Last week I attended the Critical Management Studies conference, hosted by Edge Hill University in the faded grandeur of the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool. It was my second time visiting the city and also my second academic conference. Although my stream had the rather intimidating title of Political economy, value and valuation: Advancing contemporary critiques of capitalism and exploring alternatives, it was really useful not only to get feedback on my own paper, but also to find out about current research in this field.
When I had submitted the paper I was slightly worried I was going to be spending a lot of time on something that might not be directly relevant to my research. The conference programme looked great and the idea of ‘value’ in relation to my research (unemployment) really struck a chord. I’ve always been interested in Marx (I even have a Karl Marx finger puppet), but although I’ve directly read some of his work, political economy hadn’t really been on my research radar until the deadline for submitting the full paper was looming. Cue some intense reading of key texts such as Boehm and Land, O’Doherty and Willmott, and Thompson. As it turned out, this was extremely worthwhile and has opened my eyes to a new perspective.
I have to give credit to the stream chairs for doing a great job at organisation. Despite several last minute drop-outs, and thereby changes to the programme, they managed to work this in our favour by allowing longer for paper discussions. The grouping of the papers into themes (mine was under Welfare State with two other papers) also really helped keep the discussion going. Not only that but two of the stream chairs circulated their full longer length paper about the new reading of Marx which is going to be very useful to me. And despite the theoretically dense sounding stream title we heard about some really topical concerns with capitalism such as the realities of fairtrade (Sanjay Lanka and Steffen Boehm), zero prices (Irene Sotiropoulou) and farmers on twitter (Olga Rodak).
My paper was about how older working class unemployed men resist capitalism by refusing the accept the options of the state to either remould themselves as middle class or take their place at the bottom of the labour market. The sense of community in our stream (despite being stuck in the very The Shining-esque hotel basement!) was something I have not experienced before. Everyone had read the circulated papers which meant they could provide specific feedback. This has certainly supported me in seeing how I am going to position my research with regards to capitalism and the Labour Process.
Now I can breath easy that I’ve successfully crossed that theoretical threshold it’s back to the realities of the research. This week I visited the Job Centre, and as a result I will hopefully soon be meeting some real participants. It was both refreshing and a relief to meet with the unemployment project because in many ways what they were saying aligned with my theoretical work. So what until now has, at times, seemed like a stab in the dark is actually starting to pay off (for now). Phew!