Section 001: TR 1:30-2:45
Instructor: Catherine Mintler
You know what work is—if you’re old enough to read this
you know what work is, although you may not do it.
—Phillip Levine, “What Work Is”
When you were younger, how did you answer the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Were your aspirations tied to vocation, education, career, title, skill, salary, or social class? Was your decision based upon the mental or physical labor that different kinds of work involve?
In this course we will explore the interconnectedness of work, value, and identity. Why, for example, do we ask people what they do when we mean: “How much money do you make?” Why do we try to avoid doing work, yet find the activity of working satisfying? Why do we privilege certain work for ourselves, yet take for granted or undervalue the work that others undertake that we find beneath us, dangerous, or exploitative? Why are the most difficult, dirty, or dangerous jobs so poorly paid? What is work anyway?
Philip Levine, an American working class poet and 2011 US Poet Laureate who died in 2015, starts to answer the question asked in our course title in his poem “What Work Is.” Beginning with Levine, your reading, thinking, research and writing—your work in this class—will enter into conversations about the Language of Work, Gender and Work, the Alienated and Exploited Labor of Work, and the Future of Work. We will examine some controversial contemporary work issues like “right to work” vs. unions, workaholism, DWYL, increasing the minimum wage, white-blue-pink collar work, the plight of the low-wage working poor, invisible labor, Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy Movement, the wage gap, the glass ceiling vs. the glass escalator, slavery (past + present), universal basic income, and discrimination in the workplace.