Summer days

It is hot in Perth, but in my parents’ house it is cool due to insulation in the roof. I haven’t been doing much since I’ve been back.

Much of my time has been spent discussing with my folks my plans to buy some sort of housing. They would very much like to help me out with some money towards a deposit as a result of the sale of my grandmother’s house. They can’t sell it at the moment, however. They can’t sell for the main reason I should buy due to the housing slump. There are currently two or three parts of this unit/studio buying business that occupy my mind.

The first immediate problem is to raise capital for a deposit. I have some limted savings. The bulk of my money will come from the sale of one of my cars (or parts of it at least), which has been in storage over here since I’ve been in Sydney. I also have a few matters with the Tax Man that I need to resolve, about 5 years worth of matters. Not that I owe money to anyone, rather, they owe me money.

The second problem is a complex mixture of two problems. Do I buy a tiny studio in my beloved inner-west of Sydney? I really do love Glebe. Quite simply, it is where I have been the happiest in my life. Or do I move out closer to work in Silverwater (anywhere between Burwood and Auburn)? Do I want a tiny studio or at most a modest one bedroom place or similar? I have little qualms about moving out to say Auburn to be within walking distance of work. Staying in the inner-west would require a greater finiancial strain and definitely a studio-style apartment that would be less modest abd more humble.

In all the advertisements I mull over they are described as ‘perfect investment opportunity/first home buyers’. Hopefully, the investment property buyers will have a dimished capacity to take part in the property game due to the financial crisis (I am not sure that, with all the hand wringing going on, if people in ‘power’ do not realise how happy this crisis makes some people!?! Pure glee!). I am certainly of the view that I am in fact both investing and first home buying. I don’t really regard any place I have lived so far as a home. A home is more complex that simply buying or inhabiting a place. I feel more at home in suburbs than I do in my actual place. The loose networks of casual connections between familiar faces and shop keepers makes me feel more at home than any brick and motar has so far in my life.

The investing and first home buying scenario complicates my options. If I was buying my home I would wait and save up enough of a deposit to afford a place in Glebe, which with my current finances would take about 5 or 6 years. I am not buying a home. My chief priority is to avoid paying rent as much as possible. I have a stable job now and have the means to buy a very very small place. I find the idea of building on that stability an attractive one, even if that means assuming the shackles of debt. My enthusiasm for properties on the humble end of the modest sprectrum is in part born of a desire to retain some mobility. I am hopefully earning the least amount of money I shall ever earn as an adult. I should be able to pay off the home debt quite comfortably.

Seven Pounds

One of the hardest things about road safety campaigns is selecting (is that the right word?) the most effective affective resonance. People who understand the anguish and grief produced by road accidents normally pose it as a question: What would you do if one of your mates died? What would you do if you killed someone?

The person posing the question, in my experience, often has an intimate appreciation of the utter despair of loss that follows such a trauma. They know on a different level to the simple facts of the matter. What they communicate to any half brained young person is that they do indeed know and have an experience of the facts beyond their mere facticity, a knowledge that incorporates the slippery sense of loss; a sense that seems to only ever exist in intuition without ever becoming percerptible as such. Many young people are not receptive to these affections of existential suffering, where one mourns not just a person, but an entire future, which only ever remains suspended in the horribly pregnant present.

So far most road safety campaigns have gone the punitive route. The stick and not the carrot. Of either attacking the practical modes of valorisation that circulate within mostly masculine cultures surrounding everyday driving activites or they lull viewers of road safety advertising into a wayward apprehension of the affective timbre of an advertisement by using the parry and thrust of new car advertising and then having the horrible twist at the end of it. These advertisements want to make allegedly problematic drivers feel bad about themselves. As I have noted previously, this is simply not the way to get people to live their lives in a different way.

Seven Pounds, a film starring Will Smith, is the first work of any medium that transcends the interpellative games of the road safety industry and actually works to capture precisely the ‘truth’ of this loss and does so in a remarkably uplifting fashion. Young drivers can think about road safety all they want, but they are always going to reduce it to a bunch of old people throwing questions at them. Young people answer the questions, they don’t change the way they think. They don’t know what loss means. Let them come up with their own ideas about it after seeing this movie. They will get a sense of loss without its facticity.

Seven Pounds will help them with this. It is a striking movie. Get your teenagers to watch it.

loyalty cards and loyalty programs: part 1

Partially in response to Steve Shario’s post on biopolitics here is an old post that I was a long way off finishing and have decided to post in parts as I have time. I addded the last paragraph to inidicate where the other three parts are headed. They are some rough drafts of ideas I am working on for a book chapter.

One common knot I tried to untie all semester with my students in the Consumer Culture unit I tought was regarding loyalty cards and/or programs.

