e-flux reader: Work

e-flux reader: Work


Remix and animation of a reconstruction of Guy Debord’s 1953 graffiti by Lékrivin3 (CC BY-SA 4.0).

April 16, 2020
e-flux reader: Work

Dear friends,

e-flux journal brings you week five our series of “readers”—thematic collections of essays from the archives of journal’s 109 issues. This week’s collection, on work, was assembled by Andreas Petrossiants from our editorial team. 

We also invite you to visit the e-flux journal archive and send your suggestions for readers to reader [​at​] e-flux.com. Ideally, your suggested reader will include a title, a short abstract (100 words), and links to 8–9 e-flux journal texts.

Reader #5: Work
In the first essay of this reader, Françoise Vergès writes of the invisible workers tasked every day with “opening the city.” Now, even as our cities are closed under lockdown, sanitation, transportation, and care workers continue to labor in public, under even more precarious conditions. Food delivery and call center customer service work are both designated “essential,” alongside crucial medical and public safety work, even as the latter structures are privatized and grossly underfunded, paid partially with cheers and claps. The adjudication of essentiality follows mandates to maximally protect economic growth and accumulation, rather than lives. Meanwhile, those who can work from home are obliged to keep production, immaterial or otherwise, on track. Think pieces and corporate memorandums wax normalcy as weekends and holidays blur away due to the destabilization of Post-Fordist time. The legitimizing demands of the work ethic loom large on either side of shuttered doors. Lastly, cultural workers, freelancers, those without contracts, who were already designated flexible, precarious, or expendable, are confined without financial protections or guarantees of medical care or shelter. Taken together, paradigms of labor and parliamentary sovereignty face new legitimacy crises. Simultaneously, an opening has also emerged for some: the possibility for work and projects to become self-determined, to become work that keeps us interested and emerges from our interests. It will take active imagining and collective purposefulness to liberate this autonomously managed work and creation from today’s crisis economics and insert it into new collective horizons. Thus, today’s attempts to organize mutual aid and imagine novel forms of virtual solidarity instigated by physical isolation present a crucial opportunity for studying the contours of being together outside the dimensions of work, at least work that we haven’t chosen ourselves. 

The following essays from the e-flux journal archives may be a good place to begin. 



Françoise Vergès—Capitalocene, Waste, Race, and Gender
Issue #100—May 2019 

In this symbolic and material economy, black and brown women’s lives are made precarious and vulnerable, but their fabricated superfluity goes hand in hand with their necessary existence and presence. They are allowed into private homes and workplaces. But other members of superfluous communities—such as the families and neighbors of these workers—must stay behind the gates, unless they are willing to risk being killed by state police violence and other forms of the militarization of green and public spaces for the sake of the wealthy. For these workers, the special permit to enter is based both on the need for their work and on their invisibility. Women of color enter the gates of the city, of its controlled buildings, but they must do it as phantoms. Racialized women may circulate in the city, but only as an erased presence.

Keti Chukhrov—Towards the Space of the General: On Labor beyond Materiality and Immateriality
Issue #20—November 2010

And so, the central contradiction of the theory of immaterial labor consists in the fact that the zones of oppression, physical exploitation, and material labor often lie beyond its interpretation of the commons (general intellect, culture, artistic creativity, science, etc.). These zones are automatically isolated from the spaces of the general, from artistic creativity. It is interesting that the work of Western artists investigating routine, industrial, poorly paid labor is always conspicuously marked by the impossibility of a shared cultural space constructed by a pan-European middle class that includes material-labor workers and representatives of non-prestigious professions.

Fred Moten and Stefano Harney—Debt and Study
Issue #14—“Education Actualized,” guest-edited by Irit Rogoff—March 2010

We went to the public hospital but it was private, and we went through the door marked “private” to the nurses’ coffee room, and it was public. We went to the public university but it was private, and we went to the campus barbershop, and it was public. We went into the hospital, into the university, into the library, into the park. We were offered credit for our debt. We were granted citizenship. We were given the credit of the state, the right to render private any public gone bad. Good citizens can match credit and debt. They get credit for knowing the difference, for knowing their place. Bad debt leads to bad publics, publics unmatched, unconsolidated, unprofitable. 

Franco “Bifo” Berardi—The Coming Global Civil War: Is There Any Way Out?
Issue #69—January 2016

Nevertheless, this is the only prospect we can pursue in such an obscurantist time: to create solidarity among the bodies of cognitive workers worldwide, and to build a techno-poetic platform for the collaboration of cognitive workers for the liberation of knowledge from both religious and economic dogma.

Simone White—or, on being the other woman
Issue #92—“Feminisms Part 1,” edited by Julieta Aranda and Kaye Cain-Nielsen—June 2018

Marion von Osten—Irene ist Viele! Or What We Call “Productive” Forces 
Issue #8—September 2009

Precarization now joins mechanization (the replacement of workers with machines), delocalization (capital’s worldwide search for the weakest labor and environmental regulations), and financialization (the maintenance of excess value in the stock market as opposed to surplus value extracted from manufactur­ing) as one of the great strategies used to restore profitability since the late 1960s. These strategies supplement the more widely noted assaults on the welfare state and worker’s rights.

Martha Rosler—The Artistic Mode of Revolution: From Gentrification to Occupation 
Issue #33—March 2012

Precarization now joins mechanization (the replacement of workers with machines), delocalization (capital’s worldwide search for the weakest labor and environmental regulations), and financialization (the maintenance of excess value in the stock market as opposed to surplus value extracted from manufactur­ing) as one of the great strategies used to restore profitability since the late 1960s. These strategies supplement the more widely noted assaults on the welfare state and worker’s rights. 

Paolo Virno—Déjà Vu and the End of History
Issue #62—February 2015

In our epoch, the root of acting historically (the coexistence of, as well as the discrepancy between, potential and act) has acquired empirical and even pragmatic significance as a phenomenon. There is no work task today that does not require—if it is to be discharged in full—the exhibition of the generic psycho-physical disposition to produce (namely, labor-power), which goes beyond the task itself. Nor is there any effective, pertinent discourse today that, beyond communicating something, does not also have to demonstrate the speaker’s linguistic competence pure and simple, namely the capacity-to-speak (language), which always exceeds the content that the communication happens to have. 

Ariella Aïsha Azoulay—Imagine Going on Strike: Museum Workers and Historians
Issue #104—November 2019

In other words, if one’s work is conceived as a form of being-in-the-world, work stoppage cannot be conceived only in terms of the goals of the protest. One should consider the strike a modality of being in the world that takes place precisely by way of renunciation and avoidance, when one’s work is perceived as harming the shared world and the condition of sharing it. In a world conditioned by imperial power, a collective strike is an opportunity to unlearn imperialism with and among others even though it has been naturalized into one’s professional life. Going on strike is to claim one’s right not to engage with destructive practices, not to be an oppressor and perpetrator, not to act according to norms and protocols whose goals were defined to reproduce imperial and racial capitalist structures.

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April 16, 2020

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