Cultural Production in the Early American Labor Movement

With Larry Isaac, Quan Mai, and Anna Jacobs, I have been researching the impact of culture (e.g., novels, newspaper articles, editorial cartoons) in the labor movement. This research primarily focuses on labor movements in the Gilded Age through the Great Depression and draws on qualitative and quantitative content analyses of cultural media about the labor problem. An abstract of a recent article can be found below; a copy can be made available on request.

Coley, Jonathan. 2015. “Narrative and Frame Alignment in Social Movements: Labor Problem Novels and the 1929 Gastonia Strike.” Social Movement Studies 14(1): 58-74. (external link – full text free to first 50 readers)

smsResearch on social movements and frame alignment has shed light on how activists draw new participants to social movements through meaning making. However, the ‘framing perspective’ has failed to interrogate how the form or genre in which frames are deployed affects the communication of meaning. The burgeoning literature on social movements and narrative would seem to point to one discursive form of importance to meaning making in social movements, but scholars have failed to connect their insights with the literature on framing. In this article, I analyze five novels published in response to a 1929 communist-led strike in Gastonia, North Carolina. I argue that labor movement activists deployed these long-form narratives for the purposes of ‘frame alignment,’ specifically ‘frame amplification’ and ‘frame transformation,’ and I show how these narratives conveyed frames in ways that other discursive forms could not. The study raises new questions about the selection and reception of discursive forms in social movements.