Session Organizers: Nicolas Raimbault (University of Nantes), Peter V. Hall (Simon Fraser University) and Markus Hesse (University of Luxembourg)
Type: Virtual Paper Session
The Coronavirus pandemic has made more visible the importance – as well as the difficulties – of the so-called "essential workers" (Sparke & Anguelov, 2020, 3). This notion, which is not scientific, covers a fairly wide range of jobs, mostly held by working-class people. Alongside care workers, it refers to employees, temporary and self-employed workers involved in activities essential to daily life. Typically, they cannot work remotely from home. They include manual workers, mainly blue-collar, in processing activities (manufacturing, food & meat industries, agriculture and construction) or in the physical distribution of goods (warehousing, transport, deliveries). And they include employees in direct consumer services (clerks, restockers), whose tasks are also physically intense. These workplaces are scattered in (sub-)urban spaces, from urban centres to peripheries, from public spaces (making deliveries) to warehouses, in a huge variety of old and recent industrial lands. The pandemic has thus underlined the diversity and the fragmentation of current working-class spaces (Rose-Redwood et al., 2020, 3).
This special session calls for papers engaging in the changing geographies and mobilities of the current essential workers – a problem epitomised by COVID-19, but that had long-existed. The session aims to connect analysis of the essential workers and working-class communities with the understanding of the production of the different industrial spaces in which they are embedded. Research shows that the jobs of the working-class communities have changed significantly: from the decline of the manufacturing sector, to the rise of the service sector, from casualization to the rise of the gig economy (Srnicek, 2017), which clearly contrasts with the imaginaries and the political power once attributed to the Keynesian blue-collar middle-class (De Lara, 2018). This session seeks to engage in conversations in geography and the social sciences more broadly on what is considered a new services precariat (Strauss, 2020). Moreover, the session also offers an opportunity to discuss the urban policy ramifications of these processes: the ongoing re-conversion of industrial lands, brownfield sites and waterfront areas is likely to increase the related pressure on working-class people, by creating spaces of affluence and exclusion rather than being part of a city for all.
In order to connect these conversations and to contribute to a better understanding of the recent evolution of working-class communities in urban regions, the special session looks for papers tackling one or several topics and dimensions alongside this broader agenda. Here is a sampling of some topics that might be addressed, but please do not feel constrained to these examples:
- The transformations of working-class labour markets and workforces and the dynamics of the contingent employment.
- The case of the delivery workers both linked to digital platforms (such as UBER, Deliveroo) and also in logistics and freight distribution (such as Amazon), which seem to be especially emblematic of these changes.
- The nexus of precarious work, precarious livelihoods and mobility inequality.
- The production of current workplaces, from mixed-used buildings in the context of urban redevelopment projects to scattered warehouses or specialized industrial parks.
- The urban condition of working-class communities, considering residential as well as mobility inequalities, and spatial mismatch leading to the emergence of transit deserts.
- The engagement of working-class communities and workforces in urban politics and the articulation of space and work in current urban and labour struggles.
The session welcomes papers presenting methodological considerations or case studies, qualitative or quantities works, ethnography, monographies or comparisons, at the neighbourhood, urban or regional scales, in northern or southern contexts.
Please send abstracts of up to 250 words by October 24, 2020 to Nicolas Raimbault (firstname.lastname@example.org), Peter V. Hall (email@example.com) and Markus Hesse (firstname.lastname@example.org). Feel free to ask any questions you might have.
De Lara, J. (2018). Inland shift: Race, space, and capital in Southern California. Los Angeles, University of California Press.
Korsu, E., & Wenglenski, S. (2010). Job accessibility, residential segregation and risk of long-term unemployment in the Paris region. Urban Studies, 47(11), 2279-2324.
Sparke, M., & Anguelov, D. (2020). Contextualising coronavirus geographically. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. DOI: 10.1111/tran.12389
Srnicek N. (2017), Platform capitalism. Cambridge, Polity Press.
Strauss, K. (2020). Labour geography III: Precarity, racial capitalisms and infrastructure. Progress in Human Geography, 44(6), 1212-1224.
Rose-Redwood, R., Kitchin, R., Apostolopoulou, E., Rickards, L., Blackman, T., Crampton, J., ... & Buckley, M. (2020). Geographies of the COVID-19 pandemic. Dialogues in Human Geography, 10(2), 97-106.