Graduate Workshop: Call for Papers

NECS Graduate Workshop 2018

To Prefer Not To: Media Inoperativities

Call for Papers

‘NE TRAVAILLEZ JAMAIS’ (’NEVER WORK’). In 1953, Guy Debord painted this slogan on a concrete wall on the Rue de Seine in Paris. Made at a time and place in which labour appeared to be increasingly saturated by the logic of capitalism and the commodity form, this must have seemed, to some, a politically radical proposition. However, the social, cultural, and political conditions of labor have since undergone significant changes. On the one hand, the prevalence of zero-hour and short-term contracts means that more and more people are forced to endure precarious conditions of employment. On the other hand, the proliferation and mobilisation of job opportunities, the implicit demand for the 24/7 availability of freelancers, and the relentless imperatives of efficiency and productivity—all these contribute to the development of what Byung-Chul Han has called ‘the burnout society’. Inasmuch as employment security has turned into a luxury, the anxieties and stresses derived from the burnout society are driving many people into restless lives. The blurred distinction between on- and off-time may lead one to surmise that people are never not working.

Media technologies and media practices have been integral to these developments in many ways. For example, the use of laptops, tablets, and smartphones in almost all areas of daily life makes people as easily available to their bosses and work colleagues as to friends and family at any hour of the day: late-evening work emails can pop up on a tablet’s screen, interrupting a movie or TV series. At the same time, the portable character of such devices can have the effect of dislocating work from a specific place, such as an office. With these devices and their affordances, work can, potentially, take place anywhere and at any time. Moreover, these dispositives, and the dynamics of production to which they respond, are constitutive of a broader network of power relations articulated through administrative measures, laws, and information technologies. However, when coupled with the incessant demand to improve individual and group productivity, the user-friendly convenience of such media can also act as a social and psychological burden. But is there a way in which media-based practices be used to think through and manifest alternative—perhaps resistant—economies of efficiency, productivity, and labour?

For this workshop we invite graduate students to explore such an alternative set of possibilities emerging from the relations between media and the imperatives of efficiency and productivity. This, namely, is the way in which phenomena of inoperativity can crystallise in and through media practices. Giorgio Agamben’s theoretical formulations of this term might provide a point of departure. For Agamben, ‘inoperativity’ designates the manifestation of ethical and political life as the potentiality not to do something (build, write, perform, etc.). One literary example Agamben gives of this is Herman Melville’s figure of Bartleby. As a scrivener characterised by his preference for not writing, Bartleby continually manifests his potentiality not-to-write. Bartleby’s existence does not need any form of achievement or self-assertive gesture in order to affirm itself: his presence—and also his power—is only made palpable by means of the pure suspension of action.

However, we also invite participants to reflect on how inoperativity can be thought outside or beyond this theoretical framework. One way of approaching inoperativity in media practices might be looking at the role of social media in forms of active political resistance to regimes of labour, such as strikes, occupations of public spaces, and other forms of civil disobedience. But recent media practices such as slow cinema, experimental video games, reality television, and durational performance and time-based art may lead us to think about inoperativity through another set of terms, including passivity and inactivity, slowness and inefficiency, or affective states such as boredom, idleness or distraction.

We welcome papers that address the overarching theme of the workshop, including those that consider, but are not limited to, the following topics:

  • Gender-based, racial, and post- or decolonial inoperativities
  • Migration, refugees, and the legal (im)possibilities of work
  • Slacktivism and armchair activism
  • Inoperative artistic and social practices (eg. Situationism)
  • Narrativity and non-narrativity
  • The body and corporeality as inoperative sites
  • Wasted or unproductive time
  • Stillness, slowness, and stasis
  • Slow cinema or subtractive cinema
  • Silence in artistic practices (e.g. John Cage’s 4:33)
  • Suspensions and decelerations of production
  • Affectivity (eg. boredom, idleness, apathy)
  • Sleep and dreams
  • Notions of utopia
  • ‘Never work’ and the legacies of May ‘68
  • The political and poetic potential of powerlessness
  • Inoperative spaces (wastelands, unconquerable places and non-sites)

Please address abstracts (max. 200 words) along with institutional affiliation and a short bio (max. 150 words) to: graduates@necs.org

Deadline for submission: 31.01.2018. Notification will follow shortly thereafter. The workshop language is English.

Utrecht University will not provide refunds: participants will cover their own travel and accommodation expenses. Travel information as well as a list of affordable hotels and other accommodation will be provided at the beginning of January.

Workshop attendance is free, but valid NECS membership is required to participate. Participants must register with NECS at http://necs.org/user/register and pay their fee by February 1st. For the terms of NECS membership, please also refer to our website http://necs.org/faq.

Organisers: Alba Giménez (University of South Wales), Christian Sancto (Utrecht University), Jiyu Zhang (Leiden University).