Abstract Title

The Cost of Modernity: Resisting the Logic of Human Disposability in the Victorian Radical Press

Abstract

This project tackles an entrenched belief in Victorian economics and social policy: that “less valuable” human lives could be justifiably disposed of in the name of social stability and free market capitalism. This theory had material consequences in the nineteenth century as Britain embraced an increasingly laissez-faire version of capitalism. The government repealed the former welfare system, forcing the unemployed to choose between the humiliation of the workhouse, the risks of emigration, or starvation. However, the working-class people these policies sought to discard were not passive victims. Risking imprisonment, they utilized an illegal, “unstamped” newspaper culture to highlight the cruelty of these policies and argue for the value of their own lives. In these newspapers, the affected population characterized the New Poor Law as a form of murder, described emigration as forced “transportation” or “disposal,” and argued that their lives were more valuable than the “idle” wealthy who grew rich off of the products of their labor. The recent digitization of these unauthorized newspapers enables us to uncover these voices. Examining early Chartist resistors to later Socialist writers, we investigate the rhetorical strategies of Victorians who stood against this logic of disposability. The questions this research raises remain vital in our current political climate. As we continue to debate who belongs in the nation and the value of different human lives, this research illuminates the historical roots of those debates and the strategies that our predecessors used to argue against the disposal of human life.

Modified Abstract

This project tackles an entrenched belief in Victorian economics and social policy: that certain “less valuable” human lives could be justifiably disposed of in the name of social stability, scientific progress, or free market capitalism. This theory had material consequences in the nineteenth century as government non-interference for the poor became standardized. However, the working-class people these policies sought to discard were not passive victims. Risking imprisonment, they utilized an illegal, “unstamped” press to argue for the value of their own lives. The recent digitization of these unauthorized newspapers enables us to uncover these voices. Examining the early Chartist resistors to the later Socialist writers, we investigate the rhetorical strategies of Victorian journalists and lay-people who stood against this logic of disposability.

Research Category

English/Languages/Communication

Primary Author's Major

English

Mentor #1 Information

Dr. Jennifer MacLure

Presentation Format

Poster

Start Date

5-4-2018 1:00 PM

Research Area

Literature in English, British Isles

This document is currently not available here.

Share

COinS
 
Apr 5th, 1:00 PM

The Cost of Modernity: Resisting the Logic of Human Disposability in the Victorian Radical Press

This project tackles an entrenched belief in Victorian economics and social policy: that “less valuable” human lives could be justifiably disposed of in the name of social stability and free market capitalism. This theory had material consequences in the nineteenth century as Britain embraced an increasingly laissez-faire version of capitalism. The government repealed the former welfare system, forcing the unemployed to choose between the humiliation of the workhouse, the risks of emigration, or starvation. However, the working-class people these policies sought to discard were not passive victims. Risking imprisonment, they utilized an illegal, “unstamped” newspaper culture to highlight the cruelty of these policies and argue for the value of their own lives. In these newspapers, the affected population characterized the New Poor Law as a form of murder, described emigration as forced “transportation” or “disposal,” and argued that their lives were more valuable than the “idle” wealthy who grew rich off of the products of their labor. The recent digitization of these unauthorized newspapers enables us to uncover these voices. Examining early Chartist resistors to later Socialist writers, we investigate the rhetorical strategies of Victorians who stood against this logic of disposability. The questions this research raises remain vital in our current political climate. As we continue to debate who belongs in the nation and the value of different human lives, this research illuminates the historical roots of those debates and the strategies that our predecessors used to argue against the disposal of human life.