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Franco Barchiesi (Department of Comparative Studies and Department of African American and African Studies, Ohio State University)
In the wake of the past decade of global capitalist meltdown, amplified by the current pandemic, corporate and state management of crisis has revealed the precarity of lives forced to depend on waged jobs that, in the context of COVID-19, have been wiped out by the tens of millions, belying the normative values attached to employment status and policy fixations with “job creation”. Precarity verges indeed on the actual lethality of jobs deemed “essential”, whose allocation reflects long-standing patterns of racial domination. While stimulated by the ethical collapse of job-centered social imagination, which COVID-19 dramatically underscores, this presentation is not primarily focused on the eventfulness of specific crises as highlighting the precarity of employment, or even on growing scholarly perceptions of how precarity announces the twilight of neoliberalism. Instead, to write about the lethal entanglements of work and precarity in times like this demands attention to long-duration paradigms that structure contingency and event, revealing the permanence of violence in excess of the framework of political economy. My core argument is that the nexus of work, death, and mass disposability rests on the ways in which racial domination and colonial dispossession have informed the conjunction of work and citizenship in the transition from post-slavery emancipation to the globalization of the racial as a principle for the hierarchical ordering of difference between the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries. Within that global context—which critical Black perspectives have increasingly referred to as “the afterlife of slavery”—the notion of citizenship came to revolve around work and economic activity according to modalities that critical theory has analyzed as hegemonic, disciplinary, or biopolitical. None of these modalities, however, address the ways in which employment has been assumed to be the horizon and structural limitation of Black emancipation as geared not to citizenship but to renewed captivity and social death. Positioning the constitutive precarity of capitalist employment within reconfigured structures of post-slavery anti-Black violence offers therefore stronger analytical insights into the non-contingent lethality of commodity-producing work as well as its persistent racialization.
About the Speaker
Franco Barchiesi is an Associate Professor in the Department of Comparative Studies and the Department of African American and African Studies at Ohio State University. He has also taught at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg (where he received his Ph.D. in Sociology), the University of Bologna (Italy), and Brooklyn College, City University of New York. He is a former Larry Donnell Andrews Fellow at the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, Harvard University and a current Senior Editor of the journal "International Labor and Working-Class History". Barchiesi's latest book, Precarious Liberation: Workers, the State, and Contested Social Citizenship in Postapartheid South Africa (State University of New York Press, 2011) is a recipient of the CLR James Award from the Working-Class Studies Association. Barchiesi is now working on two book projects, one theorizing the concept of precarity through Black radical theory's engagement with the implications of wage labor in racial domination and antiblackness, the other studying how the connection between wage labor and antiblack violence constitutively defined, in the transatlantic space of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, liberalism as the dominant contemporary political paradigm of domination, agency, and conflict.
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