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Call n° 10 – Gender and relationships to work

This purpose of this corpus is to simultaneously question “gender relationships” and “the relationship to work” in a context where these registers (and their intersections) have been exacerbated by tensions between emancipation dynamics and the renewal or aggravation of a domination logic. The meaning of (professional) work engagement/disengagement processes has clearly become more enigmatic and deserves being studied in a nuanced manner. The goal is not to once again describe the multiple inequalities and discriminations attesting to the importance of gender-related social relationships but to scrutinise, from a gendered perspective, work’s subjective centrality (1); relationships to work (exploring resistance, emancipation, adaptation or accommodation responses to modern work constraints) (2); and new ways of thinking about relationships to work (3).

1– Gender, relationships to work and the centrality of work

A slew of questions arise at this level, including working men and women’s expectations in today’s particularly degraded socioeconomic environment; “who” still believes in the emancipatory effects of work given the increasingly hard, inhuman and individualising attributes that “modern work” seems to have adopted (with employees often experiencing work as a solitary struggle); the individual relationship to work effects of the working world’s increasingly negative dynamics (precariousness, frozen wages and deadend careers, work deprived of meaning, undermined professions, downgraded collectives, impossible prescriptions and the spread of quantitative work control instruments) and whether they tend to drive a disabused and disenchanted relationship to work or instead if women’s singular position in domination relationships nurtures amongst them more advanced expectations and hopes (because they view the challenge of work as transcending the professional sphere and affecting all individualisation processes instead); how to materialise these expectations (through greater submission to or acceptance of the constraints associated with the modern work world, or else by adopting other practices relating to this activity and its consumption and daily experience); in this latter case, whether these modes of appropriation convey emancipating dynamics (and if so, in what direction they are evolving).  A final series of questions might look at male workers and the emergence of new kinds of engagement at work, sometimes coming in the shape of real social and economic innovations (like the creation of innovative professional spaces based on shared knowledge and free cooperative activities, Lallement, 2015).

2– Resistance, emancipation at work and gendered social relationships

“Not living to work” - and not submitting to fashionable agonism in the competition for promotions – is a logic that applies to both men and women. Resistance by employees of both sexes has been observed in certain intermediary professions, based on a refusal of transitional frameworks that people equate with workaholism or greater submission and including a “betrayal” of colleagues. Yet people are not all experiencing the same conditions nor do they probably tend to mobilise the same drivers or resources in their resistance.

References to the fun that can be had with a certain activity, and to the satisfaction of liking one’s work, can also be found in case studies of professionals who, if they want to progress in their careers, find they must renounce their original “business”. In cases such as these, resisting promotion is very different from the essentialising narratives that speak to women’s (supposedly) lesser interest in power, nor can it be explained any better by the impact of their “double day” alone. Probably the best place today to discover elements enabling interpretations of this kind of “abnormal” (because non-competitive) behaviour is in the area of the relationship to work and its centrality to social actors’ lives – without forgetting work’s intimate, “emotional” and collective aspects, backed by attachment to professional standards defining “good” work and by people’s desire for “real” qualifications.

The issue is whether men and women are similarly engaged in these forms of resistance, and if so, whether they play out in the same way for both. Otherwise, in a society where the model of “the male breadwinner” remains ubiquitous, it is worth determining how male professionals define this attitude whether at work (vis-a-vis colleagues or management), in their families or in their social circles. It is also worth asking if the social expectations to which women have traditionally been subjected include turning their backs on any and all career ambitions, and how hard it has been for women to fall in line.

Among the areas of resistance to modern forms of exploitation and domination, one worthy of specific interest is healthcare and the preservation and/or development challenges found in this field. Scrutiny here should be focused on what strategies and tricks women use to stay healthy and get some rest (when, for instance, they work night shifts) given the gendered division of labour they experience at home. Indeed, the same question might be asked about their male counterparts, who can no longer count on women as much as before to take care of the business of raising children, and must therefore find a new way of coping.

3. New theoretical interpretations of a gendered analysis of relationships to work

This NRT call for contributions on relationships to work situates analysis of the connection between gender and engagement/disengagement at work on a more theoretical plan.

An initial approach might be to work on a hypothesis formulated by D. Kergoat and E. Galerand (relating to the “subversive potential of female relationships”). The idea here is that it is not work itself driving this potentially subversive connection but the specific relationship that women have to work due to the sexual division of labour. Many women’s positive relationship to care work might theoretically be explained as a re-packaging in the professional world of the work they do at home, meaning that domination effects are not the only dynamics at play here. It remains that this particular work relationship is only “potentially” subversive, depending on how widespread it becomes, being a collectivisation witnessed for instance during the social movement that nurses coordinated in France back in the 1990s.

Another perspective might start by exploring the idea of fun a work, something that helps people to cope even when their professional situation is precarious, unrecognised and poorly paid. Conflictuality is another interesting topic, with its focus on how social progress might change work so that instead of causing problems it becomes a place where people can reconcile their private and professional lives.

Nouvelle Revue du Travail magazine is hoping for original contributions mobilising specific studies in a wide range of sectors of employment, i.e. not only ones specifically marked by their representation of women. The themes to be explored are:

  1. Gender, relationships to work and the centrality of work

  2. Resistance and emancipation at work and gendered social relationships, looking at professional stances that are innovative or critical (of work, careers, wages and health); the extent to which these stances are gendered; which forms of individual and collective resistance to work are in effect; and how to organise collective action transforming work and gender.

  3. New paths for analysing the relationship between “gender and work”

Contributions can treat these themes separately or as interconnected phenomena.

Bibliographie

Galerand E., Kergoat D. (2008),  ”Le potentiel subversif du rapport des femmes au travail”,

Nouvelles Questions Féministes, vol. 27, p. 67-82

Kergoat D. (2012), “Le potentiel subversif du rapport des femmes au travail”, in Se battre disent-elles, Paris, La Dispute.

Lallement M. (2015), L’Âge du faire. Hacking, travail, anarchie, Paris, Le Seuil.

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