Out of the rabbit hole…

This semester started slowly, but ended in an all-out sprint to a mirage of a finish line. It’s a mirage because even though classes have concluded, I actually have 12 hours of teaching time next week, in the form of voluntary study sessions for students, and then final exams on the 4th and 6th of December. I won’t actually be finished until the 10th or so. So, maybe the sprint is over and I’m back to just running? I can certainly say I’m not looking forward to marking about 230 exams in the space of a week…

I’m mixing metaphors all over the place here. Out of rabbit holes, running and sprinting. Whatever. Point is, it’s been a long semester and I’m finally emerging from the daily grind to be able to reflect on things a bit. Also prompted by the fact that I’m trying to write up a reflective course narrative for a CDTL workshop later this week.

It was a semester of firsts:

  • My first course with more than 50 students (I had 179);
  • My first time with total enrollment of 200+ (I had 231, plus ISM, HT, and MA students);
  • My first time using digital exams;
  • My first time using the quiz function in the course learning site (IVLE; similar to Blackboard, etc.);
  • My first time teaching two modules, that were brand new to me, at the same time;
  • My first time having to make official accommodations for differently-abled students (which highlighted just how far I have to go to achieve universal accessibility);
  • My first time giving lectures about which I actually felt confident, both about the material and about my delivery;
  • And my first time managing a TA (in any meaningful sense, although I have had one before for a small class).

My goal over the next few days/weeks is to reflect on the term’s teaching, especially as I move into next term, which will be a fairly significant one as I’ll be teaching three modules, two of which will be brand new to me. Just learning how to manage all these modules and students has been tough. But on top of that basic issue, I’m teaching both lectures (potential enrollment from 40-150 combined) and a seminar (25-30), on topics that I am excited to teach but for which I will once again be pioneering entirely new lectures, assignments, and readings.


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Lecturing as Storytelling

As an experienced teacher but inexperienced lecturer, it has come as a certain kind of revelation recently that in order to improve my lectures I have had to focus less on content and more on narrative.

Two main things led to this revelation. First, was Raul Pacheco-Vega’s article on “Syllabus-writing as storytelling” on the University Affairs/Affaires Universitaires website.  I had never really thought about it before, and Raul rather casually noted that “with every lecture, I tell a story. I also tell a story with the entire course.” It didn’t quite pack the same power as a religious conversion experience, but it was enough to open my eyes to thinking about lecturing in a new way. Prior to this, I primarily asked myself the question: What do I need to communicate in this lecture to address this week’s topic? I treated the lecture instrumentally. My main concern was related to what students would need to know for the exam. Raul’s article started to get me thinking about form, rather than content.

Second, I started thinking about what made my seminars so effective (to the extent that they are reported to be by my students, at least). Without knowing it, I had always structured my seminars loosely as stories, and our primary engagement was with texts, which carried with them their own story-like structures. Certainly, like all seminars, there was an element of “topic-of-the-week” disjointedness, but my goals and practices were oriented toward helping students build a narrative out of the seminar, whether in terms of what they took away or, more literally, in the paper they had to write. I realized that if this was what helped make the seminars so effective, I wasn’t carrying any of this over to my lecture courses.

Thus, I’ve been focused on my lectures this term as storytelling, as a specific narrative form. This probably isn’t news for some, but like I said, it was news to me.

In hindsight, it also feels like a colossal failure not to have made the connection before. My interests in literature, art, and ethnography would seem ready-made interests to connect to lecturing. But, on one hand, I’ve only given a few lecture courses, and I see myself as a novice in the genre. And on the other hand, I only started lecturing after I left grad school – the stakes were too high, the pressures I felt were that I had to perform well right away, and (of course) who had the time to figure out how to lecture when I have to focus on what to lecture, on top of trying to research, research, research, publish, publish, publish… The rat race of academia, like any other form of labor, has a reward system. And there was a certain sense that as long as I was teaching competently, I didn’t have to worry about teaching well. But now I’m on the NUS Educator Track, and the reward system is different. And I also realized that what I imagined were time-saving and labor-saving approaches to teaching – trying to focus on an economical approach to content delivery rather than narrative – were, in fact, making my life harder, not easier.


