Value(s) of labour in austerity-era Europe
Samuel Weeks (Thomas Jefferson University)
Daniel Knight (University of St Andrews)
Theodoros Rakopoulos (University of Oslo)
Andrea Muehlebach (University of Toronto)
Start time:
22 July, 2016 at 9:00 (UTC+0)
Session slots:

Short abstract:

This panel addresses labour value in the workplace as understood in austerity Europe, exploring how marginalised workers perceive dispossession, precarious employment and limited social mobility. How do people conceptualise their economic/workplace futures and what is the legacy of economic reform?

Long abstract:

Value has been examined in terms of exchange, systems of morality and social practice, leaving a substantial legacy in economic anthropology. However, the study of the actual work people do - 'labour value' - has received limited attention. Building on Marx's 'labour theory of value', Harvey discusses value in terms of accumulation and dispossession, locating the economic value of workers' production in the hands of employers and global neoliberal players. Intersecting a growing body of literature inspired by Harvey's approach with more classic studies of symbolic value in the workplace, we seek to understand how marginalised workers rationalise hardship and exploitation. We locate our enquiries in austerity-era Europe, where top-down fiscal reform has left millions unemployed, living on the poverty line and with little hope for future prosperity. In countries undergoing this so-called 'structural adjustment', with increasing erosion of the welfare state, the logic of work is being reassessed - social mobility is improbable; power has been relocated from the family and sovereign state; and there is exhaustion and disillusionment with the future. Papers will show how value(s) traditionally associated with work have been destabilised during the European 'crisis'. How have interactions with, and expectations of, the workplace changed post-2010? Has there been a revaluation of labour? How do people conceptualise their economic/workplace futures? What legacy is this building for times ahead? In asking these questions, we hope to shed new ethnographic light on labour value and further the critique of economic 'reform' in Europe.