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Week 5 3 February 2010 GEOG 4280 | Imagining Toronto Copyright © Amy Lavender Harris 1 Week 5 Class Fictions: Narratives of Work in Toronto Literature GEOG | Imagining Toronto Department of Geography Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies York University Winter Term
Description of a foundry owner, circa 1908: A typical member of the wealthy class who lives in luxury off the sweat of his employees and then lays them off as if they were useless things if theres the least dip in his profits. […] There would be no wealth without our work. Ten hours a day they work us, and look at what you put up with on the killing floor. What for? So men like Mr. Flavelle can live a life of luxury. Judi Coburn, The Shacklands (Toronto: Second Story Press: ) Week 5 3 February 2010 GEOG 4280 | Imagining Toronto Copyright © Amy Lavender Harris 2
One evening in October the newspapers printed extra editions reporting a stockmarket crash. Of all the city's neighbourhoods Cabbagetown probably took the news most quietly. In the wealthier districts, and even in the middle-class neighbourhoods, the citizens were shocked or sloughed off the news as merely a temporary halt to the inevitable spiralling of the economy..... Cabbagetown went on its serene way, not caring whether the stockmarket crashed or didn't, such things being as far away and as alien to Cabbagetown as an aeroplane crash in Peru. With millions of dollars worth of investors' paper profits blowing away on the autumn breeze Cabbagetown knew that its hard-earned wealth was safe. Come Friday night or Saturday noon the same familiar pay envelopes would be carried out to the shipping platform by the foreman or handed through the timekeeper's wicket as usual. Whether some stock-market plungers lost their fortunes or whether a particular stock was worth this or that was of no particular interest. As a matter of fact most Cabbagetowners felt rather smug about the whole thing. (Garner, 1969: 36) Week 5 3 February 2010 GEOG 4280 | Imagining Toronto Copyright © Amy Lavender Harris 3
The panic wasn't over as soon as the optimists predicted, and over the next few months its results began filtering down through business and industry, and even into Cabbagetown itself. Business said it had to retrench, and it began to cut its staffs relentlessly, and cut the pay checks of those who were retained in their jobs. Garner, Cabbagetown : 39. Week 5 3 February 2010 GEOG 4280 | Imagining Toronto Copyright © Amy Lavender Harris 4
The soap was manufactured, flaked and boxed by mechanical means; but Ken was the missing link in the technological manufacture and distribution of soap flakes, for as yet there was no machinery in the plant to mechanically take the boxes from the chutes and pack them into cartons. Why should there have been when Ken was young, agile and had perfect eyesight which could discard broken boxes, did not have to be oiled or repaired and could work a fifty-five hour work week without breaking down. [....] Sometimes Ken would remove the gauze mask that he, along with everyone else in the room, wore in place of the non-existent ventilating system, and shout obscenities back at Trenton [the foreman], hiding them behind a beatific smile. Trenton, who was slightly deaf, saw the smile but did not hear the words. [....] To relieve the overpowering monotony of the job he acquired the habit that sustains all such workers, of allowing his thoughts to escape into the world outside the factory walls. (Garner, ) Week 5 3 February 2010 GEOG 4280 | Imagining Toronto Copyright © Amy Lavender Harris 5
Framed by the dim interior of the stand [at Queens Park] a man leaned hatless, straw hair coxcombed by the wind, shouting,... Work... Name of the single unemployed of this Province... Fullscale program... Union wages... The wind, and the honk and squeal of traffic, shredded his sentences, which in any case came jerkily, slowly, from the swaying figure. Twenty cents a day... Starvation... Bennett government... Slave camps... Winter.... Kin a ragged topcoat buttoned to the neck he rocked, beat on the railings with bare fists. Organize... Bosses... Mass action... Above him a canvas banner bellied: WORKLESS UNITE – JOIN PROTEST MARCH TO CITY HALL MONDAY. [....] The back if the long line was suddenly convulsed with struggling figures; the police had converged, batons flashing.... A thin little man charged back toward them, brandishing a spindly placard, but the nearest policeman brought a baton down with a long swing; the thin man clutched his had, staggered, sagged to the grass. (Earle Birney, Down the Long Table. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart: 52-54). Week 5 3 February 2010 GEOG 4280 | Imagining Toronto Copyright © Amy Lavender Harris 6
Ive seen the working stiff being kicked around all over the North American continent..... You dont even have to go anywhere outside this town to see that the system is rotten and has broken down. Right here in good old Tory British Toronto you have the same problems they have anywhere else. Just because I dont use Commie words like labour power, petit-bourgeois, or surplus value doesnt mean I cant see whats wrong. Im just not interested in your new civilization or your new religion or your new politics, or whatever the hell it is. Im just interested in pork chops for the poor, jobs for those who want to work, bugless beds and free hospitalization. Hugh Garner, Cabbagetown (Toronto: Ryerson Press,  1969: 279) Week 5 3 February 2010 GEOG 4280 | Imagining Toronto Copyright © Amy Lavender Harris 7
