A refrain of productivity and its interruptions: examining long-distance rail commuting in Australia

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An important task of mobility scholars is to attend to how time and space are generated through mobilities. Building upon research inspired by Deleuze and Guattari that foregrounds experiential mobilities, we use the notion of the refrain to chart experiences of long-distance rail commuting with a particular focus on how these journeys are crafted to be productive. Moreover, we consider a series of interruptions and their transformative potential. We read wanted and unwanted interruptions as breaks in the consistency of a refrain–disruptions to the socio-material, affective, and expressive arrangements that constitute a sense of productivity. We submit that in the wake of interruption, a refrain may dissolve or reform in three different ways: as repeat, as variation, or as developing variation. These categorisations help us to understand the differential influence of interruption on a refrain. We illustrate our argument by drawing on ethnographic research conducted with 16 mobile commuters who regularly journey by train for work between Wollongong and Sydney (Australia)–a trip of at least 90 minutes each way along a key commuting corridor. Through building an account of long-distance commuting, this article provides insights into how productivity (and productive subjects) may manifest through mundane activities.

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