International Conference, organized by IMAGER (Université Paris-Est Créteil) and CREW (Sorbonne Nouvelle) research centers, 2-3 February 2023
Recent events in the United States remind us to what extent the South is both a place of distinctive identities and a space sharing a common heritage.
According to the political scientist Michael Goldfield, “The South is a distinctive, atypical part of the United States; it is also, however, America writ large”" (Goldfield, 2020). These specificities are inscribed in social, cultural, political and, according to the author, above all economic structures, in a configuration that makes any definition of the “South” problematic (Odum, 1936; Kirby, 1983; Goldfield, 2020).
Still, however the South is defined, the ways class and race relations intertwine in that space requires a close attention for one to understand American political life, especially at decisive historical moments, when their articulation or competition is at stake.
According to Goldfield, white supremacy and issues of race are at the center of every critical turning point in American political history: the colonial era, the Revolutionary War and the Constitution, the Civil War and Reconstruction, the defeat of Populism and the System of 1896; the Great Depression and the New Deal; the civil rights movement (Goldfield, 1997). On the occasion of the release of Michael Goldfield’s latest book, The Southern Key (2020) we want to address these issues during an international symposium in the presence of the author.
In this book, Goldfield specifically investigates the consequences of the 1930s economic crisis which gave birth to the American welfare state and a mass labor movement. But was it the advent of the New Deal that enabled a wave of industrial unionization, or rather the opposite, as Goldfield argues?
The new balance of powers led President Roosevelt to build a large political coalition combining the left wing of the Democratic Party, unions, black activist groups, the majority of Marxist organizations, socialists, and Christian humanists. Nevertheless, if central themes like the fight for social and racial justice unified them, they soon became points of contention, as when the failure to unionize the South prevented the extension of the progressive values of the New Deal to the entire country.
At different times in American history, various attempts to reconfigure these social structures were made, for instance during labor organizing campaigns in the South before and after WWII, or during Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee campaigns after 1960.
These critical turning points constitute “missed opportunities” (Korstad, Lichtenstein, 1988; Griffin, Korstad, 1995; Korstad, 2008) that could have changed the course of history, which Goldfield argues in a counterfactual analysis. In particular, Goldfield suggests that interracial unionization of the South, a strategy abandoned by union leadership, could have changed the nature of the civil rights movement by fostering an alliance with white workers.
More widely, for Michael Goldfield, “the failure during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s of organized labor to fully unionize the main Southern industries (whose successes, I will argue, would have had the potential to radically transform the South and, thus, the nation as a whole), a central factor in our understanding of America today” (Goldfield, 2020).
For this conference, we propose three different angles of approach: the interaction between race, class and capital; the spatial dimension of these interactions; the causes for and the perpetuation of racism in the United States. These themes require an epistemological reflection on the various explanatory paradigms employed by historians, sociologists, political scientists, or specialists in cultural studies, whose methodologies and conclusions differ.
Presentations may approach the following themes:
- Interactions, articulations and interweaving between class, race, and capital and their stakes; articulations between unions, social movements, and political or legislative evolution at the national or local scale; the way these movements have often overshadowed gender issues and ignored feminist demands.
- Mobilization, activism and resistance from a historical or sociological point of view: organized and structured movements as well as more informal and diffuse forms of resistance or rebellion could be addressed.
- The influence of epistemological paradigms used to understand the significance and the limits of racial factors and the heuristics of their causality: materialistic approaches; intersectional and sociocultural analyses; segregation, desegregation, re-segregation among other themes.
- (Re)defining / (Re) thinking the South as an economic, political, social, and geo-cultural construction and as a heuristic object of study.
- The study of the contemporary history of the United States with a counterfactual analysis. Counterfactual interpretations (and their scientific legitimacy) raise interesting debates between historians about what could have happened (and perhaps what the actors of this era envisioned as possible). It could also be an indirect way to formulate strategic propositions for today (which Michael Goldfields does while commenting on the contemporary events, for instance, with the unionization effort of Amazon workers in Bessemer, AL).
Proposals should be no longer than 500 words in length and be accompanied by a short biographical note. Papers will be in English or in French. They should be sent to Donna Kesselman (email@example.com) and James Cohen (firstname.lastname@example.org)
by May 31, 2022.
The Scientific Committee responses will be returned by June 30.
- Kalilou Barry, Doctorant en Civilisation américaine, Université Paris-Est Créteil
- Lyais Ben Youssef, Doctorant en Civilisation américaine, Université Paris-Est Créteil
- James Cohen, Professeur, Sorbonne Nouvelle
- Esther Cyna, Docteure en histoire et Civilisation américaine, Sorbonne Nouvelle-Columbia
- Hélène Le Dantec-Lowry, Professeure émérite, Sorbonne Nouvelle
- Mathieu Hocquelet, Chercheur en Sociologie du Travail, Céreq
- Donna Kesselman, Professeure, Université Paris-Est Créteil
- Olivier Maheo, Post-doctorant, UPL, Institut d'Histoire du Temps Présent, CNRS-Paris 8
- Guillaume Marche, Professeur, Université Paris-Est Créteil
- Cody Melcher, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Loyola University
- Marie Ménard, Doctorant en Civilisation américaine, Université Paris-Est Créteil
- Mathieu Bonzom, Maître de Conférences en anglais/études nord-américaines, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne
- Audrey Célestine, Maîtresse de Conférences, Université de Lille
- Cécile Coquet-Mokoko, Professeure de Civilisation des Etats-Unis, Université Versailles-St Quentin
- Elizabeth Faue, Professor of History, Wayne State University
- Rosemary Feurer, Associate Professor of History, Northern Illinois University
- Errol A. Henderson, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Pennsylvania State University
- Ambre Ivol, Maîtresse de Conférences en Civilisation des États-Unis, Université de Nantes
- Emilien Julliard, Enseignant-Chercheur en sociologie, Institut du Travail de Strasbourg
- Nelson Lichtenstein, Research Professor, Department of History, UC Santa Barbara
- Hélène Quanquin, Professeure de Civilisation des États-Unis, Université de Lille
- Caroline Rolland-Diamond, Professeure d’histoire des Etats-Unis, Université Paris Nanterre
- Anne Stefani, Professeure en histoire et civilisation américaines, Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès
- Jean-Christian Vinel, Maître de Conférences HDR, Histoire américaine, Université de Paris
- Karel Yon, Chargé de Recherche en Sociologie, CNRS/Université Paris Nanterre
Goldfield M., 2020, The Southern Key: Class, Race, and Radicalism in the 1930s and 1940s, Oxford, Oxford University Press.
Goldfield M., 1997, The Color of Politics: Race and the Mainsprings of American Politics, New York, The New Press.
Griffin L.J. et Korstad R.R., 1995, « Class as Race and Gender: Making and Breaking a Labor Union in the Jim Crow South », Social Science History, 19, 4, p. 425‑454.
Kirby J.T., 1983, « The Southern Exodus, 1910-1960: A Primer for Historians », The Journal of Southern History, 49, 4, p. 585.
Korstad R., 2008, « Civil Rights Unionism and the Black Freedom Struggle », American Communist History, 7, 2, p. 255‑258.
Korstad R. et N. Lichtenstein, 1988, « Opportunities Found and Lost: Labor, Radicals, and the Early Civil Rights Movement », The Journal of American History, 75, 3, p. 786‑811.
Odum H.W., 1936, Southern regions of the United States, by Howarp W. Odum, for the Southern regional committee of the Social science research council, Chapel Hill, The University of North Carolina Press.