Ethnographies of racialized labour processes

Convenors: Vando Borghi (University of Bologna) & Devi Sacchetto (University of Padova)

The production system, organized in chains of global value, is characterized by increasingly extensive processes of segmentation of labour. The structure of production is stratified with a division of workers thanks also to subcontractors and to (international) recruitment agencies. The distribution of workforce in these segments is often linked to the characteristics of individuals at the crossroads of a set of elements such as ‘race’, gender, class, citizenship, age, religion, language. These processes overcome labour markets and workplaces, extending to aspects of social reproduction.

The flexible segmentation of the European labour market seems to be supported by the reactivation of devices of racialization placing workers within a hierarchical scale in the concrete dimension of production systems. Diversity thus contribute to control and help to produce increasing value. These racialization devices need to be analyzed in close connection with the global value chains structure, the state policy and union strategies. It would be wrong, however, to consider the segmentation of occupational systems as a passive pigeonholed of the workforce because these ‘colour lines’ are crossed by continuous tensions with conflicting phenomena in and out of work.

These forms of conflict are often supported by migrants in workplaces that have already been racialized, as it is evident by the experiences of Italian agriculture and logistics. On the other hand, the mobility processes of Central and Eastern European citizens show that the ‘colour line’ does not run out in the skin colour element as they are affected by further stratification processes.

There are several “lines” of separation also among white workers that affect both the ‘new’ European (Eastearn) citizens as well as the ‘new’ migrants from Southern Europe. In the division of labour, we can also note the specific role played by gender, with migrants women that are mainly placed in the domestic services and often separated based on the country of origin and on the skin colour.

In this panel, we invite to submit papers focusing on the impact of the segmentation of the labour market, particularly with regard to social relations within the workforce. The ethnographic gaze could therefore offer a contribution to analyze the experience that workers make in the labour process both as form of representation and disputing, and finally of justification. Papers may include, but are not limited to, these topics:

  • Subjective perception and the ways in which individuals experience the processes of segmentation and racialization in workplace;
  • The different structure of production processes within which racialization patterns develop;
  • The role played by the institutional dimension;
  • The forms of critique, conflict and emancipation as a response to the experiences of racialization;
  • The problems of ethnographic research in investigating labour processes segmented.


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