Week 7 Progress

Having formulated our primary line of argument in a clear, concise, though still relatively conceptual shape last week, the focus of our supervised meeting last Tuesday, and especially our research since, has shifted towards real-world phenomena and data that have the potential to draw out & reinforce the most salient discussions and processes among those discussed at every stage of our investigation so far.

We initially highlighted a number of potential systemic sources of late capitalist uncertainty, including the shifting nature of labour, the reification of familial & religious values, and falling away of political certainties. With those in mind, it became clear that our connection between employer (mis)use of wellbeing practices & technology and these uncertainties would have to be a second-order one, where workplaces are not directly responding to uncertainty but instead co-opting a consumer-driven search for self-knowledge and self-care to serve their financial goals, such as employee retention and productivity.

In order to deeply investigate these connections, and to make sure that we would be able to dedicate ourselves fully to the form and function of our final presentation during the two weeks prior, we recognised the need to make difficult decisions regarding which phenomena to hone in on at each stage of the process, and which to at most mention. For this purpose, we set the date for an additional hour-long meeting dedicated to narrowing down not only the empirical scope of our subject matter but also of our conceptual language so as to agree on exactly how we would like to pose our argument.

This task has since become significantly more feasible thanks to some of the concrete case study research that we have carried out as a collective.

The studies of Hochschild, Jacobs, and Gerson, have drawn out the ways in which for US families with children, the reification and merging of work and home through initiatives such as flexible hours and an increase in double-income couples during the 90’s has caused friction related to traditional familial role expectations and family time becoming a form of capital through scarcity. This, we found, ties into the way consumer-based or consumer-facing groups ranging from the self-help industry to mindfulness and the Quantified Self movement all put forward self-improvement as something that should be aimed for in all spaces of life.

The QS movement in particular, in which members use wearable technology or apps to track & draw empirical conclusions to increase their own wellbeing, has been defined by its co-founder as “a self-definition in an age of great uncertainty about who we are”. Despite its community-building aspect, a notable common factor with the booming billion-dollar industries of self-care and self-help is the narrative or imperative of continuous individual self-improvement. This perspective is mirrored in both UK public opinion towards the unemployed (56% believed they could find a job ‘if they wanted to’) and the way the UK government has deployed its ‘Fit to Work’ scheme (90 people per month died after being found able to work and losing their benefits), and importantly links to more conceptual theories of governmentality and responsibilisation inherent to neoliberal capitalist structures.

The existence and social importance of case studies relating processes of increased uncertainty and individual responsibility with self-focused trends for identity and wellbeing, including some that are co-opted to achieve corporate objectives, has increased group understanding, confidence, and excitement towards our research and further confirmed the objective of making good choices and focusing our argument into its final form over the coming week.

Niccoló, Caroline, Nat, Stefan

Interview questions for Focus Groups

We have arranged two Focus Groups of 6 people. Each Focus Group will be comprised of two people who cycle daily, two people who take the bus daily and two people who take the tube daily.

Focus Group #1 will take place on Friday 1st March from 2.30 to 4pm. Focus Group #2 will take place on Tuesday 5th March from 9.30 to 11am.

The following questions will serve to guide the conversation of our Focus Groups. We have incorporated a drawing activity at the beginning of the session which we hope will dynamise the sessions and get the conversation flowing. For part of our final project, we will curate the participants’ drawings into a zine.

ON LONDON AND MODE OF MOVEMENT

  1. What is your usual mode of moving in London?
  2. Do you feel like you know London? What do you know about London?
  3. Could you get from place X to place Y without consulting a map of any kind?
  4. Do you use apps such as CityMapper or Google Maps? When? Where?
  5. Please draw London on your plastic sheet.
  6. Has your answer to question number 2 changed? How?
  7. What are your usual fluxes of movement in London?
  8. Would you describe your speed through London as fast/slow/other? Why?
  9. Which one of your five senses is most stimulated when using your mode of movement. Why?
  10. When you’re moving through London, what are three things you notice about the urban space surrounding you?
  11. Consider your mode of movement as your sole point of interaction with London. How does it shape your interaction with the city?

ON PEOPLE AND COMMUNITIES

  1. Does your mode of movement afford good/bad/other access to the urban space of London? Why?
  2. Agree/Disagree/Expand the following statement. My mode of movement is a privileged one.
  3. For yourself, what disadvantages are there to your mode of movement?
  4. For others, what disadvantages are there to your mode of movement?
  5. What is your interaction with people who use the same mode of movement as you?
  6. What feelings do your fellow movers evoke?
  7. Does these feelings change when your fellow movers are tourists or people who don’t live in London?
  8. Do you feel that London is a hospitable city to non-Londoners? How do you think this contributes to the concept of us/them?
  9. Does this influence your feeling of belonging to London? If so, how?

