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New Left Review 85, January-February 2014


William Davies

ECONOMICS OF INSOMNIA

‘Where is the fairness, we ask, for the shift-worker, leaving home in the dark hours of the early morning, who looks up at the closed blinds of their next-door neighbour sleeping off a life on benefits?’ At the 2012 Conservative Party Conference, this evocative image was used by the Chancellor George Osborne to establish a political dividing line. [1] Jonathan Crary, 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep, Verso: London 2013, £9.99, hardback 144 pp, 978 1 7816 8093 3 The worker or the sleeper: whose side are you on? At the 2013 conference, Osborne followed this with a policy requiring the unemployed to visit a Jobcentre every morning, as a condition of receiving benefits. This punitive approach only makes sense—given the shortage of vacancies—when viewed in the context of a government cracking down on slumber and restfulness. The re-moralization of unemployment that is underway in Britain casts the jobless not so much as drunken delinquents, as the Victorians depicted them, but as insufficiently alert or awake.

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