The next Inventions of the Text seminar will take place on 4th February at 17.30. Dr Simon Grimble (Durham University) will talk on “The Condition of England, Again: Social Criticism in Contemporary Britain.” Attendees from outside Durham are welcome, but please email firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve a place.
This paper will examine the recent reappearance of writing on the ‘social question’ in Britain since the advent of the financial crisis in 2007-8, in particular relation to questions of riches and poverty and, especially, of inequality. I will situate this writing not only in relation to the immediate context but also in relation to the long history of social criticism in Britain since the industrial revolution: a history where economic crises – from ‘the hungry Forties’ to the depression of the 1930s – have tended to produce the figure of the ‘generalist-journalist’ (from Carlyle to Orwell) who goes in search of ‘the condition of England.’ This figure tends to try to unite the subjective (i.e. the consideration of his own feelings and, sometimes, the feelings of others) with more obviously objective criteria, via empirical research, such as the use of statistics and interviews. The paper will examine the writing of the novelist James Meek (on privatisation), the geographer Danny Dorling (on inequality) and the writer Owen Hatherley (on architecture and public space) as examples of current articulations of this mode and ask what the character of this writing tells us about both it and the society of which it is part – and which it is also trying to change.