Labor as Embodied Practice: The Lessons of Care Work



In post-Fordist economies, the nature of laboring activities can no longer be subsumed under a Taylorized model of labor, and the service sector now constitutes a larger share of the market. For Maurizio Lazzarato, Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, and other theorists in the post-Marxist tradition, labor has changed from a commodity-producing activity to one that does not produce a material object. For these authors, this new type of labor is immaterial labor and entails communicative acts as well as added worker agency. This paper reflects on this new paradigm of labor by examining the paid practices of care defined as the activities performed by individuals who have a mandate to help another adult accomplish the tasks of self-care. Because care workers take care of other bodies, care labor exemplifies an embodied practice. I make use of the corporeality of care to put forward the notion of thin and thick embodiment in order to examine critically the meaning of immaterial labor and to support my claim that immaterial labor, as conceptualized by Hardt and Negri, erases both the materiality and relationality of care labor. Furthermore, typifying care labor as immaterial only serves to maintain its marginalized status.

Care Assistant. Required to work within a private residential center to assist nursing staff. Experience desirable, qualifications an advantage, but caring and understanding more important than either. Must have good English to understand instructions and be co-operative to work in a friendly team environment (Toynbee 2007, 220).