LearningWorks for Kids — a growing web start-up based in Wakefield, Rhode Island– has been home to a number of University of Rhode Island students and graduates. LearningWorks, which educates parents, teachers, and children about the educational benefits of games, apps, and other new technologies, has put students from a variety of disciplines at URI into critical roles within its organization. Amongst these disciplines the English department at URI has been strongly represented. Students and graduates of the English department have reveled in the opportunity to gain real-world experience in a rapidly growing market and LearningWorks has provided a unique opportunity to accomplish just that.
Dr. Carolyn Betensky’s talk based on her recent article “Envying the Poor: Contemporary and Nineteenth-Century Fantasies of Vulnerability” examines the envy of vulnerability as an underlying tension that structures relations between 19th-century bourgeois readers and literary representations of the working poor. What makes Dr. Betensky’s argument especially illuminating is its transhistorical significance; she offers a unique pairing between the nineteenth-century novel and the right-wing rhetoric of the 2012 presidential campaigns, highlighting “resentment from above” and “fantasies of mastery.” The contemporary relevance is grounded in Mitt Romney’s avowal that the discontent of the “99%” with the “1%” betrays “a very envy-oriented, attack-oriented approach.” At issue in both the nineteenth century and our present moment is the vulnerable poor’s alleged special power, as perceived by the rich, derived from the sympathy aroused by the “precarity” of their situation.