The Many Faces of Work

The Society for the Anthropology of Work (SAW) embraces a range of interests from the academic documentation of the practices of work to active engagement with labor-related human rights. Work is a central activity of people’s waking hours and the social life of work and workers cuts across many of the fields of anthropological research and application, intersecting with the interests of our sister sections from health and medicine to food and agriculture. Some of the most distinguished works in our field began as examinations of other facets of cultural life and ended up painting a rich portrait of work life.

SAW members have created a corpus of literature, often published in our journal, the Anthropology of Work Review, and in longer book-length ethnographies. Some of the best anthropology of work research has emerged from practicing and public anthropologists tasked with making work life better. Many of our members both study and participate in labor rights.

The strike ends here. Samuel Weeks

Here we highlight two examples that illustrate the breadth of our section’s interests. Samuel Weeks’ article “Longing for ‘Normal’ Post-Fordism: Cape Verdean Labor-Power on a Lisbon Periphery in Crisis” in the Anthropology of Work Review, looks carefully at labor activism in Lisbon, weaving together the anthropology of Europe, political anthropology, and classic labor studies.

In the photograph “The strike ends here” (A greve (não) pára aqui), Samuel captures a protest in Chiado, an upscale tourism and shopping district of Lisbon, during Portugal’s general strike of 2010. Anti-capitalist protesters, the police, and high-end consumers inhabit the same space. The protestors’ original banner read “The strike doesn’t end here” but the photograph only captured “The strike ends here,” ironically highlighting the futile efforts of Portugal’s social movements to counter the regime of austerity imposed by the EU, IMF, and European Central Bank.

George Youngblood reattaching a separated fretboard, Youngblood Music Workshop. Kathryn Marie Dudley

Kathryn Dudley’s research highlights a different aspect of work, delving deeply into craft revival. She tells us about the builders of artisanal guitars, whose acoustic guitars are experiencing a renaissance in North America in her book, Guitar Makers: The Endurance of Artisanal Values in North America (2014). Her work demonstrates how anthropologists of work can document craft workers, in this case luthiers, who strive to make a living within a more ecologically sustainable alternative market. She links together economic and humanistic anthropology seen through the lens of craft work.

Whole regions are marked by the work that dominates their economy. Detroit’s Motor City and Hollywood’s Tinsel Town are matched by a 21st century tech-town in the San Francisco Bay Area’s Silicon Valley. J. A. English-Lueck’s second edition of [email protected] (2017) documents the permeation of work into family, politics, identity, and notions of self. New forms of work life proliferate, such as in co-working co-living households in which work dominates everyday life. This work weaves together the anthropology of work, technology, and business, crossing several sub-disciplinary boundaries.

We encourage those of you in other sections to consider how you too can “discover work” in your own research and writing. Anthropologists of work, ask yourself what other domains of cultural life cut across your research? How can collaborating with other sections benefit us all? If you are not a member of SAW, please consider how your own research illuminates the anthropology of work and join us!

Jan English-Lueck (San José State University, [email protected]) is the contributing editor for the Society for the Anthropology of Work.

Cite as: English-Lueck, Jan. 2017. “The Many Faces of Work.” Anthropology News website, August 4, 2017. doi: 10.1111/AN.549

Post a Comment

Want to comment? Please be aware that only comments from current AAA members will be approved. AN is supported by member dues, so discussions on anthropology-news.org are moderated to ensure that current members are commenting. As with all AN content, comments reflect the views of the person who submitted the comment only. The approval of a comment to go live does not signify endorsement by AN or the AAA.

Commenting Disclaimer

Want to comment? Please be aware that only comments from current AAA members will be approve. AN is supported by member dues, so discussions on anthropology-news.org are moderated to ensure that current members are commenting. As with all AN content, comments reflect the views of the person who submitted the comment only. The approval of a comment to go live does not signify endorsement by AN or the AAA.