Academic journal article Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies

Intersectional Directions in Working Life Research-A Proposal

Academic journal article Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies

Intersectional Directions in Working Life Research-A Proposal

Article excerpt


The contribution of gender studies and its impact on the field of working life research in Sweden cannot be stressed enough (Knocke 1981; Gonäs 1989; Baude 1992; Sommestad 1992; Abrahamsson 2000; Christensson 2000). Pioneering work on behalf of feminist and gender researchers1 drew attention to and explored women's reproductive work and specifically the relationship between paid and unpaid work. Scholarship such as this forced a reconsideration of the concepts of "work" and "economy," and challenged labor analyses at its core by leading the way in terms of developing new methods, new analytical tools, and theoretical perspectives in order to understand the many features and facets of labor and its meaning in people's lives. These contributions expanded the field of working life research, in Sweden as well as in other countries (cf. Bradley 1989, p. 33ff; Thompson 1989, p. 184ff).

Taking our point of departure in this successful dialogue between the fields of feminist and gender studies and working life studies, we argue that much could be gained from a continual exchange and a reciprocal openness between gender research and working life studies toward its respective developments, traditions, and themes. Based on our experiences from participating in the last three (2011-2013) of the major annual working life research conferences in Sweden, organized by the Swedish Forum for Working Life Research, and an overview of the abstracts presented at two of these conferences,2 we see the need for a renewed discussion on the benefits of a reinvigorated dialogue between gender studies and working life studies. This is not so because gender is ignored in working life studies in Sweden, especially not in terms of awareness of gender segregation and differences in, i.e., working conditions between men and women in the Swedish labor market, but because major developments in gender studies-including the aim of moving beyond categorical thinking that takes gendered binaries for granted, challenging heteronormativity, and explore complex inequalities and the mutual reinforcement of different power relations-seem to be missing from what one could call the current interest formation in Swedish working life research.

The aim of this paper is to discuss how the concept of intersectionality can be used within working life research, and indeed how it has been used successfully by a number of scholars who may not be considered part of the mainstream Swedish working life research community, if such a community could be said to exist. We argue that intersectional perspectives provide researchers with productive analytical tools that could both deepen and broaden the field of Swedish and Nordic working life studies and strengthen the field of working life studies as a central interlocutor of emancipatory/critical perspectives within the social sciences. We will also argue that while Nordic working life research needs to open up for feminist intersectional approaches in order to capture complex inequalities in times of globalization, the growing interest in intersectional perspectives within gender studies also need to include an interest in and recognition of the vast body of research and theoretical advancements produced within the field of working life studies.

The first section of the article will introduce and locate the concept of intersectionality, specifically understandings and conceptualizations of intersectionality developed within a materialist sociological tradition. In the second part of the article, the shift in gender studies toward a poststructuralist understanding of intersectionality will be discussed briefly. The central focus of this article, however, is on three feminist scholars who we argue provide especially relevant theoretical frames and who can be used as sources of inspiration in bridging feminist intersectional research with working life studies.

The concept of intersectionality

Intersectionality is at the core of today's agenda in gender studies (Davies 2011). …

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