Maurizio Lazzarato points to the work of Zarifian to indicate one way to understand the function of ‘loyalty’. The long two paragraph extract below highlights, first, the biopolitical dimensions of consumerism (not in the bios=life=biology sense of some interpretations of biopolitics) and, second, the importance of the virtual feedforward loops that cultivate and then harness anticipation as an affective or ‘felt tendency’ for guiding consumer behaviour:

[C]ompetition between companies is aimed not at conquering a market but at ‘capturing a clientele’, at building a customer capital which is managed monopolistically. The market, as understood by political economy, does not exist or is identified with constitution/capute of customers. Two elements are essential tto this strategy: building customer loyalty and having the capacity to renew what is on offer through innovation. The space within which transforms the co-operation between minds into a public/clientele. The capture of a clientele and the building of its loyalty means first and foremost capturing attention and memory, capturing minds, creating and capturing desires, beliefs (the sensible) and networks.

All production is the production of services, that is a transformation of “the conditions of activity and the capacity for future actions of customers, users, and the public”, which in the end always aims at the ‘mode of life’. The service does not satisfy a pre-existing demand, but it must anticipate it, it must ‘make it happen’. This anticipation takes place entirely within the domain of the virtual by mobilising resources such as linguistic resources and language, communication, rhetoric, images, etc. The anticipation of services by the virtual and signs has the advantage, on the one hand, to be able to use all properties of language, thus opening up the exploration of several possibles, and, on the other hand, to enable work on sense through communication. (193)

In the micro-physics of consumer exchange and consumption the services may very well satisfy demands that do not pre-exist and which are co-individuated with the correlate consumer subjectivity through the capacity communicative apparatus to incite (not determine or dominate) consumption. What I find fascinating is the interplay of various temporalities in this process. Lefebvre may have called this rhythmanalysis, but perhaps something is lost in translation as each iterative individuation differentially repeats what apear to be circular power relations in different ways. So it is not circular or rhythmic, but an iterative spiral and heterogeneous.

The rates of change, or different capacities to absorb and nullify or magnify the effect of contingencies, exist at thresholds of different scales. The ‘new’ for a consumer (‘innovation’) is not the same ‘new’ for the business. For example, consumers may understand each version of an iPod to be ‘new’, but from the biopolitical perspective of individuating or capturing a clientele, Apple wants the iPod consumer base to at least remain the same or at most grow. Apple has to ensure the iPod is different enough so nothing changes.

These different rates of change then pose an interesting problem when trying to produce customer loyalty, particularly in those circumstances where there is no necessary reason why a consumer should use one service or commodity over another, such as grocery shopping where the ‘same’ commodity and service is provided by myriad businesses. One way I have been thinking about this over the course of the semester and discussing it with students in lectures and tutorials, is through the function of loyalty cards and programs.

The character of ‘loyalty’ has changed over the last 20-30 years. Customer ‘loyalty’ used to be connected to some quality of the service or commodity on offer. People shopped and consumer because they were serviced by their local shop, they travelled because of some special quality provided by another business, and sought to distinguish themselves from other consumers through these qualilty items. This qualitative dimension produced business-based ‘goodwill’. ‘Goodwill’ is a social relation associated with a business premised on trust, quality and other such positive social traits. ‘Goodwill’ is worth something and is often figured in calculations of business worth. The ‘loyalty’ of contemporary ‘loyalty cards’ is not premised on ‘goodwill’ but a quantitative metric driven by outcomes-based assessment of economic exchange.

What I am interested in is 1) the relations of temporality between the incorporeal infrastructures of ‘saving’ and consumers inculcated in the logic and practice of using the cards, and therefore the microphysics of power in these relations of ‘saving’ and a global market-based cultural economy, 2) the affective character of these relations and the habitualised practices and appreciation of tendential fields of possibility that emerged around contingency and the rhythmic harnessing of contingency into the iterative rhythms of the cultural economy calendar (e.g. xmas, etc), and 3) the way constellations of power relations enable or incicte consumers to consume in a properly biopolitical fashion (mobilising entire populations), so practices of consumption become defined by how contingencies are processed congruently with the fields of possibility overdetermined by a synergistic network of commecial interests.

Problematic of Dignity

Kant: “What is related to general human inclinations and needs has a market price; that which, even without presupposing a need, conforms with a certain taste, that is, with a delight in the mere purposeless play of our mental powers, has a fancy price; but that which constitutes the condition under which alone something can be an end in itself has not merely a relative worth, that is, a price, but an inner worth, that is, dignity.”

I find the concept of dignity fascinating, not least of which because dignity in a general sense and in Kant’s moral sense above seems to be hard to find nowadays. The first time I recognised I needed to think about something along the lines of ‘dignity’ (but without knowing what to call it) was after hearing a Vietnam veteran speak at work about his new book. He had a certain gravitas that did not beg or challenge you or attempt to lose or win you over in any way.

Diginity is not decency, I don’t care about decency. Dignity for me is a kind of relationality.