ILPC 2022, 21st to 23rd April Padua

Special Stream 1: Mediating migrant labour: Labour intermediaries, insecure work and social reproduction in the EU and beyond

Proposed by Hannah Schling (University of Glasgow, UK), Dimitra Kofti (Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences, Greece) and Raia Apostolova (Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Bulgaria)

The uneven integration of various European regions into global production and distribution sectors is transforming both local labour regimes and the systems of labour migration that interconnect them. This stream focuses on the intermediaries and infrastructures (e.g., temporary work agencies, recruiters and labour brokers, worker dormitories, transportation services, visa centres) through which 'labour supply chains' connect such regions, operationalize and enable labour mobility.

Scholars have turned their attention to the 'black box' of labour migration (Lindquist et al 2012): the infrastructures, brokers and work agencies through which mobility, employment, and workers' social reproduction is mediated (Fudge and Strauss 2014). Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) in particular has been noted as a site of rapid growth of temporary work agencies (Coe et al 2008), including their role in the formation of cross-border labour markets servicing the region's global production sites (Andrijasevic and Sacchetto 2016). This stream encourages submissions exploring the differentiated practices, positions and development of labour migration intermediaries across the EU and beyond. We are particularly interested in submissions exploring CEE, as a site of 'innovation' rather than simply a site of 'reception' or a periphery of labour practices developed elsewhere.

Centring labour intermediaries opens questions around both (i) new forms of mediated and subcontracted labour relations in the EU and beyond, and the particular risks they carry for migrant workers; and (ii) workers' social reproduction and the broader reproduction of systems of labour and production. We approach these questions as related and seek analyses that connect workers' everyday life and uneven relations of social reproduction with the changing regimes of work and production. We hope the stream will contribute to scholarly efforts centring social reproduction within analysis of labour migration, labour intermediaries (Strauss and Fudge 2014), and new labour regimes approaches (Baglioni and Mezzadri 2020, Schling in press).

The question of uneven development is also key, including how such economic geographies are articulated through various border regimes. The practices of temporary work agencies and other labour intermediaries are formed in tight relation to border regimes; but the question of transnational workers' rights remains rather blurry and uncertain (Meszmann and Fedyuk 2019). For many people social mobility is increasingly connected to imperatives of geographical movement – with "better paid" jobs, or employment in general, only accessible through migration. This opens questions of both 'self-exploitation' and the ways that uneven development is itself reproduced within these arrangements of mobile work and social reproduction, including through dormitory regimes.

We also welcome papers with a historical component, including mediated labour migration and dormitory regimes (Alamgir and Schwenkel 2020). Magnifying the labour history of intermediaries, we hope to better understand what "new" and "old" regimes of mediated labour mean for the quality of work, vulnerability and solidarity for workers today.

We seek to bring together a network of scholars working on and around the following topics:

  • Mediated, subcontracted and brokered employment of migrant workers in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) in particular and worldwide (e.g., work and recruitment agencies, labour intermediaries, patrons and migrants' networks);
  • Intermediaries/infrastructures of migrant labour supply chains as institutions of social reproduction (e.g., temporary work agencies and other labour intermediaries, employer contracted transport services, housing/dormitories for workers, translation offices);
  • Social reproduction of particular labour regimes and systems of migrant labour including through dormitory accommodation, rhythms of un/employment, spatial and gendered arrangements of family life, care and earning;
  • Labour intermediaries in relation to transnational workers' rights, safety and solidarity networks.

Abstracts should be between 350 and 500 words. Key words should be given that indicate the focus of research and the methods used. The abstract should contain clear information about theoretical orientation, findings, methodology, and what contribution is being made to knowledge. Abstracts of papers that are concerned solely with theoretical or conceptual matters will need to provide clear information on how they address and advance relevant debates. We encourage contributions especially from the Global South.

Abstract submission will open at the start of 1st September 2021 with a deadline of 31st October 2021. Decisions of acceptance will be made by early December 2021.


Alamgir, A. and Schwenkel, C (2020) in Mark, J., Kalinovsky, A.M., and Marung, S. (eds), Alternative Globalizations: Eastern Europe and the Postcolonial World. Indiana University Press.

Andrijasevic, R. and Sacchetto, D. (2016) 'Disappearing workers': Foxconn in Europe and the changing role of temporary work agencies. Work, Employment and Society. 31(1): 54-70

Baglioni, E. and Mezzadri, A. (2020) Labour Control Regimes and Social Reproduction: Some Reflections on the Strengths and Weaknesses of an Evolving Framework. In: Anita Hammer and Adam Fishwick (eds.), The Political Economy of Work in the Global South. London: Macmillan Education, pp. 115-130

Coe, N., Johns, J., and Ward, K. (2008) Flexibility in action: the temporary staffing industry in the Czech Republic and Poland. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Society, 40(6): 1391-1415

Fudge, J. and Strauss, K. (2014) Temporary Work, Agencies and Unfree Labour: Insecurity in the New World of Work. Routledge: London.

Lindquist, J., Xiang, B., and Yeoh, B.S.A. (2012) Opening the Black Box of Migration: Brokers, the Organization of Transnational Mobility and the Changing Political Economy in Asia. Pacific Affairs. 85(1): 7-19

Meszmann, Tibor & Fedyuk, Olena. (2019). Snakes or Ladders? Job Quality Assessment among Temp Workers from Ukraine in Hungarian Electronics. 10.17467/ceemr.2019.03.

Schling, H. (in press) 'Just-in-time' migrant workers in Czechia: racialisation and dormitory labour regimes. In: ELena Baglioni, Liam Campling, Neil M. Coe and Adrian Smith. Labour Regimes and Global Production. Agenda Publishing: Newcastle