Literature and Social Change: Writing, Criticism and Teaching in Neoliberal Canada

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Shupak, Gregory

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University of Guelph


This dissertation examines literary activism that opposes neoliberalism in Canada. I define literary activism as the use of creative writing by its authors and critics and those who teach it to think through, resist, imagine alternatives to, and build movements against hegemonic power. What is at stake in this study is whether writers, critics, and teachers will have further insight into some of the ways that language is not only affective but also effective in its opposition to neoliberalism. I attempt to make that contribution by locating literary activism in the spheres of literary authorship and reception, and by considering how writers, critics, and teachers have sought to foster resistance to transnational neoliberalism. Chapter 1, “Writing as Activism,” takes up these issues by examining Stephen Law’s novel Tailings of Warren Peace as a political intervention. The chapter examines the actual and possible political effects of works of creative writing through close readings and through a look at this book’s production and circulation. The second chapter, “Criticism as Activism,” looks at instances of neoliberal era Canadian literary criticism that function as counter-hegemonic intellectual activism. I approach this issue by discussing the methods of interpretation that Canadian literary critics have used to make criticism politically effective and by examining the ways that critics have sought to bring their work to a broader public than academic publications typically reach. Chapter 3 of this dissertation, “Teaching as Activism,” considers the ways leftist English teachers connect classrooms to the larger world and takes as a case study Shyam Selvadurai’s novel Funny Boy. My findings are that literary activism in the neoliberal period has been characterized by intellectuals articulating a systemic critique of capitalism, providing conceptual tools that activists can make use of, and stimulating the public’s radical imagination.



Canadian Literature, Activism, Neoliberalism, Literary Criticism, Critical Pedagogy