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Education and Social Research Institute
Manchester Metropolitan University
Conference: Practices and Uses of the Body in Modernity
Instituto de Psicologia
Uniiversidade do Sao Paulo
28 – 30 October 2010
In his books De Sade had a penchant for describing the organisation of orgies in great detail. It was the mass orchestration, the team work, the repetition of single sexual acts that delighted the master libertines. Adam Smith, in the Wealth of Nations enthused over the efficiency of dividing labour into minute repetitive activities that enormously increased output and thus profit to the delight of master capitalists. In the early 1550s a young student lawyer, La Boetie wondered why so many people put themselves under ‘voluntary servitude’. In particular he wanted:
to understand how it happens that so many men, so many villages, so many cities, so many nations, sometimes suffer under a single tyrant who has no other power than the power they give him; who is able to harm them only to the extent to which they have the willingness to bear with him; who could do them absolutely no injury unless they preferred to put up with him rather than contradict him. Surely a striking situation!
It does not take much to make 21st century parallels to La Boeties’ concerns about the voluntary servitude manifested by millions for the pleasure of a Tyrant. Indeed Bernays, the father of modern public relations (Tye 1998), said it well in his book Propaganda:
Ours must be a leadership democracy administered by the intelligent minority who know how to regiment and guide the masses.
(Bernays 1928: 127)
Overt tyranny, in so called democracies, has been replaced by sly manipulation. As de Toqueville noted in his study of the emergence of American democracy, tyranny may yet become its underbelly. The key, for elites, is of course, managing the minds and bodies of the masses. Schooling, working and consuming are three core areas of everyday life where the body is regimented in different ways for political and economic mass organisation and governance under the regulation of the State. It is here that the work of regimentation and manipulation may be explored in terms of the effects on the body, but not just the body considered in physical terms. Sheper-Hughs and Lock (1987) described three bodies of modernity: the individual as the ‘lived experience of the body-self’ , the social ‘referring to the representational uses of the body as a natural symbol with which to think about nature, society, and culture’, and the body politic ‘referring to the regulation, surveillance, and control of bodies (individual and collective) in reproduction and sexuality, in work and in leisure, in sickness and other forms of deviance and human difference’ (Sheper-Hughes and Lock 1987: 7-8). It is a useful first distinction. But it is insufficient for my purposes. It is the centrality of work in the forms of modernity in relation to these three bodies in the mass manipulation, regimentation and choreography over time and space of bodies as school children, as adult employees and as consumers that is the focus for what follows. I want to argue that what we mean by modernity has profound impacts on the practices and uses of ‘bodies’ in the activities of everyday life, and in particular, upon the nature of politics and the democratic development of people.
On the one hand contemporary technologies, subject individual bodies both through work and through consumption, in the imagery of de Sade, to a choreography of desires and fears on a massive scale, a world scale. On the other, modernity in its radical enlightenment mode promises liberty, equality and fraternity through “the use of reason publicly in all matters” (Kant 1784), an anti-choreography as it were to de-construct all unthinking habits, traditional beliefs and systems of taken for granted ‘knowledge’ about what is or is not ‘real’. It is a promise continually subverted through the manipulations of individual bodies by the prevailing social and political bodies.
Bodies, modernity and work
As Mack (2010) has argued, there are two modernities and their trajectories to take into account. Under the one, economically, politically it is the work of division, cutting, splitting, autonomous individuality in the construction of hierarchical Power to carve out private freedoms without equality that is the focus.
In this Cartesian option, as it may be called, division and otherness is internal to the whole. Extending this politically, in contemporary globalised realities, it has been argued that there is no ‘otherness’ that is not internal to modernity (Arditi 2007) and thus it can be argued any attempts at a hoped for fusion or undivided whole can only lead to incessant deferrals, detours and repressions since the essential Cartesian split (between the mind that commands and the body that is managed) must be maintained at all costs. At each split there is a surface that separates a ‘this’ from a ‘that’, a centre from a periphery, an internal from an external, an ‘us’ from a ‘them’ a subject from an other. Each surface is available for the inscription of personal, social, cultural, political, economic, and religious demands, desires, and imagery through which a way of life, a form of social organisation, a relationship to others and Otherness may be embodied. Through the multiple forms of embodiment through which social life is lived individuals manage multiple identities and identifications. Such embodiment, is variously conceived whether it is the civic body, the religious body, the military body, the body of the workforce or the transnational corporates that dominate global markets.
