3 For labour: Ajeet's accident and the ethics of technological fixes in time

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Abstract

This paper uses an ethnography of river pilots who navigate container ships on the Hooghly to argue for a focus on labour as an act of mediation in the timespaces of global workplaces. A new approach to capitalist time is developed that seeks to combine recent emphasis on knowledge practices with an older Marxist emphasis on the mediating role of labour. Bureaucrats driven by the rhythms of repayment of public deficit have taken on an extractive role on the Hooghly, producing a declining infrastructure. Moreover, the contradictions produced by government policies are making it increasingly difficult to navigate the river, climaxing in frequent accidents. River pilots ‘fix’ these through technological interventions shaped by the ethics or ‘senses of workmanship’ that emerge from their acts of labour in specific timespaces. Capital on the Hooghly continues to circulate through these small, piecemeal moves in which time is an ethical, affective, and technical problem rather than through the large-scale temporal fixes described by Harvey and Castree. Therefore, we need radically to rethink our approaches to time in capitalism, moving beyond existing accounts of it as an abstract measure of value or source of time-discipline. Capitalist time is heterochronic and provokes attempts to reconcile diverse, recalcitrant rhythms and representations through our ethical and physical labour.

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