EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

(P081)
The unexplored dimensions of work
Location U6-42
Date and Start Time 23 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Marie-Pierre Gibert (Université Lumière Lyon 2-EVS) email
  • Guillaume Dumont (Universidad Autonoma de Madrid/Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1) email

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Discussant Jens Kjaerulff

Short Abstract

This panel is an invitation to investigate work as a multidimensional human activity with a focus on the rapidly growing but relatively unexplored dimensions referred to as "reputational", "relational", "free", and/or "informational" work, and their implication on the everyday life of the workers.

Long Abstract

As outlined by Godelier (1980), or more recently by Spittler (2008) or Kjaerulff (2015), whilst work is central to people's lives, anthropology has been relatively inattentive to the subject per se, hence calling for the further development of a much needed anthropology of work. For the last two decades, a wave of interdisciplinary scholarship has focused on the transformation of work into what Foster (2007) calls the "new economy." At the core of these transformations, and particularly in the labor markets of the so-called "creative economy" ranging from art and fashion to sport (Dumont 2015), are aspects such as visibility, reputation and/or networking, which are capitalized and described as essential assets to secure and maintain jobs, hence often exceeding the "classical" economic dimension of work. Consequently, work has been undertaking multiple changes hardly reflected by professional labels commonly assigned to working activities.

However, we argue that this multilayered nature might be at stake in other working contexts beyond creative professions, albeit at different degrees. Therefore we engage with work as a pluridimensional activity, and invite panelists to investigate the multiple dimensions of work. This panel focuses on the rapidly growing but relatively unexplored dimensions of work sometimes referred to as "reputational" (Zafirau 2008), "relational" (Baym 2015), "free" (Terranova 2000), "informational" (Menger 2009) among others. We therefore welcome theoretically informed ethnographic contributions that overcome professional labels to engage with the constitutive dimensions of work as well as with their practical implications on the everyday life of the workers.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Design work in the 'new economy' and the performativity of an open-ended, flexible conception of personhood

Author: Andrea Gaspar (University of Coimbra)  email

Short Abstract

Based on my ethnography within a group of designers in Milan, in this paper I will approach the performativity of an open-ended, flexible conception of personhood in design work and its relationships to the ‘new economy’.

Long Abstract

Based on my ethnography within a group of designers in Milan, in this paper I will analyse how design work is being reimagined through the figure of 'flexible skills'. Focusing specifically on the use and meaning of the notion of 'flexible skills' as it emerges from the field, I will reveal the ways in which 'flexibility' is performed as an open-ended view of action and subjecthood which ressembles the philosophies of action that we could deploy to the analysis of this pehonomenon, such as actor-network-theory (Latour 2008) - echoes of this philosophy can be found in the open-to-contingency model of design entrepreneurship that is performed by designers. But if flexibility in this context means freedom, autonomy and mobility on the one hand, on the other hand it is a way of dealing with job uncertainty, precariousness and the impossibility of designing a life. I am interested particularly in how the reconfiguration of the designer through this figure of flexibility reveals political tensions between older and newer models of action. In order to reveal this tension, I will bring examples on how improvisation and continuous openness to transformation is sometimes hard to combine with these designers' desire to keep their older, design-centered conceptions of action and creativity.

Three meanings of 'work' in the Egyptian Film industry

Author: Chihab El Khachab (University of Oxford)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores three interrelated meanings of the notion of ‘work’ (shoghl) in the Egyptian film industry: work as employment, work as concrete effort, and work as a sum of past productions.

Long Abstract

This paper examines three meanings attached to the notion of 'work' (shoghl) by workers in the Egyptian film industry. First, I look into the ordinary notion of work as employment, where 'getting work' is understood as the ability to accumulate contracts on several film projects. This is a central task in a horizontally integrated industry with personalized hiring practices. Second, I examine the conception of 'work' as concrete effort: I argue, more specifically, that in an industry marked by a great emphasis on interpersonal relations, workers have to solve intersubjective misunderstandings on a daily basis if they are to work together successfully. I therefore bring attention to the way in which 'working' is associated with particular types of personalities, a particular ability to read one another's personality, as well as individuated 'schools of practice' (madares shoghl). Lastly, I detail how 'work' sometimes comes to mean a sum of past productions, which are important in an industry where hiring is often predicated on past reputation (som'a). This reputation is constructed, in part, according to the interpersonal relations cultivated by workers, and in other part, according to the quality of previous productions made by a given worker. In addition to being evaluated in an aesthetic sense, then, these productions act as indicators of the worker's suitability to a given project. The worker's 'work' as past productions comes to be a constant source of commentary on the quality of his 'work' as concrete effort and, by extension, on his chances of 'getting work'.

Flexible, autonomous and happy: the new employee

Author: Andrada Tobias (Babes-Bolyai University)  email

Short Abstract

Now when neoliberalism have created blurred limits between ‘productive’ and ‘unproductive’, ‘creative’ and ‘uncreative’, ‘work’ and ‘non-work’ and increased competition, new forms of spirituality have grown between employees, that ‘help’ them to become more flexible, confident and autonomous.