In the other modernity, it is the work of diversity, multitudes, heteronomy and the powers of each individual in association with others in the construction of a public sphere of freedom with equality. Both have their philosophical stimulus from Descartes but the second has its alternative development from Spinoza. Modernism regards religion with suspicion indeed as a distortion of ‘reality’. However, if as it may be argued, philosophy is too difficult or too time consuming for the majority to employ as a way of coming to understand and make sense of experience and the world and if at any rate philosophy cannot encapsulate the complexities of life, then religion as its alternative, with powerful stories and myths to organise everyday practices ‘shapes the life of most people.’ (Mack 2010: 206). There is the ‘noble lie’ of Plato, the progress myth of science and reason, or Badiou (2005) belief that “we have to find a new fiction, to find our final belief in local possibility of finding something generic.” Philosophers too have seen the power and assumed the necessity of a story to tell the masses.
However, through more than stories, the choreographies drive down to the most detailed of behaviours. Mauss (1973) introduced the idea of ‘body techniques’ where according to age and gender different cultural groups use their bodies differently in different social contexts. He described differences in ways of walking, eating, coughing, spitting, throwing, washing indeed any ‘constant adaptation to a physical, mechanical or chemical aim (e.g., when we drink) is pursued in a series of assembled actions, and assembled for the individual not by himself alone but by all his education, by the whole society to which he belongs, in the place he occupies in it.’ (Mauss 1973: 76). Indeed, his own social education of the time is also revealed in the very examples he employs and the textual use of ‘he’ and ‘him’ that derived from his own historically positioned and gendered body techniques and inscription practices:
In all these elements of the art of using the human body, the facts of education were dominant. The notion of education could be superimposed on that of imitation. For there are particular children with very strong intuitive faculties, others with weak ones, but all of them go through the same education, such that we can understand the continuity of the concatenations. What takes place is prestigious imitation. The child, the adult, imitates actions which have succeeded and which he has seen successfully performed by people in whom he has confidence and who have authority over him. The action is imposed from without, from above, even if it is an exclusively biological action, involving his body. The individual borrows the series of movements which constitute it from the action executed in front of him or with him by others.
(Mauss 1973 :73)
And drawing upon the power of imitation and prestige, as the pioneers in creating the public relations industry Bernays (1928) and Lippman (1922) knew, it was through stories, spectacle and the use of celebrities in creating behaviours to be imitated that the mass as consumers and as voters could be governed focusing on their hopes, their desires. As the nephew of Freud, Bernays sought to draw upon psychoanalysis for his choreographies of hopes, desires and fantasies, in developing techniques that have fundamentally influenced the strategies of the public relations industry and political spin doctors to this day (BBC 2002).
However, it is through the organisation of work that elites achieve dominance over the bodies of the masses both in their organisation to get to and from work and in the workplace itself. Contemporary forms of the organisation of mass work are underpinned by concepts of the division of labour, ‘scientific management’, ‘management by objectives’, ‘total quality management’ that seek to strip work down to its measurable elements, fine tuning behaviours and ‘body techniques’ to produce the most efficient, or rather cost effective and profitable, work practices. The myths underlying such forms of work organisation are: that these constitute economic and political progress; that there is no alternative; that the market and its demands enhance freedom, choice and is thus equivalent to democracy; that competition and the survival of the fittest is natural; that, echoing Plato, there is a natural inequality of talents where the most talented form the governing elites; and finally, that greed is the motive for action and can be put to work in the interests of all if the most talented are the most rewarded. Of course underlying the story is another story that recalls La Boetie’s concerns, that of the necessary role of leadership and its forms of hierarchical organisation underpinned by threat and actual violence in securing private property, the accumulation of capital into the hands of the few and the maintenance of social order.
The history of the human cost of capitalist forms of organisation has been described and discussed by Berman (1982), Harvey (2005) and many others. Its contemporary analysis can be seen in the sociological work of people like Reisman (1950), Elliott and Lermert (2009), Lasch (1984) Bauman (2001). And the work of mass schooling has been bent to the formation of the needs of the future work force cynically, albeit accurately summed up by Jackson (1968) in terms of for example, learning how to do meaningless tasks without revolt, how to divide tasks by arbitrary time periods, how to queue and of course how to take instructions. Mass education was created in the UK following the 1868 Reform Act that extended franchise amongst certain of the working classes because, in the words of Robert Lowe, ‘we must now educate our masters”. Mass schooling was to create the conditions for the management of the future electorate. There is a pedagogical apparatus (or dispositif in terms of Foucault as developed by Agamben 2007) – whether schools, universities, the media, churches, or the all pervasive life long learning, workplace learning, and ‘continuous professional development’ - that is directed towards the taming and engineering of bodies to prevent bodies of dissent that are the expression of the political will of the ‘people’ or of groups, or of individuals.
