WORKSHOP SERIES – Precarity: Poetic and Aesthetic Explorations – Workshop 3: 11 March 2022

Online Rolling Series of Workshops Convened by: Louiza Odysseos, University of Sussex & Ritu Vij, University of Aberdeen

Workshops will last approx. FOUR hours and will take place on Zoom (links TBC). Please email the co-organisers at and to be added to the list for zoom link circulation.


These workshops offer critical-reconstructive avenues into thinking about precarity, disposability and fungibility. Contributors aim to pluralise and re-orient scholarly and activist analyses into realities, categories and analytics of ‘precarity’ and ‘precarisation’ – the always-differential governing of populations through precarity – away from conventional labourist and governancecentric approaches that centre the loss or re-inscription of sovereignty (of state, self, and capital) as their primary object(s) of inquiry. Conventional analyses re-establish being-in-secure-work as normative, whilst failing to consider the post/colonial and slavery specificities of historical and ongoing disposability and fungibility, which unwittingly erases diverse global experiences of permanent insecurity, obscuring the historical geopolitical and subjective conditions of enslavement and colonialism that enabled Euro-American conditions of work/er security through regimes of extraction, land expropriation and native genocide. Drawing on poetic and aesthetic archives and methods produced in the midst of being epistemically known and ontologically constituted as precarious life, they engage wide-ranging artistic production and practices of sociality that rupture precarity’s grammar of representations. Working in co-production with artists and communities, contributors take precarity/disposability/fungibility as generative sites for reimagining life, politics and resistance and recuperating the psychic-social lives of non/postliberal subjects beyond normative sovereignty of self, state and capital.


Chair: Louiza Odysseos | Discussant: Ritu Vij
Newcastle, NSW, Australia: 00.00 12th March
Hyderabad/Delhi, India: 18.30
Germany: 14.00
UK Time: 13.00
Rio de Janeiro/Minas Gerais/ Bahia, Brazil: 10.00
Florida/New York/Maine/Ontario: 08.00
Illinois: 07.00
Hawaii: 03.00


