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Political Economy and Culture Research Workshop: Work-in-progress with Paige Sarlin (UB-DMS)

April 9, 2019 @ 4:30 pm - 6:00 pm

Paige Sarlin (Assistant Professor, UB-Department of Media Study) will workshop a chapter entitled “An Unassuming Form: Mayhew and the Early Work of the Interview.” This is the first chapter of her book manuscript, Interview Work: A Genealogy of a Media Form.

Book Synopsis:
A contribution to documentary studies as well as cultural and media studies more broadly, Interview Work: A Genealogy of a Media Form is the first monograph to perform a genealogy of the documentary interview and its relation to liberal and radical conceptions of the social function of media. The book offers a critical account of the filmed interview as it has developed across American television, documentary film, video, and today’s digital formats, focusing in particular on interview projects connected to the diagnosis of social problems, the construction of critique, and the formation of social movements. I turn to emblematic examples of filmed interview projects that include David Frost’s historic interviews with Richard Nixon (1977), Mariposa Group’s Word is Out (1977), Skip Blumberg’s Interviews with Interviewers… About Interviewing (1985), Harun Farocki’s Die Bewerbung (The Interview) (1996), San Francisco Newsreel’s The Woman’s Film (1971), Astra Taylor’s What is Democracy? (2018), and Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now! news program. Through close readings, I demonstrate the historical specificity of the conventions that we take for granted and the various material and ideological contradictions that interviews articulate. In doing so, I argue that the production and aggregation of these inscription of speech and experience become ground zero for the mediation of ideas about political subjectivity and democracy.

Chapter Synopsis:
“An Unassuming Form: Mayhew and the Early Work of the Interview.”

This chapter provides historical context for the emergence of the interview by focusing on Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor, a newspaper project that is avant la lettre of the use of the term interview to describe a face-to-face conversation with an individual transacted with the intention of publication. Initiated as a series of letters to the newspaper in 1849, The Morning Chronicle, Mayhew’s project features accounts of face-to-face conversations with poor and unemployed workers that include direct quotations. Produced in response to widespread immiseration and other consequences of industrial capitalism, I situate the development of the interview as a form in relation to other attempts to answer The Social Question and its variant The Labour Question. I argue that London Labour and the London Poor is an example of interview work that lays bare the processes through which the social and political stakes of publication, mediation, and speech are negotiated. The chapter ends with a comparison of Mayhew’s project with Arthur Elton and Edgar Anstey’s Housing Problems (1935), a documentary film that is often regarded as the first example of filmed interviews.

Sarlin’s general overview, chapter, and preface will be available here.



April 9, 2019
4:30 pm - 6:00 pm
Event Category:


Political Economy and Culture Research Workshop


1032 Clemens Hall