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A decade after the 2008-9 global financial crisis, the world witnessed two grave dangers: one is the COVID pandemic; the other is the rise of nationalism in a number of countries. The global financial crisis had revealed how connected the global economy is and how it had disproportionately affected the underclass. The pandemic has once again illustrated both phenomena. To react against globalized forces, some embrace a nationalist ideology that harbours xenophobia and racism. (Most notably are anti-Asian sentiments in white-dominated nations and East Asian countries' stringent border control during the pandemic.) How can feminist political economists understand these multiple forces that debilitate the autonomy of those who are the most affected by a global economy, a pandemic, and nationalism?
In this paper, I argue that feminist political economists (FPE) need to address these issues from the vantage point of time because meaningful social relations can only be created and sustained through reproductive labour. When the financial market disciplines time and when nationalism manipulates it, local-based human relations are made irrelevant to the market and rendered insignificant by state ideology.
The case study in this paper focuses on the turbulent years 2019-2020 in Hong Kong where the yearlong mass protests were subdued by the rise of COVID infections and the passing of the National Security Law. The backdrop of these years was high-profile IPOs of China-based corporations (such as Alibaba) in the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. A FPE critique of time will add to current studies that argue Hong Kong mass protests are results of political and economic discontents. Politically, Hong Kong citizens were disappointed that not only did the Chinese Communist Party break the promise of granting a high degree of autonomy to the Hong Kong people, but it has also quickened the pace to integrate the former British colony into One China. Economically, protestors grieved against the widened income gap and soaring housing prices that stagnate economic mobility and endanger human sustenance.
Both types of discontents need to be understood from the time perspective. Informationalised finance and finacialised economy annihilate time and social relations. Digital information transmitted through private cables is said to provide real-time financial information for AI to make human-error-free decisions. On the other hand, the One China nationalist ideology uses a longue durée meta narrative to justify the speedy integration of lost territories to redeem national dignity and achieve Chinese domination. In this ideology, there is no social relation, only Chinese subject to the nation. Both market and state ideologies subject Hong Kong people to a “running out of time” mentality, making some chose radical strategies during protests or emigrating elsewhere for a start over.
To counter this temporality, FPE recognises reproductive labour that relies on analogue technology. These activities show that social relations are shaped by tedious life-sustaining activities. Some renewed interests are volunteers sewing masks in workshops and protestors creating installation arts for resistance. These activities reveal the necessary time for labour to reproduce and the drudge nature of this type of labour.
Communication & Journalism Department
Lee, M. (2022, July). Reconfiguring social relations through time in a financialised economy and a rise of nationalism. Paper presented at IAMCR, Beijing/China, and online.
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