Neoliberal Capitalism and Precarious Work

Neoliberal Capitalism and Precarious Work

Ethnographies of Accommodation and Resistance

Edited by Rob Lambert and Andrew Herod

Since the renaissance of market politics on a global scale, precarious work has become pervasive. Divided into two parts, the first section of this cross-disciplinary book analyses the different forms of precarious work that have arisen over the past thirty years. These transformations are captured in ethnographically orientated chapters on sweatshops; day labour; homework; unpaid contract work of Chinese construction workers; the introduction of insecure contracting in the Korean automotive industry; and the insecurity of Brazilian cane cutters. The editors and contributors then collectively explore trade union initiatives in the face of precarious work and stimulate debate on the issue.

Chapter 7: At the cutting edge: precarious work in Brazil’s sugar and ethanol industry

Brian Garvey and Maria Joseli Barreto

Subjects: geography, human geography, political geography and geopolitics, politics and public policy, political geography and geopolitics, social policy and sociology, labour policy


The late geographer Milton Santos interpreted the changing Brazilian landscape as a dynamic social product of work, both past and present. What happened at each specific site was affected by previous practices and by their link to the globalized systems into which these sites were incorporated. ‘Space’, he wrote (1978, p._138), ‘is a witness to a moment in the mode of production in these concrete manifestations; it is where some processes adapt themselves to pre-existing forms, while others create new forms that are inserted’. His words resonate across the swaying stands of sugarcane, blood red soils and cloudless skies surrounding the biofuel refinery in Brazil’s São Paulo State where we base our study of precarious work in the production of sugar-derived ethanol. They begin to explain how it is that company engineers are flown to Canada to perfect advanced biotechnologies as sugarcane cutters disembark from a dusty bus and angle their machetes into the fields for their last season of employment. They help us understand why new public–private highways linking once-remote rural areas to expanding port terminals will be driven by those willing to risk their life to make a living wage.

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