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Normalcy and the Average Worker

ericafenton's picture

This week, we explored the history of normalcy as a concept. I have been curious about what institutions and concepts the construction of normalcy allowed. Specifically, in class we discussed how statistics were used to generate numbers about an "average" person. Once averages started being used to judge and categorize people, the concept translated to the idea of an average worker. Previous traditions of production, wherewhich individuals were expected to contribute to the best of their individual abilities, were replaced by an ideology of an average, replaceable worker. The conception of a worker as replaceable and impersonal gives way to dehumanized treatment and inhumane conditions for wage workers. It also gave way for an average wage and waged work in general. Without a concept of the productivity of an average worker, wages could reflect the money that a worker needs to survive rather than the money a worker "earns" based on the expected productivity of an average worker.


Elena's picture

I think you brought up some really good points! Expanding on the idea of the "average worker", I wanted to link this to capitalist labour systems which has commonly created contexts for disability. During the Industrial revolution in particular, the "average worker" was valued and measured based on empircal forms of production and output. Thus, a failure to produce this standardized measure of labor was strongly linked to disability. Connecting this to our talk about immigration this week, the same narrative is brought through and pertains especially to people with physical/visible impairments. Through mere dissmasal on the basis of 'face value' or "poor physique" and not skills, many people with disabilities were turned away from the border under the assumption that they would not be able to contribute the same productivity as nondisabled folks. An example of this from The Disability History of the U.S (Chpt 6 p. 130) is the narrative of Moische Fischmann, a very skilled blacksmith who was Deaf and had a said "poor physique". He was not allowed across the boarder on the visual assumption that he would not be able to produce equal labor and economic wealth as someone without this "poor physique".