Faculty Writing: On the History of the IWW, and the Politics of Expert Parenting Advice

Writing in The Nation, BISR faculty RH Lossin heaps praise on Deborah Shaffer and Stewart Bird’s 1979 documentary film Wobblies, recently re-released by Kino Lorber, calling it “an important correction to the conventional wisdom that the IWW was a failure—as well as a reminder that its successes were the result of its willingness to take radical positions.” In light of a recent uptick in unionization efforts across the US, Lossin writes, retrieving the story of the IWW—“not its popular representation as a failed, fringe movement but as a radical union capable of great organizing feats”—is all the more urgent. She notes, as a case in point, the whispers and accusations of dubious labor practices at the Metrograph theater where the film had its NYC (re)premier. Among the lessons to be taken from the story of the IWW are not only that ideas can and do “pose material threats,” but that “realism,” in terms of what labor activism can accomplish, “is in the eye of the beholder.”

And, in the latest issue of Dilettante Army, BISR faculty Danya Glabau casts a critical eye on the dizzying growth of the “expert” parenting advice industry that, to be sure, is nothing new, with roots in the early 20th century advent of “scientific motherhood.” But, as Glabau notes, it is not just “the watchful eyes of social service agencies” who are bent on regularizing and rationalizing babyhood; today’s inconsistently credentialed (and often self-styled) “experts” insinuate themselves via apps and social media into a parent’s most intimate and often insecure moments to demote the skills and confidence that derive from lived experience. This, she argues, represents a real public health crisis and deserves to be taken seriously as “a central political problem of our time,” for, “despite all of this expert oversight,” maternal and infant mortality is on the rise in the US, as is “vaccine hesitancy”—which might also be aptly described, Glabau ventures, as “expert fatigue.”

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