In general, the requirement has been to adjust people to the needs of government, the market place and the social order rather than adjust schools, markets and the institutions of government to the needs and demands of individuals (cf. Schostak 1983). Of course, there are contradictions in modernity. On the one hand, in the early aspirations of its emergence, there are the explicit criteria of freedom, equality and fellowship in the use of reason and the formation of communities and the institutions of politics that offer security, the satisfaction of needs and the conditions for the pursuit of happiness. On the other, there is the terror epitomised in the French Revolution (Robespierre 2007) where thoughts, words and deeds are subjected to the merciless logic that roots out all opposition and impurity. There is also the reduction to the ‘iron cage of reason’ that Weber anticipated would trap people into mundane worlds of routine, surveillance and control. It is a forecast that has had its development in Taylor’s scientific approach to management and the new managerialism in the public sector that has adopted the management practices of private enterprises focusing on measurement and performance indicators. In education too, the ‘work’ of learning and of ‘teaching’ has had its scientific management advocates in for example Gagné (1968) programmed learning and more recently in the school effectiveness movement and David Reynolds’ ‘High Reliability Schools’ (Reynolds ad Stringfield 1996, Reynolds 1996).
Perhaps the most powerful exposition of the impacts of neoliberal forms of work organisation on the embodied self has been from the French psychoanalyst, Christophe Dejours (1998) who has analysed the effects of the permanent state of anxiety wrought by uncertain markets, threats of unemployment, experiences of unemployment and the continual intensification of work demands as Capital seeks ever more profit from exploitation of labour at every level. With an echo of La Boetie, he writes:
What my inquiry on voluntary servitude in neoliberal systems shows, is that the majority of people can be enrolled in the service of a system whose methods they disapprove of profoundly. And it shows – and this is the most striking thing – that mobilisation can be obtained without the use of force.
(Dejours 1998 from Preface p. IX)
What he describes is what he calls the banalisation of evil, drawing upon Hannah Arendt’s (1963) use of the term in her study of Eichmann. How is it, he asks in his books, that ordinary people, people who are considered good, civilised, indeed, the pillars of society, either close their minds to, consent to, or actively collaborate with work practices that harm others, mentally, physically even to the point of suicide?
The military is perhaps the paradigm case of people reduced to being bodies under the command of leaders. It is replicated in the notion of ‘pools of labour’ available for the emergent industries of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century in the UK and the USA. The ‘head’ as symbolic of the mind, is cut, as it were from the body as mere ‘labour’ or as ‘weapon’. In each case there is a pedagogy of obedience, of following orders, of doing the job. In war this involves the systematic organisation of bodies to produce harm to others. Each soldier submerges their individuality into the unified body of the troops, becoming like a single piece to be moved in some strategic play the rationale of which those who compose the body as a single piece have no need to know. The separation of mind and body thus facilitates the reduction of the body to being just an instrument, a tool to be used when whole, repaired when broken or discarded when useless. Slevin (2008) described the impacts of the new technologies of World War 1 on the bodies and minds that created “a mass embodied trauma hitherto unseen, and for which the state was unprepared.” (Slevin 2008: 41).
The methods to deal with this involved what he calls Cartesian surgeries to get the mutilated body back to some recognisably ‘normal’ state, to erase the material impacts of the ‘other’ on the flesh, to restore the ‘container’, the boundary between a recognisable self and the impacts of the other on the body where the “The subject thus lies between the two poles of accepting their body within their own sense of embodiment, or seeing the body as external, a rejected traumatized shell” (Slevin 2008: 54). Slevin illustrates his argument with the work of Gillies, the pioneer of plastic surgery, where layer by layer the wounded body was to be reconfigured back towards a normal appearance, a process of rewriting and ‘unwriting’ the marks of the ‘other’. However, the medical interventions were not a natural part of the body’s healing process, thus
The process of rewriting the skin even created cases in which the body attacked itself. The body’s own immunological agents no longer identified the appropriate cells for regulation or expulsion; the continued interference in the body’s own attempts towards homeostasis was denied in the medical attempt to re-engineer the socially productive body.
(Slevin 2008: 58)
The key term here is the ‘socially productive body’ where the signs, the marks, the traces of the engagement with the realities of warfare are unwritten “, as opposed to the writing of the body normally associated with the exercise of subjectivity over the body. More practically, however, the re-stratification of the body meant that it could be recycled and sent back out to the front, as well as reinserted back into society.” (Sleven 2008: 53)
In war the powers of the body, its regenerative powers, its functionalities, its very materiality is placed at the service of the politics of a particular historical conjuncture where the elites engage the bodies of others to protect or redraw the boundaries of their territories. But outside of war and the military too, the organisation of harm in the pursuit of profit is extensive. Business is often thought of as war by other means. It is organised around competitive struggle for mastery or markets, property, territory in the accumulation of wealth. The strategies an conceptual repertoires of war are thus models for the business world, a world formed around struggle, domination and ownership of territory and the products of people as labour.
