"The difference between the concepts [work and class]* is perhaps most starkly posed when
work understood as a process is compared to class conceived in terms of
an outcome that is, as a category (whether explained by reference to
ownership, wealth, income, occupation, or forms of belonging) designed
to map patterns of economic inequality...
... Iris Young once argued in favor of substituting the Marxist category of
division of labor for class as a primary analytic of Marxist feminism.
In this classic contribution to second-wave Marxist feminism, Young
describes at least two advantages of this methodological shift. First,
the division of labor has at once a broader reach than class and allows a
more differentiated application. Not only can it be used to register
multiple divisions of labor by class as well as by gender, race, and
nation, but it can, as Young explains, also expose "specific cleavages
and contradictions within a class" (1981, 51; emphasis added) not just
along the lines of gender, race, and nation, but also, potentially, of
occupation and income...
...Like the division of labor, the category of work seems to me at once
more capacious and more finely tuned than the category of class. After
all, work, including its absence, is both important to and differently
experienced within and across lines of class, gender, race, and nation.
In this sense, the politics of and against work has the potential to
expand the terrain of class struggle to include actors well beyond that
classic figure of traditional class politics, the industrial
proletariat. Consider too the second advantage noted by Young: "The
category of division of labor can not only refer to a set of phenomena
broader than that of class, but also more concrete." Unlike class, by
her account, the division of labor "refers specifically to the activity
of labor itself, and the specific social and institutional relations of
that activity' proceeding thus "at the more concrete level of particular
relations of interaction and interdependence in a society" (51). By
this measure, whereas class addresses the outcome of laboring activity,
the division of labor points toward the activity itself...
...Here too there are similarities between Young's interest in the category
of division of labor and my focus on work: after all, work, including
the dearth of it, is the way that capitalist valorization bears most
directly and most intensively on more and more people's lives. This
politics of work could be conceived as a way to link the everyday and
sometimes every-night experiences of work its spaces, relations and
temporalities; its physical, affective, and cognitive practices; its
pains and pleasures to the political problematic of their present modes
and codes of organization and relations of rule. Although the category of class remains analytically powerful, I would
argue that its political utility is more negligible. The problem is that
while the oppositional class category of the industrial period the
"working class" may accurately describe most people's relation to waged
labor even in a postindustrial economy, it is increasingly less likely
to match their self descriptions. The category of the middle class has
absorbed so many of our subjective investments that it is difficult to
see how the working class can serve as a viable rallying point in the
United States today. A politics of work, on the other hand, takes aim at
an activity rather than an identity, and a central component of daily
life rather than an outcome...
...So in the end, I am not saying that we should stop thinking about class,
but rather that focusing on work is one politically promising way of
approaching class because it is so expansive, because it is such a
significant part of everyday life, because it is something we do rather
than a category to which we are assigned, and because for all these
reasons it can be raised as a political issue. By this account, work is a
point of entry into the field of class analysis through which we might
be better able to make class processes more visible, legible, and
broadly relevant and, in the process, perhaps provoke class formations
yet to come."
*work here is understood as including unwaged and reproductive work.
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Sunday, January 13, 2013
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