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This article explores the role that compassion plays in the building of a post-Fordist laboring public in Italy. By exploring how the state has made compassion productive through new regimes of voluntary labor, this piece shows that compassion operates not as a mitigating force against, but as a vehicle for the production and maintenance of a new exclusionary order precisely because it allows for the emergence of a fantasy of spontaneously available public emotion. Affective labor is a desired form of activity for marginalized members of Italian society because it allows them to approximate the form of social belonging that was centrally institutionalized and cultivated within Fordist societies—that of the capacity to belong to and be publicly recognized by the world through waged work. Fordism thus appears not as an era past, but as an object of desire and mourning that still retains much social force as people attempt to recapture or at least approximate Fordist forms and feelings of stability and belonging.

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