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Kristina Graaff: "Testimony, Self-Commodification, Entrepreneurialism – Street Literature as Product and Producer of the Post-Fordist Condition"

The conditions in the contemporary African-American ghetto – poverty, high crime and unemployment rate, and an expanded informal economy – can undoubtedly be associated with the post-Fordist economic, social and urban change. Black ghetto dwellers have thus repeatedly shown how this spatial and economic exclusion can be turned into profit, especially through particular cultural and entrepreneurial practices.

The genre of Street Literature – stories depicting the daily struggle in the ghetto in Hip Hop language, which have established themselves in the last eight years as one of the highest-circulated African-American literary genres in the United States – can be considered as such a practice. Initially exclusively self-published and marketed within the hood, the novels are now distributed nationwide also by established publishers. 

Street Literature can not only be read as a literary reflection of a “ghetto-prison symbiosis” (Wacquant), and an entrepreneurial practice representing an additional source of income, but also as a form of self-commodification tapping into what Robin Kelley denotes as the stereotype of a “dysfunctional black urban underclass”. In such a way, the literary genre represents an expression that simultaneously criticizes but also adapts to the conditions of the post-Fordist “hyperghetto” (Wacquant).

The paper will have a closer look at the narrative space of the so-called “hood”. It will further examine the role that entrepreneurial practices play, both within the novels as well as in terms of Street Lit’s distribution. Finally, the paper considers to what extent Street Literature can – as a cultural, political and economic but also entertaining practice – achieve new realms of equality.

About the Author

Kristina Graaff has a Master of Comparative Literature and Media Studies from the Free University of Berlin. Since January of this year she is a fellow at the Transatlantic Graduate Research Program Berlin - New York at the Center for Metropolitan Studies. Before that she worked in New York City for the academic publisher Berghahn Books as well as the German Academic Exchange Service and the Goethe Institute. Her dissertation deals with the African-American genre of Street Literature. In particular she looks at the novels’ narrative space of the hood and the genre’s various production and distribution strategies.

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