However, even at the time of the world wars, the world was changing and there were increasing demands for it to change. Whether it was the emergence of mass industry that required mass markets, or the rise of socialism in the East or the welfare state in Europe there emerged competing stories to those of Empire, Monarchy and Capitalism and thus alternative views as to the body, its uses and practices. How were these to be contained, managed, resisted?
Happiness Machines and the ‘Invisible Government’
As both Bernays and Lippman knew, the early twentieth century was an age of increasing ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’ in mass market economies where consent was to be manufactured (Lippman 1922) or ‘engineered’ (Bernays 1947) rather than commanded, if power was to be maintained in the hands of governing elites. The power and pervasiveness of that manufacture of consent has been explored by Herman and Chomsky (c1988) and the BBC documentary ‘Century of the Self’ (BBC 2002). Indeed, it was recognised by the newly elected President Hoover who in 1928 said (see Century of the Self) to a group of public relations men:
“You have taken over the job of creating desire and have transformed people into constantly moving happiness machines, machines which have become the key to economic progress.”
It was a view echoed by Paul Mazur of Lehman Brothers who worked with Bernays, "We must shift America from a needs to a desires culture. People must be trained to desire, to want things, even before the old have been entirely consumed." Gore (2007 :94) The task in Mazur’s view was to shape a new mentality (BBC 2002). It was a new mentality to be manipulated by what Bernays (1928) called the ‘invisible government’:
The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organised habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.
(Bernays 1928: 27)
Bernays’ invisible government was described by him as involving relatively few in each sphere of life who because of their knowledge and leadership are able to influence many. The argument is that life is so complex in all its different spheres, people consent to a process of sifting, a narrowing of choices so that they can cope. He contrasts what should happen in theory with what happens in practice.
Instead of citizens voting for whoever they want and there being hundreds of candidates, ‘Invisible government, in the shape of rudimentary political parties, arose almost over night. Ever since then we have agreed, for the sake of simplicity and practicality, that party machines should narrow down the field of choice to two candidates, or at most three or four.’ (Bernays 1928: 38) He goes on to argue that in theory people ‘make up their mind on public questions’ but in practice ‘we have voluntarily agreed to let an invisible government sift the data and high-spot the outstanding issue’ and from ‘leaders and the media they use to reach the public, we accept the evidence and demarcation of issues’. In each sphere of life, he argues, there is a similar pattern of the reduction of complexity, the reduction of choices, the shaping of opinion and behaviour by the ‘invisible government’. Effectively, the role of the public relations professional was to create the conditions under which people employed the beliefs, opinions and behaviours of the ‘invisible government’ as if they were their own.
At this point I want to call attention to a parallel with Arendt’s description of the behaviour of Eichman:
In the setting of Isreali court and prison procedures he functioned as well as he had functioned under the Nazi regime but, when confronted with situations for which such routine procedures did not exist, he was helpless, and his cliché-ridden language produced on the stand, as it had evidently done in his official life, a kind of macabre comedy. Clichés, stock phrases, adherence to conventional, standardised codes of expression and conduct have the socially recognised function of protecting us against reality, that is, against the claim on our thinking attention that all events and facts make by virtue of their existence. If we were responsive to this claim all the time, we would soon be exhausted; Eichmann differed from the rest of us only in that he clearly knew of no such claim at all.
If the role of the ‘invisible government’ is to reduce, shape or indeed extinguish ‘thinking’, and if it takes the place of ‘society’ and of ‘state’ institutions, choreographing individual, social, political and economic bodies to produce the ‘good life’, then what could disturb this?
Enemies, Anxiety and Hollow Worlds
Although the emergent market of the post World Wars new world order – or world system as Wallerstein calls it (2003) - promoted the pursuit of happiness it also depended upon creating the underlying anxieties required to stimulate ever more purchases in the impossible achievement of a state of ‘happiness’. It was a point underlined by the CBS news journalist Eric Sevareid (1964) “The biggest big business in America is not steel, automobiles, or television. It is the manufacture, refinement and distribution of anxiety.” Anxiety and desire drove consumption in the market place. But the body of the world system on the global political stage was always under threat. Its enemies promoted an alternative world system, an alternative assemblage of body techniques and practices for the achievement of an alternative concept of happiness in the form of ‘socialism’ or ‘communism’.
