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Suicide VoicesLabour Trauma in France$
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Sarah Waters

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781789622232

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.3828/liverpool/9781789622232.001.0001

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Fast Cars and Vital Exhaustion

Fast Cars and Vital Exhaustion

(p.171) Chapter 5 Fast Cars and Vital Exhaustion1
Suicide Voices

Sarah Waters

Liverpool University Press

Chapter five examines a series of suicides at car manufacturer Renault, situating them in the transition from an industrial model to a knowledge economy, in which value is expropriated from the resources of the mind. Suicides did not take place in the emblematic spaces of the factory, where cars were once mass produced, but in a state-of-the art research centre, where cognitive workers conceptualised and designed cutting-edge cars of the future. In the knowledge economy, the mind is treated as an endlessly productive resource that reproduces itself continuously and is unencumbered by the physical limitations of the body. I argue that suicides were the end point of a form of vital exhaustion that transcends the corporeal defences of the physical body and depletes the mental and emotional resources of the self. Suicides do not reflect a deterioration in formal or material conditions of work, but rather a transformation in forms of constraint, as the individual worker internalises modes of discipline and becomes his or her own boss. Suicides affected workers who experienced a phase of chronic overwork in which the quest to achieve productivity targets pushed them to work continuously and obsessively.

Keywords:   Renault, Cognitive labour, Knowledge economy, Billancourt, Technocentre, Exhaustion, Out-sourcing, Factory, Beehive

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