Thursday 20 October at 6pm: Natasha N Iskander, Professor of Urban Planning and Public Service, New York University — Wagner School of Public Service

Does Skill Make Us Human? Migrant Workers in 21st Century Qatar and Beyond

As the 2022 World Cup in Qatar approaches, the international press is drawing renewed attention the serious labor abuses that the migrants building the infrastructure for the games have experienced.  In this talk, I present an overview of my book, Does Skill Make Us Human? Migrant Workers in 21st Century Qatar and Beyond, which details the complex social and economic context that produces working conditions in Qatar. Based on unprecedented ethnographic research on construction sites in Doha, interviews in eight languages, and fieldwork in migrants’ countries of origin, the book explores how migrants are recruited, trained, and used. Despite their acquisition of advanced technical skills, workers are commonly described as unskilled and disparaged as “unproductive,” “poor quality,” or simply “bodies.” The labeling of workers as unskilled is at the root of the labor exploitation they endure.  Skill distinctions in Qatar act as a marker of social difference powerful enough to adjudicate personhood, and to create hierarchies that shape all facets of work, labor recruitment, and migration policy. Skill categories even define industry responses to global warming, with employers recruiting migrants from climate-damaged places at lower wages and exposing these workers to Qatar’s extreme heat. While the political use of skill appears heightened in Qatar, it shares core features with the way that skill is deployed to define immigrant rights and migrant working conditions in economies throughout the world. Thus, Qatar and the 2022 World Cup challenge us to examine the factors that shape working conditions, justify the distribution of power, and amplify inequality everywhere.

Thursday 1 December at 6pm: Chris Howell, James Monroe Professor of Politics, Oberlin College

Rethinking the Role of the State in Employment Relations for a Neoliberal Era

Over the past 30 years, state intervention to reshape employment relations has become a generalized feature of contemporary capitalism. A broad neoliberal reconstruction of the market order has gone hand in hand with a more active state. Indeed, liberalization in the sphere of employment relations could not have taken place without a more active state. Building on a Regulation Theory framework and an elaboration of the concept of neoliberalism as the regulatory infrastructure of emergent growth models, this presentation will examine how the widespread shift from wage-led growth to other forms of growth across the advanced capitalist world has encouraged changes in the role of the state in the regulation of employment relations. These roles include market making, individual employment regulation in place of collective regulation, state-directed social pacts, and redrawing the boundaries between work and non-work.

We will also be holding meetings in February (jointly with the CIPD) and March (jointly with the Industrial Law Society), and in early May we will be holding our annual Shirley Lerner Lecture as a hybrid event (i.e. both online and in person) – the May meeting will feature Jean Jenkins, Professor of Employment Relations at Cardiff University. Further emails will be sent out to publicise the 2023 meetings once they are finalised, and you can keep informed on our forthcoming events by joining MIRS ( see ) and via our Twitter account @ManchesterIRS )