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dc.contributor.authorWitt, John
dc.date.accessioned2022-04-29T21:08:47Z
dc.date.available2022-04-29T21:08:47Z
dc.date.issued2020
dc.identifier.citationThe Historical Logics of Work Accident Law: Nate Holdren, Injury Impoverished: Workplace Accidents, Capitalism, and the Law in the Progressive Era, 60 American Journal of Legal History 564 (Dec2020).en_US
dc.identifier.urihttp://hdl.handle.net/20.500.13051/18164
dc.description.abstractIf reading books like Nate Holdren’s new Injury Impoverished is what happens to mid-career scholars, then I’m all for aging. Holdren has written a brilliant, impassioned, and intellectually stimulating book on the legal history of industrial accidents. He has a live mind, which is animated by his ambitious analytic project to make sense of the law governing the risk of bodily injury for those in the labor market around the turn of the twentieth century. According to Holdren, work accidents were (and are) at their core a form of labor exploitation that reveals the injustices of capitalist labor markets. He describes the law of work accidents as a machinery of injustice that bolstered the legitimacy of a violent and inhuman capitalist system. He fiercely critiques the workers’ compensation reforms enacted by progressive reformers a century ago as legitimating the mass violence of labor exploitation. He insists on recognizing and attending to the dignity of each accident victim, both in the content of his argument and as a matter of literary form. Injury Impoverished is a welcome if unsettling rebuke to complacent accounts of the field, perhaps my own among them.1 But Holdren’s analysis also raises many questions. Holdren identifies new forms of power in the law of work accidents – but he attributes little value to the dramatically safer workplaces of the middle of the twentieth century. His cautious admiration for the litigation system of the years before workers’ compensation rests on a fantastical conception of the way tort law actually worked. He calls for impossibly demanding forms of justice from the law, including forms of personal recognition that are beyond the capacity of human systems to achieve. He misses the ways in which workers coopted new forms of accident law and turned them to their own interests. And his single-minded Marxian focus on commodification and the point of production leads him to discount the surrounding political and legal institutions that shaped the social meaning of work accidents. None of this is to gainsay the significance of Holdren’s contributions, which are many and which demand attention in the literature. The analytic ambition and the successes of the book make it a work warranting serious engagement. In what follows I describe the scholarly context for Holdren’s intervention and set out the structure of his book’s important arguments. I then elaborate what I see as the limits of those arguments. I end with a note on the personal dimensions of the book for its author and on where the literature should go from here. Holdren is a work accident victim himself. The engine of his own experience propels the book forward. Its energy may press the field forward, too.en_US
dc.publisherAmerican Journal of Legal Historyen_US
dc.subjectLawen_US
dc.titleThe Historical Logics of Work Accident Law: Nate Holdren, Injury Impoverished: Workplace Accidents, Capitalism, and the Law in the Progressive Era.en_US
rioxxterms.versionNAen_US
rioxxterms.typeJournal Article/Reviewen_US
refterms.dateFOA2022-04-29T21:08:48Z


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