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Teaching Large Classes with Technology

I’ve always been a bit of a skeptic when it comes to using technology in my teaching. There just never seemed to be enough value added to my teaching practice. Using PowerPoint slides were for lectures – I taught seminars. Blackboard/Moodle/whatever was for posting readings and maybe for pre-class preparatory writing. But the classroom…that is for rigorous discussion, led by students, facilitated by me, with a militant attention to the text. The fanciest I would get with technology was showing a film clip in class to structure discussion.

I’ve been forced to evolve.

November 2013. I’m interviewing for my position at NUS. I’m in the room with some very friendly (but very intimidating at that moment) senior scholars. We were discussing teaching, and the question was raised: “What do you consider a large class?” I responded by saying that anything over 25 was large to me. I remember Janice Bially Mattern responding with something along the lines of, “Oh, wow, you’re going to need to change your ideas about that.”

November 2014. I’m at NUS and I’m teaching my first lecture course. At this point, I’ve been teaching for between 6 and 8 years, depending on if you count some of my first forays into the classroom at the University of Washington and Miami University (1-credit seminars attached to larger programs, like a volunteer program or the MU Honors and Scholars). I’m struggling. I don’t know how much reading to assign, because we aren’t really discussing the reading. I can’t seem to find the right amount of content to fit into a 95-minute lecture – I’m either coming up short or I end up not being able to get to 15-25% or what I have prepared. I have a TA, even though it’s a relatively small class, but I don’t have any clue how to manage her. I never go to her tutorials. But the students seem to like her so I feel good about everything she’s doing. Students seem bored in the lectures. They don’t schedule meetings with me to discuss things. Frankly, I’m getting depressed by how bad I am at this, because I thought I prepared well by “practicing” in my last few semesters at Ohio State. I wrote some mini-lectures, I wrote a few exams, I read a few things on lecturing.

November 2015. I’ve improved a little. I’ve given in to student demand and I’m beginning to use PowerPoint slides. I’m writing lectures that fit within the 95-minute frame 90% of the time. And the other 10% is usually only missing by a slide or two (or maaaaaayyyyybe 3, if I’m honest). Enrollment is low enough that I can make up some of my shortcomings with mandatory consultations during office hours. I don’t have a TA, so I have no extra management issues to deal with. I feel pretty good. But… It’s a research methods course. Student expectations are all over the place; some think they’re going to learn statistics, and I give them ethnography. Others think every week will be a concrete “method,” and I give them the philosophy of science. I’m better at the mechanics of teaching, but I end the term feeling like everyone hated me and they didn’t learn anything.

November 2016. I have no lecture courses. I kill it in my seminars, as usual. My teaching scores are pretty far above departmental averages. This is a confidence booster going into a semester where I’ll lecture again for the first time in more than a calendar year.

April 2017. The semester is over. I feel like my lectures each week were good, solid. B+ to A- regularly, with a few A’s thrown in. There’s a clear narrative that ties the term together. There’s a great balance between types of assignments, so students can excel on more than just exams. Student performances on assessments show me they are learning what I want them to learn. I’ve improved my PowerPoint slides so that they are masterfully minimal – they structure the lecture but I can’t be replaced by them. Optional consultations in office hours are used by a large proportion of students. I think to myself: this is it, this is the semester when my teaching scores for a lecture course will break through to at least be near the departmental average (approx. 4.2/5.0). I’m feeling good. Then, I get my feedback scores. 3.5 out of 5.0. What the hell happened?

August 2017. I’ve been doing a little bit of reading on lecturing. Most importantly, I go to a session at the NUS Centre for Development of Teaching and Learning on “Promoting Student Engagement in Large Classes.” Normally, I would sign up for a session like this, find out it was about technology, and then politely claim that something came up in order to cancel. But this time, I knew I needed help.

