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VIDEO DOI: https://doi.org/10.48448/rg99-md30


AAA Annual Meeting 2021

November 18, 2021

Baltimore, United States

Who Cares? The Truth About Precariousness and Care Work in the Contemporary U.S.



labor and work


Despite increased public sphere attention given to care work during the pandemic, many workers have experienced heightened degrees of exploitation and instability, with devastating effects on those whose labor is undervalued, “flexible,” racialized, feminized, stigmatized, and/or criminalized. These trends are especially evident in the United States, where lack of social safety nets combined with longterm racial discrimination in healthcare and politicized pandemic responses have lead to historic levels of housing and food insecurity (Center on Budget and Policy). Though we are hardly the first to address the “crises of care” indicative of late capitalism (e.g., Borris and Parreñas 2010, Chandrasekhar and Ghosh 201, England 2005, Fraser 2016), much has yet to be done within and outside of anthropology. More interdisciplinary collaborations with workers and activists are needed. To foreground collaborative approaches and answer the call to “reimagine anthropology to meet the demands of the present moment,” this roundtable brings together workers, activists, and scholars who care about labor and whose labor involves care. Drawing on our backgrounds and research interests in "crimmigration" (the convergence of criminal and immigration law), domestic work, education, healthcare, labor and community organizing, sex work, and social work, we explore connections across care work categories and center precarious workers’ struggles. For example, by extending an ethos of care into the public domain, social workers and educators engage in socially reproductive labor that has drawn scorn from politicians seeking to atomize social wellbeing through the evacuation of the notion of the public good. But, these politicians’ attempts notably have been met with pushback from workers across the country (Blanc 2019). Healthcare workers and sex workers are also connected through their engagement in “intimate service labor” (Hua and Ray 2021)--labor that can have a vitiating effect on workers themselves while sustaining the individuals who receive their care. At the same time, because of criminalization, sex workers face difficulties not unlike those encountered by undocumented workers, with doubly challenging circumstances for sex workers who are undocumented (Smith and Mac 2018). Roundtable participants have studied and worked in a variety of caring fields, allowing us to bring an embodied perspective and subjective critique to otherwise abstract academic notions of the collision between precarity and care work. We envision this roundtable as an opportunity to discuss our care work and research experiences and to think about what the future of care--and work--could look like. The conversation will be guided by the chair, Elizabeth Hartman, with time reserved for dialogue among participants and audience contributions. Some of the issues we will address include: what care work encompasses today; the pandemic’s effects on care workers; what accounts for the enduring gendered and racialized dimensions of (precarious) care work; what the work of caring for others feels like to those who do it; how we subjectively experience precariousness; how workers take care of themselves/each other; where power resides in the precarious capitalist economy; what anthropologists can do to help foster change; and how we can dissolve disciplinary and academic-public divides.


Transcript English (automatic)

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