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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Working at Living: The Social Relations of Precarity

"Working at Living: The Social Relations of Precarity" was supported by the University of California Humanities Network initiative on the Humanities and Changing Conceptions of Work. This working group explored the social relations of precarious labor, both formal and informal, from an interdisciplinary and intersectional approach that considers how sociocultural inequalities are and have been magnified and countered during times of financial crises, technological development, and increasing unemployment. Haunting employment is not only the lack of jobs but also our very notions of what counts as work and who counts a worker. By bringing together history, humanistic social science, feminist theory, critical race theory, postcolonial theory, queer studies, and cultural studies, it exemplifies the kind of dialogues across the university crucial to tackle the fluidity between working and living.

Cover page of Making Do. Survival Strategies Under Precarity (Part C): Excess Bodies

Making Do. Survival Strategies Under Precarity (Part C): Excess Bodies

(2013)

This module examines the notion of precarity and "excessive bodies." 

Making Do. Survival Strategies under Precarity (Parts A and B)

(2013)

This module aims, first, at showing that precarity is not a recent symptom of a crisis of late capitalism (to be potentially solved), but a long-term structural element of the modern capitalist system, securing its survival at the expense of various “disposable populations,” and, second, to point to strategies of resistance to this process of precarization, in particular those strategies that produce translocal and transdisciplinary coalitions.

Cover page of Making Do. Survival Strategies under Precarity (Parts A and B)

Making Do. Survival Strategies under Precarity (Parts A and B)

(2013)

This module aims, first, at showing that precarity is not a recent symptom of a crisis of late capitalism (to be potentially solved), but a long-term structural element of the modern capitalist system, securing its survival at the expense of various “disposable populations,” and, second, to point to strategies of resistance to this process of precarization, in particular those strategies that produce translocal and transdisciplinary coalitions.

 

Cover page of Working at Living: The Social Relations of Precarity

Working at Living: The Social Relations of Precarity

(2013)

Introduction to the "Working at Living: The Social Relations of Precarity" working group.

Cover page of The Fetish of Development

The Fetish of Development

(2013)

In our push to measure contemporary forms of precarity under globalization—especially that attached to the symbolic value of female and feminized labor at the center of economic consolidation and wealth—we do a grave disservice to ignore the history of the economic and social transformation proposed by development policy makers during the era of decolonization. Decolonization presented global finance capital with a new set of challenges for management and domination of the global order especially since women had played such key roles in anti-colonial movements. Under the guise of development the Bretton Woods institutions (World Bank and the International Monetary Fund) promised to apply technological solutions and modernizing beliefs to fix poverty and to help women achieve their goals for economic independence. Development coupled extant ideologies about and aspirations for mobilizing women’s reproductive capacities, unpaid labor, and women’s management of resources and economies in order to render these capacities and social relations into worker identities and consciousness. 

Cover page of Working Under Precarity: Work Affect and Emotional Labor

Working Under Precarity: Work Affect and Emotional Labor

(2013)

This module aims to provide an overview of some of the historical approaches to the relationship between affect, emotion and work, and to bring those to bear upon the contemporary politics of work under different contexts of precarity. Specifically, it examines the relation between work and affect under present conditions of post-Fordism and of the neoliberal organization of production, time, and subjectivity. Using cinematic texts as primary references, the goals of this module are to point to bothcapital's exploitation of affect, but also capital's production of affect, as these intersect with the concerns of gender and precarity.

The following two sections provide two approaches for thinking about how forces of capital both exploit and produce affect. Each section provides different resources for thinking about how exploitation and affects can yield new subjectivities and different forms of sociality. These subjectivities and sociality do not necessarily reproduce capital, and can in fact yield forms of resistance. After discussing some of the relevant theoretical issues, each section then suggests ways that these can be understood through readings of films.

Cover page of Working, Living, and Belonging

Working, Living, and Belonging

(2013)

What is work? Who is a worker? How does law and social policy shape our understandings of these terms? What is at stake when only wage workers are endowed with worker status? That limitation excludes unpaid caregiving and other forms of nonmarket production. Indeed, even within waged work, specific forms of employment take precedence, privileging industrial jobs associated with adult white men and marginalizing much agricultural, household, and other service work. How does this dual structure, both bounding and dividing labor markets, create precarious conditions for people of color, immigrants, women, and others who face exclusion from privileged forms of work, consignment to subordinated forms of work, and denial that their labors constitute work at all?

Cover page of Rethinking Bondage

Rethinking Bondage

(2013)

This module seeks to open up a series of historical and philosophical questions about the concept of bondage. In so doing, it endeavors to interrogate bondage as both a conceptual and historical problematic that has been central to the making of the modern world. While the notion of “bondage” appears to carry with it a set of self-evident meanings and definitions rooted in the broader concepts of servitude and subjugation, we seek to highlight the ways in which people across time and space have been “socialized” into various logics and practices of bondage. Ultimately, at the heart of this problem lies a series of deeper questions about the ways in which the notions of “freedom” and “unfreedom” are constituted through various institutional sites and practices.

Rather than attempting to offer an exhaustive definition of bondage that addresses this concept in its totality, this module instead opens up some key questions and nodes for consideration, drawing attention to some of the most critical ways in which modern bondage has been practiced and understood. Exploring the refractions of bondage through specific historical moments and institutional sites will demonstrate how seemingly disparate forms of servitude and unfreedom were in fact deeply connected -- by ideologies and practices that traveled freely across borders and continued to reincarnate in later times. Simply stated, this module attempts to track a massively important human phenomenon in several different historical manifestations. 

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