ON SPACE/PLACE

  1. How long have you lived in London?
  2. Do you have an emotional attachment with London? Why?
  3. Do certain places hold stronger emotional attachments than others? Why?
  4. What role do you think your preferred mode of movement has in the establishment of emotional attachments?
  5. [We explain Space/Place dichotomy] Do you think of London as a space/place? Perhaps as a combination of the two? Are certain parts space and certain parts place?
  6. Does your mode of movement have a role in the space/place transformation?
  7. Please tick the statements which you feel are true based on your experiences of London and main mode of movement. Expanding your answer is encouraged.
  • Experiences in London:
    • I feel attached to this place
    • I feel proud of this place
    • This place is important to me
    • This place holds personal meaning to me
    • From my experiences I have an overall positive impression of this place
    • From my experiences I have an overall negative impression of this place
  • Main mode of movement:
    • When I am using mode of movement I feel comfortable and happy
    • There is a good atmosphere within this space
    • I have had good experiences in this mode of movement
    • I have had bad experiences in this mode of movement
    • When I am in this space I have felt and secure
    • When I am in this space I have felt threatened/in danger
    • I feel dependent on this form of movement

ON UNCERTAINTY

  1. Define “uncertainty”.
  2. Define “uncertainty in urban space”.
  3. What about London do you find uncertain? Why?
  4. Is uncertainty in London a positive/negative/other thing?
  5. Does uncertainty have a role in the space/place transformation? For example, does a space feel more uncertain than a space?
  6. Does London feel like a manageable urban space to you? Does moving in London feel like a manageable task to you? Why?
  7. How free is your movement in London? Do you follow pre-established routes? Does this hinder your knowledge of other parts of the city?
  8. Do you think your mode of movement makes it easy for you to explore undiscovered parts of London?

Week 4 Progress

Our key aims going into this week’s group meeting under the supervision of Conor were threefold. First, we dove deep into our further established research question – concerning the link between (1) a commodification of spirituality in the ‘Liberal West’ and (2) the rise of existential uncertainties under late capitalism – in order to lay out the different elements of which it is comprised more clearly, and to open up the first potential routes that our research could take. Here, we employed the scientific labels of observation and hypothesis to explain the relationship between (1) and (2) and made the decision to initially conduct our research surrounding both separately so as to attain greater expertise in each as well as avoid the influence of possible assumptions regarding the link between them. From this decision, it flowed that we would first seek to provide evidence for the rise in ‘commodified’ spirituality before attempting to explain the phenomenon causally in relation to particular kinds of uncertainty.

Second, as referred to above, we identified the challenge of choosing which assumptions to proceed on when formulating our research as well as the potential and space to make these claims overtly. This means that we looked further into the merits of the idea that there might be an existential uncertainty specific to late capitalism, as well as that religion and spirituality act (or are sought out because they are expected to act) as a ‘grip’ or foothold in the face of uncertainty for individuals. Both ideas seemed to conflict, for example, with the thought of Alan Watts, English philosopher and proponent of Mahayana Buddhism, that spirituality is the practice of coming to terms with the lack of existential footholds, and that it is a tool indispensable for life in general, not just life under certain socio-economic conditions.

Third, we reflected thoroughly on the terms and concepts evoked by our research question so as to understand their range of potential meanings and applications, and to make sure that, through closer research on how they have been employed and ‘translated’ by different authors and disciplines, we will come as a group to a unified conclusion regarding their use and limits in our presentation. This was reflected in our individual responsibilities for the past week. Half of our self-determined reading was comprised of works that would illuminate key definitions for our research. For example, we turned to the work of Frederic Jameson on postmodernism to hone in on the processes inherent to ‘late capitalism’ and ‘commodification’. Furthermore, the work of Williams Davies has informed a greater understanding of how spiritual practices such as yoga and meditation have been subjected to capitalist expectations of productivity through the lens of ‘workfare’. Finally, an array of articles drawn from psychology, sociology, and politics, have shed light on the origins and content of the ‘positive psychology’ ideal that has informed much of the contemporary self-help literature and wellbeing interventions.

As our group expertise in part (1) of the aforementioned research question grows thanks to the pooling of our collective reading and reflection, we are looking forward to starting to redistribute time and attention towards part (2) in order to understand, explain, and connect the uncertainties behind the processes and trends we have been studying this week.

Nat, Niccòlo, Caroline, and Stefan

 

Uncertainty Group C- Week 2

Week Two

In our past meeting, we discussed our ideas pertaining to ‘uncertainty’ and possible topics for our presentation. Due to the fact that our group consists of Politics and English majors, we will attempt to combine the two disciplines through focus on things such as:

  • language used in speeches made my political figures
  • freedom of expression in modern democracy
  • the power of words in (social) media
  • virtue signalling

By the end of our next meeting, we hope to have chosen our topic, understand what we would like to achieve through this presentation, and have an idea of how we would like to present it.