Benjamin J. Murphy
- Doctoral Candidate
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
“Provisional Beings” examines the crowd as a problem for scientific and literary modes of representation. From the end of Reconstruction to the turn of the century, sociocultural factors converged to make mass human aggregation a pressing concern. One response to this situation was to import a European crowd science that, drawing from biological and social sciences, attempted to control crowds that were understood to be threatening; race was invoked in this discourse to explain the degenerative nature of crowds. Yet this pathologizing scientific management is only part of the story. Novels, stories, and essays written by a diverse array of authors experimented with aesthetic and narrative form to map the complex ethical, political, and racial contours of the crowd. Variously confirming and undermining crowd science, this literary archive also raises altogether new questions about collective identity, violence, and resistance that endure to the present.