What Gives?: Labor and Exchange after Catastrophe (NeMLA 2022)
In the wake of COVID, some workers have been deemed essential, forced to put their lives at risk to keep the market moving or care for those with the means to stay off the frontlines. While these jobs may be crucial, those who perform them are frequently treated as exchangeable.Yet as workers have become interchangeable, a fantastical contrast has emerged in the form of the non-fungible token (NFT): at the same time that stable employment and livable wages have been cut in the interest of profit, digital creations become irreplaceable tokens of payment. The catastrophic impact of the pandemic shows which systems of exchange are malleable or fluid and which remain brittle or stagnant. This panel is interested in how forms of labor and exchange respond to catastrophe. We invite explorations of what recent representations of catastrophe and its aftermath can tell us about these shifts. After catastrophe, what social, economic, and environmental precarities alter the value of labor? How does catastrophe shift the distinction between essential and exchangeable labor? What systems exhibit the plasticity that can accommodate catastrophe? We welcome papers from any theoretical framework.