Megan Faragher is an Associate Professor at Wright State University, where her research interests include interwar literature, information culture, propaganda, and social psychology. She has published articles and essays in Textual Practice, The Space Between Journal, and the collection Twenty-First-Century British Fiction and the City (2018), and is currently completing a monograph on mid-century literature and the rise of public polling entitled Psychographics: Public Opinion Polling in Twentieth-Century British Literature and Culture.
Twenty years after the publication of Lawrence Rainey’s Institutions of Modernism, our field once again finds itself wrestling with its troubled relationship with institutionalism. But where once Rainey argued, incisively, that literary modernism was self-aware of its own marketability and commodification, cocreating modernism as a discrete institution in its own right, we now find ourselves productively applying this rubric to the field’s institutionalization within academia itself.
When the cold January turned to an even colder February, I would have loved nothing more than to begin teaching Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward as part of my class on twentieth-century utopian literature. But instead of going to class, I put on my wool socks, three layers of clothes, a winter coat, and snow boots to spend hours standing in the frigid Midwestern climes outside the main entrance of my university, sign in my hands, equal parts exasperation and anxiety in my heart. My colleagues and I were one week into what would end up being the longest faculty strike in the state of Ohio and the second-longest in the history of public higher education in the United States. As I prepared for the chill air and tear-inducing winds, I registered the ironic contrast between the day that was meant to be and the day that was. It turned out that the very question that had led me to formulate the utopian literature class—what possible value utopias can offer us in these troubled, uncertain, undoubtedly dystopian times—had become even more starkly personal than I could have ever imagined. Standing in the cold I recognized that if modernist utopian literature meant to push us towards radical changes that could counter an increasingly broken society, this current strike was going to force us to recognize what those changes might be. What, in fact, are our aspirational politics in higher education in these times and how, practically, do our actions push that agenda forward.