Long Abstract

Recent ethnographies in the fields of work and organization reveal the increasing importance of so-called 'new-careers', especially among highly educated people. These new careers are pushing individuals to become flexible, autonomous, creative and centered on the perpetual discovery of the facets of their own abilities and interests but often insecure and anxious. In this context alternative forms of spirituality (yoga practices, transcendental meditation, feng-shui, bio-energy, holistic medicine, new-age) have been rapidly developed and demand a careful analysis of the means in which are appropriated to the new economic developing sectors that have emerged in Romania. My argument is that these new forms of spirituality are taking roots not only in everyday life practices but also into the logic of economic practices focused on competition.

Public space and Invisible work: street cleaners in France

Author: Marie-Pierre Gibert (Université Lumière Lyon 2-EVS)  email

Short Abstract

Research with street cleaners has shown that what brings them satisfaction at work lays somehow on other dimensions than the ones visible in their job description. For instance to ‘bring some social well-being to the public space’, and they regret not being recognized for it.

Long Abstract

According to their job description, street cleaners are expected to keep the streets and roads clean, as well as to report any problems or malfunction of the public space and street furniture. However, their work seem quite invisible from the outside and what is seen of it often appears in counter-relief: one seems to realise that they exist when their work is not done. As pointed out by E.C. Hughes (1951), a single work label may encompass a wide multiplicity of tasks and dimensions of work in terms of actions, protagonists and/or working conditions. Yet many of them are partly or completely invisible, that is, unknown, unrecognized and/or 'hidden' (Wadel 1979), although as important (if not more so) as the known and recognized dimensions, precisely because they play a central role in what really brings pleasure for and/or constraints on the workers.

When conducting participant observation with street cleaners, it appears that what brings them satisfaction at work lays somehow on other dimensions than the ones visible in this job description. In particular, many of them underline how much they appreciate interactions with various local actors, dimensions that they sometimes express as 'bringing some social well-being to the public space'. Yet, regrets for not being recognized as such often crept in discussions, permitting us to reflect on the paradoxical visibility and invisibility of workers and their labour in the public space, and the lack of social, economical and/or official recognition to the invisible side-dimensions of any specific profession.

Learning in the newsroom: media infrastructures and Invisible work of technological learning among journalists

Author: Silvia Popa (University of Bucharest)  email

Short Abstract

Journalists have to spend substantial amount of time learning new skills for mastering the changing infrastructures of communication. There is a tension between the mundane technological failures during this process and the grand promises of new technology.

Long Abstract

It has become common place to claim that technological innovation has radically transformed the world of journalism. While the end-products of this change are visible, the work spent by journalists to make sense, understand and use the latest media infrastructures, technologies and standards is both an under-researched and rich ethnographic object. How do the changes in journalism affect the news workers de-skilling or re-skilling? How do news workers deal with the trainning process? I draw on participant observation among journalists from one niche TV station in Romania. This station has recently bought up to date equipment from abroad and asked its journalists to attend online training sessions via Skype. I describe how mundane technological and learning failures undermine the grand promises of new technological change, creating struggles over meaning, routine and infrastructural mastery. Digital transformations have generated multitasking journalism, lead to a new way of doing journalism. This means that journalists practice a variety of technological skills, emotional work and cognitive tasks. If the traditional newsrooms needed to do more with less, now, the journalists are continuously trained to acquire and operate with the latest technologies.

Professionalizing of a field: local NGO-actors and their working lives

Author: Kathrin Knodel (Goethe-Universität Frankfurt)  email

Short Abstract

The paper discusses the topic of work in the marginal context of NGO-actors in West Africa. It highlights the conditions that determine their working life and contributes to locate them amongst professionals that highly depend on their ability to build up trust, reputation and a functional network.

Long Abstract

NGO-actors in Burkina Faso might not be the first group one thinks of when hearing the words "creative economy". But there is empirical evidence that these individuals in a very special way have to be creative in developing ever new projects that fit into the programs and ideological guidelines of potential donor organizations. Instead of looking at developmental issues from a donor or western perspective this paper gives inside in the field from what is often called the grassroot perspective. On the one hand this enables the deconstruction of the image of a weak dependent African receiver of money. On the other hand it enables his imagination as an actor with own visions for his community but also for his own professional career. His self-attribution as being weak in an often uncertain social/political environment is therefore his tool to acquire resources. He is an entrepreneur whose reputation and networking abilities are more than decisive for the possibility to secure his job and the one of his employees for whom he is responsible. His ability to build up personal trust on both sides - donors and local community - will determine his success on the long run.

Questions the paper will try to answer are for example: Who are these actors, what are their (typical) life stories and motivations? How do they connect to the international discourse of development and how do they appropriate it for their own work? How are the stories of the NGOs influenced by these life stories?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.