Session 1

Session 1 : La Société Intermittente

Lundi 29 novembre – 9h30-12h30

A l’heure des confinements à répétition, voici venu le temps de « l’hybridation », entre « présence » et « distance ». Mais le développement du télé-travail laisse apparaitre de nouveaux symptômes de paralysie psychologique, infrastructurelle et écosystémique, sinon d’effondrement pur et simple. A l’illusion d’un « monde d’après » moins stressant, on objecte fréquemment que la taille de la population et la complexité de l’organisation sociale rendent impossible un retour aux modes de vie « intermittents » de nos chasseurs-cueilleurs ancestraux. Et que pour des raisons de pénurie et de concurrence, nous n’avons pas d’autre choix que de travailler plus dès lors que les technologies économes en main-d’œuvre détiennent la clé pour mettre fin à l’épuisement professionnel. Mais jusqu’où tiennent ces hypothèses, si la rareté est un mythe, si la société est moins complexe qu’on ne l’imagine, et si les impacts de l’automatisation ne font qu’exacerber l’épuisement planétaire ? A partir de son dernier ouvrage Travailler. La grande affaire de l’humanité, James Suzman questionnera pour nous les fondements historiques et anthropologiques du travail et Gerald Moore présentera le thème de la société intermittente à partir de la perspective de Bernard Stiegler. Une intermittence qui ne se résume pas à « l’hybridation » et dont il nous faut prendre soin dans toutes les dimensions de la société.

Gerald Moore – Durham University

Cara Daggett Virginia tech

Energy and the Devotion to Relentless Work

Energy is not a timeless concept. Its modern scientific meaning emerged only in nineteenth-century efforts to make coal-fired engines more efficient. The resulting science of thermodynamics served as a basis for a dominant logic of energy, which married the Anglo-Protestant mania for work and thrift with an imperialist drive to put the world to work for Western profit. The fossil sacred is work, and its evil is entropy. This is a particular kind of work, one that moves matter continuously in support of extractive capital. Meanwhile, entropy, the second law of thermodynamics, describes the underbelly of energy: it says that energy tends to dissipate into forms that cannot do work. Entropy, categorized as waste, thus haunts human efforts. Nature appeared to be against European men (or at least against their efficient work). This helps explain the urgency and relentlessness with which petrocultures extract and accumulate energy – it arises from the twin assumptions that energy is both scarce and recalcitrant, always getting lost to dissipation. In this talk, I will emphasize how the geo-theology of energy helps to enshrine the urgent and relentless temporality of modern work, as the drive to wrest order from an Earth otherwise tending toward waste. The historical connection of energy and work suggests that an energy transition requires a simultaneous transformation in cultures and temporalities of work.    

James Suzman – Anthropos

The problem with the “Problem of Scarcity”

Classical economics holds that we work to solve the “problem of scarcity” because we are  creatures cursed with  infinite desires and limited means. It also holds that this  emerged as a result of the perpetual insecurity endured by our hunter-gatherer ancestors.

Yet ever since the now famous “Man the Hunter” conference in 1966 where it was revealed that foraging societies like the Ju/’hoansi of southern Africa and the Hadzabe of East Africa only ever worked to meet their absolute needs and so enjoyed considerably more leisure time than most of us do, there has been cause to doubt the universality of this axiom and consequently the integrity of the economic institutions premised on it. Since then our understanding of small scale foraging life have been enriched not only by longer term ethnographic studies but also emerging sciences like genomics that have shed new light on humankind’s deep past. In this lecture, James Suzman asks firstly whether this new material offers any additional insights into how hunter-gatherers like the Ju/’hoansi thought about scarcity and whether this in turn might offer us new insights into understanding how and why scarcity—and the work we do to overcome it—came to be the organising principle of classical economics.   

Helen Hester – University of West London

House/work: The technopolitics of domestic labour

This paper considers the networked smart home and its associated devices, starting from the assumption that the home is not just a space of leisure, intimacy, and recuperation, but also a workplace. This has been brought home particularly clearly during recent periods of lockdown, when a greater number of homes have served as spaces not only of remote working but also of hyper-proximate working – spaces of life-sustaining care. Concentrating on unwaged, intrafamilial housework and care work, the paper will point to the technological conditions under which this work is pursued. It will consider how domestic technology gave up its ‘labour saving’ ambitions, and how horizons of household automation have come to be limited to visions of the data-harvesting smart home, before digging into one particular case study from the world of consumer-facing social robotics. These digital developments have so far done very little to reduce the burdens of work within the home, the paper will argue, and ultimately a wider reaching set of cultural and political shifts will be required if we aspire to a world in which domestic technologies can harbour emancipatory potential.