CFP: The Working-Class Avant-Garde / Deadline: 28 April, 2019

Posted by Paula Clemente Vega on 6 December 2018

The avant-garde is often conceived to be the domain of the elite – those with the financial backing, education, and networks to succeed in this competitive arena. Indeed, studies such as John Carey’s divisive text, Intellectuals and the Masses, have understood the high intellectualism of the twentieth-century avant-garde to have developed in response to the improved education of the mass populace: a means to retain the divide between the masses and the elite.

The first ‘Working-Class Avant-Garde’ symposium recently held at London South Bank University (June 2018), successfully broached this subject with papers that explored the working-class figures who partook of the elite world of the avant-garde. All the wide-ranging contributions recognised the fluidity of the term ‘working class’, as well as its changing conditions and relationship to art throughout the twentieth century. This Special Collection seeks to bring these insights to a wider audience; and working with the innovative model of the OLH, it is intended to become the seminal collection of studies on this important and overlooked topic.

We invite submissions to this Special Collection examining contributions to the twentieth-century British avant-garde by artists and writers of working-class heritage (as relative to their own generation). Equally, as the definition of ‘avant-garde’ may well be contested, we propose an inclusive and flexible understanding of the term. Notable figures may include Henry Moore, DH Lawrence, Mark Gertler and David Bomberg in the early twentieth century, or later figures such as the ‘Two Roberts’, Merseybeat poets, and some YBAs. Studies of lesser-known figures of the avant-garde are welcomed, as are papers on the conditions of working-class artists during the twentieth century.

Did their background influence their practice, or was it rejected in favour of a depoliticised aesthetic? Who were the patrons, institutions, art schools and collectives who supported these figures? How did the cultures and ideas of the working classes influence the development of British art throughout the twentieth century?

Research articles should be approximately 8000 words in length, including references and a short bibliography. Submissions should comprise of:

Abstract (250 words)

Full-length article (8000 words)

Author information (short biographical statement of 200 words)

The deadline for submission for the first tranche of papers is Sunday 28th April 2019. Submissions will then be accepted on a rolling basis.

The special collection, edited by Dr Alexandra Bickley Trott, Dr Leon Betsworth and Dr Nick Lee, is to be published in the Open Library of Humanities (OLH) (ISSN 2056-6700). The OLH is an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation-funded open-access journal with a strong emphasis on quality peer review and a prestigious academic steering board. Unlike some open-access publications, the OLH has no author-facing charges and is instead financially supported by an international consortium of libraries.

Submissions should be made online at: in accordance with the author guidelines and clearly marking the entry as “THE WORKING-CLASS AVANT-GARDE,” SPECIAL COLLECTION. Submissions will then undergo a double-blind peer-review process. Authors will be notified of the outcome as soon as reports are received.

To learn more about the Open Library of Humanities please visit:  

Featured image by David Bomberg: "In the Hold" (1913). Photo: ©Tate, London (2018)