Most of us, including as students, spend a significant portion of our waking hours at work. How do our working conditions and experiences shape the way we live our lives? And inversely, how do our life aspirations, commitments, values, and relationships impact the place of work in our everyday existence? These questions are especially important today, given the rise of precarious employment (and unemployment) throughout the world. Temp work can make it difficult to plan for the future. An unpaid internship can both tap into and complicate the mantra that “you should do what you love.” Prolonged unemployment can erode a worker’s identity or require that new bases for social belonging be found. As more informal kinds of work proliferate, there are also unintended or unforeseen consequences. New social movements arise around the identity of precarious labour. Other possibilities for fashioning work and life emerge.
This course examines these recent changes in the lived experience and meaning of work from a global perspective. We will explore the lives of former steel workers in deindustrialized Chicago, unemployed youth in Japan, call center operators in India, volunteer workers in Italy, cooperative leaders who took over factories in Buenos Aires, and itinerant vendors on the streets of Peru (among others). These cases will introduce students to important concepts in the sociocultural study of work including precarity, informality, immaterial and affective labour, Fordism and post-Fordism, the work society, wageless life, social reproduction, worker subjectivity, and post-work politics. Finally and perhaps most importantly, students will be given opportunities to reflect on course material in relation to their own working lives and to their aspirations for future employment after graduation.