What Should a Job Look Like?

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Increasingly jobs are impermanent, insecure, and gig-based. From a neoliberal perspective gig work is imagined as granting more freedom than traditional forms of employment and gig workers are portrayed as entrepreneurs who work for themselves, maximizing their human capital in a flexible manner. In this chapter Elliott writes about what its like to be a tea plantation worker in Kenya, particularly given the rise of gig work in that sector. What Elliott found in the course of her field work is that many tea plantation worker are nostalgic for the permanent job and its attendant benefits, legacies of latecolonial welfare paternalism. In fact, what remaining permanent plantation jobs there are often seem like a good deal compared to gig work, since it may offer benefits absent in the gig economy, such as housing, water, and some kind of pension scheme and health insurance. Elliot does not argue in favor of a return to the “security” and “benefits” of traditional plantation labor, a highly hierarchized, exploitative, and often oppressive system with limited possibilities for social mobility. Rather, she suggests that something is fundamentally wrong with the way work happens and is conceived under neoliberal conditions when traditional plantation offers preferable options to gig work. Human flourishing requires options beyond colonial tyrany and the neoliberal conception of freedom. She thus suggests that we may need to imagine ways of making a living that don’t involve a job.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPeople before Markets : An Alternative Casebok
EditorsDaniel Scott Souleles, Johan Gersel, Morten Sørensen Thaning
Number of pages25
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
Publication date2022
ISBN (Print)9781009165860, 9781009165853
ISBN (Electronic)9781009165846
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Capitalism
  • Alternatives
  • Problem-solving
  • Kenya
  • Wage labor
  • Gig work
  • Plantation economy
  • Work

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