Steel lives : an ethnography of labour in contemporary Sheffield
My doctoral research focuses on the experience of labour in a deprived area of Sheffield, UK, where I lived and worked in two steel factories for eighteen months. In my thesis, I study the factory as a physical, economic and political space located between society and the state, and explore how state neo-liberal policies and globalisation affect working class productive and reproductive strategies, and narratives of labour; and reshape the spaces of the factory, the family and the neighbourhood. In the first part of the thesis I reconstruct the history of steel labour on the shopfloor and in the neighbourhood. In Chapter 1, I show that industrial capitalism fragmented the workforce into 'artisans' - skilled casual labourers - and 'proletarians' - unskilled wage workers. In Chapter 2, I show how this fragmentation was reproduced in the neighbourhood by public social and economic policies and by the 'medical discourse' centred on the health of working classes. The two shopfloor ethnographies in Chapter 3 and 4, show that the historical fragmentation between 'artisans' and 'proletarians' is reproduced in the capitalist labour processes today. The neighbourhood ethnographies in Chapter 5 and 6 challenge the hypothesis of 'late capitalism' scholars of the social fragmentation of the artisan-labourers and of the social stability of the families of the aristocracy of labour, and show the relative economic and social stability of the former and the fragility of the productive and reproductive institutions of the latter. I the conclusion I claim that 'late capitalism' does not entail the dissolution of the working class and the consolidation of an aristocracy of labour under the impulse of technological innovation and capital intensification. Rather, it increases both the fragmentation, and the close interaction, between the spaces of wage labour, nuclear families and civil society and the spaces of casual labour, extended families and local politics.