Standby. Reconfiguring Modes of Endurance and Exhaustion

Authors: Vanessa Weber*, Hamburg University, Laura Kemmer, Center for Metropolitan Studies, Berlin, Annika Kühn*, University of Hamburg
Topics: Cultural Geography, Anthropocene, Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: standby, endurance, exhaustion, affect, materiality
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Hampton Room, Omni, East
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper proposes standby as a temporality that informs spaces of exhaustion and endurance. In its technical origin, standby refers to an operating state in which despite apparent shutdown, energy continues to flow to guarantee permanent availability. We argue that the term has left the scope of data sheets and user manuals to increasingly populate our daily life worlds. Being essentially a temporal category, standby functions like a social ordering principle, regulating and synchronizing service personnel and factory workers, along with assembly lines, transport terminals, or monitoring systems. Instead of considering it a meaningless interval, we inquire into the nervous humming, ticking, pulsating of human bodies and technical devices on standby to reveal it as default mode of late liberal life. Understanding standby this way, as “active inactivity” allows us to explore a field of tension between “withstanding” and “resistance” as discussed in (feminist) theories of affect and materiality. We will approach this field of tension through posing the following two questions: Does standby function like a “white noise machine” (Berlant, 2006: 23), whose soothing rhythms further lull us in, thus consolidating an ever more ubiquitous mode of precarity? Or does standby’s contingency and indeterminacy cause such a profound temporal disquietude and affective wretchedness, that it might trouble (Ahmed, 2010: 60) and break up seemingly solid socio-technical infrastructures? By pointing out possible answers to these questions, we seek to contribute to a further theorization of exhaustion and endurance.

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