The labour of liminality

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15 Scopus citations


The formal day-labour business is a well-entrenched, multi-billion dollar industry that exemplifies the two most consequential changes in contemporary employment relations: the growth of precarious employment and the increased role of labour market intermediaries. It is an industry premised upon the temporal expropriation and spatial retention of a surplus pool of labour-on-demand. Drawing upon extensive interviews and nearly three years of participant observation working as a day labourer amidst a predominantly homeless, and formerly-incarcerated, African-American workforce in the inner-cities of Oakland and Baltimore, this paper identifies the multifarious functions and broad implications of day labourers' routinized experience of chronic and obligatory waiting. I argue that this liminal period serves as an instrument of inspection, as an instrument of immobilization and as an instrument to intensify labourer's investment in the uncertain pursuit of work. This analysis enables us to better understand not only the distinct operations of the day labour business, but precisely how labour is subjugated, dependency is cultivated and precarious and degraded conditions of employment are normalized for those at the bottom of the U.S. labour market.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10-35
Number of pages26
JournalLabour, Capital and Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development


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