Paper short abstract:
This paper examines efforts by workers who seek to address their illnesses outside the confines of workers’ compensation— a key example of modern institutions aimed at managing risks arising from industrial production. It explores what new conceptions of responsibility emerge from their struggles.
Paper long abstract:
Workers' compensation is a key example of modern institutions aimed at managing risks that arise from industrial production. Developed as an alternative to the court system in Europe and North America in the nineteenth century (and now widely adopted in many other countries), the compensation system is an insurance program based on the conceptual separation between issues of causality and those of responsibility. While conventional explanations of the system emphasize its beneficial aspects (e.g., reduced burden of proof on the part of employees), this paper examines efforts by workers who find the compensation system troubling and seek to address their illnesses (e.g., systemic chemical poisoning) outside its confines. My focus will be on cancer lawsuits filed by a group of US electronics workers against their former employer—a prominent computer company. In explaining why they could not or did not take advantage of workers' compensation, I discuss 1) where the compensation system begins to fail in containing conflict surrounding hazards in the work environment and 2) what new conceptions of risk and responsibility emerge from the workers' struggles.
The Best Way to Control Toxic Actants: Litigation or Regulation?