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Latin American Anthropology Seminar Series, hosted by the Centre for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS)

Dolores Señorans, University of Cambridge, UK

Sewing Futures: Migrant Communities, Kinship and Precarious Labour in the Garment Industry in Buenos Aires, Argentina

In 2006, a fire in a garment sweatshop in Buenos Aires unleashed a heated public debate on labour conditions in the industry. “Slavery”, “human trafficking”, and “servitude” soon became the most common ways of describing this form of migrant labour and much of the debate on this sector revolved around the question of why the workers endured -and often accepted- these conditions. For some, the answer could be found in the ancestral customs and traditions of the Bolivian workers implying that this form of labour was “pre-capitalist”. For others, these sites represented a deviation from capitalism since extreme exploitation and “enslavement” was sustained by violence and deceit. Drawing on politically engaged ethnographic fieldwork, this presentation will move beyond these binary views that often shift the blame towards the workers and their communities. As the life stories of particular workers show, while community relationships and kinship were functional to labour exploitation in the sweatshop regime, workers also relied on these social ties to develop their own productive and commercial initiatives driven by notions of “progress” and “autonomy”. More broadly, the presentation seeks to contribute to an ethnographic conceptualization of precarious labour that attends to its socially embedded nature. Even if capital accumulation occurs through intimate and community relationships, workers creatively negotiate the ambivalent nature of these relationships to pursue their desires for a better life for themselves and their families.  

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The Latin American Anthropology Seminar Series is convened by Jessica Sklair (QMUL), Denisse Román-Burgos (Aberdeen) and Ainhoa Montoya (CLACS, SAS).

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