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In the age of automation, working means either getting endless, short terms, and precarious “gigs,” or becoming part of massive international corporations. This subject explores the relations and tensions between these two worlds, focusing on recent ethnographic work on the gig-economy and large companies (Coca-Cola, Ford, Philip Morris, Dow Chemical, Chevron-Texaco). Considering the cultural dynamics internal to multinational corporations as well as the social processes that generated a precarious economic landscape after the 1970s, the subject describes how these new spaces of work interact with, influence, and are shaped by community life, often in situations of significant power imbalance. With the help of guest speakers from the corporate sector and activists, we pay particular attention to the methodological and ethical challenges of carrying out research on, for, and within corporations or in the gig-economy. Case studies are drawn from India, PNG, Ecuador, Indonesia, the United States, Brazil, Eastern Europe, Italy, Japan, and South Africa.
Intended learning outcomes
Upon successful completion of the subject, students should:
- Demonstrate a detailed knowledge and understanding of how anthropologists approach work and corporations as an object of study.
- Critically analyze and compare theories about the diverse social and cultural meanings that work and corporations have been accorded at different times and at different places.
- Understand how to use ethnographic evidence to critically evaluate large-scale claims about corporate social responsability.
- Demonstrate an appreciation of the ethical and methodological challenges of 'studying up,' with a particular focus on the strengths, limitations, and challenges of conducting ethnographic fieldwork in corporate settings.
- Communicate effectively in written and oral formats, and collaborate in groups with people of diverse disciplinary and cultural backgrounds.
Last updated: 10 November 2019