In search of a living wage: reading the working class in Diamela Eltit’s Mano de obra

Authors: Pavel Andrade*,
Topics: Social Theory, Latin America, Social Geography
Keywords: labour, working class, wages, Latin America, capitalism, value, alienation, literature
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Wilson C, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper studies qualitative transformations in the composition of the working class over the last 25 years through the representation of the workplace and labour relations in contemporary Latin American narrative. Following Harvey in his commentary on the mobility of variable capital (2006) and Antunes on his demand to update the definition of the working class to include “all those who sell their labour-power in exchange for a wage,” (2013) I will argue that the recent changes in the morphology of the working class intensify rather than dissolve the centrality of labour and labour exploitation under late capitalism. This approach, I contend, allows to “decentre wage labour in our conception of life under capitalism” (Denning 2010) without neglecting the central role the productive worker still plays in the creation of value. This perspective allows to call into question, from the standpoint of labour itself, the theoretical purchase of the category “bare life” to adequately grasp the relation between structural unemployment and the reproduction of labour-power today. Finally, I will argue that the study of literature can indeed help us expand the categories we use to think and problematize present day work relations. I will refer this discussion to a short novel first published in Spanish in 2002 by Chilean author Diamela Eltit. The novel deals with the experience of a group of supermarket workers who struggle to stay afloat in the midst of an unforgiving and relentless process of labour alienation.

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