Accepted paper:

Materiality and consumption of work

Authors:

Garima Jaju (University of Oxford)

Paper short abstract:

I focus on salespersons in a fast-growing optical retail company in New Delhi, India. I discuss how the materiality of the products sold and equipment used mediates the experience of work in a way that work itself comes to be viewed as a product for consumption, and the worker as a consumer of work.

Paper long abstract:

Much ethnography of work in the growing service sector has focused on the body and emotions at work - prominently, 'embodied labour' and 'managed emotions'. I argue that the worker's relationship with the material environment of work has been underexplored. Drawing on fieldwork, I focus on a fast-growing optical retail company manufacturing 'first copies' of international eyewear brands in New Delhi, India. Aspirational middle-class men and women working as salespersons, optometrists and store managers in its retail outlets express deep disdain for its 'naklee maal', i.e. fake eyewear products and low-quality eye-testing equipment. They do so not as imagined buyers, but as workers selling the products and operating the equipment. Their poor assessment of their 'cheap' material environment results in anxiety concerning the quality of the 'brand' of the worker, a poor 'rating' of the employer company and 'shopping' for better work. I discuss how the materiality of the products sold and equipment used mediates the experience of work in a way that work itself comes to be viewed as a product for consumption, and the worker as a consumer of work. I relate this to the pervasiveness of contemporary consumer culture, which, I argue, results not just in an increased desire to competitively consume and display goods, but also creates particular kinds of subjectivities and selfhoods through which to experience social life - prominently, work.

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Stream:
New geographies of work
New geographies and imaginaries of work in the Global South [paper]