Project Title: Global Work and Global Working-Class Community in the Midwest symposium

Project Description: The Midwest, as both geographic location and “imagined community,” is a key site for apprehending emergent global labor trends and understanding globalized working-class community formation and reformation. Home to both historic ethnic and racial enclaves (both chosen and imposed) and younger migrant communities from across the Global South and North, the Midwest further exemplifies global shifts in labor processes and working class resistance to these changes. From the earliest waves of U.S. deindustrialization to recent conservative attacks on Wisconsin’s public sector and accounts of a U.S. manufacturing renaissance, the Midwest has continually been at the vanguard, absorbing and adapting to international shifts in capital accumulation, and producing and consuming varying public-cultural representations of these people and processes.

Bringing together Northwestern University faculty from the humanities and social sciences with regional expertise on and in the Midwest, our symposium will stage an interdisciplinary discussion with scholars interested in understanding how the Midwest’s distinctive cultural and economic/labor patterns ripple outward internationally—and how simultaneously capital, labor, and cultural flows to the Midwest constitute and also challenge what it means to work and to build community in this region. We thus globalize the Midwest in two ways—first, through consideration of the international migrant and refugee populations that have contributed to our dynamic working class communities as sites of cultural and labor production over time and into the present. Second, we center the Midwest geographically and theoretically to query global capitalism and global labor movement trends.

This symposium will bring together cross-disciplinary faculty known for work on shifting global, national, and Chicago regional political economies, demographies, racial/ethnic, and gender/sexual relations and their representations in the American public sphere (Micaela di Leonardo); performative interpretations of those shifts, particularly in terms of labor histories and organizing (D. Soyini Madison); gender, class, and quotidian lives among Chicago Bosnian refugees, including collaborative oral histories and museum installations of material culture (Ana Croegaert); race, gender, poverty, labor markets, and labor and civil rights organizing in Wisconsin (Jane Collins); oral historical, organizing, and media work on historically collegial Indianapolis black/Sephardic Jewish neighborhoods lost to urban renewal (Susan Hyatt). We will also include, among others, ABD graduate students researching multi-racial, multi-ethnic domestic workers’ Illinois-based transnational labor advocacy (Alana Lee Glaser), circulating Chicago/national/transnational immigrant rights activism (Almita Miranda), and gender/sexuality, class, race, and labor process in regional [Minneapolis/St. Paul and Chicago], national, and transnational burlesque renaissance and exotic dance circuits (Beth Hartman).

This project is supported by the Humanities Without Walls consortium, based at the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The Humanities Without Walls consortium is funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Organizer Name: Professors Micaela di Leonardo and D. Soyini Madison

Organizer's Contact Information:,, Please direct inquiries to Alana Lee Glaser at

Organizer's Departmental and University Affiliation: Departments of Anthropology and Performance Studies, Northwestern University