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Tag: Cultural Studies

Journée d’étude InCIAM / OBERT

Femmes et travail : reconfigurations d’une relation narrative

La relation entre les femmes et le monde du travail est une relation complexe et multiforme qui, au fil du temps, a été définie (et continue d’être redéfinie) non seulement en termes matériels et économiques, mais aussi à un niveau discursif et symbolique. Si « l’économie redevient une dimension politique et relationnelle dans laquelle le langage joue une fonction constitutive, à travers l’acte premier de nommer et de négocier le sens des besoins » (Giardini 2017), la voix des femmes représente toujours une perspective subordonnée qui est plus que nécessaire pour comprendre les processus de transformation dans le monde du travail (Ventura 2018).

Sur la base de la dynamique intersectionnelle décrite par Nixon dans Slow Violence and The Enviromentalism of The Poor (2011), la relation entre les récits hégémoniques, souvent masculins, et les perspectives minoritaires s’inscrit dans la dynamique plus large de la domination et de l’invisibilité. La prix Nobel Claudia Goldin (2023) parle depuis longtemps d’une « révolution silencieuse », « réalisée par des individus qui ignoraient faire partie d’une transformation majeure » de la société et du monde du travail, aboutissement des différentes phases de l’émancipation identitaire et économique des femmes au cours du 20e siècle (Goldin 2006).

Dans Forces of Reproduction, en reprenant la pensée de l’écoféminisme matérialiste, l’historienne environnementale, Stefania Barca affirme que « les femmes forment la grande majorité du prolétariat mondial (c’est-à-dire des dépossédés et des exploités du monde) – une classe de travailleurs dont les corps et les capacités productives ont été possédées par le capital et les institutions capitalistes ». Si les nœuds relationnels – les entanglements selon la physicienne Barad (2007) – constituent la matérialité du monde du travail, « l’écoféminisme matérialiste nous aide à voir l’écologie des communautés de travailleurs » (Barca 2020).

Enfin, silencieux était également le printemps 1962, date de la publication de l’œuvre Silent Spring de la biologiste Rachel Carson, qui, en avance sur son temps, a reconnu les risques environnementaux de l’hyperproductivisme capitaliste. Si on réfléchit sur l’importance du langage pour la critique de la culture d’une société, on constate l’insistance, bien que polysémique, du champ sémantique du silence autour du thème de la femme et du travail.

Pour cette raison, la relation entre les récits de travail, les questions de genre et l’urgence écologique est le thème central de notre journée d’étude. Les deux trajectoires différentes mais croisées que nous étudierons, de manière synchronique ou diachronique, sont : d’une part, les modalités et les formes de la représentation culturelle du travail des femmes et, d’autre part, l’analyse des voix des femmes (écrivaines, réalisatrices, journalistes, artistes) qui ont traité du travail, que ce soit en tant que thème ou en tant qu’élément métanarratif, dispositif narratif ou objet d’étude théorique.

L’année 1945 est fixée comme le terme post quem, début d’une phase de transformation de la société et de l’économie européennes, avec toutefois des différences significatives entre les différents pays du continent. Dans ces coordonnées temporelles et spatiales, nous souhaitons engager une réflexion interdisciplinaire et transmédia sur les représentations artistiques qui explorent la relation entre le thème du travail et la perspective féminine, en mettant en évidence ses formes, ses thèmes et ses structures. La journée d’étude a pour but de rassembler une première série de cas d’étude, potentiellement extensibles, dans lesquels les voix des femmes peuvent occuper à la fois la place du sujet représenté ou le rôle du sujet qui prend la parole, d’artiste qui observe et représente le monde du travail à partir d’une perspective minoritaire et, potentiellement, alternative.

Lien pour télécharger le Programme

Narratives of Unpaid Labour

MMLL Cross-Faculty Seminar Series

Co-convened by Erica Bellia (Italian) and Liesbeth François (Spanish)

in collaboration with Anna Ceschi (POLIS), Carlo Baghetti (CNRS, Aix-Marseille Université), OBERT (European Observatory of Labour Narratives), Cinematic Precarity Research Network and Cambridge Labour History Cluster

A person may be visibly controlled by another person, may be bruised or even branded, may be laboring incessantly among family members who are relaxing, may go entirely unpaid for her work or have all of her wages stolen, and still most people would not recognize her enslavement as such because for much of the last one hundred years, people around the world have assumed that slavery has been eradicated.

