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Workshare: "Labor Studies Frontiers: Prison, Precarity, and Morality"
Workshare: "Labor Studies Frontiers: Prison, Precarity, and Morality"
WhenWednesday, Jan. 31, 2018, 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Campus roomRoom 306
Event typesAcademics, Lectures/Seminars, Meetings, Workshops
Event sponsorsHarry Bridges Center for Labor Studies

Labor Studies Frontiers: Prison, Precarity, and Morality
Jan 31, Wednesday 12:00-14:00 (Smith 306)


This workshare features three research projects recently funded by the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies. The three graduate students share their projects in progress with preliminary research questions and findings. Their papers will be distributed one week advance the workshare. Light lunch and coffee will be served.

“A Taste of Freedom: the meaning and experience of work for formerly incarcerated Asian Pacific Islander individuals”

Jamie Wong, Occupational Health (Martha H. Duggan Fellowship in Caring Labor 2017)

This is a qualitative research in the realm of occupational health, investigating the encounters that formerly incarcerated API individuals have with work. Faced with the stigma of having a prison record, hidden under the model minority myth, and criminalized as perpetual foreigners with deportation orders sending many formerly incarcerated Southeast Asian American refugees back to their countries of origin, the successful transition of formerly incarcerated individuals are nonetheless measured through their engagement with commodified labor upon release. I hope to understand how individuals navigate these violent institutional barriers and what kinds of contradictory meanings and values they create and experience through work. The trajectory of working class life in the US have historically centered on the experiences and narratives of white able-bodied male workers. The prison system as part of the narrative of poor and working class life has been erased and invisibilized. Yet, the rise of the prison industrial complex is arguably linked to the rise of a surplus disposable population, consisting of many people of color and poor white people. This is reflected in racist domestic policies, and colonial policies, as evident in the narratives of Southeast Asian refugees and Pacific Islander immigrants in the US. The recomposition of the US working class consists also of these workers and their narratives and trajectory from formally free labor, to unfree labor in the prison system, back into the presumably free labor of post release. Their voices need to be heard as a key part of understanding the current state of class struggle.

“Recognizing Hazardous Working Conditions in Nonstandard Work Arrangements”

Allyson O'Connor, Department of Health Service (Washington State Labor Research Grant 2016)

In the decades since the passage of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSH Act) of 1970, the evolving nature of work organization and the shift away from standard employment relationships are profoundly affecting the health and safety of workers. As nonstandard work arrangements grow in the labor market, there is need for greater understanding of hazardous working conditions beyond the traditional occupational hygiene health and safety context. Concepts related to nonstandard work arrangements such as the fissured workplace, precarious labor, and contingent employment have all sought to explain the health implications of a changing labor market. While each of these terms have some overlapping attributes, and each have been associated with increased health risk in the workplace, their lack of clear conceptual definitions hampers their ability to explain these associations. I identify three key employment conditions which may clarify the adverse health outcomes associated with nonstandard work arrangements: the breakdown in full-time work, permanent contracts, and direct employer-employment relationships. I explore how nonstandard work arrangements impact health, including review of common definitions of employment types and proposed mechanisms by which they produce work-related health risks.

“Becoming a Cannabis Connoisseur: Moralizing Labor as a Moral Project of the Self”

Michele Cadigan, Sociology (Washington State Labor Research Grant 2017)

Economic sociologists have moved towards an understanding of the market as a moral project where moral values inform market activities and markets reshape moral values. Despite this growing literature, how moralizing labor—the labor workers engage in to bring moral value to market activities—shapes workers’ own sense of morality has been undertheorized. This study attempts to address this gap by examining moralizing labor as a moral project of the self. Using Seattle’s legal recreational cannabis industry as a case study, I draw from a year’s worth of ethnographic data across three local pot shops and thirty* semi-structured interviews with workers from shops across the city to understand how these market actors engage in moralizing labor and how this in turn shapes their own sense of morality. Workers who were able to engage in moralizing labor reported significant boosts to their own sense of moral value and social status. Women reported gender-specific barriers that prevented them from fully engaging in moralizing labor with many decoupling from the moralization project as a coping strategy. This study contributes to our understandings of markets attempting to gain legitimacy by specifying the potential for moralizing labor to have a reciprocal effect on workers and how these effects are moderated by gender.

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