Call for Submissions: Essentiality of Work, Research in the Sociology of Work

Essentiality of Work

Call for Papers to be Published in Research in the Sociology of Work

Rick Delbridge, Markus Helfen, Andi Pekarek and Gretchen Purser, editors

The Covid pandemic has had a variety of significant consequences for work, workers and
workplaces, the lasting effects of which are still to be determined. One of the more interesting
and complex of these has been the invocation of notions of essentiality. For example,
policymakers and the media have made wide reference to ‘essential work’ and ‘essential
workers’, shaping the ways in which governments have sought to respond to the crisis. Whether
work is essential or not has been (re-)discovered as an important question in public and
academic debate during periods of societal disruption, in this case caused by Covid, but also
important during earlier periods of crisis.

Such questions reveal the social character of work – and the socially constructed discourses that
shape and inform the nature of work, the experiences of workers and the wider perceptions of
these – in consequential ways. This rediscovery of essentiality alludes to the diverging societal
relevance attached to various types of work, but also reminds us of the questions of valuation
and valorization of different activities as work. What has been exposed is the jarring disconnect
between those whose roles have central significance to the functioning of society and everyday
life and the ‘value’ that society places upon their work. While essential work is often invisible
and forgotten in normal times, deemed to be subject to replacement and automation in polarized
labour markets and taking place in locations and sites distant from sanitized office spaces,
during periods of crisis those activities come to the fore. Unfortunately, the pay, status and
working conditions of many of those delivering essential work – including care work – are
inferior compared to other jobs and occupations. Indeed, much of this essential work is
undertaken by those suffering the greatest societal and economic disadvantages, including
women and immigrants.

There are deeper considerations that are also brought to the surface when contemplating the
meaning of essential work and workers, and the dimensions of the essentiality of work. These
discussions raise considerations about the centrality of the work experience in modern life for
those working and raise new questions about the essence of work and its place in contemporary

This issue of Research in the Sociology of Work seeks to shed new light on both the enduring
and newly emerging questions concerning the essentiality (or non-essentiality) of work by
publishing papers engaging with theoretical and empirical aspects of these questions. For
example, we are interested in understanding the perceptions and experiences of those labelled
‘essential workers’ during and after the Covid-19 crisis, and in comparative explorations in
the experiences of essential workers during other periods (e.g. the global financial crisis of
2007-2008) and across different geographies. We also encourage submissions that examine whether and how workers and their allies (e.g. unions) can mobilize positive public sentiment
towards essential work in campaigns for better pay and working conditions. Further, we are
interested in reflections on how government policies respond to the need for essential work to
be maintained and any legacies there may be in the future. We also welcome papers that
explore the methodological issues in how to research the essentiality of work and deeper
philosophical considerations of the meanings and consequences of ‘essential work’. In
exploring the concept of essentiality in its varieties, we invite contributions that seek to
expand the analytical potential of studying work from the bottom-up.

Articles can address any of a wide range of topics and themes, including but not limited to the
• Essential work in various sectors and industries such as care work, hospitals, transport,
and retail
• “Non-essential” work and workers
• Precarity, inequality, and essentiality
• Reproductive and care work
• Institutions and the boundaries of (non)essential work
• Valuation and valorization of essentiality of work and workers
• Discourses of essential work and essential workers
• Media portrayals of essential work
• Futures of essential work, pay, automation and skills
• Essential work in the context of the climate crisis
• Spaces and places of essentiality, including remote work
Submissions may be made at any time up until the extended deadline of August 31, 2022. Please
submit your manuscript to and include Essentiality in the subject line.

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