(P23)
Feeling Capitalism
Location Chancellery Building, A1-018
Date and Start Time 06 Dec, 2018 at 09:00
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Cynthia Sear (University of Melbourne ) email
  • Hannah Gould (University of Melbourne) email

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Short abstract

How is Capitalism felt and how does it make us feel? This panel seeks papers which explore the sensorial, affective and emotional dimensions of life under Capitalism.

Long abstract

Writing of the factory, Gramsci noted the peculiar capacity of Capitalism to penetrate through to our very "nervous system" (1997, p.300). Inspired by this observation, this panel aims to explore the emotional, affective and sensorial dimensions of Capitalism.  We ask: how is Capitalism felt and how does Capitalism make us feel?

To address these questions, we welcome papers which explore distinctly Capitalist forms of affect. We consider affect both in terms of broad structures of feeling, such as Post-Fordist Affect (Berlant 2007), as well as in relation to localized forms of production, such as affective labour (Hochschild 1983). We invite other theoretically driven understandings of affect, so long as they are ethnographically explored through distinctly Capitalist experiences. In line with the anthropological turn to "sensuous scholarship" (Stoler 1997), we also seek papers which emphasize the embodied experience of capitalist settings, projects and activities, and in particular, move beyond the ocular in their focus. For example, the function of smell in retailing or the importance of sounds and music in various workplaces. Finally, we encourage submissions which explore the role of emotion in Capitalist practices. While emotion has at times been understood as a codified incarnation of affect (Mazzarella 2009), earlier work in the discipline defines emotion as a dynamistic expression in its own right (cf. Lutz and White 1986). Therefore, papers may consider the role of emotion in influencing career and consumption decisions or the manner in which emotion is influenced and/or produced by advertising and marketing.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

"It just feels amazing, like pure joy!": emotion and the serial entrants of promotional competitions

Author: Cynthia Sear (University of Melbourne ) email
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Short abstract

Anthropological studies of emotion have dwindled in recent years. In this paper, I propose a re-ignition of theoretical considerations of emotion through a discussion of findings from ethnography amongst Compers: the serial entrants of promotional competitions.

Long abstract

As Beatty (2013) has chronicled, the study of emotion has fallen out of favour with anthropologists. This trend has been explained in terms of a prevailing distaste for investigation into the "individual" in favour of power and political relations as well as an overlap with psychology and hence a sense that it is not our domain (Ibid, p.415). We may add that the affective turn, which has emphasized forces and intensities, has engulfed emotion within its wide and varied remit.

In an attempt to distinguish emotion from affect, I will present findings from ethnography amongst "Compers", the serial entrants of promotional competitions. From the "thrills" of actual and anticipated wins of holidays, cars, products and cash, to the joy and pride experienced in using and sharing prizes, it is evident that emotion figures heavily into the practice of entering promotional competitions (otherwise known as comping). To this end, in this paper I will describe how Compers experience emotion, but also how these emotions are influenced, by advertising as well as social and cultural forces. By accounting for the role of emotions in motivating the practice of comping, I will propose that emotion is distinct from affect, but further, that emotion is important in the reconstitution of capitalist practices. This idea is well established in literature related to marketing (Foster 2007) and within marketing (Gaur et. al 2014) but has hereto only been a latent consideration in ethnographies of consumption (Friedman 1994; Miller 1998, 2008; Suzuki 2000)

Sensory Deprivation Tanks: Capitalism's dark transcendence of the sensory-motor schema

Authors: Matthew Phillips (Deakin University) email
Roland Kapferer (Deakin University) email
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Short abstract

In this presentation we will discuss our preliminary ethnographic research into sensory deprivation tanks, linking them what we term a 'dark transcendence' that has emerged with post-war capitalism of control societies.

Long abstract

We see the float tank and similar post-war psychedelic research as emerging out of a specific post-war military-industrial complex.

Following Deleuze's cinema books we present the tank as a technology of the time-image, which transcends sensory-motor linkages (literally depriving them) in order to suspend the floater in a condition of radical immanence - what we will discuss in terms of a 'dark transcendence', which is a post-phenomenological non-positionality outside of phenomenological and anthropological notions of subject and world.

The tank is a technology that does not generate 'altered states of consciousness' so much as a total transcendence of human consciousness (and its sensory-motor links) to create a technological consciousness bound up in the dynamics of the tank itself.

Importantly, as we will discuss, this transcendence works through the human body (through specific techniques of sensory deprivation and motor restriction, i.e. its sensory-motor schema) and its relation to the tank (with its own use of specific techniques, such as temperature, floatation, darkness, ambient music, etc.)

Ultimately, we are interested in not only capitalism's abilities to tap into the human being's sensory-motor schema (through affective neuro-marketing or multimedia environments) but also its ability to completely suspend this schema within a dark transcendence - outside of the human sensorium and natural perceptive faculties.

Death by Ford

Author: Andrew Dawson (University of Melbourne) email
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Short abstract

An ethnography of retired production line workers in England's extractive industries, 'Death by Ford' considers the relationships between Capitalist production, dying and death.

