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Accepted Paper:

Indispensable and (in)visible - Urban essential workers in Switzerland in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic  
Carole Ammann (ETH Zurich)

Paper short abstract:

The construction of hierarchies of essentiality is driven by practices of social (de)valuation of labour. I analyze the social (de)valuation of four different groups of urban non-healthcare essential workers, namely public transport drivers, childcare workers, shop assistants, and cleaning staff.

Paper long abstract:

Essentiality is a value-laden and contested category, as it is constructed through discourses and negotiations between political agendas and economic and social priorities. The construction of categories and hierarchies of essentiality is often driven by practices of social (de)valuation of labour that occur at different scales and are enacted by multiple actors. These hierarchies are reinforced in emergency situations, such as the Covid-19 pandemic. During the pandemic in Switzerland, essential healthcare workers received much public attention, such as coordinated clapping from balconies and extensive media coverage. In contrast, essential non-healthcare workers, who are often involved in care and maintenance work, became the “unsung” heroes of the pandemic.

In this paper, I use an intersectional approach to examine the (lack of) lasting effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on urban essential workers in Switzerland pursuing three aims: First, based on a media review, I investigate how different groups of urban essential workers are (de)valued differently in Swiss newspaper articles. Second, based on interviews with public transport drivers, childcare workers, shop assistants, and cleaning staff in the city of Zurich, I analyze the extent to which essential workers feel recognized and valued by the general public. Third, I show how the four groups of urban essential workers (differently) perceive the short and long term effects of the pandemic.

Panel P035
Feminist perspectives on mobile essential workers: the pandemic as turning point? [Medical Anthropology Europe (MAE) & Anthropology and Mobility (AnthroMob)]
  Session 2