbolic encounter between the viewer and the poor that preempts voyeurism. Building on cultural and film studies scholarship, Lemke develops a theory of the precarious gaze.
Sieglinde Lemke

Chapter 6. The Nation: American Exceptionalism in Our Time

Abstract
Chapter Five scrutinizes Barack Obama’s economic mobility speech (2013) as a paradigmatic statement on how the American government treats this topic. Openly admitting that half the population has experienced poverty, President Obama alerts his audience to the detrimental impact this has on the nation as a whole. Inequality causes suffering, but it also undermines the ideological foundation of the United States, most notably its identity as an exceptional and superior nation. A brief discussion of Pope Francis’ exhortations on inequality and Thomas Piketty’s media success situates Obama’s stance, which is determined by the limits of both public diplomacy and lobbying. Lemke reads Obama’s speech, which publicly acknowledges the threat precariousness poses to the common good, as a precarious text in itself.
Sieglinde Lemke

Chapter 7. Conclusion: Precarity

Abstract
The conceptual framework this book lays out offers a tool to better understand the social construction and representation of class matters and economic deprivation. Lemke sketches the contours of the precarious aesthetics that invites middle-class readers or viewers to connect or even bond with, albeit vicariously, the Other of class. Interdependence is integral to the art that engages with America’s precariat, but at the same time its quintessential ambiguity and indeterminacy unsettles our engagement with the other of class. By introducing the social scientifically-based “holistic narrative of poverty,” Lemke deconstructs the encumbered binary between the culture-of-poverty and the systemic narrative of poverty. Her multi-facetted contribution bridges disciplinary divisions to calibrate the emergent transdisciplinary field concerned with continued precarity.
Sieglinde Lemke

Backmatter

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