Texas A&M University-Kingsville

What is Shadow Work and Why is it so Important? Answer Given at Faculty Lecture April 21

KINGSVILLE - April 08, 2010

Contact: Jason Marton
jason.marton@tamuk.edu or 361.593.4143


"I grew up in Burundi, where my parents were missionaries. While I was there, I saw people pulling together makeshift existences, and that was when I first became interested in how the poor live and earn money for themselves," said Dr. Dean Ferguson, professor of history at Texas A&M University-Kingsville.

This interest became the basis for Ferguson's study of "shadow workers," the laborers of the world doing tasks that didn't fit into the protection and organization of unions or guilds.

During his post-graduate studies of French history, Ferguson's interest in researching these workers grew, as he saw example after example of them--water carriers, sedan chair carriers, laundresses, street sweepers.

"Factory workers were documented in labor history, guild members were noted in the history of the early modern period. These 'shadow workers' have hardly been mentioned at all," said Ferguson.

His research in unsung laborers will be presented to the public as the annual Faculty Lecture 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 21, in room 115 of the Texas A&M Health Science Center Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy Building, on the campus of Texas A&M-Kingsville.

The title of the lecture is "'Shadow Work' and the Making of the Modern World."

This event is free to the public, with food and drink following the lecture in the lobby of the College of Pharmacy Building.

When asked what he would like lecture attendees to walk away with, Ferguson noted a few points.

"One of the main things I want people to leave the lecture with is an awareness of the variety of informal sector work that happens all around them.

"I also want them to learn that much of what we know about industrialization and the rise of the west is incomprehensible without these workers. For instance, the mid-19th Century saw the start of the mass market clothing industry, a real indicator of industrialization. This market started initially through rag peddlers, who picked up used clothes and fit them to their customers. Their efforts have been totally disregarded in the history of ready-made clothing.

"The last thing I want attendees to see is that there are distinct parallels between today's informal sector and the shadow work of the 18th and 19th Centuries."

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