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Accepted Paper:

Labour as future-making. Asbestos production, social struggles, and the contested meanings of a sustainable future.  


David Loher (University of Bern)

Paper short abstract:

Asbestos production in Casale Monferrato provided stable jobs but destroyed the town's future through the pollution of the environment. A notion of labour as the encompassing reproduction of life allows to examine the social struggles about asbestos production as struggles over a sustainable future.

Paper long abstract:

For decades, Europe's biggest asbestos processing factory was the main employer of Casale Monferrato, a small industrial town in Northern Italy. At the same time, it systematically destroyed the town's future through the massive pollution of the environment and the health hazards of the asbestos fibre; not only for the workers, but for the entire urban population. In this town, industrial labour provided the indispensable means for the reproduction of the present and near future of the workers and their families. The ongoing industrial disaster simultaneously undermined the livelihoods for the long-term future and future generations.

Developing an extended concept of labour as the encompassing reproduction of life, this contribution takes the different and contradicting social struggles around asbestos production in Casale Monferrato as a starting point to examine the emerging conflicts about the creation of a sustainable future. In these struggles, certain social actors emphasised the importance of job security for the families depending on asbestos workers' wages. They focused on the protection of jobs and the continued existence of the factory including certain claims for improved safety at work measures. Others fought against asbestos production as such, striving for a complete ban of this hazardous industry in order to reclaim a sustainable long-term future for the community.

Reading the two incommensurable positions through the lens of labour as the encompassing reproduction of life shows how notions of 'the good life' shape the imaginations of and the struggles for a future of this town, devastated by this industrial disaster.

Panel P100
Rethinking work, power and social reproduction in and beyond Europe [Anthropology of Labour Network]