Work/Now: A Workshop on Labour and Life


On Tuesday 6th Feb, Bedford Square was transformed into a space of lively discussion for the first in the series of the Work/Now workshops, entitled WORK/NOW: a workshop on labour and life. Organised by Katy Lawn and I, this first workshop focused on key debates and issues on studies of work and the workplace. Open to scholars of all disciplines, the event sought to encourage creative ideas, discussions and interventions around questions of: How does work use elements of life itself in its logics? How do we work now? Where do we work now? And, what does it mean to work, now?

Beginning with a quick round of introductions, we were delighted to have a range of PhD students, early career researchers and artists coming from as far as Scotland, all researching a hugely diverse and interesting range of topic around the idea of work.

We then opened the floor to our keynote speaker, Dr Janet Merkel, who is a lecturer in Cultural and Creative Industries at City University of London. Janet’s speech focused on her work on co-working spaces and the idea of new forms of working emerging within the current era. Through her discussions, Janet really questioned some of the classical divisions between work and life.

Janet Merkel

After Janet’s keynote, the group were asked to each individually write down one question they felt they had come to the session in the hope of being closer to answer. Questions ranged from themes which individuals had been struggling to deal with within their own research such as methodological or ethical issues or themes participants were just interested in getting different opinions or viewpoints on such as the idea of  a post-work society.

We then all broke away into smaller groups to ponder the following work related questions:

– How do you feel digital technology especially social media is changing the future of work?

– In what ways do you feel the transformation of hobbies/passions (for example, blogging) into forms of work are changing what it means to work?

– To what extent do discourses of vibrant, inspiring and creative (or ‘passionate’) work have benefits and drawbacks for the worker him/herself?

– Does the merging of work and life mean that we are moving towards either: life itself fully morphing into totalised work; or a postwork society where work is entirely subsumed by life?

Following this activity, Katy and I returned to the questions that everyone wrote on the cards earlier. We randomly gave everyone back one of the cards and they had 1 minute to scribble down, on the card, any of their thoughts/feelings/relevant literatures that came to mind for this question. Then after 1 minute, we shouted at everyone to stop and pass their paper to the left, so they had a new question to mind map onto for another minute, and so on, until everyone had seen every card. As a result, participants left the workshop with a diverse range of literatures, themes and ideas to help answer and attend to their question/s.


The workshop concluded with all participants discussing with the person next to them, what they thought were the key themes or issues that came out of the session. We asked each pair to come up with at least 5 words or themes and submit them electronically. This resulted in the word-cloud displayed below. As you can see, many themes emerged which pertained to participants own work, things that they found interesting and things they felt were unresolved.

work now wordcloud.png

Katy and I would like to conclude by saying a massive thank you to the SCHG for funding the event and for all of the support they have given to our WORK/NOW series.

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