Juan De Lara: “Essential Workers or Disposability Politics? Organizing in the Age of Pandemic Capitalism”

  • Associate Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity, Founding Director of the Center for Latinx and Latin American Studies, University of Southern California
Location: Zoom & YouTube Live

This was the first lecture in our Fall 2020 Colloquium, “Labor, and Human Rights: The Future of Work in the Age of Pandemic,” and part of our interdisciplinary and cross-campus Pop-Up Institute, “Beyond the Future of Work: New Paradigms for Addressing Global Inequality,” supported by the Office of the Vice President for Research. This lecture was co-sponsored by LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections.

Abstract: The production of something called an essential worker, as a category of existence, means that certain groups of workers–many of them women, immigrants, and people of color–are paying a high price to make our society function. In this lecture, De Lara uses crisis, vulnerability, and the fragility of modern supply chains to examine how different groups of workers, especially those in low wage industries, have been produced as sacrificial labor under the current conditions of pandemic capitalism. While we are slowly learning how the virus has capitalized on social inequities by killing a disproportionate number of Black and Brown people, De Lara argues that the current logics of racism and capitalism have routinely exposed these communities to increased social precarity.

Juan De Lara is Associate Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California, and recently began his tenure as the founding director of the USC Center for Latinx and Latin American Studies. His interdisciplinary research focuses on three broad themes. The first centers on urban political economy, racialization, and the politics of space. A second set of research interests focuses on the use of data science and technology to reorganize how various state agencies are restructuring the social relations of race, immigration, and labor. A third set of projects focus on public-facing research that supports community-based organizations in their efforts to resolve social disparities. His first book, Inland Shift: Race, Space, and Capital in Inland Southern California (University of California Press, 2018), uses logistics and commodity chains to unpack the black box of globalization by showing how the scientific management of bodies, space, and time produced new racialized labor regimes that facilitated a more complex and extended system of global production, distribution, and consumption. De Lara holds a Ph.D. in Geography from the University of California, Berkeley, an M.A. in Urban Planning from the University of California, Los Angeles, and a B.A. in Sociology and Labor Studies from Pitzer College.

Sharmila Rudrappa is Professor of Sociology and Director of the South Asia Institute at the University of Texas at Austin. She teaches and researches on gender, race, labor, and reproductive justice, with a focus on the U.S. and India. Rudrappa’s current research looks at how markets develop in human materials, specifically from women’s bodies. She has written extensively on the cultural politics of assisted reproductive technologies in India. Rudrappa is the author of Discounted Life: The Price of Global Surrogacy in India (2015) and Ethnic Routes to Becoming American: Indian Immigrants and the Cultures of Citizenship (2004), and has articles in such journals as Positions: Asia Critique and Gender & Society. She holds a BSc in Horticulture from the University of Agricultural Sciences in Bangalore, India, an MS in Conservative Biology and Sustainable Development, and a PhD in Sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


  • Sharmila Rudrappa Professor of Sociology, Director of the South Asia Institute, University of Texas at Austin


Office of the Vice President for Research; LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections

Event Media

Event series: Inequality, Labor, and Human Rights: The Future of Work in the Age of Pandemic