Labour and Development II

Labour and Development II: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue

24th February 2017, University of Sussex

Following a very successful event at De Montfort University in June 2016 we are delighted to announce the second workshop in the Subjecting Labour series at the University of Sussex. The series seeks to build interdisciplinary methodological approaches to understanding “labour” as an active subject in development. It brings together Anthropology, Industrial Relations, Geography, and International Political Economy (IPE) and is currently building towards a special issue in a leading journal.

Anthropologists and geographers have long engaged with ‘agency’ in order to understand how workers negotiate and interpret local economies, spatial conditions and processes of development. Yet, primarily, this has remained focused on the ability of various labouring communities to manoeuvre, shape or re-interpret the confines of global and state structures, shifting economic configurations and development programs or policies. Likewise, labour agency is central to studies of industrial relations, albeit as a ‘collective actor’ that mobilises institutional means to bargain for better wages and conditions.  However, traditional/institutional industrial relations lack attention to forms of labour that have always existed as a value creator beyond the formal workplace: in households, communities and in the realm of social reproduction, or to the wider concerns and role of labour in society. For scholars in IPE, a discipline founded on understanding the relationship between states and markets, labour has been gaining increasing attention. From contesting firm strategies within global production networks to directly and indirectly influencing the policy decisions of states, labour gained new analytical significance. Yet, as with industrial relations, labour is too often conceptualised as an “interest group”, with this remaining locked either into traditional Marxist dichotomies of class or by situating labour as an institutional actor pursuing gains from a process within which its role is already circumscribed.

The workshop series has developed as a means to rethink definitions, strategies and struggles of labour in production and reproduction.  Labour has, to varying degrees, been an actor in development, in freedom struggles in the Global South and in universal aspirations towards improved quality of life, citizenship rights and other forms of change. Remaining conscious of the ambiguity of defining what ‘labour’ can be seen to incorporate, we seek to rethink the historical and contemporary role of ‘labour’ in impacting development trajectories and discourses.  We seek to build understanding around the relationship between ‘labour’ and (the often messy, contested or contradictory) forms of development that take place at state level and beyond.  We began this process in the first workshop.  However, there were also areas we saw as needing further thought.  Thus we are asking contributors, against the broader background of the workshop program, to consider the following thematic questions:

  • How to consider forms, methods, and impacts of resistance in terms of labour and development?
  • How to deal with tensions and contradictions of states playing a ‘progressive’ role vis-à-vis labour?
  • What is the role of social reproduction, not just in creating forms of exploitation, but as a potential location for new types of resistance?
  • How might we resituate ‘informal’ labour at the forefront of these issues and deal with the blurred nature of the formal/informal dichotomy?
  • How might we deal with developing work which considers more affective and emotive engagements with labour, labour markets, labour force control as well as dualistic appeals to alternative visions and forms of organisation beyond ‘formal’ or ‘traditional’ means of mobilising?


Contact at University of Sussex: Dr Thomas Chambers,


Organising Committee: Dr Adam Fishwick (DMU, International Political Economy); Dr Thomas Chambers (Sussex, Anthropology); Dr Anita Hammer (DMU, Work and employment relations and Economic Geography)


Advisors: Professor Jonathan Davies (DMU), Dr Geert de Neve (Sussex), Dr Benjamin Selwyn (Sussex)

Other Network Members: Dr Kevin Gray (University of Sussex); Dr Alessandra Mezzadri (SOAS); Dr Fenella Porter (Ruskin College); Brandon Sommers (ISS); Ilias Alami (University of Manchester); Eva Herman (Middlesex University); Dr Matteo Rizzo (SOAS); Dr Nik Hammer (Leicester)