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"False Poverty: The Cultural, Political and Historical Implications of Literary Accounts of 'Social Passing'"


"This project aims to examine the genre of 'social passing' in British writing from the late 1800s onwards. These are accounts written by those faking poverty to report upon the poor. The most important literary examination is in Cunningham’s 1988 British Writers of the Thirties, limited to one decade and but one strand of a larger critical analysis; the most important historical-anthropological work is Freeman and Nelson’s introduction to Vicarious Vagabonds, focusing above all on texts 1860-1910. This project, however, proposes an approach both more diachronic and more specific, focusing not only on literary and cultural implications of passing, but also on the reality behind accounts, moving from a purely text-based literary approach towards an interdisciplinary historical study.
This project’s ultimate aim is an analysis of the cultural, political and historical implications of these accounts, focusing on their cultural impact on the twentieth-century literary scene, political implications, impact on political debate of the time, and influence on the general public’s perception of poverty, as well as on their historical implications, including the role played as historical sources, and the credibility of data and events reported.
The project aims to use a mixture of textual criticism and archival and on-site research. It will focus on historical and political contexts of the writing of primary texts, and on issues related to the condition of the poor discussed (reports, statistics, documents related to voluntary relief activities, the treatment of the subject in newspapers, specialized journals, illustrations and cartoons).
In a period of financial crisis and governmental interest in the welfare of the poor, understanding how the poor have been represented over the last century is invaluable; it is also worth examining the mechanisms whereby those self-describing as non-proletariat have related to the working class and tried to change or hide that relationship."

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UCL Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Institute for Women’s Health
Gower street
WC1E 6BT London
United Kingdom

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London Inner London — West Camden and City of London
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Administrative Contact
Greta Borg Carbott (Ms.)
EU contribution
No data