Locating valuable bodies in automated landscapes

Authors: Chantel Carr*, School of Geography and Sustainable Communities
Topics: Cultural Geography, Economic Geography
Keywords: work, manufacturing, repair, maintenance, feminist
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Napoleon A1, Sheraton, 3rd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

In this paper, I take up questions of the future of work, through an examination of one of the most iconic economic landscapes of modernity: steel manufacturing. Automation lies at the centre of narratives of contemporary steelmaking. As both demand and technology accelerated throughout the 20th century, the labour process of steelmaking changed immeasurably. For at least the last 50 years, steelworkers have not made steel. In a landscape where materials are made pliable through extreme heat, it is machinery that heats, mixes, squeezes, rolls, cools and moves the product. What then, do workers actually do, in this highly automated landscape? And what might this tell us about the kinds of tasks and skills that will continue to be required, as we anxiously return to debates around the future of work amidst new discourses of automation? This paper borrows conceptual insights from feminist economic geography, to explore some of the neglected spaces and subjects of manufacturing. It focuses on the bodies that monitor, apprehend, maintain, repair and respond when (automated) things go awry. I demonstrate that these bodies have been trained to be curious, experimental and adaptive – all qualities it would seem, that will serve us well, in futures more volatile – both economically and ecologically – than those we live with today.

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