On Barbara Ehrenreich (w/ Alex Press & Gabriel Winant)

This episode was unplanned, but when Barbara Ehrenreich died on September 1, 2022, we felt an urge to honor her memory and the profound influence she has had on the American left, socialism, feminism, and our collective thinking about class struggle. From her work in the women's health movement of the 1960s, to her theorizing (with  ex-husband John Ehrenreich) of the "professional-managerial class" in the 1970s, to her explorations of Reagan-era yuppie pathologies, and her renowned exposé of low-wage work in 2001's Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich has been an essential and nuanced guide to the inner-life of American class conflict in the latter half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st. 

To undertake this journey through an extraordinary body of work, we're joined by two brilliant writers who have both — in their own way — taken up  Ehrenreich's profound ethical and intellectual challenge: Alex Press, staff writer at Jacobin magazine (and KYE's favorite labor journalist); and returning guest Gabe Winant, University of Chicago historian and author of The Next Shift: The Fall of Industry and the Rise of Health Care.

As Gabe writes in his stunning obituary last week, "Ehrenreich’s specialty was to reveal her readers to themselves by showing them the other. Her humor and projection of personal vulnerability were particularly deft techniques for asking the reader to see their own position, often through identification with Ehrenreich: she invites this, beckoning you to follow her into her subject, and then suddenly wheels around on you—and you are caught out." 

We hope this episode can manage something of that technique for the listener, that you might find yourself "caught out" too, thinking deeply about where you fit into the story Barbara is telling — and what it might call on you to do, fight for, or think harder about. Enjoy. 

 

Further Reading: 

Barbara & John Ehrenreich, "The Professional-Managerial Class," Radical America, March 1977. 

— "The New Left and the Professional Managerial Class," Radical America, May 1977.

— "Death of a Yuppie Dream," Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, Feb 2013. 

Barbara Ehrenreich & Deirdre English, Witches, Midwives, and Nurses: A History of Women Healers, The Feminist Press, 1973.

Barbara Ehrenreich, Fear of Falling: The Inner Life of the Middle Class, Pantheon, 1989. 

Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, Metropolitan, 2001. 

Barbara Ehrenreich, "Preface to Klaus Theweleit's Male Fantasies Volume 1: Women, Floods, Bodies, History," U of Minnesota Press, 1987. 

Gabriel Winant, "On Barbara Ehrenreich," n+1, Sept 9, 2022. 

— "Professional-Managerial Chasm," n+1, Oct 10, 2019. 

— "The Right Kind of Worker," Know Your Enemy, May 2022. 

Alex Press, "On the Origins of the Professional-Managerial Class: An Interview with Barbara Ehrenreich." Dissent, Oct 22, 2019. 

David Rieff, "White Bread, White Dread (review of Fear of Falling)," LA Times, Aug 20, 1989.  

 

This episode of Know Your Enemy is dedicated to Barbara Ehrenreich (1941-2022) and all those who loved and learned from her.

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