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  MPIfG Scholar in Residence Lectures


MPIfG Scholar in Residence Lectures 2021/22 by Karen Shire




Regulating Transnational Labor

The three lectures assess the possibilities and challenges for regulating cross-border labor mobility in the global economy. Migration scholars often advocate for free mobility, while labor scholars focus on how cross-border labor is used to evade and undermine hard-won labor protections. Her lectures seek to gain leverage on the contradictions between liberalizing labor mobility and regulating employment. The focus is on the theorization of the regulatory challenges posed by cross-border labor mobility, and assessments of regulatory practices emerging at a transnational scale.

Selected publications
Tuesday, January 18, 2022 | 5 p.m.

Theorizing Regulatory Challenges of Transnational Labor

An increasing share of migration no longer results in immigration and settlement, but takes the form of temporary and circular exchanges of labor across borders. Examples include posted work, labor subcontracting, cross-border temporary staffing, illegal forms of forced and trafficked labor, but also “medium-skilled” industrial and service work. Building on theoretical discussions in the economic sociology of markets and labor sociology, Shire proposes a reconceptualization of migration as the organization of cross-border labor markets. The lecture focuses on the multiplicity of market-making actors, the coordination problems specific to the transnational exchange of labor power, and regulatory challenges and solutions in a comparative transnational perspective.

Publication recommended for preparatory reading
Tuesday, January 25, 2022 | 5 p.m.

Cross-Border Labor Market Intermediaries

The focus of the second lecture is on one set of dominant actors in the making and operation of cross-border labor markets – labor market intermediaries. Historical research documents the dominant role of intermediaries in the formation of national labor markets, with international conventions from the interwar period establishing a monopoly for public labor exchanges. This changed in the 1990s, when the International Labour Organization reversed course with a convention legitimating private fee-charging employment services. The lecture examines how private intermediaries have become dominant actors in the recruitment for and operation of cross-border labor markets, the multiplicity of forms now taken by cross-border intermediation, and the struggles to protect workers who use their services. While most studies of regulatory efforts have been situated on the demand side, and covered the employment relation, recent research about labor recruitment in the Asia Pacific points to the regulatory agency of sending states and the regulation of the commercial side of exchanges for improving labor protections.

Publication recommended for preparatory reading
  • Shire, Karen, Steffen Heinrich, Jun Imai, Hannelore Mottweiler, Markus Tünte, and Chih-Chieh Wang. 2018. "Private Labor Market Intermediaries in Cross-Border Labor Markets in Europe and Asia: International Norms, Regional Actors and Patterns of Cross-Border Labor Mobility." In Transnationale Arbeit, edited by Sigrid Quack, Ingo Schulz-Schaeffer, Karen Shire, and Anja Weiss, 155–83. Wiesbaden: Springer VS.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022 | 5 p.m.

Trafficked, Forced, and Informalized Labor

The extreme exploitation of labor in the form of trafficked, forced, or informalized employment has pervaded the labor-intensive, low-wage segments of labor markets across the global economy. While the discussion of regulatory pathways in this series of lectures so far has attributed challenges to gaps in international conventions and national/sectoral regulations, in this domain, international rules and normative principles are extensive and widely shared. Moreover, extreme exploitation is not confined to the institutionally thinner labor market contexts of the developing world. The available statistics suggest that a large share of trafficked labor is situated in Europe, and occurs between the EU member states. Why then, does extreme exploitation persist, even where conventions are ratified, norms become guiding principles, and employment is heavily regulated at the national level? In this last lecture, the persistence of forced and informalized labor in the advanced economies is explained in relation to the intersection of employment regulation with mobility infrastructures and the gender regime, with evidence taken from comparative research on the regulation of prostitution and welfare markets for domestic/care labor in Europe.

Publication recommended for preparatory reading







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