So this workshop was last Friday (18 August), and I left committed to trying at least one of the tools introduced during this week’s lecture. I chose to use an app called Padlet in my lectures this week to create a student “backchannel.” I had never heard this term before, but apparently it is a background conversation that occurs during spoken remarks, but formalized and put onto some form of tech platform. I had heard of the practice, as I had read about some teachers using Twitter for this purpose. Anyway…

It worked fairly well. My lecture, on Monday, in my Sociology of Popular Culture class went pretty well. Unexpectedly, students didn’t use the Padlet until the very end of the lecture. I’m hoping they’ll use it more actively next week. But it seems to have helped broken down a barrier.

It worked much better in my Tuesday lecture in my Global Issues course. Well, it worked better in the sense that the students used it more, but it also raised the problems of some inappropriate posts. On the positive side, I was able to increase the participation of a 188-person lecture hall. I did a short think-pair-share exercise, and we used the Padlet for the share portion. That worked very well in getting students to post. But the Padlet also gets a little confusing as it updates in real time – so every time I tried to read the page to share some of the insights (it was also projected on screen) the text boxes would shift around. The problems came later as I encouraged students to add questions related to the ongoing lecture. For example, I discussed Monsanto and the patenting of seed DNA as an issue faced by agricultural communities within the context of globalization. A few students – or maybe just one? – posted to the Padlet things like: “Dear Monsanto, I can’t feed my family” and then “Dear [NAME], Too bad, From Monsanto.” Ok, not productive, but not off the mark either. The strange posts were a series of remarks about how happy it would make a student if s/he could see Kim Jong-Un nuked. With all of the spelling errors and strange grammar you would imagine in a post like that. I was not expecting to get trolled in my own classroom.

As for successes, I am certainly going to try this again. I think it helped make the lectures a more two-way street, and therefore more engaging for the students. But there were challenges as well, and honestly I haven’t figure out how to handle them yet. If you tell a troll not to troll, they just troll harder. And the technique of the Padlet loses a lot of its effectiveness (due to its extremely easy use) if you require students to sign up for an account in order to post under verified identities.

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Another batch of books came in. As I’m teaching cultural studies again (yesssss!!!!!), and working on my own projects, and having to replace many of the books I sold off before moving to Singapore, I’m rebuilding my book collection. Although I’m trying to do this with some restraint, just in case I’m not permanent in Singapore (one never knows until the open-ended contract is signed….).


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Some recently acquired books for the collection. Lots of Ranciere in preparation for a return to one of the chapters from my dissertation that I’m going to spin out into an article. Ditto for the Lyotard and Nail. Miller and Williams for the paper I’m working on about the Crimewatch television show in Singapore.

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Street Photography bibliography

This is for a project I hope to do on street photography. I’ll keep updating the list as I find new resources. Obviously it is not comprehensive, and will be overdetermined by my interest in Daido Moriyama.

Updated: 21 November 2017

General Street Photography:

  • Colin Westerbeck and Joel Meyerowitz. 1994. Bystander: A History of Street Photography. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. (A 2nd edition is being published soon.)

Urban Photography:

  • Jun Tanaka. “Urban Poetics and Photography: Methodology and Selected Case Studies.” (here)
  • Jun Tanaka. “Analyses of Urban Representations: Politics, Aesthetics and Poetics of the (Post)-Modern City.” (here)
  • Jun Tanaka. “Spirits of Urban Places: On the Textual Structure of Cities.” (here)
  • Jun Tanaka. “Historical Analysis of Images, or Image Analysis of History: From ‘Mnemosyne’ and ‘Passagen-Werk’ to Morphology of Image.” (here)

On Daido Moriyama:

