[P6361] Colonial Cancers, Incarcerations, and Workplace Accidents: Embodied Histories of Labor in the 20th-Century Middle East and North Africa

Created by Kristen Alff
Friday, 12/03/21 2:00 pm


In recent years, the history of labor in the Middle East and North Africa has moved beyond the new social history inspired by E.P Thomspon. According to recent scholarship, the efforts of workers and laborers of all kinds were more than mere forces of resistance. New research integrates questions of gender and race into the history of labor. It views labor as integral to patterns of globalization and argues for the importance of traveling laborers to the transportation of ideas and indeed the transformation of connections, meanings, and forms of agency.

This panel on labor expands the definition and role of the laborer in the Middle East beyond the current literature to include not just race, gender, and vehicles of scale, but also the ability and disability of the laboring body itself. Inspired in part by recent arguments on the relationships between laboring bodies, race, and public health (Hecht 2012; Derr 2020), the members of this panel explore the embodied dynamics of labor. They argue for the intersection between theories of embodiment and longstanding rubrics of modernity, capitalism, globalization, nationalism, and settler colonialism. Bodies, after all, were both constituted by and of the work environment. Studying this environment through the lens of the body reveals new ontologies of disease, home, property, and metaphors of disability as a tool to petition for citizenships and against colonialisms.

Focusing on Palestine, Tunisia, and Algeria, scholars on this panel take up different aspects of the body in geography and type. Their work draws on innovative documentary sources: X-ray and medical reports from the Gafsa mining region of Tunisia; the administrative collection of Statistiques des accidents du travail; oral history interviews with former Palestinian farmers of tobacco and construction workers; police and incarceration records from Nazareth; and literature and film. The sources in these papers provide a basis for panelists to focus on the politics of cancer in Gafsa, the cheapening and rationalization of bodies in Palestine, the fragmentation of the familial working body of tobacco growers, and discourses of self determination and occupational hygiene in the post-1948 Israeli and French Algerian construction industry. By tracing conceptions of ability, disability, and capacity to work, these interventions redefine the agency of the laborer. In turn, they set a new agenda for labor history in the Middle East and North Africa, one that includes the materiality and social construction of the human body.


Hist; Hist; Hist; Hist; Hist; Hist



Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Marie Grace Brown

(University of Kansas)
Panel Participating Role(s): Discussant;

Kristen Alff

(North Carolina State University)
Kristen Alff is an Assistant Professor at North Carolina State University in the Department of History and the Program of International Studies
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer; Presenter;

Nimrod Ben Zeev

(Van Leer Jerusalem Institute)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Rebecca Gruskin

(Stanford University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Basma Fahoum

(Stanford University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;