Monday, August 18, 2008

Reading Notes: Kracauer - On Employment Agencies: The Construction of a Space


Social strata are reflected in the spaces that the members of different strata occupy. Suburbs are a result of the growing middle class. Employment agency is the space assigned to the unemployed – opposite of a home.

He sees the Employment agency as a physical manifestation of an economic reality. Employment agencies are necessary as places for the unemployed to go instead of work or home – a kind of anti-home. He mulls their locations at length, describing the locations of a number of different specialized employment agencies, finally settling on the metal workers’ employment agency, which is situated in a back courtyard (two layers deep into the heart of the building), behind the offices where work is contracted and the areas in which the work is done. In this world, the power, economic and social, of a person is measured by his distance from the street. The powerful are at the front of the building and the abject are in the guts of the building, waiting for the job-makers to give them some work. Kracauer maps the economic reality of the workers’ situations onto the physical layout of the building.

Also, lengthy discussion of the irony/suckiness of how work is distributed. Some professions prefer to hire those who have been unemployed the longest, others prefer to hire those most recently unemployed.

Spatial Authority also enters in the form of signs governing the use of the space: “Protect the common property” and “In the interest of a smooth flow of persons, the orders of the hall porter must be unquestioningly followed.” Though he is, you could say, only barely more employed that the unemployed around him, and though they share the same space, the hall porter gains a great deal of authority over those waiting around him.

Also, some discussion of decoration: “Ostensibly out of the need to brighten up the place a little, the walls have from time to time been adorned with coloured prints. Do landscapes interrupt the misery or artistic portraits? Not at all. Rather, pictures that are dedicated to the prevention of accidents. ‘Think of your mother’, stands under one of them that, like the rest, warns of the dangers to which the worker is subjected when working with machines. Astonishingly enough, the couple of illustrations of gloomy happenings shimmer in a friendly manner above the heads. Yet nothing typifies the character of this space more than the fact that in them even pictures of accidents become picture postcard greetings from the happy upper world. If the unemployed could be immediately transferred there from the employment agency, then the poster announcing ‘Unnecessary waiting on the steps is not permitted’, that adorns many staircase walls, would not be required. It sounds like an afterword to the collection of texts that is prefaced by the door plate at the entrance to the courtyard.”

Kracauer sees the economic/social reality of the workers’ existence exemplified by the space they have to inhabit while waiting for a job. This space is further governed not only by its situation in relation to the spaces occupied by those that have the power to give jobs, but also by the disembodied authority of the posted signs warning of the dangers of work as well as the admonishments not to loiter. All in all, rather bleak.

2 comments:

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