Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Comparative Literature


Eric Lott

Committee Members

John Brenkman

Peter Hitchcock

Subject Categories

African American Studies | American Literature | Comparative Literature | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies


Contemporary Literature, American Studies, Marxism, Feminism


Genres of Labor identifies and explores a little-acknowledged fact about labor—that it appears to us in highly conventionalized forms that are subject to evaluation, appraisal, and interpretation. I call this appearance the “aesthetic” dimension of labor, and I show how it increasingly comes into view in the period since 1973, as a contracting economy pushes off work onto unwaged realms of human activity. In chapters on Andy Warhol’s The Andy Warhol Diaries (1989), Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower (1993), and Colson Whitehead’s John Henry Days (2001), I demonstrate that literary texts participate in an aesthetic contest over what qualifies as labor by experimenting with genre and form as they seek to document work, represent devaluation, or contest invisibility. Drawing lessons from Marxist feminism and the Black Radical Tradition, I argue that these texts frame the social fact of uncompensated labor as a block in perceptibility, suggesting that a set of economic relations come together to obstruct us from seeing the value inherent in the work of women, racialized peoples, and artists.

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