12.00  Between Home and Work: A Living Heritage of Labour and Mobility

What:
Paper
When:
30 minutes
Discussion:
0

This paper will develop a critical living heritage of labour and mobility. Heritage, in its various manifestations, has often depended upon the assumption of place, nation, and identity as stable categories. In these formulations, formal tangible heritage, such as monuments, buildings, sites, and landscapes, may serve to reflect and reinforce deeply-seeded, often exclusionary ideas about what bounded territories represent. Scholarship in a number of different disciplinary traditions has worked to problematize these biases through attention to the marginal, difficult, subversive heritage that authorial spaces do not encompass. One particularly productive area of research and writing in this vein considers labour and work, and working-class histories. This work builds on an interest in industrial heritage; economic restructuring and de-industrialization left a void in the heart of many cities that has been partially filled through revalorizing the industrial past, including the labour that lay at its heart. But still, there has been a tendency to sanitize, homogenize, or oversimplify in much industrial heritage. Furthermore, the very concept of industrial heritage may indeed privilege industry, and by extension, capital, rather than the working classes, and may resort again to a reliance on tangible heritage forms rather than the relations that played out within them. In order to move the conversation on industrial and labour heritage forward (in ways complementary to current work on working-class heritage), this paper will highlight an aspect of working lives that cannot be captured in the bounded site, territory, or in material heritage. This is the fact that much waged employment involves some kind of travel, mobility: a move from the sphere of social reproduction to the place of employment; a separation from loved ones. 

Economic or labour migration and commuting connect home to work. Over the last hundred years, advances in transportation, communication, and economic integration have compressed time and space, and enabled ever more complex relationships between these two poles of daily life. What do these mobilities, absences, and presences mean to communities, families, and relationships? Moving beyond the spaces of formal work and industry, this paper will identify the space in between, of movement, as the locus of variously contested, personal and challenging engagements with the past. This is an intimate heritage, of longing, of waiting, of fatigue, and dislocation; it is also a gendered heritage, of expectations and norms, desire and fulfillment; it is a heritage of survival and necessity. 

This perspective could apply to a number of contexts, but is especially apt for attending to contexts where high levels of unemployment, seasonal work, and limited local opportunities act as push factors, encouraging people to travel longer distances to earn a living. As an illustrative empirical case, the paper considers stories from the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Traveling for work runs deep in this region. The cod fishery and forestry industry took people, mainly men, away for weeks or months at a time. When work in the province was scarce, many left to earn a living, returning periodically or permanently, when they were able to do so. In recent times, supporting family at home through work at a distance has become a normalized feature of life, especially in small communities with limited employment opportunities that would not continue to exist if not for mobile work. Drawing on qualitative research on work-related mobility in the construction industry, I ask how an attention to histories and stories of mobility complements existing recognized tangible heritage in the province, including crafts, dance, and language, and how recognizing this may be an avenue for defining and strengthening a regional living heritage.

Participant
Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong
Assistant Professor

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