We’re Not Dreamers, We’re Doers: Sleep in the Neoliberal Imaginary

Free Public Lecture

We’re Not Dreamers, We’re Doers: Sleep in the Neoliberal Imaginary

In this talk, Cressida J Heyes explores projects that imagine a future without sleep, or with a significantly diminished need for sleep, and what these say about our understandings of temporality, agency and embodiment.

For example, militaries conduct research into minimising the human need for sleep, while transhumanists try to biohack it; science fiction presents the sleepless as a superior elite. In a sleepless utopia, human beings, we infer, could fight longer and work harder. This vision, Heyes argues, is closely linked to neoliberal work patterns: “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” busy and important people like to say.

This talk shows how sleep figures in a cultural imaginary most pronounced in the United States but alive and well, according to Heyes’ archive, in Canada, the UK and Australia, where neoliberal norms of work inflect understandings of time and agency. These norms are profoundly individualising and depoliticising, and representations of sleep are increasingly deployed within existing scripts of class, race and gender stratification. In particular, she argues that attenuated concepts of agency as merely doing – understood at the limit as simply being awake – are used to represent any paid labour as virtuous, and any form of dreaming (literal or political) as outside the realm of worthy action.

Includes a Q&A.

Cressida J Heyes is Professor of Philosophy and Political Science at the University of Alberta, Canada.

Introduced by Dr Karen Jones. Chaired by Dr Joe Latham.

All Free Public Lectures