• Phillip Howells

Humanities on the Edge Preview: Annie McClanahan


As we begin the first semester of the 2019/20 school year, we anticipate the resumption of the Humanities on the Edge speaking series, celebrating its 10th year of operating. To help us kick off the school year right, Dr. Annie McClanahan, associate professor of English at UC Irvine, will be presenting a talk titled “Tipwork, Gigwork, and Automation” from 5:30 to 7:00 in the Sheldon Museum of Art on Thursday September 5th. Dr. McClanahan’s research interests include “Contemporary American literature and culture; Economic thought and history; [and] Marxist theory,” and her presentation will no doubt utilize her current research into contemporary cultural representations of work.

Last year, Humanities on the Edge revolved around the theme of a “Post-Truth” society and the problems of communication in a political and cultural atmosphere devoid of public trust. This year, we continue that theme, not necessarily in words but in concentration, by discussing the economic and social ramifications of the world events that have brought us to this point. Dr. McClanahan’s insight into the cultural realities of a not-so-friendly economy will provide a distinctly grounded and pragmatic starting point for analyzing the human effects of social problems like wage stagnation and risky markets.

Dr. McClanahan’s first book, Dead Pledges: Debt, Crisis, and Twenty-First Century Culture, explores the connections between the 2008 economic recession and some of the U.S. cultural artifacts that responded to it. Dead Pledges analyses novels, poems, photographs, and films with attention to the cultural anxieties that accompany the latest drastic shifts in our economic system. Her assessment of U.S. horror film narratives particularly stands out as a stark lens on the ways in which economic risk both terrifies and lures people in, a concept familiar to those affected by the burst of the housing market bubble. Her consideration of the trope of the haunted house as a commentary on the very real danger of speculation and investment in an unstable housing market should strike home to any student currently experiencing a preponderance of loan debt. McClanahan’s positioning of the phrase “I’m in debt forever,” as a statement of resistance rather than an admission of defeat resonates for those of us watching the return on investment of a college degree dropping year after year.

As the market’s continue to fluctuate under uncertain and volatile economic dictation, Dr. McClanahan’s talk will help us to grapple with some of the financial insecurities of this present moment. When record highs on the stock market are directly followed by record lows but most of us still derive no benefit from that process, the time comes to consider the social and personal implications of those money currents. Rather than speculating about the future of the markets, Humanities on the Edge encourages everyone to come and think about the human angles of the boom and bust cycle.

We hope to see you there.

Love and Respect,

Phill Howells

McClanahan, Annie. Dead Pledges: Debt, Crisis, and Twenty-First Century Culture. Stanford UP, 2017.

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