September 10, 2021
GLRC Faculty Associate Audrey Laurin-Lamothe was interviewed by GLRC Placement Student Rubina Karyar for our Researcher Profile series. Dr. Laurin-Lamothe is an Assistant Professor in Social Science at York University. Find her faculty profile here.
Rubina Karyar: Tell us about the work you are doing now related to work, labour, and livelihoods.
Audrey Laurin-Lamothe: In terms of research, I have five areas related to the GLRC’s work. The first is from my PhD thesis. I would say the word financialization is a new process of accumulating profit. It has changed financial and industrial organizations, whether they are in the financial sector or the industrial sector. My research deals with current relationships inside corporations, whereby privileged executives and managers are dedicated to nourishing the financial process of profit accumulation based on assets, interests, and investments rather than the old-fashioned way of connecting to “traditional” circuits of accumulation, which is building products and selling things. There is a kind of financial circuit within any corporation. These circuits have become more and more critical, along with intensifying outsourcing, globalization, and workers’ demands.
Financialization could also be about the creation of profit through a variety of individual assets and property, loans, investments, or annuities. This type of accumulation and income is of more importance than traditional labour income to the privileged classes. In terms of inequality, we witness a growing polarization around financial means. If you are more privileged, you will have a higher salary and a greater diversification of portfolio investments. At the opposite, lowest-paid and middle-class people face higher interest rates in early life resulting in enormous amounts of indebtedness. This will affect the way people think about their life, such as having children. In the sociology of the family, for example, which I have taught, people will tend to change the way they date depending on whether or not they are indebted. Moreover, precarity can be understood in a broader sense, such as precarity of work, but there is also precarity about confidence in the future. This is the second area.
The third area is the financialization of care. I am working on this with a postdoctoral fellow, Anne Plourde, who, even before the COVID crisis, had been working on home care enterprises. Due to neoliberal health and social service policies, private home care is growing in importance. Quebec and Ontario are quite similar in this regard. Major players in this industry build their profits and business strategy on very low wages. Most caregiver positions are filled with racialized and/or recent immigrant women. We also note that home care facilities hire undocumented women. Unions, and I will say any organization involved in fighting for rights, have difficulties making these facilities better workplaces.
Financialization is important in the field of labour studies. Financialization happened much earlier in the UK and US, and they have to deal with it now because aging people will constitute a larger proportion of the overall population. An individual solution is not the appropriate way to deal with any support you might need for your life. At this point, it's imperative for me to work with some kind of theoretical framework that combines political economy, feminism and anti-colonialism, and social policy. It's just a way to think about the relationship between capitalism and the state, looking especially at Scandinavian countries. In Canada, and many other countries in the Commonwealth, social security is based mostly on our working position in society. This is the entry point for having support and social security, which is a major problem. I tried to think about developing security and social and financial support over the course of our long life. I supported the Quebec students’ strike for paid internships. In psychology, sociology, and social work, among other disciplines, unpaid internships and practicums are common, and are a way of exploiting students. I think about a discussion we could have to develop full support for each adult, regardless of their value as a worker, because they are valuable in a broader sense.
When you look at Scandinavian countries, social benefit is not based on the assumption that your family will support you. It's based on the individual, and it's universal. It's important at the earliest stage of adult life, and it has impacts throughout life until old age. The universal basic income seems to be a very interesting subject of debate. I don’t have a clear position about that, but it is something that we should think about. We will not have a full-time job throughout life unless we are engaged in a very deep societal transformation where jobs are provided in specific sectors that are aligned with a global strategy of ecological transition and care. Thus, we have to find a way to distribute resources without eligibility being based on one’s labour position, while using other ways to secure better conditions of life for everybody.
I have a grant with several colleagues. We will work on a project for more than four years. It is similar to the corporate mapping project in western Canada. The idea is to look at the network in eastern Canada, see what is happening here, and link financialization to resource extraction because finance is culturally depicted as a clean and invisible process at the opposition of the dirty extraction of fossil fuel that generates awful landscapes. However, there is an association between financial organizations and extraction. I think, if we want to be engaged in a major revolution to bring about a political transition, and overcome not only the COVID crisis but also the ecological and care crises in Canada, we have to eliminate the extractive sector and proceed with a major job conversion for people who are currently working in this sector. This is the fourth area.
