Last week I attended the 12th International Ethnography Symposium, at the University of Manchester, and had the pleasure in speaking to a group of fellow ‘marketographers’, whatever they may be. In fact, I think that was rather the point of the stream, organized by Daniel Neyland and Vera Ehrenstein (both of Goldsmiths University) and Dean Pierides (University of Manchester). My thanks to Dan, Vera and Dean for a great two days. In the meantime, here’s my talk:
When I mischievously titled my abstract ‘Confessions of a critical marketographer’ I had in mind, not so much Augustine, but those bawdy films of the 1970s with names like Confessions of a Window Cleaner, all suggestion and double entendre but no more than the occasional glimpse of flesh on camera. This, I thought, accurately represented the state of my ideas, or lack of them. But of course the confessional tale is one of the categories of ethnography highlighted by John van Maanen in Tales of the Field. It is, he says a response to the realist abstraction of earlier scientific ethnography, focusing attention on the fieldworker as a means of supporting authority. It is typically told from a shifting perspective and in a character building narrative, ending on an upbeat note: a justification, in fact, of the realist work that follows it, or more usually precedes it, because in 1988 at least, one could not write a confession until after the realist account. Van Maanen goes on to introduce the Impressionist tale, a narrative account depending on interest, coherence and fidelity, offering impressionistic moments or fleeting glances of the subject at hand: the audience is invited to relive the tale with the teller, to work out what is going on as the narrative unfolds. It seems to me that this move, described by van Maanen in 1988, it is roughly where we are at when it comes to marketography: glimpses and impressions, stylishly drawn, are appearing alongside more realist tracts. If I had to give an example, I would site Muniesa and company’s achingly stylish oeuvre ‘Capitalization’. Though whether we Brexit Brits could get away with something so assuredly Parisian is another matter… Continue reading
Filed under Events, Writing
Hot on the heels of my last review – of Ilana Gershon’s Down and Out in the New Economy – here’s a second offering for the THE on the subject of labour relations. This, from the esteemed philosopher Elizabeth Anderson, takes aim at the expansion of market logic into the private realm of firms, and the subsequent ceding of almost all power on the part of employees. In pursuit of a free-market, employers can hire – and fire – at will, and the results are quite shocking. Once again, Brexiteers beware: your much hoped for low-regulation world may have you, quite literally, pissing your pants at work. Here’s a taster:
“Elizabeth Anderson is a philosopher on the warpath. Her Tanner Lectures, published in this volume with comments and a response, take aim at the unelected, arbitrary and dictatorial power that employers, particularly in the US where labour laws are flimsy, hold over their work-forces. She calls it “private government”, in the sense that those governed – that’s us, by the way – are shut out of the governing process.
The book is littered with examples of firms that make employees’ lives a misery. The usual suspects are here and worse: I was shocked to discover that the right to visit the toilet during working hours has been a contentious and ongoing battle of American labour relations for many decades, and that it is not uncommon to be forced to wear nappies on the production line or urinate in one’s clothes…”
Read the rest here
A recent review, for THE, of Ilana Gershon’s troubling Down and Out in the New Economy. It’s one of two books on labour relations in the United States I’ve reviewed of late – the other coming soon – and believe me, some of the material is shocking. Those of us subject to European labour regulations have no idea how lucky we have been (up till now, at least). Here’s the first couple of paragraphs:
‘Imagine a world without stable or secure jobs. A world where job seekers are told to embrace risk, to be flexible and upbeat, where the engine of the economy is powered by passion and lubricated by uncertainty. Such is the world of new-economy employment skilfully documented by Ilana Gershon’s sympathetic and wide ranging study.
For much of the 20th century, employment has been understood in Lockean terms of self-as-property with the worker renting her bodily efforts and skills for a prearranged period of time. Such a metaphor implies boundaries between work and personal life, and squabbles over such boundaries have been codified in labour law. In the new economy, says Gershon, we have come to talk about our jobs in a very different way. Interactions around work – job seeking, hiring, firing and quitting – are structured by a distinctive new metaphor that posits employment as business-to-business relationship. To be a business is to be a bundle of skills, assets and relationships, arriving at a new employer ready to deliver a particular service on a short-term, contractual basis. When we buy a service from a business we do not expect to invest in training or to have a long-term obligation once the service is being delivered. Gershon, a linguistic anthropologist, suggests that the change in metaphor underpins an important and unwelcome change in economic organization….’
You can read the rest on the THE website here