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School of Geography

Post-Wage Economy

Re-theorising ‘work’ across the global North-South divide

The idea of wage labour as the locus of social status, economic security, and political entitlement was central to the historical project of modernity, which structured societies in the global North, and to a lesser extent the global South, for much of the 20th century. However, recent developments in the social and spatial organisation of production have facilitated the decline of wage labour in many regions of the world. Contrary to the assumptions of modernisation theory, it has recently been argued that experiences of work in the global North are becoming more like those in the global South, rather than the other way around. Nevertheless, researchers and policy makers continue to promote conventional (Northern) ideas of waged work, foreclosing alternative theories based on the experiences of people in the majority world.

This project proposes to re-theorise work through an empirical comparison of the experiences of people provisioning in non-wage (or pre-industrial) and post-wage (or post-industrial) economies. It revisits the utility of influential concepts derived from the historical experiences of waged economies in Europe and North America – such as those of precarity and informality – and explores the potential of alternative and complimentary theories derived from the everyday experiences of people provisioning beyond the wage.


  • What are the emerging features of non-wage­ and post-wageeconomies across the world? How are these features experienced locally (through people’s relationship with the state, the market and the household)? What are the key geographies of difference?
  • To what extent are these conditions captured by dominant concepts of work, such as those of precarityand informality? What is the genealogy of these concepts? To what extent do they enable or restrict South-North comparison?
  • What alternative theories are emerging based on the experiences of people provisioning beyond wage labour in diverse economies? What possibilities do these theories provide for reconceptualising the social, political and spatio-temporal boundaries of ‘work’? How might researchers energise them as objects of policy?


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