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An Explanation of Unfree Labour

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Drinks at 19:30

The conceptual basis and significance of unfree labour in the context of modern economic systems has been a matter of dispute within development studies. Much of the dispute has focused on two strands of argument. First, whether in fact unfree labour is a vestige of socio-economic relations prior to capitalism that have merely persisted and will simply whither away as particular societies are increasingly organized around capitalist relations, or whether in fact, forms of unfree labour can develop and evolve that are compatible with and/or products of capitalist relations. Second, whether the research, theorisation and argument of particular individuals within or relevant to the field of development have involved discursive reversals and tensions because they have failed to provide a consistent position on the first issue and have failed to adequately acknowledge that this has been so. At first sight this may seem a purely academic matter in the pejorative sense. However, both hinge on the clarity and function of theory in orienting research and shaping our understanding of the world. Confusion begets ambiguity and conceptual failings create misdirection. Eradicating unfreedom requires that its forms be recognised, its sources be effectively traced, and its systemic significance be explicated. As such, the dispute is not, in a ‘greater scheme of things’ sense, an irrelevance. At the same time, it is one that can be contributed to in various ways.

This talk is part of the Cambridge Realist Workshop series.

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