Non-Stop Inertia – Precarity and the Workplace, a ‘workers society and Dead Man Working

Nov 20th, 2012 | By | Category: Book News

In our culture of short-term work, mobile communications and rolling media it seems we are always on the move; but are we really getting anywhere? Non-Stop Inertia argues that this appearance of restless activity conceals and indeed maintains a deep paralysis of thought and action, and that rather than being unquestionable or inevitable, the environment of personal flexibility and perpetual crisis which we now inhabit is ideologically constructed.

ISBN: 978-1-84694-530-4, £6.99 / $12.95, paperback, 106pp

EISBN: 978-1-84694-783-4, £6.99 /$9.99, ebook

Non-Stop Inertia registers the tragedy and the farce, elicits anger and laughter…

Ivor Southwood has incisively tapped into the emotional landscape of the always-available, always-looking-for-work world of precarious labour – and passionately found a way to navigate around and beyond the incessant stupefaction.  Angela Mitropoulos, Queen Mary, University of London, author of Precari-Us?

Ivor Southwood has worked as a mental health nurse and studied literature and media. He has also done various temporary jobs and is interested in the culture of precarious work.

There is a sense of overwhelming precariousness, in work, in matters of money, and in culture generally; a feeling of being kept in suspense which appears like a law of nature, rather than something human-made. Ivor Southwood

In order to demonstrate your argument that we’re living in a society of non-stop inertia, you explore the contemporary workplace and its related settings and introduce the reader to the term ‘precarity’. Could you tell us what this term means?

My understanding of ‘precarity’ is that it came out of the transition to post-Fordist ways of working – out of the period of Fordism and stability. People were sold an idea that they were being unchained from industry and having a boring job for life, and that they would be endlessly mobile, aspiring characters. But it seems to me that the price for all of that is a constant nagging insecurity. The idea of precarity is this sort of machinery of anxiety. It’s a sort of a technology in the workplace and in culture, which has been introduced and extended, and allows us to keep on functioning.

That’s not to say that we should be striving to return to how it was before - we couldn’t anyway because the world’s changed. But we have to break free from this new form of imprisonment or subjugation that precarity represents. We have to not believe the myths that we are these free subjects anymore. If we’re moving towards something else, maybe it would be autonomy rather than precarity.

So, precarity is insecurity and being in a precarious economic state, and, in practical terms, things like agency work, endlessly re-applying for jobs and stuff like that. And all of that is being sold as a positive thing by people who are basically using it as a way of cutting down on labour costs. (


Southwood’s topic is the form which work takes in the 21rst century in the Global North. Beginning with his experiences and subtly incorporating post-autonomist theorists to support his claims, Southwood produces a bleak picture of the conditions in which many of us are forced to sell our labour power. Non-Stop Inertia serves as an excellent introduction to the key concepts needed to unpack our current political economy. Notions such as precarious labour, affective or emotional production and the privatisation of unemployment are introduced and explored throughout the text. Indeed, in the context of austerirty measures and predictions of a jobless recovery Southwood’s investigation of the privatisation and management of unemployment is particularly worrying. The book is littered with personal observations and a succession of stimulating yet also challenging ideas.

Southwood deals with a complex and oft tricky topic and simultaneously avoids the dangers of over-simplification (i.e. we all face precarious work in the same way) and hyper-specificity (i.e. there are no universal labour conditions that we can analyse). What emerges is a timely analysis of work in the Global North. It is surprising that this is one of the only notable introductions to precarious theories that I can think of. One can only assume that this stems from a reluctance from much of the non-union/workerist orientated Left to deal with the new conditions of work. Given the context Southwood’s book is an even more important read. (


An analysis of the Dead Man Working and the way in which capital is now colonizing life itself can be found in Carl Cederstrom and Peter Fleming’s new book from Zero.

ISBN: 978-1-78099-156-6, £9.99 / $14.95, paperback, 83pp

EISBN: 978-1-78099-157-3, £6.99 / $9.99, ebook

Carl Cederstrom and Peter Fleming’s Dead Man Working (Zer0) is an interesting account of living and working in a dead world. It diagnoses several affective elements of the managerial co-option of life. Cederstrom and Fleming argue that life in a society dominated by capitalist realism becomes one in which the divide between life and work is completely obliterated where all that remains is life-work and the wait for the approaching tsunami, for the end of capital (which may very well co-arrive with the end of civilization). Following the flood of capitalist control what remains is the affectively gray wait for the end.

Cederstrom and Fleming compare and contrast Danny from The Shining and Charlie from Fire Starter. Both Danny and Charlie are kids (the former a boy the latter a girl) that have remarkable powers and star in films based on Stephen King novels. They then discuss Deleuze and Guattari’s figure of the little girl, and the importance of becoming imperceptible and that while Danny tries to adapt to the system (by talking to the costs of the hotel) Charlie remains inaccessible and simply burns everyone who comes after her alive. But if this politics is one of imperceptibility I am not sure why the figure of the girl, and I am not sure that just doesn’t give us a smooth space.

But regardless, the affective account of capital that Cederstrom and Fleming give is a convincing one. The question becomes what is the political response to feeling like shit in the gray fog of capital that isn’t infinite resignation nor feeling good according to capital? (


What does the worker tell us today? "I feel drained, empty… dead." This book follows the dead man working from the daily tedium of the office, to the humiliating mandatory team building exercise, to awkward encounters with the funky boss who pretends to hate capitalism and tells you to be authentic. When the corporation has colonized life itself, even our dreams, the question of escape becomes ever more pressing, ever more desperate…

Cederström and Fleming, like a present day Virgil, bravely venture into an underworld full of shades whose entire lives have been put to work, who throw themselves heart and soul into the job, and who are constantly implored by management gurus to “be themselves,” “feel free,” and “have fun” in the office. This fascinating and dark little book is an excellent and disturbing introduction to what increasingly large realms of the world of work have become. Michael Hardt, Co-author of Empire, Multitude, and Commonwealth

What has work done to us? Cederström and Fleming’s brilliant dark and witty book tells us the truth. Working in our sleep? Dressing up as infants? Deprivation tank addiction? Fitness centrers? Suicide? Email? If you didn’t already know what work has made you become then this book might have a devastating effect on your life. Read it! Simon Critchley, Hans Jonas Professor, New School for Social Research

Carl Cederström is Lecturer in Human Resource Management at Cardiff Business School, Cardiff University.

Peter Fleming is Professor of Work and Organisation at Queen Mary College, University of London.


Zero Books - Contemporary culture has eliminated the concept and public figure of the intellectual. A cretinous anti-intellectualism presides, cheerled by hacks in the pay of multinational corporations who reassure their bored readers that there is no need to rouse themselves from their stupor. Zer0 Books knows that another kind of discourse - intellectual without being academic, popular without being populist - is not only possible: it is already flourishing. Zer0 is convinced that in the unthinking, blandly consensual culture in which we live, critical and engaged theoretical reflection is more important than ever before.

The Zer0 imprint started really strong with Capitalist Realism by Mark Fischer (AKA K-Punk) and One Dimensional Woman by Nina Power, both great books with important points to make. However, recently Zer0 has perhaps strayed from their stated aims of producing

‘another kind of discourse – intellectual without being academic, popular without being populist.’

Recent publications dealing with Awkwardness, Class as portrayed in Cinema and modernist architecture perhaps stray from political rootedness and engagement but Southwood’s contribution to the series does not fall prey to this.



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