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Stefan Cross Centre for Women, Equality and Law News, Events and Seminars

Seminar – Dr Zoe Adams, ‘Law, Gender and Invisible Labour’ Event

13:00 - 14:00
9 March 2022

Event details

Zoe Adams is a Fellow and Admissions Tutor at King's College Cambridge, and Affiliated Lecturer in Law at the University of Cambridge, UK, and teaches tort law, labour law, and law and economics. Zoe has a BA from Pembroke College, Cambridge, an LLM from the European University Institute in Florence, and a PhD from Pembroke College Cambridge. She was awarded the Yorke Prize for her PhD thesis, A Social Ontology of the Wage. Zoe completed a Junior Research Fellowship at King’s College Cambridge, and is due to publish her second monograph, The Legal Concept of Work in 2022. Her first monograph, Labour and the Wage: A Critical Perspective (2020) was shortlisted for the SLSA-Hart Book prize, and the SLSA-Hart Early Career Academics Prize, 2021. Her academic interests lie primarily in the realm of labour law, political economy, and legal methodology. Her current research focuses on exploring the socio-economic and strategic implications of the law’s constitution, regulation, and conceptualisation of work, with a particular focus on exploring how labour law, and labour law scholarship, can contribute to projects oriented around transformative change.


Feminist scholarship has long emphasised that capitalism acknowledges only one of the forms of human labour that are essential to capital accumulation as “work”: productive labour for the market. As a result, all the ‘reproductive labour’ which is performed in homes and communities and which is required to reproduce and sustain workers, is rendered invisible; it is ‘naturalised’ into non-existence. In recent years, several scholars have sought to identify a number of other forms of ‘invisible labour’ which are important, in one way or another, to the reproduction of capitalist social relations. This includes labour which is performed as work through a paid employment relationship, but which is not institutionally acknowledged as such in the context of that relation – a form of invisible labour which also has complex distributive, and particularly gendered, implications.

In this talk, Zoe Adams brings a legal perspective to bear on discussions about invisible labour, revealing a number of different categories, or forms, of invisible labour, the relationship between which, and role of law in relation to which, has not yet been fully theorised. In so doing, she will shed light on some of the different ways in which the law contributes to invisibilisation, and how different categories of invisible labour can produce their own distinct distributive, and gendered, effects. For this purpose, Zoe draws a distinction between invisible labour, the reproductive labour that sustains work, and thus, profit-making, and which tends to be predominantly performed outside the market; and invisible work, labour that is performed through a wage-relation, and which, as a result, comes to produce a surplus for firms/organisations, where that labour, or its full extent, is not recognised as work for legal purposes. By explaining how, and why, the law conceptualises work as it does, and the structural constraints that exist on shaping that conception, Zoe will help to reveal some of the contingent, but also, the structural, limits of law, when it comes to promoting gender equality today.

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