The Political Ecology of Work in Times of Disaster

57th ITH Conference


AK-Bildungshaus Jägermayrhof
Römerstraße 98
4020 Linz, Austria

The 2022 ITH Conference, organised by the International Conference of Labour and Social History (ITH) is held in Linz/Austria and takes from the present epidemiological crisis to also reflect on other times of disaster and their implications for workers, organised labour and labour relations.


The onset of the global pandemic radically challenged the world of work. Lockdowns and other public health policies re-segmented labour markets, reallocated rights and reinforced privileges. Homework exploded, all while workers deemed “essential” kept on risking their health in services, care, slaughterhouses and farms. Both in the Global South and the Global North, labour legislation was rolled back, and trade-unions muted.

The 2022 ITH conference takes from the present epidemiological crisis to also reflect on other times of disaster and their implications for workers, organised labour and labour relations. This includes disasters triggered by technological hazards, such as mining accidents or the explosion of gas plants, disasters triggered by environmental hazards, such as earthquakes or forest fires, and epidemiological disasters, such as the Bubonic Plague, the Influenza of 1918 and the current Covid-19 pandemic.

No disaster is purely natural. A disaster takes place within environmental, social, economic and political contexts that ultimately determine the impact of a disaster. Human Intervention is important to the outbreak of such events. It is human society, not nature, that is in crisis due to viruses, geological or climatic changes; it is human society that produces technological disasters; it is the geo-ecological shifts between humans (society) and nature that can produce biophysical hazards. The social and economic impact of a hazard is determined by nature and extent of societal vulnerability. It is this societal vulnerability that turns a hazard into a disaster, the endemic into an epidemic.

How well societies prepare for, cope with or recover from disasters is determined by their social, political, economic and cultural vulnerability and their capacity to absorb these shocks (their resilience). At the ITH conference 2022 we focus on how labour was affected by and dealt with disasters in both a long-term and short-term perspective. We approach this topic through the lens of political ecology, i.e. we take the viewpoint of both environmental history and Marxist political economy.

There are numerous factors that deepen labourer’s vulnerability and their capacity to cope with shocks: environmental, economic or institutional factors. Studying disasters via a political ecology approach allows us to analyse these factors in a combined way. From a political ecology approach, we see that the expansion of capitalism and the inherent exploitation of both labour and nature has had a severe impact on workers’ vulnerability to hazards: it worsened the livelihood of many, and weakened communal institutions (e.g. commons), but has also created the preconditions for environmentally-induced disasters. These pre-conditions materialise in varied ways in different societal contexts – a heterogeneity that needs to be explored.

Languages: English, German

Organised by: International Conference of Labour and Social History (ITH)

Supported by: Chamber of Labour of Upper Austria, Chamber of Labour of Vienna, Austrian Society for Political Education, Friedrich Ebert Foundation, Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, and the City of Linz.

To register, please contact conference[at]

For more information, click here.


Thursday, 22 September

12:00 – 14:00 (CET): Meeting of the ITH Board and International Scientific Committee

14:00 – 14:30 (CET): Break

14:30 – 16:30 (CET): General Assembly of the ITH

17:00 – 17:30 (CET): Conference Opening

  • Therese Garstenauer, University of Vienna
  • Representative of the Chamber of Labour of Upper Austria
  • Representative of the City of Linz

17:30 – 19:15 (CET): Keynote Lecture

  • Mike Davis (University of California, Riverside)

19:15 – 21:00 (CET): Welcome Reception by the Major of Linz

Friday, 23 September

9:30 – 11:00 (CET): Opening Lecture

  • Louisa Acciari, University College London: Care Work as an Act of Resistance in Times

11:00 – 11:15 (CET): Coffee Break

11:15 – 13:15 (CET): Panel I: Epidemiological Disasters

  • Daniel Curtis, Erasmus University Rotterdam: Epidemics, Inequalities, and Inequalities
    Behind the Inequalities in the Premodern Past
  • David Arnold, University of Warwick: The Impact on labour and labour mobility in India: case of the bubonic plague in the 1890s
  • Michael Pammer, Johannes Kepler University Linz: The epidemiology of the Spanish flu

13:15 – 14:30 (CET): Lunch

14:30 – 16:00 (CET): Panel II: Technological Disasters

  • Elif İrem Az, Columbia University: The undead strike at the limit of the accidental: Soma and Ermenek miners’ protests between October 2019-July 2021
  • Dorothea Hoehtker, Research Department of the International Labour Office, Geneve: Changing the perspective on working conditions and the environment – the Bhopal disaster and the ILO
  • Clement Masakure, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein and Duncan Money, Leiden University: Fiery Collieries’ and Explosive Situations: Towards a History of the 1972 Hwange Colliery Disaster

16:00 – 16:15 (CET): Coffee Break

16:15 – 18:15 (CET): Panel III: Covid-19 I

  • Camille Buat, Sciences Po/University of Göttingen: Covid-19 and the crisis of socialcitizenship in India
  • Panchali Ray, Krea University: Covid-19 and the Labour of Care: Feminine Service Work in India
  • Ayça Yılmaz Deniz, Turkish-German University, Istanbul: Arbeiten in Zeiten der Covid 19-Pandemie in der Türkei: Zuschreibungswandel zwischen Sinnhaftigkeit und Sinnverlust

18:15 – 19:15 (CET): Dinner

19:15 – 21:00 (CET):  Public evening event (in German)

Saturday, 24 September

9:30 – 11:00 (CET): Panel IV: Disaster Response

  • Matt Myers, British School at Rome/University of Oxford: The Italian workers’ movementand the 1980 Irpinia earthquake
  • Matt Perry, Newcastle University: ‘Metabolic rift’ at work and within labouring minds:Firefighters’ occupational environmentalism and the experience of disaster
  • Lawrence McDonnell, Iowa State University: The Political Ecology of Confederate Collapse:Rethinking the Origins and Limits of Reconstruction
  • Mario Keller, University of Vienna: Othering, Conspiracy Narratives and Violence in theContext of Pandemics – Three Case Studies

11:00 – 11:15 (CET): Coffee Break

11:15 – 12:45 (CET) Panel V: Covid-19 II

  • Sampurna Das, University of Delhi: Gendered experiences of vulnerability amongstcommunity health workers of riverine regions of Assam, India
  • Özlem İlyas, Boğaziçi University, Istanbul: Affective and Political Implications of RemoteWorking during the Covid-19 Pandemic
  • P.K. Viswanathan, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham: Integration of Global Trade in Plantation Commodities with Labour Standards in the post-Covid-19 pandemic era: A Study of TeaPlantations in India

12:45 – 14:00 (CET): Lunch

14:00 – 15:00 (CET): Concluding Debate