Notes on “Taking Care: Migration and the Political Economy of Affective Labor” by Sandro Mezzadra

Mezzadra says that “What seems characteristic of contemporary migration … is that within that experience complex systems of belonging and identity construction are experiencing deep transformations, are constantly undone, challenged, and rebuilt. This is a particular kind of “affective labor.” If this is so, then Mezzadra is extending the analysis of affective labor’s rise in OECD countries to a rise of affective labor in countries from which mass migrations typically occur, peripheral countries. But how is what Mezzadra describes affective labor? Michael Hardt writes, “Affective labor is itself and directly the constitution of communities and collective subjectivities” (“Affective Labor,” 89).

Hardt writes, “On one hand, affective labor, the production and reproduction of life, has become firmly embedded as a necessary foundation for capitalist accumulation and patriarchal order. On the other hand, however, the production of affects, subjectivities, and forms of life present an enormous potential for autonomous circuits of valorization, and perhaps for liberation” (“Affective Labor,” 100). Mezzadra echoes Hardt’s concluding remarks saying that there is a bivalence to the political importance of the “subjective behaviors, claims, desires, affects, imaginations structurally exceeding the objective and structural causes” of migratory movements – it is by regulating and disciplining these subjective conditions that the “new technologies of domination and new modalities of exploitation are forged, while only in valorizing it a politics of the multitude can reinvent the concepts of liberty and equality.” It seems that what she is saying here is that though this affective labor is being harnessed, being channeled into the creating the new forms of domination and exploitation, but it, this intense and unique moment of identity, desire, and community formation, represents a potential political power to imbalance the International Division of Labor and the hegemony of conditions it creates.

Affective laborers of “dominant countries” and those who are migrants from non-dominant countries do not necessarily have a common interest in dismantling the International Division of Labor, since the precariousness of affective laborers in the former is of a far lesser degree than that of the migrants and the communities and subjectivities they are forced to create in the “receiving countries” and in transport (for instance in the Moroccan refugee camps awaiting entrance to Spain but most often being dispersed by law enforcement with dogs and most often murdered in this way). Thus, first world formation of desires, affects, subjectivities and communities which are in solidarity with those who are also in the constant execution of a similar yet completely alien form of affective labor (forming their own communities, subjectivities, desires) is problematic and difficult to conceive. And yet regardless of the difficulty, this solidarity is necessary and perhaps less difficult than at other times in history for the very reason that Mezzadra and Hardt point to (from opposite sides of the issue it seems): the rapid pace which community and subjectivity or identity formation takes place, the increasingly apparent ridiculousness and throw-away quality of these hasty productions, creates an opportunity for either increased disparity in the IDL as well as “at home” by the powers wishing to manage and exploit these affective labors or to find a way to share in processes of formation. Since affective labor is a constant rebuilding and transformation, it would mean that people of dominant countries would take responsibility for who they are becoming and what communities they are creating, and by what means of communication. Franco Berardi says that this “is also a task for therapy, understood as a new focalization of attention, and a shifting of the investments of desire” (The Soul at Work, 142), and in being responsible this reorienting of desire will critical. If the primacy in the hierarchy of production has situated affective labor at the pinnacle, depending on its flexibility of desire and its ability to change the community it can fit in based on the needs of many different economic interests, then it seems that there is a great power to be harnessed in making decisions about our desires and what we will form. To bring this back to the plight and opportunity of those on the other side of the IDL migrating to the dominant countries, it seems that the new communities we form must be done by working with them.

I know I’ve gone off into an abstract account of how different forms of affective labors can “unite” or at least why they should or maybe my point was more that we in the dominant countries who caught in this process of continual formation should include the other, especially the other of affective labor (as I’ll call migrant labor for now), in any new formation of desire and community and subjectivity – yes, and why can we speak of unity? Mezzadra writes sidelong to this – “we can talk for example of migrant labor (that is, a general attitude to mobility an flexibility, the subjective counterpart of the “flexible regime of accumulation” …) without for this reason on the one hand sacrificing the subjective and objective peculiarity of the experience of mobility by migrants, and without on the other hand forgetting the radical diversity of migrants’ experience itself” (2).

On a fairly different note, c.f. Mezzadra at “f)” with Pugliese on anti-voluntarism of migrants: “I stress the role of instrumentalization here in order to counter claims that the clandestine refugee deaths are solely due to the subjects’ voluntary actions. Effaced in such claims are the larger geopolitical discursive relations of biopower that fundamentally shape questions of voluntarism” (Pugliese, “Civil Modalities of Refugee Trauma, Death and Necrological Transport,” 162).

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