Geographies of Work Beyond the ‘Proper Job’

Type: Paper
Sponsor Groups: Political Geography Specialty Group, Development Geographies Specialty Group, Cultural Geography Specialty Group, Careers and Professional Development
Poster #:
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM (Eastern Standard Time)
Room: Wilson C, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Organizers: Jacob Henry
Chairs: Jacob Henry

Call for Submissions

This will be a traditional session(s) with 5 presenters per session.


"Indeed, the 'proper job' has served for so long as a presumed norm or telos of 'development' that we are too often left with a stunted and reactive set of categories and concepts for thinking about all the other ways in which people make their way in the world" (Ferguson and Li 2018, 1)

Scholars have documented the ways in which contemporary capitalism carves spaces of ‘expulsion,’ ‘surplus,’ ‘wagelessness,’ and ‘precarity’ (Davis 2006; Denning 2010; Ferguson 2006; Li 2010, 2013; Smith 2011; Sassen 2014). James Ferguson, for example, has advanced this scholarship writing that, “for a huge swath of the population, wage labor–based livelihoods are simply not going to return, and new forms of distribution are a permanent and necessary feature of the new world” (Ferguson 2015, 19). While Ferguson writes about southern Africa, other authors report similar situations of mass wageless in south Asia (Jeffrey 2010), southeast Asia (Li 2013), Europe (Breman and van der Linden 2014), and North America (Anyon 2011). In short, the prospect of acquiring a ‘proper job’ is a quickly diminishing reality for most of the world’s population (Ferguson and Li 2018). And yet, ‘job-edness’ or the hope for future ‘job-edness’ remains central in scholarly and everyday understandings of power and normalcy.

Can labor remain a compelling category in broader political economy in the face of mass wagelessness? What can everyday existences in spaces of wagelessness teach us about political economic theory, the realities of financialized capitalism, and possible futures beyond the job?

The panel will aim to interrogate how we can better theorize political economy and write ethnography given the diminishing importance of jobs to everyday lives and to capitalist production. Empirical and theoretical interventions are welcome. Please send abstracts to Jacob Henry ( by October 20th.

"Our epoch has been called the century of work. It is in fact the century of pain, misery and corruption."
(Lafargue 1907, 17)

Possible topics include:
• Linguistic/conceptual interventions against the language of deficiency (i.e. wagelessness, surplus)
• How have states responded to widespread wagelessness?
• How do people react to the delegitimation of job-hegemony?
• Development narratives in spaces beyond the ‘proper job’
• How are jobs connected to hopes and dreams of everyday development?
• Shifting social relationships in de-proletarianized spaces
• The role of schools in training a workforce with no outlet to sell their labor
• Socialist and other alternatives to free our conceptual categories from the ‘proper job’
• Geopolitics and the geoeconomics of financialized capitalism’s mechanisms and rationale for maintaining surplus
• Ethnographic work on the politics of waiting and development
• The (new) labor relationships in financialized capitalism


Type Details Minutes Start Time
Presenter Pavel Andrade*, , In search of a living wage: reading the working class in Diamela Eltit’s Mano de obra 20 9:55 AM
Presenter Jacob Henry*, University of Hawaii - Manoa, Lessons in Development: Official Schooling Narratives in Spaces of De-Proletarianization 20 10:15 AM
Presenter Andrew Deuchar*, University of Melbourne, Making it work in the informal economy: educated migrants navigating unemployment in Dehradun, north India 20 10:35 AM
Discussant William Monteith Queen Mary University of London 20 10:55 AM
Presenter Aman Luthra*, Kalamazoo College, Between strategy and necessity: formalized informality in urban India 20 11:15 AM

To access contact information login