1 AbdouMaliq Simone, The Urban Institute, University of Sheffield

Dirty Computing: Propositions from precarity

In Janelle Monae’s opening cut, “Dirty Computers”, of the album similarly titled, reference is made to black queer life being the equivalent of a dirty computer whose processor must be wiped out, cleaned, not so much of particular data and files but of the specific way in which calculations, computing, and processing is actually conducted. The dispositions of such processing may indeed be hard to handle, but what is more dangerous is their capacity to generate outcomes that normative regimes of sense-making and sense-enforcement cannot readily anticipate; that they surface propositions for the world that appear to come from the world in ways that disrupt the ability to know in advance just exactly what that world comprises of. This is why Monae talks about being subjected to, made a subject from the erasure of processing, to be reduced to a body that does not compute. Seelampur, a vast working class district on the near-eastern shores of the Yamuna River in Delhi, is the place where dirty computers go to die, to be cannibalized for their parts, where wires are stripped, melted; screens are converted, mother boards are resoldered— where the individual unit is stripped of recognition. This is an extremely dirty job performed by a dirty people, a common appellation for Muslims. Here the body of the machine is what generates value—its neodymium, gallium, lutetium, tantalum, rutherfordium, and zirconium, its plastics and alloys. Workspaces are replete with toxic dust, child labor, rough words, long hours, and dirty cops. Within the popular imagination this is a business that epitomizes environmental and human catastrophe, yet it persists unabated in part because it generates enormous profits for the big brokers and end-use corporations, but also in part because it generates a wide range of consumables otherwise unaffordable for poor and working class residents. Rather than being completely captured by predatory supply chains that access important raw materials for cheap prices, the process of dismantling, recycling, and remaking acquire their own vast networks of complementarity that utilize apparently disadvantageous positions to grow their own “popular economies”. These entail specific calculations for diverting materials into intricately distributed chains of manufacturing specialization that support their own markets, conduits of distribution, and retailing systems. Very little of these arrangements are found on paper. Relationships among bulk suppliers, sifters, burners, truckers, welders, manufacturers, brokers, buyers, and marketers may be governed by long-standing norms and implicit regulations, but each position is always being re-calibrated in relationship to each other, recomputed in terms of the prevailing local and international trends, demands, regulatory changes, and political alliances. This is dirty computing where different components all offer specific propositions for the world that enjoins them, is not simply the recipient or enactment of a stalwart or imposed logic of relations, but an active agential force in the stretching and contraction, intensity and extensiveness of the shifting interfaces that lend distinction among these components. Here computation is a process of different kinds of actors—human and non-human “feeling out” each other (Hayles 2017). As Massumi (2017) suggests, each occasion of sensing, of apprehension always proposes for the world a surplus of patterned potential, a surplus of sensibility, a way of taking the combinations of the past and finding within them the potential of the recombinant—for sociality is always a matter of recomposing, recombining. This is why the dirty operations in Seelampur manage to persist through albeit half-hearted attempts to shut them down, or at least curtail them to strictly monitored regulatory frameworks. For all kinds of propositions are unpredictably “taken up” within the circuit of exchanges that occur among the competencies, impulses, histories, and materials that make up this trade. These propositions are not so much generated to represent what is really going on, or to make determinate judgments in a crowded field of representational possibility, the best or most definitive rendering of what is taking place. Rather, as Whitehead (1967) considered propositions, they are a form of definitiveness for actualities yet to be formed whose value is based on the correspondence between what is experienced as physically actual and what conceptually felt as possible. This is a matter of exploring with people ways in which the conditions they aspire to, struggle for are already evident, operative in what it is they do. In longterm engagements with a wide range of “precarious” urban districts in South and Southeast Asia, practices of proposition-making have increasingly come to the fore; something that residents do with each other across an array of pubic spaces. Propositions that might appear outlandish, infeasible, but valued for their prospects of bringing new improbabilities into the world. “The love you are looking for is four blocks away, ring the bell, ask for Rudi, and he will give you the key to the heart you have been looking for, if not, come back here at 6, we will have a snack, and go see my sister about the job;“ Such propositions may mostly be responded to with indifference or fleeting curiosity, yet, now and then, are taken up as a means for generating surprising connections between things or scenarios that are not supposed to go together, or for accounts of events that might be taking place but exist beyond the known conventions of verification. Propositions are not simply rhetorically issued, but also take the form of extended tongues, various hand gestures, stylized ways of walking, thrust hips, kicked feet, exaggerated vocalizations of satisfaction or disgust, an entire panoply of glossarial and haptics that instigate an interruption of flow, that punctuate the attentional field. Who knows what all of these propositions do? What kind of computation could render them deliverable as plausible explanations or causal effects? If everyone were to be tallying the results, evidence of failure would be everywhere, but few seem to care. The contribution will explore these questions as a confluence of logistics and aesthetics that attempt to mobilize the increasing uncertainties urban residents face across varying situation of precarity.


2 Swastee Ranjan, University of Exeter

Aesthetics and Poetics of Law: Creating Precarity through Ordering the Urban Form

Law plays a crucial role in mandating the form of the city. It intervenes in the planning, management and controlling of the urban environment. Yet the scholarship surrounding the relationship between law and the city, broadly has focussed on its relation to planning, property and land law. In this paper, I examine the aesthetics of law as it comes together to dictate the urban form. I argue that the aesthetics of law, discloses not merely the urban form but also create conditions of precarity by rendering and obfuscating the role of affective-materiality. Understanding aesthetics as affective which includes not only judgment of taste but also affective sensorial experiences of living in the city, I will discuss how law mobilises the materiality of the city to create conditions of precarity. I will especially locate this paper in the context of urban legal environment of New Delhi and draw on recent scholarship of speculative realism, new materialism and affect theory to illustrate that law’s aesthetics and poetics are crucial sites of instituting sites of precarity, vulnerability and dispossession.


