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Working for Work: Temporality, Unemployment, and Young Filipino Men's Navigation of the Future

Dr. Roderick Galam

This project investigates how Filipino youths respond to their precarious economic conditions and uncertain future prospects. It focuses on young men who, to secure a job as a seafarer in the global maritime industry, first work as 'utility men' (gofer or flunkey) for manning agencies that supply seafarers to ships in the international fleet (hence 'working for work'). It seeks to explicate not only a strategy for obtaining work but also a mode of navigating an uncertain present and future, of positioning one's self in insecure time and space. Because working as 'utility men' entails suffering abuse and exploitation, the project examines why these men are willing to enter into and endure servitude.

 Using a temporal perspective, the project examines the dynamic between the 'short-term' sacrifices they make in the present in order to secure their long-term future. It aims to unfold the negotiations they perform between what they go through and what they hope to achieve, negotiations that underpin how they link this period of servitude to how they stake a hold on their future. It pursues two major questions. First, how do these young men conceive of their servitude as a rational and an agency-filled response to their social exclusion? Second, how are these young men's temporalities of servitude linked to the Philippines' economic conditions and the globalization and neoliberalization of the maritime industry? Answering both questions will show how these young men's temporalities of servitude are simultaneously their strategic way of navigating social exclusion; how their strategies to overcome limited options are informed by the social possibilities they want to realize; and how their current condition and future prospects are shaped by both national and global economic processes and conditions.

The project is ethnographic and will employ participant observation, life history and semi-structured interviews, and time diaries to access the subjective and life worlds of these 'utility men'. It will contribute to debates on unemployment and transitions to adulthood; the de-standardization of the life course thesis; temporality; youth and masculinities; labour outsourcing and the variable practices of manning agency; and the incorporation of youth and male gender perspectives into Philippine and Asian migration policy on the employment-migration nexus.


youth unemployment, social adulthood, temporality, social exclusion, global maritime industry, Philippines

SFB 1171 Affective Societies
Berlin Southern Theory Lecture