The Anthropology of Work, Labour and Precarity (L6302A)

30 credits, Level 6

Autumn teaching

This module recognises that most people spend a huge amount of their lives engaged in ‘work,’ but what counts as work—and how much it is valued—is culturally and historically specific.

Under global capitalism, labour markets are organised to exploit and profit from social difference, including (but not limited to) gender, race, nationality, migration status, and class. Anthropologists show how everyday experiences of work (re)produce economic subjectivities, social hierarchies, and social relations in complex ways.

Recently, a resurgence of collective activism around economic precarity, racial injustice, sexual harassment, and gender inequalities has made the workplace an important locus of struggle and political relevance.

Drawing extensively on ethnographies of work, labour precarity, wageless life, emotional labour, and the arts of living, this module seeks to understand the role of work in people’s individual and collective lives. Taking an ethnographic, feminist, anti-racist perspective helps us break down timeworn categories that have been used to theorise work in the past (formal/informal, public/private, paid/unpaid, and so forth) to think anthropologically about the relationship between ‘making a living’ and ‘making a life.’

This module will help you develop a fine-tuned appreciation of how labour mediates human relationships with the environment, with each other, and with utopian possibilities for the future.


33%: Lecture
67%: Seminar


25%: Coursework (Essay)
75%: Written assessment (Essay)

Contact hours and workload

This module is approximately 300 hours of work. This breaks down into about 30 hours of contact time and about 270 hours of independent study. The University may make minor variations to the contact hours for operational reasons, including timetabling requirements.

We regularly review our modules to incorporate student feedback, staff expertise, as well as the latest research and teaching methodology. We’re planning to run these modules in the academic year 2023/24. However, there may be changes to these modules in response to COVID-19, staff availability, student demand or updates to our curriculum. We’ll make sure to let our applicants know of material changes to modules at the earliest opportunity.


This module is offered on the following courses: