Politics of Labour Working Group

April 21, 2022 by Sonja Johnston

Each academic year, the Jackman Humanities Institute sponsors up to 12 Working Groups, consisting of graduate students and faculty conducting research or engaging in other scholarly exchange. In conjunction with the 2022-2023 Working Groups Call for Proposals, we're highlighting some current Working Groups.

Labour issues have risen to the forefront of both academic and popular discourse. Ongoing workers’ strikes among meat-plant workers, Amazon employees, graduate students, and teachers, alongside the often immensely anti-union efforts on the part of universities and corporations, have demonstrated a revived interest in labour issues and their radical suppression and denial. Essentially interdisciplinary, concerns with labour coalesce issues of political science and political economy, literature, technology, history, environment, and philosophy, to name a few. Addressing these issues demands that scholars think collaboratively through critical discourse on labour both within its historic and present contexts. The Politics of Labour Working Group provides a forum in which to do so.

Leads Emily Halliwell-Macdonald (Ph.D. candidate, English) and Emily Nacol (UTM Political Science) provide us with an overview about their activities this past year.

JHI: What were you hoping to achieve with your Working Group? Did anything change from your original concept?

POL: Our hope was to convene a group of scholars from different disciplines to workshop new research on the politics of labour.  We wanted members of the group to feel free to share works-in-progress in a supportive environment, so that we might help each other develop our work and learn from each other’s research projects.

JHI: How has the Working Group experience turned out so far?

POL: The experience has been a good one!  Due to COVID-19 and work-related time constraints, some members have passed out of the group and others have joined mid-year, but our core membership has remained steady through the year.  We have met twice monthly to discuss members’ work-in-progress.  This approach has made for both lively general conversation about our shared interests, and individual opportunities to have our respective projects benefit from careful reading and attention from colleagues.

The working group also served as an excellent way to forge connections with other scholars during COVID, which has otherwise left many in the scholarly community quite isolated. The group has generated possible future collaborations and ongoing mutual support among our group members as we work on our respective projects. For example, some of us have put together a panel proposal for the next MLA conference, and others will surely go on to exchange resources and ideas for books and dissertations in progress.

JHI: Did you plan any events and if so, how did they turn out? Can you give us a synopsis?

POL: Due to the CAUT censure, we were only able to plan one event this year. This event was a visit from Professor Jennifer Nedelsky (Osgoode Law) to share some of the research she has been conducting with Professor Tom Malleson (Western): “Part Time for All: A Care Manifesto.”  Professor Nedelsky visited our group, and some invited guests, and we discussed two pre-circulated chapters of their book. This was our final and capstone event for the year.

JHI: How did you hear about the JHI's Working Groups?

POL: We heard about the working groups through colleagues. They mentioned that these groups had facilitated very positive interdisciplinary conversation among scholars from diverse disciplines.

JHI: Can you say a few words about your overall experience for others thinking of applying?

POL: We would encourage others to apply for a JHI working group.  It is a terrific way to meet new colleagues, to get a fuller picture of how scholars from different disciplines approach shared themes and questions, and to dedicate sustained time to a shared scholarly endeavour.