Crises and Noneventful Histories in the World of Work

Alina-Sandra Cucu, University of London
Bridget Kenny, Sociology Department University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

Alongside the shiver of the realization that our own mortality is proximal, ubiquitous, and indissolubly connected to others’, 2020 has been translated in academic and technocratic imaginaries as a “crisis in the world of work”. The spread of a virus triggered a cascade of business closures, temporary stoppages, mass unemployment, large-scale population displacement, and wagelessness. 2020 has been read as a catalyst for a rapidly coming postwork future. Since “robots don’t get sick”, reflections upon how the COVID-19 pandemic will further accelerate both a pandemic of joblessness and deep transformations in the nature of the workplace abound. Amidst utopias of luxury communism and dystopias of endless population surpluses, more grounded research has already shown that, for differently positioned actors, the impact of these transformations will further deepen the fractures between actually existing workers’ structures of possibility and life-worlds. One likely vision of the future is that, rather than living in a digitized universe, we will once more split the globe and our societies between those who move “forward” and those who are left “behind”. Our paper aims to do two things. First, we revisit fundamental debates about the nature of determinacy and contingency in history, to understand how they shape our reading of the current pandemic, as well as its (predicted) consequences in the world of work. We discuss how historically, labour/technology “crises” have moved along the central axes of “structured contingencies” (Kalb and Tak 2005), whose exploration necessarily takes us into a fully-fledged relational and processual understanding of any spectacular snapshot. Second, from this understanding of the crisis, we suggest that, as historians documenting the shifting nature of work, we should stand behind non-eventful ways of writing history, ways that go against the current grain when chronicling “ruptures”, “fractures”, and “disasters” is concerned.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 241. Conservative Backlash and Restrictions on Labor