I often find myself doing two labour geographies that are implicitly related but whose relationality, at the theoretical level, remains difficult to articulate. One of these geographies is a more conventional political economy of labour: I try to find out where labour fits into a particular accumulation regime, or instance of capitalist social relations, using more conventional political economy categories of analysis, such as declining rates of profit, wage levels and organic composition of capital. The other geography is a political geography of labour: I examine how labour articulates itself as a political force, and attempt to determine where it fits into a particular hegemonic process or historic bloc. While I feel that these approaches complement each other, they can often conflict in terms of where the agency of labour is located. Is it to be found within the sphere of production? Or is it more likely to be located within that ensemble of relations between state and civil society which Gramsci (1971: 228-70) terms the ‘integral state’? There are further locations one could add to these, such as the labour of social reproduction and the cultural habits of labourers. Furthermore, while political economy largely concentrates on class relations as the central antagonism within social space, Gramscian Labour Geography has focused on a wider distribution of power relations, such as the sets of relations organizing a historic bloc and the relations within this bloc and between state and civil society. Yet, to me, these different relations seem recursive and I attempt to hold them in tension with one another. This can be difficult, however, because the methodological distinction made between the relations of production and larger power relations among social identities is often taken for an ontological one. This methodological problem can be grasped by looking at the different ways that contingency, i.e. the unpredictable or indeterminate element of social relations, is understood in different approaches to hegemony and labour’s spatial fix. This discussion should reveal some of the ways that Labour Geography, by embracing and expanding upon the understanding of contingency articulated by both approaches, provides some directions towards bridging the gap. Along the way, I will try to demonstrate some of this common ground by commenting on the politics of social cooperation in South Korea, where I have found myself attempting to understand the social cooperation process, and its failure to generate
substantive agreements, in light of recent changes to the South Korean political economy and changes to the ruling hegemonic bloc under the reform governments of Kim Dae Jung (1998-2003) and Roh Moo Hyun (2003-08).