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Workplace Matters Podcasts

Episode One: In this episode Dimitra Kofti hosts a roundtable with Gorkem Akgoz, Rick Halpern, Bridget Kenny, Asli Odman, Nico Pizzolato and Mariana Stoler who discuss the following questions: How does a workplace-level analysis inform our historical understanding of capitalism? How has the workplace been studies and conceptualised in our area of focus and what are the limits of that approach? How can we study the workplace in an interdisciplinary perspective? What is to be gained? 

Episode Two: In this podcast Dina Mehnaz Siddiqi, an anthropologist at NYU, introduces her long-term ethnographic study of garment workers in Bangladesh. She reflects on the historical debates between Marxists and culturalists that inspired her as an undergraduate in Dhaka in the 1990s to study women working in Bangladesh’s export garment industry. She recalls how her expectations were challenged by the subjectivity, morality, and politics of the workers she encountered. She shows how their new identities were shaped by the spatiality of the workplace, as well as their positions in the city and in the middle-class imagination of the nation. She outlines how this changed over the last four decades, and how this came about due to the strategies of transnational capital and the Bangladeshi state, as well as the everyday struggles and militant protests of workers themselves. She emphasizes the importance of clearly locating the industry in the global context established by supply chains linking multinational corporations, national governments, local capitalists, and workers in asymmetrical fashion. She also reflects on the paucity of research on environmental justice in the study of the garment industry and points to the lack of attention to labor issues in the feminist agenda. Lastly, Dina calls upon anthropologists, historians, and sociologists to act more as public intellectuals and engage in wider social debates.

Episode Three: In this episode celebrated historian Marcus Rediker discusses his new project, “Escaping Slavery by Sea,” a book that explores how self-emancipated slaves escaped by sea. He starts by approaching the terra-centric bias of the historical discipline (2:18-8:12);  shows how “history from below” has been a central methodological theme of his work together with the transatlantic historical vision of CLR James (9:10-14:42); talks about E.P. Thompson’s concept “agency” and CLR James’ notion of “self-activity” and recovering the voices of historical subjects (14:43-21:03). He  touches on mobile and immobile workers and modes of storytelling (22:12-26:36); the ship as a “factory” in the early history of capitalism and the “infrastructure of escape” (26:37-33:50); violence and the necropolitical aspects of labour discipline (35:20 - 39:36); and teaching ‘history from below’ (39:37-49:40). The episode ends with a discussion of history writing and collaboration with other practitioners (49:41-55:05); and history writing and contemporary organising (55:06- 1:00:15).

Episode Four: In this episode we discuss platform work with Paolo Borghi, Fikile Masikane, Kaveri Medappa, Rebecca Prentice, and Edward Webster all of whom have conducted ethnographic research on the gig economy of food delivery workers and app-based cab drivers in different countries.  In this, the first of two episodes, we talk about similarities and difference in platform work between different countries and the aspirations and challenges that workers in this sector face. As these research projects are based on ethnographic fieldwork, one of the fascinating aspects that comes across is how workers themselves perceive their labour for these platforms and the way this kind of work shapes their life course. This first part concludes with a discussion of how apps organise the labour process and the contractual relationship between the platforms and the workers.

Workplace Matters podcasts are produced by: Görkem Akgöz, Prerna Agarwal, Hasan Ashraf, Rick Halpern, Arnaud Kaba, Bridget Kenny, Sandra Lourenço, Aslı Odman,  Nico Pizzolato, Mariana Stoler, Christian Strümpell, and Maica Gugolati