Topic: Precarity / Precarious Situations
Editors Rebecca Schneider and Nicholas Ridout for TDR and Tavia Nyong’o for W&P
Precarity is life lived in relation to a future which can not be propped securely upon the past. Precarity undoes a linear streamline of temporal progression and challenges “progress” and “development” narratives on all levels. Precarity has become a byword for life in late and later capitalism—or, some argue, life in capitalism as usual.
Life and work, and their dependence upon one another, are often imagined as increasingly precarious, their futures shadowed by pervasive terror as well as everyday anxieties about work. At the same time, “creative capital” invests a kind of promise in precarity with words like “innovation,” “failure,” “experiment,” and “arts.” The links here between art and terror, art and loss, art and vanishing, point also to connections with performance and the embodied balancing act of the live performer.
How do we pay attention to precarity—economic precarity, neoliberal precarity—through a close reading of the performing body? At one time, claims for resistance to commodity capitalism were addressed through the idea that performance does not offer an object for sale. What of the performing body in an economy where the laboring body, and its production of affect, is the new commodity du jour? Marx already gives us the immaterial commodity that is labor itself. Can we think about this through the labor of performance?
Does the place of the arts in global capitalism, and the particular relations implied by “affective labor,” mean that, in some ways, theatrical labor has a particular purchase on the contemporary scene in which such life and work appears? Might this in part account for the recent (re)turn to performance as the hottest contemporary art of the 21st century in such institutions formerly known as devotees of the art object as the MoMA, the Guggenheim, the Tate, the Getty. While precarity has been brought to the fore in European activist circles, we are especially interested in analyses that test its utility in Asian, African, and American contexts. We also are interested in approaches that seek to connect the political-economic usage of precariousness with the ethical and psychoanalytic valences of the term that have also emerged.
How might longstanding feminist critiques of unwaged emotional labor (including feminist art practices of institutional critique) be brought to bear on the new configurations of relational and participatory aesthetics? And how do interactive, installation, and ambient art practices take their place within what some have termed “the social factory,” and its scramble to valorize ever new horizons of volunteered productivity? And how might these debates around precarity be revivified by an analytic attuned to the predicament of the Global South, to the prison-industrial complex, and to contemporary regimes of racialization and neo-colonization?
We aim to explore how theatre and performance studies might resource a continuation of the thinking of precarity. Can the not-not work of theatre and its production of subjectivities offer productive (or un-productive) ways of thinking about changes in the nature of work, its place in the life of the present, and its relation to futurity?
We are interested in precarity’s affects. The manipulation of affect is stock in trade for theatrical and performance labor, and much art production in a post-Fordist economy driven as much by the manufacture of affects as commodities as by material goods. If affect is constitutively relational—or between bodies—how might it be understood as social and political? Are we living in the affect factory?
Special Note: TDR and W&P are engaging in a collaborative process of developing these two issues. While they will appear separately and sequentially within the run of the respective journals, the editors will work collaboratively. Essays and projects that embrace the possibilities opened up between seriality and precarity are especially welcome.
The deadline for TDR issue “Precarity” is 15 November 2011: Please send a digital abstract and essay to Rebecca Schneider at Rebecca_Schneider@brown.edu.
The deadline for W&P issue “Precarious situations: feminist genealogies, affective labor, and outsourced performance” is 1 March 2012: Please send an abstract and essay to Tavia Nyong’o at firstname.lastname@example.org.