Some brief thoughts on chronopolitics

It occurs to me when confronted with this that there are ever more contexts in which contemporary capitalism undermines the ability to plan ahead. This is striking because much of financialised capitalism is predicated on ensuring the calculability of the future through instruments like futures and securities which lock in certain expectations of future outcomes (and cause chaos when those outcomes can no longer be ensured, as happened in 07/08 when trust evaporated in the face of obviously untenable securities). If we accept the classical Weberian thesis about capitalism, its emergence was dependent upon an orientation which saw present actions as leading to future outcomes. But what happens when this relation to the future is broken? For those on zero hours contracts, each week becomes a unit unto itself, disconnected from the past and the future. For those on fixed term contracts, it will be a matter of years rather than weeks but it remains episodic. As consumers, flexibility about when we act is induced through apparent discounts against stagnant wages and declining purchasing power. Until we can’t even preserve predictably by paying more.

In the last few years, I’ve fallen into the habit of using the term chronopolitics without properly defining what I mean by it. But the sketchy thoughts above are at the nub of my concern. For instance the strategic planning of the rail company concerning their ‘operational complications’ curtails the strategic planning of their travellers. Or to give another example which often comes to my mind during the slow/fast scholarship debate, the desire of a senior professor to avoid spending their time on tedious paperwork leaves a junior colleague or a clerical assistant spending their time on a task. Power can operate through temporality, in the mundane sense of imposed tasks having temporal extension but also in the more subtle sense of imposing one party’s temporal horizon to the exclusion of the other’s. The exercise of temporal power is a powerful means through which existing social arrangements can be locked in (what we might call temporal hegemony) but it capitalism relies upon temporality for its own legitimation then this lock in might ultimately undercut itself and provide the conditions within which its demise could be fermented. However it might also simply lead to ever busier and more distracted people, dimly aware something is fundamentally wrong but too occupied by the intensity of their own lives to have the capacity to act on it.

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