(1) What does the title of your book, ‘Non-Stop Inertia’, refer to?
It represents a perpetual sort of crisis that people seem to be in, in everyday life. There’s this sense of always having to look for the next thing, having to sort everything out – this sort of endless circulating, networking, competing, and always passing through somewhere on the way to somewhere else. It’s sort of a vicious circle. But this is presented as ‘how it is’ or a self-imposed situation – that’s quite important, I think.
The title draws attention to the contradiction in that – in that we’re in a loop of anxiety and we’re not really getting anywhere. There’s a sort of frenetic activity and we’re not really achieving
anything at all. And there’s this sense of freedom all the time, but is it really freedom? Has this sort of mobility and availability and stuff – has it actually made us free in the way that we’re told that it has?
And I suppose I’m thinking as well, in the title, that there’s the implication that if we were to stop in some way, we could see the scenery clearly and see each other clearly, and that the scenery wouldn’t be blurred. We might be able to see an exit, or a way of improving things.
(3) Why have people accepted a society of non-stop inertia? Why aren’t they resisting it?
It’s clear that certain factors have been put together to stop people resisting it. You sort of feel helpless, that you can’t resist, that you have to go along, that you have to go with the flow. There’s a lot behind that. As an individual – in the face of the dismantling of unions, insecurity, the wage gap, etc. – you’ve got few resources to draw on. I think that all contributes to it. Now, obviously, with mobile devices and stuff like that people are encouraged to exist in their own little bubble and connections are very difficult to establish. But that push towards individualisation and insecurity has a lot to do with it.
(6) There’s also a psychological dimension to the term ‘precarity’ as well, isn’t there? In the book you say that it describes a fear of losing one’s job (because one needs the money from it) and a simultaneous desire to see one’s job end (because one’s job is boring).
Yes. Again, going back to what I was saying before about why resistance is difficult: You need the job to carry on and you also don’t want it to carry on. It’s having to carry that sort of contradiction around in your head in whatever tasks you’re doing at work. There’s that fear and all other stuff as well – like housing, the welfare system, etc. – which feeds into that fear. Yes, definitely, there’s a psychological element going on there.
(10) Another theoretical term you discuss in your exploration of the contemporary workplace is ‘emotional labour’. Could you explain what this is?
It’s an idea that Arlie Russell Hochschild was exploring in the 1970s. She introduced this phrase relating to the work involved in producing the product of yourself as a commodity – the smile and the appearance of customer service and all that sort of stuff. Also involved in emotional labour is the working up of a sort of synthetic enthusiasm for something, such as a product, which feeds into sales and jobs like that.
In the book, I look at how the term is applicable now, and, as with precarity, I think it seems to have spread a lot. In one sense there’s what I call remote emotional labour, which is virtual media work, advertising, marketing, etc., and call centres. I’m also thinking about – again from a personal point of view – how Hochschild’s traditional ideas of emotional labour – of selling yourself and of selling an experience to the customer – could be extended to the “jobseeker” and worker as well. You’re selling yourself to your manager and your boss through a performance of enthusiasm and immersion in whatever tasks you’re doing – looking as if you’re giving 110% and all that crap. That applies whether you’re in immaterial labour or in what would be old-fashioned manual labour: in a warehouse or something. It’s still there. It’s still a background to it – this sense that you have to appear to not just be doing what you’re paid for, but enjoying it and feeling that it’s the right thing for you.
As Hochschild also mentions, the effects of selling yourself starts to affect yourself and your identity. The commodified self starts to re-shape the real self. You come to believe your cover story, so to speak. Again, going back to what I was saying earlier about resistance – having to sell yourself has a huge impact on people, especially when you add a sense of self-failure and self-blame onto it, which helps people get into the part that they are playing.