Long abstract

The somatic reach of Capitalist production, especially Fordism has been well appreciated, at least since 'Modern Times'. In Chaplain's dystopian movie the movements of the central character's body are the manic rhythms of mechanised production. This paper extends that reach into thinking about the dying and dead body. Working from Leder's phenomenology, and ethnography of retired production line workers in England's extractive industries I demonstrate how illness in advanced age involves both bodily alienation and experiences of a selfhood that is body partable. I then demonstrate how the solidarism engendered by the social organisation of production frames conceptualisation of a transformation of the dying subject's self from being property of that 'individual' to becoming 'collective' property of significant others. This has, I argue, implications for the pre-death experiences of the subject. Notably, in what I call 'socialist dying', it provides grounds for everyday critique of neoliberal approaches to palliative care. Likewise, it has implications for the post-death experiences of the subject. Notably, it engenders an emphasis on social rather than material sites/forms of grieving and memorialisation. Moving beyond its traditional frameworks of ethnic and religious traditions for understanding how dying and death are commonly and differently conceptualised and practiced, recent anthropological work has, albeit implicitly, paid attention to Capitalism. However studies of, famously New Communications Technologies (e.g. Boellstorff), new cadaver preservation techniques (e.g. Walter) and organ trafficking (e.g. Scheper-Hughes) focus largely on Capitalist consumption. 'Death by Ford' considers the relationships between Capitalist production, dying and death.

Surviving the coming frost: how precarious identities are managed through game making and place by Vancouver Indie Gamers

Author: Benjamin Archer (Curtin University) email
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Short abstract

This paper aims to explore and discuss how the precarious identities' of Vancouver Indie Gamers, which are shared by individuals attuned to practices of making, endure collectively in this local space in spite of market forces that seek to suspend them.

Long abstract

On more than one occasion, when speaking to game developers in Vancouver on the topic of indie gaming, and what it's like to make games locally, I was pointed to a recent blog titled the Autumn of Indie Markets. Published in 2016, this article evocatively employs the changing of the seasons to describe the ways in which indie gaming, as a process of making games, emerged and flourished before shedding it former vibrancy as consumer markets matured. In Vancouver, this sense of autumn-ness seemed interwoven throughout, infecting game developers with a degree of precarity: a tentative anxiety that underpins what it means to be "Indie". The perceived threat of a coming metaphorical winter upheaves indie identities, forcing friendly collaboration (together to survive the frost) and ruthless competition (only the most capable indies will survive). These identities are managed through the practice of game making when grounded in local experiences. As such, using ethnographic examples recorded during field work in Vancouver, this paper aims to explore and discuss how precarious identities, which are shared by individuals attuned to practices of making, endure collectively in local spaces in spite of market forces that seek to suspend them.

Cook, Daniel. 2016. "Autumn of Indie Markets," Gamasutra (blog), Nov 21, 2016. https://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/DanielCook/20161121/285971/Autumn_of_Indie_Game_Markets.php.

A genealogy of the pleasurable experience in industrial capitalism in the nineteenth century. Dorian Gray and aristocratic hedonism

Authors: Jairo Clavijo Poveda (Pontificia Universidad Javeriana) email
Liz Dayanna Zárate Luengas (Pontifical Javeriana University) email
Juan Camilo Ospina Deaza (Pontificia Universidad Javeriana) email
Valeria Sánchez Prieto (Pontificia Universidad Javeriana) email
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Short abstract

We propose a structural analysis method to make a genealogy of pleasure in modernity and understand the logic of consumption that involves the body and sensations, placing them in the field of morality. We take as a material of analysis and reference the Portrait of Dorian Gray.

Long abstract

We studied anthropologically the pleasure and sensations that underlie the industrial capitalism of the 19th Century. We contribute to a genealogy of pleasure, taking as reference the book "The Portrait of Dorian Gray" by Oscar Wilde. We want to show how the capitalism created relations of power over the pleasure. For this reason, we propose a method that allow us think about the distribution of sensations in society and establish what is the role of experience in the production of pleasure. We highlight the modern thinking linked to XIX Century and reconstruct the morality that guides and regulates the obtaining of pleasure through experience.

We consider England during Nineteenth-Century as the principal place where the imaginaries of modernity were produced. These imaginaries were spread throughout the world by imperialism. Oscar Wilde`s book displays the problems that involved the new form of relationship between men and nature, with other men and with himself. Capitalism positioned the body and sensations in a central place where moral principles regulate the practice of pleasure. This regulation demanded a moral reorganization of the forms of work and economy. Thus, we revealed the new forms of hedonism of the upper classes that possessed the time of idleness and money. In this sense, we establish a relationship with the material world that produces a moral of consumption, which influences bodies and sensations to these days.

From a 'good death' to a 'calm heart': Buddhist retailing and self-care in contemporary Japan

Author: Hannah Gould (University of Melbourne) email
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Short abstract

This paper explores how traditional religious retailers are adapting to the increasingly secular and "precarious" (Allison 2013) climate of late-capitalist Japan by participating in new affective economies that manufacture feelings of healing ('iyashi') and subjects with calm hearts ('kokoro').

