150AC: After Work: Italian Theories, US Texts

TuTh 8-9:30 | Dwinelle 246 | Instructor: Ramsey McGlazer

Units: 3 Satisfies L&S and campus American Cultures breadth requirement.

Do we work to live or live to work? Why do we let our jobs (or our student loans) determine our sense of what we’re worth? Why, in an age of automation, do we continue to imagine the five-day, forty-hour workweek as non-negotiable and full employment as the highest social good? What would we do, and what might we become, both individually and collectively, if waged work didn’t define us and delimit our sense of the possible?

For several decades, Italian social theorists have been offering widely influential answers to these and related questions. As they have sought to chart the changing conditions of labor under contemporary capitalism, the theories often named “workerist,” “post-workerist,” and “Autonomist” have led to new understandings of phenomena ranging from global protest movements and strikes to the rise of debt and the spread of what’s called social enterprise.

In this course, we’ll bring these theories into conversation with the cultures of the United States. We’ll ask how Italian accounts of work and its alternatives can help us to rethink labor of various kinds, from the domestic to the digital, and performed under various conditions, from “the social factory” to the sweatshop or maquiladora. We will read theoretical texts by Berardi, Federici, Fortunati, Hardt and Negri, Harney and Moten, Lazzarato, Ngai, Terranova, Tronti, Virno, Weeks, and Wilderson, among others. Alongside these texts, we’ll study literary and cinematic works by Borden, Burnett, De Witt, Du Bois, Fusco, Melville, Park, Perez and Parlee, and Rivera.

Required Texts:

The following required books are available for purchase at the Cal Student Store. If you buy the books from another vendor, please be sure to buy the editions specified.

Helen De Witt, Lightning Rods (New Directions)

W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America: An Essay toward a History of the Part which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860-1880 (The Free Press)

Ed Park, Personal Days (Random House)

Kathi Weeks, The Problem with Work (Duke)

Shorter readings will be available as pdf files posted to the course site.

Prerequisites: None