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 There are many different ways to approach this topic. If you have not worked for low wages yourself, you will have to learn something about those who do. This process of learning something on your own is called "research." Research can be done in the library or online, using a variety of academic databases. You can also do research by interviewing and/or observing other people (with their permission, and following responsible human-subject research protocol). You can do research by seeking out new experience yourself, as Barbara Ehrenreich did in her book on the low-wage life, Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By in America.

In preparing for this assignment, it'll be important to narrow your focus of research. Some topics that suggest themselves: young people working for low wages in the service sector (food industry, retail, etc); students donating their time in "service learning;" perma temping (the permanently part time); day labor; migrant labor; the "informal economy" of unlicensed child care and lawn workers, as well as workers in illegal trades, such as narcotics and prostitution; the employment by legal industries of undocumented workers in the US; global sweatshops making college apparel; workers in China, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Mexico, and Africa.

Or you can ask yourself interesting related questions about low wages. For instance, regarding the role of higher education in assigning income: if everyone had a B.A. or went to graduate school, would everyone's wages be higher? Or: do low wages in China mean benefits for everyone in the US? What about those whose industries cannot compete with those wages, and who lose their health insurance, retirement, and other benefits?

Even if you have worked for low wages yourself, and you choose to include writing about that experience in your website, ask yourself if you have truly "lived the low-wage life?"How much do you know about other people whose experience is similar to your own? How would additional research improve your ability to talk from your own experience? How does your experience connect with other persons working for low wages? How can you make those connections in your web site?


Essay Assignment #1: Living the Low-Wage Life

How do we represent or "report on" lived experience? If it is our own experience, we might write in the first person, and then make choices about handling point of view--for instance, do we want to emphasize the individuality of our experience, or do we want to emphasize the ways in which our experience is typical of the experience of others? Will we write behind a pseudonym or change the names of others involved in the story? Often we write about our own experiences in the second person (addressing a particular person or persons, such as employers, classmates or family members), because we feel they might want to know, or want to be involved, or can have an effect on the situation.

On the other hand, sometimes we don't want to write about our experiences in our own voice at all: perhaps we pursue those subjects in fiction, or in some way through our work or study, or leave them unexplored entirely.

Representing the experience of others, we wouldn't necessarily write in the first person--unless we were writing fiction or attempting a creative form of nonfiction. Instead we might interview others and construct a third-person report, incorporating quotations that represent the principals' impressions of events. We might even do research about other people's experiences that have been aggregated on a large scale and processed as data (average income in a community, number of degrees granted, etc).

There are a lot of ways to describe experience, even intimate, personal experience. In addition to questions about point of view, we have to ask: in what medium do we want to work? Film? Speech? Text?

The reading and writing habits that people have developed in connection with the internet and other contemporary media make it possible for you to compose an essay incorporating both multiple perspectives and multiple media genres, incorporating sections that are first person in your voice with sections that are in other voices entirely.

Your essay can sustain very different points of view expressed in very different media, and still be enormously effective and have a high degree of wholeness and integrity.

For this assignment, please plan a web essay of 1200 to 1500 words, spread out over 7 or more web pages, hyperlinked together. It should be suitable for inclusion in the class project site, "Living the Low-Wage Life." You should try to take advantage of the fact that you are writing for web publication and include material developing multiple perspectives and in multiple genres.

By the date assigned, please publish a 300 word proposal for your essay to the Angel discussion group created for the purpose. Include a detailed description of the sources you plan to use.

Everyone should provide at least five posts, on three different days, responding to the proposals of others, providing constructive peer response. As we discussed in class, you can find good resources for peer response from UW Madison and Portland State.

Proposals are due Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 6pm, depending on whether you are in group A, B, or C. Responses are due by midnight Monday.

A first draft of the project is due the following week. Publish links to your project front pages together with a short description to the Equality Monitor at:




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