  • Fukagawa Masafumi. 2012. “Is the World Beautiful? Moriyama Daido’s Provocation of the History of Photography.” Art in Translation 4(4): 459-473. (Translated by Lena Fritsch.)
  • Jun Tanaka. 2012. “The Dog’s Quarter. Epic Poetry on the Threshold: Moriyama Daido’s ‘Shinjuku’.” Art in Translation 4(4): 475-497. (Translated by Robin Thompson.)
  • Philip Charrier. 2010. “The Making of a Hunter: Moriyama Daido 1966-1972.” History of Photography 34(3): 268-290.
  • J. M. Hammond. “The Collapse of Memory: Tracing Reflexivity in the World of Daido Moriyama.” book chapter
  • John McGee. “Hunter of Light: Daido Moriyama 1965-2003.” Metropolis Tokyo 499. (here)

On Japanese Photography (and Cinema):

  • Marco Bohr. 2011. “Are-Bure-Boke: Distortions in Late 1960s Japanese Cinema and Photography.” Dandelion 2(2).

On the ethics of street photography

  • A. D. Coleman. 1998. “Private lives in public places : the ethics of street photography.” In: Depth of Field: Essays on Photography, Mass Media, and Lens Culture. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
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London and the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) Meeting

I’m currently sitting at Heathrow right now waiting for my flight back to Singapore after a great week in London. I got to do a little exploring, a bit of conferencing, a little connecting with old friends and meeting some new ones, and a lot of eating all the food I can’t really get in Singapore.

Check out my photos from the week on my Flickr page.

I arrived a bit early, on Monday morning, because when I first booked my ticket I thought I would be going to one of the pre-conference workshops on Tuesday, much as I did last year for the RGS-IBG in Exeter. But I didn’t end up finding any of the workshop offerings this year very appealing – they were mostly far too UK-centric. I thought there would be a teaching workshop, as last year, but it never materialized. Oh well.

Instead, I went to the Notting Hill Carnival for the first time on Monday. Let’s put it this way… I loved everything that I didn’t hate. JK011413

Copyright Joshua J Kurz 2016

The music was great, and wandering between the soundsystems could have been quite interesting. If it weren’t for the crowds. Organizers were expecting about a million people at the Carnival over the two-day event, in an area of only a few square kilometers (according to what I read in the Guardian). It was packed. And I HATE crowds. They make me feel claustrophobic. So after about two hours, I decided that I needed to get out of there. Leaving Notting Hill took another two hours. I was trying to find my way back to the Bayswater tube station, and I kept getting turned around or running into the Carnival parade route. Overall it was fun, though – I’m glad I can cross it off my bucket list.

The highlight of the week, though, was the real reason I was in London, the 2016 Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) conference. At last year’s RGS-IBG in Exeter, Sophie Cranston from Loughborough University convened two sessions on ‘Exploring the Migration Industries’. And one of the things to emerge from those sessions was this year’s sessions on ‘Theorizing the Migration Industries’, which I co-convened with Sophie. JK011447

We had two fantastic panels. In the first session we had Alexandra Voivozeanu (University of Bucharest), Thea de Gruchy (University of the Witwatersrand), Deirdre Conlon (University of Leeds, presenting on work she’s done with Nancy Hiemstra, Stonybrook University), myself, and Katharine Jones (Coventry University). In the second session we had Damir Josipovic (Institute for Ethnic Studies, Ljubljana), Nir Cohen (Bar Ilan University), Ruben Hernandez-Leon (UCLA), and Lauren Martin (Durham University). We also had a no-show, unfortunately, for reasons no one knows (I plan to check-in and see if there was anything I could have done). But this would have extended our reach into the Great Lakes region of Africa, a point of view I was really looking forward to.

The geographic diversity of both presenters and their research sites was dazzling. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a more international panel of speakers at this year’s RGS-IBG. More importantly, I learned so much about this messy field of the ‘migration industries’, and I hope we can transform these panels into something for publication in the near future. As Sophie is still co-editing the journal issue that came out of last year’s RGS-IBG sessions on the migration industries, and I’m still trying to finish my paper for that as well, this year’s panels will have to wait a bit, unless someone else steps forward to take the lead (we’ll see).

