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VIDEO DOI: https://doi.org/10.48448/9thw-x654


AAA Annual Meeting 2021

November 18, 2021

Baltimore, United States

Creating Alternative Forms of Work


labor and work



This interdisciplinary roundtable will examine the changing nature of work in the contemporary moment. Bringing together expertise in a variety of sites, from the US to Congo-Brazzaville, to India, Costa Rica, and Ecuador, the panelists will consider alternatives to “traditional” full-time employment, how different groups of people are rethinking the meanings and practices of work. In the US, even before COVID 19, there was ample evidence that the ways people worked were not working any more•and never worked for many segments of the population. Individuals across the economic spectrum grappled with growing uncertainty as employment opportunities shrank, wages stagnated, and benefits evaporated. COVID further transformed this landscape, as individuals lost jobs, shifted to the gig economy, or exited the employment market to care for children and family members. Women, and especially women of color, were the hardest hit, exposing long-lasting cultural fault lines. Similarly, in other parts of the world, the notion of work as full-time, decently paid, locally conducted and consumed, unionized, and stable never held entirely, and the pandemic’s economic ravages have rendered this ideal ever more untenable. Our roundtable will take up this shifting terrain, asking if this crisis might also represent a moment of opportunity, one in which people are seeking out new forms of work that make better sense to them•economically, pragmatically, and emotionally•than seeking “traditional” full-time employment. What has been theorized negatively as post-Fordist precarity could also be seen as a moment of opportunity to move beyond industrial-era forms of waged labor. We will discuss some of these new ways of designing work, asking why they appeal to workers, what rewards and risks they entail, how profitable they are, and finally how they might compel us to redefine the very meanings of work and success. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork and personal experience, we will discuss the many ways in which individuals are re-imagining and recreating the concept of work, and how these can be both exploitative and empowering, grueling and fulfilling, a symptom of rising insecurity and also a conscious strategy to recreate security in new forms. How might these new forms of work impact worker identities; employment status; gender roles, families and communities; and the legal protections available to workers? In the current moment, questions about how to support and protect workers, the relationship between “work” and “home,” and how to rethink the ties between formal employment and social protections take on added urgency. Panelists include scholars from multiple disciplines (American studies, anthropology, folklore and ethnomusicology, sociology) at varied career levels, teaching at public and private colleges and universities in the US and Britain. This diversity in both disciplinary perspective and career level, along with participants’ different national and ethnic backgrounds, provides a more expansive vantage point from which to analyze the many ways individuals define and value “work.” This majority female panel also emphasizes how women are often at the forefront of redefining, extending, and revaluing the very meanings of work.


Transcript English (automatic)

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