Rotterdam Study Abroad Seminar: World Without Work – A Rural Utopia?

This Course is for students in the Rotterdam Study Abroad Program.

In the coming years, the countryside will be fundamentally altered by technology, migration and climate change. An important aspect of this massive disruption is the disappearance of work: Farming will be increasingly robotized. In Japan, the elderly who remain in remote rural areas will be taken care of by Carebots, as the country witnesses a climbing number of seniors, while the amount of caregivers remains stagnant and reports project a shortage of 1 million caregivers by 2025. At the same time, rural areas will be affected by massive job losses due to the automatization of Fullfilment Centres, and E-Commerce.

What are the consequences of this unprecedented loss of work in the countryside? How will people make a living? Predictions are apocalyptic, ranging from a new form of mass poverty to an insurrection of the left-behind in the countryside. Political strategies – like Trump’s efforts to revitalize the Americanmining industry – are mostly nostalgic. Full employment still appears as the ultimate goal of politics. But what if we consider the loss of wage labor not only as a disaster, but as a chance?

For ages, thinkers and architects have dreamt of a society without work. The greek humanist ideal of the citizen of Athens, who wanders around between the Agora and the Museion, while slaves do the work, influenced modern bourgeois culture. In the 20th century, Situationists like Constant Nieuwenhuys have dreamt of a “New Babylon”, a world without wage labor, where machines do the work, and the citizen would become a flaneur wandering through a leisure environment, searching for pleasure, breaking the chains of work and nuclear family life. 

Is it possible that for the first time in history, robotization produces a surplus that could finance an Unconditional Basic Income for everyone – and a redesign of the countryside as a playground for Constant’s “Homo Ludens”?

How will this “Unconditional Basic Income”, that is considered as an inevitable tool of social stabilization by many theoreticians and politicians, affect the architecture of small towns and villages, the social and spatial fabric of the countyside?

Will the countryside become a realm where work and fear, productivity and the struggle to make a living, will be disconnected for the first time; could the countryside become a space of experimentation and freedom, a counter-model to the overly controlled,  work-obsessed, exploitational, socially and aesthetically immobilized cities? 

This seminar invites students to analyze economic and cultural theories about mass robotization, with special regard to the countryside. An important field of research will be historical and contemporary models for a society that delegates work to machines – ranging from French utopian socialist’s Charles Fouriers “Phalanstery” to William Morris’ rejection of early capitalist city life, from Peter Kropotkin’s ideal of a rural, decentralized economic system based on voluntary cooperation, to more recent Situationist Utopias; from the history of Androids to the Carebot; from the efficiency-driven automation of delivery centres to the social and psychological consequences of “computed farming” for rural populations and animals; from the “rural flaneur” in 18th century France to the “Smart village”. Student’s research should describe different forms and goals of “robotization”, with equal analytical emphasis on both the chances and challenges, the economic and philosophical motivations of automation and a future “abolition of work” (Bob Black).