Zoë West is a doctoral student at the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology. Her research examines the central role of immigrant workers in New York in new and revived forms of grassroots worker organizing, against the backdrop of a decades-long decline of organized labor in the United States. Challenging both the imbalance of power in the workplace and the hierarchy and bureaucracy of traditional large trade unions, these immigrants are supported by worker centers that offer labor organizing, leadership development, and strategic legal action. Zoë’s ethnographic fieldwork combines participant observation and oral history to document how immigrant workers at one worker center build class and group consciousness and solidarity; how the organization’s guidance and the workers’ own values, perspectives, and political ideologies shape their decisions to take collective action; and how they navigate the challenges that arise in overcoming fear and divisions, and balancing collective and personal goals.
Prior to her graduate studies, Zoë co-edited and compiled the oral history collection Nowhere to Be Home: Narratives from Survivors of Burma’s Military Regime, published by McSweeney’s Books and Voice of Witness in 2011. The twenty-two life stories in the book are testament to the complexity and depth of human rights issues in Burma, as well as to the resilience of its people.
Zoë is currently doing fieldwork in New York.