I am going to the Gold Coast for two nights and I am leaving in about 5 or so hours. I had to finish off writing my class notes for an online class I am teaching over winter school. It is my first postgraduate class situation and it is very fun. The class size is small and the students are very switched on. It is shit we don’t have more contact hours, but the course is designed for those who basically work fulltime.
Speaking of work, I have lined up a pretty solid amount of casual work for next semester. I need to get my focus back on my work and stop buggering around in the weird limbo space I find myself. In the winter school class we draw on Kate Crawford’s Adult Themes for the section on the shifting character of work. She raises the example of the Austrian village, Marienthal:
A famous study of unemployment and its sociological effects was based on a small textile factory village in Austria called Marienthal. During the 1930s, the factory hit hard times, and three- quarters of families in the village became dependent on relief payments. The study observed how continued joblessness slowly deprived the people of Marienthal of the patterns and disciplines that give life structure and meaning:
The workers of Marienthal have lost the material and moral incentives to make use of their time. Now that they are no longer under any pressure, they undertake nothing new and drift gradually out of an ordered existence into one that is undisciplined and empty.’
It was a groundbreaking study that detailed how devastating unemployment can be for individuals and for a community at large. Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu wrote that the people in the Marienthal study were dispossessed of routine, of the vital illusion of having a function or a mission and, ultimately, experienced a kind of social death.
So for the new precarious or ‘flexible’ workers, even privileged workers like casual academics, have to either continually reorientate their ‘routine’ in the warding-off-of-social death way that Bourdieu describes or find some way to incorporate workplace churn into their subjectivities. I have been doing the former and, well, failing miserably. I am already something of a amateur nihilist so it doesn’t really help to have to jump one’s mind set from the relative ontological security of the PhD completion process to the bleak prospect of 2-3 months maximum guaranteed employment. It is less a gravy train and more like an aerobics machine in one of the lowest levels of Hell, Tartarus (see Tantalus). A job is always just in reach, but a career can never be grasped. (EDIT: Hmmm, makes me think of both Adorno’s description of ‘spectacle’ and Whitehead’s concept of ‘appetition’…)
The Hell metaphor was a deliberate segue for bringing up the tv show Reaper. I think it is pretty good at problematising the workplace for post-youth, young adults, albeit in a weird US, non-class-antagonism sort of way. The main character works two jobs. One as the ‘reaper’ for Satan, capturing souls that escape from Hell. The other really is hell, working in some shitty ‘home depot’ type of store with a complete asshole of a boss… Worth checking out when it gets to Australia I think. From what I can deduce the second fifth of the season is a bit slow (first fifth, cool shit as Sam figures out what he is doing), but then the season length plot arc starts to have greater weight than the episodic dramas and the meta-level narratives begin to fill in the gaps.