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Injury Impoverished
Workplace Accidents, Capitalism, and Law in the Progressive Era

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Part of Cambridge Historical Studies in American Law and Society

  • Date Published: October 2021
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781108448666

$ 29.99 (F)
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About the Authors
  • The late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century US economy maimed and killed employees at an astronomically high rate, while the legal system left the injured and their loved ones with little recourse. In the 1910s, US states enacted workers' compensation laws, which required employers to pay a portion of the financial costs of workplace injuries. Nate Holdren uses a range of archival materials, interdisciplinary theoretical perspectives, and compelling narration to criticize the shortcomings of these laws. While compensation laws were a limited improvement for employees in economic terms, Holdren argues that these laws created new forms of inequality, causing people with disabilities to lose their jobs, while also resulting in new forms of inhumanity. Ultimately, this study raises questions about law and class and about when and whether our economy and our legal system produce justice or injustice.

    • Approaches Gilded Age compensation laws from a critical perspective
    • Shows how gender, disability, and class intersect in the issue of workplace injury
    • Offers tools and concepts to analyze the complexity of justice and injustice
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    Awards

    • Honorable Mention, 2021 Merle Curti Intellectual History Award, Organization of American Historians
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'Charting the shift from the tyranny of the trial to the tyranny of the (actuarial) table, Nate Holdren illuminates the biopolitics behind workers' compensation. Deeply humane, Injury Impoverished joins theory to storytelling to place the history of disability into conversation with the history of capitalism, rejecting the commodification of life.' Eileen Boris, author of Making the Woman Worker: Precarious Labor and the Fight for Global Standards, 1919-2019

    'Impoverished Injury masterfully melds acute historical analysis with insightful social theory to tell a compelling tale about the legal commodification of labor, the moral thinning of injury law, and the horrific ordeal of everyday Americans coping with workplace injuries.' Ajay K. Mehrotra, American Bar Foundation & Northwestern University

    'Holdren's demonstration of how the law of accidents and the growth of capitalism abstracted away from the lived realities of workplace injuries is brilliantly argued, and a gripping, at times haunting, reading. A history of moral imagination, it is a work of moral imagination itself.' Jonathan Levy, author of Ages of American Capitalism

    'Meticulous and gripping in equal parts, Injury Impoverished offers a compelling and beautifully written history of the emergence of workers' compensation law in the United States. More than that, however, this book delivers a flash of lightning that illuminates the precise legal contours of the terrifying machine that dismembered and reprocessed the American working class during the first decades of the twentieth century. Essential reading for every cog in the machine.' Rose Sydney Parfitt, Kent Law School, and author of The Process of International Legal Reproduction: Inequality, Historiography, Resistance

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    Product details

    • Date Published: October 2021
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781108448666
    • length: 310 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 18 mm
    • weight: 0.46kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Introduction: injuries and abstractions
    Part I. The Eclipse of Recognition and The Rise of The Tyranny of The Table:
    1. Commodification and recognition within the tyranny of the trial
    2. Injury impoverished
    3. Suffering and the price of life and limb
    Interlude: trampler and tramped-on in the Cherry Mine fire
    Part II. New Machineries of Injustice:
    4. The disabling power of law and market
    5. Insuring injustice
    6. Discrimination technicians and human weeding
    Conclusion: resistance and aftermath
    Coda: narrative, machinery, law.

  • Author

    Nate Holdren, Drake University, Iowa
    Nate Holdren is Assistant Professor in Law, Politics and Society at Drake University, Iowa.

    Awards

    • Honorable Mention, 2021 Merle Curti Intellectual History Award, Organization of American Historians
    • Winner, 2021 Philip Taft Labor History Book Award, ILR School at Cornell University and the Labor and Working-Class History Association

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