Dominant political economic accounts of manufacturing labour draw on an intellectual heritage that has tended to over-emphasise production culture within the industrial workplace, at the expense of other work cultures such as maintenance and repair. When the latter are foregrounded, new links emerge between work undertaken within the paid workplace, and that undertaken in the home and community. Work that occurs outside the bounds of an industrial site is co-constituted by materials and skills engendered within, raising timely political and geographical questions around the visibility and mobility of these prosaic restorative cultures. Empirically, the paper brings together two perspectives to illustrate: first, an auto-ethnographic account of the author's experience as an apprentice industrial electrician in an Australian steel mill in the early 1990s. Emboldened by the work of feminist geographers, I reflect on the spaces occupied by maintenance and repair workers, with an interest in how they cultivate socio-material cultures that transpire across the bounds of paid and unpaid work. Second, qualitative interviews conducted two decades later, in the homes of retired maintenance trades workers from the same plant. Throughout long careers, these workers have embraced - in both attitude and praxis - the labour of maintenance and repair both at work and at home. Their case demonstrates modes of living thoughtfully with materials that have the potential to reanimate the industrial city as a site of geographical enquiry. The paper urges labour researchers to return to the industrial city and to look beyond the production paradigm, to explore more deeply the heterogeneity of shop-floor cultures, in order to account for the full value, and thus the potential, of industrial life.
Available for download on Wednesday, May 15, 2019