It was a great week, overall. I’m ready to get back to teaching for a few weeks, but I’m also really looking forward to my upcoming trip to Spain on 15 September during the fall recess week.

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Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On

My well-intentioned plans to blog a few times a week this summer were blown up by a bunch of stuff that took over this summer.

  1. Most importantly, I managed to secure continuing employment for myself at the National University of Singapore. It all happened really fast, basically in May and June of this year. And I started the new contract on July 1st as a Lecturer in Sociology and Global Studies.
  2. With the new position and its focus on teaching, I was given five courses to teach this academic year (2016/17). Two of the courses would be in Sociology, and which I will never have taught before – although both well within my areas of expertise. Three courses would be in Global Studies. One repeated course that required no real intervention; one repeated course that requires a great deal of re-thinking and new preparation; and one brand new course that I designed and proposed, yet still needs a great deal of planning and creation. Thus, my summer was given over quite quickly to planning and preparing for this year’s teaching.
  3. Along with the new position and responsibilities came housing benefits. Living quite near the university for my first two years in Singapore did not necessarily translate into a reasonable commute. From my HDB flat in Commonwealth to my office door took an average of 55 minutes on the way in (during non-rush hour times), and about 90 minutes on the way home (because I usually stopped to get dinner). So, when my new contract contained housing benefits, I jumped on them. I now live right across the street from NUS and my daily commute is usually less than 30 minutes combined. Indeed, I don’t even think of it as a ‘commute’ anymore. But planning the move, packing, moving, unpacking, and settling in took a few weeks.
  4. I actually took a vacation. One of the things I’ve been trying to do since finishing my PhD is to pay more attention to my mental health. While I still work too much, too often, I do try to take at least one day a week off, and I’ve been trying to actually use my allotted vacation days. Last year (2015) included trips to Hong Kong (although that was mostly for research, but I took some tourist time), Hanoi, Vietnam, and a short trip to Batam, Indonesia. Then in February of this year I went back to Hong Kong. And this summer I spent a week in Penang, Malaysia before my sister came to visit (her first time in Asia). So a little more than two weeks of official vacation time straddled the end of June and beginning of July.

Of course, not all of this is weighted equally. Most of the time I had intended to study on research and writing for publication this summer was by necessity reinvested in preparing to teach. Adjusting to a new department (Sociology), with a capstone course for a new-to-me academic minor (Cultural Studies), took a significant amount of time and energy. As did acquainting myself with my new position as a Lecturer, which is part of a pretty novel thing that NUS does called the ‘Educator Track.’

Unlike most institutions in the US, as well as at least those in Europe that I’m familiar with, NUS offers a pathway to tenure on a teaching track. I’ve come to think of it almost as if NUS is trying to foster both the research-intensive model and the liberal arts model in the same institution at the same time. It’s pretty interesting, and new enough that not many people have modelled pathways to success. Thus I spent a fair amount of labor (affective and intellectual) this summer trying to get a sense of what I need to do to ensure that this position works out for me in the long run.

Anyway, that’s enough for now. I’ll probably soon follow up this post with a few others on my courses.

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Conatus and Debt – A Few Thoughts

Reading yet more Jason Read today, as a way of easing myself into reading Lordon’s Willing Slaves of Capital: Spinoza and Marx on Desire. A few things struck me about his discussion of capitalism that help me understand why we go to the lengths we do in order to ensure a certain kind of participation in the economy.

Read brings together two noted ‘neo-Spinozists’ – Frederic Lordon and Yves Citton – to understand the core of ‘Spinoza’s anthropology’, the conatus: ‘For both Lordon and Citton it is the conatus, the striving underlying every existence that makes possible a new thought of social relations’ (176).

The conatus is simultaneously irreducibly singular and irreducibly social: ‘we each strive in different ways, but the direction and orientation of this striving is shaped by affects and the history of encounters. Spinoza’s conatus overcomes the dualism between holistic and individualistic accounts of social relations, starting with neither the society nor the individual but the relations that are their mutual constitution‘ (176, emphasis added).

