The other side of the knowledge economy: ‘reproductive’ employment and affective labours in Oxford
A marked feature of current narratives about economic change is their epochal or transformative character. An older rhetoric about the shift from Fordism to post-Fordism has been replaced by a widely accepted story about the ‘new’ knowledge economy, as well as a less-dominant narrative about new forms of affective or immaterial labour. In both cases, as with post-Fordist claims, the significance of women’s changing labour-market participation patterns has been downplayed. Each of the new transformation stories bases its claims on a productionist analysis, rather than on the different forms that the necessary labour of reproduction now takes. Here we critically assess the epochal narratives, arguing that, if the reproductive side of the economy, including public sector services (once termed collective consumption) and both public and private forms of commodified domestic labour are the focus, a narrative of continuity rather than transformation more accurately captures labour-market change. We briefly illustrate these theoretical arguments by an analysis of Oxford’s labour market which is dominated by public sector employment and so is an exemplary city in which to explore the reproductive side of the economy.
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