Trafficking in the Spaces of Poverty: Reading the Post-War Wars of American Literature and Culture
Bezusko, Adriane M
Doctor of Philosophy
Trafficking in the Spaces of Poverty reorients the “post-war” period of American literature and culture through a reading of various cultural and ideological wars at home: the Cold War, the War on Welfare, the War on Poverty and the War on Terror. By bringing together policy documents, sociology, psychology, literature and film, this project analyzes the discursive limits of portraying lives lived in and along the lines of poverty. To tease out the underlying assumptions about the people whose bodies are marked by poverty, I set up the historical contours of the period and then discuss the ways in which literature resists, supports, and traffics in the spaces of poverty as it was being variously defined in the period. The narratives that I have chosen are tutor texts designed to disclose the conditions and circumstances of poverty as well as their ideological displacement. Reading against the grain of the dominant discourses, I argue that writers who are typically read as working against various forms of oppression actually enforce a neoliberal commonsense, performing the emotional work of absolving middle and upper class guilt when faced with the persistence of inequality. Managing the poor through these discourses has stabilized white middle-class privilege and produced uneven geographies. These spaces are socially managed and constructed through ideology to maintain uneven geographies but they are also deployed to explain why the poor remain poor. Movement in and out of spaces of poverty and spatial freedom as a way to express social and class mobility characterizes much of the literature that I read in Trafficking in the Spaces of Poverty. Migration, or the traffic of bodies across space, is another organizing principle of this dissertation. Social relations are expressed and enacted in and across spaces where identities are divided, defined, and limited. I argue that in their processes of trafficking in poverty, actual impoverished conditions and peoples’ unmet needs become fetishized and as fetishes enables a readjusted national imaginary and new ideological configurations of freedom and home, race, masculinity, motherhood, and the child.
poverty; American Literature