The fifth area related to work is a book that I co-authored with Frédéric Legault and Simon Tremblay-Pépin concerning democratic planning. It presents the debate around the ability of society and the people to build a non-capitalist economy, which requires full democratic power of workers and communities over their means of production, their products, and the orientation of all of that. I presented a paper in Quebec about how to democratize our economy based on local, regional, and national councils, and to abolish any private properties, or to allow private property, but only for organizations under people’s control. The idea behind this is to explain to workers that they are their own experts. They know how to work and they don't need managers to tell them what is right or what to do. So, this is about sharing the idea that they can democratically run their workplace. The paper also criticizes the assumption about market optimization. This orthodox idea is that everybody, by pursuing their own purpose and desire and making their own decisions based on their individuality, will create the perfect equilibrium between demand and supply. However, it's important to emphasize that, actually, few people decide what the orientation of society is. If we want to overcome the ecological, care, and colonial crises, we must realize that we need this orientation, this democratic planning. Nothing can be done if we think there is a perfect autonomous economic process that takes precedence over society.
RK: How do you position this work in your broader program of research and your particular discipline?
ALL: I'm from sociology, and I have all of my degrees in sociology. However, because I'm working in the social sciences, it is a very interdisciplinary department, and sociology doesn't resonate with me anymore. I would say that ecological and care crises, and colonialism and racism in Canada are my main concerns. I have not done a lot of work in each area, but it's something that drives me and makes me think about my further steps, not only as a researcher but as a teacher.
RK: What are you curious about, and what do you hope to pursue in the future?
ALL: We are trained to criticize, which is a very good thing. However, sometimes I don’t know if criticizing is enough. I deal with financialization, the ecological crisis, people with too much power in society, and patriarchy. But there is also a political urgency in which we should be engaged in changing society. It is important to have a critical position, but it is also important to engage in social change. For example, I would like to map what a non-capitalist and non-patriarchal social organization looks like. I thought about that with the book about democratic planning. Many scholars who have written since the end of the Soviet Union to the present don’t deal with the problem of the family as an economic unit, as a place of uneven power relationships and a place of loneliness. They do not provide enough insight into how we can also diversify places so we feel less alone. I think it is something we should resolve with democratic planning at large because we don’t want people who just have time, who are available or who delegate their work to others, to plan the economy by themselves while others stay at home.
Feminists, such as Christine Delphy, will say that our contemporary context is the first frame of reference where women exploit other women. Dealing with friends who have young children, it is quite interesting to see how women manage delegation. And so, some people will prefer to have market-based merchandise or products, cooked meals for example. They will choose to go to the fetishism of merchandise, which means that the exploitative relationship is hidden behind the product. Some women prefer to have commercially cooked meals rather than having someone inside their home. The latter involves a more complex social interaction, social discussion, and questioning. So, the relationship between a lady and a maid, as discussed by Sylvia Federici and Nancy Fraser, is interesting because we haven't solved this problem of domestic labour, and because we haven’t really achieved any true improvement by sharing this with men. Most of the women are in this contradiction because they lost their power, or their ability, to make their points with their male partner.
RK: Whose research inspires you/are you engaged with now?
ALL: Kendra Stauss, who lives in BC. She is working on financialization and care. She has a long record of working on the problem of temporary migrant permits. I am a huge fan of Nancy Fraser. A lot of her work is linked to sociology, political economy, and Marxism. I also like Silvia Federici’s work related to women’s conditions in the Third World.
Professor Audrey Laurin-Lamothe is a sociologist. Her thesis created a portrait of the economic elite in Quebec in the context of increased firm financialization through an analysis of individual profiles, compensation, and social networks. Her research program is informed by the understanding that financialization is a driving force of economic transformation and, more broadly, profoundly influences relationships among households, organizations, and the state. In particular, she is conducting research on care and finance, and extractivism and ecological transition. She has also conducted research focusing on middle-class wage demands and work conditions as described by newspaper editorials, investigating how the representations created by discourse could both reflect and influence the bargaining power held by workers. Her previous academic contributions analyzed gender-based fiscal policies and public indebtedness.
Rubina Karyar is a Master of Social Work candidate at York University in Toronto. She also completed a Master of Arts degree in Sociology at York University in 2018.