Disobedient Workers, the law and the making of unemployment markets

Disobedient Workers, the Law, and the Making of Unemployment Markets


The Kent Law School presentsThe Public Life of Private Law  An ESRC Seminar Series


Seminar 4: Protest, Precarisation, Possibility

Listen to: Lisa Adkins on ‘Disobedient Workers, the Law, and the Making of Unemployment Markets’

Abstract: 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.