3 Nancy E. Wright, Pace University

Precarity in Creative Works: A Comparison of Fiction and Poetry of Experience and Imagination

Precarity is most real for those who experience it. Yet, depictions of precarity in fiction and poetry by those who have not experienced it can evoke empathy that drives change. This paper examines precarity in novels and poems written between 1918 and the present. Some are written at different times than the events causing the precarity, but depict the vulnerability and resilience of their characters in ways that universalize their struggle. Others offer through their creativity firsthand accounts by those who have and continue to experience precarity. Subjects addressed include the 1918 influenza pandemic, the bombing of Malta during World War II, repercussions of globalization, nuclear testing, and climate change in Oceania, and COVID-19 worldwide. Questions examined through this representative sample are: how do images of precarity depicted in literature by those who experience and write about it during its occurrence differ from those written by authors in entirely different time periods about a precarity they have not experienced? And, what are the tradeoffs between the greater visibility of works by authors who write about a precarity they do not experience, and those who can speak of precarity from experience but lack the visibility for their stories to be heard?


4 Eva Hilberg, University of Sheffield

Poetry and the assets of precarity: Understanding aesthetic politics as a quest for intensity

How can we make sense of expressions of precarity – in poetry, theatre, fiction – in a way that accounts for the particular qualities of challenge resting in these forms of art? This paper seeks to draw out the political dimension of poetic expression on the basis of Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck, a figure that in many ways personifies precarity. Starting from the notion of essential challenge contained in a minor literature (following Deleuze and Guattari 1983), the paper goes on to explore the conditions of possibility of a political aesthetics of poetry and poetical expression based on the concepts of intensity and deterritorialization. This reading of aesthetics reveals their potential for challenge, for envisaging life to be otherwise – but what makes one version of this more compelling than others? By exploring intensity as a particular quality of aesthetic expression, this paper then moves beyond Deleuze and Guattari’s primary focus on major and minor language and develops the notion of intensity into a more pervasive property inherent in liminal texts. This, then, allows for fundamental reflection on the very concept of poetry, and unlocks an understanding of poetic expression as an essentially liminal practice that always contains an unsettling moment of challenge.


5 Lara Martim Rodrigues Selis, Universidade Federal De Uberlândia

From stolen jouissance to clandestine bodies: Death and Poiesis

This research departs from Spivak’s proposition around subalternity, questioning whether the subaltern translates a life form of the modern/colonial system that can only be demarcated by its ‘exclusion’ from the symbolic arena. With this problematization, the general objective is to move away from a strictly epistemological take on the subaltern problematic towards an ontological turn capable of appreciating the experience of indeterminacy as having an ontological status of its own. In order to construct that turn, the paper articulates subaltern studies with Lacanian psychoanalysis contributions. Drawing in Lacan’s theory of discourse, I propose a reading of the subaltern as a position that can only exist as a barred figure, whose message is sent (or summoned to exist) by objet (a) that interpellates from the position of truth. Considering such objectified means, that message comes always through non-meaningful words, as if it were the speech of a body that can only exist as a symptom. At this point, the phenomena of handwritten labels (in which an unknown, unnamed, and disembodied worker sends a clandestine call for help) becomes a potent figure to illustrate how, in the case of the subaltern, the object prevails over the subject in terms of enunciation functions. As I argue, it is a furtive and clandestine event, like the poetic act whose nature is ephemeral but disruptive. To grasp such an event I brought the Lacanian notion of lalangue that is used to describe the language produced at the sphere of the jouissance, which is made of misunderstandings that affect, rather than translate, bodies and thoughts. As such, lalangue designates a conceptual arena for a rich dialogue with the notion of aesthetics, which presents itself as an interesting instrument for us to think about the subjectivation process from the perspective of the lacanian Real. Assuming such a standpoint, I suggest that the subaltern resistance operates in relation to mechanisms of delusional metaphor, poetic-act, trauma irruptions, and so on. My statement is that, when faced by the aesthetic ethos of precarity experiences, the lost signifier of the discourse of the dependent capitalist manifests its Real emptiness as an aesthetic disposition towards negativity, one that works as the analyst, forcing an ironic and paradoxical traversée du fantasme.

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