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Collective Nostalgic Attention and Working-Class Political Recognition

Activity: Talk or presentation typesInvited talk


When collective, harmful, mis-directed attention is provided by middle-class actors toward a working-class past, this paper argues that it can constitute a harmful form of nostalgic attention, in which the past is rewritten in epistemically harmful ways. In the case of collective harmful nostalgic attention towards the industrial past, however, the harms are not only towards those who are misremembered, forgotten, or frozen in time, they are also towards present-day working-class actors: the social and political reality of both past and present is at stake. The result is an existential harm to individual members of the working-class present, and to the boundaries and scope of collective working-class identity. This, in turn, has negative repercussions for both working-class self-identification and for their epistemic and political agency, damaging the potential for class-based political representation, solidarity and resistance within contemporary democratic societies.

This might indicate that collective nostalgic attention is therefore inherently damaging with regard to present-day working-class identities and political recognition. However, while a focus on the past can (and often does) serve to make the present-day working-class less salient in contemporary democratic societies there are also reasons to think that, when directed appropriately, it can also be used to bolster present-day political identification and make the same group of people more politically relevant. There is therefore an opportunity for working-class ontological reality to be reclaimed and to serve as a basis for present-day political solidarity, action, and recognition in powerful ways.

This paper examines this practice of nostalgic attention with regard to the industrialised working-class past, outlines the political ramifications of nostalgic attention for present-day working-class political identification and solidarity, and asks what exactly it is that distinguishes this politically empowering nostalgic attention from that which silences and erases working-class political identity.

Event (Conference)

TitlePolitical Attention: Policies and Strategies: How do states and other political actors make use of attention?
LocationOslo Peace Institute (Red Cross Conference Centre)
Degree of recognitionInternational event