Current PhD research: ‘What Marx Really Meant’


Editors Note: This is an archived blog post from 11/11/2009.

Current Research: Cath Feely, PhD student

I am currently writing up my Ph.D. thesis, provisionally titled `“What Marx Really Meant”: Karl Marx’s Capital and radical book cultures in Britain, 1881-1945′, which will be submitted in 2010. This project traces the British reception of Marx’s magnum opus in order to explore wider issues concerning the relationship between theory and practice. Rather than simply asking how many people (if any!) read all three volumes of Capital avidly from cover to cover, its reception is here conceived more broadly. While interested in how the text itself was understood, I am also interested in what the book itself meant to Marxists: how it was adapted, summarised, edited, marketed, sold, passed around, discussed in reading groups, displayed, etc. In chapters ranging in subject from Marx’s own writing about the audience for the book to its collection and preservation in Marxist libraries, the complicated history of Capital highlights competing attitudes towards the value of books and reading within British radical politics.

I have a few ideas about how I’d like my research to develop after completing the Ph.D. First and foremost, I’d like to do some more work on the 1930s and 1940s diaries of Frank Forster, a casual labourer and Communist who lived in the decidedly non-Communist city of Chester. You can read more about my interest in Forster’s diaries in this short article about them in the Chester Chronicle.

My research on these diaries to date has resulted in an article in History Workshop Journal, scheduled for publication in spring 2010. Related to this, I am also interested in looking at a wider sense at the relationship between Marxist theory and popular understanding of psychology in the interwar period. Personal documents such as diaries, commonplace books and even annotated copies of Marxist classics show how a wide range of people – including miners, factory workers, translators, historians and poets – sought to reconcile their reading of Communist theory with their own individual psychological development.

My work on diaries, as well as my participation in a long-running reading group on historical theory, has also developed an interest in the subjectivity of the historian, on how his or her biography (both personal and professional) influences the way that sources are interpreted.

You can read more about my work here: Having done my Ph.D. part time, I would also be very happy to talk to anybody considering part-time study.


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