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Ideologies of Labor: Regimenting Productive Action

To express interest in this panel, please use the comments feature on this page and/or contact Adam Sargent: asarge[at] before January 20th: 

With the undeniably global spread of capitalism the wage-labor relation seems to be not only universal but self-evident.  Labor is differentiated by sector as industrial, agricultural or service or through mode of engagement, manual, mental or affective.  These analyses have resulted in many valuable perspectives on contemporary political economic processes.  Yet often what labor actually is and what it does seems to be left implicit.  Rather, in these analyses the focus is on the multiple and subtle ways that surplus value is extracted from working bodies, minds or people.   

This panel complicates these approaches by taking labor itself as a category of action that is produced, negotiated and contested in the production process and beyond.  At stake here are different notions of what labor actions mean and what effects they may have in the world and on the selves of workers.  Labor as a political economic category then is only one construal of productive action and must contend with often quite different understandings of labor. How are particular forms of productive action regimented as labor of certain sorts?  How are different labor actions understood by those variously positioned in the production process or by a wider public? How do these construals connect and put at risk the very linkages between selves, actions and bodies?  What are the media through which certain construals of labor action come to be fixed and legitimated (material, discursive, etc.)?  What are the stakes of contestations between different construals of labor action?