Work and Works In The Work and the Gift (2005) literary scholar Scott Cutler Shershow describes the double necessity of work as a paradox that arises from the imperative to perform the obligatory labour that sustains our material existence despite deriving the bulk of our identity from the parallel impulse to build, craft or otherwise create works with intrinsic value, such as a hand-knit scarf, a literary masterpiece or a well laid wall. This tension, arguably inherent in human endeavour, turns destructive whenever works are subsumed beneath the demands of work. In distinguishing works from work, Shershow belongs to an intellectual tradition stretching from Hegel (who emphasized the transcendent qualities of work performed in the creation of works) to Hannah Arendt (who distinguished work, as an end in itself, from labour, or work as a means to an end). Week 5 3 February 2010 GEOG 4280 | Imagining Toronto Copyright © Amy Lavender Harris 8
Work and Alienation Marx argued that all work is devalued under the alienating conditions of industrial capitalism, which (1) reduces workers to automatons, (2) separates working people from the products of their labour, (3) pits workers against one another as a class and (4) estranges them even from the core of their own essence. For a fuller discussion of work and alienation, see James Reinharts The Tyranny of Work (1987: 14-16). Week 5 3 February 2010 GEOG 4280 | Imagining Toronto Copyright © Amy Lavender Harris 9
In Emily Schultzs Toronto novel, Heaven is Small, the imperative to work and the desire to create works are pitted quite literally against one another. Gordon Small, a failed writer who has died without noticing the event of his own passing, travels to suburban Don Mills to apply for a job as a proofreader at Heaven, the worlds largest publisher of romance fiction. In methodical order he is appraised, interviewed, employed and assigned a cubicle in the pink ocean of the Editorial department at Heaven, where he reads and copyedits romance manuscripts for eight hours a day. As the weeks pass, Gordon realizes that he and his colleagues are dead, and that working at Heaven represents some sort of afterlife limbo. The significance of Heavens working conditions is not lost entirely on Gordons colleagues, one of whom inventories Heavens reliance on nineteenth century Taylorist labour management practices, observing that their work lacks intellectual content, tasks are mechanized, routinized, simplified and fragmented, and even their wages are calculated to keep them compliant. Coercion outweighs consent, Gordons co-worker declares, adding, a bona fide industrial plant stands above you, my friend … the wheels of romance turn with Fordism. Schultz, Heaven is Small. Toronto: Anansi: Week 5 3 February 2010 GEOG 4280 | Imagining Toronto Copyright © Amy Lavender Harris 10
At times Im certain Im being groomed for something higher up, but as I have only hazy notions of the organizational structure of Seymour Surveys I cant imagine what. The company is layered like an ice-cream sandwich, with three floors: the upper crust, the lower crust, and our department, the gooey layer in the middle. On the floor above are the executives and the psychologists – referred to as the men upstairs, since they are all men – who arrange things with the clients; Ive caught glimpses of their offices, which have carpets and expensive furniture and have silk-screen reprints of Group of Seven paintings on the walls. Below us are the machines – mimeo machines, I.B.M. Machines for counting and sorting and tabulating the information; Ive been down there too, into that factory-like clatter where the operatives seem frayed and overworked and have ink on their fingers. Our department is the link between the two: we are supposed to take care of the human element. Margaret Atwood, The Edible Woman. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart. Week 5 3 February 2010 GEOG 4280 | Imagining Toronto Copyright © Amy Lavender Harris 11
Because our department deals primarily with housewives, everyone in it, except the unfortunate office-boy, is female. We are spread out in a large institutional-green room with an opaque glassed cubicle at the end for Mrs. Bogue, the head of the department, and a number of wooden tables at the other end for the motherly-looking women who sit deciphering the interviewers handwriting and making crosses and checkmarks on the completed questionnaires with coloured crayons, looking with their scissors and glue and stacks of paper like a superannuated kindergarten class. The rest of us in the department sit at miscellaneous desks in the space between. Ibid.: 14. Week 5 3 February 2010 GEOG 4280 | Imagining Toronto Copyright © Amy Lavender Harris 12
