Who do we rely on to keep the world running during the COVID-10 pandemic? What makes a worker “essential” during a pandemic, and is there really a difference between essential work during a pandemic and during normal times? Dr. Andrew Russell, the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at State University of New York Polytechnic Institute, and Dr. Lee Vinsel, an assistant professor of history at Virginia Tech, both discuss what makes work and workers “essential” in the pandemic. Dr. Russell and Dr. Vinsel both talk about their research on maintainers, maintenance work, and the long history of assigning low status to workers who help our world run. Dr. Lee discusses how the idea of essential work relates to maintenance and how the pandemic makes essential work visible. Dr. Russell discusses how the pandemic has also been a stress test for our infrastructure ranging from supply chains, food production, and even the internet. They both discuss how prizing innovation, “genius” inventors, and disruption obfuscates the work that is required to maintain our world. In this episode Host Scott Knowles begins the reading of an obituary of someone who died of COVID-19. The obituary of Paul Cary of Colorado Springs, CO is read in remembrance of his life. For further reading: The Innovation Delusion: How Our Obsession with the New Has Disrupted the Work that Matters Most “Hail the Maintainers” Bullshit Jobs: A Theory “Whitey on Mars”
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