(Laura T. Murphy, The New Slave Narrative)

Unpaid labour is a submerged reality in most societies, at different levels (Swiebel 1999; Boris 2017). It has always existed and continues to exist in many contexts on the global scale but it is most often removed from public discourse. Over the past decades, both literary and non-literary narratives focusing on the experience of unpaid labour have emerged in different but interlinked cultural contexts to address this lacuna. Slavery, care work and reproductive tasks, but also voluntary activities and precarious jobs are very different forms of labour but they all involve, to different extents, work that is performed with little to no retribution. They become invisible mechanisms for the functioning of local and global economies. They have always been unevenly distributed among different groups in societies, according, for example, to gender, race and class, and, for this reason, they have most often been approached from the point of view of inequality rather than from a labour angle (Manning 2017). Looking at these phenomena from the perspective of labour studies – focusing particularly on the way in which structural economic conditions shape their meaning and affective realities – allows the contradiction between labour as emancipation and as exploitation to manifest itself most starkly.

In many cases, statistics or top-down historiography give us fundamental quantitative understanding of unpaid labour (see for example ILOstat reports). This is often detached from the lived experience of those who work without being remunerated. Those who practice unpaid labour first-hand are not always in the conditions to tell their stories spontaneously, directly and/or have them published (Cruz 2021). Moreover, they can do so only retrospectively, when the imposition of labour has ended. Activists, writers, artists, filmmakers, cultural practitioners, journalists, historians, sociologists, and, when possible, workers themselves have in many cases taken up the task of making lived experiences of unpaid labour resurface, narrating and mediating them in different forms – as happens, for instance, in the work of French writer Éduoard Louis, Chilean author Diamela Eltit, Mexican writer and journalist Fernanda Melchor, Italian writer and Holocaust survivor Primo Levi, Sudanese author and activist Mende Nazer, among others, as well as in feminist practices of raising consciousness. Culture, in this sense, becomes an important medium for these phenomena to enter a sphere of recognition (Felski 2021) where they are grasped in their full implications. Narratives of unpaid labour have been moreover crucial in the construction of forms of resistance and rebellion against exploitation, as is the case for slave narratives and accounts of reproductive labour performed by women (Ernest 2014; Salazar Parreñas and Boris 2010).

This seminar series aims to foster a cross-cultural, multilingual and interdisciplinary dialogue by focusing on cultural products and testimonial materials that have emerged in different geographical contexts throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, in the years, therefore, that saw the formal abolition of slavery on the global scale. Studying narratives of different forms of unpaid labour through a comparative approach means uncovering the significance of these experiences and labour relations for a variety of subjects and gaining qualitative insight into the evolution and dissemination of such practices in societies that often officially repudiate slavery but reproduce, or externalise, many of its patterns.

As part of the series, we aim to address these questions, among others: how do we talk about unpaid labour? Who tells and publishes stories of unpaid labour, how and why? What are the intended audiences for these narratives? Who facilitates the expression of these somehow untellable narratives and through which channels? Which tropes have been employed to narrate unpaid labour? What broader social and cultural imaginaries do they invoke? Which uses can be made of narratives of unpaid labour? To what extent can they be read as forms of resistance to oppression? 

The aim of this interdisciplinary series is threefold:

1) discuss the media, genres, forms of cultural and artistic expressions and tropes that have been employed to narrate unpaid labour across time and space, and the methodologies to study them

2) contribute to mapping, reconstructing and studying a corpus of narratives of unpaid labour produced across different linguistic, historical and geographical contexts and media

3) develop a network of scholars and practitioners potentially interested in designing a larger research project on narratives of unpaid labour in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Programme – Part One (ET 2024)

1) 30 April 2024, 3:30pm, Alison Richard Building, SG2, & online via Zoom

Francesco Sticchi (Oxford Brookes, Film Studies)

‘From Negative Affectivity to the Joy of Insurrection: Class Consciousness in Cinematic Experiences’

2) 14 May 2024, 3:30pm, MMLL Faculty, Raised Faculty Building, Room 336, & online via Zoom

Samita Sen (Cambridge, History)

‘Some Complexities of Studying Unpaid Work: Interdisciplinarity and Intersectionality’

3) 28 May 2024, 3:30pm, MMLL Faculty, Raised Faculty Building, Room 336, & online via Zoom

Robert S. G. Gordon (Cambridge, Italian)

‘Primo Levi and Slave Labour at Auschwitz-III’