Lisa Adkins – Disobedient Workers, The Law and the Making of Unemployment Markets


Event Date: 30 April 2014
The Institute of Advanced Study
Millburn House
Millburn Hill Road
University of Warwick Science Park

The Kent Law School presents:

The Public Life of Private Law

An ESRC Seminar Series

Seminar 4: Protest, Precarisation, Possibility

Increasingly, private law appears in the the government of unruly political movement and resistance – through the privatisation of public space and the designation of protest as trespass; through the contractualisation of public services and the discipline of labour; through the generation of private spheres where government power is deployed in unanticipated ways.  How should we characterise the experience of government through private law? What vulnerabilities does  private law highlight in those it governs? To what extent does private law confer overlooked capacities on troublesome actors, which can generate new strategies of resistance?

Lisa Adkins –  Disobedient Workers, The Law and the Making of Unemployment Markets

In this paper I am concerned with the juridicalization of the economy. I take as my starting point unruly and disobedient labour, and especially unemployed workers who have attempted to refuse the UK coalition government’s demand that they perform mandatory work activities in return for unemployment benefits. In attempting such refusals, some unemployed workers have turned to the law to test the legality of the workfare scheme – the Work Programme – in which they are enrolled. This process has led to all manner of events including Emergency Acts of Parliament, appeals, counter-appeals and further legal challenges from those subject to compulsory work activities. While these events have received much attention, in this paper I suggest they must be situated in the context of design and role out of the making of a market for the labour of unemployed. This is a market, moreover, which the law does not simply regulate or discipline: the law is materially entangled in its configuring, designing and calibrating. In this paper therefore I position the law not only as an instrument of government in the contemporary present but also as an economic actor. As such, I suggest that the analysis of the law demands orientations which can account for this action.


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