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Work and Workers in Contemporary Latin America

Dolores Señorans

This session addresses the lived realities of work in contemporary Latin America. Scholars and political analysts agree that the neoliberal reforms inspired by the Washington Consensus and the shortcomings of the policies implemented during the Pink Tide have resulted in greater social inequality and increasingly precarious labour conditions throughout the continent. An analysis from the bottom-up and departing from the concrete and localised articulations of labour, capital and the state, shows that contemporary scenarios are highly heterogeneous. From the perspective of the anthropology of labour, we map out the different experiences of labour resulting from the intersections of global, regional and local processes, state policies, corporate strategies, and workers’ practices. To this aim, we discuss recent ethnographic studies from different countries and sectors, both in rural and urban areas, waged and unwaged. How do workers experience and describe their work and its value? How does technology – digital and otherwise – shape the ways in which work is performed? How are the changes in labour regimes affecting workers’ lives within the workplace and beyond in the home and the communities? What are the social differences and the managerial practices that guarantee surplus extraction? What are the contemporary forms of trade union and political struggle? Ultimately, we discuss analysis of concrete experiences of labour, class formation and politics taking into consideration issues of ethnicity, citizenship, gender, age, and kinship.

Key issues:

  • Everyday experiences of work
  • Class, ethnicity and gender
  • Paid and unpaid labour
  • Labour politics

Required reading:

Further reading:

  • Arias, Cora, Nicolás Diana Menéndez, & Julieta Haidar. "Collective organization in platform companies in Argentina: between trade union traditions and adaptive strategies." In J. Haidar & M. Keune (Eds.), Work and labour relations in global platform capitalism. Edward Elgar Publishing, Pp. 185–205.
  • Burawoy, Michael. 1982. Manufacturing Consent: Changes in the Labor Process under Monopoly Capitalism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Carbonella, August and Kasmir, Sharryn. 2015. ‘Dispossession, disorganization and the anthropology of labor’. In James G., and Don Kalb, eds. 2015. Anthropologies of Class : Power, Practice and Inequality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Pp 41-52.
  • Dávolos, Patricia, and María Julia Soul. 2012. El Mundo Del Trabajo En América Latina : Tendencias y Resistencias. Primera edición. Ciudad de Buenos Aires: Ediciones Ciccus.
  • Federici, Silvia. 2018. El patriarcado del salario: Críticas feministas al marxismo. Madrid: Traficantes de Sueños. Chapter 2 (Pp 47-68).
  • Gorbán, Débora and Tizziani, Ania. 2018. “You Can’t Have It All”: Patterns of Gender and Class Segregation in Paid Domestic Work in the City of Buenos Aires”. In Rausky, M.E. & Chaves, M. (eds.), 2018. Living and working in poverty in Latin America : trajectories of children, youth, and adults. Basingstoke, Hampshire : Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Lazar, Sian. 2023. How We Struggle : A Political Anthropology of Labour. London: Pluto Press.
  • Lazar, Sian. 2017. The Social Life of Politics: Ethics, Kinship, and Union Activism in Argentina. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.
  • Lopes, José Sérgio Leite. 1976. O Vapor Do Diabo: O Trabalho Dos Operários Do Açúcar. Rio de Janeiro: Paz e Terra.
  • Melhuus, Marit. 2018. ‘Recapturing the Household: Reflections on Labour, Productive Relations, and Economic Value’. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 24 (S1): 75–88.
  • Munck, Ronaldo. 2020. Social Movements in Latin America : Mapping the Mosaic. Newcastle upon Tyne: Agenda Publishing. Chapter 3 (Pp 29-43).
  • Narotzky, Susana. 2018. ‘Rethinking the Concept of Labour’. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 24 (S1): 29–43.
  • Nash, June C. 1979. We Eat the Mines and the Mines Eat Us: Dependency and Exploitation in Bolivian Tin Mines. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Palermo, Hernán M. 2015. ‘Machos Que Se La Bancan: Masculinidad y Disciplina Fabril En La Industria Petrolera Argentina’. Desacatos, no. 47: 100–115.
  • Scasserra, Sofía and Partenio, Flora. 2021. ‘Precarización del trabajo y estrategias de trabajadoras en plataformas digitales: Trabajo desde el hogar, organización sindical y disputa por derechos en el contexto de la Pandemia del Covid-19’. Sociologias 23 (57): 174.
  • Ruiz Arrieta, Adriana Gloria (Ed). 2020. Tratado Latinoamericano de Antropología Del Trabajo. Argentina: CLACSO, 2020.
  • Soul, Julia. 2019. ‘“The Union Is like a Family Father, the Chief”. Working-Class Making and (Re) Making and Union Membership Experiences in Two Generations of Argentinian Metalworkers’. Dialectical Anthropology 44 (2): 137–51.
  • Thompson, Edward Palmer. 2013. The Making of the English Working Class. London: Penguin Books.
  • Ugarte, Sofía. 2021. ‘Desired Formality: Labor Migration, Black Markets, and the State in Chile’. Focaal, May, 1–14.
  • Wolanski, Sandra. 2019. ‘The Production of a Cause for Activism in Argentina: Labor Organization in Call Centers’. Anthropology of Work Review 40 (1): 36–46.
  • Wolf, Eric R. 2010. Europe and the People without History. Berkeley, California: University of California Press.