Indeed, the key political philosophers and economists now associated with neoliberalism saw socialism in all its forms as the threat, the ‘road to serfdom’ as Hayek called it. Any strategy that increased the role of government in economics such as welfare economics was to be resisted. Alongside this, the liberal political theorists Carl Schmitt (1996) and Leo Strauss (1988), both defined the political in relation to a friend-foe axis. Without enemies, there could be no politics. Defining the enemy defines an ‘us’ against ‘them’ positioning and binding a ‘people’ into one or the other categories as a collectively organised body usable for political purposes. The students of Strauss as did the students of Hayek and Friedman became intimately associated with government, and with transnational corporations, financial institutions and transnational organisations such as the IMF and World Bank (Norton 2004, Harvey 2005, Klein 2007). In short, they set about dominating the key hegemonic institutions of the world order. From the 1980s their dominance in the UK and the USA was underscored by the political governments of Thatcher and Regan. In each case the policy was to de-regulate markets and reduce the dominance of the state. In terms of globalisation, in terms of the claimed victory of capitalism over communism following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the gradual marketisation of China there was no longer anything external to market capitalism. The global outcome was, as Harvey (2003) calls it, accumulation by dispossession, a process that involves
the commodification and privatization of land and the forceful expulsion of peasant populations (as in Mexico and India in recent times); conversion of various forms of property rights (e.g. common, collective, state) into exclusive private property rights; suppression of rights to the commons; commodification of labour power and the suppression of alternative (indigenous) forms of production and consumption; colonial, neocolonial and imperial processes of appropriation of assets (including natural resources); monetization of exchange and taxation, particularly of land; the slavetrade (which continues particularly in the sex industry); and usury, the national debt and, most devastating of all, the use of the credit system as a radical means of primitive accumulation.
With the rise to dominance of neoliberal market philosophy and the globalisation of deregulated financial markets the effect was to hollow out the key structures, processes and day to day practices through which people construct community, society and public space. In terms of the impact of capitalism on traditional values, certainties and ways of life, the sense was captured early on in the words of the communist manifesto (Marx and Engels 1848): ‘All that is solid melts into air’. Berman (1982) chose this as the title for his book recounting the history of the market forces of modernity in endless pursuit of profit. The image of solidities melting has been taken up by the sociologist Bauman (e.g., 2000) in a series of books exploring the impacts on individuals in their everyday lives. As all assets can be liquefied and reconfigured, all identities melt towards what Lasch (1984) has called a minimal self and Elliott and Lemert (2009) see as the ‘new individualism’ appropriate for the rapid pace of change associated with late modernism or indeed, postmodernity. As a Baudrillard style world of simulations, copies without originals what was once solid has not so much melted as been hollowed out and replaced by representations, or perhaps spectres that haunt the physical, social, political bodies. The consequences on bodies, however, are real and devastating.
In particular, the attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Centre on September 11th, 2001 might not have happened without the conditions created by outsourcing to private business and the downsizing of government. In the aftermath what was demanded by a fearful population was strong government. Or at least, its appearance. What it got was the outsourcing of security to private business under the Department of Homeland Security newly created by Bush’s administration and the War on Terror.As described by Klein in the USA (2007):
The first major victory of the Friedmanite counterrevolution in the United States had been Ronald Regan’s attack on the air traffic controllers’ union and his deregulation of the airlines. Twenty years later, the entire air transit system had been privatised, deregulated and downsized, with the vast majority of airport security work performed by underpaid, poorly trained, non-union contractors.
(Klein 2007: 296)
The War on Terror announced by Bush meant that this was ‘not a flash-in-the-pan war that could potentially be won but a new and permanent fixture in the global economic architecture.’ (Klein 2007: 301) It has resulted in a boom of surveillance technologies from cctv on the streets, to internet snooping, to mobile phone tracking, to biometric IDs and increased border controls. It is as if Orwell’s 1984, Hobbes’s Leviathan, and Foucault’s exploration of power through the image of Bentham’s panoptican prison design were all rolled into one. In the newly emerged global world of finance, communication and travel without borders if there are enemies to the body of the emergent world system they can only be within.
Indeed, in 2005 Charles Murray who has long written about what he termed the dangers of the ‘underclass’ (1990, 2000) who can no longer be exported outside the system, wrote an open letter in The Sunday Times to the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair advocating what he called ‘custodial democracy’. This meant that, if the support structures of ‘society’ are to be hollowed out or denied existence as in Margaret Thatcher’s famous assertion that ‘there is no such thing as society’, then the ‘underclass’ would have to be contained in particular areas through policing. However, custodial democracy seems a fair description more generally of the effects of increasing security measures, surveillance, and demands for immigration curbs following the War on Terror and the recent impacts of the world financial crisis that have led to massive cuts in public expenditure with consequent high levels of unemployment and anxiety for the future.
