Robert Stearn is a PhD candidate in English and Humanities at Birkbeck, University of London, where he is writing a thesis on what skill was in the 17th and early 18th centuries.
The thesis looks at how early modern writers framed a concept of skill in capacities, characters, and passions (a variation on emotional labour). It also explores the reciprocal constitution of skill and gender – along with the indirect and figurative means that were used to place people and practices excluded from skill in relation to it.
He is interested in the history of forced labour schemes for poor and unemployed people, both early modern and contemporary. With Lynne Friedli and others, his research in this area concentrates on the role of psychology in 20th- and 21st-century UK workfare programmes.