What, then, could I expect to turn into at Seymour Surveys? I couldnt become one of the men upstairs; I couldnt become a machine person or one of the questionnaire-marking ladies, as that would be a step down. I might conceivably turn into Mrs. Bogue or her assistant, but as far as I could see that would take a long time and I wasnt sure I would like it anyway. Ibid.: 20. Week 5 3 February 2010 GEOG 4280 | Imagining Toronto Copyright © Amy Lavender Harris 13
I realize every office has its share of assholes, but in the newsroom the proportions seemed all out of whack. Most offices, Ive found, break down something like this: 5 percent of the people are cool or allies, 10 percent are assholes; and the other 85 percent are indifferent, neutral. But in the Cosmodemonic crackhouse, it was more like 5 percent cool people; 85 percent assholes; and 10 percent real fucking assholes. David Eddie, Chump Change : 195. Week 5 3 February 2010 GEOG 4280 | Imagining Toronto Copyright © Amy Lavender Harris 14
Week 5 3 February 2010 GEOG 4280 | Imagining Toronto Copyright © Amy Lavender Harris 15 Geographies of Work I: Marxist Perspectives on Labour We inhabit the space-time of capital. (Gidwani & Chari, 2004) In this view, spaces – including literary spaces – are produced and reproduced by the flows and circuits of capitalism. What are the spatial consequences of a system that turns labour into abstract labour? Does space also become abstract? (according to Lefebvre, yes!) How can we play with this ultimately spatial metaphor?
Week 5 3 February 2010 GEOG 4280 | Imagining Toronto Copyright © Amy Lavender Harris 16 Labour, Production, Place Marxist political economy and radical geography Begins with the assertion that space is socially produced, and that socially produced space is a historical (more specifically, economic) phenomenon: materialism. According to Marx, industrial capitalism operates through circuits of capital. Surplus value (profit) is extracted from workers. The logic: material inputs are relatively inflexible (and therefore can produced only a fixed volume of profit) but workers are supremely flexible. Surplus value is also extracted from space: the labour process is also a spatial process. David Harvey describes capital as value in motion – it travels through phases in the circuits of capital, which manifest spatially. As capital travels across space and time, it transforms those spaces and is transformed by them. In this sense, spaces are said to be socially produced.
Week 5 3 February 2010 GEOG 4280 | Imagining Toronto Copyright © Amy Lavender Harris 17 Lefebvre on Spaces of Capital Logico-epistemological space … the space of social practice, the space occupied by sensory phenomena, including products of the imagination such as projects and projections, symbols and utopias. (1973: 11-12) L-E Space is actually subsumed within the forces and relations of production under capitalism: space as traditionally experienced is actually disappearing. Huh?
Week 5 3 February 2010 GEOG 4280 | Imagining Toronto Copyright © Amy Lavender Harris 18 Lefebvres hypotheses about space 1.That physical (natural) space is disappearing and has been reduced to mere background décor and nostalgia 2.That every society (and every mode of production) produces its own space 3.If space is a product, then our knowledge of space reproduces and expounds the process of production – through (1) social practice, (2) representations of space, and (3) representational spaces) 4.Space is historical: the shift from one mode of production to another entails the production of a new space Lefebvre posits that there are three kinds of space: (1) absolute space (historical), (2) abstract space (space under capitalism) and (3) representational space (spaces of difference, naïve but revolutionary).
Week 5 3 February 2010 GEOG 4280 | Imagining Toronto Copyright © Amy Lavender Harris 19 Lefebvre on Social Space Representational space is effectively superceded – even killed off – by industrial capitalism Social space (space under capitalism) is simultaneously exaggerated and reduced to spaces of capital (production and consumption) People, things, and places are replaced, slowly but implacably, by products destined to be exchanged, traded and reproduced ad infinitum … (Lefebvre, p 74)
Week 5 3 February 2010 GEOG 4280 | Imagining Toronto Copyright © Amy Lavender Harris 20 Contemporary (Capitalist Spaces) On modern cities, Lefebvre writes that everything here resembles everything else; he adds that repetition has everywhere defeated uniqueness, that the artificial and contrived have driven all spontaneity and naturalness from the field, and, in short, that products have replaced works. Repetitions spaces are the outcomes of repetitive gestures. Spaces have been reduced to the visual, to spaces of spectacle, to images available to be bought, sold, produced and consumed in an endless cycle
Week 5 3 February 2010 GEOG 4280 | Imagining Toronto Copyright © Amy Lavender Harris 21 Some examples … City form that privileges spaces of production (factories, business districts) and physical structures that ease their flow (transportation networks, roads, airports) Work-space design: the physical organization of work to support mass production (the geography of your work- place) Temporal flows organized around work-leisure. Space-time compression (David Harvey) Mass cities = mass production and mass consumption banalization of space (Guy Debord): space as spectacle Alienation?
