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A Critique of Labour Studies: Movement of labour or movement of labour power?

By Dae-Oup Chang


In contemporary labour studies, methodological innovations to grasp the changing social forms and struggles of capitalist labour seem to be stagnating. This article aims to address the system of labour studies behind these methodological problems. To do so, we explore the historical and theoretical development of labour studies corresponding to the development of the labour movement that is often reduced to a movement of employees at production sites. Marx’s value-definition of capitalist labour as an understanding of the most important and peculiar mediation of capitalist social relations has been forgotten in labour studies and instead the narrow surplus value-based understanding of labour became an exclusive, if not only, basis of contemporary labour studies. Although this contributed to the establishment of labour studies as a sophisticated system of knowledge, labour studies in the meantime became an ‘area study’ which deals only with production sites without critically engaging with social categories created by the capitalist fetishisation of real world. By doing so, we contend, labour studies abandoned its role as a comprehensive critique of capitalist social relations. It is argued that labour studies can critically reinvent itself by recognising the central role of labour addressed in Marx's value-definition of capitalist labour and reclaiming the struggles in and against value as subjects of labour studies

Topics: 3500
Publisher: Hanul
Year: 2007
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Provided by: SOAS Research Online
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