At the zero degree / Below the minimum: Wage as sign in Israel’s split labor market
Marx conceived of the reproduction of labor-power as a circuit in which the wage must suffice to purchase the commodities necessary to meet the worker’s “so-called necessary requirements,” which are “products of history.” In this article, I argue that, through ethnographic investigation of the wage as a sign of these requirements, we can arrive at a wealth of knowledge about how the wage helps to construct different groups of workers as belonging to different human types, which are often “bundled” together with categories such as race and citizenship. I make my case through the investigation of two groups of workers: young Jewish-Israeli citizens engaged in logistics work and earning the minimum wage, and migrant farmworkers from Thailand who are paid far below that minimum for their labor. I argue that the first group represents a “zero degree” of labor-power, defined by the legal and biopolitical concern of the state for its reproduction, while the latter is understood by its members, their employers, and the surrounding society as undeserving of such concern. Deploying the Marxist-feminist problematic of the social reproduction of labor power, I argue that, by affording different groups of workers, and their children, different standards of living and opportunities for integration into labor markets, the wage works together with other forces to lock people into embodied, inherited “types.” From this perspective, I suggest, some categories of oppression do not “intersect” at right angles but rather run almost parallel, and at times coming close to cohering—a finding with implications for both analysis and political practice.
KeywordsLabor Semiotics Israel Migration Social reproduction Race Class Citizenship
This article originated as my contribution to a panel on remuneration at the American Anthropological Association’s Annual Meeting in 2015, which I could not attend. I would like to thank the organizers of that panel, Gregory Morton and Adam Sargent, who also gave me excellent feedback on a draft. In the years since then, I have received comments and encouragement from Joel Beinin, Jason De León, Dotan Leshem, Tal Giladi, Geoff Hughes, Carmel Kaminer, Alma Katz, Alaina Lemon, Zachary Lockman, Eilat Maoz, Salar Mohandesi, Liron Mor, Gregory Morton, Smadar Nehab, Katie Rainwater, Adam Sargent, Hagar Shezaf, Shahar Shoham, Andrew Shryock, and Hadas Weiss, and am grateful to them all. My research was supported by the Fulbright-Hays Dissertation Development Research Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Award, the Social Science Research Council’s International Dissertation Research Fellowship, the University of Michigan’s Rackham Program in Public Scholarship, and other awards from UM’s Rachkam Graduate School, Center for Southeast Asia Studies and Department of Anthropology. The errors are, as usual, all my own.
This study was funded by:
• Fulbright-Hays Dissertation Development Research Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Award, US Department of Education, Award No. P022A160004.
• International Dissertation Research Fellowship, Social Science Research Council.
• Rackham Program in Public Scholarship and various internal grants from the University of Michigan
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.
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