Invisible Labor Colloquium

Getty Images,
David H. Wells/Zuma Press,
Yay Images

February 7-8, 2013

By Invitation Only


This colloquium brings together an interdisciplinary group of scholars to pose two fundamental questions: what counts as work, and why are some workers invisible?  We focus on the many forms of labor that are not conceptualized as work and so remain hidden from public view.  In the process, we highlight the shifting boundaries between market work and leisure, economic coercion and choice, embodied and disembodied labor, commercial and social labor, and virtual and material work.  

Our aim is to elaborate on the central concept of invisible labor as housework, and consider the impact of modern economic, legal, and social trends: outsourcing and marketization of services; degradation and fragmentation of employment structures; waning state protections of work; rising consumption, aesthetics, and appearance industries; expanding platforms of technology, communication and networks; and growth of globalization, offshoring, and multinational firms.

In particular, we consider how the following dynamics structure the invisibility of labor: when work is unpaid; when work falls outside legal or state parameters; when work is seen as a voluntary or chosen activity; when it occurs within a social interaction that has not historically been deemed economically valuable; when work is performed by women, people of color, and/or members of vulnerable and marginalized groups; and alternatively, when dominant gender, sexual, and racial/ethnic organizational imperatives motivate employees to perform additional tasks; when the bodies doing the work are hidden through the physical organization of work time and space; when the work occurs in a technological platform that splits or masks their tasks.  Crossing the occupational hierarchy and spectrum, from high to low, professional to manual, we hope to engage a discussion that broadens our understanding of labor in the contemporary era.

Tomashi Jackson, "High Tide (Red Handed)" 2012 

Adam Arvidsson – University of Milan (Sociology)
Dianne Avery – University at Buffalo - SUNY (Law)
John Budd – University of Minnesota (Labor)
Devon Carbado – UCLA School of Law (Law)
Miriam Cherry – Saint Louis University School of Law (Law)
Marion Crain – Washington University School of Law (Law)
Adrienne Davis – Washington University School of Law (Law)
Erin Hatton – University at Buffalo - SUNY (Sociology)
Arlie Hochschild – University of California - Berkeley (Sociology)
Lisa Nakamura – University of Michigan (Asian American Studies/Gender Studies)
Eileen Otis – University of Oregon (Sociology)
Winifred Poster – Washington University in St. Louis (Sociology)
Laura Rosenbury – Washington University School of Law (Law)
Trebor Scholz – The New School (Culture and Media Studies)
Peggie Smith – Washington University School of Law (Law)
Chris Warhurst – The University of Sydney (Work and Organizational Studies)
Christine Williams – University of Texas at Austin (Sociology)
Matt Bodie – Saint Louis University School of Law (Law)
Rafael Gely – University of Missouri - Columbia School of Law (Law)
Pauline Kim – Washington University School of Law (Law)
Marcia McCormick – Saint Louis University School of Law (Law)
Karen Tokarz – Washington University School of Law (Law)