How We Struggle
A Political Anthropology of Labour
A comparative, ethnographic approach to the question of labour struggles and workers' political agency
When it comes to labour movements, unionised industrial workers on the factory floor have only ever been part of the picture. Across so many different workplaces, sectors of the economy and geographical contexts, the question of how working people struggle in the day-to-day has no single answer.
Here Sian Lazar offers a unique anthropological perspective on labour agency that takes in examples from across the globe, from heavy industry and agriculture, to the service and informal sectors. She asks: how do people strive to improve their lives and working conditions? How are they constrained and enabled in that struggle by the nature of the work they do, and by their own positionality in local histories, cultures and networks?
How We Struggle explores worker action across the spectrum from organised trade unionism to individualised strategies of accommodation, resistance and escape. The book marries a discussion of global political economy and Marxist feminist theories of labour with ethnographic approaches that begin from a perspective of human experience, kinship and radical heterogeneity.
Sian Lazar is Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge. She is the author of The Social Life of Politics: Ethics, Kinship and Union Activism in Argentina and editor of Where are the Unions? Workers and Social Movements in Latin America, the Middle East and Europe amongst other books.
'shows us anthropology at its best. Lazar explores how different capitalist strategies for organizing workers’ productivity generate problems that encourage certain solutions that in themselves create more problems, and on and on. Lazar is remarkably imaginative in revealing how, in large and small ways, workers of all stripes can organise to create otherwise, generate new possibilities for resistance and lead more fulfilling lives'- lana Gershon, Ruth N. Halls professor of anthropology, Indiana University, US
‘as brilliant as it is useful. Lazar manoeuvres lightly among the opposing schools of labor anthropology and shows with world-wide examples that how we struggle for better lives is deeply embedded in the type of relationships in which we labour, care and serve; relationships that are globally produced, intimately lived, and more often than not divisive. A boon for analysts and activists alike.’- Don Kalb, Professor of Social Anthropology, University of Bergen, author of Expanding Class
‘With its fresh analysis of labour agency, 'How We Struggle' is a source of tremendous inspiration and hope. I can’t wait to share it with my students’- Dr Rebecca Prentice, Reader in Anthropology and International Development, University of Sussex
‘With ethnographic flair, this book beautifully incorporates a wide range of contemporary contributions to the anthropology of labor, from the workplace to the home and the community, from collective action to individualized strategies of resilience and escape. It provides a highly readable and state of the art analysis of the politics of labor, with a keen eye to gender and migration’- Luisa Steur, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Amsterdam
'marvellously expansive and generous in its conceptualization. Lazar allows us to think broadly about labor agency in a post-Fordist, post-pandemic world. A masterful book and a resource that makes anthropology matter'- Andrea Muehlebach, Professor of Anthropology, University of Bremen, Germany
'In these times, when the power of capital to determine our life conditions seems inexorable, Sian Lazar’s study of working people’s agency and their struggles from below is a very welcome intervention'- Sharryn Kasmir, author of The myth of Mondragón
‘presents a real tour de force and offers magnificent insights into the challenges workers face today and the diverse acts of resistance, agency and organising that underpin their aspirations to improve lives. This refreshing and lucidly written book will be an invaluable resource for scholars of the rapidly changing landscapes of labour and capitalism that engulf us’- Geert De Neve, Professor of Social Anthropology and South Asian Studies, University of Sussex
1. Heavy Industry and Post-Fordist Precarities
2. Light Industry: Gender, Migration and Strategies of Resilience
3. Agricultural Labour: Exploitation and Collective Action
4. Affective Labour and the Service Sector: Work as Relations
5. Professional and Managerial Work: Producing Selves and Processes
6. Platform Labour: Digital Management and Fragmented Collectivities
7. Patchwork Living
8. Social Reproduction Labour
Coda: The Covid-19 Pandemic and Labour: Continuities and the Potential for Change
eBook ISBN: 9780745347547
140mm x 216mm