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Wage Labor and Markers of Social Class

Session XII-10, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Sunday, December 4 at 11:00 am

Panel Description
  • The paper analyses and theorises the role of wages in global labour markets in the processes of class formation in the Gulf. It disaggregates the usual spatialisation of class in the Gulf into a division between a working-class foreigner and a capitalist-elite citizen. Using wages as an entry point, it shows how class intersects with the governance and regulation of Gulf labour in interesting ways. As feminist political economy teaches us, wages reflect how we value particular forms of work and also how the attribution of value is institutionalised through wages (Peterson 2003; Hoskyns and Rai 2007). A view of wages uncovers certain patterns of work and class formation and how these processes occur in global labour markets like those in the Gulf. With few exceptions (e.g. Hanieh 2011; Hashimi 2019; Kanna 2020), most scholarship on the Gulf fails to take class seriously, even considering the analysis of class irrelevant. This argument, dominant in rentier state literature, proposes that in some modes of production like rentier, redistributive states, very little production occurs and thus class relations become less vital. In contrast, but in conversation with an emerging literature, this paper underlines the significance of including class. Using the departure point of wages allows us to unpack class in the Gulf, making the following two claims. First, wages substantiate the view of Gulf labour as inherently and intensely global, and subject to flows, contested sovereignty, and ideologies that circulate in global capitalism. Second, wages – their determination, distribution, and giving – underpins relations of inclusion and exclusion which reveal how the politics and practice of difference in global capitalism produces particular tensions and perceptions of power and value that influence labour relations and reproduce class. Overall, this lens reveals the dialectic of neoliberal reform or the ‘invisible hand’ of market regulation in conflict with the ‘visible’ hand of state regulation in terms of labour protection and migration control. This tension sits at the heart of labour governance in the Gulf, and is a regulatory force running alongside and in between the various actors and institutions in multiple levels and spaces of governance. These dynamics therefore not only complicate assumptions about class in the Gulf, but also help explain the ebbs and flows in the successes and failures of labour market policies, and the forms of social resistance.
  • This project analyzes cosmopolitanism as a social performance that conceals the categorical inequality between temporary migrants and nationals. While recruited primarily for labor, many temporary migrants live and experience the host community as members of varying degrees. Drawing on 32 months of participant observation and ethnographic research in Dubai, UAE, I show how the temporary migrants perform their everyday belonging despite the systematic inequalities and state policies preventing their settlement. When states paradoxically implement policies of segregation and political projects of tolerance, migrants respond by employing cosmopolitan narratives to perform their sense of belonging. In this framework, cosmopolitanism addresses the tension between exclusion and emancipation – a context employed by the migrants to build their homes in the legal, social, and temporal sense to feel that they belong to Dubai. Social tensions and segregation notwithstanding, their performance of cosmopolitanism allows the residents – both the national and non-national alike – to engage with one another in a spirit of civility in the front until the suppressed facts make an appearance in the backstage. This paper underlines the hierarchical inequality that pervades along class, gender, age, national, and racial lines not only between nationals and non-nationals, but also within nationals and non-nationals, and the performance of cosmopolitanism that enables the successful coexistence of these groups. In doing so, this study takes an in-depth and often personal look at the temporary migrants, nationals, and even tourists, and their corresponding performances on an everyday level to demonstrate their belonging in relation to the other groups.
  • Social, political, and economic lives have been transformed in line with neoliberalism and Islamic conservatism in Turkey under the ruling of Justice and Development Party’s (JDP) since 2003. As a result, the parameters and structure of the social reproduction - both the “social” (or reproduction of labor power) and the “economic” (or production of commodities) levels- has changed. The goal of the current study is to explain the changes in social reproduction at the intersection of the social, economic, and political changes in Turkey since 2003. To do this, we will focus on the following three changes. First, we trace the trajectory of social policy practices by analyzing transfers to the individuals and households to understand social reproduction at the household level. Second, we will examine the economic policies and practices in the same period by identifying structural changes and shifts in economic reproduction. Third, we will examine the changes in the structure and functions of the state in the social and economic reproduction.
  • Moving away from the diffusionist model of technology that tends to privilege the narrative of Euro-American innovation and domination, recent scholarship has explored technological consumption to understand how ordinary people incorporated the new into their everyday lives. This approach has been fruitful in examining colonial and semi-colonial societies (especially in the historiographies of East Asia and South Asia) that appropriated imported foreign technology and produced local uses and meanings. In particular, small-scale technologies that individuals with limited capital could own with relative ease offer a unique window to study differentiated experiences of modernity among ordinary people. To contribute to this growing body of literature on the consumption of small-scale technologies, this paper examines Iranian encounters with the bicycle. How were bicycles introduced to Iran? What role did bicycles play in shaping diverging ideals of masculinity and femininity? Given Iran’s geography, urban structures, and the historical context of authoritarian modernization during the Pahlavi period (1925-79), how did Iranian encounters with the bicycle fit in the global trends? To address these questions, I use Persian memoirs and periodicals as well as visual sources to study how men and women from various socioeconomic, provincial backgrounds used the bicycle. In addition, I rely on missionary accounts as well as travelogues in European languages to understand what Iranian urban streets looked like. I will argue that the bicycle was incorporated into everyday life as one of the markers of one’s sociocultural orientation, as Iranian men and women of different backgrounds assigned diverging meanings to the new technology. In particular, I will look closely at three groups: new middle-class young men (who used the bicycle to travel across provinces, and even abroad for adventures); women (who associated cycling in the context of emerging female physical culture); and the lutis, the “neighborhood ruffians” who were vilified in the official discourse but continued to hold influence in urban societies (they developed hazardous cycling techniques as well as distinct aesthetics in lavishly decorating their bicycles).
  • In developed economies, like the United States, and also developing ones, like those of the Middle East and North Africa, scholarship has increasingly found that racism can influence labor relations. This has manifested in Morocco, where sub-Saharan and Arab migrants and refugees have entered the labor market. Using an original, nationally representative survey of 2700 respondents, the authors find that Moroccans worry about sub-Saharan migrants depressing their wages (66 percent) or taking their jobs (60 percent). Conversely, they expressed less concern about these threats from Arab migrants and refugees, with whom they share more ‘in-group’ attributes (e.g. ethnicity, language). The authors’ results complexify existing literature, some of which predicts that citizens should perceive greater potential labor market threats from ‘in-group’ migrants than ‘out-group’ ones. They argue that racist constructs inherited from Morocco’s history of racial stratification shape citizens’ diverging perceptions about the potential labor market threats posed by these two migrant groups.