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The Lahore School of Economics 2014-2015


Call for Papers

“Ecologies of work and the work of nature”

We all know human work adds value to nature but we are less familiar with nature’s work. Capitalism claims human beings are separate from nature and are capable of dominating nature. In reality human beings are only part of nature and the ideas of human exemptionalism are increasingly being challenged with the growing environmental crisis. We are told that human productive labour produces modern wealth and the contribution of nature to value is miniscule in comparison. However, the work of human beings may in reality be only a small part of the wealth of nature. How is the wealth of nature appropriated to ensure the commodification of nature and the process of capital accumulation and the production of surplus value? In order to gain insight, we need to see the relation between the unpaid work of nature and its appropriation and the character of ‘productive’ work under the current scenario.

Work of Nature

The work of bees in producing honey has long been recognized but their work in enabling the pollination of crops has received much attention only recently because of the threat this process experiences due to the use of pesticides. The work of earthworms in sustaining soil fertility was highlighted by Darwin. However, artificial fertilizers enable the decline of soil fertility to be kept hidden from view and enable synthetic fertilizers to be presented instead as contributors to increasing fertility. Trees grow and produce fruit and timber, oxygen and also absorb CO2. Water supports life on land as well as within the oceans of humans, animals, and plant species. Water has also carved the earth’s landscape and transported material at huge scales producing, for example, the fertile plains of Indus Basin and the Nile Delta. Fossil fuels are the products of dead ecologies and are increasingly recognized as the basis of capitalist productivity. And so is underground water, a lifeline that is being recklessly exploited to subsidize the consumer economy, causing permanent damage and pollution to this accumulated work of nature.

Unpaid Work

The work of nature introduces us to the concept of unpaid work. Capitalism introduced the concept of wage labour and has characterized this work as productive through the creation of surplus value while unpaid work is seen as unproductive. The work of women in the household as well as in agriculture and livestock, is a clear example. Women in agriculture and as keepers of domestic animals like buffaloes, goats, and chicken take an equal part in agricultural productive labour. They bring up children and run a full food processing set-up, looking after the home vegetable garden, producing meals, collecting water, hauling fire wood, producing yogurt, cheese other types of dairy, vegetable and cane sugar based sweets and food preparation and herbal concoctions for the ailing. They also manage the house, sew clothes, wash them and look after the sick and the elderly. All that is unpaid work and therefore not work in the eyes of neoliberal economists. The same work when done by household help is recognized to have economic value and therefore qualify as authentic work. The unpaid work of nature and the unpaid work of women play an important role in social reproduction and are appropriated through forms of property.

Role of Colonialism

Colonialism has played a significant role in state formation in countries of the global South and in the making of their environment. In Pakistan the establishment of railways, the laying of the canal network in the Indus Basin, the management of forests and the replacement of communal property rights with private property rights all contributed to the switch from subsistence production to commodity production and through the establishment of new property rights enabled the appropriation of cheap labour and cheap nature including both water and soil. The penetration of commodity production and the creation of new property rights, including Intellectual Property Rights, have enabled this process to accelerate today.

Transformation of Work in the Neoliberal Period

The global environment has been deeply transformed by the restructuring of globalized capitalism in the past few decades. Swathes of traditional livelihoods have disappeared or become more precarious in terms of social and ecological risks. Everyday, metropolitan cities in Pakistan receive droves of peasants, farm workers, artisans, and educated youth seeking employment mostly in the urban service sector. Increasing insecurity, frequency of unemployment, risky migration, and hazardous and socially harmful occupations like trafficking define the new norms in this economy. Formerly stable jobs have also been restructured and “flexibility” of employment is the new policy norm. Flexible work comes with associated hazards such as contingent part time contracts, unregulated, underground or home-based work. Technological advancement has introduced zero-hour contracts, the ultimate type of temporary work (the gig economy) concentrating employers and freeing them from all responsibility, including means of production, risk and pension. Some estimates suggest by 2025, forty per cent of Americans will be working in the gig economy. Uber, Deliveroo are examples.

We would like to push the debate on work ecologies in environmental science and policy beyond the technical regimes of ‘Occupational Health and Safety’. These regimes do not address the vast majority of work conditions that lie outside the formal economy or the links between the deteriorating conditions of life and the larger processes of accumulation.

LJPS Special Issue on Ecologies of Work

This issue will look at the ecologies of work and will try to examine the link between the exploitation of wage labour and the appropriation of unpaid work in particular the more recent ways of appropriating value. It seeks to interrogate the new ecologies of work; how do workers cope with dangerous and stressful psychosocial conditions, what the state’s role is in enabling these working conditions, and how the actions and inactions of state regulation affect various sections and populations such as agriculture, industry, services, classes, gender and ethnicities. We welcome historical, grounded research as well as engagement with theoretical and policy debates around the issue of work and wellbeing.

Suggested themes include;

• Work and waste
• Agrochemicals and agricultural work
• Paid and unpaid work
• Shadow work
• The gig economy
• Marginalization of teachers
• Changing environment of domestic work
• Unpacking occupational health and safety
• Corporate work environment
• Migration and work
• Feminisation of workforce
• Creation of a cybertariat
• Depeasantisation
• Automation of work
• Ecologies of crafts and small production
• The changing sphere of medical work

Abstract: June 15, 2018,
Acceptance: June 30th, 2018
Full Paper: August 31st, 2018
shall send for refereeing


Fizza Batool: fizzab@lahoreschool.edu.pk,

Department of Environmental Science and Policy
Lahore School of Economics
Lahore, Pakistan.
Tel: +92-42-36560954

The Lahore Journal of Policy Studies is hosted by the Lahore School of Economics, Lahore.