A particularly helpful insight is drawn from Lordon’s work, to help answer a question that Marx was able to formulate but not solve: ‘why is it that workers continue to come to work everyday, subjecting themselves to exploitation?’ (177). In Spinozist terms, ‘why do workers struggle for exploitation as if it were liberation?’ (177). Read uses this question as a springboard to illuminate Lordon’s alteration of a typically Marxist framework, away from strictly viewing the problem as a transformation of the mode of production and the alienation from work, towards understanding the way capitalism fundamentally reoriented the conatus (178). Read recounts two transformations that Lordon identified: the transformation of Fordism, then of Post-Fordism.

Fordism is most easily identified as a change in the mode of production, the transformation of industrial production via the assembly line. This transformation ushered in numerous related social, political, and economic transformations. Most importantly for this discussion is the way Fordism reorganised conatus away from labor itself (from activity) and towards consumption (179). Work, in its sadness and alienation, became the means to satisfy the joys of consumption. Or, in other words, Fordism reorganises workers away from the active joy of labor to the passive joy of consumption. Significantly, ‘passive joyful affects are those that increase our power of acting, while remaining outside of our control’ (179).

Post-Fordism breaks with Fordism in that it destroys the implied stability of Fordism. Post-Fordism, like Fordism before it, ‘is first and foremost a transformation of the norms and structures that organise and structure action’ (179). Thus, Post-Fordism entails not only a loss of security (job security, social security, etc.) but a replacement of the conatus from one striving for hope (I will become middle class, my children will be better off than I am) to one striving for the abeyance of fear (I fear that I will lose my middle class status, my children will not be better off than I am, unless…). It is that ‘unless…’ that invests individuals in the Post-Fordist regime in which work itself becomes the object of desire (180). Under Fordism, for example, money was desired because it provided the means to engage in consumption, an expression of hope. Instead, money becomes the ‘that which wards off fear’ (180): ‘Money becomes part of the desire for security, the only possible security: one’s skills, one’s actions, will have no value in the future, but money always will (Lordon 2014, 24)’ (180).

This brings me finally to precarity and then to debt, specifically as a strategy to transform the social conditions of work via individual action.

Read offers a reading of precarity in his discussion of Lordon that is quite useful, and helps to counteract the overdetermination of precarity discourse(s) by the European, social welfare experience. He argues that precarity is best understood as an affective concept – rather than as a primarily sociological one: ‘It is less a matter of some objective shift in the status of security than it is a shift in how work and security is perceived. If precarity can be used to adequately describe contemporary economic life it is less because everyone is working under some kind of temporary or part time contract, although these have become significant, than it is because of a constant sense of insecurity infuses every work situation’ (180). I would add as well, the constant sense of insecurity that infuses every non-work situation, especially when work is tied deeply to national and individual development.

The problem of migrant debt is approached at the policy-level in a typically neoliberal fashion – as one of an education gap. If workers were merely educated about the risks of engaging in debt-financed migration, then workers could/would make better choices about taking on (sometimes astronomically) high levels of debt given the uncertainty that accompanies it. Read/Lordon/Spinoza help us understand why education itself is not enough – the connection between the intellect and the economy is bypassed by the affective experience of seeing debt as a means to both ward off insecurity and participate in consumption. Thus the rational calculation that should lead migrants and potential migrants (and, of course, anyone who seeks out student, consumer, or household debt – but my interest is specifically in migrant labor) to consider the very real problems with entering into exploitative labor migration arrangements. When debt can easily match (or exceed!) several years worth of base salary. These arrangements, when combined with laws that require bond to a specific employer, limited housing mobility, and lack of clear legal avenues of redress, lead to exceptionally exploitative conditions, outright abuse, and in some cases death. Debt then joins threats of deportation as a significant source of precarity, even as debt also forms a strategy of striving to participate in national development, global capitalism, and Western-style consumerism.


