Handbook of Employment and Society
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Handbook of Employment and Society

Working Space

Edited by Susan McGrath-Champ, Andrew Herod and Al Rainnie

This Handbook deepens and extends the engagement between research concerned with work and employment and labour geography. It links fundamental concepts concerning the politics of place that human geographers have developed in recent years with the world of work.
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Chapter 20: Contesting the New Politics of Space: Labour and Capital in the White Goods Industry in Southern Africa

Andries Bezuidenhout and Edward Webster


Andries Bezuidenhout and Edward Webster Mapping the new politics of space Beverly Silver’s path-breaking account of workers’ movements since 1870 draws on the work of Karl Polanyi to argue that there is a constant flux between a crisis of legitimacy and a crisis of profitability in capitalism (for more on Polanyi, see Munck and Waterman and Lambert and Gillan, Chapters 15 and 22 in this volume). Since labour is a pseudocommodity – that is, unlike other commodities, its reproduction is relatively autonomous of capital – the system will constantly be in a state of tension between attempts to treat labour as a true commodity, one reproduced solely under the dictates of capital (which leads to a crisis of legitimacy as capital attempts to turn workers into surplus value-producing automatons), and pressures from workers to decommodify their own labour power (which leads to a crisis of profitability as workers seek to claim more of their own labour time) (Silver, 2003, pp. 16–20; see also Peck, 1996). If it is to accumulate successfully, capital constantly has to find new ways of solving this tension between legitimacy and profitability. In her analysis, Silver introduces the concept of ‘boundary drawing’ to show how temporary solutions to the tension may be developed. For Silver, boundary drawing refers to who is ‘cut in’ and who is ‘cut out’ when compromises are made over the partial decommodification of labour. Put differently, her analysis is about where the categorical boundaries will be placed around various groupings of workers, according...

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