Research Topic: Work/Life

Course content

Work appears as a mundane and unavoidable fact of life, an inevitability discussed in commonsensical slogans and axioms: do what you love; work hard play hard; hard work is the path to success. Indeed, the first question we often ask each other when being introduced—“What do you do?”—invites us to interpret a person based on their work occupation. This is a small ritualistic recognition of the degree to which work not only reflects but also shapes who we are, what we want, and what we can imagine.

 

This course is about work and its role in our lives, from the mundane day-to-day procedures of the workplaces to theories of labor, employment, exploitation, and beyond. To set the stage for this broad investigation of our contemporary, we will first engage the main thread of modern thought about work and labor—namely, liberalism—via excerpted texts from its most influential figureheads, such as John Locke and Adam Smith. We will then examine these thinkers in conversation with their most significant historical interlocutors, Marx and Engels. With the terms of a debate thus sketched, we then trace the thread to contemporary events and interventions.

 

Recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the question of work back to the forefront of public discourse. The conditions of the pandemic have highlighted a number of long-standing tensions and contradictions in our work society and provide an opportunity for articulating the myriad and interlocking influences of work on our lives. The various states of lockdown have propelled concepts such as “essential workers” into public discourse for the first time, while reanimating and recombining older concepts under new conditions, such as “remote work” and “service work.”

 

The pandemic thus opens up for us within a longer historical moment an opportunity to explore in parallel a set of important contemporary problematics relating to work. These include: deindustrialization, the “feminization” of the labor force, flexibilization and precarity, the problem of social reproduction, offshoring and automation, the question of full employment and/or full unemployment, and contemporary forms of sex work, care work, domestic labor, and labor migration. One goal of the class will be to articulate and map the ways in which these themes overlap, though students may also choose to write exclusively on a single topic.

Education

Literature

Classroom teaching and lectures, seminar discussions, student-led discussions (optional)
N.B. This course will run on an accelerated schedule until the end of November (week 47), with final papers due 10 December. The course will include periodic writing workshops to support this accelerated schedule. This course will be conducted in English and exams will be in English.

The proposed schedule is as follows:
Week 36: 3 hours
Week 37: 3 hours
Week 38: 3 hours
Week 39: 3 hours
Week 40: 3 hours
Week 41: 6 hours (i.e. 3 hours normal class and 3 hours writing workshop to get them started)
Week 43: 3 hours
Week 44: 3 hours
Week 45: 3 hours
Week 46: 6 hours (include writing workshop for exam paper)
Week 47: 6 hours (include writing workshop for exam paper)

Sample literature may include excerpts from:

John Locke, Second Treatise on Government; Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations; Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1; Silvia Federici, Wages Against Housework; Kathi Weeks, The Problem With Work; Aaron Benanav, Automation and the Future of Work; Tithi Bhattacharya, Social Reproduction Theory; Gavin Mueller, Breaking Things at Work. The bulk of our reading will be composed of peer-reviewed articles and essays. All readings will be provided.

Written
Oral
Individual
Collective
Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
ECTS
15 ECTS
Type of assessment
Other
Aid
All aids allowed
Censorship form
External censorship
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 39
  • Preparation
  • 297
  • Exam
  • 84
  • English
  • 420