In this week's New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert wonders why we all feel so busy. Twentieth-century economists like John Maynard Keynes believed the problem of the future would be that people would have too much leisure time. Instead, the wealthiest among us claim to have the least leisure time and consumers keep finding new goods that they need to work longer hours in order to buy. Meanwhile, unemployment continues to vex most economies.
Two recent books from Duke University Press add to this discussion about time and leisure. Sarah Sharma builds on the work of Marxist critics of speed and time who have argued that the capitalist tools of clocks and schedules is central to the history of capital and social control. Her book In the Meantime: Temporality and Cultural Politics looks past the macro world and into the ways individuals experience time in their lives, bodies, and the spaces they inhabit. She compares business travelers, taxi drivers, and yoga instructors and finds it's not as simple as you'd think to say who feels the most disrupted by our sped-up temporal culture. Sharma also deliniates goals for challenging the culture: "While advertisers and capitalists are quick to portray a world speeding up, the work of the critical Left is not to confirm this world and simply flip it on its head, merely exposingt it as corporate, capitalistic, dehumanizing, and antidemocratic. Instead, the goal of critical thought is to rescue the politics of time from domination by structures of power." Listen to an interview with Sarah Sharma here and read the introduction to In the Meantime here.
In her book The Problem with Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, and Postwork Imaginaries, Kathi Weeks argues we should be asking why it is accepted that we must work to live and live to work. Why, she wonders, is there not more resistance to this idea? She looks at so-called utopian demands for a shorter work week or a guaranteed universal income, and argues that these reforms would actually be a sensible way to address the issues of unemployement and overwork. A universal living wage would, she says, "not only to improve the conditions of work but challenge the terms of its dominance. These demands do not affirm our right to work so much as help us to secure some measure of freedom from it." Watch an interview with Kathi Weeks here and read the introduction to The Problem with Work here.
Take a break from your own work to read these great books on time and labor!