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Conceptualizing Labor

Paper Session

Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM

Hyatt Regency Atlanta, Hanover A
  • Chair: Noe Wiener, University of Massachusetts-Amherst

Alternative Work Arrangements as Labor Discipline

Erik Olsen
University of Missouri-Kansas City
Jacob Powell
University of Missouri-Kansas City


Wage growth has typically been strongly correlated with declines in unemployment, but in the recent business cycle this has broken down. We propose that changes in labor relations within enterprises is a largely unrecognized aspect of this. The internal labor markets, job ladders, union representation, and labor hoarding characteristic of an earlier era of U.S. capitalism, have largely been replaced by labor market competition, limited opportunity for advancement, restricted job tenures, involuntary part-time work, and few limitations on discharge. Temporary agency employees, on-call or contract workers, and independent contractors now represent a significant percentage of the workforce. We argue that this inversion of the relative positions of the conditions associated with the “primary” and “secondary” job markets is an important contributor to the decoupling of wages from unemployment. Changing policies within firms both reflect the declining bargaining power of labor and reinforce it. Furthermore, this represents a new regime of labor control, distinct from the earlier forms of technical control and bureaucratic control, which needs to be understood in its own right.

Working as an end: The importance of work capability in shaping employees’ human development: an examination in Vietnam

Dai Duong
University of Missouri-Kansas City


The paper, on the one hand, recognizes the importance of work capability in shaping human development. On the other hand, it advocates integrating work capability into measuring human development. While the definition of human development is very general, its measurement ˗ the human development index ˗ is too specific, insufficient and overestimated because work capability is neglected to take into account. I expect to raise more attention of academia and policymakers in creating legal frameworks and working environments that support and improve working people’s work capability. That is the right way to achieve and sustain a high degree of human development for people.
The above argument is examined with the application of a structural equation model which is used to operationalize capabilities as latent variables. The model is applied to employees in the Vietnam Household Living Standards Survey 2014. Four capabilities and their relations among each other: work capability, being knowledgeable, being healthy, and decent living are estimated to reveal how work capability affects other capabilities. Then, the human development score for each individual is calculated, following the official United Nations Development Programme formula, and compared in two situations: one with three estimated capabilities representing three elements of human life (being healthy, being knowledgeable, and living decently), another with the above three capabilities and work capability. The difference between individual human development scores manifests the importance of work capability when it is taken into account to measure human development.

Overaccumulation, Crisis, and the Contradictions of Household Waste Sorting

Kirstin Munro
St. John’s University


This paper builds on Marxist-feminist analyses of the links between the household, the economy, and the state through a discussion of recycling, pointing to the ways the unwaged work of household waste sorting contributes to capitalism’s crisis-prone dynamic of overaccumulation. A periodization of “waste regimes” reveals how the state management of waste both mirrors and is implicated in accumulation regimes, their crises, and their resolutions. The current recycling crisis demonstrates the contradictory nature and futility of recycling in capitalism.

Can ‘Landnahme’ Finally Locate the Role of Care Work for the Capitalist Mode of Production?

Anna Saave-Harnack
Friedrich-Schiller University Jena


In the last decades, ‘Landnahme’ has become increasingly prominent in sociological and critical
geographic approaches to explain current crises connected to economic processes. The concept
of ‘Landnahme’, also known as continued primitive accumulation, originates from political
economy (Luxemburg 1913) and is used today to describe the capitalist mode of production’s
dependency on nature and unpaid labor as the basis for realizing profits (Harvey 2005, Dörre
Some feminist theorists (Bennholdt-Thomsen 1981, Feministische Autorinnengruppe 2013,
Soiland 2016, Dowling 2016, Haubner 2017) already applied this concept to feminist concerns
such as unpaid care work or women’s job opportunities. In which ways can we compare and
systemize the application of the concept of ‘Landnahme’ to feminist concerns? While answering
this question, the paper will distinguish these applications from other approaches which locate
the role of care work or reproductive work for the capitalist mode of production differently,
such as the conceptualization of reproductive work as surplus-labour time as in the wages for
housework debate (Dalla Costa 1972, Müller 2016) or the conceptualization of care work as
embodied debt as in feminist ecological economics (Salleh 2009). Secondly, the paper will
propose a new application of the ‘Landnahme’ concept to study the connectedness of the
capitalist mode production with the (unpaid) care economy and the subsistence economy by
providing a specific definition of Landnahme, which is applicable to research in the field of
feminist radical political economics. The paper in general seeks to connect feminist perspectives
on political economy with findings of feminist economics.
Noe Wiener
University of Massachusetts-Amherst
JEL Classifications
  • J0 - General
  • J1 - Demographic Economics