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Structures of Feeling: Exploring emergent social change in the reading and writing of narrative fiction

Payne, Robert (2019) Structures of Feeling: Exploring emergent social change in the reading and writing of narrative fiction. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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How does the novel capture the contradictions and convolution of feeling that characterise individuals’ subjective experience when new social and political formations emerge? Cultural theorist and novelist Raymond Williams’ concept of ‘structures of feeling’ throws into relief the processes by which characters in fiction might articulate and come to understand their emotionally ambivalent responses to economic and cultural change. This thesis aims to mobilise Williams’ concept as writing and reading practices through a thesis that comprises a creative work and a dissertation. In the first component, the creative work, I present sections from my novel, ‘All in This Together’. The narrative is set in London, England in 2012 and aims to blend pathos and humour as it explores the lived intricacies of contemporary life in an urban setting. In particular, it focuses on how individuals engage with and navigate social tensions related to the impacts of neoliberal politics and residual ideas of class. Moving between both the professional and personal worlds, the narrative sees the central protagonist question how best to live, and how to balance his individualist aspirations against his sense of community.

The accompanying dissertation uses Williams’ structures of feeling as a framework to explore how specific techniques of and approaches to the writing of fiction, such as those deployed in my own manuscript, help to capture social tensions, often in their nascent, emergent forms. Through close readings of Margaret Drabble’s The Ice Age (1977), Nick Hornby’s About a Boy (1998) and Tim Lott’s White City Blue (1999), I explore the struggles of individual characters in relation to their specific historical and social situations during the late twentieth century. In this way, complexity is restored to the historical contexts in which these novels are set, enabling readers to gain a deeper insight into and understanding of the lived moment. Together with the creative work, this dissertation encourages readers to consider the vital role of feeling, sensation and emotion in the formation and conceptualisation of society and culture.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Creative Media, Arts and Design
Supervisor(s): Grehan, Helena and Surma, Anne
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