The Naturalization of Work

Photo by College of DuPage Newsroom, licensed under CC BY.

The naturalization of work usually refers to social processes that make a life underpinned by labor seem unquestionable, inevitable, and even desirable. This kind of naturalization is visible in many sites, from popular summons to treat one’s job as a calling to the growth of various administrative positions that make more work for others. Fledgling calls to denaturalize work and find ways to organize society around other dimensions of being human are also emerging today, such as in the increasingly popular but ambiguous idea of a universal basic income. The essays in this Theorizing the Contemporary series build on the present moment by looking critically at the naturalization and denaturalization of work in broader and more literal ways: efforts to value landscapes as (co)workers, the use of animals as laborers, and the extraction of nonhuman energies to put people to work. They consider the promise and perils of extending capacities to work to nonhuman beings, while putting labor and environmental studies into renewed dialogue.

Posts in This Series

Introduction: The Naturalization of Work

Introduction: The Naturalization of Work

The essays in this Theorizing the Contemporary series emerged from a 2016 School for Advanced Research seminar and three panels held at the 2017 annual meetin... More

Animal Work: Metabolic, Ecological, Affective

Animal Work: Metabolic, Ecological, Affective

What work does the naturalization of work do? What are its political-economic implications? Trajectories of bringing nature into the ambit of capitalist accum... More

The Naturalization of Nature as Working

The Naturalization of Nature as Working

On Vermont’s Jasper Hill Farm, reports the Burlington Free Press, “ninety organisms”—bovine and human—plus “countless microorganisms work together to make che... More

Ecological Labor

Ecological Labor

Across sites in coastal Alaska, laid-off loggers are climbing back into heavy equipment in remote forests to improve salmon habitat at the behest of new coali... More

Blood Mares and the Work of Naturalization

Blood Mares and the Work of Naturalization

In 2017, the animal welfare organization Tierschutzbund Zürich (TSB) released an update on their investigation into South American horse blood farms. At first ... More

Sickness

Sickness

On a Sunday in January 2016, I was at Stellabarrie Tea Estate in the Dooars, West Bengal. Stellabarrie’s owners had ceased operations and stopped paying wages... More

Dams and Dialysis

Dams and Dialysis

If you had a slender enough boat, you could navigate the sugarcane plantations of western Nicaragua by water. Some of these plantations hug the shores of the Pa... More

Melt as Sensory Labor

Melt as Sensory Labor

As the ice of the world melts, heat is made visible. Rapidly rising temperatures draw attention to Earth’s cryosphere as it is increasingly measured, its retr... More

When Plants Farm Themselves

When Plants Farm Themselves

Soybeans, the agricultural miracle of South America, have created a new class of wealthy farmers throughout eastern Paraguay. While farming soy involves long,... More

A Joke of a Job: Naturalizing the Work of Semiwild Orangutans

A Joke of a Job: Naturalizing the Work of Semiwild Orangutans

In the late 2000s, Ricky and I sat on a feeding platform recently built by volunteers amid the rainforest at Lundu Wildlife Center. There, he and his colleagu... More

The Second Shift: Informal Economies and Avian Influenza in South Africa

The Second Shift: Informal Economies and Avian Influenza in South Africa

As lively commodity, chickens are crucial to nutrition, food security, urban livelihoods, and the national economy in South Africa. More poultry products are ... More

Leave It to Beavers: Animal Work in Austerity Environmentalism

Leave It to Beavers: Animal Work in Austerity Environmentalism

In 2014, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in the United States released a nature documentary entitled Leave It to Beavers. The film offers an environmenta... More

Working Together to Restore the Reef: Naturalizing Corporate Forms of Coral, Labor, and Responsibility

Working Together to Restore the Reef: Naturalizing Corporate Forms of Coral, Labor, and Responsibility

The damp coral fragment in my hand is small, brown, and branching. I have selected this fragment of Acropora out of a bin of dozens of similar fragments. An emp... More

(Eco)Enzyme as Catalyst

(Eco)Enzyme as Catalyst

In 2013, I began attending workshops in a gated community in the Chinese city of Guangzhou, hosted by waste activists who had been involved in a protest again... More