Allegories of Dispossession
: Neoliberalism and Proletarian Global Cinema

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    This thesis attempts to theorize how precarious work—poorly paid, flexible, on call, even part-time employment—is pronounced in the global cinema of filmmakers Jia Zhangke, Park Chan-wook, Neill Blomkamp and Sebastian Silva. The images of the urban worker envisaged by these global directors show Chinese, Korean, Chilean and South African working classes as less attuned to the predatory nature of neoliberalism and the uncertainty they face: overwork, downward mobility, beckoning consumerism often out of reach, physical exhaustion, strains on family ties and worst of all, the lingering threat of destitution. These hardships point, at least since the late 1990s, to the insertion of a precarious worker in global cinema. With this in mind, much cinematic precarity is demonstrable to flaws in our current network society, wherein nomadic dispersal and managerial hegemony are part of a neoliberal agenda to dismantle any type of collective bargaining and shared prosperity. But these cinematized conditions must be read “against the grain,” where to conceive of workplace precarity we must go beyond The Maid and The World as compelling “foreign melodramas,” District 9 as video game inspired “science fiction” and, finally, Oldboy and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance as depoliticized “neo-noir.” To see them as labor films advances our understanding of the transformation of labor practices in advanced capitalist systems (Neilson and Rossiter 2005). It also, in a double move, exposes the inadequacy of the phrase and category of “world cinema” and its institutionally homogenous and problematic orientation to comprise new cultural capital—itself, another form of work. Thus by rephrasing world cinema to global cinema acknowledges its own material production as well as its artistic and social value, in that we understand any particular instance or text to be globally orientated. More specifically, individual chapters will be based on the relational phenomena that show political and economic forces at work, or—allegories of dispossession—which mark and differentiate spaces within these urban centers for its proletarians: neoliberalism, particularly in its geo-cultural manifestations. To date, two monographs and two anthologies in film studies deal with labor and its revivification in a contemporary (but also Western) context: Broe, 2009; Nystrom, 2009; James & Berg, 2001; and Zaniello, 2003. In light of this gap in research, this project examines how cinematic formations of the proletarian can lead to new articulations about national identity, race relations, urban citizenship, unstable labor networks and their social interactions under neoliberal globalization.
    Date of Award2013
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • King's College London
    SupervisorAlex Callinicos (Supervisor) & Mark Betz (Supervisor)

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