Beyond 9 to 5: An Expanded Definition of Work

As human beings we must do everyday life tasks (getting dressed, cleaning, cooking), alongside supporting ourselves and dependants through paid employment and/or negotiation of the welfare state and other means of support, and the emotional, social and particular work of caring for others if we have children or other caring responsibilities. The ever-expanding list of activities people engage in can be exhausting. If one is further marginalised by society there are even more complex and exhausting activities to add to these daily tasks: the ongoing exertion necessary in managing a chronic illness, negotiating an ableist world as a disabled person, dealing with street harassment, coming out, challenging racism or cis-sexism, putting up with hurtful remarks and ignorant comments, or trying to explain to others why what they said or did was upsetting. Many of these activities are also forms of activism: putting up with and trying to change the organisation of society that oppresses us, then trying to connect with other people and develop networks of support and resistance and organising campaigns, joining unions, voting, petitioning, marching, striking... the list goes on. All of this is work. Yet often these activities are not considered to be work, or to be ‘proper’ work. In a patriarchal capitalist economy these tasks are not valued as work sufficient to be remunerated or appreciated as ‘contributing’ to society, as they do not explicitly generate profit or production but function rather as reproductive labour (Davis 1981; Federici 2012).

Feminist conceptualisations of work expand the definition of work to include the invisible work often done by women, and often hidden in the private sphere of the home and family. The ‘double day’ (Hartsock 1983) and the ‘triple shift’ (Duncombe and Marsden 1995) acknowledged that many women entering the workforce were not just working paid jobs but also doing household labour, including housework and childcare, alongside emotional work (for example, caring for others who are ill, disabled, upset, in crisis, or just the everyday work of recognising and empathising with the moods of others). Other feminist theorists, such as Maria Mies (1986) and Silvia Federici (2008, 2012), provide clearer explication of the gendered, racialised, and classed nature of the division of labour under capitalism and the unpaid and unseen labour of women upon whose backs wage exploitation occurs and social relations are reproduced.

In this chapter, we will be using Dorothy Smith’s (2005) conceptualisation of work widened as a framework that acknowledges a huge array of activities that are often not thought of as work: unpaid, emotional and social labour, including ‘anything done by people that takes time and effort, that they mean to do, that is done under definite conditions and with whatever means and tools, and that they may have to think about. It means much more than what is done on the job’ (Smith 2005, p. 152). Marjorie L. DeVault and Liza McCoy (2006) identify three main strands within this notion of work: paid or unpaid jobs, everyday life work, and activist work, as outlined in the examples above. While this definition may seem vague and abstract, it is intentionally so in order to provide a broad concept for us to embellish with our everyday experiences. Experience- based knowledge production is crucial in highlighting that which has been made invisible, so as to bring to light the work that is often unappreciated and unpaid but requires time, effort, and means.

By centring experience-based knowledge, particularly that of women, at the heart of a feminist understanding of society, Smith’s conception of work (1987, 1994, 2005) has highlighted the unappreciated, invisible work of women done in the academy and other knowledge-producing institutions to ensure that certain white Western male elites could become knowledge producers throughout history. In the Cartesian tradition, believing that one’s mind could produce theory and ideas dislocated and free from social location and the messy world of the body, these elite men produced ‘objective’ knowledge while their material needs were taken care of by their wives, secretaries, cleaners, assistants, and other underlings. These feminised jobs were and are done by working-class men and women, people of colour, and people from the global South (some of these identities often overlapping and intersecting). Oppressed peoples’ experience-based understanding of all these undervalued and underpaid roles alongside the invisible work that falls in between official categories of ‘wife’ and ‘assistant’ are vital in destabilising narrow notions of work and in challenging the historic exclusion of other voices from the ‘objective’ framework of academia.

Through Smith’s expanded notion of ‘work’, which includes the invisible emotional and social labour that is essential to the running of the university, yet is often unpaid and underappreciated, we will provide a feminist critique of the neoliberal university. This feminist definition of ‘work’ makes possible a revealing of hidden hierarchies and unrecognised work: we see that work carried out by groups—women, people of colour, disabled people, casualised staff, postgraduate students—that are often silenced through the hierarchical structures of the university is essential yet often unacknowledged or not valued as ‘proper’ academic work.

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