The Great Depression, from the Bottom Up
This chapter examines how undercover investigation endured defeats and struggles during the Great Depression. The Depression saw undercover writers shift their focus from work to unemployment. Images of downward mobility and poverty permeated print culture during the 1930s, from the reportage of intellectuals like Edmund Wilson to various magazine articles of the “We Live in the Slums” variety. Sociologists undertook studies of the emergent cultures of the unemployed. Tensions over objectivity among social scientists continued to shape the reception of their work, while novelists and playwrights drew positive critical attention by incorporating undercover experiences into art. In particular, the early 1930s witnessed the emergence of a lively left-wing theater movement that would take various organizational forms throughout the decade. This chapter explains how the appearance and behavior of poor people were especially cast in the spotlight, and in particular how class was increasingly subsumed by culture, during the Depression era.
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