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Philomathia Social Science Foundation

ReWorking Work: Labour and Livelihoods in the Global South.

Philomathia Social Sciences Research Symposium

Murray Edwards College, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK;

29 June - 1st July 2022

The contemporary trends in global labour demonstrate that today's world of work is fraught with fragility and vulnerability. The gradually shrinking proportion of waged employees remains concentrated in the so-called Global North while workers in the Global South suffer from precarious employment, informal employment and underemployment. The recent Covid-19 pandemic made these differences even more pronounced: the nature of global capital accumulation and labour absorption regimes, combined with the highly sectoral nature of socio-economic impacts of the recession, meant that some workers have shouldered the bulk of the burden more than others.

As policy makers around the globe deliberate the socio economic-recovery plans, we take the crisis as an opportunity to pause and reflect: what processes have been driving these long-standing inequalities? How have they been experienced by the workers? How have they manifested at individual, institutional and global levels? Can the crisis become an opportunity for systemic transformation?

The symposium comprises a research discussion forum (paper presentations) and a policy-and-practice oriented roundtable discussions. We invite:

  • Paper presentations:

We look at 'Environment', 'Technology', 'Gender' and 'Education' as strategic areas of both concern and opportunity. We seek contributions that describe, analyse and question the ways in which work and labour have been conceptualised to date. The objective is to re-evaluate the current theorizations and approaches and to design new analytical frameworks that can support, fuel and advance the global transformation of work. We invite both conceptual and empirical papers that consider a critical perspective within these following broad thematic areas, focusing specifically on people, processes and spaces in the Global South.

The presentations must not exceed 15 minutes. Full papers are encouraged but not required.

  • Roundtable discussions:

While the research papers consider the past and the present, the roundtable discussion sessions turn to what might be possible. The sessions will focus on what might be done to help solve some of the challenges discussed elsewhere in the symposium. In particular, policy, business, research, and developmental interventions will be considered. The session also welcomes active discussions of how to make the policy design, development, monitoring and evaluation more participatory/inclusive.

The roundtable discussions will comprise a brief introduction by the convenor, and a series of 2 min pitches (no slides) by the participants, followed by discussion.

Work and technology

Fuelled by technological advances, labour processes, organisational forms and standards are changing rapidly, generating both new opportunities and challenges for workers. These include transformations of traditional labour relationships and dissolution of geographical work boundaries and cause manifold shifts of how societies organise work, in legal, economic, social and cultural dimensions. Contributions are encouraged to engage with the role of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in creating, sustaining and transforming work. ICT-based innovations have the potential to create new work opportunities that offer an alternative to traditional employment but these are overshadowed by persistent challenges of the digital economy. While ICTs can improve productivity, reduce inefficiencies and address unemployment blackspots, they also trigger technological unemployment and further commodification of labour, while threatening autonomy and privacy.

Papers are invited to address the following broad questions: What has the current crisis revealed about the role of technology in shaping working lives? What types of technologies are likely to play a role? What are the perils and prospects envisioned? Can technology attenuate the harsh effects that the crisis is likely to have on workers' lives? How can we ensure that the emergent forms of technology-enabled work contribute to workers welfare and wellbeing?

Work in a changing environment

This session considers how environmental changes are impacting work, and also the potential for substantial green job creation going forwards. Most people's work is directly or indirectly dependent upon their immediate environment. The most obvious example of this is agriculture-based livelihoods. Yet the disruptive effects of a changing climate are impacting work in other ways, through increased droughts and floods disrupting water supplies and sometimes damaging infrastructure, through price increases in raw materials, and through high temperatures making workplaces inhospitable. One proposed solution is green jobs which tackle environmental problems while also creating work, and we welcome interventions which interrogate this concept and consider their potential.

Papers are invited to address the following broad questions: How is a changing climate disrupting current and future landscapes of work for communities across the Global South? What scope is there for a reconciliation between the perceived imperatives of industrialisation and economic growth, with environmental conservation in climate-vulnerable contexts? How might different stakeholders come together to promote the generation of greener, better jobs for the next generation?

Work and gender

Across the Global South, marginalised genders are overrepresented in unpaid or low-paid, informal, and precarious work. Gender equality and labour force participation goals are increasingly prioritised in the global development agenda. This session focuses on the complex relationships between gender, work and other intersectional factors such as migration, age, ethnicity or class, with respect to how this influences young people's livelihoods in the global South. We welcome contributions across and beyond these themes, exploring how gender and labour intersect to produce distinct realities for men, women and/or non-binary workers.

Papers are invited to address the following broad questions: How does gender identity shift an individual's aspirations, socio-spatial experiences, or societal expectations of work? What are the boundaries of 'female work', who draws them, and how do they shape women's experiences/opportunities of domestic and 'productive' labour? What is the role of socially reproductive labour in producing and maintaining conditions of 'economically productive work'?

Work and education

Amid technological revolutions, environmental crises, and a deficit of quality livelihood opportunities, education systems are tasked with equipping students to navigate an uncertain future. The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted how wealth, digital divides and gender conditions access to, and quality of, educational opportunities. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4, "ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all", sets an ambitious vision for education systems across the world that are holistic, resilient, and relevant. Growing recognition of the importance of so-called '21st Century Skills' or soft skills to both citizens and potential employers also points to a need to rethink current educational approaches and curricula.

Papers are invited to address the following broad questions: How do educational disparities manifest across geographical locations and intersecting identities? How does education map onto livelihood opportunities? How do students perceive the purpose of education and its importance in accessing work? What aspects of education are neglected in formal systems, and what can we learn from the myriad ways in which students are educating themselves through both formal and informal systems?

Getting involved

We welcome you to attend this event, either as a paper presenter, a round-table discussion convenor, or as a participant.

  • If you wish to present a paper, please send us your name and affiliation, along with an abstract (of roughly 200 words).
  • If you would like to chair a roundtable discussion, please send us the names and affiliations of the participants, along with a half a page description of the theme.

We also welcome unconventional presentations, including interactive sessions, workshops and artistic creations. Please do get in touch with your ideas. Please send your submissions to Dr Katarzyna Cieslik (kc566@cam.ac.uk) by May 15th, 2022.

PARTICIPATION IN THE EVENT IS FREE OF CHARGE. Lunch will be provided.

Limited options of accommodation are available for long-distance presenters. Please indicate whether you will require accommodation in Cambridge on 29th and 30th June 2022, as well as your dietary requirements, together with your submission.

If you have any questions, please write to Dr Katarzyna Cieslik (kc566@cam.ac.uk)

We look forward to welcoming you to Cambridge in June!

Katarzyna Cieslik, Anna Barford, Grace Mueller, and Kate Brockie


Previous events

See our archive of previous events.