How and why is it that people consent or at least, do nothing?
Pedagogies for ‘Hollowing Out’
It is a question that brings us back to the concerns raised by Hannah Arendt’s study of Eichman. Studies such as Migram’s (1974) – with a repeat experiment by Jerry Burger (2009) - on obedience have shown the extent to which ordinary people are willing to go, even to the point of delivering a lethal voltage of electricity as punishment in a ‘learning experiment’, simply because it is part of the instructions given by someone in authority. The school experiment by a teacher Ron Jones now filmed as The Wave released in 2008, similarly showed the extent to which ordinary children could adopt the roles, behaviours and attitudes reminiscent of the Nazis:
He instituted a regimen of strict discipline in his class, restricting their freedom and forming them into a unit. The name of the movement was The Third Wave. Much to the teacher's astonishment, the students reacted enthusiastically to the obedience he demanded of them. The experiment, which was originally intended to last only a day, soon spread to the whole school. Dissenters were ostracized, members began spying on each other, and students who refused to join were beaten up on. By day five, Ron Jones was forced to call off the experiment.
Harber (2004) describes in great detail how schooling around the world can
be used to create and maintain the conditions for violence and of course, for
the obedience that is necessary for discipline and the ‘regimenting of
Pedagogies drive the necessary ideas and practices down to the individual in the minutiae of everyday life. How people are treated at school – both formally and informally, overtly and covertly - generates the conditions for the body techniques described by Mauss that construct not only who they are but the social and political bodies of their everyday lives.
Whether it is the philosopher John Locke advocating strict toilet training as a way of subjecting the body to the mind or the demands of traditionalists and authoritarians whether religious or not for the strict discipline of children, mainstream mass schooling has been historically constructed to reflect the social and age divisions and roles of society. Perhaps no one has put behavioural modification into practice with such rigour in the early years of child rearing than Schreber the influential educationist father of Judge Schreber whose memoirs describing his mental illness were famously analysed by Freud. What is interesting here is not so much Judge Schreber and his various breakdowns, nor the suicide of his brother or the impacts on his sisters but the child rearing practices employed by his father described in Morton Schatzman’s (1973) book called ‘Soul Murder’ (see also, Niederland 1960, Miller 1998). The techniques included instruments to control head and eye movements and posture. There were strict rules governing eating and toilet training. There were exercise regimes and strict oversight of general behaviour. Schreber was at the time a very influential educationist in Germany as well as public schools across Europe. Schatzman of course reminded his readers that the generation most influenced by this was Hitler’s own generation.
A particular method of Schreber’s was to make a note on a board whenever the child did not do as required – incidently, a technique recently advocated by Bill Rogers (1990) who has been an influential advocate of rational rule based forms of discipline. The son, Judge Schreber later in his memoirs of his mental illnesses referred to the ‘writing down system’ that noted all aspects of his life a process that has taken on a new power and generality through the use of information technologies in all aspects of people’s lives. Pedagogical practices, whether it is teaching people what to buy, how to look, how to walk, how to conduct meetings, how to manage, how to be a leader and how to be a good citizen are essential to maintaining social order without the need for more explicit forms of force. Following the years of school, work becomes the focus for pedagogical practices whether in terms of ‘life long learning’ or the more subtle processes of socialisation and learning to fit with the cultures and practices of organisations and their various kinds of work places.
Under neoliberal practices, work has become the focus of the struggle to contain, control and exploit the powers of the body and mind by reducing work to ever smaller, narrowly defined, behaviourally measurable and controllable subunits. Work is not owned by the worker. Rather the worker is paid only for his or her time in the completion of particular roles and functions. As such the worker is a fully replacable unit in the production of a good or service. The effect of this as Dejours writes (2003) is to create a sense of insecurity. Drawing upon Arendt’s exploration of the ‘banality of evil’ in the context of nazi Germany, Dejours (1998) writes of the banality of social injustice in the context of neoliberal managerial practices to render work precarious and workers anxious and compliant. In France, he placed the critical turning point to the Mitterrand period (1981-1995) as a return of the left but with an economic rationale ‘that placed economic reason before political reason’ (p. 28) and led to the introduction of new methods of management and a questioning of the right to work and the right to benefits In the UK it was the Thatcher government of the 1980s along with Regan in the USA. To be a good manager in this context is to be someone who can ‘take hard decisions’ involving ‘downsizing’, ‘outsourcing’, making people redundant, stripping away their benefits. Being able to take such ‘hard decisions’ is, he suggests, a matter of virility as distinct from courage. Virility, he says, is a kind of ‘alchemy’ where vice is transmuted into virtue. Virility is required to carry out the ‘dirty work’ consisting of sacking, making people redundant, disciplining, cutting costs and outsourcing to contractors who in turn pay minimum or below minimum wages to highly vulnerable people – in some cases, illegal immigrants - in the interests of increasing profit margins (Dejours : 113-121).
