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The Laborer as Automaton

Arkwright's Cotton Mills by Night, 1782 - Joseph Wright of Derby

Arkwright’s Cotton Mills by Night, 1782 – Joseph Wright of Derby

When I was a research assistant for Professor Allan P. Isaac at Rutgers University, I once transcribed an interview between him and a Filipino call center agent who described how work at a call center in the Philippines for American companies fractured the structure of their days and nights.  At night in the call center, they were expected to work tirelessly and meet a 300 second average handling time for each call, knowing that any missteps could lead to their termination and replacement.  Their lives at home during the day were also impacted by the change in sleep routine and their families had to live around their schedule, moving quietly around their homes and interacting minimally.

Above is Arkwright’s Cotton Mills by Night by Joseph Wright of Derby, described at the beginning of chapter three in Jonathan Crary’s 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep.  The author describes the “reconceptualization of the relation between work and time” and the normalization of continuous labor that is made possible through advances in technology throughout the century and across the globe (Crary 62).  I found his use of Marx’s observation that the “first requirement of capitalism… was the dissolution of the relation to the earth” a familiar process in Professor Isaac’s research on call centers and the “disconnection from family, community, environment” due to the organization of labor a familiar sacrifice for both OFWs and the call center agent who must navigate global time and national time (Crary 63).

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