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Research Case studies

New Research

Dr Andrew Lawson

Dr Andrew Lawson’s work has contributed to a new awareness of class in American literary and cultural history, and to an emerging area of study: the history of capitalism. His current research centres on two projects: “Speculating on the Self,” a monograph on the relationship between the economy and the emotions in the nineteenth century, and a cultural history of finance capital in the United States titled “Frenzied Finance: How Wall Street Taught Us to Embrace Risk, Manage Uncertainty, and Accept Inequality.”

In his current role, Dr Lawson is a Principal Lecturer in the School of Cultural Studies and Humanities, and teaches on the BA Hons courses in English Literature and English and History, as well as the MA in Contemporary Literatures.

In May 2012, Dr Lawson published a book examining American literature in the context of the turbulent nineteenth-century economy, Downwardly Mobile: The Changing Fortunes of American Realism (Oxford University Press). The book argues that realism first emerged as a distinctive literary form in the 1830s as a response to the abstract and unpredictable nature of the new market economy. Dr Lawson shows how a range of writers, including William Dean Howells and Henry James, sought a new sharpness, concreteness and immediacy in their writing in response to a world that was becoming increasingly unreal and unsettling, with recurrent economic crises dragging families down.

To understand the impact of downward mobility on the writers’ families, Dr Lawson’s research extended to census records, tax records, and land deals as he pieced together the literary, social and economic history of the era.

Speaking about the book, Dr Lawson commented: “Studying the experience of downward mobility revealed to me the complexity of class identity, since the writers whose family history I researched might have had social status, but no longer possessed wealth in the form of income and property. It’s a timely subject, since the on-going financial crisis has demonstrated that free markets cannot provide people with economic stability or social justice. The humanities need to engage with questions of class as well as cultural difference in today’s global economy, where opportunities exist alongside inequality, insecurity, and risk.”

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