Neither presencing nor absencing: the stagnation of sensing-towards-presence in the call centre



This paper contributes to debates that consider the affective nature of immaterial labour practices upon the working subject. Drawing on call centre work as an example of immaterial labour – specifically in relation to Hardt and Negri's definitional typology – it explores a different way of theorising the subject in order to reconsider our sensory relation to the world. Going further than Hardt and Negri's attunement to our material engagement with the world, the paper uses Jean-Luc Nancy's conceptualisation of human subjectivity, apprehended as a motioning between pre-cognitive sensation and meaningful signification. Sense, for Nancy, is that which is felt non-consciously, thus creating a vital political space whereby the world itself becomes affectual aside from interpretation. Contrastingly, signification is that which makes meaningful, and hence adjusts the subject's relation in and to the world, transforming what is sensed into a representation. It is the motion between the two, for Nancy, that makes us alive beings-in-the-world but immaterial labour practices hinder this movement for capital gain, reducing possibilities for sensing while simultaneously overloading the being with signification. As such, this paper asks whether the call centre can have a stultifying affect upon the agent's capacity to ‘live’. Furthermore, it asks how this dampening is resisted through subtle and vivacious tangents out of routine by those living the labour of the call centre.