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Embodying Labor, Then and Now

  • Carol Wolkowitz (a1)

In her introduction to the new edition of Women on the Line, first published in 1982, Miriam Glucksmann notes that it had been written well before the body and embodiment had become an explicit focus of studies of work and employment. However, rereading Women on the Line reminds us that ethnographers have long paid attention to the embodied aspects of work, although few of them have written about them as eloquently as Glucksmann. In the original volume she was able to articulate how it felt to experience herself in relation to her environment, a phenomenological perspective made possible by her adoption of an autoethnographic writing style (a strategy linked to her rejection both of a narrowly academic approach and, in consequence, of the disembodied authorial voice that tended to go with it). Perhaps another reason why Glucksmann was able to write about her working on the line with such sensitivity to the embodiment of the experience is that she was new to assembly line work, so the embodied routines of factory life had not yet been submerged below the level of conscious articulation. It is useful therefore to summarize what she had to say and to think about how we can build on it.

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1. Glucksmann, Miriam, Women on the Line (London, 2009).

2. Ibid., 75.

3. Glucksmann, Miriam, Women Assemble: Women Workers and the New Industries in Inter-war Britain (London, 1990).

4. Ibid. See also, for instance, Glucksmann's, MiriamCotton and Casuals: The Gendered Organization of Labour in Time and Space (Durham, UK, 2000) and Why Work?: Gender and the Total Social Organization of Labour,” Gender, Work and Organization 2 (1995):6375.

5. Wolkowitz, Carol and Warhurst, Chris, “Embodying Labour” in Working Life: Renewing Labour Process Analysis, ed. Thompson, Paul and Smith, Chris (Basingstoke, UK, 2010).

6. Ngai, Pun, Made in China: Women Factory Workers in a Global Workplace (Durham, NC, 2005).

7. Salzinger, Leslie, Genders in Production: Making Workers in Mexico's Global Factories (Berkeley, 2003).

8. Pun Ngai, Made in China, 105.

9. Lan, P.-C., “The Body as a Contested Terrain for Labor Control: Cosmetics Retailers in Department Stores and Direct Selling” in The Critical Study of Work, ed. Baldoz, R., Koeber, C., and Kraft, P. (Philadelphia, 2001).

10. Wolkowitz, Carol, Bodies at Work (London, 2006); Twigg, Julia, Wolkowitz, Carol, Cohen, Rachel, and Nettleton, Sarah, “Conceptualising Body Work in Health and Social Care,” Sociology of Health and Illness 33 (2011).

11. Kent, Katherine, “Employment Changes over 30 Years,” Economic and Labour Market Review 3 (2009): 34.

12. Cohen, Rachel, “Time, Space and Touch: Body Work and the Labour Process” Sociology of Health and Illness 33 (2011): 193.

13. Paterson, Mark, “Haptic Geographies,” Progress in Human Geography 33 (2009).

14. Glucksmann, Women on the Line, 55.

15. Theodosius, Catherine, The Unmanaged Heart of Emotional Labour in Health Care (London, 2008).

16. Wolkowitz and Warhurst, “Embodying Labour.”

17. Black, Paula, The Beauty Industry (Abingdon, OX, UK 2004) and Kang, Miliann, The Managed Hand: Race, Gender and the Body in the Beauty Service Industry (Berkeley, 2010).

18. Diamond, Tim, Making Gray Gold: Narratives of Nursing Home Care (Chicago, 1992); Lopez, Steven, “Culture Change Management in Long-term CarePolitics and Society 34 (2006).

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International Labor and Working-Class History
  • ISSN: 0147-5479
  • EISSN: 1471-6445
  • URL: /core/journals/international-labor-and-working-class-history
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