Rana Dasgupta on Sat, 7 Aug 2004 15:56:44 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> The Art of Sweatshops

Dear All

Have not been able to reply to this thread for some time.  Some thoughts
on what is past.

I don't think etymologies of the sort offered earlier about the word
"sweatshop" "prove"  anything.  Quite obviously there is nothing about the
word itself which implies a particular geographical location.  Usage does
not defer, however, to etymology; and I would stand by my earlier
speculations on how this word is used.

The reason this is significant is pointed out well in Keith's final

>I doubt if China could account for 40% of world economic
>growth last year by sweatshop methods alone, any more than Britain could
>in Marx's day.

The "sweatshop" cannot become the metonym for the contemporary Chinese
economy without a great loss of meaning.  (A) Because it involves great
underestimation, and assumes that the Chinese economy's current dynamism
is limited by its supposedly feudal techniques.  It implies that China's
growth will stop far short of the kind of global economic might exerted by
Britain and then America.  That there is some kind of cultural necessity
to the [American] status quo.  (B) Because it fails to engage with the
extent to which even non-legal businesses such as the copying of
pharmaceuticals, media content, software, fashion items, etc are organised
on corporate lines with the same internal structure, product standards,
manufacturing and distribution techniques and marketing strategies as the
"legal" businesses with which they compete.

It is difficult to understand anything of the contemporary, therefore, if
we do not reconsider some of these images of new economic powers.

The epistemological shock produced by the idea that Vermeers or Monets or
portraits of one's grandmother could be painted by talented artists in
China and shipped at a relatively small cost to homes in Seattle or
Stuttgart is only so, as Felix concedes, if you have a particular
conception of the artist, or a particular idea of intimate vs global
space.  It is precisely by the accumulation of such little shocks as these
that the genome of "western thought" will find itself progressively
altered in the coming years.


---------- Original Message ----------------------------------
From: "Dan S. Wang" <danwang@mindspring.com>
Reply-To: "Dan S. Wang" <danwang@mindspring.com>
Date:  Wed, 04 Aug 2004 11:44:56 -0500

>I always thought of sweatshops as a creation of the American South. Maybe
>that's because I grew up in the seventies with the film Norma Rae being my
>first introduction to the world of textile mills. But according to
>Encyclopaedia Britannica, the term is derived from the verb "to sweat," used
>as a descriptive management technique in the factories of 1850s England.
>"Sweating" the workers became common in the US, the entry goes on to say, in
>the 1880s with the arrival of large numbers of eastern and southern European
>immigrants. Talking about Manhatten garment shops, probably.


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