Working Class Cultural Labor of the Central Valley
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.
The Year in Review
In the first meeting of the Working Group, members met to establish collective and individual goals, determining in the process a shared interest in the topics of fashion, food, and literature as related to working class cultural labor. From these conversations faculty embarked upon a dynamic set ofactivities, including:
• Focused projects on those who labor in the fields, those who produce and distribute food, and those who consume these products
• Creating an interactive map of food trucks to accompany the food production and distribution research
• Production and screening of the film Open Country, which focuses on the roots of country music and its white working class tradition
• Continuing projects on (1) the poetry and (2) performative fashion of Central Valley working class culture
Jan Goggans, Assistant Professor of Literatures and Cultures, UC Merced
Jan Goggans is an Assistant Professor of Literatures and Cultures and a founding faculty member of University of California Merced. She earned a master’s degree at California State University Sacramento and a PhD in English from University of California Davis. The recipient of a Kevin Starr California Studies Postdoctoral Fellowship, she began work at Merced in 2005, where her research and teaching focuses on cultural expression in and of the Great Depression, the literatures and cultures of California, and American protest literature.
Mario Sifuentez, Assistant Professor of History, UC Merced
Mario Sifuentez is an Assistant Professor of History at UC Merced. His research interests include immigration, farm worker history, labor history, food studies and the absence of workers in food studies. He is currently working on his manuscript entitled By Forest or By Fields: Organizing Immigrant Labor in the Pacific Northwest and is also creating the Central Valley Oral History Project at UC Merced.
Ray Winter, Lecturer in Merritt Writing Program, UC Merced
Glenda Drew, Associate Professor of Visual Communication, UC Davis
Glenda Drew is an Associate Professor of Visual Communication. Glenda has exhibited screen-based designs that integrate text, image and sound throughout the United States. She investigates how information can be delivered creatively to stimulate a new way of engaging with ideas. She is interested in connecting and representing cultural and marginalized voices in visually accessible and appealing ways. She has concentrated her work in the area of media activism and has also worked as a professional web designer for over ten years. She holds a master’s degree from San Francisco State University in Interdisciplinary Arts and Education.
Jesse Drew, Associate Professor of Cinema and Technocultural Studies, UC Davis
Jesse Drew is an Associate Professor of Cinema and Technocultural Studies whose research and practice centers on alternative and community media and their impact on democratic societies, with a particular emphasis on the global working class. His audio-visual work, represented by Video Data Bank, has been exhibited at festivals and in galleries internationally, including ZKM (Germany), Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (SF), Museum of Contemporary Arts (Chicago), Barcelona Cultural Center (Spain), World Wide Video Festival (Amsterdam), Dallas Film and Video Festival. Open Country is his current film project, a feature documentary on the politics of American Country music.
Susan Kaiser, Professor of Women and Gender Studies, UC Davis
Susan B. Kaiser is Professor of Textiles and Clothing, and Women and Gender Studies, and is a member of the Cultural Studies Graduate Groups at the University of California, Davis. She is the author of The Social Psychology of Clothing: Symbolic Appearances in Context (2nd edition, revised, Fairchild Publications) and over 80 articles in academic journals ranging from Clothing and Textiles Research Journal, Fashion Theory, Cultural Studies, Symbolic Interaction, and Sociological Inquiry to the Journal of Consumer Culture. She is a Fellow and Past President of the International Textile and Apparel Association and serves on the Editorial Board of Fashion Theory. Her current research focuses on fashion theory in conversation with feminist cultural studies, the production-consumption interface in the transnational textile/apparel complex, and (re)constructions of masculinity through style and fashion.