‘The things that we strive for, those that we call good, such as money, which Spinoza argues “occupies the mind of the multitude more than anything else,” have as their necessary precondition not only the encounters that frame our imagination, but the destruction of other objects, other relations. As with the example of money, it is because money has not only been associated with personal pleasures, a child’s first allowance and the pedagogy of consumption, but the entire sphere of social goods, that it becomes an object of desire.’ (178)

‘Capital needs to be countered at the level of ideas as much as social relations.’ (175)


**All references refer to: Read, Jason. 2015. “The Order and Connection of Ideology Is the Same as the Order and Connection of Exploitation: Towards a Bestiary of the Capitalist Imagination.” Philosophy Today 59 (2): 175-189.

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Class Composition, Affective Composition of Labor, Migration

I’ve been reading through a few of Jason Read’s old blog posts and came across one from 2011 on “The Affective Composition of Labor.” In it, he has a really clear definition of class composition, which clarifies the stakes of the project of ‘autonomous marxism’ for me.

First, he notes that the ‘autonomous hypothesis’ – first outlined by Tronti, then later elaborated in Hardt and Negri’s Empire – that resistance precedes and prefigures exploitation has significant limits. The limits of this thesis are similar to the problems identified in the sociological/anthropological studies of resistance, especially coming out of cultural studies in the 1970s, 80s, 90s: if everything is resistance, why isn’t anything changing?

After noting the limits of the autonomous hypothesis, Read offers a different angle, a different entry point, that holds on to the thesis but decentralizes it. He offers the concept of ‘class composition’, because it offers more of a conceptual problem than just a political assertion. Which, taking the political movement of autonomism and transforming it into an area of study 1) as a kind of Marxism, 2) as having emerged from and inspired actual, material struggles, and 3) as moving beyond the figuration and invocation of politics, is essential for maintaining any sort of praxis oriented around autonomy.

He clarifies the concept of class composition: “can be broadly defined as an examination of the social, technological, and political composition of class, the structure of work, its relations of command and hierarchy, as well as the political articulation of the class, its cohesion and antagonism.” 

Further, “Class composition makes it possible to understand the autonomist hypothesis as something other than a great battle, or a Manichean dualism. Working class struggle reshapes the social and technological conditions of labor, which in turn becomes the source of new conflict.”

Perhaps this is obvious to some, but I’ve always found the concept to be a bit enigmatic. Read’s definition rather significantly moves beyond the problems of the subjective composition of labor (who composes the working class?) and includes the structure and power relations of work. This move helps me understand why, for example, Mezzadra and Neilson can shift from the study of borders and migration – raising the problem of the multiplication of the figures of labor as a central problematic, and thus the challenge of class composition (in terms of who?) – to the study of logistics (how?).

Read’s broader purpose in the post is to draw attention to the “affective composition of labor” and thus “the way in which every labor condition, every particular conjuncture in the mode of production, involves a production and a reproduction of hope, fear, joy, and sadness, distributed not just across the activity, and its monetary reward, as I have outlined here, but also across the social relations, the joys of comraderie and cooperation, and political relations, the sadness and envy of hierarchy. As such it is also transformed by the political and technological transformations examined in (classical) class composition.”

The concepts offered by Read here – a clarification of ‘class composition’ and the ‘affective composition of labor’ – are highly suggestive for me in thinking about migrant labor in Singapore.

  • Who composes labor in Singapore? In what industries?
  • How do migrant laborers come to Singapore? How does the recruitment agency pathway and indebtedness intersect with affective concerns, especially the production and reproduction of (or maybe expression of) hope and fear, futurity, etc of the workers?
  • How might debt function as a counter-measure to the organization of migrant labor? In other words, debt is individualizing and seems to assist in the fracturing of a laboring class that is more than 25% of the total population in Singapore. How might this work, empirically?


or Syed Alwi Road crowd 1

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