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Global Labour Studies


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA International Relations.


There is an increasingly realisation that that labour relations and labour conditions both mirror and shape our societies, and thus labour studies are becoming an ever more key area of research.

The course Global Labour Studies addresses the issue of human labour: why do we work? How do we work? Who are the workers? Labour is one of the fundamental activities of human life. The production of goods, services, wealth is the result of work.

The first part of the course covers the problem of definitions of labour relations: tributary, household, communal, and commodified labour. Wage labour is discussed more in depth as this form of labour relation is crucial to an understanding of the capitalist mode of production.

The “global” aspect of this course has many implications. The course will in fact cover conceptualisations of labour that are not European or Western. Views of work in Buddhism, Confucianism, Islam, African Humanism, etc. are covered. There are in fact multiple ways in which labour can be considered and conceptualised.

Labour is an economic factor or a factor of production in capitalist societies. Two major trends within labour studies are covered: the (classical) labour theory of value; and the neoclassical labour market theory. The labour theory of value is an economic theory that considers the value of goods or services as determined by the quantity of labour necessary to produce the output (goods and services). In capitalism, a major question is how labour contributes to the valorisation of capital. The neoclassical paradigm focuses on the importance of institutions such as markets, i.e. labour markets. A fundamental element of this approach is the competitive rationale of maximizing utilities by all economic actors. In both cases, the works and perspectives of prominent philosophers and economists will be examined.

Contemporary labour issues deal with debates on the division of labour (including the global division of labour) and industrial relations (the vertical relationship between capitalists/managers and workers). In this respect, trade unions are important actors and their role in the realm of labour will be also analysed.

Labour, production and industrial relations are greatly affected by information technology. Hence the course also covers the transformations in the world of work generated by the digital revolution or involution.

Finally, labour has an international dimension. The International Labour Organisation is the main United Nations body that deals with labour and its global governance. Other international organisations also have an important impact on workers and employers alike. In addition, employers and workers have their own dedicated international organisations.

Course objectives

Students will work on different case studies that cover different world regions, and different labour relations. In seeking to better appreciate modern-day global capitalism as part of a process driven by working peoples, a range of topics related to labour exploitation and labour organisations will be covered. Students will acquire an understanding of how labour is exploited or can be exploited in contemporary societies, but also how labour produces value.

The historical and comparative perspectives on how we produce goods and services will help students to critically understand our societies. An important objective of this course is indeed to make students understand contemporary societies and economies. Students are also encouraged to develop their own viewpoints on this.

Here “global” has two meanings or dimensions: 1) geographical, to go beyond Eurocentric views of labour history; 2) methodological, to unveil the history of connections that existed between not only workers and employers but also between workers employed in different types of labour relations (unfree/free, waged/non-waged, dependent/self-employment etc.). Students will learn how to navigate through these complex issues.

Finally, through the course, students will hone their analytical skills in order to better address global economic issues from the point of view of labour: the challenges of workers employed in all kinds of labour relations.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Assessment method

  • Paper


The final grade is composed by the following parts:

  • Paper (40%)

  • Participation and assignments (30%)

  • In-class oral presentation (20%)

  • Attendance (10%)


The resit will consist in the the re-submission of the final paper.

The validity of passed course grades will be limited to ten years, due to societal relevance or outdated knowledge. This option is only available in concurrence with the Board of Examiners. Starting academic year 2020-2021, restricting the validity of exams will be possible again.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

The reading list will be probvided by the teacher with the syllabus at the beginning of the course. Articles and chapters will be available online for students via the LU Library.


Enrolment through My Studymap is mandatory.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Huizinga


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