Week 5 3 February 2010 GEOG 4280 | Imagining Toronto Copyright © Amy Lavender Harris 22 How does literature respond to capitalism? Literature as a mirror: Passivity, complacency, consumption, spectacle Literature that exposes or conceals class divisions Literature that resists spatial alienation Literature focusing on spatial transgression working class literature Literature as disposable (genre fiction? Bestsellers?) Note that space is far more than a passive industrial setting Note also that the labour process is also a spatial process Again, though, we have the problem of voice: who speaks for whom? Are the voices of the working class merely appropriated by bourgeois writers?
Week 5 3 February 2010 GEOG 4280 | Imagining Toronto Copyright © Amy Lavender Harris 23 Working-class writers seek to portray a pace of activity controlled by machinery, supervisors, or a time clock. They attempt to reproduce the boredom of sameness, of mindless repetition, of humans acting as machinery. Their challenge is to portray a place where individuality is not only not valued, but suppressed. They seek to portray the consequences of living, hour after hour, with such suppression. (Christopher & Whitson, 1999: 73-74)
Week 5 3 February 2010 GEOG 4280 | Imagining Toronto Copyright © Amy Lavender Harris 24 What is working class literature? Working class as: blue-collar wage-earners. Working class literature as being narratives written by working- class people about their class experience.(Christopher & Whitson, 1999) Life at the level of raw survival (ibid): starvation, waiting, oppression, exclusion, and resistance. Distrust of authority. Class identity. Crisis. Challenges of these definitions: Must the categories involve a binary opposition? Are all workers members of the working class? Are all workers class-conscious? What about (the large mass of) bourgeois literature about the working class? Must all working-class literature be heroic or revolutionary? Can workers ever be content, or must the literature explore themes of alienation and oppression? Do workers seek to transcend or celebrate their class position?
Week 5 3 February 2010 GEOG 4280 | Imagining Toronto Copyright © Amy Lavender Harris 25 Geographies of Work II: Phenomenologies of Work There are remarkable similarities between the Marxist critique of capitalism and phenomenological encounters with work and alienation. Much turns on how we define work. Work and alienation: Hegel; Marx; Heidegger; Scott Shershow (the double necessity of work); Hannah Arendt Work as inextricably linked with the project of Being.
Week 5 3 February 2010 GEOG 4280 | Imagining Toronto Copyright © Amy Lavender Harris 26 The Question Concerning Technology Heidegger on the essence of modern technology: that it reduces nature and human beings to standing reserve … ordered to stand by, to be immediately on hand, indeed to stand there just so that it may be on call for a further ordering. (from The Question Concerning Technology) But where Hegels concept of alienation focuses on the collective spirit, and Marxs concept of alienation focuses on labour, Heideggers concept of alienation focuses on being. techne: a bringing-forth, an arising of something out of itself, a revealing, a gathering of essents (things) together Technology, in contrast, is not a bringing-forth but a challenging-forth, in which energy is extracted and stored. Spatial implications: spaces are ordered; movement becomes coerced; nature is trammeled.
Week 5 3 February 2010 GEOG 4280 | Imagining Toronto Copyright © Amy Lavender Harris 27 Spaces of Alienation Heidegger on the homelessness of modern man; our failure to dwell Marx on flexible spaces Lefebvre on the disappearance of representational space Harvey on space-time compression Debord on the banalization of space
Week 5 3 February 2010 GEOG 4280 | Imagining Toronto Copyright © Amy Lavender Harris 28 Sites of Representation: the Labouring City The lived experience of work Centres and peripheries, margins, seams, edges Shifts in urban form, travel, mobility, temporal change, domestic space Spaces of opportunity, belonging, inclusion and exclusion, interiority/exteriority Analyses of race, sex, class: class fictions How does class play out in the citys literature?
Week 5 3 February 2010 GEOG 4280 | Imagining Toronto Copyright © Amy Lavender Harris 29 Work-spaces in Garner The workers vanishing in space: two narratives (how might we extend this analysis to visible and invisible labour in contemporary Toronto?) Resistance as spatial practice How is the city carved up by production? How is it reconstituted? What is included or left out? How do networks of production and consumption flow? What might a map of work in Toronto look like? How would we represent work spatially?
Week 5 3 February 2010 GEOG 4280 | Imagining Toronto Copyright © Amy Lavender Harris 30
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