THE LAND OF MILK AND HONEY? EMBODIED DEPORTABILITY, PRODUCTION, AND SOCIAL REPRODUCTION ON NEW YORK DAIRIES
This dissertation provides a nuanced account of the subjective and embodied experiences of precarity in everyday life for immigrant farmworkers on New York dairies. It examines how worker precarity is shaped at multiple and inter-related scales of individual activity, collective behavior, and the law. By situating farmworkers in this web of relationships and actors, and framing my analysis with the lens of deportability, it examines how an objectively exploitative and repressive set of immigration laws, employment regulations, and socio-economic conditions are filtered through the everyday discretionary work of law enforcement agents, employers, labor contractors, and community members, and internalized as a particular subjective and embodied experience for individual workers. This analysis makes important contributions to several bodies of sociological literature, namely the scholarship examining the local enforcement of immigration law, deportability studies, precarious work, employment of immigrants, gender and migration studies, and new rural immigrant destinations. To understand the labor experiences of immigrant farmworkers on these levels, and the factors that shape those experiences, the dissertation uses a qualitative research approach attuned to identifying objective conditions of work as well as the ways they are internalized. This approach included a close reading of immigration laws and employment regulations, ethnographic analysis of the labor patterns and social relations of individual farms, and in-depth interviewing about the ways they are experienced by individual workers. In total, 66 immigrant farmworkers on 26 different farms, and 25 interviews with farm owners on 22 different farms, were conducted for this project throughout Western, Northern, and Central New York. The objective of this multi-scalar analysis was to defetishize the commodity milk – as well as the agrarian myths that prop up the dairy industry – in terms of both the objective and subjective relations of production. The first chapter contextualizes key concepts of “deportability in everyday life” (De Genova, 2005) and the criminalization of immigrants (Stump, 2006) in terms of the everyday lives of farmworkers. The second chapter examines the decision to hire undocumented immigrant workers from dairy farmers’ own perspectives, and shows that they face deep internal struggle over their roles and obligations. Chapter Three looks closely at the division of dairy farm labor and the labor process for immigrant workers, finding that workers demonstrate skill and agency in these jobs usually deemed “unskilled”. Yet, working conditions impose violence on their bodies in terms of hunger, inadequate sleep, and significant risk of accident and injury. Chapter Four describes and analyzes systems of social reproduction on farms to help explain why workers consent to the devastating consequences of industrial milking work. The final chapter reflects on the structure of production and reproduction, and analyzes its implications for worker agency and resistance.
Farmworkers; Precarious Work; Social Reproduction; Sociology; Dairy Farming; Deportability
McMichael, Philip David
Gleeson, Shannon Marie; Jones-Correa, Michael; Wolford, Wendy W.
Ph. D., Development Sociology
Doctor of Philosophy
dissertation or thesis