Political Theory and the Future of Work

Convenors:

Lucas van Milders (Lecturer in International Relations, Canterbury Christ Church
University) and Ben Turner (Lecturer in Political Theory, University of Kent)

In The Problem with Work (2011), Kathi Weeks argued that political theory has neglected the ‘rich object of inquiry’ that the phenomenon of work represents. While this inattention is slowly being remedied, this workshop proposes to further this line of enquiry by inviting papers on the significance of work for political theorists.

This question is not new to political theory; a conception of the human as a labouring animal is central to the foundations of Liberalism and to the Marxist critique of liberal political economy. But, across the 20th century these centres of gravity have shifted inexorably. Having established the character of its ideal, labouring subject, the post-Rawlsian liberal tradition placed the public character of justice–and the application this concept across a variety of political debates such as multiculturalism, feminism, and recognition–as the centre of its concern. Simultaneously, the Marxist category of labour has been challenged by stark transformations in employment conditions, productivity and class composition. Many working within the shadow of Marx have declared the death of the traditional, leftist working class (e.g. Gorz 1982), resulting in a fragmented tradition that is not unified on the significance, or even definition, of the concepts of work and of labour.

In the light of these long-term transformations of the place of work of political theory, it is becoming increasingly pertinent to ask how it presents itself as a contemporary conceptual challenge, both beyond and within Liberal and Marxist traditions. Recent research has investigated the role of work within critiques of neoliberal politics (Srnicek and Williams 2016), how free time can form part of a normative project that defends freedom (Shippen 2014), the theoretical presuppositions of anti-work politics (Frayne 2015), and the philosophical anthropology underpinning the concept of work (Read 2016). We invite presentations that build upon this research by approaching the problem of work from any perspective within political theory, particularly interdisciplinary approaches. Questions that might be raised, non-exhaustively, are as follows:

  • In what ways is work an ideological and philosophical position upon which contemporary politics rests?
  • How does automation and the attention economy impact both the production of value and its decoupling from traditional waged work?
  • How do shifts in the politics of work rely on the globalisation and exporting of manual labour to sites of production located on the periphery?
  • In what manner does the production of value rely on unrecognised and unwaged forms of labour, care and social reproduction? How are these tasks allocated along gendered and racialised lines?
  • In what way does the precarious character of employment impact the ideology that one must work to earn a living?

 

We welcome 500 word abstracts for presentations of 30 minutes on the above themes, or any related issues regarding the politics of work. Please send abstracts to b.turner@kent.ac.uk by Thursday 31st May. We welcome papers from individuals at all stages of their career, and bursaries are available from the organisers of MANCEPT. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us with any questions.

 

References

Frayne, David. 2015. The Refusal of Work: Rethinking Post-Work Theory and Practice. London: Zed Books.

Gorz, André. 1982. Farewell to the Working Class. London: Pluto Press.

Read, Jason. 2016. ‘Radicalizing the Root: The Return of Philosophical Anthropology to the Critique of Political Economy.’ Crisis and Critique 3:3 311–12.

Shippen, Nicole. 2014. Decolonizing Time: Work, Leisure, and Freedom. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Srnicek, Nick and Alex Williams. 2016. Inventing the Future: Post-Capitalism and a World Without Work. London: Verso.

Weeks, Kathi. 2011. The Problem with Work. Durham: Duke University Press.