The Precarious Present: Wageless Labor and Disrupted Life in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Supplemental Material

This post builds on the research article “The Precarious Present: Wageless Labor and Disrupted Life in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil,” which was published in the February 2014 issue of the Society’s peer-reviewed journal, Cultural Anthropology.

Editorial Footnotes

Cultural Anthropology has published a number of articles on precarity including Noelle Molé’s “Existential Damages: The Injury of Precarity Goes to Court” (2013), Gabriella Lukacs’s “Dreamwork: Cell Phone Novelists, Labor, and Politics in Contemporary Japan” (2013), and Kathleen Stewart’s “Precarity’s Forms” (2012).

Cultural Anthropology has also published articles focusing on informal economies and labor including Elsyée Nouvet’s “Some Carry On, Some Stay in Bed: (In)convenient Affects and Agency in Neoliberal Nicaragua” (2014), Daniella Gandolfo’s “Formless: A Day at Lima’s Office of Formalization” (2013), Peter Benson’s “El Campo: Faciality and Structural Violence in Farm Labor Camps” (2008).

"Returning to the Dump." Photo by Kathleen Millar.

About the Author

Kathleen M. Millar is a Lecturing Fellow in the Thompson Writing Program at Duke University. She also teaches in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. Her research focuses on new forms of labor, value creation, the anthropology of well-being, and the politics of waste in urban Brazil. She is currently writing a book manuscript based on ethnographic research on a garbage dump in Rio de Janeiro, entitled Reclaiming the Discarded: Work in a Time of Economic Crisis.

Related Work by Kathleen M. Millar

2012. “The Transformation that Waste Land Missed,” Anthropology News 53, no. 8: s52–s53.

2012. “Trash Ties: Urban Politics, Economic Crisis and Rio de Janeiro’s Garbage Dump,” in Economies of Recycling: The Global Transformation of Materials, Values and Social Relations, edited by Catherine Alexander and Joshua Reno, 164–84, London: Zed Books.

2008. “Making Trash into Treasure: Struggles for Autonomy on a Brazilian Garbage Dump,” Anthropology of Work Review 29, no. 2: 25–34.

Questions for Classroom Discussion

1. Wageless work in informal economies is often described as a last resort of urban poor. How does the author’s description of both work on the dump and life in Rio’s periphery challenge this view? Why is it important to distinguish between different forms of precarious labor?

2. How does labor index rights to citizenship and social belonging in Brazil, historically and today?

3. What is the relationship between work and subjectivity? How does the lived experience of labor transform conceptions of self, time, mobility, and work-life divisions?

4. How does the author define and employ the concept of relational autonomy? How does this concept differ from other meanings and uses of the term autonomy? What does relational autonomy reveal about tensions between structure and agency?

5. The author suggests that we understand Rose’s return to the dump as a political act. In what way does her return constitute a form of politics? How does this form of politics differ from survivalism, resistance, and oppositional defiance?

Related Resources

Global Alliance of Waste Pickers

Clarke, Felicity. 2012. “Waste Land Pickers Struggle from Landfill Closure.” Rio On Watch, June 21.