These new methods are accompanied not only by lay-offs, but a brutality in working relations generating a lot of suffering. Certainly, it is denounced. But the denunciation remains completely without political consequences because without any concomitant collective mobilisation.
(Dejours 1998: 28)
In the reduction of work to individual performance where each individual is set against the other in a competitive, uncertain environment, the practices necessary for collective mobilisation are eroded. Dejours argues that rather than the experience of ‘real’ work, there is ‘prescribed’ work. In the real dimensions of everyday work there are ‘unexpected events, breakdowns, incidents, anomalies, organisational incoherence, and the unforeseen coming from the materials, the tools, the machinery as well as from other workers, from colleagues, bosses, subordinates, from the team, the hierarchy and even from the clients.’ (Dejours 2003: 13). The real experience of work differs markedly from the specified organisation and practices involved in work that have been planned and measured by management experts. In order to achieve quality work, workers have to take short cuts and apply the ‘tricks of the trade’. That is, they have to fill in the gaps between the planned and the realities. This is why a ‘work to rule’ is a trade union threat against employers. Working to rule means that the work will not get done, or if it is, it will not be done properly. Dejours provides many examples of the gap between the real and the ‘tick box’ systems of management. In particular, he provides examples of an engineer in a nuclear power station and another working for a railway company, where doing as management prescribes meant placing others in danger. Alerting people to the danger is considered disobedience and is punished. In the case of the railway engineer colleagues eventually refused to speak to him and “at his place of work, from the top of a stair well, he threw himself into the void … from over the top of the barriers. He was hospitalised for multiple fractures, depression, confusion and suicidal tendencies.” Dejours goes on to say “Contrary to what one might believe, situations like this are not exceptional in work, even if their way out is less spectacular.” (p. 39)
It is the combination or better, the over-determination of pedagogical mechanisms and practices homing in on individuals from the key institutions of public and private life that create the conditions for accepting, resigning oneself to, or being indifferent to the suffering of others in the interests of ‘the economy’. It seems there is little or no room for resistance and political change. What can be done?
Heroic Re-Inscriptions and Emancipatory Practices
What does it take to challenge the practices through which individual, social and political bodies are managed? As La Boetie wrote back in 1552, if each person refuses to obey the larger than life tyrant, the colossus collapses. But it is never as simple as that.
It is the difficulty of employing what Arendt calls ‘thinking’ that is critical to the process of emancipation from the propagandist’s manufacture of consent and the neoliberal practices of hollowing out the nature of ‘individuality’, ‘work’, ‘society’ and ‘politics’. Thinking, in the sense that she intends, involves a challenge to the routines, the sequences of body techniques composing work practices and the language used to justify them. In short, thinking demands an ‘unwriting’ as a precondition for a new writing. The writing goes deep and is intimate. It starts at the most vulnerable, the skin, as the:
site of encounter between enfleshed self and society. The skin is where the self involutes into the world and the world into the self. Skin is a marked surface inscribed with texts of race, gender, sexuality, class and age before it is marked by ink. These corporeal expressions exist beyond the choice of the individual to define them. They are inscriptions created by historical and social consensus, while tattoos are usually formed through individual or small peer group consensus. Race and gender place the body within a hierarchical system before the subject can reflect on her or his capacity to represent the relationship of race and gender to self. The tattoo is an addition to the surface rather than a plane of signification into which we are born. Theoretically, tattooing is available to most genders, races and cultures. The tattoo has signified liberation (through choice), commodification (as fashion) and terrorization (in the Holocaust). It suggests individuality and belonging (subcultural, tribal, but also through the forced homogenization of tattooed people by non-tattooed culture). The surface the tattoo creates complicates the already complex sense of immediacy between the internalization of social discourse (from institutionalized discourse, such as the prison, to gendering) and the externalization of self as an enacting entity in the world.
(MacCormack 2006: 59)
The unwriting and thus the re-inscriptions necessary for alternative practice to create the conditions for alternative individual, social and political bodies, must go deep. Different methodological approaches have in various ways challenged the ‘flagging’ of class, gender, sexual orientation, age, mental and physical abilities, ethnicity and race deep within the bodies of social institutions and the organisations of work practices. However, the unwriting must go deeper still.
