work and value
on work
On Work:changing relations of value and labor exhibittion and Symposium at UC Davis
exhibition research guide and bibliography


In conjunction with the UC Humanities Research Institute’s three-year multi-campus initiative Changing Conceptions of Work in the Humanities,which assesses changes in the meaning and experience of work, the University Library at UC Davis is hosting an exhibition and symposium to explore recent scholarship on this important topic. The project organized by UC Librarians David Michalski and Michael Winter is called, On Work: Changing Relations of Value and Labor and aims to highlight growing interest in the critical study of work in our changing society.

Scope of the Exhibition

The bibliographic exhibition, which will be on display in the Lobby of the UC Davis’ Peter J. Shields Library from April through August, 2013 is organized around three important contemporary questions:

1. How is work and its power relations altered by the processes of globalization, changing technologies, and  shifts in the labor market connected to the new information economy, including flexibility and precarious labor? What is the  relationship between paid and unpaid work? And how are we to understand the seemingly growing gap between work as production and work as a means to make a living?

2. How do the changing relations of work support or disrupt dominant relations of gender and domesticity in various communities, ethnicities, status groups, and social classes? What kinds of labor are visible? And how does unseen support work or “care” correspond to contemporary accounts of labor value?

3. What are the philosophical and moral dimensions of work, including work’s relation to necessity, which has historically been embroiled in conceptions of fulfillment and alienation, as well as industriousness and laziness? This section also touches on the question of how work relates to the idea of a vocation or calling, and the relation between everyday work and the idea of one’s Life Work.

This exhibition is complemented by a  study guide assembled by Winter and Michalski to take the reader through some of the antecedent scholarship foregrounding today’s contemporary concerns, including readings which stretch back to Aristotle, the thinkers of the European Enlightenment, and the post-war/1968 critical thought which animates much of today’s contemporary theories of work.

Program for the Symposium

At the center of the University Library’s exploration of work is its symposium, “On Work” which brings together three scholars from UC Davis to present their research relating to themes outlined above. It will be held in Peter J. Shields Library on the UC Davis campus Friday April 19, 2013 from 3-5pm in the Library Instruction Lab. The University community and the public are invited to attend and join the discussion.

It begins with a talk titled, “Beyond Jobs: Space-Time and Labor in the Information Economy,” by UC Davis Human and Community Development Professor Chris Benner, chair of the UC Davis Graduate Geography Group. He will examine the transformation of work in the information age, questioning how increasing demands for flexible labor and tenuous forms employment change career development and labor dynamics. Chris Benner will also discuss some of the activities related to the UC Humanities Institute working group he leads with fellow UC Davis professor Jesse Drew, called Social Media, Insecure Work and New Conceptions of Labor Solidarity.

Sandy Gómez, an advanced Ph.D. Candidate, in the UC Davis Cultural Studies Graduate Program joins the panel with her talk, “Flexible Work: Exploitation and Pleasure in Direct Sales,” which draws on her dissertation research on Spanish-speaking Latinas working in direct-sales. Gómez’s ethnographic project reveals contradictions often hidden from our understanding of work. Her research also problematizes “flexible” labor by analyzing its interconnectedness with constructions of gender, race/ethnicity, class, language, and heteronormative family units.

Scott Cutler Shershow, UC Davis professor of English and critical theory contributes by deconstructing what he identifies as an insistent question at the core of much of today’s representations of work, asking: does one work to live or, instead, live to work? This question, examined in his book The Work & the Gift (University of Chicago Press, 2005) was found to both under-pin, but also undermine widely held ideas of production and progress. Drawing on contemporary cultural representations of work and play, as well as industriousness and laziness, Shershow further unfolds the consequence of this question in political and moral life. Professor Shershow’s talk is titled: “The Double Necessity of Work: A Paradox Re-examined”.

Together, this symposium, the exhibition, and the wider UC Humanities Initiative on the Changing Conceptions of Work in the Humanities are offered to invigorate fresh thinking about the value of work today, and the way we will organize it in the future. Understanding the character and values associated with work leaves us better prepared to cope with the ways technology and the forces associated with globalization continue to transform our engagement with cultural and economic life.

The exhibit and symposium “On Work: Changing Relations of Value and Labor” is sponsored by the University Library at UC Davis, and the Librarians Association of the University of California, Davis.

For more information contact: David Michalski