Examines new narratives about work and workers in the age of transnational migration and precarious labor

Table of contents

Introduction: Narratives of Living Labor
Chapter 1. “We are the Planet”: Impossible Solidarities in Russell Banks’s Continental Drift
Chapter 2. “Maps of Labor”: Globalization, Migration, and Contemporary Working-Class Literature
Chapter 3. Living Labor, Dead Labor: Cinema, Solidarity, and Necrocapitalism
Chapter 4. “The Uprooted Worker at the Center of the World”: Labor, Migration, and Precarity on the Urban Underside of Independent Cinema
Coda: Forms of Solidarity in Precarious Times


For much of the twentieth century, the iconic figure of the U.S. working class was a white, male industrial worker. But in the contemporary age of capitalist globalization new stories about work and workers are emerging to refashion this image. Living Labor examines these narratives and, in the process, offers an innovative reading of American fiction and film through the lens of precarious work. It argues that since the 1980s, novelists and filmmakers—including Russell Banks, Helena Víramontes, Karen Tei Yamashita, Francisco Goldman, David Riker, Ramin Bahrani, Clint Eastwood, Courtney Hunt, and Ryan Coogler—have chronicled the demise of the industrial proletariat, and the tentative and unfinished emergence of a new, much more diverse and perilously positioned working class. In bringing together stories of work that are also stories of race, ethnicity, gender, and colonialism, Living Labor challenges the often-assumed division between class and identity politics. Through the concept of living labor and its discussion of solidarity, the book reframes traditional notions of class, helping us understand both the challenges working people face and the possibilities for collective consciousness and action in the global present.

Cover attribution: Allan Sekula, Shipwreck and worker, Istanbul, from TITANIC’s wake, 1998/2000. Courtesy of the Allan Sekula Studio.

Joseph B. Entin is Professor of English and American Studies at Brooklyn College, City University of New York.

Living Labor aims to update the critical discussion of contemporary American working-class literature to reflect the complex and contested realities of the current era, in which class itself has become increasingly contingent. The book is clear, persuasive, informative, and thought-provoking.”
—Sherry Linkon, Georgetown University

- Sherry Linkon

Living Labor offers a vocabulary for a global, post-Fordist working class, through a number of important, sometimes well-known, sometimes obscure novels and films that document working-class characters in the U.S. from the 1980s to the present. The book is lucid, precise, and engaging, and helps us to understand how 'class' and its many representations are made and remade through the contradictions of capitalism. Entin has written a necessary and provocative intervention into the field.”
—Benjamin Balthaser, Indiana University South Bend

- Benjamin Balthaser

"Living Labor brings lesser-known or forgotten narratives to the forefront and demonstrates effectively how they build upon proletarian narratives of the past and contribute to a nascent, working-class narrative mode--one we should all keep our eyes on as it continues to evolve in an age of enduring precarity."
--Journal of Working-Class Studies

- Journal of Working-Class Studies

Watch: Author event hosted by the Wolfe Institute for the Humanities at Brooklyn College | 05/01/2023
Read: Author blog post | 03/07/2023
Read: Author article in Jacobin | 01/26/2023