Fielding and Moss (2010) have drawn upon the Gramscian concept of prefigurative practices (see also Boggs 1976) as a way of beginning the realisation of future desired social forms of organisation and hence the ‘good society’. What practices, are required that would have to be used to bring about the kinds of radical democratic society prefigured in the writings of people like Laclau and Mouff (1985), Laclau (1996, 2005), Mouffe (1993, 2005), Balibar (1998) Butler, Laclau and Zizek (2000) Arditi (2007) and others. For Mouffe (1993) democracy is an unfinished and unfinishable revolution where democratic practices as a basis for a politics that grounds social justice must be driven down to the face-to-face practices of everyday social organisation. It is a view well expressed by Fraser (2007):
justice requires social arrangements that permit all members to participate in social interaction on a par with one another. So that means they must be able to participate as peers in all the major forms of social interaction: whether it's politics, whether it's the labour market, whether it's family life and so on.
Balibar’s (1994) neologism ‘égaliberté’ – that is, the joining of égalité and liberté as indivisible - is the key term in such a concept of social justice. In all day to day event, in all organisations and institutions, the task is to create the body practices, the techniques, the principles of mutual organisation that enable people to associate freely and equally with each other. Such practices, it seems to me, must refocus on the powers of the body and how these are expressed through all the forms of work by which people engage with each other to transform the world about. In particular, it is about undoing the work of regimentation, manipulation and disappropriation by those who compose what Bernays called the ‘invisible government’.
Arendt (1998) made a useful distinction between labour, work and action that may help. Labour involves the use of the body in getting what is required to satisfy basic biological needs. Work involves projects to make things and to transform the environment as in building and making tools. Work also generates a public space in which things can be bought and sold, a market place. Action is essentially political activity. It results from people speaking to each other, discussing, arguing, persuading, making decisions and generating courses of action. It is the space where individuality, identity, reputation and community is generated. although each are necessary for human life, Arendt saw these three realms as separate and hierarchical with labour at the bottom and action at the top. Dejours adopted this tripartite division but argued that the realm of action cannot exist separately from work:
contrary to what the philosophical tradition and the theory of action put forward, work does not only concern technè. Work, to the extent that it implies the voluntary cooperation of agents, also summons those who work to invest in the construction of rules that do not only play a role in relation to work but also in living-together. Work is not only about carrying out an activity, it is also about establishing relations with others. Thus poïésis [making/producing - JFS] sometimes calls phronésis [action – JFS] to the theatre of work.
(Dejours 1998: 205-6)
Work generates the conditions for cooperation, the promotion of voice in providing points of view and arguments about what should be done, how it should be done and for what purposes. It is thus an experience of living together that also provides the conditions for different forms of political organisation where each individual is dependant upon the other for the overall production of a communally valued good or service. In this sense it echo’s Balibar’s criterion of freedom with equality that is a direct negation of the neoliberal promotion of freedom without equality to produce elite led ‘meritocracies’ in all forms of social organsiation. In a Spinozan sense, the powers of one individual in relation to others in the undertaking of work are in relative terms quite slight. Some will be stronger, some will be quicker but not by so much that one individual could dominate all the others by physical strength or intelligence alone. It is only when people form associations, aggregating their powers, as it were, that a gang, say can come to impose its common will on others who are not associated with the gang. In such a way corporations in the market place and institutions of government are aggregations of the powers of individuals that act back upon individuals because it is no longer a power in their individual control. As a legal ‘person’ a privately owned corporation acts as an individual able to possess property and engage in decision making just as can any other individual. However, the corporation is a giant dominating the public sphere of the market place, and the political and juridical domains in ways that a single individual cannot. There is thus an experienced sense of powerlessness in the face of the powerful corporations and institutions of government run by elites. Work in the widest sense, the sense described by Dejours, has the potential to undermine the private domains of the market and the closed spaces of government and reappropriate them for a democratic organisation of public space and action (see also, Schostak and Schostak 2008, 2010). As argued above, the body techniques that compose freedom with equality have largely been overwritten with the techniques of struggle, domination and control. The counter steps required to prefigure the building of associations and new forms of social organsiation upon the principle of freedom with equality are quite small and not hard to do. It could be the shake of the head in saying no to unreasonable orders, or a handshake in saying let’s do this together, or a simple invitation to give a viewpoint. But in each case, it is about giving full and equal weight to the views, the demands, the concerns, the feelings of others in building co-operative spaces for working together in all the institutions of life at home, at school, at work, at play.
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