Bridget Kenny delivered a seminar entitled Women Workers' Politics, Race and Consumption in South Africa: Shelved in the Service Economy on the 9th October 2017 as part of the Labour Studies Seminar Series. The series is jointly co-ordinated by the Neil Aggett Labour Studies Unit (NALSU) and the Departments of Sociology, History, and Economics and Economic History.
Bridget Kenny is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa and President of Research Committee 44 (Labour Movements) of the International Sociological Association. She works on labour, gender and consumption with specific focus on service work, precarious employment, and political subjectivity. Widely published in leading journals, she has two books coming out soon: "Retail Worker Politics, Race and Consumption in South Africa: Shelved in the Service Economy" (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018) and "Walmart in the Global South: Local Practices, State Regulations, and Labor Politics in the Time of Transnational Capital" (co-edited with Carolina Bank Muñoz and Antonio Stecher, University of Texas Press, 2017).
This presentation offers an overview of a forthcoming book in which Kenny examines the subjectivities, struggles and conditions of women workers in the retail sector, a key part of the service economy. From the shops of the 1930s to Wal-Mart today, and from white women's to black women's labour, it shows how forms of precariousness in this low-wage sector have evolved. But rather than focus on institutional factors such as trade union power, it looks closely at the experiences and subjectivities of the workers themselves. It shows how generations of workers have invested subjectively in what it means to be a worker. The collective category "workers"/ "abasebenzi" is both durable and malleable. Workers' struggles in different times have resolved some dilemmas while generating new categories and conditions of precariousness, and which explain the continuing force of labour politics for these workers