Long abstract

Anne Allison opens her ambitious theorization of Japanese contemporary life, "Precarious Japan", with a series of evocative images of lonely death, senseless massacre, and chronic disaster, to articulate a climate "where death stalks daily life" and "crimps the familiar and routine" (2013: 4). Probing this moment, when death is transformed from personal crisis into social affect, my paper explores how Buddhist institutions traditionally associated with funerary rites have begun to broaden the scope of their affective labours. By manufacturing products and retail atmospheres that generate healing (iyashi) and calm hearts (kokoro), Buddhist retailers now seek to soothe the stresses and uncertainties of the everyday, and in so doing, protect their market share.

"Affective labour" is often defined in the Marxist tradition as intrinsically immaterial, because unlike industrial manufacture, its products are described as intangible sentiments (see Plourde 2014 on Japanese 'cat cafes'). I argue that it is best understood within a broader economy of the senses; as precarity seeps into contemporary lives as well as deaths, new sensory modes find purchase. The role of religious actors in producing the affects and subjectivities of contemporary capitalism has also suffered from a dearth of critical analysis of late, despite Weber's foundational theorisation in this area. To address these concerns, I explore practices of experimental religious retailing in Japan, drawing on ongoing ethnographic fieldwork in the Buddhist altar (butsudan) industry.

Emotional work: Chinese Corporate Personhood in the West

Author: Sacha Cody (Hong Kong University of Science & Technology) email
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Short abstract

This paper analyses a Western Europe subsidiary of a Chinese MNC. Using the notion of 'emotional work' as a framing device—highly emotional practices designed to elicit emotion—it discusses significant tensions between Chinese corporate culture and post-Fordist affective practices such as branding.

Long abstract

Corporate culture in China is an assemblage of Chinese 'tradition' (e.g. Confucian hierarchy and loyalty), western management practices (e.g. productivity responsibilities falling on the individual), and Chinese Communist Party authority (e.g. Party cells). But less is known about international Chinese enterprises and the extent to which they replicate what is observed in China. This is an important topic because today there are approximately 8,000 Chinese enterprises operating in 164 countries. They employ 2.8 million staff, 1.2 million of which are non-Chinese.

Drawing on participant observation fieldwork and 30 in-depth interviews, this paper analyses how employees and partners of a Chinese multinational corporation called ZG discuss and execute corporate reputation and brand image programs in Western Europe. It examines, in short, how ZG tries to be 'liked' by Western European consumers and build an 'emotional connection' with them.

This work of fostering emotion is highly emotional for those involved. It explicates deep divisions across ZG, the key one being the tension between Chinese corporate culture and technonationalism with the prevalence of post-Fordist affective labour industries such as branding and marketing and notions of corporate personhood.

One way this plays out inside ZG is for the firm to try to present itself to Western Europeans as an unassuming lifestyle brand while keeping at arm's length—or trying to—corporate identities that serve them well in China. Yet this only reveals deeper divisions concerning how different groups inside ZG imagine—and try to realise—China's place in the world.

Extra! 'Mutant chimera in scrubs escapes from the ER!'

Author: Tass Holmes (University of Melbourne) email
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Short abstract

How has a fearful 'state of emergency', being also a marketing strategy that promotes dominant medicine, come to permeate our relationship to health as consumers and to destabilise traditional holism? Participant narratives offer an anti-capitalist stance, refuting passive acceptance of biomedicine.

Long abstract

Just as other topics in this conference explore descriptive anthropological domains, such as ways in which individuals, member-groups, communities and societies in a changing but obligatory contemporary world, encounter, experience and "traverse Landscapes of Infrastructure" [Panel 10], this paper discusses how a fearful 'state of emergency' concept, or 'siege mentality', has come to permeate prevailing emotions and consumer relationships to health, when seeking healthcare within a capitalist schema. We are terrified by prospective threats to our assumed health, posed by infectious disease, cancer, genetic mutation, terminal heart or kidney failure, and newly emerged viruses. This concept is well symbolised by a panic-inducing image --similar to the zombie icon-- of a mutant, irremediably-contaminated 'chimera', effectively disguised in medical scrubs, now escaped from the ER** and roaming through society preying on random victims. Name it 'disease', and watch it overcome us with fear, as we run for a doctor! Such symbolism highlights biomedicine's reliance on fear as an effective marketing strategy, one that both promotes and fortifies dominant medicine, corralling the vast majority of citizens into a passive or helpless state of accepting biomedical norms unquestioningly, while coincidentally destabilising traditional spiritually-based knowledge of holistic wellbeing and healing. Participant narratives highlight their defiance of this passive fear-borne state when choosing to heal themselves and families using 'alternatives'. Complementary, alternative and traditional forms of medicine (CAM) are thus seen to reflect a political outlook, that refutes a two-dimensional Cartesian biomedical paradigm, and refuses to 'buy into' the capitalist model of health consumption. **Emergency Room.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.