The Gendered Surplus Value of Precarious Labour

The Centre for Work, Organisation and Society (CWOS) warmly invite you to join guest speakers Nela Smolović Jones, Owain Smolović Jones and Caroline Clarke in this session for the CWOS Research Seminar Series.

  • Wed 16 Mar 22

    12:00 - 13:00

  • Online

    Join this seminar

  • Event speaker

    Nela Smolović Jones, Owain Smolović Jones and Caroline Clarke

  • Event type

    Lectures, talks and seminars
    Centre for Work, Organisation and Society (CWOS) Research Seminar Series

  • Event organiser

    Essex Business School

  • Contact details

    Dr Sophie Hales

This seminar draws on social reproduction theory (Ferguson, 2019) to better understand the normative work of exploitation aimed at women in precarious work.

Seminar abstract

n this paper we draw on social reproduction theory (Ferguson, 2019) to better understand the normative work of exploitation aimed at women in precarious work. We theorise the notion of a ‘gendered surplus value’ enacted by women in precarious employment, an exploitation of gendered work in the labour process to generate surplus value for employers. Such work is performed by poor women yet benefits only owners and executives. Gendered surplus value is developed as unacknowledged labour hiding in plain sight, drawing its power from a historical gendered division of labour, with norms and forms of work transposed from the context of the hetero-normative family unit to the workplace. Patriarchal and economic norms re-enforce one another in the practice of gendered surplus value, adding additional burdens of labour upon women.

Our study is based on an engagement with workers in three hospitality businesses, fast food chain McDonald’s, budget pub operator Wetherspoon’s and the US-themed family restaurant and bar TGI Fridays. Our study builds from 40 interviews with workers in these organisations. From the basis of these, we posit three practices of gendered surplus value in precarious work, each of which is unacknowledged by employers as value-generating work, yet can be shown to be core to their business models. First, caring denotes the work of looking after customers and colleagues experiencing distress. It represents an outsourcing of responsibilities of care towards the ill and vulnerable typically undertaken by states and employers. Second, entertaining involves the exploitation of women’s bodies and talents in ways that are hard-wired into the appeal of the business yet are not rewarded as such. Women are here called upon to both engage customers with their affable personalities but also to absorb the abuse and violence of customers as part of the service. Third, cleaning, tidying and organising is a practice akin to the management and execution of domestic tasks but in the workplace. Low-paid women are deemed suitable figures to clean up the bodily waste of customers; they are also called upon by their colleagues to enact the stereotype of responsible household manager and organiser. We conclude by discussing whether the practices highlighted in the study can help inform the basis for future organising of women workers in hospitality and can offer glimpses of a nascent leadership practice amongst women precarious workers.


How to join this seminar

This seminar is free to attend with no need to register in advance.

We welcome you to join this seminar online on Wednesday 16 March 2022 at 12pm.


Speaker bios

Nela Smolović Jones

Nela Smolović Jones is a gender academic and a Lecturer in Organisation Studies at The Open University's Department for People and Organisations. Her research focuses on the interface between gender and democratic practice, especially areas such as feminist solidarity building, democratic organising, equality at the workplace and institutional forms of gendered corruption. Nela is also the founder and director of the Gendered Organisational Practice (GOP) research cluster which provides a space in which feminists of any gender can share insights and knowledge from academic study and practice.


Owain Smolović Jones

Owain Smolović Jones is a leadership academic and a Senior Lecturer in People Management and Organisation. His research primarily focuses on the technological and geographical dynamics of leadership, particularly in relation to workers and within urban environments. Owain has investigated the organisational dynamics of political parties, addressing gender representation, resistance and leadership. Owain is also Director of the OU's Research into Employment, Empowerment and Futures (REEF) academic centre of excellence.


Caroline Clarke

Caroline Clarke is a Senior Lecturer in Organization Studies at the Open University Business School. She has a variety of research interests located within Organization Studies, with a particular emphasis on identity, anxiety, insecurity, gender, and emotions. Caroline’s research includes a focus on academics in business schools, first-opinion veterinary surgeons, and more recently, writing from the perspective of post humanism combined with critical animal studies. Her most recent work is around zoonotic disease, pandemics, and the organization of anthropocentricism.

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